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Refutation of the Heresy of Pelagius

1. It is not my intention here to refute all the errors of Pelagius concerning Original Sin and Free Will, but only those concerning Grace. In the historical part of the work (Chap, v, art. ii, n. 5), I have said that the principal heresy of Pelagius was, that he denied the necessity of Grace to avoid evil, or to do good, and I there mentioned the various subterfuges he had recourse to, to avoid the brand of heresy, at one time saying that Grace and Free Will itself was given us by God; again, that it is the law teaching us how to live; now, that it is the good example of Jesus Christ; now, that it is the pardon of sins; again, that it is an internal illustration, but on the part of the intellect alone, in knowing good and evil, though Julian, his disciple, admitted Grace of the Will also; but neither Pelagius nor his followers ever admitted the necessity of Grace, and have even scarcely allowed that Grace was necessary to do what is right more easily, and they always denied that this Grace was gratuitous, but said it was given us according to our natural merits. We have, therefore, two points to establish: first, the necessity, and next, the gratuity of Grace.  


2. It is first proved from that saying of Jesus Christ: "No man can come to me, except the Father who hath sent me draw him" (John, vi, 44). From these words alone it is clear that no one can perform any good action in order to eternal life without internal Grace. That is confirmed by another text: " I am the vine, you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for without me you can do nothing" (John, xv, 5). Therefore, Jesus Christ teaches that of ourselves we can do nothing available to salvation, and, therefore, Grace is absolutely necessary for every good work, for otherwise, as St. Augustine says, we can acquire no merit for eternal life: " Ne quisquam putaret parvum aliquem fructum posse a semetipso palmitem ferre, cum dixisset hic, fert fructum multum, non ait, sine me parum, potestis facere; sed, nihil potestis facere: sive ergo parum, sive multum, sive illo fieri non potest, sine quo nihil fieri potest." It is proved, secondly, from St. Paul (called by the Fathers the Preacher of Grace), who says, writing to the Philippians: " With fear and trembling work out your salvation, for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish according to his good-will" (Phil, ii, 12, 13). In the previous part of the same chapter he exhorts them to humility: "In humility let each esteem others better than themselves," as Christ, who, he says, " humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death;" and then he tells them that it is God who works all good in them. He confirms in that what St. Peter says: " God resisteth the proud, but to the humble he giveth grace" (I. Peter, v, 5). In fine, St. Paul wishes to show us the necessity of Grace to desire or to put in practice every good action, and shows that for that we should be humble, otherwise we render ourselves unworthy of it. And lest the Pelagians may reply, that here the Apostle does not speak of the absolute necessity of Grace, but of the necessity of having it to do good more easily, which is all the necessity they would admit, see what he says in another text: " No man can say, the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost" (I. Cor. xii, 3). If, therefore, we cannot even mention the name of Jesus with profit to our souls, without the grace of the Holy Ghost, much less can we hope to work out our salvation without Grace.  

3. Secondly St. Paul teaches us that the grace alone of the law given to us is not, as Pelagius said, sufficient, for actual Grace is absolutely necessary to observe the law effectually: " For if justice be by the law, then Christ died in vain" (Gal. ii, 21). By justice is understood the observance of the Commandments, as St. John tells us: " He that doth justice is just" (I. John, iii, 7). The meaning of the Apostle, therefore, is this: If man, by the aid of the law alone, could observe the law, then Jesus Christ died in vain; but such is not the case. We stand in need of Grace, which Christ procured for us by his death. Nay, so far is the law alone sufficient for the observance of the Commandments, that, as the Apostle says, the very law itself is the cause of our transgressing the law, because it is by sin that concupiscence enters into us: " But sin taking occasion by the Commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. And I lived some time without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived" (Rom. vii, 8, 9). St. Augustine, explaining how it is that the knowledge of the law sooner renders us guilty than innocent, says that this happens (1), because such is the condition of our corrupt will, that, loving liberty, it is carried on with more vehemence to what is prohibited than to what is permitted. Grace is, therefore, that which causes us to love and to do what we know we ought to do, as the Second Council of Carthage declares: " Ut quod faciendum cognovimus, per Gratiam præstatur, etiam facere dirigamus, atque valeamus." Who, without Grace, could fulfil the first and most important of all precepts, to love God? (1) St. Augus. l. de Spir. S. et litt.  " Charity is from God" (I. John, iv, 7). " The charity of God is poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us" (Rom. v, 5). Holy charity is a pure gift of God, and we cannot obtain it by our own strength. " Amor Dei, quo pervenitur ad Deum, non est nisi a Deo," as St. Augustine says (2). Without Grace how could we conquer temptations, especially grievous ones? Hear what David says: " Being pushed, I was overturned, that I might fall, but the Lord supported me" (Psalms, cxvii, 13). And Solomon says: " No one can be continent (that is, resist temptations to concupiscence), except God gave it" (Wisdom, viii, 21). Hence, the Apostle, speaking of the temptations which assault us, says: " But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us" (Rom. viii, 37). And again, " Thanks be to God, who always maketh us to triumph in Christ" (II. Cor. ii, 14). St. Paul, therefore, thanks God for the victory over temptations, acknowledging that he conquers them by the power of Grace. St. Augustine (3) says, that this gratitude would be in vain if the victory was not a gift of God: " Irrisoria est enim ilia actio gratiarum, si ob hoc gratiæ aguntur Deo, quod non donavit ipse, nec fecit." All this proves how necessary Grace is to us, either to do good or avoid evil.  

4. Let us consider the theological reason for the necessity of Grace. The means should always be proportioned to the end. Now, our eternal salvation consists in enjoying God face to face, which is, without doubt, a supernatural end; therefore, the means which conduce to this end should be of a supernatural order, likewise. Now, every thing which conduces to salvation is a means of salvation; and, consequently, our natural strength is not sufficient to make us do anything, in order to eternal salvation, unless it is elevated by Grace, for nature cannot do what is beyond its strength, and an action of a supernatural order is so. Besides our weak natural powers, which are not able to accomplish supernatural acts, we have the corruption of our nature, occasioned by sin, which even is a stronger proof to us of the necessity of Grace. (2) St. Augus. l. 4, con. Julian, c. 3. (3) St. Augus. loc. cit. ad Corinth.  


5. The Apostle shows in several places that the Divine Grace is, in every thing, gratuitous, and comes from the mercy of God alone, independent of our natural merits. In one place he says: " For unto you it is given for Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him" (Phil, i, 29). Therefore, as St. Augustine reflects (1), it is a gift of God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, not alone to suffer for love of him, but even to believe in him, and, if it is a gift of God, it cannot be given us through our merits. " Utrumque ostendit Dei donum, quia utrumque dixit esse donatum; nec ait, ut plenius, et perfectius credatis, sed ut credatis in eum." The Apostle writes similarly to the Corinthians, that " he had obtained mercy of the Lord, to be faithful" (I. Cor. vii, 25). It is not through any merit of ours, therefore, that we are faithful to the Mercy of God. " Non ait," says St. Augustine, in the same place already quoted, " quia fidelis eram; fideli ergo datur quidem, sed datum est etiam, ut esset fidelis."  

6. St. Paul next shows most clearly, that, whenever we receive light from God, or strength to act, it is not by our own merits, but a gratuitous gift from God. " For who distinguisheth thee," says the Apostle, " or what hast thou, that thou hast not received; and if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it" (I. Cor. iv, 7). If Grace was given according to our natural merits, derived solely from the strength of our free will, then there would be something to distinguish a man who works out his salvation from one who does not do so. (1) St. Aug. l. 2, dc Præd. S.S.. c. 2.  St. Augustine even says, that if God would give us only free will that is, a will, free and indifferent either to good or evil, according as we use it in case the good will would come from ourselves, and not from God, then what came from ourselves would be better than what comes from God: “Nam si nobis libera quædam voluntas ex Deo, quæ adhuc potest esse vel bona, vel mala; bono vero voluntas ex nobis est, melius est id quod a nobis, quam quod ab illo est" (2). But it is not so; for the Apostle tells us, that whatever we have from God is all gratuitously given to us, and, therefore, we should not pride ourselves on it.  

7. Finally, the gratuity of Grace is strongly confirmed by St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans (xi, 5, 6): " Even so then at this present time also, there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace. (The Apostle means, by " the remnant," those few Jews who were faithful among the multitude of unbelievers.) And if by Grace, it is not now by works: otherwise Grace is no more Grace." Now, the Apostle could not express in stronger terms the Catholic truth, that Grace is a gratuitous gift of God, and depends not on the merits of our free will, but on the mere liberality of the Lord.  


8. St. Cyprian (1) lays it down as a fundamental maxim in this matter, that we should not glorify ourselves, as we have nothing of ourselves: " In nullo gloriandum, quando nostrum nihil est." St. Ambrose says (2) just the same thing: " Ubique Domini virtus studiis cooperatur humanis, ut nemo possit ædificaro sine Domino, nemo custodire sine Domino, nemo quicquam incipere sino Domino." And St. John Chrysostom expresses the same sentiments in several parts of his works, and in one passage, in particular, says (3): " Gratia Dei semper in beneficiis priores sibi partes vindicat." And again (4): " Quia in nostra voluntate totum post Gratiam Dei relictum est, ideo et peccantibus supplicia proposita sunt, et bene operantibus retributiones." (2) St. Aug. I. 2, de Pec. mer. c. 18. (1) St. Cypri. I. 3, acl Quir. c. 4. (2) St. Amb. I. 7, in Luc. c. 3. (3) St. Chrysos. Hom. 13, in Jean. (4) Idem, Hom. 22, in Gen.  He is even clearer in another passage (5), saying, that all we have is not from ourselves, but merely a gift gratuitously given us: "Igitur quod accepisti, habes, ncque hoc tantum, aut illud, sed quidquid habes; non enim merita tua hæc sunt, sod Dei Gratia; quamvis fidem adducas, quamvis dona, quamvis doctrinæ sermonem, quamvis virtutem, omnia tibi inde provenerunt. Quid igitur habes quæso, quod acceptum non habeas? Num ipse perte recte operatus es? Non sane, sed accepisti …..Propterea cohibearis oportet, non enim tuum ad munus est, sed largieutis." St. Jerome (6) says, that God assists and sustains us in all our works, and that, without the assistance of God, we can do nothing: " Dominum gratia sua nos in singulis operibus juvare, atque substentare." And again (7): " Velle, et nolle nostrum est; ipsumque quod nostrum est, sine Dei miseratione nostrum non est." And in another place (8):  " Velle, et currere meum est, sed ipsum meum, sine Dei semper auxilio non erit meum. “ I omit innumerable other quotations from the Fathers, which prove the same thing, and pass on to the Synodical Decrees.  

9. I will not here quote all the Decrees of particular Synods against Pelagius, but only those of some particular Councils, approved of by the Apostolic See, and received by the whole Church. Among these is the Synod of Carthage, of all Africa, approved of by St. Prosper (9), which says, that the Grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is not only necessary to know what is right, and to practise it, but that, without it, we can neither think, say, or do anything conducive to salvation: " Cum 214. Sacerdotibus, quorum constitutionem contra inimicos gratiæ Dei totus Mundus amplexus est, veraci professionc, quemadmodum ipsorum habet sermo, dicainus Gratiam Dei per Jesum Christum Dominum, non solum ad cognoscendam, verum ad faciendam justitiam, nos per actus singulos adjuvari; ita sine ilia nihil verse sanctæque pietatis habere, cogitare, dicere, agere valeamus."  

10. The Second Synod of Orange (cap. vii) teaches, that it is heretical to say that, by the power of nature, we can do anything for eternal life: " Si quis per naturæ vigorem bonum aliquod, quod ad salutem pertinet vitæ æternæ, cogitare, aut eligere posse confirmet, absque illuminatione, et inspiratione Spiritus Sancti hæretico falliter spiritu." And again it defines:  " Si quis sicut augmentum, ita etiam initium Fidei, ipsumque credulitatis affectum, quo in eum credimus, qui judicat impium, et ad generationem sacri Baptismatis pervenimus, non per gratiæ donum, idest per inspirationem Spiritus Sancti corrigentem voluntatem nostram ab infidelitate ad Fidem, ab impietate ad pietatem, sed naturaliter nobis inesse dicit, Apostolicis documentis adversarius approbatur." (5) St. Chrysos. Hom, in cap. 4, 1, ad Cor (6) St. Hieron, I 3, con. Pelag.. (7) Idem, Ep. ad Demetri. (8) Idem, Ep. ad Ctesiphon. (9) St. Prosp. Resp. ad c. 8, Gallor  

11. Besides the Councils we have the authority of the Popes who approved of several particular Synods celebrated to oppose the Pelagian errors. Innocent I., in his Epistle to the Council of Milevis, approving the Faith they professed, in opposition to Pelagius and Celestius, says that the whole Scriptures prove the necessity of Grace: " Cum in omnibus Divinis paginis voluntati liberæ, non nisi adjutorium Dei legimus esse nectendum, eamque nihil posse Cælestibus præsidiis destitutam, quonam modo huic soli possibilitatem hanc, pertinaciter defendentes, sibimet, imo plurimis Pelagius Celcstiusque persuadent." Besides, Pope Zosimus, in his Encyclical Letter to all the Bishops of the world, quoted by Celestine I., in his Epistle to the Bishops of Gaul, says much the same:  " In omnibus causis, cogitationibus, motibus adjutor et protector orandus est. Supcrbum est enim ut quisquam sibi hum ana natura præsumat." In the end of the Epistle we have quoted of Celestine I., there are several chapters, taken from the definitions of other Popes, and from the Councils of Africa, concerning Grace, all proving the same thing. The fifth chapter says: " Quod omnia studia, et omnia opera; ac merita sanctorum ad Dei gloriam, landemque referenda sunt; quia non aliunde ei placet, nisi ex eo quod Ipse donaverit." And in the sixth chapter it says: " Quod ita Deus in cordibus hominum, atque in ipso libero operatur, arbitrio ut sancta cogitatio, pium consilium, omnis que motus bona voluntatio ex Deo sit, quia per ilium aliquid boni possumus, sine quo nihil possumus."  

12. The Pelagians were formally condemned in the General Council of Ephesus, as Cardinal Orsi tells us (10). Nestorius received the Pelagian Bishops, who came to Constantinople, most graciously, for he agreed with Pelagius in this, that Grace is given to us by God, not gratuitously, but according to our merits. This erroneous doctrine was agreeable to Nestorius, as it favoured his system, that the Word had chosen the Person of Christ as the temple of his habitation, on account of his virtues, and therefore the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus, knowing the obstinacy of those Pelagian Bishops, condemned them as heretics. (10) C. Orsi; Ir. Ecc t. 13, l. 29, n. 52, cum St. Prosp I, con. Collat. c. 21 ,  Finally, The Council of Trent (Sess. vi, de Justif.) defines the same doctrine in two Canons. The second Canon says: " Si quis dixerit Divinam gratiam ad hoc solum dari, ut facilius homo juste vivere, ac ad vitam æternam promoveri possit, quasi per liberum arbitrium sine gratia utrumque, sed ægre tamen et difficulter possit; anathema sit." And in the third Canon the Council says: " Si quis dixerit, sine prævenienta Spiritus Sanctus inspiratione, atque ejus adjutoris hominem credere, sperare, diligero, aut pœnitere posse sicut oportet, ut ei justifications gratia confiratur; anathema sit." 


13. The Pelagians object, firstly, if you admit that Grace is absolutely necessary to perform any act conducive to salvation, you must confess that man has no liberty, and free will is destroyed altogether. We answer, with St. Augustine, that man, after the fall, is undoubtedly no longer free without Grace, either to begin or bring to perfection any act conducive to eternal life, but by the Grace of God he recovers this liberty, for the strength which he is in need of to do what is good is subministered to him by Grace, through the merits of Jesus Christ; this Grace restores his liberty to him, and gives him strength to work out his eternal salvation, without, however, compelling him to do so: " Peccato Adæ arbitrium liberum de hominum natura perisse, non dicimus, sed ad peccandum valere in homine subdito diabolo. Ad bene autem, pieque vivendum non valere, nisi ipsa voluntas hominis Dei gratia fuerit liberata, et ad omne bonum actionis, sermonis, cogitationis adjuta." Such are St. Augustine’s sentiments (1).  

14. They object, secondly, that God said to Cyrus: " Who say to Cyrus, thou art my shepherd, and thou shalt perform all my pleasure" (Isaias, xliv, 28); and, in chap, xlvi, v. 11, he calls him, " a man of his will." Now, say the Pelagians, Cyrus was an idolater, and, therefore, deprived of the Grace which is given by Jesus Christ, and still, according to the text of the Prophet, he observed all the natural precepts; therefore without Grace a man may observe all the precepts of the law of nature. We answer, that in order to understand this, we should distinguish, with theologians, between the will of Beneplacitum and the will called of Signum. The Beneplacitum is that established by God by an absolute decree, and which God wills should be infallibly followed by us. This is always fulfilled by the wicked. But the other will (voluntas signi), is that which regards the Divine commandments signified to us, but for the fulfilment of this Divine will our co-operation is required, and this we cannot apply of ourselves, but require the assistance of the Divine Grace to do so; this will the wicked do not always fulfil. Now the Lord in Isaias does not speak of this will (Signum}, in respect of Cyrus, but of the other will (Beneplacitum), that is, that Cyrus should free the Jews from captivity, and permit them to rebuild the city and temple; that was all that was required then from him, but, on the other hand, he was an idolater, and a sanguinary invader of the neighbouring kingdoms, and, therefore, he did not fulfil the precepts of the natural law.  

15. They object, thirdly, that fact related by St. Mark, of the man who was exhorted by our Redeemer to observe the commandments, and he answered: " Master, all these things I have observed from my youth," and the Evangelist proves that he spoke the truth, for "Jesus, looking on him, loved him" (Mark, x, 20, 21). See here, say the Pelagians, is a man who, without Grace, and who had not even as yet believed in Christ, observed all the natural precepts. We answer, first, this man was a Jew, and, as such, believed in God, and also implicitly in Christ, and there was, therefore, nothing to prevent him from having Grace to observe the commandments of the Decalogue. Secondly We answer, that when he said, " All these things I have observed from my youth," we are not to understand that he observed all the Commandments, but only those which Christ mentioned to him: " Do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, & c. (1) St. Augus. l. 2, con. 2, Epis. Pelag, c. 5.  Even the Gospel itself proves that he was not ardent in the observance of the precept to love God above all things, for when Christ told him to leave his wealth and follow him, he refused to obey, and, therefore, our Lord tacitly reproved him, when he said: " How hardly shall they who have riches enter into the kingdom of God" (ver. 23).  

16. They object, fourthly, that St. Paul, while still under the law, and not having yet received Grace, observed all the law, as he himself attests: " According to the justice that is in the law, conversing without blame" (Phil, iii, 6). We answer, that the Apostle, at that time, observed the law externally, but not internally, by loving God above all things, as he himself says: "For we ourselves, also, were some time unwise, incredulous, erring, slaves to divers desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hating one another" (Tit. iii, 3).  

17. They object, fifthly, all the precepts of the Decalogue are either possible or impossible; if they are possible, we can observe them by the strength of our free will alone, but if they are impossible, no one is bound to observe them, for no one is obliged to do impossibilities. We answer, that all these precepts are impossible to us without Grace, but are quite possible with the assistance of Grace. This is the answer of St. Thomas (2): " Illud quod possumus cum auxili Divino, non est nobis omnino impossibile ……..Unde Hieronymus confitetur, sic nostrum esse liberum arbitrium, ut dicamus nos semper indigere Dei auxilio." Therefore, as the observance of the Commandments is quite possible to us with the assistance of the Divine Grace, we are bound to observe them. We will answer the other objections of the Pelagians in the next chapter, the Refutation of the Semi-Pelagian heresy. (2) St. Thom. 1, 2, 9, 109, a. 4, ad. 2.  

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