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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V:
A Treatise on the Grace of Christ, and...: Chapter 43

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 43 [XXXIX.]—The Forgiveness of Sins and Example of Christ Held by Pelagius Enough to Save the Most Hardened Sinner.

That this, indeed, is his meaning, other words also of his show us,—not contained in this work, but in the third book of his Defence of Free Will, wherein he holds a discussion with an opponent, who had insisted on the apostle’s words when he says, “For what I would, that do I not;” 1888 and again, “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind.” 1889 To this he replied in these words: “Now that which you wish us to understand of the apostle himself, all Church writers 1890 assert that he spoke in the person of the sinner, and of one who was still under the law,—such a man as was, by reason of a very long custom of vice, held bound, as it were, by a certain necessity of sinning, and who, although he desired good with his will, in practice indeed was hurried headlong into evil. In the person, however, of one man,” he continues, “the apostle designates the people who still sinned under the ancient law. This nation he declares was to be delivered from this evil of custom through Christ, who first of all remits all sins in baptism to those who believe in Him, and then urges them by an imitation of Himself to perfect holiness, and by the example of His own virtues overcomes the evil custom of their sins.” Observe in what way he supposes them to be assisted who sin under the law: they are to be delivered by being justified through Christ’s grace, as if the law alone were insufficient for them, without some reinforcement from Christ, owing to their long habit of sinning; not the inspiration of love by His Holy Spirit, but the contemplation and copy of His example in the inculcation of virtue by the gospel. Now here, at any rate, there was the very greatest call on him to say plainly what grace he meant, seeing that the apostle closed the very passage which formed the ground of discussion with these telling words: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1891 Now, when he places this grace, not in the aid of His power, but in His example for imitation, what further hope must we entertain of him, since everywhere the word “grace” is mentioned by him under an ambiguous generality?



Rom. vii. 15.


Rom. vii. 23.


By his ecclesiastici viri he refers, of course, to ecclesiastical writers who had commented on St. Paul’s doctrine. See also Augustin’s Contra duas Epistt. Pelag. i. 14 [viii.]; Contra Julianum, ii. 5 [iii.], 8 [iv.], 13 [v.], 30 [viii.]; and De Predestinatione Sanctorum, 4 [iv.].


Rom. vii. 25.

Next: Chapter 44

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