The GOSPEL TRUTH
AN HISTORICAL PRESENTATION OF
AUGUSTINISM AND PELAGIANISM
G. F. WIGGERS, D. D.
The problem which I proposed to solve by writing this book, I may consider as solved. I have endeavored to exhibit Augustinism and Pelagianism in their limited period, how each was historically developed and formed, and also its internal coherency. I might therefore now lay down the pen. But the ensuing remarks, which in part follow as results of what has been said, and in part may serve as a review of the two contrasted systems, may still find a place.
The exhibition now given affords, I think, the most complete solution of the question, how Augustine could set up and defend such a system as his. It is found in Augustine's own natural disposition; in his early training in the school of the Manichaeans; in his learning by his own experience how difficult it is to resist the power of sensuality, and how little he could effect in his own strength; in the African theology, which now, from Tertullian's time, was wont to predicate so much evil of human nature; and in his early acquaintance with the epistle to the Romans, which he read in the Latin translation and did not sufficiently understand for want of skill in the language.
It was amid the Pelagian disputes, that he now formed his views and his present convictions into a system. It is therefore no mistake to suppose this system, as such, to have proceeded from this controversy; for in it and from it, his views first acquired a congruity and coherence which they had not before. But in regard to the essential doctrines themselves which Augustine professed, they did not have their source in the opposition he made to the Pelagians in their essential elements, they belonged to the fundamental convictions of Augustine, which had been settled with him from the commencement of his episcopate, as he then thought the true nature of divine grace to be made perfectly clear by that declaration of Paul, What hast thou which thou hast not received? And if even no controversy had arisen between him and Pelagius, still all the distinguishing traits of the two men were so very different, that they could not possibly have harmonized in their mode of thinking. How could the mysticism of Augustine have found warmth and nourishment in the rationalism of Pelagius?
To Augustine's own inward experience I might allow no unimportant place, when treating of the reasons why he came to his system. Augustine had fallen into the abyss of gross sensuality. By feeling a spontaneous impulse for the better, the wish arose within him to return to virtue; but he at the same time felt that this wish, if not aided by a higher power, was in vain. In the history of his own conversion, he must have found the proof that man can do nothing of his own strength, and that in his reformation he is merely passive. So much the more inclined must he have been to derive the practice of good from an influence superior to sense (von einem übersinnliche Einflusse). But now as this supersensual influence was distinct from all the proper power of human nature, man remained but a miserable creature, prone to sin and destitute of all merit. All the rest that Augustine thought, followed of course.
And from the foregoing exhibition, it may also be seen how the authors and defenders of Pelagianism came to their view. Pelagius, a man so discreet and free from all mysticism, could be satisfied only with such a system as his own, which left the most part to man's own power; a system which he developed with clearness and consistency. As a monk also, who could admit no entire corruption of human nature on account of the rigorous practice of virtue to which he attained, he must have been averse to Augustinism. Hence, too, is explained the fact that, in the sequel, Pelagianism, though in a rather modified form, had most of its defenders among the monks. A perception of the great injury which the Augustinian system might do to morality, and how greatly it might be abused as a cloak for the neglect of duty, inspired Pelagius with the most implacable hatred against it. He burned with vehement zeal in his book De Natura, (as Augustine himself informs us, De Nat. et Gr. c. 1), against those who, instead of blaming the human will for their sins, rather blamed the nature of man and exculpated themselves on account of it.
Julian also hated Augustinism because it destroys morality. C. Jul. III. 26. He accounted in part for the approbation with which it was received, from its favoring vice. Op. Imp. It. 5 sqq.
Why Pelagianism likewise found many friends, Augustine himself granted, in his letter to Hilary (Ep, 157, written about the year 414), that it had already found many disciples, as he could believe may be sufficiently comprehended from its internal structure, even aside from the external relations in which its authors as monks, though belonging to no particular community, stood to a fraternity already so increased and widespread. It must have been the way of thinking of all those who regarded it as needful to the morality of man to lay great stress on the exertion of his own power; of all those who were not inclined to mysticism. And besides this, Pelagianism contained the most direct contrast to Manichaeism, to which the aversion had now become so great by the zeal of Augustine himself. Can it be wondered at, that the number of the friends of Pelagianism was so great?
Augustinism and Pelagianism were therefore the two opposite poles which were removed in hostile separation from each other and whose union was not to be thought of Christian humility and religious resignation to God, were the best element in the former, only it might easily, by a consequential application, become dangerous to morality and rob man of alacrity in the discharge of his duty. The moral element was predominant in the latter; but Pelagianism might as easily nurture the pride of human virtue and thus become prejudicial to genuine Christian humility.
Both Augustine and the Pelagians rested the truth of their opinions on reason and scripture; but in a totally reverse order. What Augustine thought he had found in the Bible, he also sought to defend with philosophic weapons. The Pelagians sought confirmation from the Bible for the opinions they had derived from reason and reflection on the moral nature of man. The former was a superrationalist; the latter, rationalists. Julian, in several passages, declares the principle of his rationalistic interpretation of the Bible. Scripture can teach nothing against the plain decisions of reason (contra rationem perspicuani). Op. Imp. II. 53; IV. 136; VI. 41.
But as it respects the theological and philosophical verity of the two systems, a minute philosophical and exegetical examination of them, would far transcend the limits of this work. The following simple remarks, however, will be enough to show that neither the one nor the other can be biblically and philosophically sustained.
Augustine had but poorly established his grand principle of original sin. An Augustinian original sin can never be at all sustained before the tribunal of reason. An Augustinian original sin by which man can do only evil, removes completely the freedom of the will, and consequently annihilates all accountability of human conduct, so that there can therefore be no morality at all. Such an assumption, at war with our moral nature and the demands of the law within us, cannot possibly be admitted by a sober philosophy. Besides, an imputation of Adam's sin to posterity, whereby God has punished the sin of the first man, is entirely unphilosophical. A crime, and of course anything moral, can by no means be inherited, but must come by the man's own conduct. The justice of God can impute no foreign sin to me, but merely my own. But I must regard every sin as foreign which is not committed by me as an individual, even though we should admit the traducianism of the soul. For to admit an imputation before I exist as an individual, and therefore before I am any more conscious of myself than of a law, has something contradictory in itself.
All this has been so often and so forcibly said by the opponents of Augustine, and especially by Julian, that a more extended presentation is not here needful.
Nor can Augustine's original sin be exegetically sustained. It is not the doctrine of the New Testament; never the doctrine of Paul.
To stop but a moment on that which Augustine considered the chief passage, Rom. 5:12 sqq. His original sin is by no means taught in it. Paul there institutes a comparison between Adam and Christ, and maintains that, by the former, sin and death have come into the world, but that the latter has blessed the whole human race. That _______ is here to be taken for moral infelicity, as the newer expositors, after the example of Pelagius, commonly explain it, I have never been able to believe. For that physical death is an evil which has come into the world and upon all Adam's posterity through his sin, is an idea which pervades all Judaism and Christian antiquity, and is also certainly according to Paul. But what Augustine would educe from this passage, that the whole human race sinned in Adam, and consequently that Adam's sin, with all its consequences, is deservedly imputed to us, is not in it, and none but an unjust interpretation can find it there. The terms ___ _, in the phrase ___ _ ______ _______, cannot be referred to Adam. This would be an unexampled harshness. ___ _ corresponds with the Hebrew ____, and like _____ and quoniam, quia, is to be translated because, just as Luther has correctly translated it. Augustine, who used the Latin translation, found in quo (in whom), and was therefore pardonable in referring it to Adam. But still it is a question whether the Vulgate has not put in quo for quia, since in quo, even in good Latin, sometimes stands for eo quod, quia. And furthermore, even if sin and death came into the world by Adam and passed over to all, because all sinned, still there is in this no total incapacity of man to good in his natural state. Such a representation was entirety foreign from the apostle and stands in contradiction to his express teaching. Nay, he even allows that the heathen do by nature fulfil the precepts of the law (Rom. 2:14); and just before, he says, that God will render to every one according to his works (2:6).
But the Pelagians also could no more justify from philosophy than from the Bible, their views of the uncorrupted state of human nature in its present condition.
Not philosophically. A philosophy that does not transcend its limits, cannot mistake the fact that, although it cannot explain the supersensual ground of evil in human nature, a propensity of nature to evil is found in man. That we are prone to the forbidden (nitimur in vetitum) is a complaint as old as history; nay older than that, as we find it in the mythic age. Discreet philosophers also have not denied a radical propensity to evil, which may not indeed very unfitly be called original sin. But that it is a doctrine of the Bible, not only of the Old but also of the New Testament, and of Paul in particular, that man is corrupt by nature, the unbiased expositor cannot deny. How many proof passages does not the single epistle to the Romans present? It only deserves to be noticed that Paul places the corruption, not in the soul, but in the body and consequently in the sensuality of man. In me, i.e., in my body, says he among other things, dwelleth no good thing; to which also the antithesis peculiar to himself between the sensual and the spiritual man, refers.
As the doctrine of original sin is the central point from which all the rest of Augustine's anthropological doctrines proceed, the latter, at least on this side, must lose their support, if the former appears not well founded.
The necessity of infant baptism to the pardon of original sin, can no longer be inferred from this original sin, since the proof of the latter rests on so weak a foundation. And no one not blinded in favor of his own system, could find in Mark 16:16, the damnation of unbaptized children. For when the Redeemer pronounced condemnation on the unbelieving, he certainly did not intend children. For how then could the great friend of children say, If ye do not become as children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven?
The relation of human freedom to divine grace we should by no means be prepared exactly to define, but would consider it as a mystery; and this so much the more since even the New Testament decides nothing respecting it, but connects each with the other by admonishing to virtue and piety as well as also of the aid of grace, when it mentions its necessary aid without determining how much man does by his own strength and what God works immediately in man in the conversion of the sinner and the practice of virtue. When Paul (Phil. 2:13) ascribes to God the willing and doing of good, he nevertheless summons the Christian, in the preceding verse as well as in other passages, to the utmost stretch of spontaneous effort; and furthermore, by connecting the two verses together by the particle for, he shows most plainly the close relation in which he regarded both [agencies], and how he considered the one as conditioned upon the other. The hope of divine help should rouse to greater effort. How else could he well ascribe, in the seventh of Romans, the willing of good directly to man? But more nice delineations the Apostle does not afford. Such a relation however is not to be conceived of as a mechanism of nature! The irresistible grace is nowhere to be found in scripture, not even where the higher influence of the Holy Ghost is most definitely spoken of. At the same time the ambiguity of the Greek word _____, translated grace, gratia, allowed of several quotations of proof passages on the doctrine of gracious influences, but which, for want of investigating the Hebrew import of the expression, could by no means be satisfactory. Christianity, which wisely consults the practical wants of man, considered it enough for us to know that, by the conscientious application of our own powers, we may enjoy the higher aid of God, And this is indeed all it is necessary for us to know for our conversion and consolation!
In support of absolute predestination, Augustine was indeed able, with some plausibility, to adduce the ninth chapter of the epistle to the Romans. But even this support dwindles on close examination. Several expressions, it is true, are there presented, which may lead to an unconditional decree, if we press the words without noticing the connection and examining it with philosophical acuteness. But all the expressions in this passage must be judged of according to the object of the Apostle. This certainly was not to establish, with philosophical precision, the relation of the divine purpose to the moral conduct of man, but to meet those who were proud of their own merit and would confine the blessings of Christianity to the people to whom themselves belonged. In accordance with this object must the vivacity of the expressions there used be judged of. The main thought is this: Whatever of good accrues to man, he ought not to consider as in consequence of his desert, but the result of God's grace. The election to Christianity depends on God's free grace. Paul therefore labored to oppose the Jewish particularism (particularismus), and for this, men would make him a Christian particularist!
The other passages also of the Bible, which Augustine either did or could quote, bear on a close examination into the spirit and language of the Bible, a different sense from what Augustine was prepared to give them. According to the scripture use of language, all events are referred directly to God, and we shall plainly prove too much if we construe such expressions with philosophical strictness. How often is it said in the Bible, especially in the language of the Old Testament, God hardened the heart, when natural causes of the hardening are immediately assigned; and in other places, the hardening is attributed to the man himself, e.g., Ps. 95:8. We are not therefore to prove the predestination system from solitary expressions of the Bible. It must rather be proved from the spirit of Christianity. But this is totally opposed to it. Christianity, by its universalism (universalismus), contained indeed the very opposite to the Jewish particularism.
Nor are there wanting declarations of the Old Testament prophets in which is expressly declared the universal and paternal love of God, according to which he finds no pleasure in the death of the ungodly but wills that he should repent and live; and the bestowment of salvation is made to depend on the right conduct of man. Ezek. 18:20 sqq. According to the New Testament, God has so loved the world as to give his only begotten son (John 3:16); he wills not that any one should be lost, but that every one repent, etc. Matt. 18:14; 2 Peter 3:9. Paul, so greatly revered by Augustine, says, that Christ died, for all (2 Cor. 5:14, 15), that he gave himself a ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:6), that every one shall receive according to what he has done, whether it be good or evil. 2 Cor. 5:10. By him also (Rom. 2:5) is attributed to the man himself his hard and impenitent heart. And by this, does not the whole Augustinian particularism tumble to ruins at a blow? That is, the limitation both of the election of grace and also of what is most intimately connected with it, the extent of redemption, to the elect? Not to mention that the scriptures teach expressly, that Christ died for those who will be eternally miserable.
[In these remarks and citations of scripture our author seems to have confined his view to Augustine's unconditional predestination, as they are not at all applicable to the system which holds to the universality of the atonement complete free agency, the bona-fide offer of salvation to all, and a judgment according to works, but which still admits an "unconditional election." Nor is it easy to see how our author himself could object to God's unconditional purpose to do precisely what he represents him as doing, in the bestowment of that spiritual aid without which no one will repent and live, unless he would say either that God's purpose is predicated on impenitent acts, or else that both human and divine agency are so reciprocally conditioned on each other that neither can be regarded as unconditional, and neither as taking the lead even "in the order of nature." And perhaps this is the view he intended to indicate on a previous page. But if so, it is surely a view which stands in as much need of distinct proof and vindication, as do any of even Augustine's positions. For though the final salvation of man, and even his conversion, may be equally conditioned on both concomitant agencies, yet how do we know that divine grace does not so take the lead in the great work, that the purpose to bestow this grace may properly be regarded as not predicated on man's act? And besides, how can we attach any meaning at all to the specific declaration that God worketh in us to will and to do, without supposing his agency to take the lead. at least in the order of nature, just so far as it is the cause of our right agency. Nor does this necessarily imply an irresistible grace, but only one which will not in fact be resisted in the Particular cases. TR.]
What Augustine further said or at least indicated, with dialectic plausibility, for his absolute predestination, and what has in later times been repeated in its favor with a lavishment of philosophical acuteness, that by the adoption of a conditional predestination the will of God ceases to be an almighty will, because it is thereby admitted that something may take place which God has not willed vanishes on closer examination. Man cannot fathom the depths of the divine nature. Every conception of the idea of Deity, is limited by our finite powers of conception, and hence, however great our struggle to be free from all anthropomorphism, a human idea always remains. But never may we venture to think of Deity in such a manner as to destroy the moral action of man and the moral government of the world. This is an absolute surrender of our whole moral nature. But by every merely physical conception of divinity, we encounter the danger of destroying the moral quality of man and of exalting God's omnipotence at the expense of his holiness. Hence we must admit that all the physical attributes of God stand in the closest connection with his moral attributes. And hence his mighty will must never be thought of as distinct from his holy will and the belief in his holiness must hold us back, where the naked idea of his omnipotence would ruin us, But men always think of God's almighty will apart from his moral attributes when an election of grace, confined to merely a few as the elect, is adopted by them for the reason that, if God had willed to save all men, they would be saved, since nothing can resist his will. If I may not think the divine omnipotence physically limited I must think it morally limited, if I would not lose the proper idea of Deity. And this moral limitation takes place, to be sure, not by anything from without, but from what is within God and has its origin from him. But how can the idea of his holiness, his righteousness, his wisdom, and his goodness, be connected with an unconditional decree which is based on his almighty will? His holiness is cast into the shade as soon as his almighty will has only willed that a few should repent but all the rest should remain in their sinful state; his righteousness, if he refused to one what he imparts to another alike destitute of all merit; his wisdom, if he selected the most appropriate means only for the salvation of some; his goodness, if all his rational creatures cannot look up to him as the father of eternal love, but he excludes most of them from his paternal heart. And to what purpose, in the end are the admonitions to virtue and piety, if nothing depends on the free decision of man but all on an unconditional decree of God, fixed from eternity, and on that irresistible grace which stands in connection with it? Here, truly, the Adrumetian monks were in the right, and Augustine was not able to refute them. What a wide field is here opened for spiritual sloth, and for inconsolable despair! The absolute decree may therefore be ever so much veiled by dialectic art, the contradiction between it and a worthy though human idea of Divinity, can never be removed.
The Pelagians were also able to wrest from Augustine the argument which he derived from God's almighty will in support of unconditional predestination, by replying that, after all, he did not himself regard the fall of Adam as a matter of God's decreeing, but only allowed in it a foreknowledge of God; and since he ascribed freewill to Adam before the fall, he could not even admit of the decree. God had not willed the fall of Adam, and yet Adam fell. Consequently no almighty will of God was here even allowed, but on the contrary a limitation by a moral object. Now as Augustine conceded such a limitation before the fall of Adam, how could he derive a proof of unconditional predestination from the illimitable nature of the divine will?
By what has now been said, the appeal to "the depth of the wisdom of God," of which Augustine so often availed himself when he could not otherwise avoid the objections of his opponents, is reduced to its proper bounds. The mystery of the divine government and foreknowledge in the manner in which it is presented to our weak vision in the visible world, no mortal can unveil; and to this Paul directed his notable declaration. But this "depth" need never shake our faith in the holiness of his will and his righteousness, and hence too in his wisdom itself. The concealed God who, behind the veil of visible things, directs the fortunes of man, cannot be in contradiction with him who is revealed to us by scripture and reason. However unsearchable to us may be the means he employs, in the occurrences of life, for our perfection, the holiness of his object itself should never be a mysterious depth to us, if we would not lose all moral and religious consistency. And Augustine, when he had once assumed in this respect a mysterious depth in the Deity, never dared to try to make doctrines from this depth agreeable to human reason.
Finally, as to the rest of the Pelagian doctrines, they, as in the case of Augustine, flowed from the fundamental view which their defenders had of the state of human nature, or at least were in harmony with this view.
The Pelagian view of infant baptism, that it entitles to the kingdom of heaven, may well be considered the weakest among the Pelagian opinions. It exposed to Augustine a naked spot of which he availed himself, on every occasion, to distress the Pelagians; although he, as we have seen, had at an earlier period declared himself not altogether disinclined to that distinction, which was also adopted in reality, though not in words, by other teachers. For assuming such a distinction between salvation in general and the salvation of Christians in particular, there was no solid reason at all; and the difficult question, why God should allow baptism to be administered to one twin brother but not to the other, was now changed to the equally difficult question, why God should allow the salvation of Christians, and therefore a higher and more signal salvation, to be conferred through baptism on the one but not on the other. The declaration however of Jesus, Whoever is not born of water and the Spirit, cannot enter into the kingdom of God, (in which baptism is to be sure demanded as a necessary condition of participating in the kingdom of God preached by Jesus, and therefore in the salvation which he promises to his followers), does not authorize such an assumption. It may justly be supposed that the Redeemer referred only to those who wilfully declined an admission among his disciples by baptism, and not to small Christian children who die before baptism. How much better would the Pelagians have done, had they avoided this rock, and indulged themselves in no definite assertions on a subject respecting which it might well be considered as rashness to decide anything.
What may be regarded as wrong in the Pelagian view of grace, flowed, at least in part, from their idea of the uncorrupted state of human nature. They did not deny the supernatural influence of grace, but its necessity for the practice of virtue. Divine grace was only to facilitate the practice, but not to be considered as indispensable to the practice. Here may easily be perceived the onesidedness (einseitigkeit) of the man who relied too much on his own power, and the arrogance of a pride of conscious virtue which may at least be pronounced not Christian.
The conditional predestination which the Pelagians adopted, as well as their doctrine of the universality of redemption, is entirely conformable with the universalism of the New Testament, and equally accordant with a just idea of Deity. This universal aspect is the happiest feature in Pelagianism. Viewed on this side, Pelagianism affords, to the aspirant for morality, a prospect which both sustains him in the conflict with sensuality, and fills him with joy in the performance of his duty.
Augustine, therefore, as well as Pelagius--this is afforded as the result--bothered. Whether the semipelagians afterwards took a middle path between Augustinism and Pelagianism, with better success, the sequel of the history will show.
[Our author here refers to his continuation of the same general history in another volume of nearly equal size with the present, in which he gives a connected account of semipelagianism from its commencement to the time of the second council of Orange in 529. A translation of this latter work may possibly be given at a future day, if there shall appear to be a call for it. The period it embraces is far less known to theologians of our own country, than the period embraced in the present volume; but it is one in many respects of deep and solemn interest, and will doubtless hereafter receive a greater share of attention than has commonly been bestowed upon it. It embraces the first part of the long night of the dark ages; and one of the best safeguards against the recurrence of such ages to the church, or of any of their besetting evils, is a good acquaintance with the early history of those times, when the evils were in their incipient stages and the causes were at work that produced still greater evils, Nor was the period, though one of deep and complicated troubles, so destitute of wise and good men, especially among the clergy, as many have been left to imagine. It may then well be supposed that, in the rapid increase of theological literature, such works as the history of the origin and progress of semipelagianism, will be demanded. But whether the publication of an extended work on that subject, would be warranted at present, is a matter of some doubt.
It would here be an easy task, in closing the labors of this translation, to fill pages with additional remarks on the momentous topics that have been brought to view. Nor would it be found an uninteresting theme, were we to dwell on the consequences of this first grand controversy on the points in question, as developed in different periods from that time to the present. The Christian world is doubtless far different from what it would have been if Augustine had lived, or no Pelagius had risen to call forth his gigantic powers on this then untried field.
But were one to embark on the tide of such reflections, where or when could he stop? A portion of them, too, would come more in place at the close of the history of the semipelagian controversy, should that hereafter be given to the public.
Should the present work be found to conduce to a better knowledge of the grand truths as well as of the history of the Christian system, and thus to the greater usefulness of the reader in commending those imperishable truths to the acceptance of his fellow men, my highest aim in the protracted but cheerful labors of its preparation for the English reader, will be accomplished. TR.]
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