Augustine and Pelagianism

While the conflict over Nestorius and between the Alexandrian and Antiochene schools was raging in the eastern part of the Catholic Church, another struggle was being waged mainly in the Western portions of the Church. It seems to have been characteristic of the Latin West that this was primarily over the nature of man rather than, as in the Hellenistic East, over the relation of the human and the divine in Christ.

One of the striking facts of the history of Christianity is that after the fifth century creative, original thought became less and less frequent in the Eastern sections of the Church, but that it continued in the West and, with occasional sterile periods, has persisted into the present. This does not mean that thought and discussion on the great issues presented to the human mind ceased in the East. It was still to be found there, but except for some minority groups it took as final the conclusions reached in the "ecumenical" councils of the first eight and especially the first five centuries and it operated within the framework arrived at through those councils and raised few if any basically new questions.

Some reasons for this partial sterility are fairly obvious and will be pointed out in a subsequent chapter. Others must be largely conjectural and, therefore, debatable. It may be that they are to be found to some degree in the circumstance that the East addressed itself primarily to the relation of the divine and the human in Christ and was more concerned with the divine element in Christ and in the end, even beyond circles which were known as Monophysite, tended to stress the divine in him and to give less attention to his humanity. In contrast, the West, while agreeing in principle on the relation of the divine and the human in Christ as formulated in the findings of the councils in which it had joined with the Eastern portion of the Catholic Church, concerned itself also with problems of human nature and of the fashion in which the "grace" — the unmerited love of God in Christ — operated in relation to human nature.

This concern of the Western, or Latin, part of the Catholic Church with the nature of man and the manner in which God through Christ redeems and transforms it was vividly seen in the fifth century in Augustine.

In the preceding chapter we saw something of the early life and the conversion of Augustine. Here was a sensitive spirit and a first-class mind which, after a prolonged quest for moral victory, an answer to the riddle of life, and inner peace, first through Manichsism (which he hoped would satisfy him intellectually and give him moral power but which failed to do either) and then through Neoplatonism (which gave him a convincing intellectual framework from which he never long departed but could not meet his moral needs), at last found what he craved, in dramatic fashion, in the Gospel. In later years, through a long life, Augustine gave himself to a study of various aspects of the Christian faith.

No other single Christian thinker after Paul was to influence so profoundly the Christianity of Western European peoples. Individuals such as Thomas Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin were to have as great or greater effect on particular branches of the Christianity of the West, but no other after the apostolic age was so deeply to mould all the major forms of the Western wing of the faith. He combined deep personal Christian experience with an acute and disciplined intellect which had been quickened to profound activity by the Gospel and which was equipped with a knowledge of Neoplatonism, familiarity with the best Roman thought, and the Roman tradition of emphasis upon morals and action. Significantly, Augustine was to have little influence in Eastern Christianity. By helping to shape and by epitomizing much of Western Christianity, he contributed to the incipient divergence between the Christianity of the western and eastern portions of the Mediterranean world. His thought was dominant in Latin Christianity for at least eight centuries, has since remained prominent in the Roman Catholic Church, and was to make major contributions to Protestantism.

We have noted the conversion of Augustine at Milan in 385 and his baptism by Ambrose, the great Bishop of Milan, together with that of his son, Adeodatus, and a friend, at Easter, 387. Soon thereafter, Augustine, with his mother, Monica, Adeodatus, and some of his friends set out for his native place in Africa. On the way, while waiting at Ostia for their ship, Monica died. Adeodatus followed her a few months later, after the party's arrival in Africa. In Africa, at his family estate in Tagaste, the group lived in community in study and prayer. Within a little less than three years (in 391), while Augustine was visiting Hippo Regius, a port about two hundred miles west of Carthage, popular demand led to his ordination as presbyter. Four years later, after much hesitation on his part, at the insistence of the Bishop of Hippo he was consecrated bishop with the right of succession to that see. The following year, 306, on the demise of his predecessor, he became Bishop of Hippo and remained in that post until his death, August 28, 430.

At Hippo Augustine faithfully performed his episcopal duties — preaching, administering discipline, caring for the poor, and adjudicating disputes among his flock. He gathered clergy about him who lived together under a common rule. He also carried on an enormous correspondence and through this and his other writing made of the otherwise obscure port of Hippo one of the chief centres of Christian thought of his day. He was a prolific author. Although troubled with insomnia and often ill, he accomplished a prodigious amount of work.

In all his writing, although it bore the mark of his genius and contributed fresh insights, Augustine held to views which were already widely accepted in the Catholic Church. He had a high conception of the Catholic Church. He held that God's attitude towards man can be known only through faith, that faith is a guide to truth, and that faith is belief in what is taught by the Scriptures and the Church. He said that he would not have believed the Scriptures had the Church not declared them to be true. His youthful repugnance to them disappeared, partly because he had learned from Ambrose the method, so widespread in the Church, of interpreting allegorically passages, especially in the Old Testament, which had repelled him.

Although there were other important ones, including a treatise on the Trinity, Augustine's most distinctive works were on the interrelated subjects of human nature, the character of sin, the redemption of man, the attitude of the Church towards the sinner and the penitent, the Church within history, and history. His autobiography, the Confessions, is not so much narrative, although it contains it, as meditations on human nature as seen in himself and on the fashion in which God had dealt with him. His extensive polemics against the Donatists were on the burning issues on which the latter separated from the

Catholic Church. These were not what are usually called doctrinal questions, for on such points as those on which Gnostics, Marcionites, Arians, and Monophysites differed from the Catholic Church Donatists were in accord with the latter. The contention, rather, as we have seen, was over the moral character of the priesthood and the treatment which the Church should accord to those Christians who, having been guilty of serious lapses, repented.

Augustine believed profoundly in the Catholic Church as a visible institution distributed throughout the world, continuous from the church of the apostles through its bishops, whom he esteemed the successors of the apostles. To be sure, Augustine held that bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, might err, but the Catholic Church, he maintained, was the Body of Christ, tangible, and outside it there was no salvation.

One of Augustine's most widely read works was the City of God (De Civitate Dei). Provoked by the sack of Rome by Alaric and his Goths in 410, and the insistence by the pagans that the fall of the Eternal City had been due to the abandonment by the growing body of Christians of the gods who had made Rome great, the City of God was not only an attempted refutation of that charge. It was also a positive and comprehensive philosophy of history, an interpretation of the entire human drama. In contrast with the Greek view which regarded history as a series of cycles, endlessly repeating itself, Augustine, in accordance with the Biblical view, maintained that it had a beginning and a culmination. Contradicting his non-Christian contemporaries who prized the Roman Empire as the citadel and guarantor of order in the midst of a chaotic world, a society held together by a divine ruler, and who viewed its decline with deep dismay, Augustine regarded the passing of the Empire with confident hope, believing that the Roman realm was to be replaced by an infinitely better order, that to be established by God, Augustine held that from the time of man's first rebellion against God two cities, the earthly and the heavenly, had existed, the first typified by Cain and the other by Abel. The earthly was formed by love of self and pride. It was not entirely bad, for Babylon and Rome, its highest representatives, and other governments had, out of regard for self-interest, brought peace and order. The heavenly city, on the other hand, is dominated "by the love of God even to the contempt of self." Men enter it here and now and it is represented by the Church, although not all in the Church are its citizens. The earthly city must fade as the heavenly city grows. As Augustine saw it, from its very inception all history has been directed and governed by God and moves to a climax in a society in which God's will is perfectly to be accomplished. Although his general conception of meaning in history was derived from the Scriptures, the boldness of his pattern, with its contrast between the city of the world and the city of God, and the fashion in which he fitted history into that framework was a striking contribution to the thought of mankind.

It is significant that the City of God concerned itself with man. To be sure, its subject was the dealings of God with man, but its emphasis was upon what happens to man. In this interest in man, visible institutions, and history Augustine differed from the thinkers of the Eastern sections of the Catholic Church. They focussed their attention upon God and tended to minimize man,

In his emphasis Augustine was more than an individual. He was typical of a major trend in the Western portions of the Catholic Church, of what might be called Latin Christianity. While this Latin Christianity fully assented to the creeds of Nicsa and Chal-

cedon and, indeed, as we have seen, contributed decisively to the latter, it was more concerned with historical man and human society than were the Greek and other branches of the Eastern sections of the Catholic Church, It was more activistic, more intent upon moulding society here and now than were these others. To be sure, Eastern Christianity had pronounced social effects and now and again had movements, such as that associated with the name of Joseph Volotsky in Russia in the sixteenth century, which sought to shape the entire life of a country, but in general, perhaps in part because of the practical Roman tradition, Western Christianity gave more thought and effort to man within history than did its Eastern counterpart. This may have been because of the Roman tradition, with its concern for empire and for the practical administration of human affairs.

The controversy of Augustine with Pelagius and the discussions over what was termed Pelagianism, were, characteristically, most marked in the Western or Latin portion of the Catholic Church. They were known in the East and Eastern synods dealt with them, but they were most pronounced and continued longest In the West.

The issue was the freedom of man's will and the manner in which the grace of God operates. In general the East, while by no means denying the grace of God, believed in the freedom of man's will and in the ability of the individual man to do what God commands. The great preacher of the Eastern Church, John Chrysostom, for example, insisted that men can choose the good and that when they do so grace comes to their aid to reinforce them in their effort to do what God commands. In the West, however, even before the time of Augustine, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Ambrose had declared for what is usually known as original sin. Ambrose, for instance, taught that through the sin of the first man, Adam, all Adam's descendants come into the world tainted with sin. "Adam perished and in him we all perished," he said. He held that no one is conceived without sin and that, therefore, the new-born infant has it. In contrast with Chrysostom, who maintained that man by his free will turns to God and that then God supports man's will, Ambrose believed that God's grace begins the work of salvation and that, when grace has initiated it, a man through his will cooperates.

Augustine went much further than Ambrose. That was probably in part because of his personal history of prolonged moral impotence against the sin which he believed had been with him from his conception and his infancy and because of his experience of having been sought by God's grace until he could not but yield to it. Augustine held that at the outset angels and men were created rational and free, the only created beings of which that could be said. In the beginning, moreover, so Augustine, true to his Neoplatonic background, taught, there was no evil anywhere. What we call evil, he said, is but the absence of good. In this he revolted from his Manichsan stage with its belief in a primal dualism, with an evil as welt as a good principle in nature. Evil, as he saw it, is degradation, a decline from one's proper rank. His capacity for rational free choice, so Augustine went on to hold, is at once man's highest quality, a gift from God intended for his own good, and his chief peril. Only men and angels have rational free choice. They can exist without being wicked, but because they alone possess rational free will, only they can be wicked. Employing his divinely given capacity for rational free choice, so Augustine further taught, the first man, Adam, fell into sin. This was not primarily a yielding to subrational instincts and emotional drives, as the Greeks would have held, but a choice made deliberately through the use of reason. Basically man's sin is pride, the desire of the crea ture to put himself in the centre rather than God, to do his will rather than God's will. Through his own bitter experience Augustine saw this degradation especially in sexual lust.

This falling away from man's God-given status into a lower level of being, so Augustine believed, is not one from which man can recover by his own effort. Every endeavour of man to restore himself to his primal rank is marred and made impotent by the degradation worked by that original sin. Man cannot raise himself by his own boot-straps. Having once put himself in the centre, his every effort to extricate himself is nullified by the fact that it arises from continuing concern for himself, and thus he is mired ever more deeply in the morass into which he has fallen. Man is still free, but only free to sin, to sink ever lower. He is not free to turn wholly to God. The sin of Adam and its resulting degradation are, so Augustine believed, passed on to all Adam's descendants, namely, all the human race. All of us have not only a tendency to sin, but through Adam's sin we share his loss of status, his self-centredness, his inability to choose God, and, therefore, his guilt in the sight of God. We can be rescued only through a second birth. This cannot be except by a fresh act of God.

Since by Adam's fall the wills of all Adam's descendants have been in bondage to sin and death, so Augustine said, freedom can come only by the grace of God. This grace of God was in Christ, Christ who was in God incarnate, fully God and yet fully man. The man Christ Jesus is the only mediator between God and man. Born of the Virgin Mary, he was not stained by the sin which accompanies ordinary human generation, and lived and died without sin. Christ is the second Adam, for in him God made a new start. Through the sin of the first Adam, Augustine declared, "the entire mass of our nature was ruined and fell into the possession of its destroyer. And from him no one — no, not one — has been delivered, or ever will be delivered, except by the grace of the Redeemer." Quoting Paul, to the effect that "the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," Augustine insisted that "a gift, unless it is wholly unearned, is not a gift at all," and that, therefore, even "man's good deserts are themselves the gift of God, so that when these obtain the recompense of eternal life, it is simply grace."

Augustine was profoundly convinced that all men share the sin of Adam and therefore deserve judgement. Of His great mercy, however, God has predestined some to salvation. The others He has predestined to the punishment which their sin deserves. All men, being stained by sin, deserve damnation, but God, of His grace, has by His free choice selected some to be saved and also has chosen those whom He will not save. Augustine, therefore, seemed to teach "double predestination," namely, the determination by God of those on whom He will have mercy and those on whom He will not have mercy. Augustine held that God has predetermined the exact number of those who are to receive His grace, and that that "number is so certain that one can neither be added to them nor taken from them . . . that the number of the elect is certain and neither to be increased nor diminished." Those who are of the elect will, accordingly, be saved. Of His grace God will accord them the gift of perseverance, so that even though they commit sins they will repent. Eventually those to whom perseverance has been assigned will not be able to sin. Before his fall Adam had been able not to sin, was able not to die, and might have persevered if he would. This was a blessing which was from God. The culminating blessing given to the elect will be that they will not be able to forsake good and not be able to die. This is the highest freedom of all. Here are convictions which we are to meet again and again in the course of Christianity in the West — "predestination," "irresistible grace," and "the perseverance of the saints."

No one can here certainly know, so Augustine taught, whether he is among the elect. He may be among the believers, for, quoting from one of the parables in the Gospels, "many are called." "But," to quote again from that parable, "few are chosen." Not all those who are "called" and "believe" will persevere. By baptism original sin and the sins committed before baptism are washed away. Augustine, indeed, advocated the baptism of infants on the ground that baptism is the prescribed way of washing away original sin — the sin inherited from Adam. Augustine taught that both baptism and the Lord's Supper are necessary to salvation. By God's grace men are enabled to do good works which God rewards as though they were theirs. A gradual transformation is wrought by His grace. Yet one may be baptized and partake of the communion, good works and spiritual growth may be seen, and still one may not be among those elected to receive the gift of perseverance and ultimate salvation. If one were to be confident of being among the elect, this might well lead to pride, a renewal of the basic sin. Therefore it is necessary that so long as a man is in this mortal flesh he shall be uncertain where he is "in the number of the predestined."

Some of these views of Augustine were elaborated and sharpened by his controversy with those known as the Pelagians, especially Pelagius and his associate, Coeles-tius, and the Bishop of Eclanum, Julian. Pelagius was a British monk who came to Rome not far from the end of the fourth century and was there for several years. He was a layman, a man of some learning, and of austere and ascetic life. He was apparently scandalized by the loose living of many of the Roman populace and sought to persuade them to reform. He insisted that if they really desired to do so, they could keep the commandments of God. Among those whom he won was a younger man, Coelestius, a lawyer and, like Pelagius, a layman. Coelestius was more forthright and less tactful in expressing his views than was his teacher.

Shortly after 410 Augustine's Confessions was having a wide reading in Rome. In it Augustine had prayed: "Give what you command: command what you will." This seemed to Pelagius to lead to moral listlessness and he protested that man had sufficient free will to perform his duty to God and should exert himself to do so.

Not far from 411 Pelagius and Coelestius came to North Africa, perhaps because of the sack of Rome by Alaric and his Goths. There Coelestius applied for ordination as presbyter but was accused of heretical teachings and was excommunicated by a local synod (412). Among the teachings ascribed to him and which he did not deny holding were that Adam's sin injured himself only and not the human race, that every child is born as free as Adam was before his fall and can, if he chooses, do the right, that a man can fully keep God's commandments if he will, and that some before the time of Christ had been sinless.

Both Pelagius and Coelestius went to the East, and the latter was ordained presbyter at Ephesus. In Palestine Pelagius attracted the attention of Jerome, who was living there, and aroused his ire. A synod at Jerusalem, to which the issue was referred, took no action except to refer the matter to Rome, and in 415 a synod at Diospolis (Lydda) in Palestine acquitted Pelagius. However, in 416 synods at Carthage, Mileve (in Numidia), and

Rome took adverse action and the Bishop of Rome supported them. The next Bishop of Rome, Zosimus, first sided with Pelagius and Coelestius, but, after the Emperor Honorius had exiled them (418), he also condemned them. In 418 a synod in Carthage came out against Pelagianism. In spite of these actions, Julian continued to argue the case and so brought against him the powerful pen of Augustine, Coelestius, again going East, won the support of Nestorius, then Bishop of Constantinople. In 431 the Council of Ephesus which condemned Nestorius also acted against Pelagius, Coelestius, and their associates, including Julian.

Those grouped under the category of Pelagians did not completely agree among themselves and held a variety of views. Julian, for example, seems to have been as much a Stoic as a Christian and was interested in the philosophical aspects of the issue, while Pelagius and Coelestius appear to have been more concerned for religious and moral results.

In general Pelagians differed from Augustine in denying that the taint of Adam's sin and the impairment of the will brought by it have been transmitted to all Adam's descendants, but, in contrast, declared that each man at birth at, has the ability to choose the good. In other words, they denounced "original sin." Some seem to have held that Adam was created mortal and that his His death was not due to his sin, that new-born children need not be baptized, for they have no original sin inherited from Adam which needs to be washed away, and that some men before and after Christ have so used their free will that they have been sinless. God's grace, so at least some Pelagians held, is seen in giving man free will at his creation, in giving man the law as a guide to his choice, and in sending Jesus Christ who by his teaching and good example assists men to do good. From Augustine's standpoint, this view made grace unnecessary and differed little from Stoic morality.

The struggle between Augustine and Pelagianism is a phase, within a Christian context, of the agelong controversy between determinism and indeterminism in which in many different cultures thoughtful men have engaged. To Christians with the experience of Paul and Augustine only one answer is possible, for in their own lives they have known the impotence of their wills and the power of victory which has come from outside themselves as the free gift of God through Jesus Christ. To them it is easy to regard the action of God as initiated solely by God and at His unfathomable discretion. Others, who have not known that deep inner conflict with its bitter frustration and the amazing joy of triumph through God's grace, have been inclined to hold to man's ability to attain, through his own effort, although perhaps aided by God, to the ideal life. In one form or another the issue has again and again been raised, especially in the Christianity of Western Europe.

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