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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
is the system of doctrine respecting sin promulgated by Pelagius (q.v.) in the early Christian Church.
I. Origin of these Views. — From a very early period the Church discussed the question of the origin of the human soul, and the speculations indulged in on this subject tended very directly to give form and complexion to the views held on the doctrines of sin and of grace. "Whence sprang the soul of each individual human being?" "What is its precise relation to the body as regards the time when they both began to exist?" Such questions as these presented matter of deepest interest to many of the most thoughtful minds among the writers in the early ages of Christianity. The influence of Grecian philosophy still lingered among them, and blended itself with their speculations. This influence is very apparent in the manner in which these questions are discussed by them. The Greek philosophy, however, specially prevailed in the East, while other and healthier influences controlled the practical mind of the West; thus there arose in process of time a divergence between the anthropology of the Eastern or Greek Church and that of the Church of the West. In the Eastern Church, particularly in that of Alexandria, the doctrinal system of Origen, and his peculiar manner of interpreting Scripture, prevailed. They further maintained the doctrine that all human souls, in the aggregate, were created by God in the beginning before the creation of man; that these souls were at their first creation angelic beings, but that, having sinned in their angelic state, they were, as a punishment, doomed to dwell in human bodies, and to sojourn for a certain time on this earth, where, by the discipline through which they must pass, they would all in due time be prepared for resuming again their original angelic life. This strange theory has its roots in the Pythagorean doctrine of metempsychosis, and in the speculations of Plato, though Origen attempts to find support for it in the teachings of Scripture, by his favorite mode of allegorizing, according to his own particular fancy, the narrative of the earlier chapters of the book of Genesis, and certain other portions of Scripture, which he regarded as furnishing illustrations of the same principle. This "stulta persuasio" of Origen's, as Jerome styles it. found but few to embrace it; nay, it met with very strenuous opposition from many quarters, and by the end of the 4th century was almost wholly forgotten.
There were, however, two other opinions propounded regarding the origin of the human soul which gained more currency.
1. The theory advanced by Jerome, that God "quotidie fabricatur animas." This view was mainly advocated in the East, although it also found a few advocates in the West. According to this theory, each human soul is a distinct and separate creation out of nothing. This position, it is obvious, leaves no room for such a doctrine as that of original sin; for every separately created soul, coming directly from the Creator's hands, must be absolutely pure and holy. If so, how comes it to be polluted by sin? If polluted by sin at all, this must be by the direct act of God; and, therefore, the restoration and recovery of such a soul must be an act of justice on the part of God, and not of grace.
2. The theory that is specially associated with the name of Tertullian, because it was first maintained and defended by him, viz. that human souls are propagated per traduciamn. This, which is generally styled the theory of traducianism — as Jerome's is called the theory of creationism — affirms that the souls as well as the bodies of men are propagated; that God's work of creating de nihilo was finished absolutely on the sixth day, and that since that time there has, properly speaking, been exerted by God no creative energy; that the soul has the power of reproducing itself in individual souls, just in the same manner as the first created seed of any given kind in the vegetable world possesses the power of reproducing others of the same kind. Mainly through the influence of Augustine, who adopted it, the traducian theory was almost universally embraced in the North African and the Western churches. True, that father nowhere in his writings formally exhibits and advocates it, yet all his discussions on the doctrine of sin, and on the relation of men individually to Adam, are evidently based upon it, and take it for granted.
These speculations regarding the origin of individual human souls imparted, to a very large extent, a particular complexion to the opinions promulgated regarding sin. Both in the East and the West the great doctrinal conflict of the early Christians was against the assaults of Gnosticism. The Gnostic idea that man, by his very creation, is sinful; and that he has no freedom of will, was keenly opposed by them. They strenuously affirmed, on the contrary, that man at his creation was holy, that he was absolutely free from all taint of moral evil, and that he became a sinner only by his voluntary rebellion against God. The prevalence of Gnosticism led them to give much prominence to the doctrine that man is a free moral agent, and that he is the author of his own sin. But while strongly and rightly maintaining against the Gnostics that man was a free responsible moral agent, they did not at all entertain the question of the influence of depravity and apostasy from God on the actings of the human will. This question did not arise till the time of the Pelagian controversy, and then it was found that there existed a diversity of opinion concerning it. The Alexandrian school, e.g. Origen and Clement, strongly affirmed man's entire freedom of will, his full power to believe or not to believe, to obey God or not to obey him. The fathers of that school asserted that the first movement of man towards holiness was wholly the spontaneous self- caused action of his own will; although they acknowledged that he afterwards needed the help of the Divine Spirit to bring his own effort to a satisfactory issue.
They taught that the soul has an inherent power to begin the work of renewal; that God concurs with and helps this willingness on the part of man; that the beginning of all right:action was wholly of man, although its completion depended on divine help; that original sin did not dwell in the πνεῦμα , the soul, the pre-existent spiritual nature which came down from the angelic sphere to inhabit the body assigned to it, but that it had its seat only in the σῶμα and the ψυχή, the body and the sensuous nature; and that the πνεῦμα, though living, so to speak, in contact with sin, was not necessarily defiled by it, but, on the contrary, had the inherent power of warring against it, and of finally overcoming it. Hence it followed that there was no guilt in this corruption, since guilt could only be predicated of the πνεῦμα , being only possible when the πνεῦμα transgressed God's law. While corruption therefore descends from Adam, lodging in the bodily and physical nature, guilt, properly speaking, does not descend, because it is only the result of the action of the individual πνεῦμα; and where the πνεῦμα does transgress, and thereby incur guilt, its doing so is of its own free choice, and not because of any connection with Adam or with his transgression.
This doctrine, fully developed by Clement and Origen, was universally accepted in the East, and was also received with much favor in the West. It experienced some modification from the fathers of the Antiochian and the later Alexandrian school, by their adoption of Jerome's theory of the origin of the soul of man; and in this modified form continued dominant in the East. Here we may find all the germs of Pelagianism. In his Liber apologeticus contra Pelagium de arbitrii libertate, as quoted by Worter, Orosius affirms that in Pelagius and Coelestius Origen lived and spake: "Haec venenatissimorum dogmatum abominatio habet etiam nunc viventes mortuos, mortuosque viventes. Nam Origines et Priscillianus et Jovinianus, olim apud se mortui in his vivunt; et non solum vivunt verum etiam loquuntur: nunc vero Pelagius ct Coelestius, si in his perseveraverint viventes mortui, ecce adversus ecclesiam, quod miserum est, et quod multo miserins est, in ecclesia palam sibilant," etc. Pelagianism is certainly countenanced by the Greek anthropology. The latter prepared the way for Pelagianism when it taught that original sin exists only as a disorder in the sensuous nature of man; and that it is not culpable, not guilt, till the πνεῦμα yields to the temptation which arises from this disorder; that our physical nature has, in virtue of its derivation from Adam, strong animal and sensual passions which tempt to sin, and that this is all the corruption we inherit from Adam; that sin is not inherited, but is the result of the action of the individual will of man, and that the will is in no respect whatever influenced or biased one way or another because of our descent from Adam, further than what is implied in its being tempted by the sensuous nature; which temptation it has abundant power to resist. Holding such a doctrine regarding sin, the fathers of the Eastern Church, as a natural consequence, held also the doctrine of Synergism in regeneration. They maintained that man in his natural state has a certain tendency towards that which is good; and that by giving free scope to this tendency he works together with God or with the Divine Spirit, towards the attainment of holiness. The Spirit and man, they said, cooperate in this great work; but the first step towards its accomplishment is taken by man. The natural result of teachings such as these was Pelagianism.
There was, however, a current of thought at the same time moving in a different direction. Tertullian occupies a prominent and chief place among those who guided and gave intensity to the force of this current. He found existing in the public opinions expressed by the fathers in the West indistinct traces of the theory of traducianism — the theory which affirms that man in his entire humanity, soul as well as body, is procreated; that the entire of human nature was originated by God in creation, and that that nature is individualized by procreation. Tertullian gave form and prominence to that theory, which was afterwards embraced as the true theory of the origin of human souls by the whole Western Church. Hence it was rightly argued, if the soul is propagated, there must be also a propagation of sintradux animce, tradux peccati. Juster views then began to be entertained regarding the innate sinfulness of the soul, and as a consequence also regarding the true nature of regeneration as the effect of the agency of the Divine Spirit alone — monergism — seeing that the soul, the πνεῦμα, has no tendency, no inclination, and can have none towards holiness till it is acted upon by the power of the Spirit of God. Man has no desire towards holiness in himself. That desire is originated and carried forward solely by the Spirit of God. Tertullian did not fully evolve these doctrines, but he led the way to that result. The North African Church gave them fuller development, till in the time of Augustine they received their amplest exhibition.
Cyprian in the 3d, and Ambrose and Hilary in the 4th century, made very considerable advances on Tertullian. They were more separated from those influences of the Greek anthropology than Tertullian was, and hence presented in a clearer light than he did the doctrine of man's original sinfulness, and of his utter moral inability and disinclination towards holiness. They began to grapple with the doctrine of the distinction between the guilt and the corruption of man, both of which they assumed had descended from Adam, and to exhibit the doctrine with considerable clearness of statement, according to the mode of argument adopted by the apostle in the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.
At the close of the 4th century, when this was the state of matters in the Christian Church, touching the opinions that had been published on the subjects of sin and of divine grace, Pelagius appeared, and developed, and gave full expression to, the doctrines which he had learned from the Oriental Church teachers. The opposite system of doctrine that had already in some degree been unfolded in the writings of Augustine influenced him also in the direction of leading him to assume more decidedly the attitude of antagonism. He conceived that certain practical consequences resulted from Augustine's doctrine of man's moral inability and of grace, which in his view were hurtful to the interests of holiness. He saw around him, in Rome and elsewhere, many errors of practical life among professing Christians, which he supposed had their roots in the system of doctrine taught by Augustine, and generally accepted throughout the Church.
Thus we may regard Pelagius as influenced by two tendencies in the development of his doctrinal views: by the false elements which had in the course of the past ages mingled themselves with the speculations on Christian doctrine, partly in the West, but more especially in the East; and by the tendency to pervert Christian truth, and convert the doctrine of human depravity, and of the necessity of divine grace, into a cloak to practical ungodliness. Such a perversion of Christianity gave strength and activity to his opposition to the doctrines with which it was connected. From the beginning there had been those who had said, "Let us continue in sin, that grace may abound." His abhorrence of such a principle, together with other influences operating in the same direction, led him to construct a system by which he might counteract the evils which he looked upon as resulting from the doctrine of "salvation by grace," as it may have been imperfectly or falsely taught by some, especially as it was falsely and perversely practiced by many. His effort was in the interests, as he supposed, of virtue and holiness. He ignored altogether the doctrine of the sinfulness of human nature and the necessity of divine grace, and constructed a system of pure naturalism — a system from which everything peculiar to the Gospel as a revelation of God's plan of mercy towards man is eliminated.
II. Life and Writings of Pelagius. — Very little trustworthy information can be obtained regarding the personal history and character of Pelagius, though his name is associated with one of the most extensive and important controversies within the domain of Christian doctrine. He usually has the name, among his contemporaries, of Pelagius Brito, and hence it has been concluded that he was a native of Britain. Jerome also speaks of him as "Scotorum pultibus praegravatum." He seems to have spent the earlier and greater part of his life in the retirement of the cloister, where he probably gave himself to the diligent study of the writings of the fathers of the Eastern Church, who were held to be of authority in Britain. These writings undoubtedly moulded his forms of thought, and gave a complexion to all his theological speculations. He was a man of great learning, but there is no evidence in his writings of profundity of thought or of depth of feeling. Augustine says of him, "Istum, sicut eum qui noverunt, loquuntur bonum ac praedicandum virum." He appears to have borne among his contemporaries the reputation of a man of blameless moral excellence, but the development of his character in its relation to sin seems to have been altogether imperfect. In forming an estimate of his character from the spirit and tendency of his writings, Neander remarks that it is manifest he had never passed through any great mental struggle like that which his great opponent Augustine has passed through ere he attained to fixed conceptions of Christianity. He had never known any deep inner conflicts with sin. He had never vividly realized the true nature and the need of Christian holiness. His whole system proves that he failed to recognize the difference between morality and true evangelical holiness; and indeed this was an error into which his whole training as monk was very apt to lead him.
About the beginning of the 5th century we find Pelagius at Rome. Acted upon by such influences as we have described, he began his great enterprise. He wrote a commentary on the Pauline epistles: Expositionum in Epistolas Pauli libri 14. This Work, in which he brings out his peculiar views, consists of brief comments on all the epistles of Paul, with the exception of that to the Hebrews. It has a place in the Benedictine edition of Jerome's works. Indeed, all that remains to us of the writings of Pelagius, with the exception of extracts which are found in Augustine's controversial treatises, are usually printed along with the works of Jerome. For a long time they were regarded as the genuine works of that father. The original editors of Jerome's works considered it as a part of their duty carefully to purge away everything that, to them, savored of heresy from his productions, and therefore they used great liberties with the books which passed through their hands. We have the works of Pelagius therefore only in a mutilated form.
In 411 Pelagius passed over to North Africa, in company with his disciple and admirer Coelestius. The name of Coelestius now becomes prominently mixed up with the controversy which soon began to agitate the whole Church. He was probably a native of Scotland. Mercator says of him, "Pelagio adhaesit Coelestius, nobills natu quidem, et illius temporis auditorialis scholasticus." On reaching Carthage, Pelagius wrote a respectful letter to Augustine, who was bishop of Hippo, and received from him a friendly reply. He does not seem to have given prominence to his peculiar opinions, and he escaped at this time all suspicions of heresy. After a short time Pelagius proceeded to Palestine, where he was warmly welcomed by Jerome, then residing at Bethlehem as the head of a theological school of great repute. Meanwhile Ccelestius, whom he had left behind him in Carthage, came under the particular notice of the Church there. He gave himself forth as a candidate for the office of presbyter, and his doctrinal opinions were therefore narrowly inquired into. Paulinus, a deacon of Milan, challenged them as heretical. A council of the Church of Carthage was convened (412), presided over by bishop Aurelius, to investigate the accusations of unsoundness in the faith that had been laid against him. Marius Mercator, in his Commonitorium adversus haeresin Pelagii et Coelestii, published in 429, records the charges brought against Ccelestius on this occasion by Paulinus. They are the following, as quoted by Worter:
"1. That Adam was created mortal, and would have died whether he had sinned or not.
2. That Adam's sin injured himself alone, and not the human race.
3. That new-born infants are in the same condition in which Adam was before his transgression.
4. That since neither by the death nor transgression of Adam the whole human race dies, so neither will the whole human race rise again from the dead on account of Christ's resurrection.
5. That the law guides into the kingdom of heaven as well as the Gospel.
6. That there were men who lived without sin (intpeccabiles, i.e. sinepeccato) before the advent of our Lord." Thus far quoting Mercator, Worter continues: "If we add,
7. That the grace of God is not absolutely necessary to lead men to holiness; and,
8. That grace is given to men in proportion to their merit, we will then have a pretty complete summary of the doctrines taught by Pelagius and his followers."
Coelestius, in his defense, endeavored to argue that the points of difference between him and his accusers were quite unimportant, and, therefore, that he ought not to be condemned for his opinions. The council, however, judged differently. They would make no compromise. They unanimously declared the opinions of Coelestius to be heretical; and, on his refusing to retract his errors, excommunicated him. This is the first of a succession of ecclesiastical decisions come to by different synods and councils of the Church of that age on the great Pelagian controversy.
Up to this time the controversies that had been carried on within the Church had reference mainly to the doctrines of the person of Christ and of the Holy Trinity, as the Arian, the Nestorian, the Eutychian, and the Monophysite controversies. But now, for a number of years, the whole energies of the Church were concentrated on the discussion of the doctrines of sin and of grace in connection with the Pelagian controversy. The controversy did not terminate with Pelagius and his immediate associates. Others arose after them. The forms and aspects of the controversy gradually changed. In some respects, indeed, that controversy may be said to be continued to the present day; for it is the old opposition to the doctrine of the sovereignty of divine grace, the old overestimating of the value of human effort, which lies at the root of many of the doctrinal controversies of modern times. But still, in its first, and what may be called its grossest form, Pelagianism rose to its maturity, and again sunk from view in the time of Pelagius himself.
At the time of the meeting of this synod at Carthage, by which Coelestius was condemned, Orosius, a young Spanish ecclesiastic, happened to be in that city with the view of consulting Augustine regarding the errors of the Priscillianists. He afterwards went, by the advice of Augustine, to study theology under Jerome at Bethlehem. On his arrival there he reported what had occurred at Carthage in the matter of Coelestius and his doctrines. The report of Orosius at once gave rise to suspicions regarding the orthodoxy of Pelagius, whose friend and disciple Coelestius was known to be. At a synod assembled in Jerusalem, under the presidency of the bishop John, these suspicions were examined into. Orosius appeared as his accuser. The president was inclined to shelter Pelagius. The presbyters who were assembled there were, for the most part, inclined to adopt the opinions of John, and hence the accuser of Pelagius was received with little favor. When Orosius quoted the opinion of Augustine, whose name was an authority in the Western Church, as opposed to that of Pelagius, the latter replied, "And what is Augustine to me?" (et quis est mihi Augustinus). This was a bold saying; yet it pleased the Orientals, who had not yet learned to venerate the name of the great bishop of Hippo. The doctrinal points having been gone into, and explanations given by Pelagius, his judges declared themselves quite satisfied with his orthodoxy. In the same year (415) another council, consisting of fourteen presbyters, was held at Diospolis (Lydda) in Palestine — Jerome styles it a "miserable synod" — under the presidency of Eulogius, metropolitan of Caesarea, before which Pelagius was again accused of holding and propa. gating unsound opinions.
Two bishops from the Gallican Church, viz. Heros of Arles and Lazarus of Aqua (Aix), took a prominent part in the proceedings against him. They appeared, indeed, as his chief accusers. Here again Pelagius did not find it difficult to persuade his judges of his orthodoxy. Their own opinions were not very greatly different from those of the accused. They understood not the distinctions on which the doctrinal system prevalent in the West was formed. By the use of ambiguous phraseology, and by abstaining from giving any definition of what he really meant by "grace" and "free will," he easily convinced them that his views were quite in accordance with the doctrines of the Church. The learned Jesuit historian, Petavius (Rationar. Temp. 1:257), thus describes the appearance he made on this occasion: "Ab iis interrogatus Pelagius, facile Graecos homines lingune illius ac fraudis ignaros captiosis responsibus elusit." The following was the sentence pronounced by his judges: "Since we are satisfied with the declarations of the monk Pelagius, here present, who acknowledges the holy doctrine, and condemns whatsoever is contrary to the faith of the Church, we declare that he is in the communion of the Catholic Church." This singular condition, however, was attached to the sentence, that he should anathematize all who taught the contrary opinions, not as heretics, but as fools — "tanquam stultos, non tanquam haereticos!" The Eastern Church had never, with such fullness and precision of expression as the Western, given an authoritative deliverance on the doctrines of sin and of divine grace. The anthropology there prevailing, and moulding all their forms of thought, was still that of the second and third centuries, and thus Pelagius escaped so easily when his opinions were inquired into.
It seemed as if in the East the cause of Pelagius and his followers would triumph. They exulted at the victories they had gained over their opponents. But the Western bishops were roused to more resolute efforts than ever to expose and condemn the deadly errors which were growing up under the sanction, seemingly, of the Eastern synods. Jerome condemned these synods as themselves heretical. The vigilant and energetic Augustine now girded on his armor, and stood in the foreground as the great champion for the doctrine of grace. His penetrating and philosophic mind, and the deep insight he had gained in the school of Christian experience into the true nature of the Gospel, enabled him to see through the disguise under which the system of Pelagius was concealed, and to discover the fatal character of its doctrines. He contended earnestly for the faith. He agitated the African Church to investigate the whole matter, and to give forth an unambiguous decree on the subjects in dispute. At the same time he published his first work on the controversy, entitled De gestis Pelagii, in which he spoke strongly against the Eastern bishops in allowing themselves to be so grievously misled by the plausible reasonings and ambiguities of Pelagius. This was the first of a series of works which Augustine published from time to time during the space of about twenty years, during which he was engaged mainly in conducting this controversy.
Two provincial synods were held in the year following (416); one at Mileum, in Numidia, composed of sixty-one bishops, among whom was Augustine, presided over by Silvanus, and the other at Carthage, presided over by Aurelius, by both of which the opinions promulgated by Pelagius and Coelestius were examined, and being found heretical were solemnly condemned, These synods respectively sent letters to Innocent I, the Roman bishop, giving him an account of their proceedings, and asking his concurrence in the sentence they had pronounced. A third letter, sent in the names of five African bishops — Augustine, Aurelius, Alypius, Enodeus, and Possidius — conveyed to him fuller information regarding the heretical character of the opinions entertained by Pelagius. They at the same time also sent him one of the books published by Pelagius, that he might examine it for himself. Innocent, in reply to those letters, expresses himself well pleased with the dutiful conduct of the North African bishops in referring the matter to the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, and the legitimate head therefore of Christendom! He then declares his full concurrence in the sentence they had pronounced against the heresy. "We can neither affirm nor deny," he says, "that there are Pelagians in Rome; because, if there are any, they take care to conceal themselves, and are not discovered in so great a multitude of people." It had been reported to him that the Eastern Council had acquitted Pelagius. With reference to this he says, "We cannot believe that he has been justified, notwithstanding that some laymen have brought to us acts by which he pretends to have been absolved. But we doubt the authenticity of these acts, because they have not been sent us by the council, and we have not received any letters from those who assisted at it. For if Pelagius could have relied on his justification, he would not have failed to oblige his judges to acquaint us with it. And even in these acts he has not justified himself clearly, but has only sought to evade and perplex matters. We can neither approve nor blame this decision.
If Pelagius pretends he has nothing to fear, it is not our business to send for him, but rather his to make haste to come and get himself absolved. For if he still continues to entertain the same sentiments, whatever letters he may receive, he will never venture to expose himself to our sentence. If he is to be summoned, that ought rather to be done by those who are nearest to him. We have perused the book said to be written by him, which you sent us. We have found therein many propositions against the grace of God, many blasphemies, nothing that pleased us, and hardly anything but what displeased us, and ought to be rejected by all the world." Pelagius, being made aware of the anathema which had been pronounced against him and Coelestius, immediately drew up a confession of his faith, and sent it with a letter to Innocent; but that pope meantime dying, the communication fell into the hands of his successor, Zosimus, who came probably originally from the East, a man whose knowledge of Christian truth was superficial and indefinite. Coelestius went to Rome to prosecute in person his appeal against the decree of the African synods. Zosimus readily favored the appeal to his judgment. He was so far influenced by the written statements and explanation of Pelagius ("subdola Pelagii epistola deceptus," says Petavius), and by a letter in favor of Pelagius from bishop Praylus of Jerusalem, as well as by the more detailed oral explanation and promises of submission to the papal decision made by Coelestius, that he reversed the sentence of his predecessor Innocent, and declared in very strong terms his disapproval of the decision of the councils of Mileum and Carthage. He sent two letters to the African Church in which he, declared that they were guilty of doing a great wrong to Pelagius and his associate, by condemning them as heretics on grounds altogether insufficient. He complained that they had too hastily given heed to the representations of Heros and Lazarus. "whose ordinations," says he, "we have found to be irregular: and no accusation ought to have been received from them against an absent person, who being now present explains his faith and challenges his accusers. If these accusers do not appear at Rome within two months, to convict him of having other opinions than those which he professes, he ought to be deemed innocent to all intents and purposes."
The African clergy were by no means satisfied with this result, as might be expected. They accordingly again met in general council in Carthage in 418, and drew up a full statement of their views, showing why they could not accept the explanation of Pelagius and Coelestius, and why they still adhered to their former sentence against them. In their letter to pope Zosimus they say, "We have ordained that the sentence given by the venerable bishop Innocent shall subsist until they shall confess without equivocation that the grace of Jesus Christ does assist us not only to know, but also to do justice in every action; insomuch that without it we can neither think, say, nor do anything whatever that belongs to true piety. Coelestius's having said in general terms that he agrees with Innocent's letter is not satisfactory in regard to persons of inferior understanding, but you ought to anathematize in clear terms all that is bad in his writings, lest many should believe that the apostolical see approves of their errors." The council having entered fully into an examination of the various heretical opinions of Pelagius and Coelestius, drew up and published in nine separate propositions — canones — doctrinal statements in opposition to the errors which they condemned.
Zosimus was induced, by the various representations that were made, to reconsider the matter. He accordingly summoned Coelestius before him, that he might examine into his opinions. He fled, however, from Rome without submitting to such a trial, whereupon Zosimus recalled the sentence of approval he had formally given, and confirmed that of his predecessor, "haereticorum calliditate detecta." At the same time he sent an "Epistola Tractoria," or circular letter, in accordance with the new decision he had come to, accepting the decision of the Council of Carthage against Pelagius, addressed to all the bishops of the Western Church for their approval. They all subscribed it, with the exception of eighteen Italian bishops, the chief of whom was Julian, bishop of Eclanum, a small village in Apulia, "a man of a penetrating genius, learned in the Scriptures, and an accurate scholar both in the Greek and Latin languages." These refractory bishops were all deposed from their office as favorers of the opinions of Pelagius. They afterwards fled to Constantinople, where they associated with Nestorius and his party. Some of them, however, again returned to Rome, and, retracting their errors and professing penitence, they were restored to their office. Julian continued to espouse the cause of Pelagius, whereupon, as Petavius remarks, "Cum Augustino grande certamen iniit, homo lingua promptus ac disertus sed procax et temerarius."
The civil as well as the ecclesiastical authorities were now moved to pronounce against Pelagianism. The case having been represented to the emperor Honorius, he issued a "Sacrum Rescriptum," dated from Ravenna, in April, 418, addressed to the praetorian prefect of Italy, who immediately, in conjunction with the prefects of the East and of Gaul, published an edict, commanding that all who were convicted of holding the errors of Pelagius should suffer banishment and confiscation of their goods. Such an appeal to the civil powers was quite in accordance with the opinions which Augustine had already propounded during the Donatist controversy as to the sphere of the magistrate's authority. In replying to Julian, who complained that an appeal had been made to the civil magistrate in a matter that ought to be decided by an appeal to "reason," he says — "Vis non timere potestatem? bonum fac. Non est autem bonum, contra apostolicurn sensum exserere et asserere hbereticum sensum. Damnata ergo haeresis ab episcopis non adhuc examinanda, sed coercenda est a potestatibus Christianis."
From the time of these decrees against him Pelagius passes away from the field of history. It is not known what was his subsequent career. it is conjectured by some that he returned to his native country, and there continued to teach the same doctrines which had already elsewhere involved the Church in so much controversy.
III. Subsequent Controversies On the Subject. — In 429 Marius Mercator published in the East, and dedicated to Theodosius II, his work entitled Commonitorium adversus haeresin Pelnagii et Caelestii. It was translated into Latin, and published in the West in 431. That work contains a powerful vindication of the Christian doctrine of sin and of grace, in opposition to Pelagianism, very much after the manner of Augustine. The Eastern Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, also held in 431, gave forth a sentence in harmony with those that had been issued at Carthage against Pelagius and his opinions. Thus it became manifest that the agitations of these years had resulted in a triumphant overthrow of the heresy which was taught by Pelagius. Yet it is obvious that the influence of the teachings of Origen, which prevailed so generally in the East, mitigated and modified to a great degree the opposition of the Church there to Pelagius and his opinions.
There was a violent antagonism, on the subject of divine grace, between the views of Pelagius and those of Augustine. Augustine held the doctrine of salvation by grace in the strictest Calvinistic sense of the phrase — that every one who is saved owes his salvation entirely to divine grace, without any meritorious cooperation of his own.
There were some, even opponents of Pelagianism, who held that such a view necessarily led to the conclusion that the withholding of divine grace must be the cause of the eternal ruin of the non-elect, and that hence they are not responsible for their perdition. This led to the adoption of a middle course between Pelagianism and Augustinianism. Hence there sprang up a sect at first known by the name of Massiliensians, but afterwards styled by the schoolmen Semi-Pelagians. They adopted the Synergistic theory of regeneration. They said that the efficacy of grace depended on the manner in which it was received by man. This form of doctrine became dominant in the Church of Rome. Augustinianism had but few to defend it. It was as a system of doctrine almost forgotten, till at the time of the Reformation it once more rose to new life, and was embodied in the theology of Luther and Calvin. The Council of Trent gave full sanction in its canons to the doctrine of Pelagius on the subjects of sin and of regeneration. This is evident from the expositions given to these canons by such divines as Bellarmine. The Tridentine theologians vigorously maintain the Synergistic theory of regeneration, and as vigorously condemn the Monergistic theory taught by Augustine, and entering as an essential part into the theology of the Reformation.
IV. Analysis of Pelagianism. — Much importance attaches to the forms which the Pelagian controversy assumed when it appeared for the first time on the field of Church history. What are called the "doctrines of divine grace," although always forming an essential part in the system of truth which pervaded and gave life to the Christian Church, had never been the subject of controversy, and, consequently, had never been stated with any definiteness or precision of form till the time of Pelagius. The controversy, as at first conducted, while it cannot be said to have been exhausted, was carried on with so much skill, both on the one side and on the other, that scarcely anything new in the form of argument can be adduced. In the writings of Augustine, the great defender of the catholic truth of that age, there is found such a vast store of arguments, both philosophical and scriptural, in support of the cardinal doctrines of divine grace, that modern controversialists find little else remaining for them than to gather and present them anew. They are as valid now as when first exhibited in opposition to the ingenious and plausible reasonings of Pelagius and his immediate followers, Coelestius and Julian of Eclanum.
The fathers before Augustine, in making reference to the doctrine involved in the controversy, certainly do not always use language which is sufficiently explicit, or which may not be interpreted as giving countenance to Pelagianism; yet the manner in which they quote the Scripture, and the whole tone and tendency of their teachings, sufficiently demonstrate that they held substantially the same doctrines that Augustine afterwards fully developed into a system. Augustine quotes the fathers that preceded him as agreeing with him in his doctrinal views. The principal discussions of the fathers of the earlier centuries were with Gnosticism in its various manifestations. This led them to magnify unduly the power of man's free will. At this point the divergence in the direction of what afterwards was known in history as Pelagianism first made its appearance. The roots of that system may indeed, in this respect, be found in the ambiguous and frequently inconsistent language of the earlier fathers when speaking of man's possessing a freedom of will — a power of will in the direction of that which is good. They said more than they were warranted, more than consistency with the other truths they maintained required, in affirming that man had a power to obey God. They failed to give due weight and importance to the influences of human depravity on the human will; and thus, while acknowledging that depravity, they attributed a power to the human will in the doing of good which it does not possess. They moreover confounded morality with evangelical holiness. A power to perform outward duties which belong to the sphere of morality is not to be confounded with a power to perform the duties which belong to the sphere of evangelical holiness — the relation we bear to God. Thus it was that, while in the main they held the doctrines of human depravity and of salvation by grace, they at the same time spoke of them with much indefiniteness, so that a Pelagian will not have much difficulty in persuading himself that the germs of his system are to be found in the writings of the fathers.
A scientific exhibition of the system of Pelagianism must rest on its primary or central principle, and must trace the connection of its several parts with that principle. Theologians are not at one as to what this fundamental principle in reality is. Starting from the circumstance that Augustine, in his first anti-Pelagian work, De peccatorum meritis et remissione, combats the opinion that physical death is purely natural, and that the first man would have died even though he had not sinned, Jansen and Garnier have maintained that this doctrine is the root of the whole system of Pelagius, out of which all its parts have sprung. Wiggers begins his development of the system with the doctrine of infant baptism, because that doctrine, though not the first, was one of the first about which the controversy arose. Another theologian of our own time, Julius Muller, finds the ground-principle of the Pelagian heresy in a superficial apprehension of sin — in the want of a true, heartfelt knowledge of sin. Such a defective knowledge must rest on a superficial knowledge of holiness which God demands of us, and which Christ, the living law, shows us in the mirror of his own life. The existence of sin, with its dominion in the soul, is the fundamental supposition of Christianity, and its subjective recognition is the condition of its pardon; therefore error as to the' inner being and operation of in must result in a false doctrine of the saving grace of Christ. But since the chief and most general contrast does not lie between sin and holiness, but between nature and grace, it is plain, argues Worter, that we must look for the proper root and fountain-head of all Pelagian doctrine elsewhere. To know properly the principle on which Pelagianism rests, we must inquire thoroughly into the history of its dogmas as they develop themselves in the 4th and in the early part of the 5th centuries.
This will lead us to inquire into the relation of cosmology, or, rather, of anthropology, to soteriology, or into the question of the transition from creation to salvation, as Cyril of Alexandria has already briefly but distinctly indicated when, in expounding Isaiah 43:18; 1 Corinthians 5:17; and Revelation 21:5, he has advanced the problem whether the salvation in Christ is not to be considered as a new creation of the not altogether unscathed, but yet not altogether destroyed human nature, or as a restoration of man despoiled by the fall of his original perfection. Apollinarism and the Antiochean school, though in other respects very much separated from each other, teach with one voice that the creation of man was imperfect and incomplete, and they define salvation through Christ as a second creation, coming after and completing the first. Salvation, say they, is the finishing of creation, and on that account is necessary. But such an opinion as this is altogether a perversion of Christianity. It stands ill direct opposition to the true Christian conception of God, which admits of no defective creation, but demands one every way perfect and complete. Besides this, if the first man sinned in consequence of the defective nature with which he was created, it could not be properly sin, which is the action of a free will. Pelagianism, on the other hand, maintains the precise opposite doctrine in asserting that man was in his original creation perfect, and did not need emendation. Julian of Eclanum, who sought to carry back the Pelagian doctrines in general, and to rest them on those principles which lay at the foundation of the system, taught in his argument against Augustine that in acknowledging the doctrine of original sin, i.e. of a moral pollution extending to the personal will of the individual through Adam's sin, we are led to the conclusion that as a Savior God comes into contradiction with himself as a Creator, since by salvation he would make better what by creation was made good and perfect; and that now, since human nature remains the same as it was when originally created by God, viz. good and perfect, there can be no such thing spoken of as a positive deterioration or injury of it.
If we accept this view of Pelagianism, which maintains the creation of man as originally perfect, it stands rightly in opposition to Apollinarism and the Antiochean school. But holding the perfection of human nature in such a sense as to exclude all idea of moral injury, it falls into the opposite error of overestimating it, so that for it salvation has only an accidental importance, and too great an independence is attributed to man. Though the Pelagian builds the chief doctrines of his system on the doctrine of the original perfection of human nature, yet, in a just development of Pelagianism, which stands in antagonism to the whole doctrines of anthropology, we regard the freedom of the will as forming the fundamental conception or principle on which the whole depends. We begin, therefore, our representation of Pelagianism with the doctrine of the freedom of the will, because the doctrine of sin is conditionated upon it, and the doctrine of grace depends upon both.
The doctrine of Augustine, and of all the Reformed confessions, at least those of the Calvinistic type, is, that in the direction of holiness, or of spiritual good, the will of man is in entire bondage; that man has no freedom to do anything really good before God; no natural power, even in the faintest degree, to love and serve God. This they rested on the doctrine of the entire depravity of human nature. For if it is true that man is totally depraved, it must follow as a consequence that the will is in a state of bondage to evil; and also, that efficacious divine grace is necessary to deliver him from this bondage, and to create a will to that which is good. But while denying the freedom of the will to this extent, i.e. to that which is good, they did not mean to affirm that man had ceased to be a responsible agent, or that he had lost the natural power of willing or of choosing; or that when he chose evil. he was acted upon by a power outside or apart from himself which necessitated his willing or choosing in one direction rather than in another; but simply and solely that, in point of fact, man does always choose that which is sinful, and will certainly and invariably continue to choose it till he is made the subject of renewing grace.
His continually willing that which is evil is the result of the depravity which taints his whole nature; but in so choosing evil, he acts spontaneously — he only does that which he chooses to do. The doctrine of Pelagius stood in antagonism to this view of the state of man's will. His primary position is that moral freedom — the power to choose right or wrong — the "possibilitas utriusque partis," as he defined it — can never by any means be lost or impaired, that man must always and unchangeably stand in the same relation to good and evil. He argues in his Epistola and Demetriadem, c. 8. that if we would not place both good and evil in the region of physical necessities, but in that of moral freedom, man must possess an equal relation to both, and be able equally to choose, and to act upon his choice in both directions. "Neque vero nos ita defendimus naturae bonum, ut earn dicamus malum non facere posse, quam utique boni et mali capacem etiam profitemur, sed ab hac earn tantummodo injuria vindicamas. ne ejus vitio ad malum videamur impelli, qui nec bonum sine voluntate faciamus, nec malum." The sin is not man's, he reasons, if it is necessary. Much more, if it is his, it is free: and if it is free, then he can avoid it. Now if the will is free, he continues, ever ready to do one of both, then it follows that it is able to do both, i.e. to sin or to avoid sinning. In his Confession of Faith, sent to Innocent the pope, Pelagio says, "Liberum sic confitemur arbitrium, ut dicamus nos semper Dei indigere auxilio; et tam illos errare qui cum Manicheeis dicunt hominem peccatum vitare non posse, quam illos qui cum Joviniano asserunt hominem non posse peccare; uterque enim tollit libertatem arbitrii. Nos vero dicimus, hominem semper et peccare et non peccare posse, ut semper nos liberi confitemur esse arbitrii." He places the freedom that appertains to the will in an abstract indifference to good and evil. "Neque enim aliter spontaneum habere poterat bonum, nisi aeque etiam malum habere potuisset." In like manner Julian also thus defines what he means by the freedom of the will: "Libertas igitur arbitrii possibilitas est vel admittendi vel vitandi peccati, expers cogentis necessitatis, quae in suo utpote jure habet utrum surgentium partem sequatur, i.e. vel ardua asperaque virtutum vel demersa et palustria voluptatum."
The freedom of the will, he says, is nothing else than the "propulatrix necessitatum;" so that no one is either good or bad in any other way than by his choosing freely to be that which he is. Freedom is, he says, the "possibilitas peccandi et non peccandi;" and as such is the "facultas in quod voluerat latus suopte insistendi arbitratu." In answering his arguments, Augustine thus states Julian's doctrine: "Libram tuam conaris ex utraque parte per aequalia momenta suspendere, ut voluntas quantum est ad malum, tantum etiam sit ad bonum libera." In the conflict to which the publication of such opinions gave rise, Augustine took, as might be expected, the foremost place. He strenuously maintained, and this was his great doctrine — the doctrine which he was peculiarly honored to develop-that there is a distinction between nature and grace; and that grace is always and only, the efficient cause of all that is truly good in men; yea, even in holy angels, beings who have never sinned, all their goodness and holiness they owe to grace alone, sustaining and confirming grace, though not, as in man's case, renewing and sanctifying. He affirmed that it was impossible for any one to occupy that position of absolute indifference to good and evil which Pelagius declared was the essence of freedom; but that, on the contrary, as an intelligent, active moral agent, man must possess a positive character; that is, he must either be determined towards that which is good or towards that which is evil. He affirmed that man must have some moral bent or bias of his mind; that he must be either inclined towards God or away from him, and this before, in actual outer life, there is any manifestation of such a bias.
According to the anthropology of the Western Church, the will of man was always regarded as in a state of determination or decision either towards good or evil. The Eastern anthropology, on the other hand, presented the will of man as intrinsically and essentially in a state of equilibrium, a state of indecision, having a determination neither to good nor to evil. According to the teaching of the former, freedom is self-determination, the acting from motives that are within ourselves — the not being compelled to act by a foreign power without us. All that is needed to the freedom of the will is that it be self-moved; that is, be uncompelled in all the choice it makes. According to the teaching of the latter, the Eastern or Greek anthropology, the freedom of the will consists in its being in a state of indecision, indifference — the possibilitas utriusque partis;" its having the power of choosing either of two contrasts-the power of choosing differently from what it actually does choose.
In speaking of the sinfulness of man there are two questions which must be carefully distinguished: 1. The question of his depravity or sinfulness, or inherent ungodliness of character; and, 2. The question of his guilt (reatus), or liability to punishment. In the Reformed Confession the two doctrines are kept distinct.* The guilt of Adam's first sin is regarded as an actual part of the guilt which rests upon all his posterity. Adam and his descendants are regarded as being so identified that the guilt which rested upon him rests upon them also. The inherent depravity of man's nature is to be regarded as the penal consequence of this guilt. But in the time of the Pelagian controversy, as conducted between Augustine and his opponents, the question was, Does man come into the world in a state of innate depravity? and not, Does he come into the world with a sentence of guilt resting upon him? Hence, while the development given by Augustine to the doctrine of grace, in certain directions, has been of permanent and essential service to the Church, there was in it this defect, that he did not fully apprehend the doctrine of man's inherited guilt. He did not deal with that question as apart from the doctrine of inherited corruption; and hence also his views of the doctrine of justification, as being deliverance from this guilt, were defective. He was in this way led, not into the question of the provision that was necessary for securing pardon and acceptance to man, but into the provision necessary for his deliverance from corruption; or into the doctrine of a change of nature in conversion and regeneration.
If the will is only free when it is in a state of equilibrium — a state of indifference to either good or evil having the same power in the one direction as in the other; if no tendency pre-exists in the will, determining it either towards right or wrong, then sin is exclusively an act, and has no existence apart from that act.† The act of sin does not change the nature of man, it only exposes him to punishment for the act itself. Taking up this position, Pelagius and his followers reasoned that man does not bring with him into the world any proneness or tendency to sin — that he has not a sinful and depraved disposition. Sin is only something actual and personal, they affirmed, and cannot be of the character of a taint spreading over the nature and defiling it. This was one of their cardinal principles: "Omne bonum ac malum quo vel laudabiles vel vituperabiles sumus non nobiscum oritur sed agitur a nobis." Julian, who was the ablest and most systematic defender of Pelagianism, thus defines what sin is, and whence it arises, according to his theory: "Constat esse peccatum. Quaerimus quid sit; utrum corpus aliquod sit quod ex multis compositum vlideatur an singulare quiddam, sicut unum aliquod elementurn vel per cogitationem a reliquorum communione purgatum. Porro nihil horum est. Quid est igitur? Appetitus liberae voluntatis qunem prohibet justitia; vel ut definitione utamur priore: Voluntas faciendi quod justitia vetat, et unde liberim est abstinere." Again Julian says, "If it is asked, Whence arises the first sinful will in man? I answer, A motu animi cogente nullo."
What is the true relation of man to God? Is he in the condition of one who needs redemption, who needs a divine power to act upon him, so as to raise him morally and spiritually from misery and ruin? This is the prominent question in the controversy as conducted between Pelagius and Augustine. The former asserted that human nature has continued in all its spiritual and moral capacities to be the same as it was when it emanated originally from the Creator — that till men individually, by the exercise of free will, chose that which was evil, they continued in the same sinless, innocent condition in which Adam was before he sinned. The Pelagians did not deny that Adam's sill did affect his posterity, but they held that it was only by setting them a bad example. Augustine held that a sinful nature had descended from Adam to all his posterity, and that, as a consequence, they were all under the bondage of evil, from which a divine power was needed to rescue them. Men come, said the Pelagians, into the world in a state of primitive purity. It has no taint of corruption about it, so that men may live on through a long life, may have so lived — in a state of perfect holiness, such as Abel, Isaac, and Jacob, etc. Yet the influence of example they regarded as such that in general man was deteriorated, yea, that that deterioration was going on and continually increasing. Such deterioration they looked upon, however, as only accidental, and as not essentially and necessarily belonging to man. Man they regarded as possessing perfect power to resist this deteriorating influence if he so willed it, and to grow up by the natural development of the faculties in the possession of which he was created into the character of perfect innocence before God. In order to this development there needed no divine power or influence whatever.
On the subject of grace, the Pelagians altogether denied that there was need for, or that God did at all exercise, any power upon man so as to determine the bent of his will. Maintaining the theory of the freedom of the will we have already described, they admitted no divine influence that conflicted with it. They did, indeed, speak of "grace" as bestowed upon man, but by the word they did not mean the "gratia proeveniens" or "preparans," the divine influences going before and producing by an irresistible power the first motions of the soul towards goodness, but only the outward revelation made by God to man in the Scriptures, and also those moral and spiritual powers bestowed upon him at his creation. The idea of a divine power influencing man's inner nature, and bending his will, and determining the action of his mind, they altogether rejected. There was in the Pelagian system no place at all for the doctrine of a divine life being imparted to man through the redemption of Christ, and by the power of his Holy Spirit. They did not, indeed, deny to Christ the title of Redemptor, but the idea they attached to that word was simply that of one who, by his teaching and his life, gave a perfect example — "exacta justitiae norma" — which, by our giving heed to it, will enoble and elevate our nature to a position higher than that originally belonging to it by creation. As Adam gave a bad example to his posterity, so Christ gave a good example, and in this consists his excellence as the Redemptor of man. Christ, by his whole life on earth, and by his sufferings and death, and by the communication he made as the Teacher sent from God, supplied valuable motives which ought to induce men to greater efforts to resist temptation, and to imitate his example in a holy life; and beyond this there was in their system no room for anything else for the Redeemer to do.
V. Literature. — Voss, Hist. Controversiarum Pelagianorum (Lugd. Batav. 1618, 4to); Noris, Hist. Pelag. (Lovan, 1702, fol.); Tillemont, Memoires Eccles.; Schrockh, Kirchengeschichte, vol. xiv; Neander, Kirchengeschichte, vol. ii; Schonlemann, Bibl. Patrun Latinorum, vol. ii; Bahr, Geschichte der rom. Literatur, suppl. vol. pt. ii; Versuch einer pragm. Darstellung des Augustinismus und Pelagianismus nach ihrer geschichtlichen Entwickelung, by G. F. Wiggers, professor of theology (Rostock, Hamburg, 1833). The first part of this work was first published in 1821. It was translated into English by Prof. Emerson, of Andover, and published in 1840. The second part deals with the semi-Pelagian controversy down to the time of the second Synod of Orange. Worter, Der Pelagianisnus nach seinem Ursprunge und seiner Lehre, (ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Dogmas von der Gnade und Feiheit), (Freiburg, 1866), is properly, the second volume of the author's History of Pelagianism, the first of which was published a few years previously under the title of Geschichte der christlichen Lehre iiber das Verhiltniss von Gnade und Freiheit bis auf Augustinus. See also Theological Essays from the Princeton Rev. first series; Brit. and For. Evang. Rev. 1867; Cunningham, Historical Theology (Edinb. 1864), vol. i; Shedd, Hist. of Christian Doctrine; Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines. (W. G. E.)
*The Dutch Remonstrants, however and as it seems to us justly, objected to the Calvinistic Confessions that they did not keep these two questions sufficiently distinct. The guilt, and with it the penalty, of Adam's sin was made to rest upon his posterity, and not his depravity simply. The confusion has arisen from not duly observing that depravity is properly predicable only of the moral affections, while guilt is the result of personal volition alone. Hence, although man's moral nature is wholly depraved, his will is nevertheless free, so long as his affections are not held to exercise a necessarily dominant control over his determinations. For it makes but little difference as to his freedom, whether constraint comes ab extra or ab intra, if in either case it is equally absolute Depravity is inherited, guilt is not.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Pelagianism'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/pelagianism.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.