A Treatise on nature and grace, against pelagius
by aurelius augustin, bishop of hippo
Chapter 53 --Pelagius Distinguishes Between a Power and Its Use.
Well, are there other things to listen to? Yes, certainly; both to listen to, and correct and guard against. "Now, when it is said," he says, "that the very ability is not at all of man's will, but of the Author of nature,--that is, God,--how can that possibly be understood to be without the grace of God which is deemed especially to belong to God?" Already we begin to see what he means; but that we may not lie under any mistake, he explains himself with greater breadth and clearness: "That this may become still plainer, we must," says he, "enter on a somewhat fuller discussion of the point. Now we affirm that the possibility of anything lies not so much in the ability of a man's will as in the necessity of nature." He then proceeds to illustrate his meaning by examples and similes. "Take," says he, "for instance, my ability to speak. That I am able to speak is not my own; but that I do speak is my own,--that is, of my own will. And because the act of my speaking is my own, I have the power of alternative action,--that is to say, both to speak and to refrain from speaking. But because my ability to speak is not my own, that is, is not of my own determination and will, it is of necessity1 that I am always able to speak; and though I wished not to be able to speak, I am unable, nevertheless, to be unable to speak, unless perhaps I were to deprive myself of that member whereby the function of speaking is to be performed." Many means, indeed, might be mentioned whereby, if he wish it, a man may deprive himself of the possibility of speaking, without removing the organ of speech. If, for instance, anything were to happen to a man to destroy his voice, he would be unable to speak, although the members remained; for a man's voice is of course no member. There may, in short, be an injury done to the member internally, short of the actual loss of it. I am, however, unwilling to press the argument for a word; and it may be replied to me in the contest, Why, even to injure is to lose. But yet we can so contrive matters, by closing and shutting the mouth with bandages, as to be quite incapable of opening it, and to put the opening of it out of our power, although it was quite in our own power to shut it while the strength and healthy exercise of the limbs remained.
Chapter 54 --There is No Incompatibility Between Necessity and Free Will.
Now how does all this apply to our subject? Let us see what he makes out of it. "Whatever," says he, "is fettered by natural necessity is deprived of determination of will and deliberation." Well, now, here lies a question; for it is the height of absurdity for us to say that it does not belong to our will that we wish to be happy, on the ground that it is absolutely impossible for us to be unwilling to be happy, by reason of some indescribable but amiable coercion of our nature; nor dare we maintain that God has not the will but the necessity of righteousness, because He cannot will to sin.
Chapter 55 --The Same Continued.
also what follows. "We may perceive," says he, "the same
thing to be true of hearing,
Chapter 56 --The Assistance of Grace in a Perfect Nature.
Not only, then, are these similes employed by our author false, but so is the matter which he wishes them to illustrate. He goes on to say: "In like manner, touching the possibility of our not sinning, we must understand that it is of us not to sin, but yet that the ability to avoid sin is not of us." If he were speaking of man's whole and perfect nature, which we do not now possess ("for we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope. But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it"1), his language even in that case would not be correct to the effect that to avoid sinning would be of us alone, although to sin would be of us, for even then there must be the help of God, which must shed itself on those who are willing to receive it, just as the light is given to strong and healthy eyes to assist them in their function of sight. Inasmuch, however, as it is about this present life of ours that he raises the question, wherein our corruptible body weighs down the soul, and our earthly tabernacle depresses our sense with all its many thoughts, I am astonished that he can with any heart suppose that, even without the help of our Saviour's healing balm, it is in our own power to avoid sin, and the ability not to sin is of nature, which gives only stronger evidence of its own corruption by the very fact of its failing to see its taint.
Chapter 57 --It Does Not Detract from God's Almighty Power, that He is Incapable of Either Sinning, or Dying, or Destroying Himself.
says he, "as not to sin is ours, we are able to sin and to avoid
sin." What, then, if another should say: "Inasmuch as
not to wish for unhappiness is ours, we are able both to wish for it and not
to wish for it?" And yet we are positively unable to wish for it.
For who could possibly wish to be unhappy, even though he wishes for something
else from which unhappiness will ensue to him against his will? Then
again, inasmuch as, in an infinitely greater degree, it is God's not to sin,
shall we therefore venture to say that He is able both to sin and to avoid
sin? God forbid that we should ever say that He is able to sin!
For He cannot, as foolish persons suppose, therefore fail to be almighty,
because He is unable to die, or because He cannot deny Himself. What,
therefore, does he mean? by what method of speech does he try to persuade us
on a point which he is himself loath to consider? For he advances a step
further, and says: "Inasmuch as, however, it is not of us to be
able to avoid sin; even if we were to wish not to be able to avoid sin, it is
not in our power to be unable to avoid sin." It is an involved
sentence, and therefore a very obscure one. It might, however, be more
plainly expressed in some such way as this: "Inasmuch as to be able
to avoid sin is not of us, then, whether we wish it or do not wish it, we are
able to avoid sin!" He does not say, "Whether we wish it or do
not wish it, we do not sin,"--for we undoubtedly do sin, if we wish;--but
yet he asserts that, whether we will or not, we have the capacity of not
sinning,--a capacity which
Chapter 58 --Even Pious and God-Fearing Men Resist Grace.
Observe also what remark he adds, by which he thinks that his position is confirmed: "No will," says he, "can take away that which is proved to be inseparably implanted in nature." Whence then comes that utterance: "So then ye cannot do the things that ye would?"1 Whence also this: "For what good I would, that I do not; but what evil I hate, that do I?"2 Where is that capacity which is proved to be inseparably implanted in nature? See, it is human beings who do not what they will; and it is about not sinning, certainly, that he was treating,--not about not flying, because it was men not birds, that formed his subject. Behold, it is man who does not the good which he would, but does the evil which he would not: "to will is present with him, but how to perform that which is good is not present."3 Where is the capacity which is proved to be inseparably implanted in nature? For whomsoever the apostle represents by himself, if he does not speak these things of his own self, he certainly represents a man by himself. By our author, however, it is maintained that our human nature actually possesses an inseparable capacity of not at all sinning. Such a statement, however, even when made by a man who knows not the effect of his words (but this ignorance is hardly attributable to the man who suggests these statements for unwary though God-fearing men), causes the grace of Christ to be "made of none effect,"4 since it is pretended that human nature is sufficient for its own holiness and justification.
Chapter 59 --In What Sense Pelagius Attributed to God's Grace the Capacity of Not Sinning.
In order, however, to escape from the odium wherewith Christians guard their salvation, he parries their question when they ask him, "Why do you affirm that man without the help of God's grace is able to avoid sin?" by saying, "The actual capacity of not sinning lies not so much in the power of will as in the necessity of nature. Whatever is placed in the necessity of nature undoubtedly appertains to the Author of nature, that is, God. How then," says he, "can that be regarded as spoken without the grace of God which is shown to belong in an especial manner to God?" Here the opinion is expressed which all along was kept in the background; there is, in fact, no way of permanently concealing such a doctrine. The reason why he attributes to the grace of God the capacity of not sinning is, that God is the Author of nature, in which, he declares, this capacity of avoiding sin is inseparably implanted. Whenever He wills a thing, no doubt He does it; and what He wills not, that He does not. Now, wherever there is this inseparable capacity, there cannot accrue any infirmity of the will; or rather, there cannot be both a presence of will and a failure in "performance."1 This, then, being the case, how comes it to pass that "to will is present, but how to perform that which is good" is not present? Now, if the author of the work we are discussing spoke of that nature of man, which was in the beginning created faultless and perfect, in whatever sense his dictum be taken, "that it has an inseparable capacity,"--that is, so to say, one which cannot be lost,--then that nature ought not to have been mentioned at all which could be corrupted, and which could require a physician to cure the eyes of the blind, and restore that capacity of seeing which had been lost through blindness. For I suppose a blind man would like to see, but is unable; but, whenever a man wishes to do a thing and cannot, there is present to him the will, but he has lost the capacity.
Chapter 60 --Pelagius Admits "Contrary Flesh" In the Unbaptized.
what obstacles he still attempts to break through, if possible, in order to
introduce his own opinion. He raises a question for himself in these
terms: "But you will tell me that, according to the apostle, the
flesh is contrary2
to us;" and then answers it in this wise: "How can it be that
in the case of any baptized person the flesh is contrary to him, when
according to the same apostle he is understood not to be in the flesh?
For he says, 'But ye are not in the flesh.'"3
Very well; we shall soon see4
whether it be really true that this says that in the baptized the flesh cannot
be contrary to them; at present, however, as it was impossible for him quite
to forget that he was a Christian (although his reminiscence on the point is
but slight), he has
4 In the next chapter.