The GOSPEL TRUTH
AN HISTORICAL PRESENTATION OF
AUGUSTINISM AND PELAGIANISM
G. F. WIGGERS, D. D.
Narrative of events in the controversy, continued.
Caelestius was condemned by the synod held at Carthage in 412, his doctrine pronounced heretical, and himself excommunicated. Pelagius had before sailed for Palestine, at the close of 411. Caelestius appealed from this decision of the Carthaginian council, to the Romish bishop, Innocent I; but gave up this appeal, (Paulini libellus c. Cael. in app. Ed. Ben. p. 103; Merc. Com. app. p. 69 sq.), probably because he expected nothing from it, and left a country where so much evil had befallen him. He went to Ephesus. Here he was fortunate enough to obtain what he had in vain sought at Carthage. He was made a presbyter. Here he lived a year.
The unpretending Pelagius, who had already gone to Palestine before the Carthaginian Council, gained many friends there, by his gentle and unambitious deportment, in spreading a true and practical Christianity. Among these, were John, then bishop of Jerusalem; Saint Jerome, then residing at Bethlehem; and other pious and reputable persons. Juliana, a very respectable Roman lady, with whom Pelagius had probably formed an acquaintance while at Rome, and who esteemed him as an upright man, requested him, in behalf of her daughter Demetrias, who had shortly before become a nun, to depict the dignity of her station and excite her to strive for the attainment of perfection. This commission he discharged in a very worthy manner, in the Epistle to Demetrias, before, quoted, which he wrote about the year 413. For the purpose of refuting the principles laid down in this letter, Augustine and his friend Alypius addressed a letter to Juliana, the mother of Demetrias. This is Ep. 188. There was another letter, however, which preceded this, but which has not come down to us. About the year 414, he was involved in controversy with Jerome. Jerome hated Rufinus; and as he came to believe, that Pelagius was a disciple of the presbyter of Aquileia, he likewise became embittered against him. Whether the vain and ambitious Jerome, who always paid homage to only the current orthodoxy, became somewhat jealous of the spreading fame of Pelagius, of which the latter is said to have complained (C. Jul. II. 10), may properly remain a question. And other causes, which we cannot stand to develop, might have produced a change in the views of Jerome respecting Pelagius. Enough for us, that the matter came to a written correspondence, which was violent on both sides.
But the quiet of the peaceful Pelagius, was particularly disturbed by the appearance of Orosius, who arrived in Palestine, in 415, from the extreme borders of Spain. This Orosius, a young presbyter, was induced to leave Spain on several accounts, particularly, as it appears, by the Priscillian controversies. He resorted to Augustine in Africa; and wished to receive from the renowned bishop, an explanation of the origin of the human soul. Augustine thought he had found in him the man whom he could use for his object. He made him acquainted with all that had been done in Africa against Pelagius and Caelestius; furnished him with his own writings against the Pelagians; and sent him to Palestine to set the east also in commotion against Pelagius and his doctrine. In respect to the difficult question on the origin of the soul, he craftily enough referred him, since the answer of it was important in respect to the doctrine of original sin to Jerome, just as Jerome had before referred a similar question to him. And the restless zealot actually succeeded in raising an uproar at Jerusalem. In consequence of this, at the close of July, 415, an assembly of presbyters was held at Jerusalem, at which bishop John presided, and where Orosius appeared as accuser against Pelagius. Orosius, however, did not here justify the confidence which Augustine probably reposed in him. He was far inferior to Pelagius in respect to a learned education. The latter not only had a greater readiness of expression, but was also acquainted with the Greek language, of which Orosius was entirely ignorant. This must have been to the advantage of Pelagius. On the other hand, the excessive frankness of Pelagius appeared to work to his disadvantage. He who was as yet only a layman, would not acknowledge the authority of Augustine, so sacred a bishop, but asked: "Who is Augustine to me?" Upon this, Orosius, with some others, cried out: "He must be cast out of the church as a blasphemer." But this had no influence on the decision of bishop John. He knew too much good of Pelagius to condemn him on the complaint of so ignorant a man as Orosius. He consented, in the end, to transfer the investigation to Innocent, bishop of Rome, who, as a Latin bishop, could best decide this controversy, which had originated in the Latin church. It was therefore determined to send, letters and an envoy to the Romish bishop, and to submit the matter to his decision. In the mean time, Pelagius was to refrain from teaching his doctrine. It may be worth remarking further, that Pelagius execrated, before the assembly, the man that would maintain, that we can be perfect in virtue without God's help, De Gest. Pel. 14. Soon after that convocation bishop John of Jerusalem, reproached Orosius for teaching, that "man cannot be without sin, even by God's aid." This gave occasion for the apology which Orosius addressed to the bishops in Palestine, composed in 415, and entitled Liber Apologeticus de Arbitrii Libertate.
That decision, however, was not carried into effect. Two bishops, Heros and Lazarus, who were driven from Gaul and had come to Palestine, (we know not why), and who acted in connection with Orosius and the other opponents of Pelagius, repaired to Eulogius, the primate of Palestine, with charges of heresy against Pelagius. They gave him a writing, in which the heretical doctrines of Pelagius and Caelestius, were specified, and requested, that the matter should be investigated by a council. Eulogius summoned a council at Diospolis (Lydda), which was held in December of the same year, 415, and was attended by fourteen bishops belonging to Palestine, among whom were Eulogius, who presided, and John of Jerusalem. But neither were Heros and Lazarus, the accusers of Pelagius, nor Orosius, present at this council. As a stout defender of his cause, Pelagius had here the eloquent and learned Anianus, a pretended deacon of Celeda in Campania. Hier. Ep. 143. §2. The commendation, also, which several bishops had bestowed upon him in their letters, (he even produced one from Augustine), and which he made known to the council, may have operated in his favor. De Gest. Pel. 25, 26. The accusations in the complaint of Heros and Lazarus, were read. Pelagius explained himself to the satisfaction of the synod, in regard to the errors charged against him. The council gave him the attestation of orthodoxy; acquitted him fully of all heterodox errors, and regarded him as a worthy communicant.
We may easily imagine the impression which the decision of this synod made on the opponents of Pelagius, and particularly on Augustine and Jerome. The former received early intelligence of the issue of the council, by Orosius, who hastened back to Africa immediately after it was concluded. Jerome was in a rage, and called the council "a miserable synod." Augustine hit upon a clever expedient. Instead of assailing the respectability and orthodoxy of the fathers at Diospolis, he accused Pelagius of giving indefinite and false answers. "The heresy is not justified, but the man that denied the heresy," said he, in a sermon preached not long after the synod of Diospolis. I. V. p. 1511; De Pec. Orig. 10. Thus, though Pelagius was considered as pronounced orthodox by the council, (who moreover heard the charges against him only through a translation), yet his doctrine, instead of being approved, must rather have been condemned. De Gest. Pel. 10, 11; Comp. Retract. II. 47, where it is said, that he condemned the propositions read from the complaint, as being hostile to the grace of Christ. Augustine has given us (De Gest. Pel.) the charges, and also the answers and defence, together with the decision of the synod, which he had solicited and obtained from bishop John, of Jerusalem. Ep. 179, 186. Comp. De Pec. Orig. 11. For the purpose of gratifying the interest that may be felt in learning how the oriental churches thought in respect to the contested doctrines, and also what Pelagius himself allowed to be his doctrine, quotations on both these topics, from the above mentioned work, will be given in the following chapter. Whether Pelagius acted quite uprightly at Diospolis, and did not, through fear of the impending anathema, reject and condemn several positions, which at least stood in inseparable connection with his opinions, or else received them in another and different sense from that of the synod; and consequently, whether Augustine was in the wrong when he said, that Pelagius "had either lyingly condemned, or cunningly interpreted" (De. Pec. Orig. 12) may best be left to the decision of the reader himself. A striking inconsistency (noticed, by Augustine, De Gest. 17) or rather a scarcely defensible ambiguity of Pelagius, has ever remained; viz., that he rejected the proposition ascribed to Caelestius in the tenth charge, that the grace of God is imparted according to the merit of man, and yet, in the answer to the eleventh charge, he allowed that God imparts all spiritual gifts to him who is worthy to receive!
Return to Augustianism and Pelagianism Index Page