Images de page
PDF
ePub

I

as well as Augustin, saw this at the time, and speaks of Pelagianism as the "heresy of Pythagoras and Zeno ;" and modern writers of the various schools have more or less fully recognized it. Thus Dean Milman thinks that "the greater part" of Pelagius' letter to Demetrias “might have been written by an ancient academic; " Dr. De Pressensé identifies the Pelagian idea of liberty with that of Paganism; 3 and Bishop Hefele openly declares that their fundamental doctrine, "that man is virtuous entirely of his own merit, not of the gift of grace," seems to him "to be a rehabilitation of the general heathen view of the world," and compares with it Cicero's words: + "For gold, lands, and all the blessings of life, we have to return thanks to the Gods; but no one ever returned thanks to the Gods for virtues." 5 The struggle with Pelagianism was thus in reality a struggle for the very foundations of Christianity; and even more dangerously than in the previous theological and Christological controversies, here the practical substance of Christianity was in jeopardy. The real question at issue was whether there was any need for Christianity at all; whether by his own power man might not attain eternal felicity; whether the function of Christianity was to save, or only to render an eternity of happiness more easily attainable by man."

Genetically speaking, Pelagianism was the daughter of legalism; but when it itself conceived, it brought forth an essential deism. It is not without significance that its originators were "a certain sort of monks;" that is, laymen of ascetic life. From this point of view the Divine law is looked upon as a collection of separate commandments, moral perfection as a simple complex of separate virtues, and a distinct value as a meritorious demand on Divine approbation is ascribed to each good work or attainment in the exercises of piety. It was because this was essentially his point of view that Pelagius could regard man's powers as sufficient to the attainment of sanctity, nay, that he could even assert it to be possible for a man to do more than was required of him. But this involved an essentially deistic conception of man's relations to his Maker. God had endowed His creature with a capacity (possibilitas) or ability (posse) for action, and it was for him to use it. Man was thus a machine, which, just because it was well made, needed no Divine interference for its right working; and the Creator, having once framed him, and endowed him with the posse, henceforth leaves the velle and the esse to him.

[ocr errors]

At this point we have touched the central and formative principle of Pelagianism. It lies in the assumption of the plenary ability of man; his ability to do all that righteousness can demand, to work out not only his own salvation, but also his own perfection. This is the core of the whole theory; and all the other postulates not only depend upon it, but arise out of it. chronologically and logically this is the root of the system.

Both

When we first hear of Pelagius, he is already advanced in years, living in Rome in the odour of sanctity, and enjoying a well-deserved reputation for zeal in exhorting others to a good life, which grew especially warm against those who endeavoured to shelter themselves, when charged with their sins, behind the weakness of nature. He was outraged by the universal excuses on such occasions, "It is hard!" "it is difficult!" "we are not able !" "we are men!”—“ "Oh, blind madness!" he cried: "we accuse God of a twofold ignorance, that He does not seem to know what He has made, nor what He has commanded, as if forgetting the human weakness of which He is Himself the Author, He has imposed laws on man which He cannot endure."9 He himself tells us that it was his custom, therefore, whenever he had to speak on moral improvement and the conduct of a holy life, to begin by pointing out the power and quality of human nature, and by showing what it was capable of doing. For (he says) he esteemed it of small use to exhort men to what they deemed impossible: hope must rather be our companion, and all longing and effort die when we despair of attaining. So exceedingly ardent an advocate was he 3 Trois Prem. Siècles, ii. 375

2 Latin Christianity, i. 166, note 2.

5 History of the Councils of the Church (E. T.), ii. 446, note 3.

I Preface to Book iv. of his work on Jeremiah. 4 De Natura Deorum, iii. 36.

6 Compare the excellent statement in Thomasius' Dogmengeschichte, i. 483.

7 On the Proceedings of Pelagius, 46; On the Merits and Remission of Sins, iii. 1; Epistle 186, etc.
8 On Nature and Grace, 1.
9 Epistle to Demetrias, 16.

10 Do. 2 and 19.

was

of man's unaided ability to do all that God commanded, that when Augustin's noble and entirely scriptural prayer-"Give what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt " repeated in his hearing, he was unable to endure it; and somewhat inconsistently contradicted it with such violence as almost to become involved in a strife.' The powers of man, he held, were gifts of God; and it was, therefore, a reproach against Him as if He had made man ill or evil, to believe that they were insufficient for the keeping of His law. Nay, do what we will, we cannot rid ourselves of their sufficiency: "whether we will, or whether we will not, we have the capacity of not sinning." "I say," he says, "that man is able to be without sin, and that he is able to keep the commandments of God;" and this sufficiently direct statement of human ability is in reality the hinge of his whole system.

There were three specially important corollaries which flowed from this assertion of human ability, and Augustin himself recognized these as the chief elements of the system.3 It would be inexplicable on such an assumption, if no man had ever used his ability in keeping God's law; and Pelagius consistently asserted not only that all might be sinless if they chose, but also that many saints, even before Christ, had actually lived free from sin. Again, it follows from man's inalienable ability to be free from sin, that each man comes into the world without entailment of sin or moral weakness from the past acts of men; and Pelagius consistently denied the whole doctrine of original sin. And still again, it follows from the same assumption of ability that man has no need of supernatural assistance in his striving to obey righteousness; and Pelagius consistently denied both the need and reality of divine grace in the sense of an inward help (and especially of a prevenient help) to man's weakness.

It was upon this last point that the greatest stress was laid in the controversy, and Augustin was most of all disturbed that thus God's grace was denied and opposed. No doubt the Pelagians spoke constantly of "grace," but they meant by this the primal endowment of man with free will, and the subsequent aid given him in order to its proper use by the revelation of the law and the teaching of the gospel, and, above all, by the forgiveness of past sins in Christ and by Christ's holy example. Anything further than this external help they utterly denied; and they denied that this external help itself was absolutely necessary, affirming that it only rendered it easier for man to do what otherwise he had plenary ability for doing. Chronologically, this contention seems to have preceded the assertion which must logically lie at its base, of the freedom of man from any taint, corruption, or weakness due to sin. It was in order that they might deny that man needed help, that they denied that Adam's sin had any further effect on his posterity than might arise from his bad example. "Before the action of his own proper will," said Pelagius plainly," that only is in man which God made."5 "As we are procreated without virtue," he said, "so also without vice."5 In a word, "Nothing that is good and evil, on account of which we are either praiseworthy or blameworthy, is born with us, it is rather done by us; for we are born with capacity for either, but provided with neither."5 So his later follower, Julian, plainly asserts his "faith that God creates men obnoxious to no sin, but full of natural innocence, and with capacity for voluntary virtues." So intrenched is free will in nature, that, according to Julian, it is "just as complete after sins as it was before sins; "7 and what this means may be gathered from Pelagius' definition in the “Confession of Faith," that he sent to Innocent: “We say that man is always able both to sin and not to sin, so as that we may confess that we have free will." That sin in such circumstances was so common as to be well-nigh universal, was accounted for by the bad example of Adam and the power of habit, the latter being simply the

(

On the Gift of Perseverance, 53.

2 On Nature and Grace, 49.

3 On the Gift of Perseverance, 4: Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, iii. 24; iv. 2 sq.

▲ On the Spirit and Letter, 4; On Nature and Grace, 53: On the Proceedings of Pelagius, 20, 22, 38; On the Grace of Christ, 2, 3, 8, 31, 42, 45; Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, iv. 11; Grace and Free Will, 23-26, and often. 6 The Unfinished Work, iii. 82.

s On Original Sin, 14.

1 Do. i. 91; compare do. i. 48, 60; ii. 20. "There is nothing of sin in man, if there is nothing of his own will." "There is no original sin in infants at all."

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

result of imitation of the former. "Nothing makes well-doing so hard," writes Pelagius to Demetrias, "as the long custom of sins which begins from childhood and gradually brings us more and more under its power until it seems to have in some degree the force of nature (vim naturæ)." He is even ready to allow for the force of habit in a broad way, on the world at large; and so divides all history into progressive periods, marked by God's (external) grace. At first the light of nature was so strong that men by it alone could live in holiness. And it was only when men's manners became corrupt and tarnished nature began to be insufficient for holy living, that by God's grace the Law was given as an addition to mere nature; and by it" the original lustre was restored to nature after its blush had been impaired." And so again, after the habit of sinning once more prevailed among men, and "the law became unequal to the task of curing it," Christ was given, furnishing men with forgiveness of sins, exhortations to imitation of the example and the holy example itself. But though thus a progressive deterioration was confessed, and such a deterioration as rendered desirable at least two supernatural interpositions (in the giving of the law and the coming of Christ), yet no corruption of nature, even by growing habit, is really allowed. It was only an ever-increasing facility in imitating vice which arose from so long a schooling in evil; and all that was needed to rescue men from it was a new explanation of what was right (in the law), or, at the most, the encouragement of forgiveness for what was already done, and a holy example (in Christ) for imitation. Pelagius still asserted our continuous possession of "a free will which is unimpaired for sinning and for not sinning ;" and Julian, that “our free will is just as full after sins as it was before sins;" although Augustin does not fail to twit him with a charge of inconsistency.3

The peculiar individualism of the Pelagian view of the world comes out strongly in their failure to perceive the effect of habit on nature itself. Just as they conceived of virtue as a complex of virtuous acts, so they conceived of sin exclusively as an act, or series of disconnected acts. They appear not to have risen above the essentially heathen view which had no notion of holiness apart from a series of acts of holiness, or of sin apart from a like series of sinful acts. Thus the will was isolated from its acts, and the acts from each other, and all organic connection or continuity of life was not only overlooked but denied.5 After each act of the will, man stood exactly where he did before: indeed, this conception scarcely allows for the existence of a "man" — only a willing machine is left, at each click of the action of which the spring regains its original position, and is equally ready as before to reperform its function. In such a conception there was no place for character: freedom of will was all. Thus it was not an unnatural mistake which they made, when they forgot the man altogether, and attributed to the faculty of free will, under the name of "possibilitas" or "posse," the ability that belonged rather to the man whose faculty it is, and who is properly responsible for the use he makes of it. Here lies the essential error of their doctrine of free will: they looked upon freedom in its form only, and not in its matter; and, keeping man in perpetual and hopeless equilibrium between good and evil, they permitted no growth of character and no advantage to himself to be gained by man in his successive choices of good. It need not surprise us that the type of thought which thus dissolved the organism of the man into a congeries of disconnected voluntary acts, failed to comprehend the solidarity of the race. To the Pelagian, Adam was a man, nothing more; and it was simply unthinkable that any act of his that left his own subsequent acts uncommitted, could entail sin and guilt upon other men. The same alembic that dissolved the individual into a succession of voluntary acts, could not fail to separate the race into a heap of unconnected units. If sin, as Julian declared, is nothing but will, and the will itself remained intact after each act, how could the individual act of an individual will condition the acts of men as yet unborn? By "imitation" of his act alone could

1 On Original Sin, 30.

2 On the Grace of Christ, 43.

3 The Unfinished Work, i. 91; compare 69.

♦ Dr. Matheson finely says (Expositor, i. ix. 21), “There is the same difference between the Christian and Pagan idea of prayer 2 there is between the Christian and Pagan idea of sin. Paganism knows nothing of sin, it knows only sins: it has no conception of the principle of evil, it comprehends only a succession of sinful acts." This is Pelagianism too. 5 Compare Schaff, Church History, iii. 804; and Thomasius' Dogmengeschichte, i. 487-8.

(under such a conception) other men be affected. And this carried with it the corresponding view of man's relation to Christ. He could forgive us the sins we had committed; He could teach us the true way; He could set us a holy example; and He could exhort us to its imitation. But He could not touch us to enable us to will the good, without destroying the absolute equilibrium of the will between good and evil; and to destroy this was to destroy its freedom, which was the crowning good of our divinely created nature. Surely the Pelagians forgot that man was not made for will, but will for man.

In defending their theory, as we are told by Augustin, there were five claims that they especially made for it. It allowed them to praise as was their due, the creature that God had made, the marriage that He had instituted, the law that He had given, the free will which was His greatest endowment to man, and the saints who had followed His counsels. By this they meant that they proclaimed the sinless perfection of human nature in every man as he was brought into the world, and opposed this to the doctrine of original sin; the purity and holiness of marriage and the sexual appetites, and opposed this to the doctrine of the transmission of sin; the ability of the law, as well as and apart from the gospel, to bring men into eternal life, and opposed this to the necessity of inner grace; the integrity of free will to choose the good, and opposed this to the necessity of divine aid; and the perfection of the lives of the saints, and opposed this to the doctrine of universal sinfulness. Other questions, concerning the origin of souls, the necessity of baptism for infants, the original immortality of Adam, lay more on the skirts of the controversy, and were rather consequences of their teaching than parts of it. As it was an obvious fact that all men died, they could not admit that Adam's death was a consequence of sin lest they should be forced to confess that his sin had injured all men; they therefore asserted that physical death belonged to the very nature of man, and that Adam would have died even had he not sinned. So, as it was impossible to deny that the Church everywhere baptized infants, they could not refuse them baptism without confessing themselves innovators in doctrine; and therefore they contended that infants were not baptized for forgiveness of sins, but in order to attain a higher state of salvation. Finally, they conceived that if it was admitted that souls were directly created by God for each birth, it could not be asserted that they came into the world soiled by sin and under condemnation; and therefore they loudly championed this theory of the origin of souls.

The teachings of the Pelagians, it will be readily seen, easily welded themselves into a system, the essential and formative elements of which were entirely new in the Christian Church; and this startlingly new reading of man's condition, powers, and dependence for salvation, it was, that broke like a thunderbolt upon the Western Church at the opening of the fifth century, and forced her to reconsider, from the foundations, her whole teaching as to man and his salvation.

II. THE EXTERNAL HISTORY OF THE PELAGIAN CONTROVERSY.

Pelagius seems to have been already somewhat softened by increasing age when he came to Rome about the opening of the fifth century. He was also constitutionally averse to controversy; and although in his zeal for Christian morals, and in his conviction that no man would attempt to do what he was not persuaded he had natural power to perform, he diligently propagated his doctrines privately, he was careful to rouse no opposition, and was content to make what progress he could quietly and without open discussion. His methods of work sufficiently appear in the pages of his "Commentary on the Epistles of Saint Paul," which was written and published during these years, and which exhibits learning and a sober and correct but somewhat shallow exegetical skill. In this work, he manages to give expression to all the main elements of his system, but always introduces them indirectly, not as the true exegesis, but by way of objections to the ordinary teaching, which were in need of discussion. The most important fruit of his residence in Rome

1 Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, iii. 25, and iv. at the beginning.

2 This belongs to the earlier Pelagianism; Julian was ready to admit that death came from Adam, but not sin.

was the conversion to his views of the Advocate Coelestius, who brought the courage of youth and the argumentative training of a lawyer to the propagation of the new teaching. It was through him that it first broke out into public controversy, and received its first ecclesiastical examination and rejection. Fleeing from Alaric's second raid on Rome, the two friends landed together in Africa (A.D. 411), whence Pelagius soon afterwards departed for Palestine, leaving the bolder and more contentious' Cœlestius behind at Carthage. Here Cœlestius sought ordination as a presbyter. But the Milanese deacon Paulinus stood forward in accusation of him as a heretic, and the matter was brought before a synod under the presidency of Bishop Aurelius.2

Paulinus' charge consisted of seven items,3 which asserted that Coelestius taught the following heresies that Adam was made mortal, and would have died, whether he sinned or did not sin; that the sin of Adam injured himself alone, not the human race; that new-born children are in that state in which Adam was before his sin; that the whole human race does not, on the one hand, die on account of the death or the fall of Adam, nor, on the other, rise again on account of the resurrection of Christ; that infants, even though not baptized, have eternal life; that the law leads to the kingdom of heaven in the same way as the gospel; and that, even before the Lord's coming, there had been men without sin. Only two fragments of the proceedings of the synod in investigating this charge have come down to us; but it is easy to see that Coelestius was contumacious, and refused to reject any of the propositions charged against him, except the one which had reference to the salvation of infants that die unbaptized, the sole one that admitted of sound defence. As touching the transmission of sin, he would only say that it was an open question in the Church, and that he had heard both opinions from Church dignitaries; so that the subject needed investigation, and should not be made the ground for a charge of heresy. The natural result was, that, on refusing to condemn the propositions charged against him, he was himself condemned and excommunicated by the synod. Soon afterwards he sailed to Ephesus, where he obtained the ordination which he sought.

[ocr errors]

Meanwhile Pelagius was living quietly in Palestine, whither in the summer of 415 a young Spanish presbyter, Paulus Orosius by name, came with letters from Augustin to Jerome, and was invited, near the end of July in that year, to a diocesan synod, presided over by John of Jerusalem. There he was asked about Pelagius and Coelestius, and proceeded to give an account of the condemnation of the latter at the synod of Carthage, and of Augustin's literary refutation of the former. Pelagius was sent for, and the proceedings became an examination into his teachings. The chief matter brought up was his assertion of the possibility of men living sinlessly in this world; but the favour of the bishop towards him, the intemperance of Orosius, and the difficulty of communication between the parties arising from difference of language, combined so to clog proceedings that nothing was done; and the whole matter, as Western in its origin, was referred to the Bishop of Rome for examination and decision.5

Soon afterwards two Gallic bishops, ·Heros of Arles, and Lazarus of Aix, who were then in Palestine, lodged a formal accusation against Pelagius with the metropolitan, Eulogius of Cæsarea; and he convened a synod of fourteen bishops which met at Lydda (Diospolis), in December of the same year (415), for the trial of the case. Perhaps no greater ecclesiastical farce was ever enacted than this synod exhibited. When the time arrived, the accusers were prevented from being present by illness, and Pelagius was confronted only by the written accusation. This was both unskilfully drawn, and was written in Latin which the synod did not understand. It was, therefore, not even consecutively read, and was only head by head rendered into Greek by an interpreter. Pelagius began by reading aloud several letters to himself from various men of reputation

[ocr errors]

1 On Original Sin, 13.

2 Early in 412, or, less probably, according to the Ballerini and Hefele 411.

3 See On Original Sin, 2, 3, 12; On the Proceedings of Pelagius, 23. They are also given by Marius Mercator (Migne, xlviii. 69, 70), and the fifth item (on the salvation of unbaptized infants) omitted, though apparently by an error.

4 Preserved by Augustin, On Original Sin, 3, 4.

5 An account of this synod is given by Orosius himself in his Apology for the Freedom of the Will.

6 A full account and criticism of the proceedings are given by Augustin in his On the Proceedings of Pelagius.

« PrécédentContinuer »