Archive for the ‘Pelagianism’ Category

All Have Sinned – Except Mary? (Responding to Steve Ray)

March 31, 2013

Steve Ray (Roman Catholic) writes:

From the early centuries Mary was considered the All Holy One and considered as without sin. Rom 3:23 is a general statement but does not mention exceptions to the rule. For example, Jesus was a man without sin, therefore an exception.

Jesus did not come short of the glory of God, because Jesus is God. Recall that the text says:

Romans 3:23
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

Moreover, it’s not just Romans 3:23.

Romans 3:10
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

Romans 5:12
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Job 25:4
How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?

Psalm 143:2
And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

This falls into the category of manifest exceptions. A similar manifest exception is explained here:

1 Corinthians 15:27
For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.

I would love to see this testimony to Mary as “the All Holy One.” While it may possibly exist (there are many extant writings, “Holy One” is a divine title and “all-holy” is a divine attribute. So, particularly in the early patristic period and among orthodox writers, one would not expect to find this attributed to anyone but one of the persons of the Trinity.

But certainly Scripture does not describe Mary as sinless. On the contrary, she herself recognized her need for a Savior:

Luke 1:47
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Steve Ray continued:

The New Adam (Jesus) is without sin. From the 1st century Mary has been viewed as the New Eve. It would be appropriate, actually proper, that the New Eve be without sin also.

The bride of Adam was Eve, but the bride of Christ is not Mary, but the Church.

And the church will be sinless:

Ephesians 5:27
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Indeed, Mary as a member of that church is now in heaven, holy and immaculate. But it was through the work of Christ purifying her – first sanctifying her and later glorifying her. She was not sinless, just as none of us are sinless.

Again, there may have been some fathers who called Mary a “new Eve,” but she’s hardly a close parallel to Eve.

Steve Ray continued:

Those who die before the age of reason, or who are mentally deficient are also exceptions. Job could even be called an exception if you take God’s report of him literally (Job 1:8).

This is just a rehashing of Pelagius’ error. Both Pelagius and Julian of Eclanum cited Job as an example of a person who was perfectly holy before the law. But Augustine, in Section 12 of Book 2 of “The Punishment and Forgiveness of Sins,” denies that Job was sinless (and more expressly in section 14).

The statement, therefore, “He that is born of God sinneth not,”[1 John 3:9] is not contrary to the passage in which it is declared by those who are born of God, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”[1 John 1:8] For however complete may be a man’s present hope, and however real may be his renewal by spiritual regeneration in that part of his nature, he still, for all that, carries about a body which is corrupt, and which presses down his soul; and so long as this is the case, one must distinguish even in the same individual the relation and source of each several action. Now, I suppose it is not easy to find in God’s Scripture so weighty a testimony of holiness given of any man as that which is written of His three servants, Noah, Daniel, and Job, whom the Prophet Ezekiel describes as the only men able to be delivered from God’s impending wrath.[Ezekiel 14:14] In these three men he no doubt prefigures three classes of mankind to be delivered: in Noah, as I suppose, are represented righteous leaders of nations, by reason of his government of the ark as a type of the Church; in Daniel, men who are righteous in continence; in Job, those who are righteous in wedlock;—to say nothing of any other view of the passage, which it is unnecessary now to consider. It is, at any rate, clear from this testimony of the prophet, and from other inspired statements, how eminent were these worthies in righteousness. Yet no man must be led by their history to say, for instance, that drunkenness is not sin, although so good a man was overtaken by it; for we read that Noah was once drunk,[Genesis 9:21] but God forbid that it should be thought that he was an habitual drunkard.


But let us see what Job has to say of himself, after God’s great testimony of his righteousness. “I know of a truth,” he says, “that it is so: for how shall a mortal man be just before the Lord? For if He should enter into judgment with him, he would not be able to obey Him.”[Job 9:2-3] And shortly afterwards he asks: “Who shall resist His judgment? Even if I should seem righteous, my mouth will speak profanely.”[Job 9:19-20] And again, further on, he says: “I know He will not leave me unpunished. But since I am ungodly, why have I not died? If I should wash myself with snow, and be purged with clean hands, thou hadst thoroughly stained me with filth.”[Job 9:30] In another of his discourses he says: “For Thou hast written evil things against me, and hast compassed me with the sins of my youth; and Thou hast placed my foot in the stocks. Thou hast watched all my works, and hast inspected the soles of my feet, which wax old like a bottle, or like a moth-eaten garment. For man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of wrath; like a flower that hath bloomed, so doth he fall; he is gone like a shadow, and continueth not. Hast Thou not taken account even of him, and caused him to enter into judgment with Thee? For who is pure from uncleanness? Not even one; even should his life last but a day.”[Job 13:26 – 14:5] Then a little afterwards he says: “Thou hast numbered all my necessities; and not one of my sins hath escaped Thee. Thou hast sealed up my transgressions in a bag, and hast marked whatever I have done unwillingly.”[Job 14:16-17] See how Job, too, confesses his sins, and says how sure he is that there is none righteous before the Lord. So he is sure of this also, that if we say we have no sin, the truth is not in us. While, therefore, God bestows on him His high testimony of righteousness, according to the standard of human conduct, Job himself, taking his measure from that rule of righteousness, which, as well as he can, he beholds in God, knows of a truth that so it is; and he goes on at once to say, “How shall a mortal man be just before the Lord? For if He should enter into judgment with him, he would not be able to obey Him;” in other words, if, when challenged to judgment, he wished to show that nothing could be found in him which He could condemn, “he would not be able to obey him,” since he misses even that obedience which might enable him to obey Him who teaches that sins ought to be confessed. Accordingly [the Lord] rebukes certain men, saying, “Why will ye contend with me in judgment?”[Jeremiah 2:29] This [the Psalmist] averts, saying, “Enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.”[Psalm 143:2] In accordance with this, Job also asks: “For who shall resist his judgment? Even if I should seem righteous, my mouth will speak profanely;” which means: If, contrary to His judgment, I should call myself righteous, when His perfect rule of righteousness proves me to be unrighteous, then of a truth my mouth would speak profanely, because it would speak against the truth of God.


Steve Ray continued:

Romans is also discussing that it is not only the Gentiles that have sinned but also the Jews. All can be a collective of peoples. “You Jews think you are righteous because you are of Abraham? You think only the Gentiles are in sin. No, all have sinned, Gentile and Jew alike”

Yes, “all” can have that sense. But the “there is none righteous, no not one” does not have a similar semantic range.

Steve Ray continued:

This is born out in Psalm 14 from where Rom 3:9 (parallel passage to Rom 3:23) is quoted. Here is says, Psalm 14:2–3 “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.”

This doesn’t support the previous assertion that this is just about “both Jews and Gentiles.”

Steve Ray continued:

Yet immediately following we find that God has his righteous. Psalm 14:5–6 ”There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is his refuge.”

This refers to those who are justified by faith, not those who are immaculately sinless.

Psalm 14:7 “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the Lord bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.”

The “righteous” people Steve Ray is pointing to are those in captivity in a foreign land for their sins!

Steve Ray continued:

As a Baptist I used to use the Bible often for proof-texts and sound bites. Scripture is much more subtle than that. It is our tradition, whether Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, etc., that guides us in our approach to Scripture. The real question is, which tradition will you allow to direct your interpretation and study? I chose the tradition that was practiced from the first century until today – which is Catholic.

Of course, people’s traditions can interfere with letting the text of Scripture speak for itself. We should not glory in that, but seek to minimize the effect of our traditions, allowing the text to speak for itself.

That said, the fathers writings are valuable. I happen to have two patristic commentaries on Psalms in front of me. On Psalm 14, Augustine (354–430) says:

There is no one who does anything good, no, not even to the very last one. This expression, not even to the very last one, can either be understood as including that particular one, which would mean nobody at all, or it can be taken to mean “with the exception of one,” indicating the Lord Christ … This latter interpretation is the better one, because nobody is deemed to have done anything good right down to Christ, because nobody can unless Christ himself has shown how.

(Expositions on the Psalms, Psalm 1-32, at Psalm 13[14]:1, The Works of St. Augustine, a Translation for the 21st Century, p. 175, trans. Maria Boulding, OSB)

Likewise, Cassiodorus (c. 485 – c. 585) states:

They are corrupt because in abandoning the sanity of the Scriptures they have demonstrably fallen into sinful thoughts. … There is none that doth good But what about the patriarchs? Did Noah not do good when he was obedient to the Lord’s commands, and entered the ark to be saved? …. Even today through the Lord’s kindness good things are done through the action of just men. But so that this denial may become wholly meaningful to you, ponder the words that follow: None, even to one. In fact that only One is Christ, without whom human weakness has not the strength either to begin or complete any good thing. So the statement was justified that no man can do good unless through His mercy we have gained Christ. When we reach Him and do not abandon Him, every good is undoubtedly performed.

(Explanation of the Psalms, Vol. 1, at Psalm 13[14]:1, Ancient Christian Writers, vol. 51, p. 150)

Before posting, I thought I would check the catena found in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series. There I found some interesting words from Asterius the Homilist (4th/5th century):

“There is no one who speaks good,” when all the disciples fled as they abandoned him. John ran off naked. Peter denied him, the disciples fled, the spear of doubt pierced the soul of Mary. There was no one who showed the fruit of love in his suffering. … Even after his death, the soldier pierced his side. … Surely he has visited us and wants to save, but none desires to be shown the medicine.

(Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Psalms 1-50, at Psalm 14:1, pp. 110-11, ellipses in ACCS, for discussion of Asterius’ Nicene credentials, see Wolfram Kinzig’s “In Search of Asterius: Studies on the Authorship of the Homilies on the Psalms”)

So far from supporting Steve Rays “Jews and Gentiles” interpretation, Asterius even apparently ascribes sinful doubt to Mary!

I’m sure Steve Ray is very much enamored with traditions, but his traditions are not as ancient as he supposes. He ought rather to follow the still more ancient traditions of the apostles, who were inspired by God to inscripturate the revelation given to them. If he had done that, he could avoid the corruption of those who abandon the sanity of Scripture and fall into the sinful thought of ascribing sinless perfection and immaculate conception to Mary.



Pelagianism Examined by William Cunningham

August 10, 2011

A friend of mine (who will remain anonymous), recently brought to my attention the following excerpt from William Cunningham, Historical Theology, vol. 1, Sec. III.—Conversion—Sovereign and Efficacious Grace (all that follows is Cunningham, not me)

The controversy between Augustine and his opponents turned, as we have said, to a large extent, upon the nature and import, the necessity, grounds, and results of that grace of God, which, in some sense, was universally admitted to be manifested in preparing men for heaven. That a certain character, and a certain mode of acting, in obedience to God’s law, were in fact necessary, in order to men’s attaining final happiness, and that men were in some sense indebted to God’s grace or favour for realizing this, was universally conceded. It was conceded by Pelagius and his immediate followers, and it is conceded by modern Socinians; but then the explanation which these parties gave of this grace of God, which they professed to admit, made grace to be no grace, and practically made men, and not God, the authors of their own salvation, which the Socinians, consistently enough, guarantee at length to all men. With the original Pelagians and the modern Socinians, the grace of God, by which men are, in this life, led to that mode of acting which, in fact, stands connected with their welfare in the next,—(for even Socinians commonly admit some punishment of wicked men in the future world, though they regard it as only temporary),—consists in these two things: First, the powers and capacities with which He has endowed man’s nature, and which are possessed by all men as they come into the world, along with that general assistance which He gives in His ordinary providence, in upholding and aiding them in their own exercise and improvement of these powers and capacities; and, secondly, in the revelation which He has given them to guide and direct them, and in the providential circumstances in which He may have placed them. This view of the grace of God, of course, assumes the non-existence of any such moral corruption attaching to men, as implies any inability on their part, in any sense, to obey the will of God, or to do what He requires of them; and, in accordance with this view of what man is and can do, ascribes to him a power of doing by his own strength, and without any special supernatural, divine assistance, all that is necessary for his ultimate welfare. This view is too flatly contradictory to the plain statements of Scripture, and especially to what we are told there concerning the agency of the Holy Ghost, to have been ever very generally admitted by men who professed to receive the Bible as the word of God; and, accordingly, there has been a pretty general recognition of the necessity, in addition to whatever powers or capacities God may have given to men, and whatever aids or facilities of an external or objective kind He may have afforded them, of a subjective work upon them through special supernatural agency; and the question, whether particular individuals or bodies of men were involved more or less in the errors of semi-Pelagianism, or taught the true doctrine of Scripture, is, in part, to be determined by the views which they have maintained concerning the nature, character, and results of this special supernatural agency of God, in fitting men for the enjoyment of His own presence.

Even the original Pelagians admitted the existence of supernatural gracious influences exerted by God upon men; but then they denied that they were necessary in order to the production of any of those things which accompany salvation, and held that when bestowed they merely enabled men to attain them more easily than they could have done without them; while they also explicitly taught that men merited them, or received them ^as the meritorious reward of their previous improvement of their own natural powers. An assertion of the necessity of a supernatural gracious work of God upon men’s moral nature, in order to the production of what is, in point of fact, indispensable to their salvation, has been usually regarded as necessary to entitle men to the designation of semi-Pelagians,—a designation which comprehends all who, while admitting the necessity of a supernatural work of God, come short of the full scriptural views of the pounds of this necessity, and of the source, character, and results of the work itself. The original Pelagian system upon this point is intelligible and definite, and so is the scriptural system of Augustine; while any intermediate view, whether it may or may not be what can, with historical correctness, be called semi-Pelagianism, is marked by obscurity and confusion. Leaving out of view the proper Pelagian or Socinian doctrine upon this subject, and confining our attention to the scriptural system of Augustine on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to those confused and indefinite notions which fall short of it, though not to such an extent as the doctrines of the Pelagians and the Socinians, we would remark that it is conceded upon both sides: First, that before men are admitted into heaven they must repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and lead thereafter a life of new obedience; and, secondly, that men have a moral nature so far tainted by depravity, that this indispensable process cannot in any instance be carried through without a supernatural gracious work of God’s Spirit upon them.

These two propositions embody most important and fundamental truths, clearly and fully taught in Scripture, and essential to a right comprehension of the way of salvation. Men who deny them may be justly regarded as refusing to submit to the authority of God’s word, and as rejecting the counsel of God against themselves; while, on the other hand, men who honestly and intelligently receive them, though coming short of the whole scriptural truth in expounding and applying them, may be regarded as maintaining all that is fundamental upon this subject; by which I mean,—in accordance with the common Protestant doctrine of fundamentals as brought out in the controversy with the Church of Rome,—that some men who have held nothing more than this have afforded satisfactory evidence that they themselves were born again of the word of God, and have been honoured as the instruments of converting others through the preaching of the gospel. But while this is true, and ought not to be forgotten, it is of at least equal importance to observe, that many who have professed to receive these two propositions in the general terms in which we have stated them, have given too good ground to believe that this professed reception of them was decidedly defective either in integrity or in intelligence,—have so explained them, or rather explained them away, as to deprive them of all real meaning and efficacy, and practically to establish the power of man to save himself, and to prepare for heaven, upon the ruins of the free grace of God, which is manifested just as fully in the sanctification as in the justification of sinners. And hence the importance and necessity of clearly and definitely understanding what is the scriptural truth upon these subjects, lest we should be deceived by vague and indefinite plausibilities, which seem to establish the grace of God, while they in fact destroy it. Defective and erroneous views upon this subject are usually connected with defective and erroneous views in regard to the totality of the moral corruption which attaches to men by nature, and of their consequent inability to do anything that is really spiritually good. It is manifest that any error or defect in men’s views upon this subject will naturally and necessarily lead to erroneous and defective views of the nature, character, and results of that gracious work of God, by which man is led to will and to do what is good and well-pleasing in His sight.

When those who admit in general the necessity of a gracious work of God’s Spirit upon men, in order to their repenting and believing the gospel, have yet erroneous and defective views upon the subject of divine grace, they usually manifest this by magnifying the power or influence of the truth or word of God,—by underrating the difficulty of repenting and believing,—by ascribing to men some remains of moral power for effecting these results, and some real and proper activity in the work of turning to God,— and hy representing the work of God’s Spirit as consisting chiefly, if not exclusively, in helping to impress the truth upon men’s minds, or, more generally, rendering some aid or assistance to the original powers of man, and to the efforts which he makes. It is by such notions as these, though often very obscurely developed, insinuated rather than asserted, and sometimes mixed up with much that seems sound and scriptural, that the true doctrine of tbe gracious work of God in the conversion of sinners has been often undermined and altogether overthrown. These men have, more or less distinctly, confounded the word or the truth—which is merely the dead instrument—with the Spirit, who is the real agent, or efficient cause of the whole process. They have restricted the gracious work of the Spirit to the illumination of men’s understandings through the instrumentality of the truth, as if their will did not require to be renewed, and as if all that was needful was that men should be aided intellectually to perceive what was their true state and condition by nature, and what provision had been made for their salvation in Christ, and then they would certainly repent and believe as a matter of course, without needing specially to have the enmity of their hearts to God and His truth subdued. They have represented the gracious work of the Spirit chiefly, if not exclusively, as co-operating with men, ind aiding them in the work for which they have some natural capacity, though not enough to produce of themselves the necessary result, as if there was little or no need of preventing or prevenient grace, or grace going before, in order that man may work or act at all in believing and turning to God. These men are usually very anxious to represent faith in Jesus Christ as to some extent the work of men’s own powers, the result of their own principles; and Augustine admits that he had some difficulty in satisfying himself for a time that faith was really and properly the gift of God, and was wrought in men by the operation of His Spirit, though this doctrine is very plainly and explicitly taught in Scripture. Much pains have been taken to explain how natural and easy saving faith is, to reduce it to great simplicity, to bring it down as it were to the level of the lowest capacity,—sometimes with better and more worthy motives, but sometimes also, we fear, in order to diminish, if not to exclude, the necessity of a supernatural preventing work of God’s Spirit in producing it. And then, as repentance and conversion, as well as the whole process of sanctification, are beyond all doubt inseparably connected with the belief of the gospel, the way is thus paved for ascribing to man himself some share in the work of his deliverance from, depravity, and his preparation for heaven.

One of the most subtle forms of the various attempts which have been made to obscure the work of God’s Spirit in this matter, is that which represents faith as being antecedent—in the order of nature at least, though not of time—to the introduction or implantation of spiritual life into the soul of man, dead in sins and trespasses. This notion is founded upon these two grounds: first, upon a misapprehension of the full import of the scriptural doctrine, that man is dead in sin,—as if this death in sin, while implying a moral inability directly to love God, and to give true spiritual obedience, to His law, did not equally imply a moral inability to apprehend aright divine truth, and to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; and, secondly, upon a misapplication or perversion of the scriptural principle, that men are born again of the word of God through the belief of the truth,—as if this, while no doubt implying that the truth has been effectually brought to bear upon the mind before the process of being born again has been completed, so that the man is in the full exercise of new spiritual life, implied, moreover, that this efficacious operation of the truth must precede, in the order of nature, the whole work by ‘which the Spirit originates the process of vivification; and the object and tendency of this notion, based upon these two grounds, are to produce the impression that men, through believing, are able to do something towards making themselves, or at least towards becoming, spiritually alive, and thereby superseding to some extent the necessity of a supernatural work of God’s Spirit in a point of primary and vital importance, intimately connected with the salvation of men. Man is dead in sin; the making him alive, the restoring him to life, is represented in Scripture as, in every part of the process, from its commencement to its conclusion, the work of God’s Spirit. The instrumentality of the truth or the word is, indeed, employed in the process; but in the nature of the case, and in accordance with what is clearly taught in Scripture, there must, antecedently—at least in the order of nature, though not of time—to the truth being so brought to bear upon men’s minds as to produce instrumentally any of its appropriate effects, be a work of God’s Spirit, whereby spiritual life is implanted, and a capacity of perceiving and submitting to the truth, which had been hitherto rejected, is communicated,—a capacity which, indeed, previously existed, so far as concerns the mere intellectual framework of man’s mental constitution—the mere psychological faculties which he possesses as being still a man, though fallen—but which was practically useless because of the entire bondage or servitude of his will, which required to be renewed, and could be renewed only by the immediate agency of God’s Spirit.

Steve Hays on "Pelagian Calvinism"

February 26, 2009

Steve Hays has provided an in-depth response to Perry Robinson’s mischaracterization of Calvinism as “Pelagian.” (link)


Response to Jay Dyer on Calvinism (Part 8 of 13)

February 11, 2009

This is part 8 of the thirteen part series in response to Jay Dyer. The previous part may be found here (link).

Jay Dyer says:

7) “[A consistent Calvinist must be] A Pelagian, in that you have the same view of pre-lapsarian man as Pelagius, and what must be lost is human nature, because nature is grace.”

I answer:

a) The Calvinist Position (whether right doctrine or error let Scripture decide)

Calvinism teaches that Adam was created upright (Genesis 1:31 and Genesis 5:1), although we must be careful not to speculate excessively over Adam’s psyche given the limited Scriptural discussion of the subject. However, Adam fell and the race was cursed because of his sin (“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” Romans 5:12). Grace overcomes our fallen nature (“Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” Ephesians 2:5), so that salvation is by grace, not works (“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” Romans 11:6). Thus, sin reigned to death, but grace reigns to eternal life (“That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 5:21).

Also, see 2(a) previously posted.

A quotation from Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology may be helpful at to explain part of the grace/nature distinction:

Distinction between the Providential Efficiency of God and the Influences of the Holy Spirit
3. The providential agency of God in the government of free agents is not to be confounded with the operations of his grace. These two things are constantly represented in the Bible as distinct. The one is natural, the other supernatural. In the one God acts according to uniform laws, or by his potentia ordinata in the other, according to the good pleasure of his will, or by his potentia absoluta. The control which God exercises over the ordinary acts of men, and especially over the wicked, is analogous to that which He exercises in the guidance of material causes; whereas his agency in the operations of his grace is more analogous to his mode of action in prophecy, inspiration, and miracles. In the former, or in his providential agency over minds, nothing is effected which transcends the efficiency of second causes. In the latter the effects are such as second causes are utterly inadequate to accomplish. The most obvious points of difference between the two cases are,
(1.) In the ordinary operations or acts of free agents, the ability to perform them belongs to the agent and arises out of his nature as a rational creature, and is inseparable from it; whereas the acts of faith, repentance, and other holy affections do not flow from the ability of men in the present condition of their nature, but from a new principle of life supernaturally communicated and maintained.
(2.) The ordinary acts of men, and especially their wicked acts, are determined by their own natural inclinations and feelings. God does not awaken or infuse those feelings or dispositions in order to determine sinners to act wickedly. On the other hand, all gracious or holy affections are thus infused or excited by the Spirit of God.
(3.) The providential government of God over free agents is exercised as much in accordance with the laws of mind, as his providential government over the material world is in accordance with the established laws of matter. Both belong to the potentia ordinata or ordered efficiency of God. This is not the case in the operations of his grace. Holy affections and exercises are not due to the mere moral power of the truth, or its control over our natural affections, but to the indwelling of the Spirit of God. So that it is not we that live but Christ that liveth in us. It is indeed our life, but it is a life divine in its origin, and sustained and guided in all its exercises by a higher influence than the laws of mind, or an influence which operates merely through them, and according to their natural operations. This distinction between nature and grace, between the providential efficiency of God and the workings of his Spirit in the hearts of his people is one of the most important in all theology. It makes all the difference between Augustinianism and Pelagianism between Rationalism and supernatural evangelical religion.

b) The Accusation Disputed

Pelagius was a heretic that opposed Augustine. Pelagius’ primary error was denying the necessity of grace – he consequently also denied the sufficiency of grace. Calvinists affirm the necessity of grace, and it is a central aspect of Calvinism to affirm the necessity of grace.

Furthermore, another error of Pelagian was in arguing that people (other than Christ himself) are born without sin. Calvinism, however, affirms the Total Depravity of fallen mankind, making Original Sin a doctrine of central importance in Calvinism. Thus, no consistent Calvinist could be a Pelagian. Any superficial similarity between Calvinism and Pelagius with respect to the state of Adam before the fall would be a trivial matter.

c) The Accusation Redirected

Sadly, rather than being Augustinian, Rome’s view of man is semi-Pelagian: affirming the necessity of grace (against Pelagius) but denying its sufficiency. While there are certainly many areas where Calvinists today would find fault with Augustine, on the Pelagian controversy, Calvinists are happy to view Augustine as providing an excellent and Scriptural defense of the truth that God’s grace is both necessary for salvation, and sufficient to guarantee salvation for the elect of God. Furthermore, Rome holds to the position (to which we cannot find early documented support than Pelagius) that Jesus was not alone in being immaculately conceived, but that Mary was likewise immaculately conceived.


(Peter Leithart, who I am not endorsing by posting this link, has an interesting related post on Turretin and Pelagius at the link.)

Continue to Part 9

Five Points Compared to a Few Soteriologies

December 5, 2008

For those interested, I thought it would fun to provide a tableshowing acceptance of TULIP’s various petals (T = Total Depravity, U =Unconditional Election, L = Limited Atonement, I = Irresistible Grace,P = Perseverance of the Saints).

Pelagian No No No No No
Pelagian ES No No No No Yes
Arminian Yes* No No No No*
Arminian ES No No No No Yes
Amyraldian Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Calvinism Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

There is an asterisk by two items in the Arminian chart. The first asterisk is because many Arminians claim to hold to Total Depravity.What they mean by that is not what Calvinists mean by it, though,hence the asterisk. The second asterisk is because some Arminians reject, some affirm, and some leave open the question of whether true believers persevere. The “ES” stands for “eternal security.” Oddly,some Pelagians hold to eternal security.-TurretinFan

Premature Exultation – Semi-Augustinianism

March 18, 2008

David Waltz seems excited by a quotation from R.C. Sproul regarding labeling Roman Catholic doctrine.

Waltz writes: “The fact that the Catholic Church maintains that it is impossible to accept the gospel without grace (gratia praeveniens), this separates Her teaching from “all forms of semi-Pelagianism”; instead, embracing “moderate-Augustinianism, or of what might be called Semi-Augustinianism, in distinction from Semi-Pelagianism.”” (first quotation is from Sproul, second quotation is from Schaff, and the emphasis was provided by Waltz) (source)

Waltz’s exultation at being distinguished from “all forms of semi-Pelagianism,” is a bit premature. You see, Sproul – like the others we’ve examined (link) (link) – is careful to distinguish between Augustine’s correct position and Rome’s incorrect position – although I do not think that Sproul was necessarily thinking of Rome in the discussion he was conducting.

What one wishes to call the position is the wrapper: Semi-Augustinian with Sproul or Schaff (in his narrowest sense, see here, for example); Semi-Semi-Pelagian with Warfield; or Semi-Pelagian with Schaff (in the broadest sense in which he uses the term). The content inside the wrapper is the problem: the erroneous position of Rome. It’s not wrong because it disagrees with Augustine, of course. It’s not wrong because it leans toward Peliagius, either. It’s wrong because it disagrees with Scripture, as noted here (link).


Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and Semi-semi-Pelagianism

March 10, 2008

B. B. Warfield described the infiltration of Pelagian error in partial form this way:

But, as we have been told that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, so the Church soon found that religion itself can be retained only at the cost of perpetual struggle. Pelagianism died hard; or rather it did not die at all, but only retired more or less out of sight and bided its time; meanwhile vexing the Church with modified forms of itself, modified just enough to escape the letter of the Church’s condemnation. Into the place of Pelagianism there stepped at once Semi-pelagianism; and when the controversy with Semi-pelagianism had been fought and won, into the place of Semi-pelagianism there stepped that semi-semi-pelagianism which the Council of Orange betrayed the Church into, the genius of an Aquinas systematized for her, and the Council of Trent finally fastened with rivets of iron upon that portion of the Church which obeyed it. The necessity of grace had been acknowledged as the result of the Pelagian controversy: its preveniency, as the result of the Semi-pelagian controversy: but its certain efficacy, its “irresistibility” men call it, was by the fatal compromise of Orange denied, and thus the conquering march of Augustinianism was checked and the pure confession of salvation by grace alone made forever impossible within that section of the Church whose proud boast is that it is semper eadem. It was no longer legally possible, indeed, within the limits of the Church to ascribe to man, with the Pelagian, the whole of salvation; nor even, with the Semi-pelagian, the initiation of salvation. But neither was it any longer legally possible to ascribe salvation so entirely to the grace of God that it could complete itself without the aid of the discredited human will—its aid only as empowered and moved by prevenient grace indeed, but not effectually moved, so that it could not hold back and defeat the operations of saving grace.

The Plan of Salvation, Autosoterism, pp. 41-42


In a previous post, I provided a broad and reasonable definition of Semi-pelagianism from someone who cannot be considered an historical slouch. Nevertheless, in fairness to those who would prefer to define things a bit differently, I provide this alternative explanation. Under this explanation, obviously, the error described in this earlier post as “semi-Pelagian” would be described by Warfield as semi-semi-Pelagian. However, as I mentioned in that post, the point was not the label.

To summarize, in the set of definitions by Warfield:

Pelagianism Denies:

1. The sufficiency of grace;
2. The necessity of initial grace; and
3. The general necessity of grace.

Semi-Pelagianism Denies:

1. The sufficiency of grace; and
2. The necessity of initial grace.

Semi-semi-Pelagianism Denies:

1. The sufficiency of grace.

In contrast,

We (the Reformed) view each of these positions as deficient. By affirming sola gratia, we affirm the general necessity of grace, the necessity of initial grace, and the sufficiency of grace.


P.S. For more on the broader definition of Synergism generally as a species of Semi-Pelagianism broadly defined, see here: (link).

%d bloggers like this: