Augustin - anti-pelagian 10
10 This valuable treatise is not, however, the only account of the historical origin of Pelagianism that we have, from Augustin’s hands. Soon after the death of Innocent (March 12, 417), he found occasion to write a very long letter to the venerable Paulinus of Nola, in which he summarized both the history of and the arguments against this “worldly philosophy.” He begins by saying that he knows Paulinus has loved Pelagius as a servant of God, but is ignorant in what way he now loves him. For he himself not only has loved him, but loves him still, but in different ways. Once he loved him as apparently a brother in the true faith: now he loves him in the longing that God will by His mercy free him from his noxious opinions against God’s grace. He is not merely following report in so speaking of him: no doubt report did for a long time represent this of him, but he gave the less heed to it because report is accustomed to lie. But a book of his at last came into his hands, which left no room for doubt, since in it he asserted repeatedly that God’s grace consisted of the gift to man of the capacity to will and act, and thus reduced it to what is common to pagans and Christians, to the ungodly and godly, to the faithful and infidels. He then gives a brief account of the measures that had been taken against Pelagius, and passes on to a treatment of the main matters involved in the controversy,—all of which gather around the one magic word of “the grace of God.” He argues first that we are all lost,—in one mass and concretion of perdition,—and that God’s grace alone makes us to differ. It is therefore folly to talk of deserving the beginnings of grace. Nor can a faithful man say that he merits justification by his faith, although it is given to faith; for at once he hears the words, “what hast thou that thou didst not receive?” and learns that even the deserving faith is the gift of God. But if, peering into God’s inscrutable judgments, we go farther, and ask why, from the mass of Adam, all of which undoubtedly has fallen from one into condemnation, this vessel is made for honor, that for dishonor,—we can only say that we do not know more than the fact; and God’s reasons are hidden, but His acts are just. Certain it is that Paul teaches that all die in Adam; and that God freely chooses, by a sovereign election, some out of that sinful mass, to eternal life; and that He knew from the beginning to whom He would give this grace, and so the number of the saints has always been fixed, to whom he gives in due time the Holy Ghost. Others, no doubt, are called; but no others are elect, or “called according to his purpose.” On no other body of doctrines, can it be possibly explained that some infants die unbaptized, and are lost. Is God unjust to punish innocent children with eternal pains? And are they not innocent if they are not partakers of Adam’s sin? And can they be saved from that, save by the undeserved, and that is the gratuitous, grace of God? The account of the Proceedings at the Palestinian synod is then taken up, and Pelagius’ position in his latest writings is quoted and examined. “But why say more?” he adds.… “Ought they not, since they call themselves Christians, to be more careful than the Jews that they do not stumble at the stone of offence, while they subtly defend nature and free will just like philosophers of this world who vehemently strive to be thought, or to think themselves, to attain for themselves a happy life by the force of their own will? Let them take care, then, that they do not make the cross of Christ of none effect by the wisdom of word (1Co 1,17), and thus stumble at the rock of offence. For human nature, even if it had remained in that integrity in which it was created, could by no means have served its own Creator without His aid. Since then, without God’s grace it could not keep the safety it had received, how can it without God’s grace repair what it has lost?” With this profound view of the Divine immanence, and of the necessity of His moving grace in all the acts of all his creatures, as over against the heathen-deistic view of Pelagius, Augustin touched in reality the deepest point in the whole controversy, and illustrated the essential harmony of all truth).
The sharpest period of the whole conflict was now drawing on. Innocent’s death brought Zosimus to the chair of the Roman See, and the efforts which he made to re-instate Pelagius and Coelestius now began (September, 417). How little the Africans were likely to yield to his remarkable demands, may be seen from a sermon which Augustin preached on the 23d of September, while Zosimus’ letter (written on the 21st of September) was on its way to Africa. The preacher took his text from Jn 6,54–66. “We hear here,” he said, “the true Master, the Divine Redeemer, the human Saviour, commending to us our ransom, His blood. He calls His body food, and His blood drink; and, in commending such food and drink, He says, ‘Unless you eat My flesh, and drink My blood, ye shall have no life in you.’ What, then, is this eating and drinking, but to live? Eat life, drink life; you shall have life, and life is whole. This will come,—that is, the body and blood of Christ will be life to every one,—if what is taken visibly in the sacrament is in real truth spiritually eaten and spiritually drunk. But that He might teach us that even to believe in Him is of gift, not of merit, He said, ‘No one comes to Me, except the Father who sent Me draw him.’ Draw him, not lead him. This violence is done to the heart, not the flesh. Why do you marvel? Believe, and you come; love, and you are drawn. Think not that this is harsh and injurious violence; it is soft, it is sweet; it is sweetness itself that draws you. Is not the sheep drawn when the succulent herbage is shown to him? And I think that there is no compulsion of the body, but an assembling of the desire. So, too, do you come to Christ; wish not to plan a long journey,—when you believe, then you come. For to Him who is everywhere, one comes by loving, not by taking a voyage. No doubt, if you come not, it is your work; but if you come, it is God’s work. And even after you have come, and are walking in the right way, become not proud, lest you perish from it: ‘happy are those that confide in Him,’ not in themselves, but in Him. We are saved by grace, not of ourselves: it is the gift of God. Why do I continually say this to you? It is because there are men who are ungrateful to grace, and attribute much to unaided and wounded nature. It is true that man received great powers of free will at his creation; but he lost them by sinning. He has fallen into death; he has been made weak; he has been left half dead in the way, by robbers; the good Samaritan has lifted him up upon his ass, and borne him to the inn. Why should we boast? But I am told that it is enough that sins are remitted in baptism. But does the removal of sin take away weakness too? What! will you not see that after pouring the oil and the wine into the wounds of the man left half dead by the robbers, he must still go to the inn where his weakness may be healed? Nay, so long as we are in this life we bear a fragile body; it is only after we are redeemed from corruption that we shall find no sin, and receive the crown of righteousness. Grace, that was hidden in the Old Testament, is now manifest to the whole world. Even though the Jew may be ignorant of it, why should Christians be enemies of grace? why presumptuous of themselves? why ungrateful to grace? For, why did Christ come? Was not nature already here,—that very nature by the praise of which you are beguiled? Was not the law here? But the apostle says, ‘If righteousness is of the law, then is Christ dead in vain.’ What the apostle says of the law, that we say to these men about nature: if righteousness is by nature, then Christ is dead in vain. What then was said of the Jews, this we see repeated in these men. They have a zeal for God: I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and wishing to establish their own, they are not subject to the righteousness of God. My brethren, share my compassion. Where you find such men, wish no concealment; let there be no perverse pity in you: where you find them, wish no concealment at all. Contradict and refute, resist, or persuade them to us. For already two councils have, in this cause, sent letters to the Apostolic See, whence also rescripts have come back. The cause is ended: would that the error might some day end! Therefore we admonish so that they may take notice, we teach so that they may be instructed, we pray so that their way be changed.” Here is certainly tenderness to the persons of the teachers of error; readiness to forgive, and readiness to go all proper lengths in recovering them to the truth. But here is also absolute firmness as to the truth itself, and a manifesto as to policy. Certainly, on the lines of the policy here indicated, the Africans fought out the coming campaign. They met in council at the end of this year, or early in the next (418); and formally replied to Zosimus, that the cause had been tried, and was finished, and that the sentence that had been already pronounced against Pelagius and Coelestius should remain in force until they should unequivocally acknowledge that “we are aided by the grace of God through Christ, not only to know, but to do, what is right, and that in each single act; so that without grace we are unable to have, think, speak, or do anything belonging to piety.” As we may see Augustin’s hand in this, so, doubtless, we may recognize it in that remarkable piece of engineering which crushed Zosimus’ plans within the next few months. There is, indeed, no direct proof that it was due to Augustin, or to the Africans under his leading, or to the Africans at all, that the State interfered in the matter; it is even in doubt whether the action of the Empire was put forth as a rescript, or as a self-moved decree: but surely it is difficult to believe that such a coup de théâtre could have been prepared for Zosimus by chance; and as it is well known, both that Augustin believed in the righteousness of civil penalty for heresy, and invoked it on other occasions, and defended and used it on this, and that he had influential friends at court with whom he was in correspondence, it seems, on internal grounds, altogether probable that he was the Deus ex machinâ who let loose the thunders of ecclesiastical and civil enactment simultaneously on the poor Pope’s devoted head.
The “great African Council” met at Carthage, on the 1st of May, 418; and, after its decrees were issued, Augustin remained at Carthage, and watched the effect of the combination of which he was probably one of the moving causes. He had now an opportunity to betake himself once more to his pen. While still at Carthage, at short notice, and in the midst of much distraction, he wrote a large work, in two books which have come down to us under the separate titles of On the Grace of Christ, and On Original Sin, at the instance of another of those ascetic families which formed so marked a feature in those troubled times. Pinianus and Melania, the daughter of Albina, were husband and wife, who, leaving Rome amid the wars with Alaric, had lived in continence in Africa for some time, but now in Palestine had separated, he to become head of a monastery, and she an inmate of a convent. While in Africa, they had lived at Sagaste under the tutelage of Alypius, and in the enjoyment of the friendship and instruction of Augustin. After retiring to Bethlehem, like the other holy ascetics whom he had known in Africa, they kept up their relations with him. Like the others, also, they became acquainted with Pelagius in Palestine, and were well-nigh deceived by him. They wrote to Augustin that they had begged Pelagius to condemn in writing all that had been alleged against him, and that he had replied in the presence of them all, that “he anathematized the man who either thinks or says that the grace of God whereby Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners is not necessary, not only for every hour and for every moment, but also for every act of our lives,” and asserted that “those who endeavor to disannul it are worthy of everlasting punishment.” Moreover, they wrote that Pelagius had read to them, out of his book that he had sent to Rome, his assertion “that infants ought to be baptized with the same formula of sacramental words as adults.” They wrote that they were delighted to hear these words from Pelagius, as they seemed exactly what they had been desirous of hearing; and yet they preferred consulting Augustin about them, before they were fully committed regarding them. It was in answer to this appeal, that the present work was written; the two books of which take up the two points in Pelagius’ asseveration,—the theme of the first being “the assistance of the Divine grace towards our justification, by which God co-operates in all things for good to those who love Him, and whom He first loved, giving to them that He may receive from them,”—while the subject of the second is “the sin which by one man has entered the world along with death, and so has passed upon all men.”
The first book, On the Grace of Christ, begins by quoting and examining Pelagius’ anathema of all those who deny that grace is necessary for every action (2 sq).. Augustin confesses that this would deceive all who were not fortified by knowledge of Pelagius’ writings; but asserts that in the light of them it is clear that he means that grace is always necessary, because we need continually to remember the forgiveness of our sins, the example of Christ, the teaching of the law, and the like. Then he enters (4 sq). upon an examination of Pelagius’ scheme of human faculties, and quotes at length his account of them given in his book, In Defence of Free Will, wherein he distinguishes between the possibilitas (posse), voluntas (velle), and actio (esse), and declares that the first only is from God and receives aid from God, while the others are entirely ours, and in our own power. Augustin opposes to this the passage in Ph 2,12, 13 (6), and then criticises (7 sq). Pelagius’ ambiguous acknowledgment that God is to be praised for man’s good works, “because the capacity for any action on man’s part is from God,” by which he reduces all grace to the primeval endowment of nature with “capacity” (possibilitas, posse), and the help afforded it by the law and teaching. Augustin points out the difference between law and grace, and the purpose of the former as a pedagogue to the latter (9 sq)., and then refutes Pelagius’ further definition of grace as consisting in the promise of future glory and the revelation of wisdom, by an appeal to Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and his experience under its discipline (11 sq).. Pelagius’ illustrations from our senses, of his theory of natural faculty, are then sharply tested (16) ; and the criticism on the whole doctrine is then made and pressed (17 sq)., that it makes God equally sharer in our blame for evil acts as in our praise for good ones, since if God does help, and His help is only His gift to us of ability to act in either part, then He has equally helped to the evil deeds as to the good. The assertion that this “capacity of either part” is the fecund root of both good and evil is then criticised (19 sq)., and opposed to Mt 7,i8, with the result of establishing that we must seek two roots in our dispositions for so diverse results,—covetousness for evil, and love for good,—not a single root for both in nature. Man’s “capacity,” it is argued, is the root of nothing; but it is capable of both good and evil according to the moving cause, which, in the case of evil, is man-originated, while, in the case of good, it is from God (21). Next, Pelagius’ assertion that grace is given according to our merits (23 sq). is taken up and examined. It is shown, that, despite his anathema, Pelagius holds to this doctrine, and in so extreme a form as explicitly to declare that man comes and cleaves to God by his freedom of will alone, and without God’s aid. He shows that the Scriptures teach just the opposite (24–26); and then points out how Pelagius has confounded the functions of knowledge and love (27 sq)., and how he forgets that we cannot have merits until we love God, while Jn certainly asserts that God loved us first (1Jn 4,10). The representation that what grace does is to render obedience easier (28–30), and the twin view that prayer is only relatively necessary, are next criticised (32). That Pelagius never acknowledges real grace, is then demonstrated by a detailed examination of all that he had written on the subject (31–45). The book closes (46–80) with a full refutation of Pelagius’ appeal to Ambrose, as if he supported him; and exhibition of Ambrose’s contrary testimony as to grace and its necessity.
The object of the second book—On Original Sin—is to show, that, in spite of Pelagius’ admissions as to the baptism of infants, he yet denies that they inherit original sin and contends that they are born free from corruption. The book opens by pointing out that there is no question as to Coelestius’ teaching in this matter (2–8), as he at Carthage refused to condemn those who say that Adam’s sin injured no one but himself, and that infants are born in the same state that Adam was in before the fall, and openly asserted at Rome that there is no sin ex traduce. As for Pelagius, he is simply more cautious and mendacious than Coelestius: he deceived the Council at Diospolis, but failed to deceive the Romans (5–13), and, as a matter of fact (14–18), teaches exactly what Coelestius does. In support of this assertion, Pelagius’ Defence of Free Will is quoted, wherein he asserts that we are born neither good nor bad, “but with a capacity for either,” and “as without virtue, so without vice; and previous to the action of our own proper will, that that alone is in man which God has formed” (14). Augustin also quotes Pelagius’ explanation of his anathema against those who say Adam’s sin injured only himself, as meaning that he has injured man by setting a bad “example,” and his even more sinuous explanation of his anathema against those who assert that infants are born in the same condition that Adam was in before he fell, as meaning that they are infants and he was a man! (16–18). With this introduction to them, Augustin next treats of Pelagius’ subterfuges (19–25), and then animadverts on the importance of the issue (26–37), pointing out that Pelagianism is not a mere error, but a deadly heresy, and strikes at the very centre of Christianity. A counter argument of the Pelagians is then answered (38–45), “Does not the doctrine of original sin make marriage an evil thing?” No, says Augustin, marriage is ordained by God, and is good; but it is a diseased good, and hence what is born of it is a good nature made by God, but this good nature in a diseased condition,—the result of the Devil’s work. Hence; if it be asked why God’s gift produces any thing for the Devil to take possession of, it is to be answered that God gives his gifts liberally (Mt 5,45), and makes men; but the Devil makes these men sinners (46). Finally, as Ambrose had been appealed to in the former book, so at the end of this it is shown that he openly proclaimed the doctrine of original sin, and here too, before Pelagius, condemned Pelagius (47 sq)..
What Augustin means by writing to Pinianus and his family that he was more oppressed by work at Carthage than anywhere else, may perhaps be illustrated from his diligence in preaching while in that capital. He seems to have been almost constantly in the pulpit, during this period “of the sharpest conflict with them,” preaching against the Pelagians. There is one series of his sermons, of the exact dates of which we can be pretty sure, which may be adverted to here,—Sermons 151 and 152, preached early in October, 418; Sermon 155 on Oct. 14, 156 on Oct.17, and 26 on Oct. 18; thus following one another almost with the regularity of the days. The first of these was based on Rm 7, 15–25, which he declares to contain dangerous words if not properly understood; for men are prone to sin, and when they hear the apostle so speaking they do evil, and think they are like him. They are meant to teach us, however, that the life of the just in this body is a war, not yet a triumph: the triumph will come only when death is swallowed up in victory. It would, no doubt, be better not to have an enemy than even to conquer. It would be better not to have evil desires: but we have them; therefore, let us not go after them. If they rebel against us, let us rebel against them; if they fight, let us fight; if they besiege, let us besiege: let us look only to this, that they do not conquer. With some evil desires we are born: others we make, by bad habit. It is on account of those with which we are born, that infants are baptized; that they may be freed from the guilt of inheritance, not from any evil of custom, which, of course, they have not. And it is on account of these, too, that our war must be endless: the concupiscence with which we are born cannot be done away as long as we live; it may be diminished, but not done away. Neither can the law free us, for it only reveals the sin to our greater apprehension. Where, then, is hope, save in the superabundance of grace? The next sermon (152) takes up the words in Rm 8,1–4, and points out that the inward aid of the Spirit brings all the help we need. “We, like farmers in the field, work from without: but, if there were no one who worked from within, the seed would not take root in the ground, nor would the sprout arise in the field, nor would the shoot grow strong and become a tree, nor would branches and fruit and leaves be produced. Therefore the apostle distinguishes between the work of the workmen and of the Creator (1Co 3,6, 7). If God give not the increase, empty is this sound within your ears; but if he gives, it avails somewhat that we plant and water, and our labor is not in vain.” He then applies this to the individual, striving against his lusts; warns against Manichean error; and distinguishes between the three laws,—the law of sin, the law of faith, and the law of deeds,—defending the latter, the law of Moses, against the Manicheans; and then he comes to the words of the text, and explains its chief phrases, closing thus: “What other do we read here than that Christ is a sacrifice for sin? …Behold by what ‘sin’ he condemned sin: by the sacrifice which he made for sins, he condemned sin. This is the law of the Spirit of life which has freed you from the law of sin and death. For that other law, the law of the letter, the law that commands, is indeed good; ‘the commandment is holy and just and good:’ but ‘it was weak by the flesh,’ and what it commanded it could not bring about in us. Therefore there is one law, as I began by saying, that reveals sin to you, and another that takes it away: the law of the letter reveals sin, the law of grace takes it away.” Sermon 155 covers the same ground, and more, taking the broader text, Rm 8,1–11, and fully developing its teaching, especially as discriminating between the law of sin and the law of Moses and the law of faith; the law of Moses being the holy law of God written with His finger on the tables of stone, while the law of the Spirit of life is nothing other than the same law written in the heart, as the prophet (Jr 30,1, 33) clearly declares. So written, it does not terrify from without, but soothes from within. Great care is also taken, lest by such phrases as, “walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh,” “who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” a hatred of the body should be begotten. “Thus you shall be freed from the body of this death, not by having no body, but by having another one and dying no more. If, indeed, he had not added, ‘of this death,’ perchance an error might have been suggested to the human mind, and it might have been said, ‘You see that God does not wish us to have a body.’ But He says, ‘the body of this death.’ Take away death, and the body is good. Let our last enemy, death, be taken away, and my dear flesh will be mine for eternity. For no one can ever ‘hate his own flesh.’ Although the ‘spirit lusts against the flesh, and the flesh against the spirit,’ although there is now a battle in this house, yet the husband is seeking by his strife not the ruin of, but concord with, his wife. Far be it, far be it, my brethren, that the spirit should hate the flesh in lusting against it! It hates the vices of the flesh; it hates the wisdom of the flesh; it hates the contention of death. This corruption shall put on incorruption,—this mortal shall put on immortality; it is sowna natural body; it shall rise a spiritual body; and you shall see full and perfect concord,—you shall see the creature praise the Creator.” One of the special interests of such passages is to show, that, even at this early date, Augustin was careful to guard his hearers from Manichean error while proclaiming original sin. One of the sermons which, probably, was preached about this time (153), is even entitled, “Against the Manicheans openly, but tacitly against the Pelagians,” and bears witness to the early development of the method that he was somewhat later to use effectively against Julian’s charges of Manicheanism against the catholics. Three days afterwards, Augustin preached on the next few verses, Rm 8,12–17, but can scarcely be said to have risen to the height of its great argument. The greater part of the sermon is occupied with a discussion of the law, why it was given, how it is legitimately used, and its usefulness as a pedagogue to bring us to Christ; then of the need of a mediator; and then, of what it is to live according to the flesh, which includes living according to merely human nature; and the need of mortifying the flesh in this world. All this, of course, gave full opportunity for opposing the leading Pelagian errors; and the sermon is brought to a close by a direct polemic against their assertion that the function of grace is only to make it more easy to do what is right. “With the sail more easily, with the oar with more difficulty: nevertheless even with the oar we can go. On a beast more easily, on foot with more difficulty: nevertheless progress can be made on foot. It is not true! For the true Master who flatters no one, who deceives no one,—the truthful Teacher and very Saviour to whom the most grievous pedagogue has led us,—when he was speaking about good works, i.e., about the fruits of the twigs and branches, did not say, ‘Without me, indeed, you can do something, but you will do it more easily with me;’ He did not say, ‘You can make your fruit without me, but more richly with me.’ He did not say this! Read what He said: it is the holy gospel,—bow the proud necks! Augustin does not say this: the Lord says it. What says the Lord? ‘Without me you can do nothing!’ ”On the very next day, he was again in the pulpit, and taking for his text chiefly the ninety-fourth Psalm. The preacher began by quoting the sixth verse, and laying stress on the words “our Maker.” ‘No Christian,’ he said, ‘doubted that God had made him, and that in such a sense that God created not only the first man, from whom all have descended, but that God to-day creates every man,—as He said to one of His saints, “Before that I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee.” At first He created man apart from man; now He creates man from man: nevertheless, whether man apart from man, or man from man, “it is He that made us, and not we ourselves.” Nor has He made us and then deserted us; He has not cared to make us, and not cared to keep us. Will He who made us without being asked, desert us when He is besought? But is it not just as foolish to say, as some say or are ready to say, that God made them men, but they make themselves righteous? Why, then, do we pray to God to make us righteous? The first man was created in a nature that was without fault or flaw. He was made righteous: he did not make himself righteous; what he did for himself was to fall and break his righteousness. This God did not do: He permitted it, as if He had said, “Let him desert Me; let him find himself; and let his misery prove that he has no ability without Me.” In this way God wished to show man what free will was worth without God. O evil free will without God! Behold, man was made good; and by free will man was made evil! When will the evil man make himself good by free will? When good, he was not able to keep himself good; and now that he is evil, is he to make himself good? Nay, behold, He that made us has also made us “His people” (Ps 94,7). This is a distinguishing gift. Nature is common to all, but grace is not. It is not to be confounded with nature; but if it were, it would still be gratuitous. For certainly no man, before he existed, deserved to come into existence. And yet God has made him, and that not like the beasts or a stock or a stone, but in His own image. Who has given this benefit? He gave it who was in existence: he received it who was not. And only He could do this, who calls the things that are not as though they were: of whom the apostle says that “He chose us before the foundation of the world.” We have been made in this world, and yet the world was not when we were chosen. Ineffable! wonderful! They are chosen who are not: neither does He err in choosing, nor choose in vain. He chooses, and has elect whom He is to create to be chosen: He has them in Himself; not indeed in His nature, but in His prescience. Let us not, then, glory in ourselves, or dispute against grace. If we are men, He made us. If we are believers, He made us this too. He who sent the Lamb to be slain has, out of wolves, made us sheep. This is grace. And it is an even greater grace than that grace of nature by which we were all made men.’ “I am continually endeavouring to discuss such things as these,” said the preacher, “against a new heresy which is attempting to rise; because I wish you to be fixed in the good, untouched by the evil.… For, disputing against grace in favor of free will, they became an offence to pious and catholic ears. They began to create horror; they began to be avoided as a fixed pest; it began to be said of them, that they argued against grace. And they found such a device as this:‘Because I defend man’s free will, and say that free will is sufficient in order that I may be righteous,’ says one, ‘I do not say that it is without the grace of God.’ The ears of the pious are pricked up, and he who hears this, already begins to rejoice: ‘Thanks be to God! He does not defend free will without the grace of God! There is free will, but it avails nothing without the grace of God’ If, then, they do not defend free will without the grace of God, what evil do they say? Expound to us, O teacher, what grace you mean? ‘When I say,’ he says, ‘the free will of man, you observe that I say “of man”?’ What then? ‘Who created man?’ God. ‘Who gave him free will?’ God. ‘If, then, God created man, and God gave man free will, whatever man is able to do by free will, to whose grace does he owe it, except to His who made him with free will?’ And this is what they think they say so acutely! You see, nevertheless, my brethren, how they preach that general grace by which we were created and by which we are men; and, of course, we are men in common with the ungodly, and are Christians apart from them. It is this grace by which we are Christians, that we wish them to preach, this that we wish them to acknowledge, this that we wish,—of which the apostle says, ‘I do not make void the grace of God, for if righteousness is by the law, Christ is dead in vain.’ ”Then the true function of the law is explained, as a revealer of our sinfulness, and a pedagogue to lead us to Christ: the Manichean view of the Old Testament law is attacked, but its insufficiency for salvation is pointed out; and so we are brought back to the necessity of grace, which is illustrated from the story of the raising of the dead child in ,—the dead child being Adam; the ineffective staff (by which we ought to walk), the law; but the living prophet, Christ with his grace, which we must preach. “The prophetic staff was not enough for the dead boy: would dead nature itself have been enough? Even this, by which we are made, although we nowhere read of it under this name, we nevertheless, because it is given gratuitously, confess to be grace. But we show to you a greater grace than this, by which we are Christians.… This is the grace by Jesus Christ our Lord: it was He that made us,—both before we were at all, it was He that made us, and now, after we are made, it is He that has made us all righteous,—and not we ourselves.” There was but one mass of perdition from Adam, to which nothing was due but punishment; and from that mass vessels have been made unto honor. “Rejoice because you have escaped; you have escaped the death that was due,—you have received the life that was not due. ‘But,’ you ask, ‘why did He make me unto honor, and another unto dishonor?’ Will you who will not hear the apostle saying, ‘O man, who art thou that repliest against God?’ hear Augustin?… Do you wish to dispute with me? Nay, wonder with me, and cry out with me, ‘Oh the depth of the riches!’ Let us both be afraid,—let us both cry out, ‘Oh the depth of the riches!’ Let us both agree in fear, lest we perish in error.”
Augustin was not less busy with his pen, during these months, than with his voice. Quite a series of letters belong to the last half of 418, in which he argues to his distant correspondents on the same themes which he was so iterantly trying to make clear to his Carthaginian auditors. One of the most interesting of these was written to a fellow-bishop, Optatus, on the origin of the soul. Optatus, like Jerome, had expressed himself as favoring the theory of a special creation of each at birth; and Augustin, in this letter as in the paper sent to Jerome, lays great stress on so holding our theories on so obscure a matter as to conform to the indubitable fact of the transmission of sin. This fact, such passages as 1Co 15,21 sq., Rm 5,12 sq., make certain; and in stating this, Augustin takes the opportunity to outline the chief contents of the catholic faith over against the Pelagian denial of original sin and grace: that all are born under the contagion of death and in the bond of guilt; that there is no deliverance except in the one Mediator, Christ Jesus; that before His coming men received him as promised, now as already come, but with the same faith; that the law was not intended to save, but to shut up under sin and so force us back upon the one Saviour; and that the distribution of grace is sovereign. Augustin pries into God’s sovereign counsels somewhat more freely here than is usual with him. “But why those also are created who, the Creator foreknew, would belong to damnation, not to grace, the blessed apostle mentions with as much succinct brevity as great authority. For he says that God, ‘wishing to show His wrath and demonstrate His power,’ etc. (Rm 9,22). Justly, however, would he seem unjust in forming vessels of wrath for perdition, if the whole mass from Adam were not condemned. That, therefore, they are made on birth vessels of anger, belongs to the punishment due to them; but that they are made by re-birth vessels of mercy, belongs to the grace that is not due to them. God, therefore, shows his wrath,—not, of course, perturbation of mind, such as is called wrath among men, but a just and fixed vengeance.… He shows also his power, by which he makes a good use of evil men, and endows them with many natural and temporal goods, and bends their evil to admonition and instruction of the good by comparison with it, so that these may learn from them to give thanks to God that they have been made to differ from them, not by their own deserts which were of like kind in the same mass, but by His pity.… But by creating so many to be born who, He foreknew, would not belong to his grace, so that they are more by an incomparable multitude than those whom he deigned to predestinate as children of the promise into the glory of His Kingdom,—He wished to show by this very multitude of the rejected how entirely of no moment it is to the just God what is the multitude of those most justly condemned. And that hence also those who are redeemed from this condemnation may understand, that what they see rendered to so great a part of the mass was the due of the whole of it,—not only of those who add many others to original sin, by the choice of an evil will, but as well of so many children who are snatched from this life without the grace of the Mediator, bound by no bond except that of original sin alone.” With respect to the question more immediately concerning which the letter was written, Augustin explains that he is willing to accept the opinion that souls are created for men as they are born, if only it can be made plain that it is consistent with the original sin that the Scriptures so clearly teach. In the paper sent to Jerome, the difficulties of creationism are sufficiently urged; this letter is interesting on account of its statement of some of the difficulties of traducianism also,—thus evidencing Augustin’s clear view of the peculiar complexity of the problem, and justifying his attitude of balance and uncertainty between the two theories. ‘The human understanding,’ he says, ‘can scarcely comprehend how a soul arises from a parent’s soul in the offspring; or is transmitted to the offspring as a candle is lighted from a candle and thence another fire comes into existence without loss to the former one. Is there an incorporeal seed for the soul, which passes, by some hidden and invisible channel of its own, from the father to the mother, when it is conceived in the woman? Or, even more incredible, does it lie enfolded and hidden within the corporeal seed?’ He is lost in wonder over the question whether, when conception does not take place, the immortal seed of an immortal soul perishes; or, does the immortality attach itself to it only when it lives? He even expresses the doubt whether traducianism will explain what it is called in to explain, much better than creationism; in any case, who denies that God is the maker of every soul? Isaiah (lvii. 16) says, “I have made every breath;” and the only question that can arise is as to method,—whether He “makes every breath from the one first breath, just as He makes every body of man from the one first body; or whether he makes new bodies indeed, from the one body, but new souls out of nothing.” Certainly nothing but Scripture can determine such a question; but where do the Scriptures speak unambiguously upon it? The passages to which the creationists point only affirm the admitted fact that God makes the soul; and the traducianists forget that the word “soul” in the Scriptures is ambiguous, and can mean “man,” and even a “dead man.” What more can be done, then, than to assert what is certain, viz., that sin is propagated, and leave what is uncertain in the doubt in which God has chosen to place it?
This letter was written not long after the issue of Zosimus’ Tractoria, demanding the signature of all to African orthodoxy; and Augustin sends Optatus “copies of the recent letters which have been sent forth from the Roman see, whether specially to the African bishops or generally to all bishops,” on the Pelagian controversy, “lest perchance they had not yet reached” his correspondent, who, it is very evident, he was anxious should thoroughly realize “that the authors, or certainly the most energetic and noted teachers,” of these new heresies, “had been condemned in the whole Christian world by the vigilance of episcopal councils aided by the Saviour who keeps His Church, as well as by two venerable overseers of the Apostolical see, Pope Innocent and Pope Zosimus, unless they should show repentance by being convinced and reformed.” To this zeal we owe it that the letter contains an extract from Zosimus’ Tractoria, one of the two brief fragments of that document that have reached our day.
There was another ecclesiastic in Rome, besides Zosimus, who was strongly suspected of favoring the Pelagians,—the presbyter Sixtus, who afterwards became Pope Sixtus III. But when Zosimus sent forth his condemnation of Pelagianism, Sixtus sent also a short letter to Africa addressed to Aurelius of Carthage, which, though brief; indicated a considerable vigor against the heresy which he was commonly believed to have before defended, and which claimed him as its own. Some months afterwards, he sent another similar, but longer, letter to Augustin and Alypius, more fully expounding his rejection of “the fatal dogma” of Pelagius, and his acceptance of “that grace of God freely given by Him to small and great, to which Pelagius’ dogma was diametrically opposed.” Augustin was overjoyed with these developments. He quickly replied in a short letter in which he expresses the delight he has in learning from Sixtus’ own hand that he is not a defender of Pelagius, but a preacher of grace. And close upon the heels of this he sent another much longer letter, in which he discusses the subtler arguments of the Pelagians with an anxious care that seems to bear witness to his desire to confirm and support his correspondent in his new opinions. Both letters testify to Augustin’s approval of the persecuting measures which had been instituted by the Roman see in obedience to the emperor; and urge on Sixtus his duty not only to bring the open heretics to deserved punishment, but to track out those who spread their poison secretly, and even to remember those whom he had formerly heard announcing the error before it had been condemned, and who were now silent through fear, and to bring them either to open recantation of their former beliefs, or to punishment. It is pleasanter to recall our thoughts to the dialectic of these letters. The greater part of the second is given to a discussion of the gratuitousness of grace, which, just because grace, is given to no preceding merits. Many subtle objections to this doctrine were brought forward by the Pelagians. They said that “free will was taken away if we asserted that man did not have even a good will without the aid of God;” that we made “God an accepter of persons, if we believed that without any preceding merits He had mercy on whom He would, and whom He would He called, and whom He would He made religious;” that “it was unjust, in one and the same case, to deliver one and punish another;” that, if such a doctrine is preached, “men who do not wish to live rightly and faithfully, will excuse themselves by saying that they have done nothing evil by living ill, since they have not received the grace by which they might live well;” that it is a puzzle “how sin can pass over to the children of the faithful, when it has been remitted to the parents in baptism;” that “children respond truly by the mouth of their sponsors that they believe in remission of sins, but not because sins are remitted to them, but because they believe that sins are remitted in the church or in baptism to those in whom they are found, not to those in whom they do not exist,” and consequently they said that “they were unwilling that infants should be so baptized unto remission of sins as if this remission took place in them,” for (they contend) “they have no sin ; but they are to be baptized, although without sin, with the same rite of baptism through which remission of sins takes place in any that are sinners.” This last objection is especially interesting because it furnishes us with the reply which the Pelagians made to the argument that Augustin so strongly pressed against them from the very act and ritual of baptism, as implying remission of sins. His rejoinder to it here is to point to the other parts of the same ritual, and to ask why, then, infants are exorcised and exsufflated in baptism. “For, it cannot be doubted that this is done fictitiously, if the Devil does not rule over them; but if he rules over them, and they are therefore not falsely exorcised and exsufflated, why does that prince of sinners rule over them except because of sin?” On the fundamental matter of the gratuitousness of grace, this letter is very explicit. “If we seek for the deserving of hardening, we shall find it.… But if we seek for the deserving of pity, we shall not find it; for there is none, lest grace be made a vanity if it is not given gratis, but rendered to merits. But, should we say that faith preceded and in it there is desert of grace, what desert did man have before faith that he should receive faith? For, what did he have that he did not receive? and if he received it, why does he glory as if he received it not? For as man would not have wisdom, understanding, prudence, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of God, unless he had received (according to the prophet) the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of prudence and fortitude, of knowledge and piety and the fear of God ; as he would not have justice, love, continence, except the spirit was received of whom the apostle says, ‘For you did not receive the spirit of fear, but of virtue, and love, and continence:’ so he would not have faith unless he received the spirit of faith of whom the same apostle says, ‘Having then the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore spoke,” we too believe and therefore speak.’ But that He is not received by desert, but by His mercy who has mercy on whom He will, is manifestly shown where he says of himself, ‘I have obtained mercy to be faithful.’ ”“If we should say that the merit of prayer precedes, that the gift of grace may follow,…even prayer itself is found among the gifts of grace” (Rm 8,26). “It remains, then, that faith itself, whence all righteousness takes beginning;…it remains, I say, that even faith itself is not to be attributed to the human will which they extol, nor to any preceding merits, since from it begin whatever good things are merits: but it is to be confessed to be the gratuitous gift of God, since we consider it true grace, that is, without merits, inasmuch as we read in the same epistle, ‘God divides out the measure of faith to each’ (Rm 12,3). Now, good works are done by man, but faith is wrought in man, and without it these are not done by any man. For all that is not of faith is sin” (Rm 14,23,
By the same messenger who carried this important letter to Sixtus, Augustin sent also a letter to Mercator, an African layman who was then apparently at Rome, but who was afterwards (in 429) to render service by instructing the Emperor Theodosius as to the nature and history of Pelagianism, and so preventing the appeal of the Pelagians to him from being granted. Now he appears as an inquirer: Augustin, while at Carthage, had received a letter from him in which he had consulted him on certain questions that the Pelagians had raised, but in such a manner as to indicate his opposition to them. Press of business had compelled the postponement of the reply until this later date. One of the questions that Mercator had put concerned the Pelagian account of infants sharing in the one baptism unto remission of sins, which we have seen Augustin answering when writing to Sixtus. In this letter he replies: “Let them, then, hear the Lord (Jn 3,36). Infants, therefore, who made believers by others, by whom they are brought to baptism, are, of course, unbelievers by others, if they are in the hands of such as do not believe that they should be brought, inasmuch as they believe they are nothing profited; and accordingly, if they believe by believers, and have eternal life, they are unbelievers by unbelievers, and shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on them. For it is not said, ‘it comes on them,’ but ‘it abideth on them,’ because it was on them from the beginning, and will not be taken from them except by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.…Therefore, when children are baptized, the confession is made that they are believers, and it is not to be doubted that those who are not believers are condemned: let them, then, dare to say now, if they can, that they contract no evil from their origin to be condemned by the just God, and have no contagion of sin.” The other matter on which Mercator sought light concerned the statement that universal death proved universal sin: he reported that the Pelagians replied that not even death was universal,—that Enoch, for instance, and Elijah, had not died. Augustin adds those who are to be found living at the second advent, who are not to die, but be “changed;” and replies that Rm 5,12 is perfectly explicit that there is no death in the world except that which comes from sin, and that God a Saviour, and we cannot at all “deny that He is able to do that, now, in any that he wishes, without death, which we undoubtingly believe is to be done in so many after death.” He adds that the difficult question is not why Enoch and Elijah did not die, if death is the punishment of sin; but why, such being the case, the justified ever die; and he refers his correspondent to his book On the Baptism of Infants for a resolution of this greater difficulty.
It was probably at the very end of 418 that Augustin wrote a letter of some length to Asellicus, in reply to one which he had written on “avoiding the deception of Judaism,” to the primate of the Bizacene province, and which that ecclesiastic had sent to Augustin for answering. He discusses in this the law of the Old Testament. He opens by pointing out that the apostle forbids Christians to Judaize (), and explains that it is not merely the ceremonial law that we may not depend upon, “but also what is said in the law, ‘Thou shalt not covet’ (which no one, of course, doubts is to be said to Christians too), does not justify man, except by faith in Jesus Christ and the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” He then expounds the use of the law: “This, then, is the usefulness of the law: that it shows man to himself, so that he may know his weakness, and see how, by the prohibition, carnal concupiscence is rather increased than healed.…The use of the law is, thus, to convince man of his weakness, and force him to implore the medicine of grace that is in Christ.” “Since these things are so,” he adds, “those who rejoice that they are Israelites after the flesh, and glory in the law apart from the grace of Christ, these are those concerning whom the apostle said that ‘being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and wishing to establish their own, they are not subject to God’s righteousness;’ since he calls ‘God’s righteousness’ that which is from God to man; and ‘their own,’ what they think that the commandments suffice for them to do without the help and gift of Him who gave the law. But they are like those who, while they profess to be Christians, so oppose the grace of Christ, that they suppose that they fulfil the divine commands by human powers, and, ‘wishing to establish their own,’ are ‘not subject to the righteousness of God,’ and so, not indeed in name, but yet in error, Judaize. This sort of men found heads for themselves in Pelagius and Coelestius, the most acute asserters of this impiety, who by God’s recent judgment, through his diligent and faithful servants, have been deprived even of catholic communion, and, on account of an impenitent heart, persist still in their condemnation.”
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