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Refutation of the Semi-Pelagian Heresy

1. The Semipelagians admit that the strength of the will of man has been weakened by Original Sin, and, therefore, allow that Grace is requisite to do what is right; but they deny that it is necessary for the beginning of Faith, or for the desire of eternal salvation; for they say that as the belief of sick people in the utility of medicine, and the wish to recover their health, are not works for which medicine is necessary, so the commencement of belief or call it an affection for the Faith and the desire of eternal salvation, are not works for which Grace is necessary. But we are bound to believe with the Catholic Church, that every beginning of Faith, and every good desire we entertain, is a working of Grace in us.  


2. First, that is clearly proved from St. Paul: " Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God" (II. Cor. iii, 5). Thus the beginning of believing that is, not that beginning of Faith arising from the intellect, which naturally sees the truth of the Faith, but that pious desire of Faith, which is not yet formal faith, for it is no more than a thought, of wishing to believe, and which, as St. Augustine says, precedes belief this good thought, according to St. Paul, comes from God alone. Such is the explanation St. Augustine gives of the text: " Attendant hie, et verba ista perpendant, qui putant ex nobis esse Fidei coaptum, et ex Deo esse Fidei supplementum. Quis enim non videt, prius esse cogitare quam credere? Nullus quippe credit aliquid, nisi prius crediderit esse credendum. Quamvis enim rapte, quamvis celerrime credendi voluntatem quaadam cogitationes antevolent, moxque ilia ita sequatur, ut quasi conjunctissima comitetur; necesse est tamen, ut omnia quæ credentur, praaveniente cogitatione credantur ....... Quod ergo pertinet ad religionem et pietatem (de qua loquebatur Apostolus), si non sumus idonei cogitare aliquid quasi ex nobis- metipsis, sed sufficientia nostra ex Deo est; profecto non sumus idonei credere aliquid quasi ex nobismetipsis, quod sine cogitatione non possumus, sed sufficientia nostra, qua credere incipiamus, ex Deo est" (1).  

3. It is proved, secondly, by another text of St. Paul, in which he shows the reason of our proposition. He says: " For who distinguished thee? or what hast thou that thou hast not received" (I. Cor. iv, 7). If the beginning of that good will, which disposes us to receive the Faith from God, or any other gift of Grace, came from ourselves, that would distinguish us from others who had not this commencement of a wish for eternal life. But St. Paul says, that all that we have, in which is comprised every first desire of Faith or salvation, is received from God:  "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" St. Augustine was of opinion, for a time, that Faith in God was not from God, but from ourselves, and that by that we obtain afterwards from God the Grace to lead a good life; but this text of the Apostle chiefly induced him to retract this sentiment afterwards, as he himself confesses (2): "Quo præcipue testimonio etiam ipse convictus sum, cum similiter errarem: putans Fidem, qua in Deum credimus, non esse donum Dei, sed a nobis esse in nobis, et per illam nos impetrare Dei dona, quibus temperanter et juste, et pie vivamus in hoc sæculo."  

4. That is confirmed by what the Apostle says in another place: For by Grace you are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God. Not of works that no man may glory" (Ephes. ii, 8, 9). St. Augustine (3) says that Pelagius himself, to escape condemnation from the Synod of Palestine, condemned (though only apparently) the proposition, that " Grace is given to us according to our merits." Hence, the Saint says: " Quis, autem, dicat euro, qui jam cœpit credere, ab illo inquara credidit, nihil mereri? Unde sit, ut jam merenti cetera dicantur addi retributione Divina: ac per hoc gratiam Dei secundum merita nostra dari: quod objectum sibi Pelagius, ne damnaretur, ipse damnavit." (1)St. Aug l. de Præd S. S. c. 2. (2) Ibid. c, 3. (3) St. Aug. ibid, c. 1.  

5. Our proposition is proved, thirdly, from the words of the Incarnate Wisdom himself:  "No man can come to me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him" (John, vi, 44). And in another place he says: " Without me you can do nothing" (John, xv, 5). From this it is manifest that we cannot, with our own strength, even dispose ourselves to receive from God the actual graces which conduce to life everlasting, for actual grace is of a supernatural order, and, therefore, a disposition morally natural cannot dispose us to receive a supernatural grace. " If by grace it is not now by works," says St. Paul, " otherwise grace is no more grace" (Rom. xi, 6). It is certain, therefore, that Grace is given to us by God, not according to our natural merits, but according to his Divine liberality. God who makes perfect in us every good work, He also commenced it: " He who began a good work in you will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil, i, 6). And in another place the Apostle says that every good wish has its beginning from God, and is brought to a conclusion by Him: " For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will" (Phil, ii, 13). And here we are called on to advert to another error of the Semipelagians, who asserted that Grace was necessary to do what was good, but not necessary for perseverance in goodness. But this error was condemned by the Council of Trent (Sess. vi, cap. 13), which teaches that the gift of perseverance can only be obtained from God, who alone gives it: " Similiter de perseverantiæ munere …….quod quidem aliunde haberi non potest nisi ab eo, qui potens est eum qui stat statuere, ut perseveranter stet."  


6. The Semipelagians object, first, some passages of the Scripture, from which it would appear that a good will and the beginning of good works are attributed to us, and the perfection of them only to God. In the first book of Kings (vii, 3), we read:  "Prepare your hearts for the Lord;" and in St. Luke (iii, 4): " Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths." We also see in Zacchary: " Be converted to me and I will be converted to you;" and St. Paul speaks even plainer to the Romans (vii, 18), for he says: " For to will is present with me; but to accomplish that which is good I find not." It would appear also, from the Acts of the Apostles (xvii, 7), that the Faith which Cornelius received was to be attributed to his prayers. To these and to similar texts we answer, that the prevening (preveniens) internal Grace of the Holy Ghost is not excluded by them, but they suppose it, and we are exhorted to correspond to this Grace, to remove the impediments to the greater graces, which God has prepared for those who correspond to him. Thus when the Scripture says, " Prepare your hearts," "Be converted to me," &c., it does not attribute to our free will the beginning of Faith or of conversion, without preventing or prevening Grace (gratia preveniens), but admonishes us to correspond to it, and teaches us that this preventing Grace leaves us at liberty either to choose or reject what is good for us. Thus, on the other hand, when the Scripture says, " The will is prepared by the Lord," and when we say, " Convert us, God our Saviour" (Psalms, Ixxxiv, 5), we are admonished that Grace prepares us to do what is good, but does not deprive us of liberty, if we refuse to do so. This is precisely what the Council of Trent says: " Cum dicitur:  Convertimini ad me, et ego convertar advos, libertatis nostræ admonemur. Cum respondemus:  Converte nos Domine, et convertemur, Dei nos gratia præveniri confitemur." The same answer applies to that text of St. Paul: " For to will is present with me, but to accomplish that which is good I find not" (Romans, vii, 18). The meaning of the Apostle is this, that he, being then justified, had the Grace to desire what was good, but to perfect it was not his work, but the work of God; but he does not say that he had from himself the desire of doing good. The same answer applies to what is said of Cornelius, because, although he obtained his conversion to the Faith by his prayers, still these prayers were accompanied by preventing grace.  

7. They object, secondly, what Christ says in St. Mark (xvi, 16): " He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Here they say one thing is required, that is Faith; another is promised, salvation. Therefore, what is required is in the power of man; what is promised is in the power of God. We answer, with St. Augustine (1). " St. Paul," says the Holy Doctor, " writes: If by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you are saved. " (Rom. viii, 13). Here one thing is required, the mortification of the flesh; another tiling is promised, that is eternal life. Now, if the argument of the Semipelagians was worth anything, that what is required is in our power, without the assistance of Grace, it would follow, that without Grace we have it in our power to conquer our passions; but this, the Saint says, " is the damnable error of the Pelagians." He then gives a direct answer to the Semipelagians, and tells them that it is not in our power to give what is required of us, without Grace, but with Grace it is, and he then concludes: Sicut ergo, quamvis donum Dei sit facta carnis mortificare, exigitur tamen a nobis proposito præmio vitæ; ita donum Dei est Fides, quamvis et ipsa, dum dicitur, si credideris, salvus eris, proposito præmio salutis exigatur a nobis. Ideo enim hæc et nobis præcipiuntur, et dona Dei esse monstrantur, ut intelligatur, quod et nos ea faciamus, et Deus facit ut ilia faciamus."  

8. They object, thirdly, that God, in a thousand passages in the Scriptures, exhorts us to pray and seek, if we wish to receive Grace; therefore, they say it is in our power to pray at all events, and if the working out of our salvation and faith is not in our own hands, still the desire of believing and being saved is in our power. (I) St. Aug. l. de Dono. persev. c. 23,  St. Augustine (2) also answers this argument. It is not the fact, he says, that prayer (such as it ought to be) is in our own unaided power. The gift of prayer comes from Grace, as the Apostle says: " Likewise, the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself asketh for us" (Rom. viii, 26). Hence, St. Augustine says (3): " Quid est, ipse Spiritus interpellat, nisi interpellare facit;" and he adds: " Attendant quomodo falluntur, qui putant esse a nobis, non dari nobis, ut petamus, quæramus, pulsemus, et hoc esse dicunt, quod gratia præceditur merito nostro….. Nec volunt intelligere, etiam hoc Divini muneris esse, ut oremus, hoc est petamus, quæramus, atque pulsemus; accepimus enim Spiritum adoptionis, in quo clamamus Abba Pater." The same Holy Doctor teaches us that God gives to all the Grace to pray, and through prayer the means of obtaining Grace to fulfil the Commandments; for otherwise, if one had not the efficacious Grace to fulfil the Commandments, and had not the Grace to obtain this efficacious Grace, through means of prayer either, he would be bound to observe a law which to him was impossible. But such, St. Augustine says, is not the case. Our Lord admonishes us to pray with the Grace of prayer, which he gives to all, so that by praying we may obtain efficacious Grace to observe the Commandments. He says: " Eo ipso quo firmissime creditur, Deum impossibilia non præcipere, hinc admonemur et in facilibus (that is in prayer) quid agamus, et in difficilibus (that is observing the Commandments) quid petamus." This is what the Council of Trent afterwards decreed on the same subject (Sess. vi, c. xi), following the remarkable expressions of the great Doctor: " Deus impossibilia non jubet, sed jubendo monet, et facere quod possis, et petere quod non possis, et adjuvat ut possis" (4), Thus by prayer we obtain strength to do what we cannot do of ourselves; but we cannot even boast of praying, for our very prayer is a gift from God. (2) St. Aug. de Nat. & Gratia. c. 44 (3) St. Aug. Ibid (4) Ibid.  

9. That God gives generally to all the Grace of praying, St. Augustine (independently of the passages already quoted) teaches in almost every page of his works. In one place he says:  "Nulli enim homini ablatum est scire utilitur quærere" (5). And again: " Quid ergo aliud ostenditur nobis, nisi quia et petere et quærere. Ille concedit, qui ut hæc faciamus, jubet"(6). In another place, speaking of those who do not know what to do to obtain salvation, he says they should make use of what they have received, that is, of the Grace of prayer, and that thus they will obtain salvation (7): " Sed hoc quoque accipiet, si hoc quod accipit bene usus fuerit; accepit autem, ut pie et diligenter quærat, si volet." Besides, in another passage (8), he explains all this more diffusely, for he says it is for this reason that God commands us to pray, that by prayer we may obtain his gifts, and that he would invite us in vain to pray, unless he first gave us Grace to be able to pray, and by prayer to obtain Grace to fulfil what we are commanded: " Precepto admonitum est liberum arbitrium, ut quæreret Dei donum; at quidem sine suo fructu admoneretur, nisi prius acciperet aliquid dilectionis, ut addi sibi quæreret, unde quod jubebatur, impleret." Mark how the words, " aliquid dilectionis," that is, the grace by which man prays, if he wishes, and by prayer obtains the actual Grace to observe the Commandments. And thus, on the day of judgment, no one can complain that he is lost for want of Grace to cooperate to his salvation, because if he had not actual Grace to work out his salvation, at all events he had Grace to pray, which is denied to no one, and if he prayed, he would obtain salvation according to the promises of our Lord: " Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and you shall find" (Matt, vii, 7).  

10. They object, fourthly, and say: If even for the beginning of Faith preventing Grace is necessary, then the infidels, who do not believe, are excusable, because the Gospel was never preached to them, and they, therefore, never refused to hear it. Jansenius (9) says that these are not excused, but are condemned, without having had any sufficient Grace, either proximate or remote, to become converted to the Faith, and that is, he says, in punishment of Original Sin, which has deprived them of all help. And those theologians, he says, who in general teach that these infidels have sufficient Grace for salvation, some way or other have adopted this opinion from the Semipelagians. This sentiment of Jansenius, however, is not in accordance with the Scripture, which says that God " will have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth" (I. Tim. ii, 4); " He was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world" (John, i, 9); " Who is the Saviour of all men, especially the faithful" (I. Tim. iv, 10); " And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world" (I. John, ii, 2); "Who gave himself a redemption for all" (I. Tim. ii, 6). From these texts Bellarmin (10) remarks that St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and St. Prosper, conclude that God never fails to give to all men sufficient assistance to work out their salvation, if they desire it. And St. Augustine (11), especially, and St. Prosper (12), express this doctrine in several parts of their works. (5) St. Aug. I. 3, de Lib. Arb. c. 19, n. 53. (6) Idem, l. 1, ad Simp.q. 2. (7) Idem, Trac. 26, in Joan. c. 22, n. 65. (8) St. Aug. de Grat. & Lib. Arb. c. 18. (9) Jansen. l. 3, de Grat. Christ. c. 11. (10) Bellar. I 2, de Grat. & Lib. Art. c. 3 (11) St. Aug. 1. de Spir. & lit. c. 33, & in Ps. 18,n.7 (12) St. Pros, dc Voc. Gent. l. 2, . c . 5.  

Besides, this sentiment of Jansenius is in direct opposition to the condemnation pronounced by Alexander VIII., in 1690, on that proposition, that Pagans, Jews, &c., have no sufficient Grace: " Pagani, Judæi, Hæritici, aliique hujus generis nullum omnino accipiunt a Jesu Christo influxum: adeoque hinc recte inferes, in illis esse voluntatem nudam et inermem sine omni gratia sufficiente." Neither does it argue with the condemnation pronounced by Clement XI., on two Propositions of Quesnel (26, 29):  "That there are no graces unless by Faith," and that " no Grace is granted outside the Church."  

11. Still we answer the Semipelagians, and say, that infidels who arrive at the use of reason, and are not converted to the Faith, cannot be excused, because though they do not receive sufficient proximate Grace, still they are not deprived of remote Grace, as a means of becoming converted. But what is this remote Grace? St. Thomas (13) explains it, when he says, that if any one was brought up in the wilds, or even among brute beasts, and if he followed the law of natural reason, to desire what is good, and to avoid what is wicked, we should certainly believe either that God, by an internal inspiration, would reveal to him what he should believe, or would send some one to preach the Faith to him, as he sent Peter to Cornelius. Thus, then, according to the Angelic Doctor, God, at least remotely, gives to the infidels, who have the use of reason, sufficient Grace to obtain salvation, and this Grace consists in a certain instruction of the mind, and in a movement of the will, to observe the natural law; and if the infidel co-operates with this movement, observing the precepts of the law of nature, and abstaining from grievous sins, he will certainly receive, through the merits of Jesus Christ, the Grace proximately sufficient to embrace the Faith, and save his soul. (13) St. Thom. Quæs. 14, de Verit. art. 11, ad. 1.  

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