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Alex Pruss on Faith, Works, and Pelagianism

My friend and Baylor colleague, Alexander Pruss, has a nice entry on his blog about faith, works, and Pelagianism, which you can find here.

(Cross-posted on Return to Rome blog)

Comments (9)

Cool post. I commented over there.

Lydia posted a rather insightful inquiry (or queries) on the Prussian blog: "Are we imagining some sort of "spiritual laws" rather like physical laws in the spiritual realm and asking whether it is "spiritually possible"--that is, possible given the operation of the spiritual laws that God has set up for the way souls work? What would that be like? And what is the status of any such laws? Can God make exceptions to them or interrupt their course, as he can interrupt the ordinary course of nature?"

Glad to see that Scholasticism isn't limited to Catholicism! ;^)

Thanks, Aristocles. I think Catholics have that effect on me. :-) Alex is especially good at that sort of thing, as witness the fact that he already had a post in his archives related to the question.

Pruss is wrong about Pelagius. Pelagius did not believe that one can find salvation apart from grace (even in theory, as Pruss insists). Pelagius identified as grace (i.e., as unmerited favor from God) our natural endowments -- capacities like reason and choice, things which God gave us through no merit or deserving on our part, but solely because He wished to do so. To use those gifts to turn to God, or to use them to do God's will, was to employ grace, not to reject it or to bypass it. Pelagius also identified as grace the example of Christ, the work of the Spirit, and the teachings of Scripture. Anyone who had access to them had access to grace. It is a mistake to think that Pelagius thought you could find salvation apart from grace.

Augustine strongly disagreed that natural endowments are to be considered grace. To Augustine, grace is not what you are born with, but what you are born again with (so to speak). To him, grace is not a natural endowment as such, but something at work upon our natural endowments. But both men, Augustine and Pelagius, insist upon the necessity of grace; they define the nature, realm, and operation of grace differently. That is, because God's gifts of reason and choice operate globally, Pelagius sees grace at work all around the world. He is not nearly as inclined as Augustine to limit the work or effect of grace to the ministrations of the church.

Not quite, Dr. Bauman.

In De gratia Christi (25:26), Augustine says:

"For not only has God given us our ability and helps it, but He even works [brings about] willing and acting in us; not that we do not will or that we do not act, but that without His help we neither will anything good nor do it"

Simply put, it is only by God's Grace that Good Works are made possible.

There are other aspects of this in the Enchiridion that we can examine within this context; however, I don't know whether or not it is appropriate in this particular thread.

In case of the other threads here, there seems to be enough tangents explored as it is.

Right, Augustine says precisely what you record. But it looks as if you and I are interpreting his words and categorizing them (with regard to saving grace) in different ways.

Right again: We'd be getting off track to debate Augustine's views too minutely or extensively in this thread. (FWIW, I think Augustine's Enchiridion is a terrific book -- the second best book ever written under that title -- Erasmus's being the best -- wink).

Dr. Bauman:

FWIW, I think Augustine's Enchiridion is a terrific book...

Agreed (ofcourse, we seem to diverge in our opinions as far as the latter is concerned)! ;^)

Right again: We'd be getting off track to debate Augustine's views too minutely or extensively in this thread.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to discuss Augustine with you -- especially given your background.



Would it be correct to say that Alex is right if one takes into account that Pelagius denied original sin, for in that case the grace to remove original sin at baptism is not necessary? So, God gave us grace-1 as a natural endowment, and for Pelagius that all that is necessary since there is no need for grace-2, for there is no original sin for grace-2 to remove. Am I wrong in this account?


As I understand him, Pelagius denies original sin, and therefore the need for infant baptism on that count. Augustine's opposite belief is largely what stands behind Augustine's detailed defense of infant baptism, which I consider the first great theological work in its defense (even though it's not a doctrine or practice to which I subscribe). That is, I think you are right to connect their respective beliefs regarding original sin with their respective beliefs regarding infant baptism.

Pelagius indeed does see natural endowment as a grace without which no salvation is possible, but he denies the reality of original sin. He does not deny the reality of sin post-birth, of course, or the need for grace to exonerate the sinner. But because he thinks of every sin as a voluntary and willful rebellion against God (and not as our nature), he thinks grace works primarily in response to our personal failings, not in remedy for our allegedly fallen nature at birth. To him, human nature is still fundamentally sound, still fundamentally rational.

Put differently, Pelagius prefers to reason in terms of "sins" (individual actions), while Augustine prefers to reason in terms of "sin" (our nature, from which he says our sins arise: What's down in the well comes up in the bucket).

Pelagius thinks we have acquired over the course of our lifetime a deeply ingrained habit of sin; but he denies that we have a sinful nature at birth. To him, when someone says "God made me," and then also says that "I was born evil", the necessary conclusion to be drawn is that God made me evil -- that God is to blame for my sinfulness. To him, Augustinian theology is unintentionally blasphemous.

So, yes, for Pelagius there is no original sin for grace to remove at baptism, but there is plenty of other subsequent, self-chosen, sin to be dealt with by God's grace, and that sin is the result of our own doing, not the result of our making by God and not the result of our birth. If we were born evil, we couldn't avoid sin, and if we can't avoid sin, we can't justly be held responsible for not avoiding it. To Pelagius, you can't justly be held guilty for not doing what you cannot do. For God to make us irreversibly prejudiced in favor of evil at birth, and then to condemn us for being what He made us, would be supreme wickedness.

I'm not saying Pelagius is right, of course. I think the church was right to condemn Pelagianism as heretical. But I also think it was right later to condemn fully-orbed Augustinian double-predestination as heretical too. The truth, it seems to me, lies some where along the lines of semi-Pelagianism or semi-Augustinianism, if one insists on employing that rubric. (I do not.)

*** It's sometimes exceedingly difficult to get Pelagius's views down with great precision because so much of what we have from him has been preserved only in the texts of his opponents.

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