Summary: The debate between Pelagius and Augustine was over the nature of man and the sin of Adam. The Second Council of Orange condemned even partially holding to the views of Pelagius. This message examines why.
Church History: Examining the Creeds and Confessions of the Church Through the Ages and Why They Matter.
Lesson 7: The Council of Orange (AD529)
So far, in our study of church history we have seen:
An overview of the last 2,000 years of church history.
The creeds which are found within the Bible itself.
The early church documents called the Didache and the Apostles’ Creed.
The Council of Nicea and the Nicene Creed in AD325.
The Council and Confession of Chalcedon in AD451.
The Athanasian Creed.
Tonight, we are going to examine the Second Council of Orange and its results.
Some might wonder why I would add a study of the Second Council of Orange in this study of church history, especially seeing that it is not regarded as an ecumenical council, but was rather a local council.
The reason for its inclusion in this study is because it underscores an issue which was being debated in this period in history, namely the autonomy of the human will.
The goal will be to not focus so much on the council, but rather on the debate itself which began much earlier than the council.
The issue at stake is whether or not the sin of Adam has affected the moral abilities of his descendants, and just how affected they are.
Where the first few hundred years dealt primarily with the nature of God and the nature of Christ, this debate deals primarily with the nature of man.
The Background of the Council
Many years before this council convened, there was a major theological dispute within the church in regard to the nature of man.
The primary men in this debate were Pelagius and Augustine.
Pelagius was born in Britain in AD354.
He went on to become a monk and he lived in Rome.
Because of his teachings on the nature of the human will, he was excommunicated from the church at the Council of Carthage in 416 with the support of Pope Innocent I.
After that Pope died, Pelagius appealed to his successor Pope Zosimus, who wrote an encyclical affirming the teachings of Pelagius as Orthodox.
Pelagius’s teachings were later condemned again at a second Council at Carthage in AD418.
The primary opposition to Pelagius was Augustine.
Augustine is a man who has had volumes written about his life.
To express the entirety of his influence on the church would be impossible in this one short lesson.
He was born on November 13, 354 in North Africa.
His mother, Monica, was a devout Christian and his father Patricius was an official in the Roman Administration who converted to Christianity later in life.
The story of Augustine’s amazing conversion to Christianity was recounted by Augustine himself.
He said that he heard a child’s voice singing “Tolle Lege, Tolle Lege” which means “Take up and read”.
He considered this to be a divine command, and so he went to the Bible and the first thing he came to was Paul’s letter to the Romans.
In particular, one portion caught his attention.
“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:13-14)
This passage had a profound impact on Augustine, and would lead ultimately to his conversion and pursuit of ministry.
He had lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time in his youth, dabbling in paganism and many other types of errant philosophies.
This passage was clear that the right path was not the one which led to sensuality, but rather the path which led to Christ.
Augustine would go on to become the Bishop of Hippo.
Hippo Regius is the ancient name of the modern city Annaba, in Algeria.
He would remain in that position until his death in AD430.
As noted, there was a serious theological divide between Pelagius and Augustine on the issue of the nature of the human will.
This issue which brought the division was based on the teachings of Pelagius regarding human autonomy.
Pelagius taught that Adam was created good and everything God creates is good.
As a result, he taught that every person is born morally neutral.
He believed that man is neither inclined to evil or good.
He also taught that man’s will is unchangeable, and it is not affected even after it sins; it essence, it remains morally neutral.
A person’s behavior may change, but his inherent nature has not changed.
Essentially, Pelagius taught that there is no inherent corruption in man.
Pelagius was convinced by the idea that God has commanded men to be righteous, and that God would not command that which is impossible.
In Pelagius’s view, “free will” meant the absolute equal ability to choose good or evil.