"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Augustine and Pelagius Pt 2: What is the moral capacity of fallen man?


[sorry, I am low on time, so Part 2 may be a little sketchy and less complete than my original outline in teaching this. I might correct it later...]

The story of St. Augustine is largely known from his autobiography “The Confessions.” Augustine, especially in this work, The Confessions, exerted more influence than any figure previously or since on Western Civilization. Within this book, Augustine posits the priority of grace and God’s initiative in salvation. Within the book, Augustine pens a prayer that becomes popular:

"Lord command what you will, and will what you command" or
“Lord command what You wish, and grant what You command.”

Augustine believed that God must grant us the power and grace to do anything that God commands.

On the other side of the Roman Empire, Pelagius labored to minister to English sailors. Pelagius found this popular prayer of Augustine to be a perscription for licence. If God has commanded us, then this implies we are able to perform that which God commands, Pelagius retorted.

The Question at hand was: What is the moral capacity of fallen man?

Pelagius, as stated, believed that man was capable of fulfilling the will of God in his own power. Adam had set an unfortunate example, but Christ is our perfect example, the model of what our obedience should be.

Augustine, on the other hand, said Adam’s sin killed us, and our moral capacity is dead. (Eph 2:1,5) What man requires in order to do anything God commands is the restoration of his life. If we see anything in us that is worthy of calling good, Augustine turned to his favorite verse in the debate, 1 Cor 4:7:

1 Cor 4:7 – “For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?”

In the debate, Pope Zosimus defended Pelagius. The church, however, condemned Pelagius at the Council of Ephesus. Vindicating Augustine’s position. The Council of Orange even confirmed Augustine’s position that the good of faith must be said to be from God as well, stating in Canon 5:

“ the increase of faith…also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly …[is] a gift of grace ”


This seemed to create a problem. The question then has to be answered, if the early church insisted that man was responsible for their own sin, how is it that man is free, yet God must draw them?

Augustine drew a distinction between coersion and inevitability: God coerses no man against his will, but all whom God draws come.

How did Augustine explain this seeming contradiction?

It is worth a lengthy quotation from Augustine's commentary on John 6:44-45:

Thence also He says here, if thou turn thy attention to it, "No man cometh to me except he whom the Father shall draw." Do not think that thou art drawn against thy will. The mind is drawn also by love. …"How can I believe with the will if I am drawn?" I say it is not enough to be drawn by the will; thou art drawn even by delight. What is it to be drawn by delight? "Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thy heart." There is a pleasure of the heart to which that bread of heaven is sweet. Moreover, if it was right in the poet to say, "Every man is drawn by his own pleasure," --not [compulsion], but pleasure; not obligation, but delight,--how much more boldly ought we to say that a man is drawn to Christ when he delights in the truth, when he delights in blessedness, delights in righteousness, delights in everlasting life, all which Christ is?... … for flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven." This revealing is itself the drawing. Thou holdest out a green twig to a sheep, and thou drawest it. Nuts [candies] are shown to a child, and he is attracted; he is drawn by what he runs to, drawn by loving it, drawn without hurt to the body, drawn by a cord of the heart.

Another illustration in a different sense may be given. If a group of blindfolded people are running for a cliff and you take the blindfold off of some, they will stop running for the cliff. They choose not to run over the side, yet they would do no other action when they are given sight. The same with God, all who are given sight can do no other than be drawn to Him, drawn by the delight of His Glory, for they can do no other.

2 comments:

M. Jay Bennett said...

Good stuff! I've linked these as well as the trinity post to my blog post of our class schedule.

Andrew said...

This is really good, thank God for St. Augustine, he knew his stuff.