The GOSPEL TRUTH
AN HISTORICAL PRESENTATION OF
AUGUSTINISM AND PELAGIANISM
G. F. WIGGERS, D. D.
CHAPTER XVII: Augustine's doctrine on the extent of redemption. The Pelagian doctrine.
Of Augustine's doctrine of redemption, we can here speak no further than as it stands in close connection with his theory of predestination. And this connection concerns the extent of redemption. As, by the predestination theory, only a definite number of elect would obtain salvation, Christ's redemption could extend only to those whom God had destined to salvation. For the rest, his death even, as well as his whole incarnation, had no object. Christ therefore died and rose again only for the elect. Consequently, by his theory of predestination, Augustine was led to a peculiar view of the extent of redemption, which, however, was only touched upon incidentally by him, and never developed with the particularity with which he exhibited the rest of his doctrines against the Pelagians.
According to Augustine, therefore, redemption was not universal. God sent his Son into the world, not to redeem the whole sinful race of man, but only the elect. "By this mediator, God showed, that those whom he redeemed by his blood, he makes, from being evil, to be eternally good." De Cor. et Gr. 11. The following passage is peculiarly clear, and is taken from the first book "on adulterous marriages," C. 15, a work written about the year 419, and not directed against the Pelagians. "Every one that has been redeemed by the blood of Christ, is a man; though not every one that is a man, has been redeemed by the blood of Christ." Hence the words in John 10:26, ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep, according to Hom. 48. on John's gospel, mean as much as this, Ye believe not, because ye are not bought for eternal life by my blood. "No one perishes of those for whom Christ died." Ep. 169, c. I. Nay, according to his theory, Augustine would have no mediator between God and the whole human race, but only a mediator between God and the elect. "Christ redeemed the sinners who were to be justified (justificandos peccatores)." De Trin. IV. 13. The bestowment of grace on the elect, as is already clear from Augustine's doctrine of grace, was connected with the redemption of Jesus. See Münscher's Handbuch, Th. IV. §118. Salvation could be obtained only by faith on Christ. Hence faith in the mediation supposed the appearance of the mediator himself. Only according to Augustine's idea, the elect were not predestined because Christ had redeemed them, but they were redeemed because God had predestinated them.
Against Augustine's limitation view of redemption, just presented, which is clear as the sun from the passages adduced, some doubtful expressions of his, and therefore proving nothing, may indeed be adduced; and especially one passage, which seems, at first view, to declare a directly contrary doctrine, viz., the universality of the work of redemption. This passage is found in De Cor. et Gr. 15. He there says, "Who has more loved the weak, than he who became weak for all and was crucified for all?" It would now be very remarkable for Augustine to have presented so contradictory a view, in this little book in which, as appears from so many passages already quoted, he so definitely and emphatically maintained the limitation. But the connection fully shows, that Augustine would by no means here maintain the universality of redemption. He is here calling to admonition and reproof, because we cannot know who is predestinated, and adduces as a reason for the call, the example of Christ. He had become man and endured the death of the cross for all, viz., those whom the Father would free from the misery of sin. To understand the passage as referring to the efficacy of the redeeming death as sufficient for all men, if they were to have been redeemed, would not accord with the spirit of Augustine. To him, as well as to his whole age, the speculation respecting the power of Christ's atoning death, was foreign.
Finally, the consequences of redemption, according to Augustine, extend both to the soul by freeing it from sin and its punishment, and also to the body, by the resurrection to felicity. De Trin. IV. 3.
By no means, however, did Augustine confine the work of redemption to the atoning death of Christ. In his first book De Pec. Mer, Augustine says, that He in whom all are made alive, has presented himself as an example to his imitators. The object of Christ's incarnation, he regarded as twofold, as he rhetorically shows in Serm. De Tempore, 118. Christ as man must suffer for us, to free us from the chains of sin, and consequently from the power of the devil. De Lib. Arb. III. 10. The other object was, not merely, by the aid of his doctrine and grace, to redeem us from imperfections and vices, but also by his example to inflame us with a zeal for holiness. Against the genuineness of this discourse, doubts have indeed been raised by the critics. But the thoughts adduced are certainly Augustinian, since, in other passages innumerable, Augustine not only admits but very minutely shows, that the teaching and example of Christ are given for our compliance and imitation, and that we are brought by the first to the knowledge of the truth. Comp. De Trin. IV. and Münscher, loc. cit. According to his theory of grace and predestination, however, Augustine must always have limited the doctrine and example of Christ to those to whom divine grace affords the will and the power to obey and imitate. Op. Imp. IV. 87.
We do not find that Pelagius opposed Augustine's assumption of the atoning death of Christ for the elect. But conformably to the rest of his system, his view of the bearing of redemption, must have been entirely different from the Augustinian. True, he did not deny the atoning effect of the death of Jesus, as some have unjustly reproached him with doing; but he admitted, that the death of Christ is actually the cause why God may pardon all who have sinned. All sinners are pardoned by God simply for Christ's sake, are freed merely on account from the guilt and punishment of their sins. In his exposition of Romans (e.g. 5:5 sqq.), Pelagius teaches expressly, that Christ died for sinners; that God forgives our sins on account of Christ's death; and that his death is necessary for us. But since, according to him, men are able to live without sin and to practise virtue by their own power, so all men are not sinners; and hence the atoning virtue of the death of Jesus, is imparted to those only who have actually sinned. And now, that the Pelagians could maintain concerning children, whom they considered innocent, that "for them the blood was not shed which, as we read, was shed for the remission of sins," an opinion which the fathers at the synod of Carthage attributed to them in their letter to Innocent (Ep. 175), is manifest of itself.
And Augustine himself allows (C. Jul. VI. 4), that the atoning power of Christ's death was conceded by the Pelagians. He there says to Julian, "You say, that Christ died also for sinners. I say, he died only for sinners." According to him, the Pelagians themselves ascribed still a further power to Christ's death besides that of atoning; while Augustine confined it to this. That is also manifest from Julian's allowing, that Christ died for children. C. Jul. III. 25. Nor did they any more confine Christ's work of redemption to his atoning death, than Augustine did. According to the Pelagian view, the mission of Jesus, and consequently his death too, were by no means superfluous to the men who needed no atonement. By his teaching and example, they might be led to higher virtue and perfection, just as all Christians attain through Christ a higher felicity, (the salvation of Christians), and the supernatural influences of grace, as we have already seen while on the doctrine of baptism and grace. In that relation, therefore, very great stress was laid by the Pelagians on the teaching and example of Christ. C. Jul. V. 15. The design of Jesus in his appearing, was also to excite us, by his doctrine and example, to more perfect holiness of life. Consequently those who had no occasion for the virtue of Christ's atonement, might still receive this salutary effect of the redemption of Jesus, as a means of incitement to higher virtue and perfection. In this view, the words of Pelagius himself are especially worthy of notice, which have already been quoted in another connection. "If before the law, as we have said, and long before the advent of our Lord and Savior, some are reported to have lived righteously and holily, how much more must we admit, that we can do this since the phenomenon of his advent, as we are instructed by the grace of Christ and are regenerated into better men [i.e., by baptism], as we are reconciled and cleansed by his blood, and are impelled by his example to a more perfect righteousness, and ought to be better than they who were before the law, and better than they who were under the law, since the apostle says, Sin shall no longer have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace." Ep. ad Dem. 9. From the third book of Pelagius on freewill, Augustine quotes the words, "Christ impels us to more perfect holiness by the imitation of himself, and subdues the habit of vice by the example of virtues." De Gr. Chr. 39. Finally, Julian says, according to Beda's quotation (Ap. p. 120), Christ assumed human nature in order to give the most perfect example of virtue.
Of a vicarious satisfaction, in the judicial sense, as the Lutheran system receives it, the Pelagians no more thought than did Augustine.
Thus much on Augustinian predestination and the doctrine closely connected with it, of the limit of redemption, which may be regarded as a corollary from the former when contemplated on this side; and thus much on the Pelagian views which differ from them.
As predestination was not specifically a matter of dispute between Augustine and the Pelagians, the latter adduced no particular reasons against it. What he says, in his book On the Gift of Perseverance, against the objection urged by the Massiliens, that the benefit of preaching is removed by the predestination doctrine, belongs to the history of semi-pelagianism. Only it may be allowable here to adduce what Augustine likewise remarks in that tract (c. 22) against the Massiliens, in respect to the objection, that the doctrine leads to despair. "Ought it to be feared, that man would despair of himself, when it is shown, that he has to place his hope on God, but that he should not despair, when he, most proud and wretched, places it in himself?"
By the close connection, however, of the Augustinian system, all the objections made by the Pelagians against the other anthropological doctrines of the renowned father, must at the same time be objections against his theory of predestination. Particularly does this hold true of the objections against Augustinian grace, which, by the close connection of this doctrine with predestination, are just so many objections against the latter.
But here one objection against it must not be passed by, which appeared very weighty to Augustine himself, because his whole anthropological system was shaken, the moment it could not be answered. In his tract De Cor. et Gr. he sought to answer it. Whether Augustine raised this objection to himself, or whether it was made by others, is not sufficiently clear. Enough, that it was as follows (c. 10 sqq.):
If those are justly punished by God who do not persevere, although they have not received from God the gift of perseverance, without which no one perseveres, and have not received it, moreover, because they have not been separated, by the free gift of divine grace, from the condemned mass, then was Adam blameless, (of whom this cannot be said), because he did not yet belong to that condemned mass which originated from his sin, and who nevertheless cannot have received perseverance from God, for he did not persevere in good.
Augustine took much pains to refute this acute objection. For if he did not refute it, then Adam's transgression could not be imputed to himself. Of course, original sin vanished; and with it, the foundation on which the whole of Augustinism rested. In the mean time, this refutation must come forth of itself from his view of the original state of Adam, and which view he was first led by this objection more exactly to develop.
Augustine remarked, that the case was entirely different with Adam and angels, from that of fallen man. In the former, God designed to show what freewill is able to do, not while he should leave it without his grace, but while he placed the employment of grace in their freewill: but in the latter, what grace through Christ can effect on the one hand, and on the other, what justice can do. The benefit of grace through Christ, appears in the elect, whom he irresistibly impels to good by this greater and mightier grace. The decision of justice is shown in the reprobate, to whom God does not afford his saving grace, in order that he may show in them what the whole corrupt mass have deserved. Here Augustine amply sets forth the distinction already mentioned between that "aid without which nothing is effected," and that "aid by which something is effected." The first, "that aid without which nothing is done," was afforded to Adam and the angels; for without it, they could not have persevered in good, even if they had willed it. Perseverance and non-perseverance were left to their freewill, and the grace was given by which they might have had righteousness if they had willed it; but the use of it God had left to their freewill. The last, "that grace by which something is effected," is given to the elect, by which they could not be otherwise than persevering. Such a grace is given them, not only that they might have righteousness if they would, but that they should also will it, i.e., such grace is afforded as does not depend on their freewill but subjects their freewill to itself. The reason of this difference, Augustine derived from the originally good state and the subsequent corruption of the human will. While Adam's will was incorrupt and no desire withstood it, the decision to persevere was justly left to such goodness and facility for living right. But since that great freedom is now lost as the punishment of sin, and the will lies a captive under the yoke of reigning lust, help is afforded to its weakness, that it may be irresistibly and invincibly impelled by divine grace. God therefore left it to the strongest [Adam] to do what he would; the weak he so aided that, by his gift, they should invincibly will the good, and by this aid invincibly refuse to abandon it.
A still further reason for this difference, but which depends on the preceding, Augustine here just notices. God designed utterly to eradicate the pride of human presumption, that no flesh might glory before him. Man could indeed possess merits; but he had lost them; and lost them by the very means by which he might have had them, i.e., by freewill. Hence there only remains for those who are to be delivered, the grace of the Deliverer. In words, Augustine allowed merits to the elect, i.e., the merits of grace, not of freewill. They are imparted to them by that grace which subjects the will to itself. But Adam might have had merits, as the holy angels also might have, not of grace, but of freewill, because these merits arose from freewill, which was aided indeed by grace, but only so far as to have the power conferred, but not the very doing and the will itself.
It was on these principles, that Augustine now replied to the objection derived from the fall of Adam against his doctrine of predestination. Adam fell by his own fault, because he had received from God that aid "without which nothing is done," without which he could not persevere and by which he could persevere in good if he would. If he had not received this, he would have fallen without his own fault at all. But those who now do not persevere, are not without fault, although they have not received from God that aid without which they cannot persevere, because it is a punishment of sin, that such aid fails them. But Adam did not receive that aid by which anything is done (adjutorium quo aliquid fit), in order that God might be able to show the greatness of his grace and his almighty goodness in the elect.
That there are many gratuitous suppositions in this reasoning of Augustine, is evident; yet he could hardly sustain his system in any other way; and it amply proves his acuteness, that, after once assuming that position, he could defend himself, in so adroit a manner, against all attacks.
We now proceed further with the historical narration.
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