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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius.: Chapter 3

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 3.—Discussion of Pelagius’ First Answer.

Now to say that “a man is by the knowledge of the law assisted towards not sinning,” is a different assertion from saying that “a man cannot be without sin unless he has acquired a knowledge of the law.” We see, for example, that corn-floors may be threshed without threshing-sledges,—however much these may assist the operation if we have them; and that boys can find their way to school without the pedagogue,—however valuable for this may be the office of pedagogues; and that many persons recover from sickness without physicians,—although the doctor’s skill is clearly of greatest use; and that men sometimes live on other aliments besides bread,—however valuable the use of bread must needs be allowed to be; and many other illustrations may occur to the thoughtful reader, without our prompting. From which examples we are undoubtedly reminded that there are two sorts of aids. Some are indispensable, and without their help the desired result could not be attained. Without a ship, for instance, no man could take a voyage; no man could speak without a voice; without legs no man could walk; without light nobody could see; and so on in numberless instances. Amongst them this also may be reckoned, that without God’s grace no man can live rightly. But then, again, there are other helps, which render us assistance in such a way that we might in some other way effect the object to which they are ordinarily auxiliary in their absence. Such are those which I have already mentioned,—the threshing-sledges for threshing corn, the pedagogue for conducting the child, medical art applied to the recovery of health, and other like instances. We have therefore to inquire to which of these two classes belongs the knowledge of the law,—in other words, to consider in what way it helps us towards the avoidance of sin. If it be in the sense of indispensable aid without which the end cannot be attained; not only was Pelagius’ answer before the judges true, but what he wrote in his book was true also. If, however, it be of such a character that it helps indeed if it is present, but even if it be absent, then the result is still possible to be attained by some other means,—his answer to the judges was still true, and not unreasonably did it find favour with the bishops that “man is assisted not to sin by the knowledge of the law;” but what he wrote in his book is not true, that “there is no man without sin except him who has acquired a knowledge of the law,”—a statement which the judges left undiscussed, as they were ignorant of the Latin language, and were content with the confession of the man who was pleading his cause before them, especially as no one was present on the other side who could oblige the interpreter to expose his meaning by an explanation of the words of his book, and to show why it was that the brethren were not groundlessly disturbed. For but very few persons are thoroughly acquainted with the law. The mass of the members of Christ, who are scattered abroad everywhere, being ignorant of the very profound and complicated contents of the law, are commended by the piety of simple faith and unfailing hope in God, and sincere love. Endowed with such gifts, they trust that by the grace of God they may be purged from their sins through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Next: Chapter 4

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