The GOSPEL TRUTH
AN HISTORICAL PRESENTATION OF
AUGUSTINISM AND PELAGIANISM
G. F. WIGGERS, D. D.
CHAPTER XII: Canons established against the Pelagians by the General Synod (plenario concilio) of the African bishops, held at Carthage in 418.
I. Whoever says, that the first man Adam was made mortal, so that whether he should sin or not, he would die as to the body, i.e., depart from the body, not by desert of sin, but by a necessity of nature, let him be anathema.
II. Whoever denies that children just born are to be baptized, or says, that they are baptized for the remission of sins but derive nothing of original sin from Adam which is to be expiated by the layer of regeneration, from which it follows that, in them, the form of baptism for the remission of sins, is to be understood, not as true, but false, let him be anathema. For what the apostle says, By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death hath passed to all men, (in quo) in whom all have sinned, is to be understood in no other way but as the catholic church, everywhere diffused, has always understood it. For according to this rule of faith, even little children, who have not yet been capable of committing any sin in themselves, are thus truly baptized for the remission of sins, that what they have derived by generation may be cleansed by regeneration.
III. If any one says, that because the Lord has said, In my Father's house are many mansions, it is to be understood, that there is a place in the kingdom of heaven, or a place anywhere at all, in which children are happy who leave this world without baptism, (without which they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, which is eternal life,) let him be anathema. For since the Lord has said, Whoever is not born again of water and the spirit, cannot enter into the kingdom of God, what orthodox man can doubt, that he who does not deserve to be a joint heir with Christ, has his part with the devil? He that does not stand on the right hand, will doubtless be on the left.
IV. Whoever shall say, that the grace of God, by which we are justified through Jesus Christ our Lord, avails only to the remission of sins already committed, and is not also an aid against their commission, let him be anathema.
V. Whoever shall say, that the same grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, assists us in avoiding sin merely in this, that by it there is revealed and opened to us a knowledge of commands, whereby we may know what we ought to seek and what to avoid, but by which nothing is afforded whereby, when we know what to do, we may also be able and delight to do it, let him be anathema. For since the apostle says, Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth, it is very impious for us to believe, that we have the grace of Christ for that which puffeth up, but have it not for that which edifieth; since to know what we ought to do and to delight to do it, are both the gift of God, so that, by charity edifying, knowledge may be unable to puff up. And as it is written of God, He teacheth man knowledge; so is it likewise written, Love is from God.
VI. Whoever shall say, that the grace of justification is given to us, so that we through grace may the more easily do what we are commanded to do through freewill, as though, if grace were not given, we could fulfil the divine commands even without it, though not easily, let him be anathema. For the Lord was speaking of the fruits of commandments, when he said, not, Without me ye do with more difficulty; but, Without me ye can do nothing.
VII. Whoever thinks that what the apostle John says, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, is to be received as if he were to say, It does not become us on the score of humility, not that of truth, to say, We have no sin, let him be anathema. For the apostle goes on to say, But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just who forgiveth our sins and cleanseth us from all iniquity. Where it sufficiently appears, that this is not only said humbly but also truly. For the apostle could have said, If we say we have no sin, we exalt ourselves, and humility is not in us. He sufficiently shows, that whoever says he has no sin, speaks not the truth but falsehood.
VIII. Whoever says, that in the Lord's prayer, saints say, Forgive us our debts, not as though they said it for themselves, for this petition is not now necessary for them, but for others among their people who are sinners, and therefore each one of the saints does not say, Forgive me my debts, but, Forgive us our debts; so that the just is understood to ask this for others rather than for himself, let him be anathema. For the apostle James was holy and just when he said, In many things, we all offend. For why was it added, all, unless that this sentiment might agree with the Psalm, where it is said, Enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight, no one living shall be justified? And in the prayer of the most wise Solomon, it is said, There is not a man that sinneth not; and in the book of Job, He marketh in the hand of every man, that every man may know his infirmity. Hence even the holy and righteous Daniel, when in prayer he says, in the plural, We have sinned, we have done iniquity, etc. lest it should be supposed, when he truly and humbly confesses these things, that he said them, (as some now think,) not of his own, but rather of his people's sins, afterwards said, When I was praying and confessing my sins and the sins of my people to the Lord our God. He would not say, our sins; but mentioned the sins of his people and his own, because, as a prophet, he foresaw there would be those who so badly understand.
IX. Whoever will have those words of the Lord's prayer, Forgive us our debts, to be so spoken by saints as if they were not humbly and truly said, let him be anathema. For who would endure one praying and lying, not to men, but to God himself; who, with his lips, says, he wishes to be forgiven, and in his heart, says, he has no debts to be forgiven!
Such are the canons established against the Pelagians at this "plenary council." On close examination, we see it follows from them, and particularly from the seventh, eighth and ninth canons, that even those were condemned who maintained, that there were men who, by God's aid, had led a life free from sin. Augustine himself, in his earliest writings against the Pelagians, (De Pec. Mer. II. 6; De Spir. et Lit. 1), had granted, nay even defended the position (taken in the abstract, as the Pelagians took it), that, by God's grace, man can be without sin. And though he did not himself believe, that any one is without sin in this life (Do Pec. Mer. 11. 7), still he did not regard this as a dangerous opinion, provided only that one does not believe we can attain it by our own power. De Spir. et Lit. 2; De Nat. et Gr. 60. "I know this is the opinion of some," (viz., that there have been, or are, men without sin); "whose opinion in this matter, I dare not censure, though I cannot defend it." De Perf. Just. Hom. 21. In the letter of the five bishops to Innocent, as well as in several of the early pieces of Augustine, this position was left doubtful, or at least pronounced a sufferable error (tolerabiliter in eo quisque falliter). Even Ambrose had held to it, in a certain sense. And in his book On the Acts of Pelagius, c. 30, written soon after, Augustine numbers this question, both in the abstract and in the concrete, among those which are not to be denied as though already decided in opposition to the heretics, but to be kindly discussed among the catholics. But, after this synod, (in C, d. Epp. Pel. IV. C. 10), he represents this opinion as a dangerous and detestable error. He does not, however, here present it in the abstract sense in which the Pelagians really held it, but as if they maintained that there were and had been righteous men who, in this life, had no sin. And from this time onward, as appears from C. Jul. IV. 3, he could not endure the doctrine of man's ability to be without sin. Finally, he referred the "ability to be without sin," not to concupiscence which, as he had always maintained, remains continually in man, but to our consent to this concupiscence. II. 10.
[The "inability to be without sin," our author should have said. As the passage to which he refers, is a striking proof that Augustine continued to regard nothing as really criminal in us but the voluntary acts of the mind, I shall here give it at some length. After quoting from Ambrose, Augustine thus continues: "For how is sin dead, when it works many things in us while we struggle against it? Many what? unless they be those foolish and noxious things, which plunge those that yield to them in destruction and perdition; to endure, by all means, and not to comply with which, is the contest, is the conflict, is the battle. The battle of what? unless of good and evil, not of nature against nature, but of nature against the vice, now dead, but yet to be buried, i.e., entirely cured? How, then, do we say, that this sin is dead by baptism, as this man [Ambrose] also says, and how do we confess that it abides in our members and, while we struggle against it, produces many desires, which we resist by not consenting, as he also confesses; unless that it is dead in respect to that guilt by which it held us, and rebels, though dead, till cured by the perfection of sepulchre? Although now it is not called sin in the sense of making us guilty, but because it was produced by the guilt of the first man, and because by rebelling it strives to draw us into guilt, if the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Saviour do not so aid us, that even dead sin should not so rebel as, by conquering, to revive and reign. Laboring in this war as long as human life is a trial on earth, it is not on this account that we are not without it, viz., that this, which in this sense is called sin, warring against the law of the mind, works in the members, even while we do not consent to it in unlawful things; (for, as far as respects us, we should always be without sin, until the evil were cured, if we were never to consent to evil); but in whatever things, by its rebelling, we are still, though not fatally, yet venially conquered, in these we contract that for which we are daily to say, Forgive us our debts. Sicut conjuges quando modum generationi necessarium, causa solius voluptatis, excedunt; sicut continentes quando in talibus cogitationibus cum aliqua delectatione remorantur, non quidem decernentes flagitium, sed intentionem mentis, non sicut oportet, ne Rio incidat, inde avertentes, aut si incideret inde rapientes. Respecting this law of sin, which law is, in another sense (alio modo), even called sin, which law wars against the law of the mind, and concerning which the blessed Ambrose has said many things, testify the saints Cyprian, Hilary, Gregory, and very many others." C. Jul. II. 9, 10.
From the passage thus given at length, as well as from many others, it is plain, that Augustine considers the sin of which the baptized are guilty, as consisting wholly in their consent to the feelings and acts prompted by the evil, but not in itself morally culpable, propensity which they inherit from Adam, and which still remains in them for their trial while on earth. And, at least so far as this passage is concerned, it ought to be said, that Augustine refers the fact of our not being without sin, rather than our inability to be without it, to our compliance with the bad propensity. TR.]
It may perhaps be worth remarking further, that the doctrine of the entire want of freewill, is here (in the sixth canon) only very softly expressed, and not in the severe Augustinian way.
It was only after this synod, as some have remarked, that Augustine treated the Pelagians as complete heretics, and applied this name to them, which he had scruples about applying to them in his sermon at Carthage in 413. But he could now do it, as the anathema had been pronounced upon them by a general synod.
The Pelagian theory of grace, at least the theory which the Africans ascribed to their opponents, was consequently condemned by the Carthaginian synod. It is therefore now time to present the Pelagian doctrine of grace, together with the opposite theory of Augustine.
Return to Augustianism and Pelagianism Index Page