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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Semi Pelagianism

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the name invented by the schoolmen to mark the middle line of opinion held by the Pelagians (q.v.), on one side, and the predestinarian theory of Augustine, on the other. As early as A.D. 426 the monks of Adrumetum, in Byzacene Africa, having read Augustine's letter to Sixtus (Ep. 194), were astounded at the doctrine therein propounded, viz. that men were disposed of eternally, either in the way of happiness or misery, by an arbitrary decree. To their strictures Augustine answered by putting forth his two works De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio and De Correptione et Gratia. The task of harmonizing these conflicting systems of theology was attempted by John Cassianus (q.v.), and he became the real founder of Semi- Pelagianism. Cassianus acknowledged the universal deterioration of human nature by the fall; but he assigned also an unlimited scope to the divine goodness and love, that wills the salvation of all, and bends everything to that end. He expressly condemns the main position of Pelagius: "Let no one imagine that by this we give support to the profane notion of some who assert that, the sum of salvation is in our own power, and by ascribing everything to free will make the grace of God to be dispensed according to each man's merit" (Coll. 13, 16). He entirely ignores irresistible grace and absolute decrees of divine predestination, though his doctrine with respect to preventing grace agrees generally with that of Augustine. In fact, he can neither agree with those who make the gift of grace dependent upon human merit, nor with others who deny that man has any power in himself to originate good in his own heart.

These opinions doubtless helped to form a general dislike for the theory of irresistible grace and divine predestination. Stanch partisans opposed the Semi Pelagians, the master spirit among them being Prosper of Aquitania (q.v.); while on their side we find certain great names, especially Vincentius of Lerius (q.v.). His Commonitorium was directed principally against the doctrinal development of Augustine as being unsupported by the Catholic tradition of the Church (Voss, Hist. Pelag. 1, 10). In this work he brought forward his three famous tests of the truth of a doctrine, viz. antiquity, universality, and general consent. An appeal to Celestine, the Roman bishop, against the Semi Pelagians having been unsuccessful, Prosper published several writings in refutation of their doctrines; and upon the death of Celestine, he endeavored to prevail upon Sixtus, his successor, to repress the Semi Pelagians. Failing in this, Prosper wrote several tracts on behalf of Augustinian doctrine. Shortly after the middle of the 5th century, a question arose between Lucidus, a presbyter, and Faustus, bishop of Riez, in Provence.

The bishop admonished Lucidus in person, and afterwards wrote him a letter, setting forth in brief terms his own view of the doctrine of grace. By the advice of the council held at Arles (475). he published a work on the disputed points, De Gratia et Humanoe Mentis Libero Arbitrio. The book was answered half a century later by Caesarius of Arles in a treatise of similar title, De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio, which, however, is lost. In 520 some Scythian monks assailed the work of Faustus, and presented their confession of faith to the legates of pope Hormisdas in Constantinople, in which they affirmed their belief that the will of man was powerless for any other object than to "discern and desire carnal and worldly matters," etc. They met with a cold reception from the legates, and fared no better with Hormisdas, to whom they appealed. A council was held at Aransio (Orange), in France, July 3, 529, at which twenty-five articles concerning grace and free will, and directed against the Semi Pelagian doctrine, were drawn up, and subsequently confirmed by Boniface II. A similar expression of doctrine was made by a council at Valence, in the province of Vienne, but the problem remained unsolved how to reconcile the opposing motives powers of grace and free will. Augustine continued to be regarded as the great light of the Western Church, although in the Middle Ages there was an occasional tendency to dispute his authority. See Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines. (see Index); Mö ller, in Herzog's Real-Encyklop. s.v.; Neander, Kirchengesch. (2d ed. Hamb. 1847), 2, 1173-1217; Gardner, Faiths of the World, s.v.; Blunt, Dict. of Theology, s.v. (See PELAGIANISM).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Semi Pelagianism'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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