Vol. 3, Chapter IX (Cont’d) – Answers to Pelagian Objections


To these positive arguments must be added the direct answers to the objections brought against the Augustinian theory, sometimes with great acuteness, by the Pelagians, and especially by Julian of Eclanum, in the dialectic course of the controversy.

Julian sums up his argument against Augustine in five points, intended to disprove original sin from premises conceded by Augustine himself: If man is the creature of God, he must come from the hands of God good; if marriage is in itself good, it cannot generate evil; if baptism remits all sins and regenerates, the children of the baptized cannot inherit sin; if God is righteous, he cannot condemn children for the sins of others; if human nature is capable of perfect righteousness, it cannot be inherently defective.

We notice particularly the first four of these points; the fifth is substantially included in the first.

1. If original sin propagates itself in generation, if there is a tradux peccati and a malum naturale, then sin is substantial, and we are found in the Manichaean error, except that we make God, who is the Father of children, the author of sin, while Manichaeism refers sin to the devil, as the father of human nature.

This imputation was urged repeatedly and emphatically by the sharp and clear-sighted Julian. But according to Augustine all nature is, and ever remains, in itself good, so far as it is nature (in the sense of creature); evil is only corruption of nature, vice cleaving to it. Manichaeus makes evil a substance, Augustine, only an accident; the former views it as a positive and eternal principle, the latter derives it from the creature, and attributes to it a merely negative or privative existence; the one affirms it to be a necessity of nature, the other, a free act; the former locates it in matter, in the body, the latter, in the will. Augustine retorted on the Pelagians the charge of Manichaeism, for their locating the carnal lust of man in his original nature itself, and so precluding its cure. But in their view the concupiscentia carnis was not what it was to Augustine, but an innocent natural impulse, which becomes sin only when indulged to excess.

2. If evil is nothing substantial, we should expect that the baptized and regenerate, in whom its power is broken, would beget sinless children. If sin is propagated, righteousness should be propagated also.

But baptism, according to Augustine, removes only the guilt (reatus) of original sin, not the sin itself (concupiscentia). In procreation it is not the regenerate spirit that is the agent, but the nature which is still under the dominion of the concupiscentia. “Regenerate parents produce not as sons of God, but as children of the world.” All that are born need therefore regeneration through the same baptism, which washes away the curse of original sin. Augustine appeals to analogies; especially to the fact that from the seed of the good olive a wild olive grows, although the good and the wild greatly differ.

3. But if the production of children is not possible without fleshly lust, must not marriage be condemned?

No; marriage, and the consequent production of children, are, like nature, in themselves good. They belong to the mutual polarity of the sexes. The blessing: “Be fruitful and multiply,” and the declaration: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh,” come down from paradise itself, and generation would have taken place even without sin, yet “sine ulla libidine,” as a “tranquilla motio et conjunctio vel commixtio membrorum.” Carnal concupiscence is subsequent and adventitious, existing now as an accident in the act of generation, and concealed by nature herself with shame; but it does not annul the blessing of marriage. It is only through sin that the sexual parts have become pudenda; in themselves they are honorable. Undoubtedly the regenerate are called to reduce concupiscence to the mere service of generation, that they may produce children, who shall be children of God, and therefore born again in Christ. Such desire Augustine, with reference to 1Co_7:3., calls “a pardonable guilt.” But since, in the present state, the concupiscentia carnis is inseparable from marriage, it would have been really more consistent to give up the “bonum nuptiarum,” and to regard marriage as a necessary evil; as the monastic asceticism, favored by the spirit of the age, was strongly inclined to do. And in this respect there was no material difference between Augustine and Pelagius. The latter went fully as far, and even farther, in his praise of virginity, as the highest form of Christian virtue; his letter to the nun Demetrias is a picture of a perfect virgin who in her moral purity proves the excellency of human nature.

4. It contradicts the righteousness of God, to suppose one man punished for the sin of another. We are accountable only, for sins which are the acts of our own will. Julian appealed to the oft-quoted passage, Eze_18:2-4, where God forbids the use of the proverb in Israel: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” and where the principle is laid down: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”

On the individualizing principle of Pelagius this objection is very, natural, and is irrefragable; but in the system of Augustine, where mankind appears as an organic whole, and Adam as the representative of human nature and as including all his posterity, it partially loses its force. Augustine thus makes all men sharers in the fall, so that they are, in fact, punished for what they themselves did in Adam. But this by no means fully solves the difficulty. He should have applied his organic view differently, and should have carried it farther. For if Adam must not be isolated from his descendants, neither must original sin be taken apart from actual sin. God does not punish the one without the other. He always looks upon the life of man as a whole; upon original sin as the fruitful mother of actual sins; and he condemns a man not for the guilt of another, but for making the deed of Adam his own, and repeating the fall by his own voluntary transgression. This every one does who lives beyond unconscious infancy. But Augustine, as we have already, seen, makes even infancy subject to punishment for original sin alone, and thus unquestionably trenches not only upon the righteousness of God, but also upon his love, which is the beginning and end of his ways, and the key to all his works.

To sum up the Augustinian doctrine of sin: This fearful power is universal; it rules the species, as well as individuals; it has its seat in the moral character of the will, reaches thence to the particular actions, and from them reacts again upon the will; and it subjects every man, without exception, to the punitive justice of God. Yet the corruption is not so great as to alter the substance of man, and make him incapable of redemption. The denial of man’s capacity for redemption is the Manichaean error, and the opposite extreme to the Pelagian denial of the need of redemption. “That is still good,” says Augustine, “which bewails lost good; for had not something good remained in our nature, there would be no grief over lost good for punishment.” (Rom_2:14) Even in the hearts of the heathen the law of God is not wholly obliterated, and even in the life of the most abandoned men there are some good works. But these avail nothing to salvation. They are not truly good, because they proceed from the turbid source of selfishness. Faith is the root, and love the motive, of all truly good actions, and this love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. “Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.” Before the time of Christ, therefore, all virtues were either, like the virtues of the Old Testament saints, who hoped in the same Christ in whom we believe, consciously or unconsciously Christian; or else they prove, on closer inspection, to be comparative vices or seeming virtues, destitute of the pure motive and the right aim. Lust of renown and lust of dominion were the fundamental traits of the old Romans, which first gave birth to those virtues of self-devotion to freedom and country, so glorious in the eyes of men; but which afterwards, when with the destruction of Carthage all manner of moral corruption poured in, begot the Roman vices.

This view of heathen or natural morality as a specious form of vice, though true to a large extent, is nevertheless an unjust extreme, which Augustine himself cannot consistently sustain. Even he was forced to admit important moral differences among the heathen: between, for example, a Fabricius, of incorruptible integrity, and the traitor Catiline; and though he merely defines this difference negatively, as a greater and less degree of sin and guilt, yet this itself involves the positive concession, that Fabricius stands nearer the position of Christian morality, and that there exists at least relative goodness among the heathen. Moreover, he cannot deny, that there were before Christ, not only among the Israelites, but also among the Gentiles, God-fearing souls, such as Melchisedec and Job, true Israelites, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit, whom God by the secret workings of His Spirit drew to Himself even without baptism and the external means of grace. So the Alexandrian fathers saw scattered rays of the Logos in the dark night of heathenism; only they were far from discriminating so sharply between what was Christian and what was not Christian.

All human boasting is therefore excluded, man is sick, sick unto death out of Christ, but he is capable of health; and the worse the sickness, the greater is the physician, the more powerful is the remedy — redeeming grace.


157. Augustine’s Doctrine of Redeeming Grace

Augustine reaches his peculiar doctrine of redeeming grace in two ways. First he reasons upwards from below, by the law of contrast; that is, from his view of the utter incompetency of the unregenerated man to do good. The greater the corruption, the mightier must be the remedial principle. The doctrine of grace is thus only the positive counterpart of the doctrine of sin. In the second place he reasons downwards from above; that is, from his conception of the all-working, all-penetrating presence of God in natural life, and much more in the spiritual. While Pelagius deistically severs God and the world after the creation, and places man on an independent footing, Augustine, even before this controversy, was, through his speculative genius and the earnest experience of his life, deeply penetrated with a sense of the absolute dependence of the creature on the Creator, in whom we live, and move, and have our being. But Augustine’s impression of the immanence of God in the world has nothing pantheistic; it does not tempt him to deny the transcendence of God and his absolute independence of the world. Guided by the Holy Scriptures, he maintains the true mean between deism and pantheism. In the very beginning of his Confessions he says very beautifully: ‘How shall I call on my God, on my God and Lord? Into myself must I call Him, if I call on Him; and what place is there in me, where my God may enter into me, the God, who created heaven and earth? O Lord my God, is there anything in me, that contains Thee? Do heaven and earth contain Thee, which Thou hast created, in which Thou didst create me? Or does all that is, contain Thee, because without Thee there had existed nothing that is? Because then I also am, do I supplicate Thee, that Thou wouldst come into me, I, who had not in any wise been, if Thou wert not in me? I yet live, I do not yet sink into the lower world, and yet Thou art there. If I made my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. I were not, then, O my God, I utterly were not, if Thou wert not in me. Yea, still more, I were not, O my God, if I were not in Thee, from whom all, in whom all, through whom all is. Even so, Lord, even so.” In short, man is nothing without God, and everything in and through God. The undercurrent of this sentiment could not but carry this father onward to all the views he developed in opposition to the Pelagian heresy.

While Pelagius widened the idea of grace to indefiniteness, and reduced it to a medley of natural gifts, law, gospel, forgiveness of sins, enlightenment, and example, Augustine restricted grace to the specifically Christian sphere (and, therefore, called it gratia Christi), though admitting its operation previous to Christ among the saints of the Jewish dispensation; but within this sphere he gave it incomparably greater depth. With him grace is, first of all, a creative power of God in Christ transforming men from within. It produces first the negative effect of forgiveness of sins, removing the hindrance to communion with God; then the positive communication of a new principle of life. The two are combined in the idea of justification, which, as we have already remarked, Augustine holds, not in the Protestant sense of declaring righteous once for all, but in the Catholic sense of gradually making righteous; thus substantially identifying it with sanctification. Yet, as he refers this whole process to divine grace, to the exclusion of all human merit, he stands on essentially Evangelical ground. As we inherit from the first Adam our sinful and mortal life, so the second Adam implants in us, from God, and in God, the germ of a sinless and immortal life. Positive grace operates, therefore, not merely from without upon our intelligence by instruction and admonition, as Pelagius taught, but also in the center of our personality, imparting to the will the power to do the good which the instruction teaches, and to imitate the example of Christ. Hence he frequently calls it the inspiration of a good will, or of love, which is the fulfilling of the law. “Him that wills not, grace comes to meet, that he may will; him that wills, she follows up, that he may not will in vain.” Faith itself is an effect of grace; indeed, its first and fundamental effect, which provides for all others, and manifests itself in love. He had formerly held faith to be a work of man (as, in fact, though not exclusively, the capacity of faith, or receptivity for the divine, may be said to be); but he was afterwards led, particularly by the words of Paul in 1Co_4:7: “What hast thou, that thou hast not received?” to change his view. In a word, grace is the breath and blood of the new man; from it proceeds all that is truly good and divine, and without it we can do nothing acceptable to God.

From this fundamental conception of grace arise the several properties which Augustine ascribes to it in opposition to Pelagius:

First, it is absolutely necessary to Christian virtue; not merely auxiliary, but indispensable, to its existence. It is necessary “for every good act, for every good thought, for every good word of man at every moment.” Without it the Christian life can neither begin, proceed, nor be consummated. It was necessary even under the old dispensation, which contained the gospel in the form of promise. The saints before Christ lived of His grace by anticipation. “They stood,” says Augustine, “not under the terrifying, convicting, punishing law, but under that grace which fills the heart with joy in what is good, which heals it, and makes it free.”

It is, moreover, unmerited. Gratia would be no gratia if it were not gratuita, gratis data. As man without grace can do nothing good, he is, of course, incapable of deserving grace; for, to deserve grace, he must do something good. “What merits could we have, while as yet we did not love God? That the love with which we should love might be created, we have been loved, while as yet we had not that love. Never should we have found strength to love God, except as we received such a love from Him who had loved us before, and because He had loved us before. And, without such a love, what good could we do? Or, how could we not do good, with such a love?” “The Holy Spirit breathes where He will, and does not follow merits, but Himself produces the merits! Grace, therefore, is not bestowed on man because he already believes, but that he may believe; not because he has deserved it by good works, but that he may deserve good works.” Pelagius reverses the natural relation by making the cause the effect, and the effect the cause. The ground of our salvation can only be found in God Himself, if He is to remain immutable. Augustine appeals to examples of pardoned sinners, “where not only no good deserts, but even evil deserts, had preceded.” Thus the apostle Paul, “averse to the faith, which he wasted, and vehemently inflamed against it, was suddenly converted to that faith by the prevailing power of grace, and that in such wise that he was changed not only from an enemy to a friend, but from a persecutor to a sufferer of persecution for the sake of the faith he had once destroyed. For to him it was given by Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” He also points to children, who without will, and therefore without voluntary merit preceding, are through holy baptism incorporated in the kingdom of grace. His own experience, finally, afforded him an argument, to him irrefutable, for the free, undeserved compassion of God. And if in other passages he speaks of merits, he means good works which the Holy Ghost effects in man, and which God graciously rewards, so that eternal life is grace for grace. “If all thy merits are gifts of God, God crowns thy merits not as thy merits, but as the gifts of his grace.”

Grace is irresistible in its effect; not, indeed, in the way of physical constraint imposed on the will, but as a moral power, which makes man willing, and which infallibly attains its end, the conversion and final perfection of its subject. This point is closely connected with Augustine’s whole doctrine of predestination, and consistently leads to it or follows from it. Hence the Pelagians repeatedly raised the charge that Augustine, under the name of grace, introduced a certain fatalism. But the irresistibility must manifestly not be extended to all the influences of grace; for the Bible often speaks of grieving, quenching, lying to, and blaspheming the Holy Ghost, and so implies that grace may be resisted; and it presents many living examples of such resistance. It cannot be denied, that Saul, Solomon, Ananias, and Sapphira, and even the traitor Judas, were under the influence of divine grace, and repelled it. Augustine, therefore, must make irresistible grace identical with the specific grace of regeneration in the elect, which at the same time imparts the donum perseverantiae.

Grace, finally, works progressively or by degrees. It removes all the consequences of the fall; but it removes them in an order agreeable to the finite, gradually unfolding nature of the believer. Grace is a foster-mother, who for the greatest good of her charge, wisely and lovingly accommodates herself to his necessities as they change from time to time. Augustine gives different names to grace in these different steps of its development. In overcoming the resisting will, and imparting a living knowledge of sin and longing for redemption, grace is gratia praeveniens or praeparans. In creating faith and the free will to do good, and uniting the soul to Christ, it is gratia operans. Joining with the emancipated will to combat the remains of evil, and bringing forth good works as fruits of faith, it is gratia cooperans. Finally, in enabling the believer to persevere in faith to the end, and leading him at length, though not in this life, to the perfect state, in which he can no longer sin nor die, it is gratia perficiens. This includes the donum perseverantiae, which is the only certain token of election. “We call ourselves elect, or children of God, because we so call all those whom we see regenerate, visibly leading a holy life. But he alone is in truth what he is called, who perseveres in that from which he receives the name.” Therefore so long as a man yet lives, we can form no certain judgment of him in this respect. Perseverance till death, i.e., to the point where the danger of apostasy ceases, is emphatically a grace, “since it is much harder to possess this gift of grace than any other; though for him to whom nothing is hard, it is as easy to bestow the one as the other.”

And as to the relation of grace to freedom: Neither excludes the other, though they might appear to conflict. In Augustine’s system freedom, or self-determination to good, is the correlative in man of grace on the part of God. The more grace, the more freedom to do good, and the more joy in the good. The two are one in the idea of love, which is objective and subjective, passive and active, an apprehending and a being apprehended.

We may sum up the Augustinian anthropology under these three heads:

1. The Primitive State: Immediate, undeveloped unity of man with God; child-like innocence; germ and condition of everything subsequent; possibility of a sinless and a sinful development.

2. The State of Sin: Alienation from God; bondage; dominion of death; with longing after redemption.

3. The State of Redemption or of Grace: Higher, mediated unity with God; virtue approved through conflict; the blessed freedom of the children of God; here, indeed, yet clogged with the remains of sin and death, but hereafter absolutely perfect, without the possibility of apostasy.


158. The Doctrine of Predestination

I. Augustinus: De praedestinatione sanctorum ad Prosperum et Hilarium (written a.d. 428 or 429 against the Semi-Pelagians); De dono perseverantiae (written in the same year and against the same opponents); De gratia et libero arbitrio (written a.d. 426 or 427 ad Valentinum et Monachos Adrumetinos); De correptione et gratia (written to the same persons and in the same year).

II Corn. Jansenius: Augustinus. Lovan. 1640, tom. iii. Jac. Sirmond (Jesuit): Historia praedestinatiana. Par. 1648 (and in his Opera, tom. iv. p. 271). Carl Beck: Die Augustinische, Calvinistische und Lutherische Lehre von der Praedestination aus den Quellen dargestellt und mit besonderer Rücksicht auf Schleiermacher’s Erwählungslehre comparativ beurtheilt. “Studien und Kritiken,” 1847. J. B. Mozley: Augustinian Doctrine of Predestination. Lond. 1855.

Augustine did not stop with this doctrine of sin and grace. He pursued his anthropology and soteriology to their source in theology. His personal experience of the wonderful and undeserved grace of God, various passages of the Scriptures, especially the Epistle to the Romans, and the logical connection of thought, led him to the doctrine of the unconditional and eternal purpose of the omniscient and omnipotent God. In this he found the programme of the history of the fall and redemption of the human race. He ventured boldly, but reverentially, upon the brink of that abyss of speculation, where all human knowledge is lost in mystery and in adoration.

Predestination, in general, is a necessary attribute of the divine will, as foreknowledge is an attribute of the divine intelligence; though, strictly speaking, we cannot predicate of God either a before or an after, and with him all is eternal present. It is absolutely inconceivable that God created the world or man blindly, without a fixed plan, or that this plan can be disturbed or hindered in any way by his creatures. Besides, there prevails everywhere, even in the natural life of man, in the distribution of mental gifts and earthly blessings, and yet much more in the realm of grace, a higher guidance, which is wholly independent of our will or act. Who is not obliged, in his birth in this or that place, at this or that time, under these or those circumstances, in all the epochs of his existence, in all his opportunities of education, and above all in his regeneration and sanctification, to recognize and adore the providence and the free grace of God? The further we are advanced in the Christian life, the less are we inclined to attribute any merit to ourselves, and the more to thank God for all. The believer not only looks forward into eternal life, but also backward into the ante-mundane eternity, and finds in the eternal purpose of divine love the beginning and the firm anchorage of his salvation. (Rom_8:29; Eph_1:4)

So far we may say every reflecting Christian must believe in some sort of election by free grace; and, in fact, the Holy Scriptures are full of it. But up to the time of Augustine the doctrine had never been an object of any very profound inquiry, and had therefore never been accurately defined, but only very superficially and casually touched. The Greek fathers, and Tertullian, Ambrose, Jerome, and Pelagius, had only taught a conditional predestination, which they made dependent on the foreknowledge of the free acts of men. In this, as in his views of sin and grace, Augustine went far beyond the earlier divines, taught an unconditional election of grace, and restricted the purpose of redemption to a definite circle of the elect, who constitute the minority of the race.

In Augustine’s system the doctrine of predestination is not, as in Calvin’s, the starting-point, but the consummation. It is a deduction from his views of sin and grace. It is therefore more practical than speculative. It is held in check by his sacramental views. If we may anticipate a much later terminology, it moves within the limits of infralapsarianism, but philosophically is less consistent than supralapsarianism. While the infralapsarian theory, starting with the consciousness of sin, excludes the fall — the most momentous event, except redemption, in the history of the world — from the divine purpose, and places it under the category of divine permission, making it dependent on the free will of the first man; the supralapsarian theory, starting with the conception of the absolute sovereignty of God, includes the fall of Adam in the eternal and unchangeable plan of God, though, of course, not as an end, or for its own sake (which would be blasphemy), but as a temporary means to an opposite end, or as the negative condition of a revelation of the divine justice in the reprobate, and of the divine grace in the elect. Augustine, therefore, strictly speaking, knows nothing of a double decree of election and reprobation, but recognizes simply a decree of election to salvation; though logical instinct does sometimes carry him to the verge of supralapsarianism. In both systems, however, the decree is eternal, unconditioned, and immutable; the difference is in the subject, which, according to one system, is man fallen, according to the other, man as such. It was a noble, inconsistency which kept Augustine from the more stringent and speculative system of supralapsarianism; his deep moral convictions revolted against making any allowance for sin by tracing its origin to the divine will; and by his peculiar view of the inseparable connection between Adam and the race, he could make every man as it were individually responsible for the fall of Adam. But the Pelagians, who denied this connection, charged him with teaching a kind of fatalism.

The first sin, according to Augustine’s theory, was an act of freedom, which could and should have been avoided. But once committed, it subjected the whole race, which was germinally in the loins of Adam, to the punitive justice of God. All men are only a mass of perdition, and deserve, both for their innate and their actual sin, temporal and eternal death. God is but just, if He leave a great portion, nay (if all heathen and unbaptized children are lost), the greatest portion, of mankind to their deserved fate. But He has resolved from eternity to reveal in some His grace, by rescuing them from the mass of perdition, and without their merit saving them.

This is the election of grace, or predestination. It is related to grace itself, as cause to effect, as preparation to execution. It is the ultimate, unfathomable ground of salvation. It is distinguished from foreknowledge, as will from intelligence; it always implies intelligence, but is not always implied in it. God determines and knows beforehand what He will do; the fall of man, and the individual sins of men, He knows perfectly even from eternity, but He does not determine or will them, He only permits them. There is thus a point, where prescience is independent of predestination, and where human freedom, as it were, is interposed. (Here lies the philosophical weakness, but, on the other hand, the ethical strength of the infralapsarian system, as compared with the supralapsarian). The predetermination has reference only to good, not to evil. It is equivalent to election, while predestination, in the supralapsarian scheme, includes the decretum electionis and the decretum reprobationis. Augustine, it is true, speaks also in some places of a predestination to perdition (in consequence of sin), but never of a predestination to sin. The election of grace is conditioned by no foreseen merit, but is absolutely free. God does not predestinate His children on account of their faith, for their faith is itself a gift of grace; but He predestinates them to faith and to holiness.

Thus also the imputation of teaching that a man may be elect, and yet live a godless life, is precluded. Sanctification is the infallible effect of election. Those who are thus predestinated as vessels of mercy, may fall for a while, like David and Peter, but cannot finally fall from grace. They must at last be saved by, the successive steps of vocation, justification, and glorification, as certainly as God is almighty and His promises Yea and Amen; while the vessels of wrath are lost through their own fault. To election necessarily belongs the gift of perseverance, the donum perseverantiae, which is attested by a happy death. Those who fall away, even though they have been baptized and regenerated, show thereby, that they never belonged to the number of the elect. Hence we cannot certainly know in this life who are of the elect, and we must call all to repentance and offer to all salvation, though the vocation of grace only proves effectual to some.

Augustine, as, already remarked, deduced this doctrine from his view of sin. If all men are by nature utterly incompetent to good, if it is grace that works in us to will and to do good, if faith itself is an undeserved gift of grace: the ultimate ground of salvation can then be found only in the inscrutable counsel of God. He appealed to the wonderful leadings in the lives of individuals and of nations, some being called to the gospel and to baptism, while others die in darkness. Why precisely this or that one attains to faith and others do not, is, indeed, a mystery. We cannot, says he, in this life explain the readings of Providence; if we only believe that God is righteous, we shall hereafter attain to perfect knowledge.

He could cite many Scripture texts, especially the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, for his doctrine. But other texts, which teach the universal vocation to salvation, and make man responsible for his reception or rejection of the gospel, he could only explain by forced interpretations. Thus, for instance, be understands in 1Ti_2:4 by the all men, whom God will have to be saved, all manner of men, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, or he wrests the sense into: All who are saved, are saved only by the will of God. When he finds no other way of meeting objections, be appeals to the inscrutable wisdom of God.

Augustine’s doctrine of predestination was the immediate occasion of a theological controversy which lasted almost a hundred years, developed almost every argument for and against the doctrine, and called forth a system holding middle ground, to which we now turn.


159. Semi-Pelagianism

Comp. the Works at §146.



I. Joh. Cassianus († 432): Collationes Patrum xxiv, especially the xiii. In the Opera omnia, cum commentaries D. Alardi Gazaei (Gazet), Atrebati (Atrecht or Arras in France), 1628 and 1733; reprinted, with additions, in Migne’s Patrologia, tom. xlix. and l. (tom. i. pp. 478-1328), and also published several times separately. Vincentius Lirinsis († 450), Faustus Rhegiensis († 490-500), and other Semi-Pelagian writers, see Gallandi, Biblioth. tom. x., and Migne, Patrol. tom. l. and liii.

II. Augustinus: De gratia et libero arbitrio; De correptione et gratia; De praedestinatione Sanctorum; De dono perseverantiae (all in the 10th vol. of the Benedict. ed.). Prosper Aquitanus (a disciple and admirer of Augustine, † 460): Epistola ad Augustinum de reliquiis Pelagianae haereseos in Gallia (Aug. Ep. 225, and in Opera Aug. tom. x. 780), and De gratia et libero arbitrio (contra Collatorem). Hilarius: Ad Augustinum de eodem argumento (Ep. 226 among the Epp. Aug., and in tom. x. 783). Also the Augustinian writings of Avitus of Vienne, Caesarius of Arles, Fulgentius of Ruspe, and others. (Comp. Gallandi, Bibl. tom. xi.; Migne, Patrol. vol. li.)

The Acta of the Synod of Orange, a.d. 529, in Mansi, tom. viii. 711 sqq.



Jac. Sirmond: Historia praedestinatiana. Par. 1648. Johann Geffken: Historia Semipelagianismi antiquissima (more properly antiquissimi). Gott. 1826 (only goes to the year 434). G. Fr. Wiggers: Versuch einer pragmatischen Darstellung des Semipelagianismus in seinem Kampfe gegen den Augustinismus his zur zweiten Synode zu Orange. Hamburg, 1833 (the second part of his already cited work upon Augustinianism and Pelagianism). A very thorough work, but unfortunately without index. Comp, also Walch, Schröckh, and the appropriate portions of the later works upon the history of the church and of doctrines.



Semi-Pelagianism is a somewhat vague and indefinite attempt at reconciliation, hovering midway between the sharply marked systems of Pelagius and Augustine, taking off the edge of each, and inclining now to the one, now to the other. The name was introduced during the scholastic age, but the system of doctrine, in all essential points, was formed in Southern France in the fifth century, during the latter years of Augustine’s life and soon after his death. It proceeded from the combined influence of the pre-Augustinian synergism and monastic legalism. Its leading idea is, that divine grace and the human will jointly accomplish the work of conversion and sanctification, and that ordinarily man must take the first step. It rejects the Pelagian doctrine of the moral roundness of man, but rejects also the Augustinian doctrine of the entire corruption and bondage of the natural man, and substitutes the idea of a diseased or crippled state of the voluntary power. It disowns the Pelagian conception of grace as a mere external auxiliary; but also, quite as decidedly, the Augustinian doctrines of the sovereignty, irresistibleness, and limitation of grace; and affirms the necessity and the internal operation of grace with and through human agency, a general atonement through Christ, and a predestination to salvation conditioned by the foreknowledge of faith. The union of the Pelagian and Augustinian elements thus attempted is not, however, an inward organic coalescence, but rather a mechanical and arbitrary combination, which really satisfies neither the one interest nor the other, but commonly leans to the Pelagian side.

For this reason it admirably suited the legalistic and ascetic piety of the middle age, and indeed always remained within the pale of the Catholic church, and never produced a separate sect.

We glance now at the main features of the origin and progress of this school.

The Pelagian system had been vanquished by Augustine, and rejected and condemned as heresy by the church. This result, however, did not in itself necessarily imply the complete approval of the Augustinian system. Many, even opponents of Pelagius, recoiled from a position so wide of the older fathers as Augustine’s doctrines of the bondage of man and the absolute election of grace, and preferred a middle ground.

First the monks of the convent of Adrumetum in North Africa differed among themselves over the doctrine of predestination; some perverting it to carnal security, others plunging from it into anguish and desperation, and yet others feeling compelled to lay more stress than Augustine upon human freedom and responsibility. Augustine endeavored to allay the scruples of these monks by his two treatises, De gratia et libero arbitrio, and De correptione et gratia. The abbot Valentinus answered these in the name of the monks in a reverent and submissive tone.

But simultaneously a more dangerous opposition to the doctrine of predestination arose in Southern Gaul, in the form of a regular theological school within the Catholic church. The members of this school were first called “remnants of the Pelagians,” but commonly Massilians, from Massilia (Marseilles), their chief center, and afterwards Semi-Pelagians. Augustine received an account of this from two learned and pious lay friends, Prosper, and Hilarius, who begged that he himself would take the pen against it. This was the occasion of his two works, De praedestinatione sanctorum, and De dono preseverentiae, with which he worthily closed his labors as an author. He deals with these disputants more gently than with the Pelagians, and addresses them as brethren. After his death (430) the discussion was continued principally in Gaul; for then North Africa was disquieted by the victorious invasion of the Vandals, which for several decades shut it out from the circle of theological and ecclesiastical activity.

At the head of the Semi-Pelagian party stood John Cassian, the founder and abbot of the monastery at Massilia, a man of thorough cultivation, rich experience, and unquestioned orthodoxy. He was a grateful disciple of Chrysostom, who ordained him deacon, and apparently also presbyter. His Greek training and his predilection for monasticism were a favorable soil for his Semi-Pelagian theory. He labored awhile in Rome with Pelagius, and afterwards in Southern France, in the cause of monastic piety, which he efficiently promoted by exhortation and example. Monasticism sought in cloistered retreats a protection against the allurements of sin, the desolating incursions of the barbarians, and the wretchedness of an age of tumult and confusion. But the enthusiasm for the monastic life tended strongly to over-value external acts and ascetic discipline, and resisted the free evangelical bent of the Augustinian theology. Cassian wrote twelve books De coenobiorum institutis, in which he first describes the outward life of the monks, and then their inward conflicts and victories over the eight capital vices: intemperance, unchastity, avarice, anger, sadness, dulness, ambition, and pride. More important are his fourteen Collationes Patrum, conversations which Cassian and his friend Germanus had had with the most experienced ascetics in Egypt, during a seven years’ sojourn there.

In this work, especially in the thirteenth Colloquy, he rejects decidedly the errors of Pelagius, and affirms the universal sinfulness of men, the introduction of it by the fall of Adam, and the necessity, of divine grace to every individual act. But, with evident reference to Augustine, though without naming him, he combats the doctrines of election and of the irresistible and particular operation of grace, which were in conflict with the church tradition, especially with the Oriental theology, and with his own earnest ascetic legalism.

In opposition to both systems he taught that the divine image and human freedom were not annihilated, but only weakened, by the fall; in other words, that man is sick, but not dead, that he cannot indeed help himself, but that he can desire the help of a physician, and either accept or refuse it when offered, and that he must cooperate with the grace of God in his salvation. The question, which of the two factors has the initiative, he answers, altogether empirically, to this effect: that sometimes, and indeed usually, the human will, as in the cases of the Prodigal Son, Zacchaeus, the Penitent Thief, and Cornelius, determines itself to conversion; sometimes grace anticipates it, and, as with Matthew and Paul, draws the resisting will — yet, even in this case, without constraint — to God. Here, therefore, the gratia praeveniens is manifestly overlooked.

These are essentially Semi-Pelagian principles, though capable of various modifications and applications. The church, even the Roman church, has rightly emphasized the necessity of prevenient grace, but has not impeached Cassian, who is properly the father of the Semi-Pelagian theory. Leo the Great even commissioned him to write a work against Nestorianism, in which he found an excellent opportunity to establish his orthodoxy, and to clear himself of all connection with the kindred heresies of Pelagianism and Nestorianism, which were condemned together at Ephesus in 431. He died after 432, at an advanced age, and though not formally canonized, is honored as a saint by some dioceses. His works are very extensively read for practical edification.

Against the thirteenth Colloquy of Cassian, Prosper Aquitanus, an Augustinian divine and poet, who, probably on account of the desolations of the Vandals, had left his native Aquitania for the South of Gaul, and found comfort and repose in the doctrines of election amid the wars of his age, wrote a book upon grace and freedom, about 432, in which he criticises twelve propositions of Cassian, and declares them all heretical, except the first. He also composed a long poem in defence of Augustine and his system, and refuted the “Gallic slanders and Vincentian imputations,” which placed the doctrine of predestination in the most odious light.

But the Semi-Pelagian doctrine was the more popular, and made great progress in France. Its principal advocates after Cassian are the following: the presbyter-monk Vicentius of Lerinum, author of the Commonitorium, in which he developed the true catholic test of doctrine, the threefold consensus, in covert antagonism to the novel doctrines of Augustinianism (about 434); Faustus, bishop of Rhegium (Riez), who at the council of Arles (475) refuted the hyper-Augustinian presbyter Lucidus, and was commissioned by the council to write a work upon the grace of God and human freedom; Gennadius, presbyter at Marseilles (died after 495), who continued the biographical work of Jerome, De viris illustribus, down to 495, and attributed Augustine’s doctrine of predestination to his itch for writing; Arnobius the younger; and the much discussed anonymous tract Praedestinatus (about 460), which, by gross exaggeration, and by an unwarranted imputation of logical results which Augustine had expressly forestalled, placed the doctrine of predestination in an odious light, and then refuted it.

The author of the Praedestinatus says, that a treatise had fallen into his hands, which fraudulently bore upon its face the name of the Orthodox teacher Augustine, in order to smuggle in, under a Catholic name, a blasphemous dogma, pernicious to the faith. On this account he had undertaken to transcribe and to refute this work. The treatise itself consists of three books; the first, following Augustine’s book, De haeresibus, gives a description of ninety heresies from Simon Magus down to the time of the author, and brings up, as the last of them, the doctrine of a double predestination, as a doctrine which makes God the author of evil, and renders all the moral endeavors of men fruitless; the second book is the pseudo-Augustinian treatise upon this ninetieth heresy, but is apparently merely a Semi-Pelagian caricature by the same author; the third book contains the refutation of the thus travestied pseudo-Augustinian doctrine of predestination, employing the usual Semi-Pelagian arguments.

A counterpart to this treatise is found in the also anonymous work, De vocatione omnium gentium, which endeavors to commend Augustinianism by mitigation, in the same degree that the Praedestinatus endeavors to stultify it by exaggeration. It has been ascribed to pope Leo I. († 461), of whom it would not be unworthy; but it cannot be supposed that the work of so distinguished a man could have remained anonymous. The author avoids even the term praedestinatio, and teaches expressly, that Christ died for all men and would have all to be saved; thus rejecting the Augustinian particularism. But, on the other hand, he also rejects the Semi-Pelagian principles, and asserts the utter inability of the natural man to do good. He unhesitatingly sets grace above the human will, and represents the whole life of faith, from beginning to end, as a work of unmerited grace. He develops the three thoughts, that God desires the salvation of all men; that no one is saved by his own merits, but by grace; and that the human understanding cannot fathom the depths of divine wisdom. We must trust in the righteousness of God. Every one of the damned suffers only the righteous punishment of his sins; while no saint can boast himself in his merits, since it is only of pure grace that he is saved. But how is it with the great multitude of infants that die every year without baptism, and without opportunity of coming to the knowledge of salvation? The author feels this difficulty, without, however, being able to solve it. He calls to his help the representative character of parents, and dilutes the Augustinian doctrine of original sin to the negative conception of a mere defect of good, which, of course, also reduces the idea of hereditary guilt and the damnation of unbaptized children. He distinguishes between a general grace which comes to man through the external revelation in nature, law, and gospel, and a special grace, which effects conversion and regeneration by an inward impartation of saving power, and which is only bestowed on those that are saved.

Semi-Pelagianism prevailed in Gaul for several decades. Under the lead of Faustus of Rhegium it gained the victory in two synods, at Arles in 472 and at Lyons in 475, where Augustine’s doctrine of predestination was condemned, though without mention of his name.


160. Victory of Semi-Augustinianism. Council of Orange, a.d. 529

But these synods were only provincial, and were the cause of a schism. In North Africa and in Rome the Augustinian system of doctrine, though in a somewhat softened form, attained the ascendency. In the decree issued by pope Gelasius in 496 de libris recipiendis et non recipiendis (the beginning of an Index librorum prohibitorum), the writings of Augustine and Prosper Aquitanus are placed among books ecclesiastically sanctioned, those of Cassian and Faustus of Rhegium among the apocryphal or forbidden. Even in Gaul it found in the beginning of the sixth century very capable and distinguished advocates, especially in Avitus, archbishop of Vienne (490523), and Caesarius, archbishop of Arles (502-542). Associated with these was Fulgentius of Ruspe († 533), in the name of the sixty African bishops banished by the Vandals and then living in Sardinia.

The controversy was stirred up anew by the Scythian monks, who in their zeal for the Monophysite theopaschitism, abhorred everything connected with Nestorianism, and urged first pope Hormisdas, and then with better success the exiled African bishops, to procure the condemnation of Semi-Pelagianism.

These transactions terminated at length in the triumph of a moderate Augustinianism, or of what might be called Semi-Augustinianism, in distinction from Semi-Pelagianism. At the synod of Orange (Arausio) in the year 529, at which Caesarius of Arles was leader, the Semi-Pelagian system, yet without mention of its adherents, was condemned in twenty-five chapters or canons, and the Augustinian doctrine of sin and grace was approved, without the doctrine of absolute or particularistic predestination. A similar result was reached at a synod of Valence (Valencia), held the same year, but otherwise unknown.

The synod of Orange, for its Augustinian decisions in anthropology and soteriology, is of great importance. But as the chapters contain many repetitions (mostly from the Bible and the works of Augustine and his followers), it will suffice to give extracts containing in a positive form the most important propositions.

Chap. 1. The sin of Adam has not injured the body only, but also the soul of man.

2. The sin of Adam has brought sin and death upon all mankind.

3. Grace is not merely bestowed when we pray for it, but grace itself causes us to pray for it.

5. Even the beginning of faith, the disposition to believe, is effected by grace.

9. All good thoughts and works are God’s gift.

10. Even the regenerate and the saints need continually the divine help.

12. What God loves in us, is not our merit, but his own gift.

13. The free will weakened in Adam, can only be restored through the grace of baptism.

16. All good that we possess is God’s gift, and therefore no one should boast.

18. Unmerited grace precedes meritorious works.

19. Even had man not fallen, he would have needed divine grace for salvation.

23. When man sins, he does his own will; when he does good, he executes the will of God, yet voluntarily.

25. The love of God is itself a gift of God.

To these chapters the synod added a Creed of anthropology and soteriology, which, in opposition to Semi-Pelagianism, contains the following five propositions:

1. Through the fall free will has been so weakened, that without prevenient grace no one can love God, believe on Him, or do good for God’s sake, as he ought (sicut oportuit, implying that he may in a certain measure).

2. Through the grace of God all may, by the co-operation of God, perform what is necessary for their soul’s salvation.

3. It is by no means our faith, that any have been predestinated by God to sin (ad malum), but rather: if there are people who believe so vile a thing, we condemn them with utter abhorrence (cum omni detestatione).

4. In every good work the beginning proceeds not from us, but God inspires in us faith and love to Him without merit precedent on our part, so that we desire baptism, and after baptism can, with His help, fulfil His will.

5. Because this doctrine of the fathers and the synod is also salutary for the laity, the distinguished men of the laity also, who have been present at this solemn assembly, shall subscribe these acts.

In pursuance of this requisition, besides the bishops, the Praefectus praetorio Liberius, and seven other viri illustres, signed the Acts. This recognition of the lay element, in view of the hierarchical bent of the age, is significant, and indicates an inward connection of evangelical doctrine with the idea of the universal priesthood. And they were two laymen, we must remember, Prosper and Hilarius, who first came forward in Gaul in energetic opposition to Semi-Pelagianism and in advocacy of the sovereignty of divine grace.

The decisions of the council were sent by Caesarius to Rome, and were confirmed by pope Boniface II. in 530. Boniface, in giving his approval, emphasized the declaration, that even the beginning of a good will and of faith is a gift of prevenient grace, while Semi-Pelagianism left open a way to Christ without grace from God. And beyond question, the church was fully warranted in affirming the pre-eminence of grace over freedom, and the necessity and importance of the gratia praeveniens.

Notwithstanding this rejection of the Semi-Pelagian teachings (not teachers), they made their way into the church again, and while Augustine was universally honored as a canonized saint and standard teacher, Cassian and Faustus of Rhegium remained in grateful remembrance as saints in France.

At the close of this period Gregory the Great represents the moderated Augustinian system, with the gratia praeveniens, but without the gratia irresistibilis and without a particularistic decretum absolutum. Through him this milder Augustinianism exerted great influence upon the medieval theology. Yet the strict Augustinianism always had its adherents, in such men as Bede, Alcuin, and Isidore of Seville, who taught a gemina praedestinatio, sive electorum ad salutem, sive reproborum ad mortem; it became prominent again in the Gottschalk controversy in the ninth century, was repressed by scholasticism and the prevailing legalism; was advocated by the precursors of the Reformation, especially by Wiclif and Huss; and in the Reformation of the sixteenth century, it gained a massive acknowledgment and an independent development in Calvinism, which, in fact, partially recast it, and gave it its most consistent form.