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Pelagian Controversy.

1. Named after Pelagius.* For the beginning of the controversy ca. 411 see 5.

2. There had been no full agreement among ch. fathers on justification.* In gen. they agreed that man's nature was depraved by the Fall and that man thereafter needs God's grace and a rebirth. Some (e.g., Ambrose,* Cyprian,* Hilary* of Poitiers, Tertullian*) taught a total depravity; others (e.g., the Cappadocian* Theologians, J. Chrysostom,* Clement* of Alexandria, Didymus* of Alexandria) held that man retained a remnant of free will, which is active toward good independently of grace.

3. In his early writings, Augustine* of Hippo did not exclude free will from conversion; later he excluded it emphatically, but rationalism misled him to a false view of election. He held that all men since Adam's fall (which ruined human nature physically and morally) are essentially in the same state of estrangement from God and of condemnation, in which they can do only what displeases God. From this state they can be rescued only by God's grace in Christ. This grace attracts man's depraved will with inner conquering necessity (gratia irresistibilis), and whoever receives it is saved. Not all receive it. Out of lost mankind (massa perditionis), God, acc. to His compassion in Christ, elects some to salvation, fitting them thereto by kindling faith in them by His grace (gratia praeveniens, operans, et cooperans); all others God, acc. to His justice, leaves in depravity and consigns to merited damnation. The reason why grace is accorded only to part of mankind lies in an eternal, holy, inexplicable, absolutely free decree (decretum absolutum) of God. Cf. H. E. F. Guericke,* Handbuch der Kirchengeschichte, I (Leipzig, 1866), 351–352.

4. Pelagius and his followers held that man's nature is not depraved since the fall but is still in its original state of moral indifference and depends on the individual will to develop the moral germ of his nature and be saved. Irresistible grace and absolute predestination do not fit this system. But acc. to the view of Pelagius, neither was grace or salvation by Christ necessary (a view incompatible with the essence of Christianity).

5. Pelagius first taught his view in a commentary on Paul's epistles ca. 400; then he spread them personally at Rome ca. 409/410. He went to Carthage with Celestius* ca. 410/411. When the latter applied for the office of presbyter, he (Celestius) was accused of heresy by Paulinus* of Milan and had to defend himself before a syn. at Carthage, probably 411. Views of which he was accused included: (1) Adam would have died even if he had not sinned; (2) his sin affected only himself, not his progeny; (3) newborn children are in the same state in which Adam was before the fall; (4) it is not true that all men die in Adam and rise in Christ; (5) the Law leads to salvation as much as the Gospel; (6) before the Lord's coming there were people without sin. Celestius is reported to have been excommunicated when he refused to recant.

6. Meanwhile Pelagius had gone to Palestine and the controversy continued. Augustine of Hippo wrote De natura et gratia (“Of Nature and Grace”) against Pelagius. At the syns. of Milevis and Carthage (both 416) Afr. bps. condemned Pelagianism; pope Innocent I confirmed the judgment and excommunication, but his successor Zosimus declared Pelagius and Celestius orthodox 417. The Afr. bps. repeated their condemnations 417/418. Emp. Flavius Honorius also opposed Pelagianism. Then Zosimus concurred with the judgment of the Afr. bps. and issued a statement widely circulated for subscription; the 18 bps. who refused to sign, including Julian* of Eclanum, were deposed. Pelagius was expelled from Palestine and disappeared from hist.

7. Esp. through the influence of Marius* Mercator, probably a layman, also the E condemned Pelagianism at the 431 council of Ephesus.* But the E did not fully accept Augustinian theol.; e.g., Theodore* of Mopsuestia and Isidore of Pelusium stood midway bet. Augustinianism and Pelagianism.

8. In the W, Augustinianism found new foes in semi-Pelagianism,* which held that free will was only partly impaired by the fall and needs the help of grace. The question why not all are saved, since grace alone saves and is universal, and since all are in equal corruption and guilt (a question that the Bible leaves unanswered) was discussed. Both parties erred. Augustinianism looked for the answer in God, who does not treat all alike; semi-Pelagianism looked for the answer in man (some using their natural powers aright, others not). Augustine refuted extreme misconstructions of his view (e.g., that all moral effort is unnecessary and all punishment of sin unjust).

9. Early semi-Pelagian leaders include J. Cassianus, who held that man, despite inclination to evil after the fall, could by free choice turn to good but needed grace to grow in sanctification. Augustine wrote De praedestinatione sanctorum and De dono perseverantia (both 428/429) to justify his system. After his death his friend Prosper* of Aquitaine also wrote against semi-Pelagianism. But the movement continued. Prosper induced pope Celestine I to issue a statement, albeit somewhat indeterminate, condemning bps. of Gaul for opposing Augustine. Vincent* of Lerins supported semi-Pelagianism as in harmony with monastic belief in human merit.

10. After Augustine's death some of his followers, including Prosper, tried to reduce the harshness of his system. They distinguished bet. gen. and special grace; only reception of the latter would save. But they left unsolved the mystery why not all received special grace. Other followers of Augustine continued to stress the harshness of his system. Semi-Pelagians charged them with going beyond Augustine and gained some victories, including a semi-Pelagian work written on assignment given by a syn. at Aries in the 470s to Faustus of Riez (Faustus Reiensis; Rhegiensis; of Rhegium, or Regium, or Reji, in Provence, SE Fr.; ca. 408–490; abbot Lérins; bp. Rhegium 454) in which he compared the relation of grace and free will to that of Christ's 2 natures and held that free will was not destroyed by the fall but that an indestructible germ of good remained. But these victories were only in Gaul.

11. Augustinianism was championed in Afr. and Italy. C. G. Fulgentius* refuted Faustus. Through the influence of Caesarius* of Arles the 2d syn. of Orange 529 restated Augustinianism, albeit modified, over against Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism; its position was confirmed 530 by Boniface II (pope 530–532).

12. The W had thus taken a stand for the essence of Augustine's doctrine of sin and grace, decisively anti-Pelagian; but the speculative dialectic predestinarian matter was not resolved.

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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