Wherein he shows that Pelagius is disingenuous in his confession of grace, inasmuch as he places grace either in nature and free will, or in law and teaching; and, moreover, asserts that it is merely the
possibility (as he calls it) of will and action, and not the will and action itself, which is assisted by divine grace; and that this assisting grace, too, is given by God according to men's merits; while he further thinks that they are so assisted for the sole purpose of being able the more easily to fulfil the commandments. Augustine examines those passages of his writings in which he boasted that he had bestowed express commendation on the grace of God, and points out how they can be interpreted as referring to law and teaching—in other words, to the divine revelation and the example of Christ which are alike included in
the teaching,— or else to the remission of sins; nor do they afford any evidence whatever that Pelagius really acknowledged Christian grace, in the sense of help rendered for the performance of right action to natural faculty and instruction, by the inspiration of a most glowing and luminous love; and he concludes with a request that Pelagius would seriously listen to Ambrose, whom he is so very fond of quoting, in his excellent eulogy in commendation of the grace of God.
How greatly we rejoice on account of your bodily, and, above all, your spiritual welfare, my most sincerely attached brethren and beloved of God, Albina, Pinianus, and Melania, we cannot express in words; we therefore leave all this to your own thoughts and belief, in order that we may now rather speak of the matters on which you consulted us. We have, indeed, had to compose these words to the best of the ability which God has vouchsafed to us, while our messenger was in a hurry to be gone, and amidst many occupations, which are much more absorbing to me at Carthage than in any other place whatever.
You informed me in your letter, that you had entreated Pelagius to express in writing his condemnation of all that had been alleged against him; and that he had said, in the audience of you all:
I anathematize the man who either thinks or says that the grace of God, whereby 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,' 1 Timothy 1:15 is not necessary not only for every hour and for every moment, but also for every act of our lives: and those who endeavour to disannul it deserve everlasting punishment. Now, whoever hears these words, and is ignorant of the opinion which he has clearly enough expressed in his books—not those, indeed, which he declares to have been stolen from him in an incorrect form, nor those which he repudiates, but those even which he mentions in his own letter which he forwarded to Rome—would certainly suppose that the views he holds are in strict accordance with the truth. But whoever notices what he openly declares in them, cannot fail to regard these statements with suspicion. Because, although he makes that grace of God whereby Christ came into the world to save sinners to consist simply in the remission of sins, he can still accommodate his words to this meaning, by alleging that the necessity of such grace for every hour and for every moment and for every action of our life, comes to this, that while we recollect and keep in mind the forgiveness of our past sins, we sin no more, aided not by any supply of power from without, but by the powers of our own will as it recalls to our mind, in every action we do, what advantage has been conferred upon us by the remission of sins. Then, again, whereas they are accustomed to say that Christ has given us assistance for avoiding sin, in that He has left us an example by living righteously and teaching what is right Himself, they have it in their power here also to accommodate their words, by affirming that this is the necessity of grace to us for every moment and for every action, namely, that we should in all our conversation regard the example of the Lord's conversation. Your own fidelity, however, enables you clearly to perceive how such a profession of opinion as this differs from that true confession of grace which is now the question before us. And yet how easily can it be obscured and disguised by their ambiguous statements!
But why should we wonder at this? For the same Pelagius, who in the Proceedings of the episcopal synod unhesitatingly condemned those who say
that God's grace and assistance are not given for single acts, but consist in free will, or in law and teaching, upon which points we were apt to think that he had expended all his subterfuges; and who also condemned such as affirm that the grace of God is bestowed in proportion to our merits:— is proved, notwithstanding, to hold, in the books which he has published on the freedom of the will, and which he mentions in the letter he sent to Rome, no other sentiments than those which he seemingly condemned. For that grace and help of God, by which we are assisted in avoiding sin, he places either in nature and free will, or else in the gift of the law and teaching; the result of which of course is this, that whenever God helps a man, He must be supposed to help him to turn away from evil and do good, by revealing to him and teaching him what he ought to do, but not with the additional assistance of His co-operation and inspiration of love, that he may accomplish that which he had discovered it to be his duty to do.
In his system, he posits and distinguishes three faculties, by which he says God's commandments are fulfilled— capacity, volition, and action: meaning by
capacity, that by which a man is able to be righteous; by
volition that by which he wills to be righteous; by
action, that by which he actually is righteous. The first of these, the capacity, he allows to have been bestowed on us by the Creator of our nature; it is not in our power, and we possess it even against our will. The other two, however, the volition and the action, he asserts to be our own; and he assigns them to us so strictly as to contend that they proceed simply from ourselves. In short, according to his view, God's grace has nothing to do with assisting those two faculties which he will have to be altogether our own, the volition and the action, but that only which is not in our own power and comes to us from God, namely the capacity; as if the faculties which are our own, that is, the volition and the action, have such avail for declining evil and doing good, that they require no divine help, whereas that faculty which we have of God, that is to say, the capacity, is so weak, that it is always assisted by the aid of grace.
Lest, however, it should chance to be said that we either do not correctly understand what he advances, or malevolently pervert to another meaning what he never meant to bear such a sense, I beg of you to consider his own actual words:
We distinguish, says he,
three things, arranging them in a certain graduated order. We put in the first place 'ability;' in the second, 'volition;' and in the third, 'actuality.' The 'ability' we place in our nature, the 'volition' in our will, and the 'actuality' in the effect. The first, that is, the 'ability,' properly belongs to God, who has bestowed it on His creature; the other two, that is, the 'volition' and the 'actuality,' must be referred to man, because they flow forth from the fountain of the will. For his willing, therefore, and doing a good work, the praise belongs to man; or rather both to man, and to God who has bestowed on him the 'capacity' for his will and work, and who evermore by the help of His grace assists even this capacity. That a man is able to will and effect any good work, comes from God alone. So that this one faculty can exist, even when the other two have no being; but these latter cannot exist without that former one. I am therefore free not to have either a good volition or action; but I am by no means able not to have the capacity of good. This capacity is inherent in me, whether I will or no; nor does nature at any time receive in this point freedom for itself. Now the meaning of all this will be rendered clearer by an example or two. That we are able to see with our eyes is not of us; but it is our own that we make a good or a bad use of our eyes. So again (that I may, by applying a general case in illustration, embrace all), that we are able to do, say, think, any good thing, comes from Him who has endowed us with this 'ability,' and who also assists this 'ability;' but that we really do a good thing, or speak a good word, or think a good thought, proceeds from our own selves, because we are also able to turn all these into evil. Accordingly—and this is a point which needs frequent repetition, because of your calumniation of us—whenever we say that a man can live without sin, we also give praise to God by our acknowledgment of the capacity which we have received from Him, who has bestowed such 'ability' upon us; and there is here no occasion for praising the human agent, since it is God's matter alone that is for the moment treated of; for the question is not about 'willing,' or 'effecting,' but simply and solely about that which may possibly be.
The whole of this dogma of Pelagius, observe, is carefully expressed in these words, and none other, in the third book of his treatise in defence of the liberty of the will, in which he has taken care to distinguish with so great subtlety these three things—the
volition, and the
action, that is, the
volition, and the
actuality,— that, whenever we read or hear of his acknowledging the assistance of divine grace in order to our avoidance of evil and accomplishment of good—whatever he may mean by the said assistance of grace, whether law and the teaching or any other thing—we are sure of what he says; nor can we run into any mistake by understanding him otherwise than he means. For we cannot help knowing that, according to his belief, it is not our
volition nor our
action which is assisted by the divine help, but solely our
capacity to will and act, which alone of the three, as he affirms, we have of God. As if that faculty were infirm which God Himself placed in our nature; while the other two, which, as he would have it, are our own, are so strong and firm and self-sufficient as to require none of His help! so that He does not help us to will, nor help us to act, but simply helps us to the possibility of willing and acting. The apostle, however, holds the contrary, when he says, Philippians 2:12 And that they might be sure that it was not simply in their being able to work (for this they had already received in nature and in teaching), but in their actual working, that they were divinely assisted, the apostle does not say to them,
For it is God that works in you to be able, as if they already possessed volition and operation among their own resources, without requiring His assistance in respect of these two; but he says,
For it is God which works in you both to will and to perform of His own good pleasure; Philippians 2:13 or, as the reading runs in other copies, especially the Greek,
both to will and to operate. Consider, now, whether the apostle did not thus long before foresee by the Holy Ghost that there would arise adversaries of the grace of God; and did not therefore declare that God works within us those two very things, even
operating, which this man so determined to be our own, as if they were in no wise assisted by the help of divine grace.
Let not Pelagius, however, in this way deceive incautious and simple persons, or even himself; for after saying,
Man is therefore to be praised for his willing and doing a good work, he added, as if by way of correcting himself, these words:
Or rather, this praise belongs to man and to God. It was not, however, that he wished to be understood as showing any deference to the sound doctrine, that it is
God which works in us both to will and to do, that he thus expressed himself; but it is clear enough, on his own showing, why he added the latter clause, for he immediately subjoins:
Who has bestowed on him the 'capacity' for this very will and work. From his preceding words it is manifest that he places this capacity in our nature. Lest he should seem, however, to have said nothing about grace, he added these words:
And who evermore, by the help of His grace, assists this very capacity,—
this very capacity, observe; not
very will, or
very action; for if he had said so much as this, he would clearly not be at variance with the teaching of the apostle. But there are his words:
this very capacity; meaning that very one of the three faculties which he had placed in our nature. This God
evermore assists by the help of His grace. The result, indeed, is, that
the praise does not belong to man and to God, because man so wills that yet God also inspires his volition with the ardour of love, or that man so works that God nevertheless also cooperates with him—and without His help, what is man? But he has associated God in this praise in this wise, that were it not for the nature which God gave us in our creation wherewith we might be able to exercise volition and action, we should neither will nor act.
As to this natural capacity which, he allows, is assisted by the grace of God, it is by no means clear from the passage either what grace he means, or to what extent he supposes our nature to be assisted by it. But, as is the case in other passages in which he expresses himself with more clearness and decision, we may here also perceive that no other grace is intended by him as helping natural capacity than the law and the teaching. [VII.] For in one passage he says:
We are supposed by very ignorant persons to do wrong in this matter to divine grace, because we say that it by no means perfects sanctity in us without our will—as if God could have imposed any command on His grace, without also supplying the help of His grace to those on whom he imposed His commands, so that men might more easily accomplish through grace what they are required to do by their free will. Then, as if he meant to explain what grace he meant, he immediately went on to add these words:
And this grace we for our part do not, as you suppose, allow to consist merely in the law, but also in the help of God. Now who can help wishing that he would show us what grace it is that he would have us understand? Indeed, we have the strongest reason for desiring him to tell us what he means by saying that he does not allow grace merely to consist in the law. Whilst, however, we are in the suspense of our expectation, observe, I pray you, what he has further to tell us:
God helps us, says he,
by His teaching and revelation, while He opens the eyes of our heart; while He points out to us the future, that we may not be absorbed in the present; while He discovers to us the snares of the devil; while He enlightens us with the manifold and ineffable gift of heavenly grace. He then concludes his statement with a kind of absolution:
Does the man, he asks,
who says all this appear to you to be a denier of grace? Does he not acknowledge both man's free will and God's grace? But, after all, he has not got beyond his commendation of the law and of teaching; assiduously inculcating this as the grace that helps us, and so following up the idea with which he had started, when he said,
We, however, allow it to consist in the help of God. God's help, indeed, he supposed must be recommended to us by manifold lures; by setting forth teaching and revelation, the opening of the eyes of the heart, the demonstration of the future, the discovery of the devil's wiles, and the illumination of our minds by the varied and indescribable gift of heavenly grace—all this, of course, with a view to our learning the commandments and promises of God. And what else is this than placing God's grace in
the law and the teaching?
Hence, then, it is clear that he acknowledges that grace whereby God points out and reveals to us what we are bound to do; but not that whereby He endows and assists us to act, since the knowledge of the law, unless it be accompanied by the assistance of grace, rather avails for producing the transgression of the commandment.
Where there is no law, says the apostle,
there is no transgression; Romans 4:15 and again: Romans 7:7 Therefore so far are the law and grace from being the same thing, that the law is not only unprofitable, but it is absolutely prejudicial, unless grace assists it; and the utility of the law may be shown by this, that it obliges all whom it proves guilty of transgression to betake themselves to grace for deliverance and help to overcome their evil lusts. For it rather commands than assists; it discovers disease, but does not heal it; nay, the malady that is not healed is rather aggravated by it, so that the cure of grace is more earnestly and anxiously sought for, inasmuch as
The letter kills, but the spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6
For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. Galatians 3:21 To what extent, however, the law gives assistance, the apostle informs us when he says immediately afterwards:
The Scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. Galatians 3:22 Wherefore, says the apostle,
the law was our schoolmaster in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:24 Now this very thing is serviceable to proud men, to be more firmly and manifestly
concluded under sin, so that none may pre-sumptuously endeavour to accomplish their justification by means of free will as if by their own resources; but rather
that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Because by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets. Romans 3:19-21 How then manifested without the law, if witnessed by the law? For this very reason the phrase is not,
manifested without the law, but
the righteousness without the law, because it is
the righteousness of God; that is, the righteousness which we have not from the law, but from God—not the righteousness, indeed, which by reason of His commanding it, causes us fear through our knowledge of it; but rather the righteousness which by reason of His bestowing it, is held fast and maintained by us through our loving it—1 Corinthians 1:31
What object, then, can this man gain by accounting the law and the teaching to be the grace whereby we are helped to work righteousness? For, in order that it may help much, it must help us to feel our need of grace. No man, indeed, is able to fulfil the law through the law.
Love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:10 And the love of God is not shed abroad in our hearts by the law, but by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us. Romans 5:5 Grace, therefore, is pointed at by the law, in order that the law may be fulfilled by grace. Now what does it avail for Pelagius, that he declares the self-same thing under different phrases, that he may not be understood to place in law and teaching that grace which, as he avers, assists the
capacity of our nature? So far, indeed, as I can conjecture, the reason why he fears being so understood is, because he condemned all those who maintain that God's grace and help are not given for a man's single actions, but exist rather in his freedom, or in the law and teaching. And yet he supposes that he escapes detection by the shifts he so constantly employs for disguising what he means by his formula of
law and teaching under so many various phrases.
He Promises Us Future Glory.
For in another passage, after asserting at length that it is not by the help of God, but out of our own selves, that a good will is formed within us, he confronted himself with a question out of the apostle's epistle; and he asked this question:
How will this stand consistently with the apostle's words, Philippians 2:13 'It is God that works in you both to will and to perfect'? Then, in order to obviate this opposing authority, which he plainly saw to be most thoroughly contrasted with his own dogma, he went on at once to add:
He works in us to will what is good, to will what is holy, when He rouses us from our devotion to earthly desires, and from our love of the present only, after the manner of brute animals, by the magnitude of the future glory and the promise of its rewards; when by revealing wisdom to us He stirs up our sluggish will to a longing after God; when (what you are not afraid to deny in another passage) he persuades us to everything which is good. Now what can be plainer, than that by the grace whereby God works within us to will what is good, he means nothing else than the law and the teaching? For in the law and the teaching of the holy Scriptures are promised future glory and its great rewards. To the teaching also appertains the revelation of wisdom, while it is its further function to direct our thoughts to everything that is good. And if between teaching and persuading (or rather exhorting) there seems to be a difference, yet even this is provided for in the general term
teaching, which is contained in the several discourses or letters; for the holy Scriptures both teach and exhort, and in the processes of teaching and exhorting there is room likewise for man's operation. We, however, on our side would fain have him sometime confess that grace, by which not only future glory in all its magnitude is promised, but also is believed in and hoped for; by which wisdom is not only revealed, but also loved; by which everything that is good is not only recommended, but pressed upon us until we accept it. For all men do not possess faith, 2 Thessalonians 3:2 who hear the Lord in the Scriptures promising the kingdom of heaven; nor are all men persuaded, who are counselled to come to Him, who says,
Come unto me, all you that labour. Matthew 11:28 They, however, who have faith are the same who are also persuaded to come to Him. This He Himself set forth most plainly, when He said,
No man can come to me, except the Father, which has sent me, draw him. John 6:44 And some verses afterwards, when speaking of such as believe not, He says,
Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me except it were given unto him of my Father. John 6:65 This is the grace which Pelagius ought to acknowledge, if he wishes not only to be called a Christian, but to be one.
He Reveals Wisdom.
But what shall I say about the revelation of wisdom? For there is no man who can in the present life very well hope to attain to the great revelations which were given to the Apostle Paul; and of course it is impossible to suppose that anything was accustomed in these revelations to be made known to him but what appertained to wisdom. Yet for all this he says:
Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that He would take it away from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 Now, undoubtedly, if there were already in the apostle that perfection of love which admitted of no further addition, and which could be puffed up no more, there could have been no further need of the messenger of Satan to buffet him, and thereby to repress the excessive elation which might arise from abundance of revelations. What means this elation, however, but a being puffed up? And of love it has been indeed most truly said,
Love vaunts not itself, is not puffed up. 1 Corinthians 13:4 This love, therefore, was still in process of constant increase in the great apostle, day by day, as long as his
inward man was renewed day by day, 2 Corinthians 4:6 and would then be perfected, no doubt, when he was got beyond the reach of all further vaunting and elation. But at that time his mind was still in a condition to be inflated by an abundance of revelations before it was perfected in the solid edifice of love; for he had not arrived at the goal and apprehended the prize, to which he was reaching forward in his course.
To him, therefore, who is reluctant to endure the troublesome process, whereby this vaunting disposition is restrained, before he attains to the ultimate and highest perfection of charity, it is most properly said,
My grace is sufficient for you; for my strength is made perfect in weakness, 2 Corinthians 12:9 — in weakness, that is, not of the flesh only, as this man supposes, but both of the flesh and of the mind; because the mind, too, was, in comparison of that last stage of complete perfection, weak, and to it also was assigned, in order to check its elation, that messenger of Satan, the thorn in the flesh; although it was very strong, in contrast with the carnal or animal faculties, which as yet understand not the things of the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 2:14 Inasmuch, then, as strength is made perfect in weakness, whoever does not own himself to be weak, is not in the way to be perfected. This grace, however, by which strength is perfected in weakness, conducts all who are predestinated and called according to the divine purpose to the state of the highest perfection and glory. By such grace it is effected, not only that we discover what ought to be done, but also that we do what we have discovered—not only that we believe what ought to be loved, but also that we love what we have believed.
If this grace is to be called
teaching, let it at any rate be so called in such wise that God may be believed to infuse it, along with an ineffable sweetness, more deeply and more internally, not only by their agency who plant and water from without, but likewise by His own too who ministers in secret His own increase—in such a way, that He not only exhibits truth, but likewise imparts love. For it is thus that God teaches those who have been called according to His purpose, giving them simultaneously both to know what they ought to do, and to do what they know. Accordingly, the apostle thus speaks to the Thessalonians:
As touching love of the brethren, you need not that I write unto you; for you yourselves are taught of God to love one another. 1 Thessalonians 4:9 And then, by way of proving that they had been taught of God, he subjoined:
And indeed you do it towards all the brethren which are in all Macedonia. 1 Thessalonians 4:10 As if the surest sign that you have been taught of God, is that you put into practice what you have been taught. Of that character are all who are called according to God's purpose, as it is written in the prophets:
They shall be all taught of God. The man, however, who has learned what ought to be done, but does it not, has not as yet been
taught of God according to grace, but only according to the law,— not according to the spirit, but only according to the letter. Although there are many who appear to do what the law commands, through fear of punishment, not through love of righteousness; and such righteousness as this the apostle calls
his own which is after the law,— a thing as it were commanded, not given. When, indeed, it has been given, it is not called our own righteousness, but God's; because it becomes our own only so that we have it from God. These are the apostle's words:
That I may be found in Him, not having my own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ the righteousness which is of God by faith. Philippians 3:9 So great, then, is the difference between the law and grace, that although the law is undoubtedly of God, yet the righteousness which is
of the law is not
of God, but the righteousness which is consummated by grace is
of God. The one is designated
the righteousness of the law, because it is done through fear of the curse of the law; while the other is called
the righteousness of God, because it is bestowed through the beneficence of His grace, so that it is not a terrible but a pleasant commandment, according to the prayer in the psalm:
Good are You, O Lord, therefore in Your goodness teach me Your righteousness; that is, that I may not be compelled like a slave to live under the law with fear of punishment; but rather in the freedom of love may be delighted to live with law as my companion. When the freeman keeps a commandment, he does it readily. And whosoever learns his duty in this spirit, does everything that he has learned ought to be done.
Now as touching this kind of teaching, the Lord also says:
Every man that has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes unto me. John 6:45 Of the man, therefore, who has not come, it cannot be correctly said:
Has heard and has learned that it is his duty to come to Him, but he is not willing to do what he has learned. It is indeed absolutely improper to apply such a statement to that method of teaching, whereby God teaches by grace. For if, as the Truth says,
Every man that has learned comes, it follows, of course, that whoever does not come has not learned. But who can fail to see that a man's coming or not coming is by the determination of his will? This determination, however, may stand alone, if the man does not come; but if he does come, it cannot be without assistance; and such assistance, that he not only knows what it is he ought to do, but also actually does what he thus knows. And thus, when God teaches, it is not by the letter of the law, but by the grace of the Spirit. Moreover, He so teaches, that whatever a man learns, he not only sees with his perception, but also desires with his choice, and accomplishes in action. By this mode, therefore, of divine instruction, volition itself, and performance itself, are assisted, and not merely the natural
capacity of willing and performing. For if nothing but this
capacity of ours were assisted by this grace, the Lord would rather have said,
Every man that has heard and has learned of the Father may possibly come unto me. This, however, is not what He said; but His words are these:
Every man that has heard and has learned of the Father comes unto me. Now the possibility of coming Pelagius places in nature, or even— as we found him attempting to say some time ago — in grace (whatever that may mean according to him)—when he says,
whereby this very capacity is assisted; whereas the actual coming lies in the will and act. It does not, however, follow that he who may come actually comes, unless he has also willed and acted for the coming. But every one who has learned of the Father not only has the possibility of coming, but comes; and in this result are already included the motion of the capacity, the affection of the will, and the effect of the action.
Now what is the use of his examples, if they do not really accomplish his own promise of making his meaning clearer to us; not, indeed, that we are bound to admit their sense, but that we may discover more plainly and openly what is his drift and purpose in using them?
That we are able, says he,
to see with our eyes is not of us; but it is of us that we make a good or a bad use of our sight. Well, there is an answer for him in the psalm, in which the psalmist says to God,
Turn Thou away my eyes, that they behold not iniquity. Now although this was said of the eyes of the mind, it still follows from it, that in respect of our bodily eyes there is either a good use or a bad use that may be made of them: not in the literal sense merely of a good sight when the eyes are sound, and a bad sight when they are bleared, but in the moral sense of a right sight when it is directed towards succouring the helpless, or a bad sight when its object is the indulgence of lust. For although both the pauper who is succoured, and the woman who is lusted after, are seen by these external eyes; it is after all from the inner eyes that either compassion in the one case or lust in the other proceeds. How then is it that the prayer is offered to God,
Turn Thou away my eyes, that they behold not iniquity? Or why is that asked for which lies within our own power, if it be true that God does not assist the will?
That we are able to speak, says he,
is of God; but that we make a good or a bad use of speech is of ourselves. He, however, who has made the most excellent use of speech does not teach us so.
For, says He,
it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaks in you. Matthew 10:20
So, again, adds Pelagius,
that I may, by applying a general case in illustration, embrace all—that we are able to do, say, think, any good thing, comes from Him who has endowed us with this ability, and who also assists it. Observe how even here he repeats his former meaning — that of these three, capacity, volition, action, it is only the capacity which receives help. Then, by way of completely stating what he intends to say, he adds:
But that we really do a good thing, or speak a good word, or think a good thought, proceeds from our own selves. He forgot what he had before said by way of correcting, as it were, his own words; for after saying,
Man is to be praised therefore for his willing and doing a good work, he at once goes on to modify his statement thus:
Or rather, this praise belongs both to man, and to God who has given him the capacity of this very will and work. Now what is the reason why he did not remember this admission when giving his examples, so as to say this much at least after quoting them:
That we are able to do, say, think any good thing, comes from Him who has given us this ability, and who also assists it. That, however, we really do a good thing, or speak a good word, or think a good thought, proceeds both from ourselves and from Him! This, however, he has not said. But, if I am not mistaken, I think I see why he was afraid to do so.
For, when wishing to point out why this lies within our own competency, he says:
Because we are able to turn all these actions into evil. This, then, was the reason why he was afraid to admit that such an action proceeds
both from ourselves and from God, lest it should be objected to him in reply:
If the fact of our doing, speaking, thinking anything good, is owing both to ourselves and to God, because He has endowed us with this ability, then it follows that our doing, thinking, speaking evil things, is due to ourselves and to God, because He has here also endowed us with ability of indifferency; the conclusion from this being— and God forbid that we should admit any such— that just as God is associated with ourselves in the praise of good actions, so must He share with us the blame of evil actions. For that
capacity with which He has endowed us makes us capable alike of good actions and of evil ones.
capacity, Pelagius thus writes in the first book of his Defence of Free Will:
Now, says he,
we have implanted in us by God a capacity for either part. It resembles, as I may say, a fruitful and fecund root which yields and produces diversely according to the will of man, and which is capable, at the planter's own choice, of either shedding a beautiful bloom of virtues, or of bristling with the thorny thickets of vices. Scarcely heeding what he says, he here makes one and the same root productive both of good and evil fruits, in opposition to gospel truth and apostolic teaching. For the Lord declares that
a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit; Matthew 7:18 and when the Apostle Paul says that covetousness is
the root of all evils, 1 Timothy 6:10 he intimates to us, of course, that love may be regarded as the root of all good things. On the supposition, therefore, that two trees, one good and the other corrupt, represent two human beings, a good one and a bad, what else is the good man except one with a good will, that is, a tree with a good root? And what is the bad man except one with a bad will, that is, a tree with a bad root? The fruits which spring from such roots and trees are deeds, are words, are thoughts, which proceed, when good, from a good will, and when evil, from an evil one.
Now a man makes a good tree when he receives the grace of God. For it is not by himself that he makes himself good instead of evil; but it is of Him, and through Him, and in Him who is always good. And in order that he may not only be a good tree, but also bear good fruit, it is necessary for him to be assisted by the self-same grace, without which he can do nothing good. For God Himself cooperates in the production of fruit in good trees, when He both externally waters and tends them by the agency of His servants, and internally by Himself also gives the increase. 1 Corinthians 3:7 A man, however, makes a corrupt tree when he makes himself corrupt, when he falls away from Him who is the unchanging good; for such a declension from Him is the origin of an evil will. Now this decline does not initiate some other corrupt nature, but it corrupts that which has been already created good. When this corruption, however, has been healed, no evil remains; for although nature no doubt had received an injury, yet nature was not itself a blemish.
capacity, then, of which we speak is not (as he supposes) the one identical root both of good things and evil. For the love which is the root of good things is quite different from the cupidity which is the root of evil things— as different, indeed, as virtue is from vice. But without doubt this
capacity is capable of either root: because a man is not only able to possess love, whereby the tree becomes a good one; but he is likewise able to have cupidity, which makes the tree evil. This human cupidity, however, which is a vice, has for its author man, or man's deceiver, but not man's Creator. It is indeed that
lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. 1 John 2:16 And who can be ignorant of the usage of the Scripture, which under the designation of
the world is accustomed to describe those who inhabit the world?
That love, however, which is a virtue, comes to us from God, not from ourselves, according to the testimony of Scripture, which says: 1 John 4:7-8 It is on the principle of this love that one can best understand the passage,
Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; 1 John 3:9 as well as the sentence,
And he cannot sin. Because the love according to which we are born of God
does not behave itself unseemly, and
thinks no evil. 1 Corinthians 13:5 Therefore, whenever a man sins, it is not according to love: but it is according to cupidity that he commits sin; and following such a disposition, he is not born of God. Because, as it has been already stated,
the capacity of which we speak is capable of either root. When, therefore, the Scripture says,
Love is of God, or still more pointedly,
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called, and be, the sons of God! 1 John 3:1 with what face can this writer, on hearing that
the capacity; whereas it is of ourselves that we have
the good will and
the good action? As if, indeed, this good will were a different thing from that love which the Scripture so loudly proclaims to have come to us from God, and to have been given to us by the Father, that we might become His children.
Perhaps, however, our own antecedent merits caused this gift to be bestowed upon us; as this writer has already suggested in reference to God's grace, in that work which he addressed to a holy virgin, whom he mentions in the letter sent by him to Rome. For, after adducing the testimony of the Apostle James, in which he says, James 4:7 he goes on to say:
He shows us how we ought to resist the devil, if we submit ourselves indeed to God and by doing His will merit His divine grace, and by the help of the Holy Ghost more easily withstand the evil spirit. Judge, then, how sincere was his condemnation in the Palestine Synod of those persons who say that God's grace is conferred on us according to our merits! Have we any doubt as to his still holding this opinion, and most openly proclaiming it? Well, how could that confession of his before the bishops have been true and real? Had he already written the book in which he most explicitly alleges that grace is bestowed on us according to our deserts— the very position which he without any reservation condemned at that Synod in the East? Let him frankly acknowledge that he once held the opinion, but that he holds it no longer; so should we most frankly rejoice in his improvement. As it is, however, when, besides other objections, this one was laid to his charge which we are now discussing, he said in reply:
Whether these are the opinions of Cœlestius or not, is the concern of those who affirm that they are. For my own part, indeed, I never entertained such views; on the contrary, I anathematize every one who does entertain them. But how could he
never have entertained such views, when he had already composed this work? Or how does he still
anathematize everybody who entertains these views, if he afterwards composed this work?
But perhaps he may meet us with this rejoinder, that in the sentence before us he spoke of our
meriting the divine grace by doing the will of God, in the sense that grace is added to those who believe and lead godly lives, whereby they may boldly withstand the tempter; whereas their very first reception of grace was, that they might do the will of God. Lest, then, he make such a rejoinder, consider some other words of his on this subject:
The man, says he,
who hastens to the Lord, and desires to be directed by Him, that is, who makes his own will depend upon God's, who moreover cleaves so closely to the Lord as to become (as the apostle says) 'one spirit' with Him, 1 Corinthians 6:17 does all this by nothing else than by his freedom of will. Observe how great a result he has here stated to be accomplished only by our freedom of will; and how, in fact, he supposes us to cleave to God without the help of God: for such is the force of his words,
by nothing else than by his own freedom of will. So that, after we have cleaved to the Lord without His help, we even then, because of such adhesion of our own, deserve to be assisted. [XXIII.] For he goes on to say:
Whosoever makes a right use of this (that is, rightly uses his freedom of will),
does so entirely surrender himself to God, and does so completely mortify his own will, that he is able to say with the apostle, 'Nevertheless it is already not I that live, but Christ lives in me;' Galatians 2:20 and 'He places his heart in the hand of God, so that He turns it wherever He wills.' Proverbs 21:1 Great indeed is the help of the grace of God, so that He turns our heart in whatever direction He pleases. But according to this writer's foolish opinion, however great the help may be, we deserve it all at the moment when, without any assistance beyond the liberty of our will, we hasten to the Lord, desire His guidance and direction, suspend our own will entirely on His, and by close adherence to Him become one spirit with Him. Now all these vast courses of goodness we (according to him) accomplish, forsooth, simply by the freedom of our own free will; and by reason of such antecedent merits we so secure His grace, that He turns our heart which way soever He pleases. Well, now, how is that grace which is not gratuitously conferred? How can it be grace, if it is given in payment of a debt? How can that be true which the apostle says,
It is not of yourselves, but it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast; Ephesians 2:8-9 and again, Romans 11:6 how, I repeat, can this be true, if such meritorious works precede as to procure for us the bestowal of grace? Surely, under the circumstances, there can be no gratuitous gift, but only the recompense of a due reward. Is it the case, then, that in order to find their way to the help of God, men run to God without God's help? And in order that we may receive God's help while cleaving to Him, do we without His help cleave to God? What greater gift, or even what similar gift, could grace itself bestow upon any man, if he has already without grace been able to make himself one spirit with the Lord by no other power than that of his own free will?
Now I want him to tell us whether that king of Assyria, whose holy wife Esther
abhorred his bed, while sitting upon the throne of his kingdom, and clothed in all his glorious apparel, adorned all over with gold and precious stones, and dreadful in his majesty when he raised his face, which was inflamed with anger, in the midst of his splendour, and beheld her, with the glare of a wild bull in the fierceness of his indignation; and the queen was afraid, and her colour changed as she fainted, and she bowed herself upon the head of the maid that went before her; Esther 5:1 — I want him to tell us whether this king had yet
hastened to the Lord, and had desired to be directed by Him, and had subordinated his own will to His, and had, by cleaving fast to God, become one spirit with Him, simply by the force of his own free will. Had he surrendered himself wholly to God, and entirely mortified his own will, and placed his heart in the hand of God? I suppose that anybody who should think this of the king, in the state he was then in, would be not foolish only, but even mad. And yet God converted him, and turned his indignation into gentleness. Who, however, can fail to see how much greater a task it is to change and turn wrath completely into gentleness, than to bend the heart to something, when it is not preoccupied with either affection, but is indifferently poised between the two? Let them therefore read and understand, observe and acknowledge, that it is not by law and teaching uttering their lessons from without, but by a secret, wonderful, and ineffable power operating within, that God works in men's hearts not only revelations of the truth, but also good dispositions of the will.
CapacityExploded. The Scripture Teaches the Need of God's Help in Doing, Speaking, and Thinking, Alike.
Let Pelagius, therefore, cease at last to deceive both himself and others by his disputations against the grace of God. It is not on account of only one of these three — that is to say, of the
capacity of a good will and work— that the grace of God towards us ought to be proclaimed; but also on account of the good
work themselves. This
capacity, indeed, according to his definition, avails for both directions; and yet our sins must not also be attributed to God in consequence, as our good actions, according to his view, are attributed to Him owing to the same capacity. It is not only, therefore, on this account that the help of God's grace is maintained, because it assists our natural capacity. He must cease to say,
That we are able to do, say, think any good, is from Him who has given us this ability, and who also assists this ability; whereas that we really do a good thing, or speak a good word, or think a good thought, proceeds from our own selves. He must, I repeat, cease to say this. For God has not only given us the ability and aids it, but He further works in us
to will and to do. Philippians 2:13 It is not because we do not will, or do not do, that we will and do nothing good, but because we are without His help. How can he say,
That we are able to do good is of God, but that we actually do it is of ourselves, when the apostle tells us that he
prays to God in behalf of those to whom he was writing,
that you do no evil. Neither does he say,
that ye be able to do good; but,
that you do good. Forasmuch as it is written,
As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God, Romans 8:14 it follows that, in order that they may do that which is good, they must be led by Him who is good. How can Pelagius say,
That we are able to make a good use of speech comes from God; but that we do actually make this good use of speech proceeds from ourselves, when the Lord declares,
It is the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you? Matthew 10:20 He does not say,
It is not you who have given to yourselves the power of speaking well; but His words are,
It is not you that speak. Matthew 10:20 Nor does He say,
It is the Spirit of your Father which gives, or has given, you the power to speak well; but He says,
which speaks in you. He does not allude to the motion of
the capacity, but He asserts the effect of the co-operation. How can this arrogant asserter of free will say,
That we are able to think a good thought comes from God, but that we actually think a good thought proceeds from ourselves? He has his answer from the humble preacher of grace, who says,
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God. 2 Corinthians 3:5 Observe he does not say,
to be able to think anything; but,
to think anything.
Now even Pelagius should frankly confess that this grace is plainly set forth in the inspired Scriptures; nor should he with shameless effrontery hide the fact that he has too long opposed it, but admit it with salutary regret; so that the holy Church may cease to be harassed by his stubborn persistence, and rather rejoice in his sincere conversion. Let him distinguish between knowledge and love, as they ought to be distinguished; because 1 Corinthians 8:1 And then knowledge no longer puffs up when love builds up. And inasmuch as each is the gift of God (although one is less, and the other greater), he must not extol our righteousness above the praise which is due to Him who justifies us, in such a way as to assign to the lesser of these two gifts the help of divine grace, and to claim the greater one for the human will. And should he consent that we receive love from the grace of God, he must not suppose that any merits of our own preceded our reception of the gift. For what merits could we possibly have had at the time when we loved not God? In order, indeed, that we might receive that love whereby we might love, we were loved while as yet we had no love ourselves. This the Apostle John most expressly declares:
Not that we loved God, says he,
but that He loved us; 1 John 4:10 and again,
We love Him, because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19 Most excellently and truly spoken! For we could not have wherewithal to love Him, unless we received it from Him in His first loving us. And what good could we possibly do if we possessed no love? Or how could we help doing good if we have love? For although God's commandment appears sometimes to be kept by those who do not love Him, but only fear Him; yet where there is no love, no good work is imputed, nor is there any good work, rightly so called; because Romans 14:23 and Galatians 5:6 Hence also that grace of God, whereby
His love is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us, Romans 5:5 must be so confessed by the man who would make a true confession, as to show his undoubting belief that nothing whatever in the way of goodness pertaining to godliness and real holiness can be accomplished without it. Not after the fashion of him who clearly enough shows us what he thinks of it when he says, that
grace is bestowed in order that what God commands may be the more easily fulfilled; which of course means, that even without grace God's commandments may, although less easily, yet actually, be accomplished.
In the book which he addressed to a certain holy virgin, there is a passage which I have already mentioned, wherein he plainly indicates what he holds on this subject; for he speaks of our
deserving the grace of God, and by the help of the Holy Ghost more easily resisting the evil spirit. Now why did he insert the phrase
more easily? Was not the sense already complete:
And by the help of the Holy Ghost resisting the evil spirit? But who can fail to perceive what an injury he has done by this insertion? He wants it, of course, to be supposed, that so great are the powers of our nature, which he is in such a hurry to exalt,that even without the assistance of the Holy Ghost the evil spirit can be resisted— less easily it may be, but still in a certain measure.
Again, in the first book of his Defence of the Freedom of the Will, he says:
But while we have within us a free will so strong and so steadfast against sinning, which our Maker has implanted in human nature generally, still, by His unspeakable goodness, we are further defended by His own daily help. What need is there of such help, if free will is so strong and so steadfast against sinning? But here, as before, he would have it understood that the purpose of the alleged assistance is, that that may be more easily accomplished by grace which he nevertheless supposes may be effected, less easily, no doubt, but yet actually, without grace.
In like manner, in another passage of the same book, he says:
In order that men may more easily accomplish by grace that which they are commanded to do by free will. Now, expunge the phrase
more easily, and you leave not only a full, but also a sound sense, if it be regarded as meaning simply this:
more easily, however, tacitly suggests the possibility of accomplishing good works even without the grace of God. But such a meaning is disallowed by Him who says,
Without me you can do nothing. John 15:5
Let him amend all this, that if human infirmity has erred in subjects so profound, he may not add to the error diabolical deception and wilfulness, either by denying what he has really believed, or by maintaining what he has rashly believed, after he has once discovered, on recollecting the light of truth, that he ought never to have so believed. As for that grace, indeed, by which we are justified,— in other words, whereby
the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us, Romans 5:5 — I have nowhere, in those writings of Pelagius and Cœlestius which I have had the opportunity of reading, found them acknowledging it as it ought to be acknowledged. In no passage at all have I observed them recognising
the children of the promise, concerning whom the apostle thus speaks:
They which are children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. Romans 9:8 For that which God promises we do not ourselves bring about by our own choice or natural power, but He Himself effects it by grace.
Now I will say nothing at present about the works of Cœlestius, or those tracts of his which he produced in those ecclesiastical proceedings, copies of the whole of which we have taken care to send to you, along with another letter which we deemed it necessary to add. If you carefully examine all these documents, you will observe that he does not posit the grace of God, which helps us whether to avoid evil or to do good, beyond the natural choice of the will, but only in the law and teaching. Thus he even asserts that their very prayers are necessary for the purpose of showing men what to desire and love. All these documents, however, I may omit further notice of at present; for Pelagius himself has lately forwarded to Rome both a letter and an exposition of his belief, addressing it to Pope Innocent, of blessed memory, of whose death he was ignorant. Now in this letter he says that
there are certain subjects about which some men are trying to vilify him. One of these is, that he refuses to infants the sacrament of baptism, and promises the kingdom of heaven to some, independently of Christ's redemption. Another of them is, that he so speaks of man's ability to avoid sin as to exclude God's help, and so strongly confides in free will that he repudiates the help of divine grace. Now, as touching the perverted opinion he holds about the baptism of infants (although he allows that it ought to be administered to them), in opposition to the Christian faith and catholic truth, this is not the place for us to enter on an accurate discussion, for we must now complete our treatise on the assistance of grace, which is the subject we undertook. Let us see what answer he makes out of this very letter to the objection which he has proposed concerning this matter. Omitting his invidious complaints about his opponents, we approach the subject before us; and find him expressing himself as follows.
See, he says,
how this epistle will clear me before your Blessedness; for in it we clearly and simply declare, that we possess a free will which is unimpaired for sinning and for not sinning; and this free will is in all good works always assisted by divine help. Now you perceive, by the understanding which the Lord has given you, that these words of his are inadequate to solve the question. For it is still open to us to inquire what the help is by which he would say that the free will is assisted; lest perchance he should, as is usual with him, maintain that law and teaching are meant. If, indeed, you were to ask him why he used the word
always, he might answer: Because it is written, And in His law will he meditate day and night. Then, after interposing a statement about the condition of man, and his natural capacity for sinning and not sinning, he added the following words:
Now this power of free will we declare to reside generally in all alike— in Christians, in Jews, and in Gentiles. In all men free will exists equally by nature, but in Christians alone is it assisted by grace. We again ask:
By what grace? And again he might answer:
By the law and the Christian teaching.
Then, again, whatever it is which he means by Christians according to their merits, although (as I have already mentioned above ), when he was in Palestine, in his very remarkable vindication of himself, he condemned those who hold this opinion. Now these are his words:
In the one, says he,
the good of their created condition is naked and defenceless; meaning in those who are not Christians. Then adding the rest:
In these, however, who belong to Christ, there is defence afforded by Christ's help. You see it is still uncertain what the help is, according to the remark we have already made on the same subject. He goes on, however, to say of those who are not Christians:
Those deserve judgment and condemnation, because, although they possess free will whereby they could come to have faith and deserve God's grace, they make a bad use of the freedom which has been granted to them. But these deserve to be rewarded, who by the right use of free will merit the Lord's grace, and keep His commandments. Now it is clear that he says grace is bestowed according to merit, whatever and of what kind soever the grace is which he means, but which he does not plainly declare. For when he speaks of those persons as deserving reward who make a good use of their free will, and as therefore meriting the Lord's grace, he asserts in fact that a debt is paid to them. What, then, becomes of the apostle's saying,
Being justified freely by His grace? Romans 3:24 And what of his other statement too,
By grace are you saved? Ephesians 1:8 — where, that he might prevent men's supposing that it is by works, he expressly added,
by faith. Ephesians 1:8 And yet further, lest it should be imagined that faith itself is to be attributed to men independently of the grace of God, the apostle says:
And that not of yourselves; for it is the gift of God. Ephesians 1:8 It follows, therefore, that we receive, without any merit of our own, that from which everything which, according to them, we obtain because of our merit, has its beginning— that is, faith itself. If, however, they insist on denying that this is freely given to us, what is the meaning of the apostle's words:
According as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith? Romans 12:3 But if it is contended that faith is so bestowed as to be a recompense for merit, not a free gift, what then becomes of another saying of the apostle:
Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake? Philippians 1:29 Each is by the apostle's testimony made a gift,— both that he believes in Christ, and that each suffers for His sake. These men however, attribute faith to free will in such a way as to make it appear that grace is rendered to faith not as a gratuitous gift, but as a debt— thus ceasing to be grace any longer, because that is not grace which is not gratuitous.
But Pelagius would have the reader pass from this letter to the book which states his belief. This he has made mention of to yourselves, and in it he has discoursed a good deal on points about which no question was raised as to his views. Let us, however, look simply at the subjects about which our own controversy with them is concerned. Having, then terminated a discussion which he had conducted to his heart's content—from the Unity of the Trinity to the resurrection of the flesh, on which nobody was questioning him—he goes on to say:
We hold likewise one baptism, which we aver ought to be administered to infants in the same sacramental formula as it is to adults. Well, now, you have yourselves affirmed that you heard him admit at least as much as this in your presence. What, however, is the use of his saying that the sacrament of baptism is administered to children
in the same words as it is to adults, when our inquiry concerns the thing, not merely the words? It is a more important matter, that (as you write) with his own mouth he replied to your own question, that
in words of remission of sins, but he acknowledged that they are baptized for the remission itself; and yet for all this, if you were to ask him what the sin is which he supposes to be remitted to them, he would contend that they had none whatever.
Who would believe that, under so clear a confession, there is concealed a contrary meaning, if Cœlestius had not exposed it? He who in that book of his, which he quoted at Rome in the ecclesiastical proceedings there, distinctly acknowledged that
that they have any original sin. But let us now observe what Pelagius thought, not about the baptism of infants, but rather about the assistance of divine grace, in this exposition of his belief which he forwarded to Rome.
We confess, says he, Christ, whereby that natural
capacity is assisted. We, however, on our side require them to acknowledge a grace like that which the apostle describes, when he says: 2 Timothy 1:7 although it does not follow by any means that the man who has the gift of knowledge, whereby he has discovered what he ought to do, has also the grace of love so as to do it.
I also have read those books or writings of his which he mentions in the letter which he sent to Pope Innocent, of blessed memory, with the exception of a brief epistle which he says he sent to the holy Bishop Constantius; but I have nowhere been able to find in them that he acknowledges such a grace as helps not only that
natural capacity of willing and acting (which according to him we possess, even when we neither will a good thing nor do it), but also the will and the action itself, by the ministration of the Holy Ghost.
Let them read, says he,
the epistle which we wrote about twelve years ago to that holy man Bishop Paulinus: its subject throughout in some three hundred lines is the confession of God's grace and assistance alone, and our own inability to do any good thing at all without God. Well, I have read this epistle also, and found him dwelling throughout it on scarcely any other topic than the faculty and capacity of nature, while he makes God's grace consist almost entirely in this. Christ's grace, indeed, he treats with great brevity, simply mentioning its name, so that his only aim seems to have been to avoid the scandal of ignoring it altogether. It is, however, absolutely uncertain whether he means Christ's grace to consist in the remission of sins, or even in the teaching of Christ, including also the example of His life (a meaning which he asserts in several passages of his treatises); or whether he believes it to be a help towards good living, in addition to nature and teaching, through the inspiring influence of a burning and shining love.
Let them also read, says he,
Let them read moreover says he,
what I wrote, when I was in the East, to Christ's holy virgin Demetrias, and they will find that we so commend the nature of man as always to add the help of God's grace. Well, I read this letter too; and it had almost persuaded me that he did acknowledge therein the grace about which our discussion is concerned, although he did certainly seem in many passages of this work to contradict himself. But when there also came to my hands those other treatises which he afterwards wrote for more extensive circulation, I discovered in what sense he must have intended to speak of grace—concealing what he believed under an ambiguous generality, but employing the term
Let us apply ourselves with all earnestness to the task which we have set before us, nor let us have any misgiving because of our own humble ability; for we believe that we are assisted by the mother's faith and her daughter's merit ) he appeared to me at first to acknowledge the grace which helps us to individual action; nor did I notice at once the fact that he might possibly have made this grace consist simply in the revelation of teaching.
In this same work he says in another passage:
Now, if even without God men show of what character they have been made by God, see what Christians have it in their power to do, whose nature has been through Christ restored to a better condition, and who are, moreover, assisted by the help of divine grace. By this restoration of nature to a better state he would have us understand the remission of sins. This he has shown with sufficient clearness in another passage of this epistle, where he says:
Even those who have become in a certain sense obdurate through their long practice of sinning, can be restored through repentance. But he may even here too make the assistance of divine grace consist in the revelation of teaching.
Likewise in another place in this epistle of his he says:
Now, if even before the law, as we have already remarked, and long previous to the coming of our Lord and Saviour, some men are related to have lived righteous and holy lives; how much more worthy of belief is it that we are capable of doing this since the illumination of His coming, who have been restored by the grace of Christ, and born again into a better man? How much better than they, who lived before the law, ought we to be, who have been reconciled and cleansed by His blood, and by His example encouraged to the perfection of righteousness! Observe how even here, although in different language, he has made the assistance of grace to consist in the remission of sins and the example of Christ. He then completes the passage by adding these words:
Better than they were even who lived under the law; according to the apostle, who says, 'Sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.' Romans 6:14 Now, inasmuch as we have, says he,
said enough, as I suppose, on this point, let us describe a perfect virgin, who shall testify the good at once of nature and of grace by the holiness of her conduct, evermore warmed with the virtues of both. Now you ought to notice that in these words also he wished to conclude what he was saying in such a way that we might understand the good of nature to be that which we received when we were created; but the good of grace to be that which we receive when we regard and follow the example of Christ—as if sin were not permitted to those who were or are under the law, on this account, because they either had not Christ's example, or else do not believe in Him.
That this, indeed, is his meaning, other words also of his show us—not contained in this work, but in the third book of his Defence of Free Will, wherein he holds a discussion with an opponent, who had insisted on the apostle's words when he says,
For what I would, that do I not; Romans 7:15 and again,
I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind. Romans 7:23 To this he replied in these words:
Now that which you wish us to understand of the apostle himself, all Church writers assert that he spoke in the person of the sinner, and of one who was still under the law,— such a man as was, by reason of a very long custom of vice, held bound, as it were, by a certain necessity of sinning, and who, although he desired good with his will, in practice indeed was hurried headlong into evil. In the person, however, of one man, he continues,
the apostle designates the people who still sinned under the ancient law. This nation he declares was to be delivered from this evil of custom through Christ, who first of all remits all sins in baptism to those who believe in Him, and then urges them by an imitation of Himself to perfect holiness, and by the example of His own virtues overcomes the evil custom of their sins. Observe in what way he supposes them to be assisted who sin under the law: they are to be delivered by being justified through Christ's grace, as if the law alone were insufficient for them, without some reinforcement from Christ, owing to their long habit of sinning; not the inspiration of love by His Holy Spirit, but the contemplation and copy of His example in the inculcation of virtue by the gospel. Now here, at any rate, there was the very greatest call on him to say plainly what grace he meant, seeing that the apostle closed the very passage which formed the ground of discussion with these telling words:
O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 7:25 Now, when he places this grace, not in the aid of His power, but in His example for imitation, what further hope must we entertain of him, since everywhere the word
Then, again, in the work addressed to the holy virgin, of which we have spoken already, there is this passage:
Let us submit ourselves to God, and by doing His will let us merit the divine grace; and let us the more easily, by the help of the Holy Ghost, resist the evil spirit. Now, in these words of his, it is plain enough that he regards us as assisted by the grace of the Holy Ghost, not because we are unable to resist the tempter without Him by the sheer capacity of our nature, but in order that we may resist more easily. With respect, however, to the quantity and quality, whatever these might be, of this assistance, we may well believe that he made them consist of the additional knowledge which the Spirit reveals to us through teaching, and which we either cannot, or scarcely can, possess by nature. Such are the particulars which I have been able to discover in the book which he addressed to the virgin of Christ, and wherein he seems to confess grace. Of what purport and kind these are, you of course perceive.
Let them also read, says he,
my recent little treatise which we were obliged to publish a short while ago in defence of free will, and let them acknowledge how unfair is their determination to disparage us for a denial of grace, when we throughout almost the whole work acknowledge fully and sincerely both free will and grace. There are four books in this treatise, all of which I read, marking such passages as required consideration, and which I proposed to discuss: these I examined as well as I was able, before we came to that epistle of his which was sent to Rome. But even in these four books, that which he seems to regard as the grace which helps us to turn aside from evil and to do good, he describes in such a manner as to keep to his old ambiguity of language, and thus have it in his power so to explain to his followers, that they may suppose the assistance which is rendered by grace, for the purpose of helping our natural capacity, consists of nothing else than the law and the teaching. Thus our very prayers (as, indeed, he most plainly affirms in his writings) are of no other use, in his opinion, than to procure for us the explanation of the teaching by a divine revelation, not to procure help for the mind of man to perfect by love and action what it has learned should be done. The fact is, he does not in the least relinquish that very manifest dogma of his system in which he sets forth those three things, capacity, volition, action; maintaining that only the first of these, the capacity, is favoured with the constant assistance of divine help, but supposing that the volition and the action stand in no need of God's assistance. Moreover, the very help which he says assists our natural capacity, he places in the law and teaching. This teaching, he allows, is revealed or explained to us by the Holy Ghost, on which account it is that he concedes the necessity of prayer. But still this assistance of law and teaching he supposes to have existed even in the days of the prophets; whereas the help of grace, which is properly so called, he will have to lie simply in the example of Christ. But this example, you can plainly see, pertains after all to
teaching,— even that which is preached to us as the gospel. The general result, then, is the pointing out, as it were, of a road to us by which we are bound to walk, by the powers of our free will, and needing no assistance from any one else, may suffice to ourselves not to faint or fail on the way. And even as to the discovery of the road itself, he contends that nature alone is competent for it; only the discovery will be more easily effected if grace renders assistance.
Such are the particulars which, to the best of my ability, I have succeeded in obtaining from the writings of Pelagius, whenever he makes mention of grace. You perceive, however, that men who entertain such opinions as we have reviewed are
ignorant of God's righteousness, and desire to establish their own, Romans 10:3 and are far off from
the righteousness which we have of God Philippians 3:9 and not of ourselves; and this they ought to have discovered and recognised in the very holy canonical Scriptures. Forasmuch, however, as they read these Scriptures in a sense of their own, they of course fail to observe even the most obvious truths therein. Would that they would but turn their attention in no careless mood to what might be learned concerning the help of God's grace in the writings, at all events, of catholic authors; for they freely allow that the Scriptures were correctly understood by these, and that they would not pass them by in neglect, out of an overweening fondness for their own opinions. For note how this very man Pelagius, in that very treatise of his so recently put forth, and which he formally mentions in his self-defence (that is to say, in the third book of his Defence of Free Will), praises St. Ambrose.
The blessed Bishop Ambrose, says he,
in whose writings the Roman faith shines forth with special brightness, and whom the Latins have always regarded as the very flower and glory of their authors, and who has never found a foe bold enough to censure his faith or the purity of his understanding of the Scriptures. Observe the sort as well as the amount of the praises which he bestows; nevertheless, however holy and learned he is, he is not to be compared to the authority of the canonical Scripture. The reason of this high commendation of Ambrose lies in the circumstance, that Pelagius sees proper to quote a certain passage from his writings to prove that man is able to live without sin. This, however, is not the question before us. We are at present discussing that assistance of grace which helps us towards avoiding sin, and leading holy lives.
I wish, indeed, that he would listen to the venerable bishop when, in the second book of his Exposition of the Gospel according to Luke, he expressly teaches us that the Lord co-operates also with our wills.
You see, therefore, says he,
because the power of the Lord co-operates everywhere with human efforts, that no man is able to build without the Lord, no man to watch without the Lord, no man to undertake anything without the Lord. Whence the apostle thus enjoins: 'Whether you eat, or whether you drink, do all to the glory of God.' 1 Corinthians 10:31 You observe how the holy Ambrose takes away from men even their familiar expressions—such as,
We undertake, but God accomplishes,— when he says here that
no man is able to undertake anything without the Lord. To the same effect he says, in the sixth book of the same work, treating of the two debtors of a certain creditor:
According to men's opinions, he perhaps is the greater offender who owed most. The case, however, is altered by the Lord's mercy, so that he loves the most who owes the most, if he yet obtains grace. See how the catholic doctor most plainly declares that the very love which prompts every man to an ampler love appertains to the kindly gift of grace.
That repentance, indeed, itself, which beyond all doubt is an action of the will, is wrought into action by the mercy and help of the Lord, is asserted by the blessed Ambrose in the following passage in the ninth book of the same work: Good, says he,
are the tears which wash away sin. They upon whom the Lord at last turns and looks, bewail. Peter denied Him first, and did not weep, because the Lord had not turned and looked upon him. He denied Him a second time, and still wept not, because the Lord had not even yet turned and looked upon him. The third time also he denied Him, Jesus turned and looked, and then he wept most bitterly. Let these persons read the Gospel; let them consider how that the Lord Jesus was at that moment within, having a hearing before the chief of the priests; while the Apostle Peter was outside, Matthew 26:69, 71 and down in the hall, Mark 14:66 sitting at one time with the servants at the fire, Luke 22:55 at another time standing, John 18:16 as the most accurate and consistent narrative of the evangelists shows. It cannot therefore be said that it was with His bodily eyes that the Lord turned and looked upon him by a visible and apparent admonition. That, then, which is described in the words,
The Lord turned and looked upon Peter, Luke 22:61 was effected internally; it was wrought in the mind, wrought in the will. In mercy the Lord silently and secretly approached, touched the heart, recalled the memory of the past, with His own internal grace visited Peter, stirred and brought out into external tears the feelings of his inner man. Behold in what manner God is present with His help to our wills and actions; behold how
He works in us both to will and to do.
In the same book the same St. Ambrose says again:
Now if Peter fell, who said, 'Though all men shall be offended, yet will I never be offended,' who else shall rightly presume concerning himself? David, indeed, because he had said, 'In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved,' confesses how injurious his confidence had proved to himself: 'You turned away Your face,' he says, 'and I was troubled.' Pelagius ought to listen to the teaching of so eminent a man, and should follow his faith, since he has commended his teaching and faith. Let him listen humbly; let him follow with fidelity; let him indulge no longer in obstinate presumption, lest he perish. Why does Pelagius choose to be sunk in that sea whence Peter was rescued by the Rock?
Let him lend an ear also to the same godly bishop, who says, in the sixth book of this same book:
The reason why they would not receive Him is mentioned by the evangelist himself in these words, 'Because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem.' Luke 9:53 But His disciples had a strong wish that He should be received into the Samaritan town. God, however, calls whomsoever He deigns, and whom He wills He makes religious. What wise insight of the man of God, drawn from the very fountain of God's grace!
God, says he,
calls whomsoever He deigns, and whom He wills He makes religious. See whether this is not the prophet's own declaration:
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and will show pity on whom I will be pitiful; Exodus 33:19 and the apostle's deduction therefrom:
So then, says he,
it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy. Romans 9:16 Now, when even his model man of our own times says, that
whomsoever God deigns He calls, and whom He wills He makes religious, will any one be bold enough to contend that that man is not yet religious
who hastens to the Lord, and desires to be directed by Him, and makes his own will depend upon God's; who, moreover, cleaves so closely to the Lord, that he becomes (as the apostle says) 'one spirit' with Him? Great, however, as is this entire work of a
religious man, Pelagius maintains that
it is effected only by the freedom of the will. But his own blessed Ambrose, whom he so highly commends in word, is against him, saying,
The Lord God calls whomsoever He deigns, and whom He wills He makes religious. It is God, then, who makes religious whomsoever He pleases, in order that he may
hasten to the Lord, and desire to be directed by Him, and make his own will depend upon God's, and cleave so closely to the Lord as to become (as the apostle says) 'one spirit' with Him; and all this none but a religious man does. Who, then, ever does so much, unless he be made by God to do it?
Inasmuch, however, as the discussion about free will and God's grace has such difficulty in its distinctions, that when free will is maintained, God's grace is apparently denied; while when God's grace is asserted, free will is supposed to be done away with—Pelagius can so involve himself in the shades of this obscurity as to profess agreement with all that we have quoted from St. Ambrose, and declare that such is, and always has been, his opinion also; and endeavour so to explain each, that men may suppose his opinion, to be in fair accord with Ambrose's. So far therefore, as concerns the questions of God's help and grace, you are requested to observe the three things which he has distinguished so very plainly, under the terms
actuality, that is,
action. If, then, he has come round to an agreement with us, then not the
capacity alone in man, even if he neither wills nor performs the good, but the volition and the action also—in other words, our willing well and doing well—things which have no existence in man, except when he has a good will and acts rightly:— if, I repeat, he thus consents to hold with us that even the volition and the action are assisted by God, and so assisted that we can neither will nor do any good thing without such help; if, too, he believes that this is that very grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ which makes us righteous through His righteousness, and not our own, so that our true righteousness is that which we have of Him—then, so far as I can judge, there will remain no further controversy between us concerning the assistance we have from the grace of God.
But in reference to the particular point in which he quoted the holy Ambrose with so much approbation—because he found in that author's writings, from the praises he accorded to Zacharias and Elisabeth, the opinion that a man might possibly in this life be without sin; although this cannot be denied if God wills it, with whom all things are possible, yet he ought to consider more carefully in what sense this was said. Now, so far as I can see, this statement was made in accordance with a certain standard of conduct, which is among men held to be worthy of approval and praise, and which no human being could justly call in question for the purpose of laying accusation or censure. Such a standard Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth are said to have maintained in the sight of God, for no other reason than that they, by walking therein, never deceived people by any dissimulation; but as they in their sincerity appeared to men, so were they known in the sight of God. The statement, however, was not made with any reference to that perfect state of righteousness in which we shall one day live truly and absolutely in a condition of spotless purity. The Apostle Paul, indeed, has told us that he was
blameless, as touching the righteousness which is of the law; Philippians 3:6 and it was in respect of the same law that Zacharias also lived a blameless life. This righteousness, however, the apostle counted as
loss, in comparison with the righteousness which is the object of our hope, Philippians 3:8 and which we ought to
hunger and thirst after, Matthew 5:6 in order that hereafter we may be satisfied with the vision thereof, enjoying it now by faith, so long as
the just do live by faith. Romans 1:17
Lastly, let him give good heed to his venerable bishop, when he is expounding the Prophet Isaiah, and says that
no man in this world can be without sin. Now nobody can pretend to say that by the phrase
in this world he simply meant, in the love of this world. For he was speaking of the apostle, who said,
Our conversation is in heaven; Philippians 3:20 and while unfolding the sense of these words, the eminent bishop expressed himself thus:
Now the apostle says that many men, even while living in the present world, are perfect with themselves, who could not possibly be deemed perfect, if one looks at true perfection. For he says himself: 'We now see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as also I am known.' 1 Corinthians 13:13 Thus, there are those who are spotless in this world, there are those who will be spotless in the kingdom of God; although, of course, if you sift the thing minutely, no one could be spotless, because no one is without sin. That passage, then, of the holy Ambrose, which Pelagius applies in support of his own opinion, was either written in a qualified sense, probable, indeed, but not expressed with minute accuracy; or if the holy and lowly-minded author did think that Zacharias and Elisabeth lived according to the highest and absolutely perfect righteousness, which was incapable of increase or addition, he certainly corrected his opinion on a minuter examination of it.
He ought, moreover, carefully to note that, in the very same context from which he quoted that passage of Ambrose's, which seemed so satisfactory for his purpose, he also said this:
capacity, which Pelagius refuses faithfully to regard as corrupted by sin, and therefore boastfully extols. Beyond question, this runs counter to this man's will and inclination, although it does not contravene the truthful confession of the apostle, wherein he says:
We too were once by nature the children of wrath, even as others. Ephesians 2:3 For through the sin of the first man, which came from his free will, our nature became corrupted and ruined; and nothing but God's grace alone, through Him who is the Mediator between God and men, and our Almighty Physician, succours it. Now, since we have already prolonged this work too far in treating of the assistance of the divine grace towards our justification, by which God co-operates in all things for good with those who love Him, Romans 8:28 and whom He first loved 1 John 4:19 — giving to them that He might receive from them: we must commence another treatise, as the Lord shall enable us, on the subject of sin also, which by one man has entered into the world, along with death, and so has passed upon all men, Romans 5:12 setting forth as much as shall seem needful and sufficient, in opposition to those persons who have broken out into violent and open error, contrary to the truth here stated.
Source. Translated by Peter Holmes and Robert Ernest Wallis, and revised by Benjamin B. Warfield. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 5. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/15061.htm>.
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