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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Work on the Proceedings of Pelagius.: Chapter 62

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 62.—The History Continued. Cœlestius Condemned at Carthage by Episcopal Judgment. Pelagius Acquitted by Bishops in Palestine, in Consequence of His Deceptive Answers; But Yet His Heresy Was Condemned by Them.

After this heresy had deceived a great many persons, and was disturbing the brethren whom it had failed to deceive, one Cœlestius, who entertained these sentiments, was brought up for trial before the Church of Carthage, and was condemned by a sentence of the bishops. 1764 Then, a few years afterwards, Pelagius, who was said to have been this man’s instructor, having been accused of holding his heresy, found also his way before an episcopal tribunal. 1765 The indictment was prepared against him by the Gallican bishops, Heros and Lazarus, who were, however, not present at the proceedings, and were excused from attendance owing to the illness of one of them. After all the charges were duly recited, and Pelagius had met them by his answers, the fourteen bishops of the province of Palestine pronounced him, in accordance with his answers, free from the perversity of this heresy; while yet without hesitation condemning the heresy itself. They approved indeed of his answer to the objections, that “a man is assisted by a knowledge of the law, towards not sinning; even as it is written, ‘He hath given them a law for a help;’” 1766 but yet they disapproved of this knowledge of the law being that grace of God concerning which the Scripture says: “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1767 Nor did Pelagius say absolutely: “All men are ruled by their own will,” as if God did not rule them; for he said, when questioned on this point: “This I stated in the interest of the freedom of our will; God is its helper, whenever it makes choice of good. Man, however, when sinning, is himself in fault, as being under the direction of his free will.” 1768 They approved, moreover, of his statement, that “in the day of judgment no forbearance will be shown to the ungodly and sinners, but they will be punished in everlasting fires;” because in his defence he said, “that he had made such an assertion in accordance with the gospel, in which it is written concerning sinners, ‘These shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.’” 1769 But he did not say, all sinners are reserved for eternal punishment, for then he would evidently have run counter to the apostle, who distinctly states that some of them will be saved, “yet so as by fire.” 1770 When also Pelagius said that “the kingdom of heaven was promised even in the Old Testament,” they approved of the statement, on the ground that he supported himself by the testimony of the prophet Daniel, who thus wrote: “The saints shall take the kingdom of the Most High.” 1771 They understood him, in this statement of his, to mean by the term “Old Testament,” not simply the Testament which was made on Mount Sinai, but the entire body of the canonical Scriptures which had been given previous to the coming of the Lord. His allegation, however, that “a man is able to be without sin, if he wishes,” was not approved by the bishops in the sense which he had evidently meant it to bear in his book 1772 —as if this was solely in a man’s power by free will (for it was contended that he must have meant no less than this by his saying: “if he wishes”),—but only in the sense which he actually gave to the passage on the present occasion in his answer; in the very sense, indeed, in which the episcopal judges mentioned the subject in their own interlocution with especial brevity and clearness, that a man is able to be without sin with the help and grace of God. But still it was left undetermined when the saints were to attain to this state of perfection,—whether in the body of this death, or when death shall be swallowed up in victory.



This trial was held at Carthage, before the Bishop Aurelius (to whom Augustin dedicated the present treatise), at the beginning of the year 412, as appears from the letter to Innocentius among Augustin’s Epistles, 175, Nos. 1 and 6.


This happened in the year 415, in the month of December, at Diospolis.


Isa. viii. 20. See above, 2.


Rom. 7:24, 25.


See above, 5.


Matt. xxv. 46. See above, 9.


1 Cor. iii. 15.


Dan. vii. 18. See above, 13.


See above, 16.

Next: Chapter 63