The GOSPEL TRUTH
AN HISTORICAL PRESENTATION OF
AUGUSTINISM AND PELAGIANISM
G. F. WIGGERS, D. D.
CHAPTER VI: Theory of the Pelagians on Freewill, and the opposite theory of Augustine.
With the doctrine of original sin, the doctrine of man's freewill stands in the closest connection. As the Pelagians admitted no original sin, but maintained that every man, as to his moral condition, is born in just the same state in which Adam was created, they had also to admit that man, in his present state, has the power to do good. And this they actually taught. Among those articles of complaint presented to the synod at Carthage by Paulinus against Caelestius, are two propositions in which is substantially contained the Pelagian doctrine of man's freewill. The propositions are these: "The law is just as good a means of salvation, as the gospel; and before the Lord's advent, there were men who were without sin." The freedom of the will is also expressly maintained by Pelagius in several passages. In his Capitula, he had said: "All men are governed by their own will, and each one is left to his own inclination." When this was presented as an objection to him, at the synod of Diospolis, he replied, "I said this concerning freewill, to which God is an assistant when choosing good; but man himself is in fault when sinning, of freewill as it were (quasi liberi arbitrii)." De Gest. Pel. 3. In the passage already adduced from Augustine (De Pec. Orig. 13), in which he quotes some words from Pelagius' work on freewill, (which Pelagius had published after the Palestine decision, and therefore between 415 and 418, in which year Augustine wrote his book on freewill), the freewill of man is as strongly maintained, as original sin is denied. "We are born capable of good and of evil and as we are created without virtue, so are we without vice," etc. Compare the Epistle to Demetrias. "In the freedom to good and evil," says he, in c. 2. of that letter, "consists the superiority of the rational soul; in this the honor, the dignity of our nature. Hence the best obtain praise and reward; and there would be no virtue in him that perseveres, if he had not the power of changing to evil; In c. 3, "God has endowed man with the power of being what he will, so that he might be naturally capable both of good and evil, and turn his will to either of them. He has imparted to us the capacity of doing evil, merely that we may perform his will by our own will. The very ability to do evil, is therefore a good. It makes good to be performed, not by constraint, but voluntarily." "That only is good, which we never either find or lose without our will, the spiritual riches which thou alone canst impart to thyself. These can only be from thyself and in thyself." 13, 14. "We contradict the Lord, when we say, It is hard; it is difficult; we cannot; we are men; we are encompassed with mortal flesh. O blind nonsense! O unholy audacity. We charge God with a twofold ignorance; that he does not seem to know what he has made, nor what he has commanded; just as if he, forgetting the human weakness of which himself is the author, has imposed laws on man which he cannot endure." 19. Here Pelagius, in the manner of Kant, infers the can from the ought. Still more precisely does Augustine, in his book on the grace of Christ, describe to us the freedom of the will, as Pelagius received it. That he might not be blamed as having either not understood Pelagius or else perverted his words, he quotes his own language from his work on freewill. "We distinguish three things, to be able, to will, and to be, (posse, velle, esse). To be able, we place in nature; to will, in freewill; to be, in the effect. The first, to be able, refers peculiarly to God, who has conferred this on his creature; the other two, to will and to be" (i.e., to do), "must be referred to men, because they flow from the fountain of freewill. In the willing and the good performance, therefore, is the praise of man; nay, of both man and God, who has given the possibility of the willing itself and the performance, and who always aids the possibility by the assistance of his grace. For that man is able to will and to do good, is of God alone. The first, therefore, may exist, though the other two do not; but these cannot be without that. I am therefore free to refrain from either the good volition or the action; but by no means can I cease to have the possibility of good; for it is in me, even though I should wish it not to be; nor does nature ever take her rest in this thing. Some examples may make my meaning plainer. That we can see with our eyes, depends not on us; but that we see well or ill, does depend on us. And (that I may comprise all things in general), that we can do, say, or think every good thing, is of him who gave this ability, and who aids it but that we actually do, or speak, or think right, is of ourselves because we can also turn all these to evil. Hence, (what must often be repeated on account of your perversions), when we say, that man can be without sin, we also, by the confession of the received possibility, praise God who has given us this ability; and there is here no occasion of praising man, where the cause of God only is considered; for the discussion respects, not the willing nor the doing, but only the thing which can be done." De Gr. Chr. c. 4. Augustine quotes another passage from this book. "We have, implanted by God, the possibility for both, like a prolific and fruitful root, if I may so say, which originates and produces diverse things, and which, according to the will of the cultivator, may become brilliant with flowers of virtue, or rough with the thorns of vice." c. 18. Comp. De Nat. et Gr. 47, where Augustine quotes similar assertions of Pelagius from his work On Nature, and which he endeavors to refute, though not in an appropriate manner. In Pelagius' confession of faith, it is said: "We say that man always is able as well to sin as not to sin, by which we always confess, that we have a freewill."
Caelestius, so far as we know, did not show himself so fully on man's freewill, as Pelagius. But that he also received the doctrine, may be presumed, partly because he denied original sin, and partly because he declared in his confession of faith (De Pec. Orig. 6), that sin is not a trespass of nature, but of will; and it was also adduced at the synod of Diospolis, as a proposition of Caelestius, that it depends on the freewill of every one, whether to do or not to do a thing.
Finally, how strongly Julian asserted the freedom of the will, (which he defined as "the possibility of sinning or of not sinning" Op. Imp. VI. 9, or in a similar way), and with what acuteness he defended it against Augustine, may be seen from the first book of Augustine's Imperfect Work. The law of imitation, in connection with the acknowledged power of evil habit, was the reason why Julian would not allow that the sinner, even by his transgressions, has lost the freedom of will. "When the Lord says, If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed, he promises pardon to the guilty who, by sinning, have lost, not the freedom of will, but the consciousness of rectitude. But freewill is as much freewill after sins, as it was before sins. For by its operation, it comes to pass, that most men abandon the bidden things of disgrace, and the filth of vices being cast away, they are adorned with the insignia of virtues." Op. Imp, I. 91. "We maintain, that, by the sin of man, the state of nature is not changed, but the quality of desert; i.e., that even in the sinner, there is this nature of freewill, by which he can cease from sin, which was in him so that he could depart from righteousness." 1. 96.
Thus the Pelagians assumed a practical or moral freedom of man, or an ability, independent of sensuousness, to guide himself according to the laws of reason. As man is the work of God, Pelagius allowed that he has received from God the power, as a "possibility," of acting one way or the other; but he did not trouble himself with the question that speculation meets with in reflecting on a metaphysical freedom. According to the Pelagian theory, every man has the power of willing and doing good, as well as, on the contrary, the power of willing and doing evil. It therefore depends on man, whether he will be good or evil. With the Pelagians, therefore, it must be an abuse of freedom, when a man does evil; for he can certainly avoid it. Nay, as Pelagius admitted at the synod of Diospolis, he can even again become good when he has been bad, through his own exertion and aided by grace. In his letter to Demetrias (c. 20), he says: "Even those who, by long habits of sin, have undermined as it were the goodness of nature, can be restored again by repentance." Still he held it more difficult to lay aside vices which have once been admitted, than not to admit them at all. Ib.
By this view of human freedom, the Pelagians must have come to that conclusion, which in the sequel was so often plausibly assailed by Augustine and his followers, viz., that man can be without sin. On this topic, see particularly the so-called Definitions, attributed to Caelestius, (in Augustine de Perf. Just. Horn.), in which the proposition, that man can be without sin, is attempted to be proved by many arguments. The following, which is said in those Definitions, is particularly apt. "It is to be inquired, what is sin, natural or accidental? If natural, it is not sin: but if it is accidental (accidens), it may also recede (recedere); and what may recede, may be avoided, man may be without." De Perf. Just. Hom. c. 2. The possibility of this, was not to be denied, so long as the idea of human freedom was held fast. If man has the power to will and to do good, it is then possible that he can always will and do it. Nothing more than this would be maintained, at least by Pelagius, according to his own showing. For whether any one could actually be found, who was without sin, he did not care to contend. In his book On Nature (Aug. De Nat. et Gr. 7), he says: "We speak only of possibility. I again repeat it, I say, that man can be without sin. What say you? that man can not be without sin? I do not say, that man is without sin; and you do not say, that man is not without sin. We are contending about can and cannot, and not about being and not being (de posse et non posse, et non de esse et non esse contendimus)." Pelagius readily granted, that great and long continued effort is requisite to a change of morals and for every virtue to become perfected. Ep. ad Dem. 27. Nor did he forget to mention the aid of the Holy Ghost, when he exhorted Demetrias to resist the devil. c. 29. Nay, he says expressly (c. 31), that we ought not, so long as we are in the body, to believe that we have attained to perfection; so shall we best attain to it. Not to go forward, is already to go backward. The proposition, that man can be without sin and keep God's commands, if he will, Pelagius acknowledged as his own, at the synod of Diospolis. Augustine, it is true, in a letter to bishop John of Jerusalem (Ep. 179. n. 8), quotes a passage from Pelagius' book on nature, in which he adduces Abet as an example of a man who has not sinned; by which he seems therefore to go beyond the position of mere ability. Comp. De Gest. Pel. 10. Furthermore, Pelagius, in his epistle to Demetrias (c. 5), in order to show how great is the goodness of nature, which taught men righteousness before the law, adduces an Abel, a Noah, an Abraham, as men who had done the will of God perfectly; just as in his book On Nature, he adduces these and others, who had not only not sinned, but also lived righteously. De Nat. et Gr. 36. But this he could say of them, and could call them righteous and holy, without using the language in so strong a sense as to imply, that a sinful inclination had never been found in them. In the Bible too, in popular language, perfection is required of men; and John even says: Whoever is born of God, sinneth not. To such expressions as these, the Pelagians appealed, as we see both from Augustine's controversial writings, and also from the first book of Jerome's dialogue against the Pelagians, Those pious men of the Old Testament, were called righteous according to the biblical use of language, against which Augustine could make no objections. c. 38. And to this Bible use of language, Pelagius himself referred, both in the passage of his letter to Demetrias, and also at the council of Diospolis, in his answer to the charge of having taught, that man can be without sin. See Aug. De Nat. et. Gr. 36. Pelagius would always grant that, in actual experience, no one is found who is without sin. But this, according to his definition, as himself says (c. 42) could not be to the purpose, since the question does not regard what man is, but what he can be. The reproach, cast by Augustine on the Pelagians (De Dono Persv. 5), was therefore unjust, viz., that they maintained, "that a righteous man in this life has no sin at all." They spoke of abstract possibility, and not of real experience.
To the Pelagian doctrine of man's freewill, the Augustinian was diametrically opposed. According to Augustine, original sin, as a punishment, consisted peculiarly in the inability to will and to do good. Consequently, the very assertion of original sin, in his sense, was at once a denial of man's freewill. "True freedom (vera libertas) would not have perished, if the will had remained good. But as the will has sinned, the hard necessity of having sin, follows the sinner, until the whole infirmity be healed, and so great a liberty be received as that of a voluntary and happy necessity of living well and sinning no more." De Perf. just. Hom. 4. And a little before "By the freedom of the will, it came to pass, that man should have sin; but now, the penal vitiosity that ensued from liberty, has produced the necessity. For as the will has been subjugated by the corruption into which it fell, freedom has been wanting to nature." lb. "By the greatness of the first sin, we have lost the freewill to love God." Ep. 217. c. 5. "Man was so created with freewill, as not to sin if he willed not to, but not so, that if he willed, he could sin with impunity. What wonder then, if, by transgressing, i.e., by subverting the rectitude in which he was created, he is followed with the punishment of not being able to do right?" Op. Imp. VI. 12. "There is a necessary sin, from which man has not the freedom to refrain, which is not only sin, but the punishment of sin." VI. 59. "Since that great freedom" (to be able to abstain from sin) "has been lost, the weakness remains which must be aided by greater gifts." De Cor. et Gr. 12. "The freedom to abstain from sin, has been lost as a punishment of sin." Op. Imp. 1. 104. Human nature sinned differently when it still had the freedom to abstain from sin, from what it does now since that freedom is lost, when it needs the aid of a liberator. That was only sin; this is also the punishment of sin." V. 28. "By the punishment of sin, each one sins against his will (invitus)." IV. 100.
We should now have to wonder how, after the passages quoted and innumerable others in which the freedom of man is most definitely and, we might add, most revoltingly denied, the freedom of the will could still have been admitted by Augustine, if he had not himself given us the clue. It has already been remarked, that in his books on freewill, which he wrote against the Manichaeans, before the commencement of the Pelagian controversy, he defended freewill against those heretics. In the first chapter of the third book, he had asserted, that where a necessity prevails, no blame can be found; and in the eighteenth chapter, he had further said: "Whatever may determine the will, if it cannot be resisted, is complied with without sin; but if one can resist it, let him not comply with it and it will not be sin." Here, therefore, he makes sin dependent on freewill; and he is here speaking only of a difficulty of doing good, which arises from the sin of Adam. Similar assertions are found in other writings of Augustine against the Manichaeans. In Retract. I. 13, 15, 16, he himself quotes several passages from those writings, in which he makes sin dependent on freewill, and explains it as belonging to voluntariness; but here he endeavors to escape the difficulty, by saying that, in those passages, he had defined sin only as sin, and not as being likewise the punishment of sin. Original sin is also to be called voluntary in respect to its being contracted by the wicked will of the first man, etc. Against Pelagius--who presented to him the passage quoted from the eighteenth chapter of his third book on freewill, in order thus to justify his own assertion, that man may be without sin--he knew not how to defend himself except by answering, that he had there spoken of that grace by which we are enabled to resist evil; which answer was not wholly groundless. De Nat. et Gr. 67. Comp. Retract. 1. 9. Augustine further says (Ep. 246); "In all laws, warnings, rewards, punishments, etc. there is no justice, if the will is not the cause of sin." In De Civ. Dei, V. 9, 10, written in 415, he endeavors to reconcile the freedom of the will--with the foreknowledge of God and the laws of causation. Augustine likewise, in his controversial writings against the Pelagians, found occasion to defend the shadowy image of a freedom which is no longer freedom. The occasion arose from their objections and from the contests of the Adrumetian monks, which originated, at least in part, from his letter to the Romish presbyter Sixtus (Ep. 194), who afterwards mounted the Romish chair, under the name of Sixtus III. Augustine only said, as in his first piece against the Pelagians, that we are not in all respects in a condition to obey the commands of God, when not aided by God; but that we, in order to be aided by God, must apply our own powers. "For God is called our helper, and he only can be helped who also spontaneously undertakes something. For not as in senseless stones, or in those in whose nature God has not created understanding and will, is our salvation effected." De Pec. Mer. II. 5. comp. 2. In Ep. 188. c. 2, Augustine asserts, in opposition to the principle which Pelagius had advanced in his letter to Demetrias, that if some little should be from man, on the score of freewill, still all is not from him. In his second book De Nupt. et Conc. c. 3, he says, in opposition to Julian: "It is not so as you say. You are in error; or you seek to deceive others. We do not deny freewill; but, if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed, saith the truth." In like manner, he explains himself in another work, not against the Pelagians, on freewill. "The will is truly free," (says he, De Civ. Dei, XIV. 11), "when it does not serve vices and sins. Such was it given by God. And since it has been lost through its own vice, it can be restored only by him by whom it could be given. Hence, saith the truth, If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed," Comp. C. Duas Epp. Pei. I. 2. "Freewill becomes the more free, in proportion as it is more healthy; and it is the more healthy, in proportion as it is subjected to the divine mercy and grace. How can he be free whom iniquity rules?" Ep. 157. c. 2. "Freewill is not destroyed by grace, but established; because grace cures the will, so that righteousness is freely loved." De Spir. et Lit. 30. In Ep. 217. c. 5, he even says: "We know, that they who believe with their heart, do this of their own freewill and choice (sua id facere voluntate ac libero arbitrio)." In his book On Grace and Freewill, he attempts to prove from the Bible the freedom of the will, and to defend it against some of the Adrumetian monks, who were led, by his doctrine, to reject the freedom of the will in every sense, and to maintain, consecutively enough, that, at the day of judgment, God will not reward even adults according to their works. See Ep. 215; with which he sent this book to Valentinus and his Adrumetian monks. Nay, Augustine regarded the divine precepts themselves as a proof of freedom. "Their fulfillment would not have been commanded, if our will had nothing to do in it." De. Perf. Just. Hom. 10. Also, in Ep. 175, which was written to Innocent, in 416, by Augustine and some other bishops, the remarkable assertion is found, that there is no doubt of the freedom of the will, but its power does not reach the point of refraining from sin, when not aided by grace; and passages from the Bible are there adduced in proof of freewill, as well as of grace. "Who ought to condemn or deny freewill, with which God's aid is praised?" says Augustine, De Gest. C. 3.
But that the renowned bishop could not be in earnest when, in his writings against the Pelagians, he in words admits a free will, is manifest from his theory of original sin, according to which, man is so corrupted by the sin of Adam, that he can will and do only evil; and hence the freedom of the will is lost. This last, to be sure, he will not concede, in C. Duas Epp. Pel. I. 2, where he maintains, that man has not lost freewill by Adam's sin. But the freedom which Augustine allows to man, after the fall, is a freedom to evil, and therefore no longer freedom. "No man is compelled, against his will, to evil or to good," says Augustine indeed (I. 18); but that he wills the good, is there, again, a work of divine grace. The good is voluntary (voluntarium) only when God works in us the willing and the doing according to his good pleasure. De Perf. Just. 19. In this sense, Augustine attributes a greater freedom to the predestinated saints than to Adam. It is greater in them, because grace works more mightily in them. De Corr. et Gr. 12. "The will does not obtain grace through its freedom, but obtains freedom through grace." I. 8 "The weakness of freewill for doing good, human nature can repair only through the grace of Christ." Op. Imp. III. 110. "By grace man comes to possess a good will, who before had a bad will." De Gr. et Lib. 15. When maintaining the freedom of the will, Augustine often hides himself behind words, because he confounds the various meanings of the word freedom, which Julian very properly distinguishes (Op. Imp. I. 87); and one can hardly repress his indignation, when he sees him playing with words on so important a question. Liberty, or the ability, independently of the power of the propensities, to direct ourselves by rational laws, or, which is the same thing in this case, by the precepts of the divine law--such a liberty as Pelagius meant, and as we must adopt, according to sound ethics--Augustine directly denied, and must deny, if he would be consistent and not contradict his other positions respecting original sin and his theory of grace and predestination, which theory we shall learn hereafter. Man, says Augustine, has only freedom for sin. De Spir. et Lit. 3. The will of man is free to sin only, and not to righteousness, unless freed and aided by God. De Nat. et Gr. 23; C. Duas Epp. Pel, III. 8; It. 5. Man can will nothing good, if not aided by grace. 1. 3. "Freedom is indeed lost by sin; but it was that freedom which was in paradise, to have a perfect righteousness together with immortality. For freewill, in the sinner, is so far not lost that, by it, they sin, and especially all who sin with delight and by the love of sin. Hence the Apostle says: When ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. Behold, they are here even shown to have been by no means able to serve sin, unless by the other liberty, [the freedom from righteousness]. They are therefore free from righteousness only by the decision of liberty (arbitrio libertatis); and they are free from sin only by the grace of the Saviour." Op. Imp. I. 94. Nay, he even calls the human will the servile will of its own inclination. C. Jul. II. 8. In these, as well as in the passages before quoted, and in others innumerable, the moral freedom of man is consequently taken completely away. Finally, according to Augustine, it is in the power of the wicked to sin; but that by their wickedness they do this or that, is alone in the power of God, so that in the very thing, which they do against the will of God, nothing but the will of God is accomplished. De Praedest. Sanct. 16. The bad will alone is sin, even when the effect is wanting, i.e., when it has not the power. When the bad will receives the power to accomplish what it designs, this takes place according to the sentence of God, with whom there is no unrighteousness. For he also punishes in this way. De Spir. et Lit. 31.
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