The GOSPEL TRUTH
AN HISTORICAL PRESENTATION OF
AUGUSTINISM AND PELAGIANISM
G. F. WIGGERS, D. D.
Further account of the Events.
The doctrine of Pelagius on infant baptism, original sin, and grace, was condemned in the plenary council at Carthage, by the nine canons already adduced; and instead of it, the Augustinian doctrine, so far as yet presented, was pronounced orthodox. The decrees of this council were communicated by them to Zosimus, who, about this time, held a new convocation, in order to bring Caelestius, by a fresh examination, to a confession of his opinions. But Caelestius avoided it by quitting Rome. And now the general decision was made by the Romish bisbop, by which Pelagius and Caelestius were excommunicated, unless they would renounce their errors, submit to penance, and accede to the African resolutions.
Zosimus, now finding himself once brought to espouse the African orthodoxy, forthwith sought his own honor in forcing it on the whole Christian world, in impressing as it were the stamp of sound faith upon Augustine's system, from the fact of declaring himself in its favor. This was accomplished principally by his famous Epistola Tractoria, only some fragments of which have reached us, kind which he sent to all the bishops of the East and the West, before the middle of the year 418. In this letter, the errors of Pelagius and Caelestius were mentioned, and the condemnation of both of them was declared. Every bishop was to subscribe this letter, by which tumult enough would be produced. It might be expected the majority would be brought to favor it. Some there were, however, so high-minded as to resign their stations rather than condemn the men whom they believed to be innocent. Those who would not subscribe, bishop Julian of Eclanum and seventeen other bishops, were deposed and banished from Italy, in consequence of the imperial mandate and the priestly decrees.
The African bishops, in a letter addressed to Zosimus, extolled him for the purity of doctrine contained in his circular letter. Prosper contra Coll. C. 5. Caelest. Ep. ad Galliarum Episcopos c. S. p. 109, 133. To the Romish presbyter Sixtus also, (whom report had represented as a Pelagian, but who, after Zosimus changed his part, had declared his anti-pelagian opinion to the Africans), Augustine signified his most hearty joy at the news, and encouraged him to take care that those who publicly spread the Pelagian error, should be punished "with salutary severity," etc. Ep. 191, written towards the end of the year 418.
But the impression made on the deposed bishops, by the conduct of Zosimus, may be imagined. Julian accused him of prevarication. C. Jul. I. 4. He, as well as those who shared a like fortune, spoke with bitterness of the whole procedure of Zosimus, in this affair, and left nothing untried in order to induce the emperor Honorius to cause a new investigation of the matter. In a letter to bishop Rufus of Thessalonica, they sought to interest the oriental church in their behalf. They blamed the stupidity and cowardice of the Romish clergy for having again taken up the former sentence in respect to the Pelagian doctrine. They called Augustine's doctrine Manichaeism, because he made human nature utterly bad; and his grace, fate. They called upon Rufus in particular, to oppose the Manichaeans. To this period, also, belong two letters from Julian to Zosimus, on the contested doctrines. Op. Imp. 1. 18. From one of them, Mercator quotes several passages, (Ap. p. 115, 116), in which Julian endeavors to approach Augustinism as much as possible, but frequently connects a Pelagiain sense with Augustinian words. About this time, was also composed, and sent to Rome, the first letter refuted in Augustine's first book Against the Two Epistles of the Pelagians. This letter was ascribed to Julian as the author, but was not acknowledged by him, perhaps because of some falsifications. Op. Imp. I. 18. So of the work called Libellus Fidei, which proceeded, if not from Julian, yet from bishops inclined to Pelagianism, who sought to justify themselves, to their metropolitan, respecting their doctrine and their refusal to subscribe that letter. Ap. p. 110 sqq. The deposed bishops desired especially to have their cause investigated by a general council. They complained bitterly, that they were not allowed to defend it before learned judges, but were abused by the noisy and inexperienced multitude; and that their opponents employed the temporal arm while they abandoned the help of reason. But in vain. Comes Valerius, a distinguished disciple of Augustine and opposer of Pelagius, knew how to frustrate all their endeavors, and to procure the victory for Augustine. Augustine himself was crafty enough to represent it as implying a doubt in the ancient catholic faith, if the temporal authorities would still allow the Pelagians time and place for the investigation. They ought to be prohibited by force. De Nupt. et Conc. I. 12; Op. Imp. I. 10. Julian also reproached the bishops with party spirit, who had condemned Pelagianism at the synod. They hated the cause before they had understood it. C. Jul. III. 1.
To this was added still another step, on the part of the state, to extirpate, not only Pelagianism, but with it also, the Pelagians themselves. The first imperial rescript of the emperor Honorius to Palladius, by which Pelagius and Caelestius, its well as their disciples, were to be punished by exile and confiscation of goods, could reach none but declared Pelagians. Many, inclined to Pelagianism, might conceal themselves. But on the ninth of June, 419, appeared a letter of both the emperors, Honorius and Theodosius II, to Aurelius, the bishop of Carthage, in which, not only was the earlier order repeated, and the Pelagians threatened with the assigned punishment, but this penal law, with the unchristian spirit of persecution, was extended to those who should fail to send away or to inform against the secret Pelagians. In this letter, it was made the duty of Aurelius, in particular, to see to it, that all the African bishops, under him, should subscribe the condemnation of Pelagius and Caelestius, and to give them to understand, that every one, who would not subscribe, should lose his episcopal office, he hunted from the towns, and forever excommunicated. Some of the African bishops not present at the Carthaginian council, who tolerated Pelagianism, may have given the occasion for this. At least it is said, in this "epistle imperial," that the episcopal authority of Aurelius must interfere "to correct the pertinacity of certain bishops who either promote their wicked discussions by tacit consent or do not destroy them by public assault." Finally, Honorius declared expressly, in the same letter, that he followed, in that rescript, the decision of Aurelius (and consequently of the other African bishops too), according to which they had been condemned by all in respect to the errors specified. According to some subscriptions, this letter was also sent to Augustine.
Aurelius did not loiter in executing the commission conferred on him. By the first of August, 419, he issued a letter to all the bishops of the Byzacine and Arzugitane province, acquainting them with the imperial order, and requiring them all to sign that condemnation, whether they had been present at the Carthaginian synod and had consequently there signed it already, or had been hindered from being present. As may well be supposed, such a letter did not fail of its anticipated effect.
This letter, as well as the imperial order, of which Aurelius added a copy, this early and grievous memorial of spiritual domination and the compulsion of conscience, are still extant, and were first brought to light by the Magdeburg Centuriators. They are printed in the Appendix, p. 109. The "imperial epistle," however, is not perfect. It will be found perfect among the Augustinian epistles. Ep. 201.
But freedom of thought would not be suppressed by the law of the state. Even the history of the present controversy proves this. Not long after the severe edict referred to, a mandate to the city prefect, became necessary, from the emperor Constantius, whom Honorius had received as a co-regent. From this mandate, it appears, that the Pelagian doctrines had again occasioned trouble at Rome, and it was supposed, at the imperial court, that Caelestius might be lurking in Rome and occasioning those commotions. In this law, (which was likewise first brought to light by the Magd. Centuriators, and which is printed in their appendix, p. 126), it is said: Since the Pelagian errors are continually spreading and the discord thence arising produces commotion among the people, it is deemed necessary to renew the former penal law against the Pelagians. Valusianus should therefore search out those who discard divine grace (qui Dei invident pietati), and remove them from the city and the region a hundred miles around it. Particularly should the agitator Caelestius be removed from the city. To this is also added a threat to Valusianus, should he be negligent in executing this command. Upon this followed the advertisement of Valusianus, which may be seen in the appendix at a. 0. As Caelestius, the disturber of the church and the state, could not be discovered, (hence his stay at Rome could not be improbable), orders were issued against him as against one absent. He was therefore to be forever banished from the city; and a like punishment to fall on any one who harbored him.
That Augustine, however, had the chief hand in these persecutions of the Pelagians, that he was the most active in producing them, is confirmed by all, both friends and foes. Of the former, we need only read Prosper, in his "Poem on the Ungrateful." Ap. p. 68. Hence Julian also calls him, "The head and cause of all these evils." Op. Imp. II. 104. He employed especially the aid of his Alypius, who was now bishop of Tagaste, and whom Julian hence called "the slave of Augustine's sins." 1. 7. This man, in the year 421, brought over the four books of Augustine, C. d. Epp. Pel., to bishop Boniface, who, after the death of Zosimus, (which occurred Dec. 26, 418), had succeeded to the Romish chair, and who opposed the Pelagian doctrine with all his might. He also brought the second book De Nupt. et Conc., to Comes Valerius. That Alypius here employed bribery, in order to gain the temporal authorities and incline them to the African orthodoxy, Julian asserts in several passages, and reproaches the catholic party generally with intrigue of various kinds, (e.g. Op. Imp. 1. 42, 74); which accusation Augustine contradicts.
In this later period of the bishop of Hippo's life, when Pelagius himself had long been off the stage, occurred the further development of his system, which formed, as it were, its keystone--the development, I mean, of his predestination theory, and of the connected doctrine of the limitation of Christ's redemption. These doctrines stood in the closest connection with his other doctrines, and especially with his theory of grace as being irresistible and having no respect to man's merit; and therefore as a consecutive reasoner, he was inclined to adopt all the consequences that flow from this theory.
But here it should by no means be said, that during the contest with the Pelagians, Augustine first set up his predestination theory, because he saw that consistency led him to it. The impartial examiner of Augustinism, will readily allow, that one of our most acute theologians has judged quite right, in his famous dissertation on the doctrine of election, in affirming that this doctrine did not first come to Augustine in and from the contest, and that it was not an excessive zeal against Pelagius, that first led him to this view. But the matter, strictly considered, is thus.
At first, Augustine with all the rest of the fathers, admitted only a conditional predestination. In his books on freewill, he taught a foreknowledge of God, which had no determining influence on the conduct of men; a foreknowledge, therefore, which was no predestination, in his sense, and which therefore presupposed no irresistible grace. In his Exposition of certain Propositions from the Epistle to the Romans, composed about the year 394, he taught (prop. 60), in plain language, a predestination founded on prescience; and he confessed his error in Retract. 1. 23. But when he afterwards gave a wider range to the doctrine of grace and even regarded the commencement of faith as an effect of grace, he began to teach an absolute predestination. Hence, in the first book to Simplicianus (De Div. Quest. Opp. T. VI.), which he composed soon after the beginning of his episcopate, in the year 397, and consequently long before the Pelagian contests, we find the predestination theory set forth, in its essential principles, together with the doctrine of the commencement of faith through the grace of God. After this, he did not always remain consistent with himself. Nay, he even could not deny (De Praedest. Sanct. C. 9), that in "the question on the time of the Christian religion" (Ep. 102) he referred the preaching of salvation to Christ's foreknowledge as to who would believe and who would not. We also meet with expressions which cannot be brought to harmonise with the mode in which Augustine had formed the doctrine of absolute predestination. Thus, according to De Trin. IV. 13, the smallest number remain with the devil, and the greater part flee to the Savior. But according to the predestination theory, only a small number in proportion to those that are lost, are predestined by God to salvation.
In his writings which were composed during the Pelagian contests, Augustine speaks in the dogmatic, but not often in the polemic manner, respecting foreordination. In his first piece against the Pelagians, (De Pec. Mer. e.g., II. 29), he speaks of the predestinated;" as also in his homilies on John's Gospel, (e.g., tract. 45) written about the year 416, he represents predestination as a matter decided. And in the work written soon after (De Gest. Pel. C. 3), he said, "God forbid that they who are called according to the design, whom he foreknew and foreordained to be like the image of his son, should so lose their love as to perish. For, this the vessels of wrath suffer, which are prepared for destruction, by whose damnation itself he makes manifest the riches of his glory towards the vessels of his mercy. To them therefore happens what is written: God hath given them up to their own hearts' lusts; but not to the predestinated, whom the spirit of God rules," etc. But that this doctrine had as yet no polemic interest, we see from the fact that, in the canons of the synod, nothing was decreed respecting it. In the canons against the Pelagians, at the general council at Carthage, 418, no more mention was made of predestination than of the consequence of redemption.
It was in his tract "On Rebuke and Grace," written about the year 427, that Augustine first presented the predestination theory, in its extent and its connection with his other doctrines. He says himself (De Dono Perseverantiae C. 21), that he did not before so plainly and fully present it. The occasion of this more extended presentation, was the inference urged against him, that by his theory of free grace, no one could be punished for not keeping God's commands. Retract. II. 67. The position, also, which he setup against the Pelagians, that in imparting grace, God is not guided by the conduct of men, must have strengthened him in his view of predestination, because this contained precisely the opposite of the Pelagian opinion, that God is guided by man's desert, in the bestowment of grace. To defend his doctrine of predestination against objections of the semi-pelagians, of whom some traces had already become visible, he wrote, somewhat later, his books `On the Predestination of Saints,' and `On the Gift of Perseverance.' The three books mentioned, in which Augustine developed his theory of predestination in its entire consistency, are therefore the main sources for this doctrine, which must now be presented in contrast with the Pelagian theory.
How perfectly convinced Augustine finally was of this doctrine, and how completely he had interwoven it with his whole manner of thinking, we see from De Dono Persv. C. 19. "This I know," he there says, "that no man can dispute but from error, against this predestination, which we defend according to holy scripture." The terms praedestinare and praedestinatio, he found however in the Vulgate, and borrowed them from it.
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