Theological History

The views of Pelagius and Augustine

It is interesting to summarize and compare the views of Pelagius and Augustine.

Pelagius taught [not to be confused with what his followers taught]:

1. Man has a perfectly free will. He can do what God requires him to do.

2. There is no innate impulse to sin, no original sin inherited from Adam.

3. Sin is the simple choice to do wrong. Man's nature is the occasion, not the cause, of sin.

4. Grace, as a cause, is unnecessary to move the will toward God. Christ acts as an Example and motivation to right acting. Christian perfection is only a cluster of individual virtues and works with no demand for a regenerated heart.

Augustine rejected this and affirmed:

1. God created man posse non peccare et non mori (possible not to sin and die). The will was master.

2. Man abused his freedom and willed to disobey God. As a consequence he entered a state of non posse non peccare et mori (not possible not to sin and die) because God no longer gave direction to the will.

3. The will became a sinning will. All men share in this evil will because all men were in Adam when he sinned and hence sinned with him. All are guilty.

4. Salvation (here Augustine failed to see his own ambiguity) is only by

a. Baptism, which assures a child of salvation-hence he [Augustine] favored infant baptism; or
b. Grace, which was absolutely necessary for salvation, because grace can move man's will.

Our task at this point is not to trace the history of the Pelagian-Augustine controversy. It is sufficient to note the logical form of Augustine's reasoning which was developed "out of an inner need for assurance of salvation" [J. L. Neve, A History of Christian Thought (Philadelphia: The Muhlenberg Press, 1946), I, p. 147], and in contrast to his antagonist, Pelagius.

Notice the logical development of his reasoning:

1. God is absolutely sovereign. He is the direct cause of all that is. No one can stand against his will. (This is his premise and it reflects a Neoplatonic view of God as wholly other, unknown, unapproachable.)

2. Fallen man, therefore, is absolutely powerless to will anything against God, or for Him. In contrast to God's holiness, man is utterly evil.

3. If any man is saved and turns to God, it is only because God has moved man's will to respond to Him; that is, God changes the heart so that man acts in freedom. Grace changes the heart. But in the work of changing the heart grace acts in such a way that man's will cannot resist. We can say, as Neve puts it, that man is converted, not because he wills, but he wills because he is converted (Ibid.).

4. Grace is irresistible because God's will is irresistible. Therefore whom God would save will be saved, and he will not be lost because it is God who takes the responsibility for moving his will and God cannot change.

5. if Christ died for all men, as some where saying, all men would be saved. But, he observed,

6. Not all men are saved. Why? (In Augustine's earlier years he answered this question by reference to man's free agency, not by electing grace [Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, vol. 2, Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1940, p. 234].

7. Obviously not all men are saved because God must have chosen particular men to salvation, a specific number of men which cannot be changed. The rest are left in their sins. It is inconceivable that Christ should die for anybody who would not be saved.

8. Since God cannot change, it is only reasonable to suppose that elect men where chosen from all eternity.

9. Therefore individual predestination is the only logical way to account for the salvation of any man.

Personal predestination, to Augustine, was not a biblical doctrine but the inevitable conclusion to his own line of reasoning, which he believed was biblical. his logic compelled him to make God fully responsible for the salvation of certain pre-chosen men. His doctrine of predestination was not an a priori but a conclusion. It must be also said that Augustine refused to follow his own logic to its inevitable conclusion and to make God the author of sin or the cause of any man's damnation. This step his followers would take in later years.

In this way Augustine arrived at the doctrine of personal predestination. This was not, as noted above, a teaching he found from a study of the Bible, but the conclusion to his own logic and which he then believed had to be biblical. Augustine's doctrine of personal predestination was developed after he developed his doctrine of sin and grace [J. L. Neve, A History of Christian Thought (Philadelphia: The Muhlenberg Press, 1946), I, p. 146].

His concept of grace as acting directly on the human will "necessated a belief in a divine decree which determined the exact number of those who were to be saved.... From these views...there gradually grew up a theory of [individual] predestination [Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, vol. 2, Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1940, pp. 348-49] (Mildred Wynkoop, 1967, Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology, Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, pp. 28-31).


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