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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius.: Chapter 22

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 22 [X.]—The Same Continued. The Synod Supposed that the Grace Acknowledged by Pelagius Was that Which Was So Thoroughly Known to the Church.

This grace, then, which was most completely known in the catholic Church (as the bishops were well aware), they supposed Pelagius made confession of, when they heard him say that “a man, when converted from his sins, is able by his own exertion and the grace of God to be without sin.” For my own part, however, I remembered the treatise which had been given to me, that I might refute it, by those servants of God, who had been Pelagius’ followers.  1671 They, notwithstanding their great affection for him, plainly acknowledged that the passage was his; when, on this question being proposed, because he had already given offence to very many persons from advancing views against the grace of God, he most expressly admitted that “what he meant by God’s grace was that, when our nature was created, it received the capacity of not sinp. 193 ning, because it was created with free will.” On account, therefore, of this treatise, I cannot help feeling still anxious, whilst many of the brethren who are well acquainted with his discussions, share in my anxiety, lest under the ambiguity which notoriously characterizes his words there lies some latent reserve, and lest he should afterwards tell his followers that it was without prejudice to his own doctrine that he made any admissions,—discoursing thus: “I no doubt asserted that a man was able by his own exertion and the grace of God to live without sin; but you know very well what I mean by grace; and you may recollect reading that grace is that in which we are created by God with a free will.” Accordingly, while the bishops understood him to mean the grace by which we have by adoption been made new creatures, not that by which we were created (for most plainly does Holy Scripture instruct us in the former sense of grace as the true one), ignorant of his being a heretic, they acquitted him as a catholic. 1672 I must say that my suspicion is excited also by this, that in the work which I answered, he most openly said that “righteous Abel never sinned at all.” 1673 Now, however, he thus expresses himself: “But we did not say that any man could be found who at no time whatever, from infancy to old age, has committed sin; but that, if any man were converted from his sins, he could by his own labour and God’s grace be without sin.” 1674 When speaking of righteous Abel, he did not say that after being converted from his sins he became sinless in a new life, but that he never committed sin at all. If, then, that book be his, it must of course be corrected and amended from his answer. For I should be sorry to say that he was insincere in his more recent statement; lest perhaps he should say that he had forgotten what he had previously written in the book we have quoted. Let us therefore direct our view to what afterwards occurred. Now, from the sequel of these ecclesiastical proceedings, we can by God’s help show that, although Pelagius, as some suppose, cleared himself in his examination, and was at all events acquitted by his judges (who were, however, but human beings after all), that this great heresy, 1675 which we should be most unwilling to see making further progress or becoming aggravated in guilt, was undoubtedly itself condemned.



Timasius and Jacobus, at whose instance Augustin wrote, and to whom he addressed his book De Naturâ et Gratiâ.


The reader may consult the treatise De Naturâ et Gratiâ, chs. 53 and 54, on this opinion of Pelagius.


See De Naturâ et Gratiâ, xxxvii. (44).


See above, ch. 16 (vi).


Hanc talem hæresim.

Next: Chapter 23