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Bible Prophecy




Who was Pelagius?
His thinking
Versus some of Augustine

by Jacques More

When Daniel was given his visions that prophetically inform the bible reader of the great empires that would come on earth, with Israel involved within, the final one mentioned is given as having two periods of importance. This final empire was first mentioned as represented by iron in its make up during its first period of influence and, in its latter period, as a mixture of iron and clay (Daniel 2:40-43). Since the later visions given to Daniel give us more information on these empires that would rule "the (prophetic) earth", it is readily recognised the Roman empire is the last great empire in view. During its first period, and as that began to wane, the capital of the Roman empire was first moved from Rome to Milan (286AD) and then to Ravenna (402AD). Rome then, was not the capital in 410AD, but was still the seat of the bishop of Rome nevertheless. This year of 410AD the Visigoths under Alaric captured Rome and ransacked it. As a result many escaped and became refugees in the reverse direction to today's (2016) fleeing refugees across the Mediterranean.
       North Africa was a Christian region then, since Islam was not to begin for (at least) another 200 years and thus, was a welcome refuge for the fleeing Christians. It was to the area we now call Tunisia that one such refugee escaped, a British monk, who had lived in Rome for a few years. He harboured at Hippo, down the road from Carthage, since that was Augustine's home and he had hoped to meet with him. But since Augustine was away he then went on his way to Jerusalem.A

Pelagius (c360-418) was the name of this British monk. He came upon Augustine's new type of theology during his stay in Rome up to 411, the year he then became a refugee alongside many from Rome.

Augustine's writings, which are the foundation of what is now commonly called "Calvinism" or "Reformed Theology" or "Teachings of Grace", did not come about as a reaction to Pelagius' own writings, but out of Augustine's own thinking (see the final paragraph quoted below). I have previously quoted the Historian Professor Fisher in regards to what the early church taught and also what Augustine taught and how Augustine's was the beginning of a new divergence. The new teaching on the block was Augustine's. Such is "Calvinism": A dogma foreign to the Church until Augustine. It's a shame the 16th century Reformation then saw a revival of what Augustine taught and it was then thoroughly retaught, not least in the works of John Calvin. So that the so called Protestants of the time tended to identify with this dogma. But, such are the ways of the enemy. You humble yourself before God on a matter: here (historically), that faith is the ground for salvation; not works: and, this humility, then makes you vulnerable for anything the enemy wishes to add (Augustine's idea of unconditional predestination).

Here follows Professor Fisher's neutral observations of what Pelagius taught with some contrast with Augustine: Professor of Ecclesiastical History George Park Fisher DD LLD in his work History of Christian Doctrine (1896 - Pages 190-191).
       Please note that all words within square brackets " [ ] " are my added words. I have also added further paragraph breaks to help show more clearly the contrast Fisher brings between Augustine's and Pelagius' thinking.

In the system of Pelagius men were made mortal.1 They did not become such by Adam's sin. As far as they are sinners it is by doing as Adam did. All good or evil is something "done by us, for we are capable of either."2 There is at our birth nothing within us but that what God placed there.3 The supposition of sin in infants before the exercise of reason, prior to the "election" of evil, is monstrous. Pelagius makes room in his theory for the increase and spread of sin among mankind, which renders it more difficult to do right; but the liberty of election is never subverted.4

Augustine's idea of character was qualitative. Everything depends on the single, underlying principle [i.e. God and His action alone:]. If this be the love of God, man is righteous. If the love of God is absent, his [man's] virtues are at best splendida vitia [splendid vices].

The idea of the unity or simplicity of character has no place in the system of Pelagius. His conception of character is atomistic. In keeping with this difference, while Augustine believed in the universality of sin (with the possible exception of the Virgin Mary), Pelagius held that some - for example, Abel, John the Baptist - had lived without sin.

In reply to Augustine's argument from the practise of infant baptism, the Pelagians brought forward a distinction between "life eternal", to which the unbaptized may attain, and the "kingdom of heaven", a state of higher blessedness, which is open only to the baptized. Baptized persons, said Augustine, are not free from original sin. it is only the guilt that is washed away in baptism; the concupiscence, although weakened, is entailed and remains.

Respecting the condition of the human will since the fall, Augustine affirms that the will is not eradicated; it continues in full activity.5 Yet there is a bondage of the will, with no power of self-deliverance. "We are not liberated from righteousness save by the choice of the will; we are not liberated from sin save by the grace of the redeemer." [not a balanced equation and thereby a clear limit on the freedom of the will: the departing point from the early church]

To Pelagius the grace of God consisted in the revelations made of His will and of the truth, first as sin began to increase, in the Law, and then through the life and teaching of Christ.6 To these gifts of grace are added the discipline of trials and the like. Grace facilitates the right action of the will, but this action under the Gospel is from man himself, accepting and obeying when he has full power to refuse and disobey. Liberty continues, which Julian concisely defines as the possibility in the will of either admitting or avoiding sin, it being exempt from a constraining necessity. Whatever aids of grace are specially bestowed on Christians are procured by their own merits.

According to Augustine, all external provisions designed to move the heart are ineffectual as a means of conversion, apart from the Grace of the Spirit operating within the soul. By this inward power from above, the will, in the case of all true believers, is not only enabled to believe, but is effectually moved to believe. There is bestowed not only, as the Pelagians taught, the esse and the posse, but also the velle, - the right choice, the new heart.

From the sinfulness and impotence of all men, Augustine deduced the doctrine of unconditional predestinationB. . .

These are the Notes in Fisher's History of Christian Doctrine pages 190-191
Only the number of the notes differ, as Fisher's are per page and I quote several pages.

1 We have the extant [the copied manuscripts that remain] writings of Pelagius himself:
The Expositiones in Epist. Paul, Epist. ad Demetr., and the Libell. Fidei et Innocent. (both included in among Jerome's works, the latter in Hahn, 2d ed. p. 213 sq.).
Other writings of Pelagius remain only in fragments, in Augustine and other opponents.
We have fragments of Coelestius in quotations in Augustine.
For fragments of his Confession of Faith, see Hahn, p.218.
Copious extracts from Julian are in Augustine (Opus Imperfect. etc., and elsewhere), and in Marius Mercator. Julian's Confession of Faith is in Hahn, p. 219 sq.
[for my own take on "men were made mortal" with which I agree. See the sub-heading In Adam all die in the article EACH OF US ARE IN THE BOOK FROM OUR BEGINNING]
2 Pelagius, De lib. arbitr. (In Augustin., De Pecc. Orig. 14).
3 See Aug. De Pecc. Orig. 13.
4 Ep. ad Demetr. c. 8: "Longa consuctudo vitiorum," etc.
5 C. duas Epp. Pelag. II. 9
6 See in Augustine, De Grat. Christ.

A My discourse details in regards to Pelagius comes from The Early Church by Henry Chadwick (Penguin Books) pages 225-231.
B As per Fisher's summary of the earlier Church writer's, Augustine's theology, in the end, can be well seen as having departed from the previous orthodoxy.

© copyright Jacques More 2016. All Rights Reserved.

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Following 70 years after an author of a work's death.
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