Both Bishop Paprocki and Cardinal Pell have made national news this past week. Cardinal Pell is accused of molesting several boys for decades in Australia that ended with his transfer to the Vatican to manage money. Bishop Paprocki is in the news for his decision to enforce a ban on offering Holy Communion and funerals to active homosexuals. This is a perfect example of why people are leaving the Catholic Church. The Cardinal who has supposedly molested boys, according to the investigations overseen by the Australian government, has never been denied Holy Communion. The Cardinal does admit to dismissing boys who came to him to report molestation throughout the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Catholic clergy who have sexually sodomized children are still given funerals officiated by Catholic clergy.
The world, including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are interested in Cardinal Pell. We are not concerned about managing the intimate lives of unknown homosexuals in Illinois. We would like to hear Bishop Paprocki talk more about Cardinal Pell’s upcoming funeral and his need for Holy Communion and how that is different from the people in Illinois who seek God’s grace in their lives as well. Grace comes through reception of the sacraments, not denial of the sacraments. Bishop Paprocki does not understand that the sacrament of the Eucharist has the power of sanctifying grace just like Pelagius did not understand that the sacrament of Baptism contained sanctifying grace. What the world understands is that only perfect people can receive Holy Communion now in the state of Illinois.
Clearly, the Pelagian heresy of the fifth century and St. Augustine’s day is still very much alive in the church today. To the educated world, Bishop Paprocki is a modern-day Pelagian who lacks understanding of the Incarnation. Meanwhile, Cardinal Pell appears to be very mentally ill and has spent years living in denial of his illness. Only the Catholic Church has knowingly put people in leadership roles who have arrested psychosexual development issues; thus, we have massive sexual abuse problems throughout the world. It is time for Catholics who are educated in psychology to come forth and challenge their Catholic leaders to embrace the natural law of science and institute healthy religious practices that foster mental heath instead of glorifying suffering. This is acting with grace. St. Augustine knew God’s grace. St. Augustine confronted those who were in error during his time period in history. Below is an excerpt of a final theology paper I’ve recently completed which honors the gift of God’s grace taught by St. Augustine. What St. Augustine taught is still very much needed in today’s time period in history.
THE ANTI-PELAGIAN RESPONSE AND DEFENSE OF GRACE BY ST. AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO
St. Augustine effectively defended the stance of the Christian Church regarding the human person’s dependence upon God’s gift of grace. The great writings of St. Augustine are associated with the beginning of the fifth century A.D. The fifth century was a time of great instability. The Western Roman Empire fell to various barbarian tribes leaving a void in power and several individual political factions. Christianity was the legal predominant religion. Many essential dogmas of the Catholic Church had already been firmly established. By St. Augustine’s lifetime, Jesus Christ was understood to have two natures both fully human and divine; the Nicene and Apostle’s Creeds were well established; and the Holy Trinity consisted of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, like various barbarian tribes threatened Rome, several heresies now threatened the early Christian Church. St. Augustine excelled at defending the Church against heresies. St. Augustine of Hippo successfully refuted the Pelagian heresy of his day by affirming the reality of Original Sin, which resulted in man’s perpetual dependence upon the sanctifying grace of God given freely through the Son’s Incarnation.
SIGNIFICANT HERESIES OF THE 5TH CENTURY
Three significant heretical sects of St. Augustine’s time were the Manicheans, the Donatists, and the Pelagians. Each one of these heresies esteemed the ascetic lifestyle and struggled to embrace the fullness of the human temperament. (For clarification, the definition of human temperament differs from human nature where temperament refers to the sinful tendency of the human will in need of God’s grace, which is enmeshed with the goodness of human nature. Utilization of the term human temperament preserves the use of the term human nature where human nature refers only the inherent goodness of humanity which is made in the image and likeness of God per Genesis 1:27.) The Manicheans, as a gnostic religion, rejected the human temperament. God and the spirit world were of the light while Satan and the material world were of darkness. “The Christian notion of the Fall and personal sin was repugnant to the Manichees; they felt that the soul suffered not from a weak and corrupt will but from contact with matter. Evil was a physical, not a moral, thing; a person’s misfortunes were miseries, not sins” (Columbia Encyclopedia). As a young adult, St. Augustine was a member of the Manicheans. One can only image the psychological and spiritual tension tearing apart young St. Augustine as he attempted to adhere to such a dualistic religion while struggling with his own sensual indulgences.
Unlike the Manicheans who rejected the human temperament, the Donatists attempted to kill off the human temperament. The Donatists originally believed that any bishop who refused to be martyred, and instead surrendered sacred writings to the secular authorities on demand, was not a valid bishop. Therefore, the sacraments administered by the bishop unwilling to be martyred were invalid. Over time, this radical group set itself apart from the Catholic Church and began persecuting the Church. The underlying heretical belief of the Donatists was that only a “sinless” man could administer the sacraments validly (Madrid).
The Pelagians attempted to conquer the human temperament claiming that the human person was born with the innate ability to live a sinless life by disciplining the will. Pelagians were ascetic monks who dismissed the doctrine of Original Sin stating that Adam’s sin did not affect the entire human race. According to Warfield, “Man was thus a machine, which, just because it was well made, needed no Divine interference for its right working; and the Creator, having once framed him, and endowed him with the posse, henceforth leaves the velle and the esse to him” (Warfield xiv).
One can see that St. Augustine was surrounded by heresies that disregarded the gift of God’s grace while somehow attempting to ignore, crush, or reject the fullness of the human temperament which unfortunately includes the sinful will. As a mature adult, St. Augustine came to recognize his deep dependence on God’s gift of grace and shared this conversion experience in his memoir entitled Confessions. “Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised… For thou hast created us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart cannot be quieted till it may find repose in thee” (Confessions I). Thus, St. Augustine became known as the “Doctor of Grace” in the Catholic Church (Rengers 124).
A more detailed explanation of Pelagianism is provided below. This is followed by an analysis of how St. Augustine effectively refuted the Pelagian heresy. The traditional perspective of St. Augustine’s actual writings translated by Philip Schaff and Benjamin Warfield from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Saint Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings will be presented. Finally, a concluding reflection is given on how St. Augustine’s work can be applied to modern-day spiritual worldviews that contain hints of Pelagianism.
Pelagianism gets its name from the monk Pelagius who quietly taught that “Adam was a man, nothing more; and it was simply unthinkable that any act of his that left his own subsequent acts uncommitted, could entail sin and guilt upon other men” (Warfield xvi). This meant that the Pelagians proclaimed the sinless perfection of the human temperament in each newborn baby. From the Pelagian point of view, there was no need for sanctifying grace because the human person possessed the freewill to choose the good without relying on divine assistance. Additionally, the Pelagians “asserted that physical death belonged to the very nature of man, and that Adam would have died even had he not sinned” (Warfield xvii). The monk Pelagius was content to quietly teach these precepts. He did not seek controversy or open discussion (Warfield xvii). It was a protégé of Pelagius named Coelestius “who brought the courage of youth and the argumentative training of a lawyer to the propagation of the new teaching” (Warfield xviii).
At Carthage in 411 A.D. Coelestius sought ordination as a priest. However, the deacon Paulinus accused Coelestius of being a heretic. Paulinus presented seven items against Coelestius to the Bishop Aurelius which offers a rather good indication of what Pelagius was quietly teaching. First, Paulinus stated that Coelestius claimed that Adam was made mortal and would have died whether he had sinned or not. Secondly, Coelestius was accused of teaching that the sin of Adam injured only himself and did not affect the whole human race. Third, all newborn children were born into the sinless state Adam enjoyed before he sinned. Forth, the human race does not die on account of the sin of Adam, nor do human people rise again on account of Jesus Christ. Fifth, even if an infant is not baptized, the infant will have the gift of eternal life. Sixth, following the law leads to the kingdom of heaven. Seventh, even before the coming of Christ there were sinless human beings on earth. Coelestius was condemned at Carthage. He eventually was ordained at Ephesus. Ultimately, both Pelagius and Coelestius were banished from Rome.
In 416 A.D., the Bishop of Rome Innocent I excommunicated both Pelagius and Coelestius. In 418 A.D. over two-hundred bishops from Africa gathered at Carthage to condemn Pelagianism. The African bishops pressured Zosimus the new Bishop of Rome to uphold the excommunication of Pelagius and Coelestius until they acknowledged, “that we are aided by the grace of God, through Christ, not only to know, but to do what is right, in each single act, so that without grace we are unable to have, think, speak, or do anything pertaining to piety” (Warfield xx). Zosimus eventually honored the position of the bishops from Africa and issued a stringent condemnation of Pelagius and Pelagianism while affirming the doctrines of the African bishops as a test of orthodoxy (Warfield xx). St. Augustine was the African bishop of Hippo from 396 A.D. until his death in 430 A.D. Warfield speculates that St. Augustine was already anticipating the controversy brought forth by Paulinus to the bishop of Carthage (Warfield xxii).
SAINT AUGUSTINE’S RESPONSE TO PELAGIANISM
The Sin of Pride. In St. Augustine’s letter against the Pelagians, he paints a picture that clearly portrays the Pelagians’ motivations of the heart. St. Augustine does not hesitate to condemn the sin of pride outright.
No man, therefore, can have a righteous will, unless, with no foregoing merits, he has received the true, that is, the gratuitous grace from above. These proud and haughty people will not have this; and yet they do not maintain free will by purifying it, but demolish it by exaggerating it. (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians 379)
St. Augustine sees the Pelagians demolishing freewill through the sin of pride. It is through exaggerating one’s freewill that one may inadvertently loose one’s freewill. In Pelagianism there was no need for sanctifying grace because Pelagius believed that free will would be destroyed if it needed any help (Hardon 11). This is the opposite of Catholic doctrine which teaches that the human will does not achieve grace through freedom, but rather freedom through grace (Ireland 54-55).
According to St. Augustine, freedom can only be found in God (Confessions I). A man driven by pride is not a free man. From his own life experiences, St. Augustine seemed to know that pride is the most elusive vice of all. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, pride is defined as, “One of the seven capital sins. Pride is undue self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in opposition with God” (CCC 1866). The Pelagians clearly opposed God by rejecting the gift of God’s grace.
St. Augustine argues that the fullness of righteousness was not even in St. Paul, yet the insane pride of the Pelagians assumes that such righteousness is within the power of one’s own freewill. In the following excerpt from the third of four books written by St. Augustine called Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, St. Augustine refers to St. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.
But how imprudent I do not say, but how insane, is the pride which, not yet being equal to the angels of God, thinks itself already able to have a righteousness equal to the angels of God; and does not consider so great and holy a man, who assuredly hungered and thirsted after that very perfection of righteousness, when he was unwilling to be lifted up be the greatness of his revelations; and yet that he might not be lifted up, he was not left to his own choice and will but received a ‘thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to buffet him; on which account he besought the Lord thrice that it might depart from him, and the Lord said unto him, My grace is sufficient for thee, for strength is made perfect in weakness. (Against Two Letters of the Pelagians 410-411)
Here St. Augustine makes a convincing argument. If St. Paul of Tarsus, who was chosen by God to experience a miraculous conversion followed by divine revelations, was not allowed by God to exalt himself — then who in the hell does Pelagius think he is? Both St. Augustine and St. Paul experienced the strength of God in the midst of one’s own human weakness. Both St. Augustine and St. Paul displayed superhuman strengths. St. Augustine had intellectual gifts and insights that went well beyond all human intellectual capabilities. St. Paul had fortitude and courage that exceeded any human capacity for discipleship. Both St. Paul and St. Augustine knew that God was strong but the human person was very weak. Both St. Paul and St. Augustine had personally experienced God’s gift of grace in weakness.
Pelagius and his followers had no concept of 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, St. Augustine’s first point of contention with the Pelagian heresy was to call forth the sin of pride. St. Augustine’s example demonstrates that it is ineffective to start off by disputing theological points because one is tempted to trust in one’s own intellectual prowess. However, to zero in on clear examples of human pride, then to shine a light upon that pride has the potential to be more effective because God brings forth change — not the human person. If St. Augustine was not in touch with his own pride, then he could not see this pride in others. If pride cannot be seen and acknowledged, then there is no foundation of humility to fight upon. The source of any Christian person’s power is in the virtue of humility with absolute trust placed in God alone. This is the example set by the passion of Jesus Christ that all Christians are called to follow. Both St. Paul and St. Augustine followed the example of Christ’s passion.
Original Sin. When addressing the Pelagian heresy, it is essential to consider the theology of Original Sin and humanity’s need for God’s grace. The other issues of theological contention, such as the dispute over baptism and infants, flowed from the rejection of Original Sin. For example, Pelagius did not believe that humanity was prone to sin because of Adam and Eve succumbing to original sin, but rather humanity was prone to sin due to our own misdeeds (Hardon 11). Therefore, the sacrament of baptism was only useful as a spiritual membership ritual. Pelagius believed that Adam would have experienced death regardless of his choice to sin or not to sin. Such a position completely denies the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer of the human race.
In the following excerpts from the second of two books written by St. Augustine called On Marriage and Concupiscence Pelagius claimed, “If sin comes from the will, it is an evil will that causes sin; if it comes from nature, then nature is evil” (On Marriage and Concupiscence 302). St. Augustine responded to Pelagius stating that Satan, who was originally created by God to be good, penetrated the good work of God with evil. Yet, God who remains good and unchanging can work through evil and sin to restore goodness.
The work done by a work of God has pervaded God’s work. And this is the reason why God alone has an unchangeable and almighty goodness; even before any evil came into existence He made all things good; and out of all the evils which have arisen in the good things which He has made, He works through all for good. (On Marriage and Concupiscence 303)
St. Augustine affirmed the goodness of human nature that was corrupted from something outside of human nature. St. Augustine affirmed that sin comes from the will. “I at once answer, Sin does come from the will” (On Marriage and Concupiscence 302). Therefore, the only solution to a will with a tendency to sin is grace. This gift of God’s grace is described by St. Paul in the New Testament book of Romans, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). St. Augustine chooses to quote this scripture passage to affirm the goodness of God’s creation in the midst of Pelagian pessimism.
Pelagians attempted to get rid of Original Sin by praising marriage while implying that Christians considered marriage to be the cause and transmission of sin to the human race (On Marriage and Concupiscence 299). St. Augustine states, “The good of marriage cannot be blamed for the original sin which is derived from it” (On Marriage and Concupiscence 299). St. Augustine again relies on sacred scripture written by St. Paul to affirm the reality of Original Sin.
The evil in question, therefore, does not accrue to marriage from its own institution, which is blessed; but entirely from the circumstance that sin entered into the world by one man, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for in him all sinned. (On Marriage and Concupiscence 300)
In the New Testament book of Romans St. Paul had written, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.” (Romans 5:12). St. Augustine affirmed the goodness inherent in human nature as well as the blessedness of marriage. Meanwhile, Pelagius pointed fingers at others like the hypocritical Pharisee in the Gospel of Luke 18:9-14 who thanked God that he wasn’t sinful like the tax collector.
The Incarnation. Hardon states that Pelagius was alarmed by the low morality of the priests and people when he visited Rome in 354 A.D. (Hardon 10). This visit to Rome might have influenced Pelagius where he came to believe that the only hope for reform lay in human beings taking all responsibility for sin. It’s as if Pelagius concluded that the human person must be self-disciplined with one’s freewill and not dependent on God’s grace to do good. “He said that heaven is attainable by use of our natural faculties alone, since nothing but the free will is needed to practice virtue and keep out sin” (Hardon 10). In opposition to the Incarnation, the Pelagians argued, “If through the sin of the first man it was brought about that we must die, by the coming of Christ it should be brought about that, believing in Him, we shall not die. For the sin of the first transgressor could not possibly have injured us more than the Incarnation or redemption of the Savior has benefited us” (On the Merits and Remission of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants 64).
St. Augustine counters this assault by focusing on the spiritual world and the resurrection instead of the temporal world. In his treatise, On the Merits and Remission of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants, St. Augustine states, “The flesh which was originally created was not that sinful flesh in which man refused to maintain his righteousness amidst the delights of Paradise, wherefore God determined that sinful flesh should propagate itself after it had sinned, and struggle for the recovery of holiness, in many toils and troubles” (On the Merits and Remission of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants 66). St. Augustine shows himself to be a realist who is once again aligned with the teachings of St. Paul and the passion of Christ. St. Paul writes, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4). Both St. Augustine and St. Paul understood the toils and suffering of the Incarnation for all those who live in the Spirit. Pelagius did not understand the Incarnation. The pseudo-holiness of Pelagius was simply the pride of man, not the holiness of divinity.
In his maturity, St. Augustine found freedom in the grace of God and awakened to his previous lack of freedom as a young man. St. Augustine recognized that the young man who he once was erroneously believed that the freewill to act sinfully led to freedom. However, the sinful life is simply an entrapped human temperament lacking grace. This awareness allowed St. Augustine to gracefully challenge heresies that threatened the early Church. Ireland states that St. Augustine strikes a decisive blow to the Pelagian heresy in his treatise called Admonition and Grace. Ireland quotes St. Augustine stating, “The human will does not achieve grace through freedom, but rather freedom through grace, and through grace, too, joyous consistency, and invincible strength to persevere” (Ireland 54-55). It is only by the grace of God that one comes to have faith in Him. Human striving will imprison, while the gifts of grace given by God through the virtues of faith, hope, and charity will bring true freedom. Pelagius clearly did not know this freedom of spirit.
Today’s world is not much different than the world of St. Augustine. Throughout the centuries, the human temperament stays the same. No one has Manicheans, Donatists, or Pelagians worshipping next door. However, in North America many people have Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, and a plethora of people who are “spiritual but not religious” as neighbors.
One of the most attractive spiritual traditions that is making significant headway in the United States with well-educated Americans is the Bahá’í faith. The Bahá’í religion was ranked by Foreign Policy Magazine as the world’s second fastest growing religion in 2007 (Foreign Policy Magazine). The Bahá’ís are very similar to the Pelagians of St. Augustine’s time period in history. One of the Bahá’í faith’s key theological points is complete rejection of Original Sin. The Bahá’í faith claims to build upon the “older” religions of Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism while rejecting any need for salvation, justification or sanctifying grace (Personal Interview). People are very attracted to this faith tradition because it claims to embrace all the world traditions fostering unity and peace amongst all people. Peace, harmony, and service strengthened through prayer are stressed in the Bahá’í faith tradition which began in 1863 in the Middle East. The Bahá’í faith has over 5 million followers with many new inspiring temples being built around the world (Bahá’í World News Service).
Much like Pelagianism, those practicing the Bahá’í faith strive to live a very disciplined lifestyle. The Bahá’i faith prohibits the consumption of alcohol, gossiping, participation in partisan politics, and begging as a profession (Personal Interview). The Bahá’i faith esteems traditional marriage between a man and a woman. All forms of sexual intercourse outside of traditional marriage are firmly forbidden. The purpose of marriage in the Bahá’i faith is to foster spiritual harmony, fellowship and unity between a man and a woman while providing a stable and loving environment for the rearing of children (Smith 164-165). This perspective on marriage is like Pelagius’s understanding of marriage.
Because Pelagius rejected the human person’s dependency on God’s sanctifying grace, the Holy Trinity as understood by the Catholic Church, was not part of Pelagius’s theology. Adherents to the Bahá’í faith worship a monotheistic God and reject the importance of a Trinitarian God who touches humanity with His gift of grace. The only significant difference between Pelagius the monk and the Bahá’í faith is that the Bahá’í faith strictly forbids the ascetic monastic lifestyle. The Bahá’ís are called to live in the world and work hard in service to humanity. Such self-sacrificing service is considered to be equal to prayer in the eyes of God by the Bahá’ís.
Like Pelagius, the Bahá’í faith does not embrace the fullness of the human temperament. Reality shows day after day that the human temperament is sinful. The twelve-step programs for recovery from addiction have proven that a person functions psychologically better by professing faith in a “higher power.” The first three steps in any twelve-step program are completely rooted in one’s dependency on God’s gift of grace as understood and professed by St. Augustine. The following three steps are taken from 12step.org which provides a generic form of the twelve-steps applicable to any addiction.
Step one: We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives have become unmanageable.
Step two: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Step three: We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. (12step.org)
The Bahá’í faith encourages an addiction to work. I believe that workaholism is the sin of independent pride. Until one comes to profess the twelve-steps in a heartfelt way, one is united in spirit with Pelagius. One might be attending a Catholic Church but unless one truly understands one’s own brokenness and need for God’s grace, one is essentially practicing the attractive precepts of the modern-day Bahá’í faith.
I believe that St. Augustine understood the Holy Trinity and the human person’s need for grace better than any other Church Father. From his memoir, Confessions, it is clear that St. Augustine struggled with what would be referred to as addictions today. After the death of his mother, St. Monica, God pulled St. Augustine into His loving embrace through the gift of His grace. It is only through knowing the gift of God’s grace that one can be set free from the various addictions and the psychological suffering of depression and anxiety that pervade modern-day society. The world today is still greatly in need of St. Augustine writings especially in regards to understanding one’s interdependency with other human beings modeled perfectly through the love of the three persons of the Holy Trinity; and the human person’s dependence upon the gift of God’s merciful grace through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
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