The great light of the western church in his age was St. Augustine, a teacher of wider and more lasting influence than any since the apostles. The history of his earlier years is given by himself in the well-known “Confessions” where he solemnly acknowledges his errors, and magnifies the gracious Providence which had guided him through many perils and conflicts to truth and peace.
Augustine was born in 354, at Thagaste, an episcopal city of Numidia. His father, Patricius, a man of curial rank, but in indifferent circumstances, was then a heathen; but his mother, Monica, a devout and exemplary Christian, caused the boy to be admitted in infancy as a catechumen of the church. He tells us that, when alarmed by a sudden and dangerous illness in his childhood, he earnestly desired baptism, and that preparations were made for administering it; but as the danger passed over, it was considered better that the sacrament should be deferred, lest he should incur a heavier guilt by falling into sin after having received the baptismal grace. Patricius, although himself a man of loose habits, and careless of his son’s moral and religious training, exerted himself even beyond his means to obtain for him a good literary education, in the hope that it would lead to some honourable and lucrative employment; and with this view Augustine, after having acquired the elements of learning at Thagaste, was sent to pursue his studies at the schools of Madaura and Carthage. It would seem that his abilities were conspicuous from an early age, but that his application of them was uncertain and capricious; he read the Latin poets with eager fondness, but disliked the study of Greek; and his boyish neglect of that language was but very imperfectly remedied in after life. At the age of seventeen, about the time of his removal to Carthage, he lost his father, who had at last been persuaded, as much by the discreet and gentle conduct of Monica as by her arguments, to embrace the Christian faith. A rich citizen of Thagaste, Romanian, assisted the widow to bear the expense of her son’s education, and Augustine’s talents promised to render him distinguished. But he had early fallen into dissolute courses, and at Carthage he took a concubine, by whom he became, at the age of eighteen, the father of a boy Adeodatus.
In his nineteenth year, the reading of Cicero’s Hortensius awakened in Augustine a longing after a higher life; but on turning to the Scriptures in search of wisdom, he found them simple and uninviting, while he was attracted in another direction by the specious promises of the Manichaeans, their ridicule of submission to authority, and their speculations as to the origin of evil This sect had made considerable progress during the course of the fourth century; it had profited by the dissensions of the church, and perhaps in a great degree by receiving accessions from the old and decaying gnostic parties. Although many laws spoke of it as more abominable than other heretical societies, and enacted penalties of especial severity against it, proselytism was actively carried on in secret, and the Manichean doctrines lurked even among the clergy and the monks. Augustine became a convert to these doctrines, and was a member of the sect from his nineteenth to his twenty-eighth year. But after a time he was startled and disgusted by observing the sensuality and hypocrisy of the “elect”, who were bound to profess the most ascetic strictness, and also by the discoveries which he made as to the immoral and revolting maxims of the sectaries. He looked for a solution of his doubts to Faustus, a Manichean bishop of great fame, who was expected to visit Carthage; but, when Faustus came, he found him to be not free from the usual inconsistency between profession and practice, and his discourse to be as empty as it was fluent and showy
Augustine had taught grammar and rhetoric, first at his native town and then at Carthage; but he found the disorderly habits of the Carthaginian students intolerable, and in order to escape from this annoyance—not (he assures us) from any desire of greater fame or profit — he removed to Rome in 383. Soon after his arrival he fell seriously ill; but he felt no inclination to beg for baptism, as in the sickness of his childhood. On his recovery, his dislike of Manichaeism was stronger than before, and for a time he was given over to the desolateness of universal scepticism. The prospect of earning a maintenance at Rome became doubtful; for he found that the Roman youth, although not so unruly as those of Africa, were apt to desert a professor without paying for the lectures which they had heard; and after a residence of about six months in the capital, he was glad to obtain an appointment as a public teacher of rhetoric at Milan.
Here he attended the sermons of Ambrose—not for the sake of religious instruction, but in order to ascertain whether the bishop’s eloquence deserved its fame. But by degrees the words of Ambrose produced an effect. Augustine found that the Manichean objections against the catholic faith were mostly founded on ignorance and misapprehension, the preacher’s allegorical explanations of the Old Testament showed him a way (although in truth a very dangerous way) by which he might escape from the difficulties of Scripture—“the letter that killeth”. Monica, who had strongly opposed his departure from Africa, rejoined him at Milan. She had watched his errors with deep anxiety and sorrow. Her prayers had been rewarded by visions which assured her that he would one day be converted; and, in the hope of bringing about the change, she had begged an aged bishop to converse with him. The bishop, a man of wisdom and learning, told her that it would be useless to argue with her son while flushed with the novelty of the Manichean doctrines, but that, if he were left to himself for a time, he could hardly fail to discover the vanity and impiety of the system; and he encouraged the hope by adding that he himself had been a member of the sect in his youth, but had seen reason to forsake its errors. Monica still continued to urge her petition, even with tears; but the bishop dismissed her with the assurance that it was “impossible that the child of those tears should perish”, and the words were treasured up as if they had been a voice from heaven. She had now the delight of finding her son no longer a Manichean, but a catechumen of the church; for he had resolved to resume that character until he could obtain some certainty of conviction; and she confidently expressed to him the hope of seeing him a catholic believer before her death. His baser passions, however, were not yet overcome.
Through various difficulties Augustine struggled onwards. He had found much support for his mind in the Platonic writings, while yet they failed to satisfy his cravings. He now devoted himself to the study of St Paul, with feelings far different from those which in his nineteenth year had led him to slight the simplicity of the Scriptures; and he found that the difficulties and seeming inconsistencies, which had once repelled him, vanished away. On hearing from one of his countrymen, who happened to visit him, some details as to the lives of Antony and other monks, and as to the monastic system (which until then had been utterly unknown to him), he was greatly impressed; the vileness of his own past life rose up before his mind in contrast, and excited violent agitations. One day, when unable, in the wild conflict of his thoughts, to bear even the society of his dearest friend, Alypius, he rushed forth into the garden of his lodging, cast himself down under a fig-tree, and, with a gush of tears, passionately cried out for deliverance from the bondage of his sins. While thus engaged, he heard, as if from a neighbouring house, the voice of a child singing repeatedly, “Take up and read”. He could not remember that such words were used in any childish game; he bethought himself of the impression made on St. Antony by the Scriptures which were read in church, and believed that he was himself now called by a voice from heaven. Returning to the house, he seized the volume of St. Paul’s epistles, and opened on the text, “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof”. From that moment Augustine felt himself another man; but, as he did not wish to attract notice by any display of the change, he continued to perform the duties of his professorship until the vintage vacation, when he resigned it, and retired into the country with his mother and some friends. On Easter-eve 387, he was baptized by St Ambrose, together with his son Adeodatus, and Alypius his countryman and pupil, whom he had formerly drawn into Manichaeism, and who eventually became bishop of Thagaste. In compliance with Monica’s wishes, he soon after set out towards Africa; but at Ostia the pious matron died, rejoicing that the desire of her heart was fulfilled in the conversion of her son.
As his mother’s death had done away with Augustine’s motive for hastening his return to Africa, he now repaired to Rome, where he resided upwards of a year, and produced, among other works, two books on the contrast between catholic and Manichaean morality. Towards the end of 388 he resumed his journey, and, after short stay at Carthage, he settled at his native place, where he gave up his property to pious and charitable uses, and for nearly three years lived in studious and devotional retirement, which Was shared by Alypius and other friends. His earlier history and his conversion, his sacrifice of worldly goods, his religious life and his writings, spread his fame far and wide, so that he was afraid to appear in any city where the bishopric was vacant, lest he should be forcibly seized and compelled to accept the dignity. He supposed himself, however, to be safe in accepting an invitation to Hippo the Royal (so called from having been anciently the residence of the Numidian kings), as the see was filled by Valerius; but as he was in church, listening to the bishop’s sermon, Valerius began to speak of the necessity of ordaining an additional presbyter : whereupon the people presented Augustine, and he was forced to submit to ordination, Valerius admitted him to his confidence, and gave him a large share in the administration of the diocese. Being a Greek by birth, the bishop felt a difficulty in preaching in Latin, and was glad to relieve himself by employing Augustine as his substitute; and, although it was at first objected to, as a novelty in Africa, that a presbyter should preach in the presence of a bishop, the example was soon imitated in other dioceses. At the end of four years, Valerius, on the ground that his own age and infirmity rendered the assistance of a coadjutor necessary, desired that Augustine might be consecrated as his colleague in the see of Hippo; and Augustine was obliged to yield. Both he and Valerius were then ignorant that the eighth Nicene canon forbade the establishment of two bishops in the same city, except in cases where one was a reconciled Novatianist. Valerius did not long survive the appointment of his colleague.
Augustine held the bishopric of Hippo for five-and-thirty years, and, although the city was inferior in importance to many others, his genius and character caused him to be acknowledged, without any assumption on his own part, as the leader of the African church. The vast collection of his works includes treatises on Christian doctrine and practice, expositions of Scripture, controversial books against Manicheans, Donatists, Pelagians, and other sectaries, a great number of sermons, and upwards of two hundred and fifty letters, among which are many elaborate answers to questions of theology and casuistry. His greatest work, “Of the City of God” was written, as has been already mentioned, in consequence of the force with which the old pagan objection against Christianity, as the cause of public calamities, was urged after the capture of Rome by the Goths. The composition of this treatise was begun in 412 or 413, and was not finished until 426. In the first five books, Augustine meets the argument from the calamities of the times; in the next five, he argues against those who, while they allowed that paganism had not, in the days of its ascendency, secured its votaries against temporal evils, yet maintained that it was availing for the next life; and in the remaining twelve books, he contrasts the two polities—the earthly and the City of God—in their origin, their course, and their end. Some defects of the work are obvious : as, that the reasoning is not always satisfactory; that much of what is said has no visible bearing on the theme; that here, as elsewhere, Augustine is driven, by his want of acquaintance with the original languages, to evade questions as to the real meaning of Scripture, and to take refuge in allegories and forced applications. It is said, also, that the learning which appears so copious is in great measure borrowed from secondary sources. But on the whole this elaborate work, which is at once the last and most important of the apologies against paganism, and the first of professed treatises on the Church, deserves to be regarded as alike noble in the conception and in the execution.
The exemplary labours of Augustine in his diocese cannot be here detailed; but it is necessary to notice at some length the two principal controversies in which he was engaged—the sequel of that with the Donatists, and the new controversy which was occasioned by the opinions of Pelagius.
After their condemnation by Constans in 348, the Donatists remained in exile until the reign of Julian. As the edict by which that emperor recalled persons who were suffering on account of religion applied to such only as had been banished by his immediate predecessor, these sectaries could not benefit by it. They therefore presented a petition to Julian, expressing respect for his character and reliance on his justice in terms which were not only inconsistent with their former attitude towards the civil power, but afforded their opponents ground for reproaching them with flattery of the apostate and persecutor. The petition was successful, and they signalized their return from banishment by triumphant displays of intolerance. “If they obtained possession of a church which had been used by the Catholics, they washed the pavement, scraped the walls, burnt the altar, which was commonly of wood, melted the consecrated plate, and cast the holy Eucharist to the dogs”. The Donatists were now the stronger party in Numidia, and were powerful throughout the African provinces; but after the brief reign of Julian, they again became obnoxious to the government, and several laws were directed against them. Valentinian I, by an exception to his general policy of abstaining from interference with religion, enacted penalties against their practice of rebaptizing (A.D. 373).h Gratian ordered, in 377, that their churches should be given up to the Catholics, and that any places where they should hold meetings should be confiscated; and in the following year, at the request of a Roman council, he expelled their bishop from Rome. These laws do not appear to have been rigidly executed; but in other ways the interest of Donatism suffered greatly during the latter part of the fourth century.
The working of the schismatical spirit produced many divisions in the sect—each little fraction maintaining that it alone retained the true baptism, and excommunicating all the rest. The most considerable separation took place after the death of Parmenian, who had succeeded Donatus as leader of the party, and for forty years had guided it with vigour and skill. In 392 he was succeeded by Primian, who soon after had a violent quarrel with a deacon named Maximian, and excommunicated him. The original history of the schism was now repeated by rival factions of the Donatists. Maximian found a new Lucilla in a wealthy lady. Primian was condemned by two councils,—the second consisting of more than a hundred bishops; he was declared to be deposed, and twelve bishops joined in consecrating Maximian to the see of Carthage. But without paying any regard to these proceedings, Primian assembled at Bagai a council of three hundred and ten bishops, by which Maximian was condemned. In pursuance of this sentence, Maximian and his consecrators were ejected from their churches by the assistance of the civil power, and in some cases not without violence and cruelty; while the other Maximianist bishops were invited to rejoin the communion of Primian within a certain time, with a promise that their baptism and orders should be acknowledged as valid. In this affair, every principle of the original schism was either violated by the victorious party or carried out to manifest absurdity by the vanquished; and the history of it supplied the catholic controversialists with weapons which they did not fail to turn to account.
The leader in the literary warfare against Donatism was Optatus, bishop of Milevis, who about 370, in answer to a book by Parmenian, ably exposed both the history of the schism and the grounds on which its adherents professed to rest it. About the same time a grammarian named Tichonius, although himself a Donatist, did much to injure his party by a treatise in which he maintained that the church could not be confined to one corner, but must be diffused throughout the world; that the sins of the evil members do not cause a failure of God’s promises to it; and that baptism administered without the true church might be valid. But Augustine became the most formidable and effective opponent of Donatism.
When ordained a presbyter, he found that the Donatists were a majority in Hippo, where he tells us, in illustration of the sectarian spirit, that their bishop would not allow any of his flock even to bake for their catholic neighbours. Augustine’s first contribution to the controversy was a psalm or metrical piece, intended to furnish the less educated people with some knowledge of the question in a form which might assist the memory; it opens by setting forth the scriptural doctrine as to the mixture of evil with good in the visible church, sketches the history of the schism, and, after twenty parts, which begin with the successive letters of the alphabet, it concludes with exhortations to unity. This attack was followed up from time to time by treatises in answer to the most eminent Donatistic champions, and by letters to members of the sect, which are usually written in an admirable spirit of charity and courtesy. Augustine also endeavoured to bring the Donatists to conferences; but in this he rarely succeeded. Sometimes the refusal was rested on the ground that his dialectical skill would give him an unfair advantage; sometimes it was in a more insolent form—that the children of the martyrs could not condescend to argue with sinners and traditors. His attempts at conciliation were repelled by the obstinate bigotry of the sect. With a view to the common maintenance of discipline, he proposed that, when a person who was under censure of either community applied for admission into the other, it should not be granted except on condition of his submitting to penance; but although Augustine himself scrupulously observed this rule, he was unable to establish a mutual agreement in it, as the Donatists, for the sake of swelling their numbers, not only belied their profession by retaining notorious offenders in their communion, but indiscriminately received all sorts of proselytes.
The councils of the African Catholics made frequent reference to the Donatists, and generally in a moderate and conciliatory tone. They offered, even when impeded by decrees which had forbidden such concessions, to acknowledge the Donatist clergy in their orders and position. The clergy interposed to moderate the execution of the laws against the sectaries; and by various means—especially by making known the earlier documents of the schism—they gained many converts to the church. But the success of their exertions exasperated the fury of the circumcellions, who committed barbarous outrages against the catholic clergy, and rendered it unsafe for Catholics to live in country places; while the bishops of the sect were either afraid or unwilling to interfere or to grant redress. Augustine himself had a providential escape from a plot which had been arranged for waylaying him, and other bishops were so cruelly treated that the council of Africa, in 404, found it necessary to petition Honorius that the laws against heretics might be applied to the Donatists. The reports of the outrages which had been committed, and especially the evidence borne by the appearance of some of the sufferers, who presented themselves at the imperial court, provoked severer measures than those which the council had contemplated. The old edicts against the Donatists were revived and they were sentenced to heavy fines, to forfeiture of their churches, banishment of their bishops and clergy, and confiscation of any lands on which they might attempt to hold their worships. In consequence of this, the church received a large accession of converts, of whom it is probable that some were insincere, and that others, having inherited their Donatism, had until then professed it, not from any personal conviction of its tenets, but merely because they were held in terror by the circumcellions.
The law of February 405 was followed by others of like purport. On the death of Stilicho, the Donatists, pretending that these laws were his work and had expired with him, began to resume possession of churches and to renew their acts of violence. But the laws were reinforced by fresh edicts, and such of the sectaries as should molest the Catholics were threatened with capital punishment. On this Augustine wrote to the proconsul of Africa, begging that the new law might not be executed to the full; if, he said, Donatism should be punished with death, the catholic clergy, who were the persons best acquainted with the proceedings of the Donatists, and most interested in restraining them, would shrink from giving information against them. In 410, Honorius, alarmed by the pressure of the barbarians, granted a general freedom of religion for Africa; but at the urgent request of the Catholics this indulgence was revoked, and banishment and even death were denounced against those who should hold heretical assemblies.
The Catholics now entreated the emperor to appoint a conference between the two parties. The request was granted—the willingness of the Donatists being presumed from their language on some former occasions—and Marcellinus, a “tribune and notary” (or secretary of state), was deputed to superintend the discussion. Marcellinus is highly praised for his piety and virtues by Jerome and by Augustine, and their eulogies appear to be justified by the patience, moderation, and judgment which he displayed in the execution of his commission. In the citation addressed to the Donatists, it was said that such of them as might be willing to attend the conference should in the meantime enjoy possession of their churches, with an exemption from all laws against the sect; that, whatever the result of the meeting might be, they should have liberty to return to their homes; but that, if the party should refuse to obey the summons, conformity to the catholic church would be forthwith enforced: and Marcellinus offered, if the Donatists objected to him as a judge, to associate with himself any person of equal or superior dignity whom they might choose.
Two hundred and eighty-six catholic bishops were gradually assembled at Carthage. The Donatists made a display of their strength by entering the city in a body, to the number of two hundred and seventy-nine, and asserted, but seemingly without truth, that in their absent brethren they had a majority over the Catholics. Their leader was Petilian, bishop of Cirta (or Constantine), who had formerly been eminent as an advocate, and, when a catechumen, had been forcibly baptized into the sect and raised to the episcopate. The Catholics announced that, if convinced of the church’s failure everywhere but in the Donatistic communion, they would submit without requiring an acknowledgment of their orders; but that, if they should be able to convince their opponents, the Donatist bishops and clergy should be acknowledged as such, and an arrangement should be made for the joint government of the churches. Although the former of these alternatives might have been offered without any risk, the second deserves the praise of a really liberal and conciliatory spirit.
The conference was held on the 1st, the 3rd, and the 8th of June 411. The first day was taken up by formalities—Petilian’s forensic skill being employed in raising technical difficulties for the purpose of evading the main subjects of dispute. The commissioner renewed his offer of admitting an assessor; but Petilian answered that, as the Donatists had not asked for the first judge, it was not their part to ask for a second. Marcellinus then proposed that each party should choose seven disputants, seven advisers, and four other bishops, who should see to the authenticity of reports and documents; and that, with a view to orderly discussion, no other persons than those representatives, with the secretaries and public officers, should be admitted to the place of conference. To this the Donatists objected, as they supposed themselves to be more numerous than their opponents, and wished to make a visible display of their superiority; but, after the lists of bishops on each side had been recited and carefully verified, the sectaries found it expedient to comply with the proposed arrangement. Between the reading of the two lists, Marcellinus desired the bishops to sit down. To this the leader of the Donatists replied, with an elaborate compliment to the commissioner, that, as our Lord stood before his judge, it was not for them to sit in the presence of so worshipful a person; and, as Marcellinus would not sit while the bishops stood, all parties remained standing throughout the debated Among the catholic disputants were Aurelius of Carthage, Augustine, his friend Alypius, and his biographer Possidius.
At the next meeting Marcellinus again requested the bishops to seat themselves, whereupon Petilian produced another scriptural authority for refusing—namely, the words of the psalmist, “I will not sit with the wicked”. The second day was for the most part wasted in the same manner as the first; but on the third and last day, after fresh attempts at evasion and delay on the part of the Donatists, the real question came into discussion, and Augustine, who until then had spoken little, stood forward as the leader of the Catholics. It is noted as characteristic that, when he styled the Donatists “brethren”, Petilian protested against the term as injurious. Each party wished to throw on the other the burden of opening the case: the Donatists said that the Catholics were bound to do so, as having demanded the conference; the Catholics, that the Donatists were the accusers of the church, and therefore ought to state their charges. When Augustine entered on the history of the separation, the Donatists objected, and said that the matter ought to be determined by Scripture : to which the Catholics replied that they were willing to confine themselves to Scripture if their opponents would refrain from personal charges; but that, if Caecilian and others were attacked, the documents necessary for their justification must be admitted. Marcellinus decided that the acts relating to the commencement of the schism should be read; and eventually both the doctrinal question of the church’s purity and the historical question as to the origin of Donatism were discussed. The documents produced by the Donatists were shown to bear against their own cause; for it would seem that the sect had forgotten all such parts of its history as were unfavourable to it. They were at length forced to avow that they did not suppose the whole church to be limited to their own body in Africa, but only denied that their African opponents were in communion with the catholic churches beyond the seas. Marcellinus ended the conference by giving judgment against the Donatists. The promise of a safe conduct homewards was to be fulfilled to them, and a certain time was allowed, during which they might join the church on the terms which the Catholics had offered; but in case of their refusal the penal statutes against them were to be revived.
It is evident that, if a power of supreme ecclesiastical jurisdiction had then been supposed to exist in the see of Rome, an affair such as that of the Donatists would not have been intrusted to a lay imperial commissioner. But on the other hand, the commission given to Marcellinus does not imply such a right or claim of jurisdiction on the part of the civil power as might perhaps be supposed if the circumstance stood by itself. The Donatistic controversy had arisen at the very time when Constantine began to show favour to the Christians; it was originally carried before the emperor by the sectaries; although doctrinal discussions as to the being of the church were afterwards introduced into it, it was at first merely a question of disputed facts; and it had continued to engage the attention of the emperors, not in its doctrinal aspect, but because the disorders of the circumcellions disturbed the peace of Africa. Thus it had been throughout regarded as especially belonging to the imperial cognizance, and the appointment of Marcellinus was a consequence of that view. Indeed, the arbitration which was urgently needed could not well have been obtained from ecclesiastical authority; since all the Africans were parties in the case, and there were difficulties, perhaps insuperable, in the way of referring it to a synod beyond the seas, while a reference to the bishop of Rome does not appear to have been thought of as an expedient which could be admitted to decide the question.
The Donatists asserted that they had been victorious in argument at the conference, and that Marcellinus was bribed by their opponents. They appealed to the emperor; but Honorius, without regarding the appeal, confirmed his commissioner’s judgment, and in the following year enacted severe penalties against the sect. All who should refuse to conform to the church were to be heavily fined, in proportion to their rank, and in case of continued obstinacy they were to forfeit all their property. Slaves and peasants were to be beaten into conformity, and their masters, if they neglected to act on this order, were, “although Catholics”, to be liable to the penalties of Donatism. It was forbidden to harbour the sectaries; their bishops and clergy were to be banished, and the buildings and estates belonging to the body were to be confiscated. By another law, two years later, the penalties of the former were increased; the Donatists were deprived of the right of bequeathing property, and were subjected to a sort of civil excommunication. The African councils, however, still held out offers of conciliation, and the clergy, although they did not deny that such laws were justifiable, urged that the execution of them might be forborne or mitigated. In consequence of the measures of the government some Donatists were brought into the church, while others were driven to the frenzy of desperation. Their outrages became more violent than ever. Many committed suicide, which they supposed to be an expiation for all their sins; and to threaten it was a favourite expedient when they found themselves pressed by the Catholics. Gaudentius, a bishop, who had been one of the disputants at the conference, declared that, if he were forcibly required to join the catholic communion, he would shut himself up in a church with his adherents, set it on fire, and perish in the flames. It was against this zealot that Augustine wrote his last works in the Donatistic controversy, about the year 420.
Little is known of the Donatists after this time, although they were still occasionally noticed in imperial edicts. Under the Vandals their position was improved, but the sect soon dwindled into insignificance. Some remains of it, however, existed in the time of Gregory the Great, and it is supposed that it was not extinguished until the Saracenic invasion of Africa in the seventh century.
GRACE AND FREE-WILL
The Pelagian controversy was that as to which Augustine exercised the most powerful influence on his own age, and which has chiefly made his authority important throughout the succeeding times. The differences as to doctrine which had hitherto agitated the church originated in the east, and related to the Godhead; one was now to arise in the west, which had for its subject the nature of man and his relations to God. On these points there had as yet been no precise definitions; but it had been generally acknowledged that the nature of man was seriously injured by the fall of Adam, and needed the assistance of Divine grace. In the western church, from the time of Tertullian, it was declared that Adam had transmitted to his posterity an inheritance of sinfulness; but the Latin teachers, as well as those of the east, had maintained that the will was free to choose good or evil, to receive or to reject salvation. Augustine himself, in his earlier writings after his conversion, maintained against the Manichaeans the freedom of the will in preparing man for the reception of grace. Faith (he said) depends on man, although works are of God’s grace; the Divine election is spoken of by St. Paul as opposed to a foundation of works—not to a foundation of faith; and if there were no freedom, there could be no responsibility. As early as 397, however, he had come to regard faith also as an effect of Divine grace; and it would be more correct to describe Pelagianism as a reaction from Augustine’s doctrine than to invert this order, although Pelagianism became the occasion by which Augustine was urged to carry out his system into precision and completeness.
Pelagius was a Briton—the first native of our island who distinguished himself in literature or theology. His Greek ok Latin name is traditionally said to be a translation of the British Morgan—sea-born. He is described as a monk, and it has been supposed that he belonged to the great monastery of Bangor; but the term most probably means only that he lived ascetically, without implying that he was a member of any monastic community. From his acquaintance with the Greek ecclesiastical writers it is inferred that he had resided in the east; and he has been identified by some with a monk of the same name who is mentioned in one of Chrysostom’s letters. About the end of the fourth century he took up his abode at Rome, where he became intimate with Paulinus of Nola and other persons of saintly reputation. Jerome in controversy expresses contempt for his abilities, and represents his habits as luxurious; but such aspersions are matters of course with Jerome, and, although Orosius also charges Pelagius with luxury and excess, we may rather rely on the testimony of Augustine, who always spoke with high respect of his adversary’s character for piety and virtue.
In his tone of thought Pelagius was rather oriental than western. The course of his religious life appears to have been steady—in striking contrast to the fierce agitations by which Augustine had been made to pass through so great a variety of experiences. His indignation was raised by the manner in which many persons alleged the weakness of human nature as an excuse for carelessness or slothfulness in religion; in opposition to this he insisted on the freedom of the will; and he is said to have expressed great displeasure at hearing a bishop repeat a well-known prayer of Augustine—“Give what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt”. But, although he found adherents at Rome, both his age, which was already advanced, and his temper disinclined Pelagius from any public declaration of his opinions. In one of his works—an exposition of St. Paul’s epistles, which has escaped the general fate of heretical books by being included through mistake among the writings of his enemy Jerome—there are many indications of his errors; but the objectionable opinions are there introduced in the way of discussion— not as if they were the author’s own.
At Rome Pelagius became acquainted with Celestius, who, from an expression of Jerome, has been supposed to have been a Scot—i.e. a native of Ireland. Celestius was a man of family, had practised as an advocate, and had forsaken that profession for an ascetic life. Whether he learnt his opinions from Pelagius, or had adopted them from another teacher before the beginning of his acquaintance with Pelagius, is doubtful. Jerome bestows his customary abuse on Celestius; Augustine describes him as bolder and less crafty than his associate.
After the sack of Rome, the two friends passed into Africa, where Pelagius remained but a short time; and it does not appear that after this separation they ever met again, or even corresponded with each other. Celestius endeavoured to obtain ordination as a presbyter at Carthage, but was charged with heresy by Paulinus, who had formerly been a deacon of the Milanese church, and is known to us as the biographer of its great bishop. The matter was examined by a synod, before which Celestius was accused of holding that Adam would have died even if he had not sinned; that his sin did not injure any but himself; that infants are born in the same condition in which Adam originally was; that neither do all mankind die in Adam nor do they rise again in Christ; that infants, although unbaptized, have eternal life; that the law admitted to the kingdom of heaven even as the gospel does; and that before our Lord’s coming there were men without sin. He defended himself by saying that he allowed the necessity of infant baptism; that the propositions generally, whether true or not, related to matters of speculation on which the church had given no decision; and that consequently they could not be heretical. The council, however, condemned and excommunicated him, whereupon he appealed to the bishop of Rome. No attention was paid to this appeal—the first which is recorded as having been made to Rome from another province; and Celestius, without attempting to prosecute it, left Carthage for Ephesus. Augustine was now drawn into the controversy. Although he tells us that he had occasionally seen Pelagius while at Carthage, it would seem that the two had not held any discussion, as the catholic bishops were then engrossed by preparations for their conference with the Donatists; nor had Augustine been present at the synod which condemned Celestius. But the progress of the new opinions soon drew his attention. He was induced to compose two tracts against them for the satisfaction of Count Marcellinus; and at the request of the bishop, Aurelius, he preached in opposition to them at Carthage.
In the meantime, Pelagius, expecting to find the east more favourable to his opinions than Africa, had taken up his abode in the Holy Land. He was at first on friendly terms with Jerome; but disagreements soon arose between them, and Jerome became his vehement opponents Augustine, little acquainted with the Greek writers, had spoken of the Pelagian opinions as novelties of which there had been no example either among Catholics or among heretics; but Jerome traced them to the hated school of Origen and Rufinus.
Soon after his settlement in Palestine, Pelagius received an application which may be regarded as an evidence of the high reputation which he had attained—an urgent request from the mother of Demetrias, that he would write to her daughter on the occasion of her professing virginity; and in consequence of this he addressed a letter to Demetrias. He tells her that it is his practice in such matters to begin by laying down what human nature can do, lest, from an insufficient conception of its powers, too low a standard of duty and exertion should be taken; for, he says, men are careless in proportion as they think meanly of themselves, and for this reason it is that Scripture so often endeavours to animate us by styling us sons of God. The powers of man, like the faculties and instincts of all creatures, are God’s gifts. Instead of thinking, with the vulgar, that the power of doing evil is a defect in man—instead of reproaching the Creator, as if He had made man evil—we ought rather to regard the enjoyment of free-will as a special dignity and prerogative of our nature. He dwells on the virtues of those who had lived before the Saviour’s coming, and declares the conscience, which approves or reproves our actions, to be, “so to speak, a sort of natural holiness in our souls”. In this letter Pelagius shows an earnest zeal for practical religion, with a keen discernment of the deceits which might arise on the one hand from an abuse of the doctrine of grace, and on the other hand from a reliance on formal exercises. But his peculiar tenets appear strongly; and perhaps the most remarkable feature in the letter is the evidence which it contains that the monastic idea of sanctity very readily fell in with the errors which have become distinguished by the writer’s name.
In July 415 Pelagius was charged with heresy before John, bishop of Jerusalem, and a synod of his clergy, by Orosius, a young Spanish presbyter, who had lately come into the Holy Land with a recommendation from Augustine to Jerome. The accuser related the proceedings which had taken place at Carthage, and read a letter from Augustine. On this Pelagius asked, “What is Augustine to me?”, but was rebuked for speaking so disrespectfully of a great bishop, by whom unity had been restored to the church of Africa. John, however, was inclined to befriend him; he invited him, although a layman, to take his seat among the presbyters, and exerted himself to put a favourable construction on his words. When Pelagius was accused of holding that men could live without sin, the bishop said that there was scriptural warrant for the doctrine, and cited the instance of Zacharias and Elisabeth, with others equally irrelevant; and, on receiving from Pelagius an acknowledgment that divine grace was necessary in order to living without sin, his judges were satisfied. Pelagius, in truth, used the term grace in such a manner that his professions sounded orthodox; while he really meant by it nothing more than the outward means employed by God for instruction and encouragement in righteousness—not an inward work of the Holy Spirit, influencing the hearts.
The inquiry was carried on under the difficulties that Orosius could not speak Greek, that the members of the council understood no Latin, and that the interpreter was either incapable or unfaithful; while Pelagius, being familiar with the languages and with the doctrinal peculiarities of both east and west, had an advantage over his accuser and his judges. Orosius therefore proposed that, as the question was one of Latin theology, and as the parties were Latins, it should be referred to the bishop of Rome; and to this John agreed—ordering Pelagius in the meantime to abstain from publishing his opinions, and his opponents to refrain from molesting him. It need hardly be observed that the reference to Rome involved no acknowledgment of the later Roman pretensions, but was merely a resort from judges unacquainted with the doctrines of the western church to a more competent tribunal—that of the highest bishop of the west.
In the end of the same year, two Gaulish bishops, Heros of Arles and Lazarus of Aix, brought an accusation against Pelagius before Eulogius, metropolitan of Caesarea, who thereupon summoned a synod December, of fourteen bishops to Diospolis (the ancient Lydda). When, however, this assembly met, one of the accusers was sick, and the other excused himself on account of his companion’s illness; so that, as Orosius did not again appear, Pelagius was left to make good his cause without opposition. He disavowed some of the opinions which were imputed to him, and explained others (or explained them away) in a manner which the council admitted as satisfactory. The acts of the Carthaginian synod were read; whereupon Pelagius declined entering into the question whether Celestius held the doctrines there censured, but declared that he himself had never held them. And on being desired to anathematize the holders of these and other errors of which he had been suspected, he consented—professing, however, that he condemned them, not as heretics, but as fools. The council, little versed in western questions, and desirous to act with moderation, acknowledged the orthodoxy of the accused. For this Jerome stigmatized it as a “miserable synod”. Augustine, however, spoke of it more respectfully, and expressed his satisfaction that, although from defective information it had allowed Pelagius to escape, it had yet condemned his errors.
Pelagius was much elated by the result of this inquiry. In a book which he sent forth on the Freedom of the Will, and in his letters, he referred triumphantly to his acquittal by the bishops of Palestine; and he sent Augustine some documents which gave a partial representation of the affair. Augustine, however, was soon after furnished with more complete information by Orosius, who returned to Africa with a collection of papers on the subject; and synods were held there, which condemned Pelagius and Celestius. The African bishops wrote to Innocent, bishop of Rome, requesting that he would join in the sentence—apparently from a fear lest the Pelagian party at Rome should contrive to secure his favour by pressing on him the judgment of the eastern council. An application of this kind could hardly fail to be welcome to Innocent, and he readily complied with the request, taking occasion to accompany his consent with much swelling language about the dignity of his see. But, however desirous the Africans may have been to fortify themselves by the alliance of Rome, they throughout the affair treated with the Roman bishops on a footing of perfect equality.
Innocent died soon after, and was succeeded by Zosimus, who, as being a Greek, was disposed to look favourably on the suspected teachers. Celestius, who had been ordained at Ephesus, appeared again at Rome, where he made a profession of orthodoxy, and requested that his case might be once more examined, declaring that any speculations which he might have vented did not concern the faith. About the same time Zosimus received two letters addressed to his predecessor—the one in favour of Pelagius, from Praylius, who had lately succeeded to the bishopric of Jerusalem; the other from Pelagius himself, artfully vindicating his orthodoxy and stating his belief. By these letters, and by the personal communications of Celestius, Zosimus was won over, and after having held a council, at which Celestius disavowed all doctrines which the apostolic see had condemned, he wrote a letter of reproof to the Africans. He blamed them for having too readily listened to charges against men whose lives had always been correct, and for having exceeded the bounds of theological determination in their synods; he spoke strongly against the characters of Heros and Lazarus, whom he declared to be deposed from their sees; he stated that Celestius made frequent mention of grace; and he required that either the accusers should appear at Rome within two months, or the charges against Pelagius and Celestius should be abandoned. Paulinus, the original accuser, refused to obey this summons. Aurelius, with two synods (the second consisting of two hundred and fourteen bishops), replied that the condemnation which they had passed must stand until the objects of it should have clearly retracted their errors. The African bishops asserted their dependence of Rome; and a “plenary” African synod, of more than two hundred bishops, passed nine canons, which were afterwards generally accepted throughout the church, and came to be regarded as the most important bulwark against Pelagianism. These canons the council forwarded to Rome, telling Zosimus that he himself had been hasty in his credulity, and exposing the artifices by which Celestius had disguised his errors From this time Augustine spoke of the Pelagians no longer as brethren, but as heretics.
The civil power had now mixed in the controversy, probably at the solicitation of the Africans. An imperial rescript was issued, by which, after strong denunciation of Pelagius and Celestius, it was ordered that, if at Rome, they should be expelled; that persons suspected of holding their opinions should be carried before the magistrates, and, in case of conviction, should be banished. Zosimus, pressed by the court and by the anti-Pelagian party in his own city, found it expedient to change his tone. He professed an intention of re-examining the matter, and cited Celestius to appear before a council; whereupon Celestius fled from Rome. Zosimus then condemned the two heresiarchs, declaring that they might be readmitted to the church as penitents on anathematizing the doctrines imputed to them, but that otherwise they were absolutely and for ever excluded; he issued a circular letter, adopting the African decisions, and he required that this document should be subscribed by all bishops as a test of orthodoxy
Nineteen Italian bishops refused, and were deposed. The most noted among them was Julian of Eclanum, a small town near Beneventum, who from this time became the leading controversialist on the Pelagian side. Julian was son of a bishop named Memorius, who was on terms of friendship with Augustine; he had married the daughter of a bishop, and the union had been graced with a nuptial poem by Paulinus of Nola : and it was perhaps before his deposition that he obtained reputation and influence by giving all that he possessed to the poor during a famine. Julian is described as a man of learning and acuteness, but too confident, and of endless diffuseness and pertinacity as a writer. The founders of the heresy, wishing to remain within the catholic communion, had studied to veil their errors under plausible language, and to represent the points in question as belonging not to theology but to philosophy. But Julian, with an impetuosity which Augustine ascribes to youth, disdained to follow such courses : he accused his own party of cowardice; he taxed the catholics with Manichaeism; he refused to accept any doctrine as scriptural which did not agree with his own views of reason, and declared that the very essence of Christianity was at stake,—that the God of the “traducianists” (as he styled those who held that sin was derived by inheritance) was not the God of the gospel, inasmuch as the character ascribed to him was inconsistent with the divine attribute of justice.
The Pelagians attempted to procure an examination of their case by a general council; whereupon Augustine told them that the matter had already been sufficiently investigated, and that the cry for a general council was only a proof of their self-importance. They repeatedly endeavored to obtain a reversal of the Roman decisions; they applied for an acknowledgment of their orthodoxy at Constantinople, Ephesus, Thessalonica, and elsewhere, and endeavored to bespeak the sympathy of the Greeks by representing the Catholics as Manicheans. But their exertions were all in vain; both ecclesiastical judgments and edicts of the secular power were directed against them. Theodore, bishop of Mopsuestia—although he has been regarded as even the originator of the heresy —although he had written against Augustine’s views, and had sheltered Julian when banished from Italy—is said to have taken the lead in anathematizing the Pelagian tenets at a Cilician synod in 423 and they were condemned by the general council of Ephesus in 431—perhaps the more heartily because the party had been leniently treated by Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, who was the chief object of the council’s censure.
Pelagius himself disappears from history after the year 418, and, as he was far advanced in life, may be supposed to have died about that time. Nothing is known with certainty as to the end of Celestius and Julian. The founders of Pelagianism had made no attempt to form congregations separate from the church; and although Julian, in the heat of his animosity, had declared against communicating with those whom he branded as Manicheans, he found it impossible to establish a communion of his own. Pelagianism, therefore, never became the badge of a sect, although its adherents, when detected, were excluded from the orthodox communion.
The fundamental question between Pelagius and his opponents related to the idea of Free-Will. By this term, Pelagius understood an unbiassed power of choosing between good and evil; and such a faculty he maintained that man has, since the power of choice is essential to responsibility, and there can be no sin or guilt unless where there is voluntary evil. Augustine, on the other hand, taught that freedom must be distinguished from the power of choice. God, he said, is free, although his nature excludes the possibility of his choosing or doing anything that is evil; hence a natural and necessary limitation to good is higher than a state of balance between good and evil; and such a balance cannot be, since the possibility of inclining to evil is a defect. Man is not free to choose between good and evil, but is governed either by grace or by sin. Our free-will, without grace, can do only evil; the direction of the will to good must be God’s gracious gift. Grace does not take away freedom, but works with the will, whose true freedom is the love of that which is good.
Since Scripture undeniably refers all good to grace, Pelagius acknowledged this in words; but he understood the term grace in senses of his own, as meaning merely external gifts and benefits—the being and constitution of man; free-will itself; the call to everlasting happiness; the forgiveness of sins in baptism, apart from any influence on the later spiritual course; the knowledge of God’s will, the law and the gospel; the example of the Saviour’s life : and if he sometimes used the word to signify the influence of the Holy Spirit on the soul, he did not represent this influence as necessary to the work of salvation, but only as rendering it easier. Pelagius laboured to exclude from the notion of grace anything that might be inconsistent with free-will; Augustine, everything that might savour of merit on the part of man. Distinguishing three stages in good,—the capacity, the will, and the performance,—Pelagius referred the first to God's gift, but regarded the others as within the power of human nature. Augustine, on the contrary, refused to admit the idea of a grace bestowed according to the previous receptivity of the soul because this, as he thought, placed the determination in human merit. Grace must, by its very name, be gratuitous; the will to do good must be God's gift, as well as the capacity.
While Augustine held that the fall had injured man both spiritually and physically; that by communion with God Adam was enabled to live a higher life; that he might have avoided sin, and, if he had not sinned, would have been raised to perfection without tasting of death, even as the angels, after having borne their probation in a lower degree of grace, were endowed with that higher measure of it which lifts above the possibility of falling and confers immortality :—Pelagius maintained that man’s original constitution was mortal; that Adam was originally placed as we are, and that we are not inferior to him. The passages in which St. Paul speaks of death as the punishment of sin, he interpreted as meaning spiritual death only. Augustine taught that in Adam all men sinned; that, in punishment of the first sin, sin is transmitted by generation to all mankind; that although, under the guidance of grace directing his free-will, man might live without sin, this sinless life has never been actually realized. Pelagius, on the contrary, supposed that Adam’s sin did not affect his posterity otherwise than as an example; that there is indeed a deterioration of the race through custom of sinning, even as an individual man becomes worse through indulgence in sinful habits; that this comes to affect us like a nature, and has required occasional interpositions of the Divine mercy by revelations and otherwise; but that man had all along been able to live without sin; that some men had in fact so lived; and that, if this had been possible under the earlier dispensations—nay, even in heathenism—much more must it be possible for us under the gospel, which gives additional motives, higher rules of righteousness, and the light of a brighter Example. According to Pelagius, the saints of the Old Testament were justified by the Law; but Augustine held that in spirit they belonged to the New Testament; that they were justified through faith in Christ, and through his grace which was bestowed on them by anticipation. Pelagius saw mainly in Christ nothing more than a teacher and a pattern. His death, although it was allowed to be efficacious for sinners, could not (it was supposed) confer any benefit on those who had no sin; the living union of the faithful with him was an idea as foreign to the system of this teacher as the union of the natural man with Adam in death. Pelagius, however, did not deviate from the doctrine of the church with respect to the Saviour’s Godhead.
The practice of infant baptism, which was by this time universally regarded as apostolical, was urged against Pelagius. His opponents argued from the baptismal rites—the exorcisms, the renunciation of the devil, the profession of belief in the remission of sins. Why, they asked, should infants be baptized with such ceremonies for the washing away of sin, if they do not bring sin into the world with them? The Pelagians answered that infants dying in their natural state would attain “eternal life”, which they supposed to be open to all, whether baptized or not; but that baptism was necessary for the higher blessedness of entrance into “the kingdom of heaven”, which is the especial privilege of the gospel; that, as baptism was for all the means of admission to the fullness of the Christian blessings, the baptismal remission of sin must, in the case of infants, have a view to their future life on earth. Augustine taught that infants dying without baptism must fall under condemnation. As to the nature of this, however, he did not venture to pronounce, and his language respecting it varies; sometimes he expresses a belief that their state would be preferable to non-existence, but at other times his views are more severe. With respect to baptism, Augustine held that it conveys forgiveness of all past sins whatever, whether original or actual : that by it we receive regeneration, adoption, and redemption; but that there yet remains in us a weakness against which the regenerate must struggle here through God's help, and which will not be done away with until that further “regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory”. The doctrine of this remaining infirmity was represented by the Pelagians as disparaging the efficacy of the baptismal sacrament
Pelagius supposed that God had furnished man naturally with all that is needful for living without sin and keeping the commandments, and that the use of these gifts depends on our own will; Augustine, that at every point man needs fresh supplies of divine and supernatural aid. Pelagius understood justification to be merely the outward act of forgiveness; whereas Augustine saw in it also an inward purification through the power of grace. Grace, he held, does not constrain the will, but delivers it from bondage, and makes it truly free; he distinguished it into—(1.) the preventing grace, which gives the first motions towards goodness; (2.) the operating, which produces the free-will to good; (3.) the cooperaing, which supports the will in its struggles, and enables it to carry its desire into act; and lastly, (4.) the gift of perseverance.
The existence of evil was a great difficulty which exercised the mind of Augustine. He thought that, as everything must be from God, and as He can only will what is good, therefore evil is nothing—not, as in the Manichaean system, the opposite of good, but only the defect or privation of good, as darkness is the absence of light, or as silence is the absence of sound. It has, however, been remarked that the power which he ascribes to evil is hardly consistent with this idea of its merely negative quality—unless, indeed, his terms be understood in a meaning which they do not naturally suggest; and some of his arguments on this subject must appear (to ordinary readers at least) to be little better than a play on words.
Augustine in one of his early works had laid down that predestination is grounded on foreknowledge—an opinion which had been commonly held in the church. As his views on the subject of grace became developed, he had been led to teach a more absolute predestination; but it was not until the Pelagian controversy was far advanced that he set forth distinctly, and in connexion with the rest of his system, those doctrines as to predestination which have entered so largely into the controversies of later times. The occasion for his treating the subject was given by a report of serious dissensions which took place about the year 426 at Adrumetum, where some monks, on the ground (as they supposed) of one of Augustine’s epistles, disturbed their brethren by denying the freedom of the will and a future judgment according to works. On this Augustine wrote a letter in which he laid down the necessity of believing both in the Divine grace and in the freedom of the will. “If there be no grace of God”, he asks, “how doth He save the world? if there be no free-will, how doth He judge the world?”, and he devoted two treatises to the examination of the points in question. In these books he still maintained the freedom of man’s will; but he held that this essential freedom was not inconsistent with the existence of an outward necessity controlling it in the prosecution of its desires. Our will, he said, can do that which God wills, and which He foresees that it will do; will, therefore, depends on the divine foreknowledge.
God had from eternity determined to rescue some of human kind from the misery brought on us by sin. The number of these is fixed, so that it can neither be increased nor diminished; even before they have a being, they are the children of God; if they deviate from the right way, they are brought back to it; they cannot perish. As God, being almighty, might save all, and as many are not saved, it follows that he does not will the salvation of all—a tenet which Augustine laboriously tried to reconcile with St. Paul’s declaration that He “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim. II. 4). The elect are supplied with all gifts which are requisite for bringing them to salvation, and grace works irresistibly in them. The ground of their election is inscrutable—resting on the secret counsel of God. He does not predestine any to destruction; for his predestination regards such things only as he himself works, whereas sin is not his work; but he knows who are not chosen and will not be saved. These perish either through unforgiven original sin, or through actual transgression. That they have no portion in Christ is no ground for impugning the Divine justice : for if God do not give grace to all, he is not bound to give it to any; even among men, a creditor may forgive debts to some, and not to others. “By giving to some that which they do not deserve, God has willed that his grace shall be truly gratuitous, and therefore real; by not giving to all, he shows what all deserve. He is good in benefiting the certain number, and just in punishing the rest. He is both good in all cases, since it is good when that which is due is paid; and just in all, since it is just when that which is not due is given, without wrong to any one”. Those who are lost deserve their condemnation, because they have rejected grace either in their own persons or in that of the common father. Persons who are not of the elect may be baptized, and may for a time live piously, so that in the sight of men they are God’s children; but they are never such in God’s sight, since he foresees their end. If they go on well for a time, they are not removed from the world until, lacking the gift of perseverance, they have fallen away. That God gives to some men faith, hope, charity, but not perseverance, is astonishing; but it is not so much so as that, among the children of religious parents, he brings some to his kingdom by baptism, while others, dying unbaptized, are shut out; nor is it less wonderful that some perish through not having heard the gospel — (for “faith cometh by hearing”) — than that others perish through not having received the gift of perseverance. And, since worldly gifts are variously bestowed, why should it not be so with this gift also? There are, however, differences of degree in the condemnation of those who are not elect; thus, although those who have never heard the gospel will not on account of their ignorance escape the eternal fire, their punishment will probably be less than that of sinners who have willfully rejected knowledge.
In this system there was much of a new and startling character—the doctrines of absolute predestination, of irresistible grace, of the limitation of Christ's benefits to the subjects of an arbitrary election. Augustine himself was able to look on these doctrines as encouragements to trust in God; he exhorted others to do the same, and teachers to set them forth in that light, without questioning as to the election of individuals, or driving any to despair through the apprehension of being hopelessly reprobate. But we cannot wonder that they were regarded with alarm by many, both on account of the novelties of the theory and for the sake of practical consequences.
A middle party arose, which is known by the name of Semipelagian, originally given to it by the schoolmen of the middle ages. Its leader, Cassian of Marseilles, was a person of considerable note and influence. He is described as a Scythian—a term which has been variously interpreted, and notwithstanding which some authorities suppose him to have been a native of Gaul. He had been trained in a monastery at Bethlehem, and, after a long residence among the monks of Egypt (as to whose manner of life his works are a principal source of information), had been ordained a deacon by St. Chrysostom, after whose banishment he was entrusted by the clergy of Constantinople with a mission to Innocent of Rome. The occasion and the date of his settlement at Marseilles are uncertain; he had founded there a monastery for each sex, and had been raised to the order of presbyter. Unlike Pelagius, whose opinions he strongly reprobated, Cassian acknowledged that all men sinned in Adam; that all have both hereditary and actual sin; that we are naturally inclined to evil; and that for every good thing—the beginning, the continuance, and the ending—we need the aid of supernatural grace. But, although he maintained that grace is gratuitous—although he admitted that, in the infinite varieties of God’s dealings with men, the first call to salvation sometimes proceeds from preventing grace, and takes effect even on the unwilling—he supposed that ordinarily the working of grace depends on the determination of man’s own will; that God is the receiver of the willing, as well as the Saviour of the unwilling. As examples of those who are called without their own will, he referred to St. Matthew and St. Paul; for proof that in some cases the will precedes the call, he alleged Zacchaeus and the penitent thief,—as to whom he made the obvious mistake of regarding the recorded part of their story as if it were the whole. He held that God furnishes man’s nature with the seeds of virtue, although grace be needful to develop them; that Christ died for all men, and that grace is offered to all; that there is a twofold predestination—the general, by which God wills the salvation of all men, and the special, by which he determines the salvation of those as to whom he foresees that they will make a right use of grace and will persevere; that the notion of an irrespective predestination is to be rejected, as destructive of all motive to exertion, alike in the elect and in the reprobate, and as implying the gnostic error that there are species of men naturally distinct from each other; and that, in any case, predestination ought not to be popularly taught, inasmuch as the teaching of it might be mischievous, whereas the omission of the doctrine could do no practical harm. Faith and good works (it was said) although they do not deserve grace, are motives to the bestowal of it. Grace must work with our own will and endeavour; it may be lost, and is to be retained by man’s freewill—not by a gift of perseverance. God’s purpose and calling, according to Cassian, bring men by baptism to salvation; yet the benefits of the Saviour’s death extend to persons who in this life were never made members of him—their readiness to believe being discerned by God and reckoned to their credit. In like manner children who die in infancy are dealt with according to God’s foreknowledge of what they would have become if they had been allowed to live longer : those who would have used grace rightly are brought by baptism to salvation; the others die unbaptized.
These opinions found much favour in the south of Gaul, and reports of their progress were sent by two men, Prosper and Hilary to Augustine, who thereupon wrote two treatises, which his Jansenist biographer declares to be nothing less than inspired.
In these books he spoke of his opponents with high regard; he acknowledged the great and fundamental difference between them and the Pelagians; he treated them as being united with himself as to essentials, and he expressed a trust that God would bring them to the fullness of a sound belief. The further history of Semipelagianism will come under our notice hereafter.
428-30. LAST YEARS OF AUGUSTINE.
During the last years of Augustine’s life, Africa was overwhelmed by a barbaric invasion; and the author of the calamity was one with whom he had long been on terms of friendship,—the imperial general, count Boniface. Boniface had at one time been so deeply impressed by religious feeling that he would have entered a monastery but for the dissuasions of Augustine and Alypius, who told him that he might do better by living Christianly in his military station, and exerting himself for the safety of his country. He afterwards, however, married a second wife, of Arian family; and although she had professed Catholicism, it is said that the general, after entering into this connexion, declined both in faith and in morals.
Aetius, the rival of Boniface in power and in military distinction, basely endeavoured to undermine him. By representing him as engaged in treasonable designs, he persuaded Placidia, the sister of Honorius, who governed in the name of her son, the young Valentinian, to recall the general from Africa; and at the same time, by telling Boniface that his ruin was intended, he induced him to disobey the summons. Boniface fell into the snare, raised the standard of revolt, and invited to his assistance the Vandals, who about the year 420 had established themselves in the south of Spain. A large body of them, under the command of Gieserich or Genseric, passed into Africa, where they were joined by the Moors and by the fanatical Donatists—eager to take vengeance on the Catholics for many years of depression. The province was cruelly ravaged; the clergy in particular were marks for the enmity both of the Donatists and of the Arian invaders. Boniface, who had been urged by Augustine to return to his allegiance, was deeply distressed by the savage proceedings of his allies, and, by means of explanations with the court, he discovered the treachery of Aetius. Vainly imagining himself able to undo the mischief which he had caused, he requested the Vandals to withdraw from Africa, but was answered with derision, and found himself obliged to have recourse to arms as the only hope of delivering his country from the consequences of his imprudence. But his forces were unequal to the enemy; and, after having been defeated in the field, he shut himself up in Hippo with the remains of his army.
Augustine was indefatigable in his labours during the invasion. He continued a long and elaborate treatise against the Pelagian Julian of Eclanum; he wrote other controversial works, and endeavoured by letters of advice and consolation to support the minds of his brethren in their trials. His pastoral cares were increased by the multitudes of all classes who had sought a refuge within the walls of Hippo; and soon after the Vandals had laid siege to the town, he fell sick in consequence of his exertions. Wishing to secure his devotions from interruption, he directed that his friends should not be admitted to him, except at the times when medicine or food was administered. He desired that the penitential psalms should be hung up within his sight, and read them over and over with a profusion of tears. On the 28th of August, 430, he was taken to his rest.