Pelagius and Augustine


#1

Can someone give me some background about Pelagius/Pelagianism and Augustine, I heard that Augustine called him a saintly man, I also Heard that Augustine did not believe in free-will.


#2

Pelagius was a British monk who taught that it is within our power to obey God. Augustine claimed that he limited grace to the commands of the Law (i.e., God helps us by telling us what to do and the rest is up to us), but I’m not sure this was fair. My old colleague Michael Rackett wrote his dissertation on Pelagianism, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to have been published yet (obviously it’s available as a dissertation, but that’s harder to get a hold of). One of the things Pelagius was condemned for was teaching that “Adam’s sin harmed him alone”–i.e., our ability to will what is good remains intact in spite of Adam’s sin.

and Augustine, I heard that Augustine called him a saintly man,

I don’t think Augustine would ever have called Pelagius a saintly man–he would have recognized Pelagius’s moral earnestness but would probably have attributed it to self-righteous pride.

I also Heard that Augustine did not believe in free-will.

Augustine defined free will as the ability to will what is good. In other words, we are not created as neutral creatures–we are created to know and love God. Sin damages this ability. We still have “free choice” in the sense that we choose what we most desire–but we do not desire God unless God moves us by His grace.

Before the Fall, said Augustine, we were able not to sin. We chose to sin, and so now we are in a state (apart from grace) in which we cannot help sinning. In heaven, if God graciously moves our wills and grants us the gift of perseverance so that we get to heaven, we will be unable to sin, but this will be the highest freedom and not a limitation on it.

The position I’ve been describing is Augustine’s mature position, much of which was formulated in the course of the Pelagian controversy. Augustine’s earlier writings contain a much more straightforward affirmation of free will. The Catholic tradition, by and large, has tended to try to reconcile Augustine’s earlier writings with his later position, while the Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) versions of Protestantism have historically taken the “anti-Pelagian” Augustine as a basis.

Edwin


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