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.

He believed man’s choices were not rooted in his moral character, but rather in his free and independent choices.

To Pelagius, sin or obedience was always a free choice of the will.

NOTE: Many in the modern church would uphold Pelagius, which demonstrates a huge lack in the modern understanding of the nature of man.

It was actually a prayer of Augustine which caused Pelagius to take up this issue.

Augustine’s famous prayer went as follows:

“Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire.”

Pelagius was opposed to the idea that a divine gift was required for man to follow God’s commands.

Again, for Pelagius, responsibility IMPLIED ability.

This opposition was the impetus for what became a foundational debate.

The Augustinian Position of the Will

So, what was it about Augustine’s position that Pelagius found so objectionable, and furthermore, was he correct?

As stated, Augustine taught that the nature of man’s will is not one of absolute freedom, but rather it is bound to sin and requires an act of God’s grace to be able to obey Him.

This belief is rooted in the doctrine called Original Sin.

Original Sin is the belief that Adam’s sin affected not just him alone, but that it affects all of his descendants.

QUOTE: Dr. R.C. Sproul “Augustine's view of the Fall was opposed to both Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. He said that mankind is a massa peccati, a "mess of sin," incapable of raising itself from spiritual death. For Augustine man can no more move or incline himself to God than an empty glass can fill itself. For Augustine the initial work of divine grace by which the soul is liberated from the bondage of sin is sovereign and operative. To be sure we cooperate with this grace, but only after the initial divine work of liberation.”

Augustine did not deny that man was able to make choices in accordance to his desires.

The problem was that his desires were in bondage to sin.

He stated that man had a “free will” (Liberium Arbitrium).

But that man had lost his moral liberty (Libertas).

If man were truly free, he could simply choose not to sin; but yet because he is not able to not sin, he is not truly free.

There is something inherently wrong with the nature of man.

B.B. Warfield is noted to have said, “It is Augustine who gave us the Reformation.”

If we look to the Reformation, we see that Luther was an Augustinian Monk, and Calvin quoted from Augustine more than any other theologian.

But that was not the only reason for Warfield’s remark.

The Reformation was profoundly influenced by the Augustinian view of of the nature of man, and it was a triumph of his teachings in regard to the necessity and sufficiency of the grace of God.

Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism

There are few today who would admit to being absolutely Pelagian in their thinking.

The idea that man is unaffected by the fall is absolute heresy and anyone who reads the scripture honestly would never come to such a conclusion.

It is the result of the philosophy of men, not the exegesis of the text of Scripture.

However, the majority report in the modern church is not Augustinianism, but instead is something often referred to as “Semi-Pelagianism”.

Semi-Pelagianism does not deny that man’s will has been affected by the fall.

It also does not reject the necessity of grace for a person to be able to seek after righteousness.

Where Semi-Pelagianism divides from Augustinianism is that it contends that there remains in man a moral ability to respond positively to God.

In essence, they say that grace is necessary, but that it is not necessarily effective.

Grace only becomes effective when the sinner cooperates with it by an exercise of his own will.

So the Pelagian says grace is not necessary.

The Semi-Pelagian says grace is necessary, but not sufficient.

You may have heard preachers who say, “God does 99%, but you have to do your 1%”.

That statement is the essence of Semi-Pelagianism.

Semi-Pelagianism says the will is affected, but not so affected that it cannot respond positively to God.

Augustine taught that we are so affected by the fall that apart from grace, we are absolutely unable to respond positively to God.

The Council of Orange

When we say the Council of Orange, we are actually talking about the “second” council.

The first council was mainly convened to deal with disciplinary matters.

The second council, held in AD529, was by far more important than the first.

The reason for the Council of Orange was not meant to deal with Pelagianism.

It was actually meant to deal with the rise in Semi-Pelagianism.

Pelagianism was a known and recognized heresy.

But the issue of Semi-Pelagianism was becoming more prominent and needed to be responded to.

The Council established 25 Canons in regard to the will of man.

We would not affirm all of them absolutely, but when we look at them we can see how they were so profoundly influential to the establishment of the theology of men like Luther and Calvin.

Where the council really “gets it right”, it gets it VERY right!

We will not be able to read all 25 canons, so I have chosen a few which I feel most adequately describe the focus of the council.

CANON 1. If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was "changed for the worse" through the offense of Adam's sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture which says, "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:20); and, "Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey?" (Rom. 6:126); and, "For whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved" (2 Pet. 2:19).

CANON 2. If anyone asserts that Adam's sin affected him alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he declares that it is only the death of the body which is the punishment for sin, and not also that sin, which is the death of the soul, passed through one man to the whole human race, he does injustice to God and contradicts the Apostle, who says, "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned" (Rom. 5:12).

CANON 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1).

CANON 4. If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, "The will is prepared by the Lord" (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).

Canon 5 has some issues, but also some powerful proclamations; we can see in it the false view of Baptismal Regeneration.

CANON 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith, by which we believe in Him who justifies the ungodly and comes to the regeneration of holy baptism -- if anyone says that this belongs to us by nature and not by a gift of grace, that is, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit amending our will and turning it from unbelief to faith and from godlessness to godliness, it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles, for blessed Paul says, "And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). For those who state that the faith by which we believe in God is natural make all who are separated from the Church of Christ by definition in some measure believers.

CANON 8. If anyone maintains that some are able to come to the grace of baptism by mercy but others through free will, which has manifestly been corrupted in all those who have been born after the transgression of the first man, it is proof that he has no place in the true faith. For he denies that the free will of all men has been weakened through the sin of the first man, or at least holds that it has been affected in such a way that they have still the ability to seek the mystery of eternal salvation by themselves without the revelation of God. The Lord himself shows how contradictory this is by declaring that no one is able to come to him "unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44), as he also says to Peter, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 16:17), and as the Apostle says, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3).

I truly wish we had time to read and discuss all of the 25 canons, and I do encourage you to look them up and read them; there is a lot of profound wisdom found within them.

I would like to read one more portion, which is a part of the conclusion of the Canons.

“The sin of the first man has so impaired and weakened free will that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought or believe in God or do good for God's sake, unless the grace of divine mercy has preceded him. We therefore believe that the glorious faith which was given to Abel the righteous, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and to all the saints of old, and which the Apostle Paul commends in extolling them (Heb. 11), was not given through natural goodness as it was before to Adam, but was bestowed by the grace of God. And we know and also believe that even after the coming of our Lord this grace is not to be found in the free will of all who desire to be baptized, but is bestowed by the kindness of Christ, as has already been frequently stated and as the Apostle Paul declares, "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake" (Phil. 1:29). And again, "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And again, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and it is not your own doing, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8). And as the Apostle says of himself, "I have obtained mercy to be faithful" (1 Cor. 7:25, cf. 1 Tim. 1:13). He did not say, "because I was faithful," but "to be faithful." And again, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7). And again, "Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (Jas. 1:17). And again, "No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven" (John 3:27).

There are innumerable passages of holy scripture which can be quoted to prove the case for grace, but they have been omitted for the sake of brevity, because further examples will not really be of use where few are deemed sufficient.

This document is admittedly not perfect, but we can see how important it was in establishing the teachings of Augustine over and above those of Pelagius and the Semi-Pelagians.

CONCLUSION: Often it is accused of people who teach Reformed Theology that we have an unbalanced fascination with the sovereignty of God.

The reality is that most people have an unbalanced fascination with the freedom of man.

They hold human freedom to be the absolute foundation for all truth.

“What about free will?” is a very common objection when people hear the truths of reformed theology.

The absolute adherence to the belief in an autonomous free will is a falsehood which has been denounced by the ancient church, and should continue to be denounced today.

When we believe that man can contribute anything, even 1% to his relationship with God, we have ultimately denied the Scripture which says that the flesh profits nothing (John 6:63).

Dr. R.C. Sproul “We have not broken free from the Pelagian captivity of the church.”

As long as men want to believe that they in some way contribute to their salvation, we will remain in this captivity.

Until we realize that even the very desire to trust in God comes from God Himself, we will never understand what is so amazing about His grace.