The GOSPEL TRUTH
AN HISTORICAL PRESENTATION OF
AUGUSTINISM AND PELAGIANISM
G. F. WIGGERS, D. D.
Narrative of events continued.
Thus was Pelagius formally acquitted and pronounced orthodox by fourteen oriental bishops. This must have been as flattering to Pelagius as it was disagreeable to his opponents. He was loud in his joy on this occasion. Nay, he did not omit to inform Augustine himself of what had happened at Diospolis, in an account which he sent him of his defence. De Gest. Pel. prooem, and 32, 33.
Augustine's reputation was now at stake. He had declared against the Pelagian doctrine; and the author of it, a layman, (who had moreover trod so close on the heel of episcopal pride, by presuming to say, "Who is Augustine to me?"), was now pronounced fully orthodox by an oriental council of fourteen dignified bishops. This might produce disastrous consequences, especially as the party of the Pelagians grew stronger. Augustine therefore set all in commotion to prevent this. At two provincial councils in 416, the Pelagian doctrine was declared one which ought to be rejected, and the council held at Carthage in 412, was approved. And no pains were spared to win the Romish bishop Innocent; from an apprehension, perhaps not wholly groundless, that he might even confirm the decision of the fathers at Diospolis. In addition to this, Augustine wrote, about this time, to bishop John of Jerusalem, by whom Pelagius was much loved (Ep. 179), warning him of the poison of the Pelagian heresy. It is worthy of remark, that Augustine, even in this letter, speaks of Pelagius with esteem, and calls him "our brother."
Of the two synods just mentioned, the first was held at Carthage, in 416, at which Aurelius presided. This is the second Carthaginian council on the Pelagian controversy. It consisted of sixty-eight bishops. Augustine, who did not belong to the Carthaginian or proconsular province, was not one of them. At this synod, it was resolved, that Pelagius and Caelestius should be put under anathema, if they should not most explicitly condemn the errors charged upon them. Bishop Innocent was, at the same time, informed of the whole case, with all the preceding circumstances. For the fathers sent him a synodical letter, and appended to it both the acts of this synod and of the one before held at Carthage, together with the letter of Heros and Lazarus, which Orosius had brought. The acts of this second synod are lost; but the synodical letter to Innocent, has come down to our time. It is found not only in the Mansic Collection of Councils (IV. p. 321), but also among Augustine's letters, Ep. 175. But it is very remarkable, that the African bishops, who were confessedly so jealous of their rights, should express themselves to the Romish bishop, in this letter, in the following manner. "We have considered, Rev. brother, that this act ought to be communicated to your holy excellency, in order that the authority of the apostolical seat may also be added to the decision of our mediocrity." Finally, two errors in doctrine were charged, in that letter, against Pelagius and Caelestius. One was, that they taught that man is in a state, by his own power, to live right and keep the commands of God, by which they showed themselves the opponents of divine grace: the other, that they denied that children are freed from corruption and obtain eternal salvation by baptism, inasmuch as they promised eternal life also to those not baptized. In the synodical letter, however, with much circumspection, and probably not without an eye on the acquittal of Pelagius at Diospolis, the anathema was held as necessary only in general for those who taught these errors, and not for Pelagius and Caelestius, themselves, for they, forsooth, had possibly reformed.
The second of these synods, was held the same year at Mila, (anciently Milevis), in Numidia. About sixty bishops of this province, were present, among whom was Augustine. The fathers acceded to the resolutions of the Carthaginian synod, only we find no proof of anything being said at Mila in respect to condemning the two alleged heretics, if they should not retract the doctrines referred to. The canons of this synod are lost; for what are presented as such, in the collections of canons, are selected from other synodical acts. See Fuchs Bibli. der Kirch. Th. 3. S. 346. The fathers assembled at Mila, also sent a letter to the Romish bishop, in which they entreated him to set himself in opposition to the Pelagian errors. This letter has reached us, as well as that of the Carthaginian council, and is among Augustine's letters. Ep. 176.
Besides this, in order by every possible means to win Innocent, a confidential letter was sent, at this time, by Augustine and four other African bishops, to the Romish bishop, in which they made every effort to show, that the African doctrine was orthodox, and that no injustice was done to Pelagius and Caelestius. This private letter is also preserved and is among Augustine's letters. Ep. 177. In this, the Romish bishop was requested either to have Pelagius come to Rome and to examine him personally, or else to do this by writing. In connection with this, they placed distinctly before him their orthodox doctrine of grace, and bid him beware of the ambiguity of the word grace, behind which Pelagius hid himself. They also added Augustine's book on nature and grace, together with the work of Pelagius which had occasioned it. In the latter, in order to save Innocent the trouble of reading the whole, they marked the passages in which Pelagius, in their opinion, had expressed himself heretically. Besides this, they added a letter to Pelagius, composed by one of their number, probably Augustine himself, with the request, that Innocent would be pleased to send him that letter, that it might thus have the greater effect.
From this step, which Augustine and his adherents took, and in which Augustine was doubtless the man who directed the whole affair, it is manifest, that passion already mingled in the strife. This step must unquestionably have been, a costly one to the ambitious Augustine and the other proud African bishops. Hitherto, the African church had in every way set themselves in opposition to the pretensions of the Romish bishop to the primacy. What they now did, however ambiguously they expressed themselves, (they did not ask the decision of Innocent but his accession to their party,) must have appeared as homage to the authority of the Romish bishop. In order still more to flatter his pride, even a bishop, Julius by name, was sent to him with that letter.
This step was devised so craftily and executed with so much skill, that it could not fail of its object. The aspiring Innocent, to whom it must have been very gratifying, did not let slip this fine opportunity for making his authority valid. He regarded the step in a light in which the Africans would not have looked at it. He answered with an arrogance and a pride which would not have been endured in another case. In his replies (August. Epp. 181, 182, 183) to those three letters, of Jan. 417, he set himself up as the one to whom alone belonged the decision of this matter. He commended the deference with which they had applied to the apostolic chair, and said, that he had investigated the case. He confirmed their doctrine and their decision against the Pelagians. By the authority of apostolical power, he excommunicated Pelagius, Caelestius, and all who obstinately defended their doctrine, until they should reform. And he expressed himself, in relation to the Pelagian theory of infant baptism, almost in the words of Augustine. Innocent remarked further, that it was not necessary to summon Pelagius to appear in person, since, if he thought he had not deserved the condemnation of the Romish chair, he must hasten to him and seek his acquittal. But Pelagianism is no more fairly set forth and condemned in the letters of the Africans, than, (as might be expected,) in the answers of the Romish bishop. As we shall see in the sequel, Pelagius had never maintained the proposition, assailed in these letters, that man needs no grace, and therefore the inference could not be imputed to him, that prayer to God for aid against sin, is superfluous. The Pelagians had never taught what was here charged upon them, that the baptism of children does not aid in their salvation, since, as we have seen, they maintained, on the contrary, that children obtain the kingdom of heaven by baptism. Thus, therefore, were the pretended doctrines of Pelagius, and likewise their advocates, declared and condemned as heterodox, by the Romish chair.
The answer of Innocent excited the most lively joy among the African bishops; so greatly did party zeal outweigh their pride. It was universally proclaimed abroad. Augustine could not refrain from even saying in the pulpit, that by two councils, and by the rescript of the apostolical chair, the matter is settled. Serm. 131. § 10.
But on the twelfth of March, 417, Innocent died. His successor was Zosimus. Caelestius, (who had recently betaken himself to Constantinople, when driven from Ephesus on account of the unpleasant affair with bishop Atticus,) now hastened to Rome, and presented an appeal to Zosimus, (or rather renewed the previous one), and also presented a written defence, containing his confession of faith, in which he directly denied the transmission of sin, and spoke of the contested question as one that did not belong to the faith. Zosimus received him kindly, and without troubling himself about his predecessor's having already decided the controversy, commenced the investigation anew. For this purpose, a convocation of the clergy was summoned at Rome; and the expressions of the man, who cunningly enough declared his willingness to submit all to the decision of the apostolical chair, were found orthodox. No decision concerning his orthodoxy, however, was at this time pronounced. The same year, 417, Zosimus wrote a letter to Aurelius and all the African bishops, informing them of what had been done; declared the propositions presented by Caelestius, perfectly orthodox, and the accusers of Pelagius, (Heros and Lazarus, to whom he was opposed for other reasons,) deposed and excommunicated; censured the Africans gently for their conduct in this affair; and demanded of them, if they had anything further to object to the orthodoxy of Caelestius, either to appear at Rome, within two months, or else to be quiet. Finally, Zosimus added, that he had reminded Caelestius and the priests that were present, that such subtle questions and foolish disputes arose from a childish love of novelty, etc. This is very remarkable, as we may hence conclude, that the doctrine of original sin and of its remission by infant baptism, which Caelestius explicitly rejected in his confession of faith, did not yet belong to The Romish system of doctrine. The letter is found in Mansi, IV. 350; and in Aug. Opp. XII. 122.
During this time, a letter and a confession of faith arrived at Rome from Pelagius. Probably he had been informed, at Jerusalem, of the step taken against him in Africa, and what this had also occasioned at Rome. In order to justify himself, he wrote to Innocent; placed before him his creed; and added the request, that he would either teach him a better one, and show in what his errors consisted, (as he would gladly receive instruction from him who possessed the faith and the chair of Peter,) or else would pronounce him orthodox. This prayer was supported, in a separate letter, by Praylus, the bishop of Jerusalem and successor to John. Both letters reached Rome after the death of Innocent and the accession of Zosimus to the Romish chair. These occasioned the calling of a new convocation at Rome (by which the creed of Pelagius was also approved), and a second letter of Zosimus to the African bishops, which was probably written only a few days after the first. Pelagius's confession of faith extends to all Christian doctrines, beginning with the Trinity and going to the resurrection of the dead. It then touches very briefly on some of the contested doctrines; upon which, however, it is far too indefinite.
The second letter of Zosimus to the Africans, as well as the other, was first made known, from the Vatican library, by Baronius, and is contained in Mansi, IV. 353, and in Aug. Opp. XII. 124. In this, the Romish bishop first mentions its occasion, and asserts, that Pelagius had fully justified himself, and that it could no longer be a subject of doubt, that both Pelagius and Caelestius were orthodox men, who had been calumniated before the Africans by those base men, Heros and Lazarus. And he remarked, not without bitterness, that it did not become the episcopal dignity and wisdom, to make up their decision on the representations of such vain calumniators; and that it should now be a real joy to them, to acknowledge those, who had been erroneously condemned, as men who had never been separated from the church nor from catholic doctrine. To this letter, he annexed copies of the writings which Pelagius had sent him.
Both of these letters of Zosimus to the Africans, which were probably sent at the same time, were delivered by one Basiliscus, a sub-deacon, to Aurelius, the bishop of Carthage. Conceive of the sensation which this must have excited through all Africa! What was the object of Zosimus in all this, whether he meant to win a still greater triumph than his predecessor had gained, by a still deeper subjugation of the Africans to the Romish chair, or whether he intended to mortify the Africans who had so often scorned the decisions of the Romish bishops cannot be determined. But whichever it might be, it was a failure. The pride of the Africans was offended, and they had spirit enough to set themselves in opposition to Zosimus. Scarcely had Aurelius received these letters, when he forthwith summoned a council at Carthage, which was held in November of this year, 417, consisting of 214 bishops. At this synod, (of which, according to the language of Prosper in his Carmine de Ingratis, "Aurelius was the president and Augustine the ruling spirit,") their former decisions and those of Innocent, against the Pelagians, were confirmed. To the decrees of this synod, was added, by the Africans of the council, a letter to Zosimus, (to whom another letter had already gone,) in which they find fault with his decision about the orthodoxy of the Pelagians, and request him to institute a new investigation with Caelestius. "We have decided," say they in this letter, according to a fragment preserved by Prosper, (Contra Collatorem, c. 5. Ap. p. 176), "that the sentence pronounced by the venerable bishop Innocent, from the seat of the most blessed Apostle Peter, against Pelagius and Caelestius, remains in force until they, by the most unequivocal confession, acknowledge that we are aided by the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, not only to know righteousness, but also to practise it in each act, so that without it (grace) we are not able to have, think, say, or do anything truly pious." Paulinus, also, the accuser of Caelestius, who had been requested by the above-mentioned Basiliscus, Nov. 2, 417, to appear at the court of Zosimus and prosecute his complaint against Caelestius, did not appear, but justified himself, in a notification, sent to Zosimus, dated Nov. 8, on the ground, that the case had already been decided in his favor by the Romish chair. This notification which was first made known by Baronius, is found in Mansi, p. 381, and in Ap. Ben. Ed. p. 102.
This opposition of the Africans, however, would hardly have inclined Zosimus to change his conduct towards the alleged heretics, had not two circumstances conspired to compel him to it. The first was an insurrection of the opponents of Pelagius at Rome, at the head of whom a monk, called Constantius, appeared to stand, who, very likely, made their displeasure at the conduct of Zosimus in this matter, to be heard aloud, and which probably led to a violent scene. De Pec. Orig. 8, 21; Prosp. in Chron. ad annum, 418; Sacrum Rescriptum, Ap. p. 105. The second circumstance, and perhaps the most important was this, that the emperor Honorius declared against Pelagius and his adherents, and in favor of the Africans, whom political considerations might incline him to favor.
Zosimus shifted his part in the scene. In his answer, which followed the letters before mentioned to Aurelius and the rest of the bishops who had met at Carthage, (Mansi, IV. 366. Ap. 104), dated March 21, 418, after some proud assertions respecting his dignity, he says, that it was not his intention directly to acquit Caelestius, but only to leave the matter undecided, till everything pertaining to it should be investigated. He added, with perhaps not an unintentional obscurity, that after receiving their letters, he had left all in the same condition in which it had long been. In this he seemed to point to the transactions under his predecessor Innocent, by whom the Pelagians had been condemned.
The emperors Honorius and Theodosius gave a rescript (sacrum rescriptum, Ap. 105) which of course implied an application, and indeed, as is highly probable for many reasons, an application of the African bishops. The rescript was given at Ravenna, April 30, 418, and was directed to Palladius, a praetorian praefect of Italy. In this rescript, which is drawn up in a pompous style, it is said, that Pelagius and Caelestius had been guilty of falling into many heretical errors and of artfully spreading them. For example, they had taught, that death was produced at the same time with man, and was included by God in the plan of creation, and is not a consequence of sin but an irrevocable ordinance, and hence it would have befallen us even if we had not sinned; and that the sin of Adam does not pass over to his posterity; and that, according to information, the poison of this heresy had spread to Rome and other places, and was disturbing the peace of the church. "Therefore," continues the decree, "your illustrious authority is to know, that we have decided by law, that Caelestius and Pelagius, the first heads of this execrable dogma, being banished from the city, whatever other persons may anywhere be found as followers of this sacrilege, or again uttering anything of the condemned perverseness, being caught by any one, they are to be brought before a competent judge. Any one, whether clergyman or layman, is to have the power of accusing and prosecuting, without any limitation, such as he may find abandoning the common light of opinion and introducing the darkness of novel disputation, and thus fighting against apostolic instruction and the clear, certain, and gospel doctrine, with the sly subtlety of a rude sect, obscuring the resplendent faith of truth by dark and intricate discussion. These, therefore, wherever found conferring on this so nefarious a wickedness, we command to be seized by any persons, and brought to a public hearing, there to be promiscuously accused by all." If proved guilty, they were to be sent into exile. And this decree was directed to be published throughout the whole empire, that no one might plead ignorance of the law, if found transgressing. This rescript occasioned also an edict (Ap. 106; Aug. Opp. XII. 159), in the name of Palladius and two other praetorian praefects, Monaxius praef. praet. of the East, and Agricola praef. praet. of Gaul, in which the rescript was made public for universal observance. But in addition to exile, the confiscation of goods, which is not mentioned in the rescript, is also expressly introduced as a punishment of the Pelagians. That many were thus induced to abandon the Pelagian party, may well be supposed. Possidii Vita Aug. c. 18.
These were the first steps taken by the state against the Pelagians.
But still the Africans did not think enough had been done for the suppression of the Pelagian heresy. Hence they ordered what is called a plenary council, i.e., one to which all the African bishops were summoned, or a general synod; and at this, also, the principles of the Pelagians were condemned. It commenced May 1, 418, at Carthage, and more than two hundred bishops were present. Aurelius of Carthage and Donatianus of Telepte presided. But here, again, Augustine was the ruling spirit. The first nine canons of the synod, were levelled against the Pelagian heresy. Ap. 106; Aug. Opp. XII. 133. The ninth canon, which Walch quotes in his history of heresies (Th. IV. s. 637), is erroneously placed here, as Fuchs rightly remarks in Bib. Kirch. Th. 3. s. 378. On the other hand, the third canon, ("It is likewise decreed, that if any has said," etc.) which is wanting in some manuscripts and collections, is certainly genuine. It is wholly in the spirit of Augustine and the Africans. Augustine alludes to it in his work on the soul and its origin (II. 12), and Photius quotes it in his Bibliotheca Cod. 53.
These canons, which contain several positions against the Pelagian theory of grace, of which only an occasional notice has yet been taken, are important enough to merit a literal translation in this place.
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