How Augustinians misrepresent Pelagianism

‘CARM stands for Christian Apologetic Research Ministries, but in reality it is a Calvinism Apologetic Research Ministries. CARM is a website publicly known for its relatively poor scholarship in critiquing opposing theologies.

Matt Slick of CARM wrote that “Pelagianism…. taught that people had the ability to fulfill the commands of God by exercising the freedom of human will apart from the grace of God.  In other words, a person’s free will is totally capable of choosing God and/or to do good or bad without the aid of Divine intervention.”[1]

This description of “Pelagianism” by Matt Slick is an example, not of Pelagian heresy, but of Pelagian hearsay.

I would suspect that Matt Slick learned about Pelagianism from its opponents, and not from actually reading the writings of the Pelagians. This is a common practice for Calvinists, but what if that is how their doctrine was treated? What if someone stated what Calvinism teaches, by stating the opponents? Augustine accused Pelagius of denying the grace of God, but this was an accusation not a fact.

Had Matt Slick actually read some of the few writings that still exist today from the original Pelagians, he would have read in the Pelagian Statement of Faith submitted to the Pope: “We [Pelagians] maintain that men are the work of God, and that no one is forced unwillingly by His power either into evil or good, but that man does either good or ill of his own will; but that in a good work he is always assisted by God’s grace, while in evil he is incited by the suggestions of the devil.”[2]

Pelagius himself said, “I anathematize the man who either thinks or says that the grace of God, whereby ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’ is not necessary not only for ever hour and for every moment, but also for every act of our lives: and those who endeavor to dis-annul it deserve everlasting punishment.”[3]

Pelagius said, “This grace we do not allow to consist only in the law but also in the help of God. God helps us through His teaching and revelation by opening the eyes of our heart, by pointing out to us the future so that we may not be preoccupied with the present, by uncovering the snares of the devil, by enlightening us with the manifold and ineffable gift of heavenly grace.”[4]

Pelagius said, “God always aids by the help of his grace. God aids us by his doctrine and revelation, while he opens the eyes of our heart; while he shows us the future, that we may not be engrossed with the present; while he discloses the snares of the devil; while he illuminates us by the multiform and ineffable gift of heavenly grace. Does he who says this, appear to you to deny grace? Or does he appear to confess both divine grace and the freewill of man?”[5]

Pelagius said in a letter to Innocent, “Behold, before your blessedness, this epistle clears me, in which we directly and simply say, that we have entire freewill to sin and not to sin, which, in all good works, is always assisted by divine aid. Let them read the letter which we wrote to that holy man, bishop Paulinus, nearly twelve years ago, which perhaps in three hundred lines supports nothing else but the grace and aid of God, and that we can do nothing at all of good without God. Let them also read the one we wrote to that sacred virgin of Christ, Demetrias, in the east, and they will find us so praising the nature of man, as that we may always add the aid of God’s grace. Let them likewise read my recent tract which we were lately compelled to put forth on freewill, and they will see how unjustly they glory in defaming us for denial of grace, who, through nearly the whole text of that work, perfectly and entirely profess both free will and grace.”[6]

Pelagius taught that the freedom of the human will was not lost by the original sin of Adam, but that grace was necessary for man to rightly use his free will. He also taught that free will itself was a gracious gift given to us at Creation. He did not deny grace as necessary or as an aid for free will. The only grace he denied was Augustinian grace, which said that free will was lost by original sin and therefore man’s ability to obey needed to be restored by grace. However, one of the best Greek-English Lexicons, Thayer’s, defined grace as “divine influence upon the heart” which is precisely how Pelagius viewed grace in contradiction to Augustine.

It was Augustine’s view of grace that was inconsistent with free will, not Pelagius’. As Augustine said, “I have tried hard to maintain the free choice of the human will, but the grace of God prevailed.”[7] Pelagius affirmed both the freedom of the will and the necessity for the grace of God, while Augustine denied the freedom of the will because of His mistaken view of grace.

Matt Slick’s article on CARM about Pelagianism would be accurate if he changed the word “without” to the word “with.” It should read, ‘Pelagianism…. taught that people had the ability to fulfill the commands of God by exercising the freedom of human will with the grace of God.  In other words, a person’s free will is totally capable of choosing God and/or to do good or bad with the aid of Divine intervention.”

This is why John Wesley said, “I verily believe, the real heresy of Pelagius was neither more nor less than this: The holding that Christians may, by the grace of God, (not without it; that I take to be a mere slander,) ‘go on to perfection;’ or, in other words, ‘fulfill the law of Christ.’”[8] And also “Who was Pelagius? By all I can pick up from ancient authors, I guess he was both a wise and a holy man.”[9]

John Wesley said, ‘Augustine himself. (A wonderful saint! As full of pride, passion, bitterness, censoriousness, and as foul-mouthed to all that contradicted him… When Augustine’s passions were heated, his word is not worth a rush. And here is the secret: St. Augustine was angry at Pelagius: Hence he slandered and abused him, (as his manner was,) without either fear or shame. And St. Augustine was then in the Christian world, what Aristotle was afterwards: There needed no other proof of any assertion, than Ipse dixit: “St. Augustine said it.” ‘[10]

On the issue of the freedom of the will, Pelagius was in perfect agreement with the Early Church while Augustine was in agreement with the heretical Gnostics:

Dr Wiggers said, “All the fathers…agreed with the Pelagians, in attributing freedom of will to man in his present state.”[11]

Episcopius said, “What is plainer than that the ancient divines, for three hundred years after Christ, those at least who flourished before St. Augustine, maintained the liberty of our will, or an indifference to two contrary things, free from all internal and external necessity!”[12]

Regarding the term “free will,” John Calvin admitted “As to the Fathers, (if their authority weighs with us,) they have the term constantly in their mouths…”[13]

Calvin said, “The Greek fathers above others” have taught “the power of the human will.”[14]

Calvin said, “they have not been ashamed to make use of a much more arrogant expression calling man ‘free agent or self-manager,’ just as if man had a power to govern himself…”[15]

Calvin also said, “The Latin fathers have always retained the word ‘free will’ as if man stood yet upright.”[16]

Walter Arthur Copinger said, “All the Fathers are unanimous on the freedom of the human will…”[17]

Lyman Beecher said, “the free will and natural ability of man were held by the whole church…”[18]

Asa Mahan said that free will “was the doctrine of the primitive church for the first four or five centuries after the Bible was written, the church which received the ‘lively oracles’ directly from the hands of some of those by whom they were written, to wit: the writers of the New Testament. It should be borne in mind here, that at the time the sacred canon was completed, the doctrine of Necessity was held by the leading sects in the Jewish Church. It was also the fundamental article of the creed of all the sects in philosophy throughout the world, as well as of all the forms of heathenism then extant. If the doctrine of Necessity, as its advocates maintain, is the doctrine taught the church by inspired apostles and the writers of the New Testament, we should not fail to find, under such circumstances, the churches planted by them, rooted and grounded in this doctrine.”[19]

Beausobre said, “…those ancient writers, in general, say that Manichaeans denied free-will. The reason is, that the Fathers believed, and maintained, against the Manichaeans, that whatever state man is in he has the command over his own actions, and has equally power to do good or evil.”[20]

W. F. Hook said, “The Manichaeans so denied free will, as to hold a fatal necessity of sinning.”[21]

Lyman Beecher said, “…the free will and natural ability of man were held by the whole church… natural inability was to that of the pagan philosophers, the Gnostic’s, and the Manichaeans.”[22]

Other articles by Matt Slick on CARM on other topics are also examples of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, such as his articles on Open Theism, Moral Government Theology, Moral Government Atonement, etc. It seems to be a common practice of Calvinists to misrepresent the views of those that they oppose by creating a straw-man, as they often do with the theology of Charles Finney. This leads me to believe that they cannot refute the actual position of their theological opponents.’

source: Jesse Morrell, “Matt Slick of CARM Slanders Pelagius and Pelagianism” (biblicaltruthresources).


Footnotes:

[1] Pelagianism by Matt Slick, posted on CARM.org

[2] Letter to Rome

[3] On The Grace Of Christ, And On Original Sin by Augustine

[4] Pelagius: Life and Letters by B. R. Rees, 1988 Edition, p. 33

[5] (De Gr. Chr. 4, 7.)

[6] (De Gr. Chr. 31, 35, 37, 41)

[7] Retractations by Augustine

[8] The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., 1840 Edition, p. 310

[9] The Miscellaneous Works of the Rev. John Wesley, Volume 3, 1828 Edition, p. 259

[10] The Works of the Late Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Volume 2, 1835 Edition, pg. 110

[11] An Historical Presentation of Augustinianism and Pelagianism From The Original Sources by G. F. Wiggers, p. 392

[12] An Equal Check to Pharisaism and Antinomianism by John Fletcher, Volume Two, p. 209, Published by Carlton & Porter

[13] Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume One, Published by Calvin Translation Society, 1845 Edition, p. 308

[14] An Equal Check to Pharsaism and Antinomianism by John Fletcher, Volume Two, p. 202, Published by Carlton & Porter

[15] A Treatise on Predestination, Election, and Grace, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical by Walter Arthur Copinger, Published by James Nisbet, 1889 Edition, p. 320

[16] Doctrine of the Will by Asa Mahan, p. 60, Published by Truth in Heart

[17] A Treatise on Predestination, Election, and Grace, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical, Published by James Nisbet, 1889 Edition, p. 320

[18] Views in Theology, Published by Truman and Smith, 1836 Edition, p. 56

[19] Doctrine of the Will by Asa Mahan, p. 59, Published by Truth in Heart

[20] The Christian Examiner, Volume One, Published by James Miller, 1824 Edition, p. 70

[21] A Church Dictionary, Published by John Murray, 1852 Edition, p. 279

[22] Views in Theology, Published by Truman and Smith, 1836 Edition, p. 56

   

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