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Continuation of the Exposition of 1 Tim. vi. 20.
[60.] But let us return to the apostle. “O Timothy,” he says, “Guard the deposit, shunning profane novelties of words.” “Shun them as you would a viper, as you would a scorpion, as you would a basilisk, lest they smite you not only with their touch, but even with their eyes and breath.” What is “to shun”? Not even to eat502502 1 Cor. v. 11. with a person of this sort. What is “shun”? “If anyone,” says St. John, “come to you and bring not this doctrine.” What doctrine? What but the Catholic and universal doctrine, which has continued one and the same through the several successions of ages by the uncorrupt tradition of the truth and so will continue for ever—“Receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed, for he that biddeth him Godspeed communicates with him in his evil deeds.”503503 2 John 10.
[61.] “Profane novelties of words.” What words are these? Such as have nothing sacred, nothing religious, words utterly remote from the inmost sanctuary of the Church which is the temple of God. “Profane novelties of words, that is, of doctrines, subjects, opinions, such as are contrary to antiquity and the faith of the olden time. Which if they be received, it follows necessarily that the faith of the blessed fathers is violated either in whole, or at all events in great part; it follows necessarily that all the faithful of all ages, all the saints, the chaste, the continent, the virgins, all the clergy, Deacons and Priests, so many thousands of Confessors, so vast an army of martyrs, such multitudes of cities and of peoples, so many islands, provinces, kings, tribes, kingdoms, nations, in a word, almost the whole earth, incorporated in Christ the Head, through the Catholic faith, have been ignorant for so long a tract of time, have been mistaken, have blasphemed, have not known what to believe, what to confess.
[62.] “Shun profane novelties of
words,” which to receive and follow was never the part of
Catholics; of heretics always was. In sooth, what heresy ever burst
forth save under a definite name, at a definite place, at a definite
time? Who ever originated a heresy that did not first dissever himself
from the consentient agreement of the universality and antiquity of the
Catholic Church? That this is so is demonstrated in the clearest way by
examples. For who ever before that profane Pelagius504504 Pelagius, a monk, a
Briton by birth, resident in Rome, where by the strictness of his life
he had acquired a high reputation for sanctity, was led, partly perhaps
by opposition to St. Augustine’s teaching on the subject of
election and predestination, partly by indignation at the laxity of
professing Christians, who pleaded, in excuse for their low standard,
the weakness of human nature, to insist upon man’s natural power,
and to deny his need of divine grace.
Pelagius was joined by another monk, Cœlestius, a younger man, with whom about the year 410, the year in which Rome was taken by the Goths, he began to teach openly and in public what before he had held and taught in private. After the sack of Rome, the two friends passed over into Africa, and from thence Pelagius proceeded to Palestine, where he was in two separate synods acquitted of the charge of heresy which had been brought against him by Orosius, a Spanish monk, whom Augustine had sent for that purpose. But in 416, two African synods condemned his doctrine, and Zosimus bishop of Rome, whom he had appealed to, though he had set aside their decision, was eventually obliged to yield to the firmness with which they held their ground, and not only to condemn Pelagius, but to take stringent measures against his adherents. “In 418, another African synod of two hundred and fourteen bishops passed nine canons, which were afterwards generally accepted throughout the Church, and came to be regarded as the most important bulwark against Pelagianism.” The heresy was formally condemned, in 431, by the General Council of Ephesus. Canons 2 and 4.
The Pelagians denied the corruption of man’s nature, and the necessity of divine grace. They held that infants new-born are in the same state in which Adam was before his fall; that Adam’s sin injured no one but himself, and affected his posterity no other wise than by the evil example which it afforded; they held also that men may live without sin if they will and that some have so lived.
Those who were afterwards called semi-Pelagians (they belonged chiefly to the churches of Southern Gaul) were orthodox except in one particular: In their anxiety to justify, as they thought, God’s dealings with man, they held that the first step in the way of salvation must be from ourselves: we must ask that we may receive, seek that we may find, knock that it may be opened to us; thenceforward in every stage of the road, our strenuous efforts must be aided by divine grace. They did not understand, or did not grant, that to that same grace must be referred even the disposition to ask, to seek, to knock. See Prosper’s letter to Augustine, August. Opera, Tom. x.
The semi-Pelagian doctrine was condemned in the second Council of Orange (a.d. 529), the third and fifth canons of which are directed against it. attributed so much antecedent strength to Free-will, as to deny the necessity of God’s grace to aid it towards good in every 150single act? Who ever before his monstrous disciple Cœlestius denied that the whole human race is involved in the guilt of Adam’s sin? Who ever before sacrilegious Arius dared to rend asunder the unity of the Trinity? Who before impious Sabellius was so audacious as to confound the Trinity of the Unity? Who before cruellest Novatian represented God as cruel in that He had rather the wicked should die than that he should be converted and live? Who before Simon Magus, who was smitten by the apostle’s rebuke, and from whom that ancient sink of every thing vile has flowed by a secret continuous succession even to Priscillian of our own time,—who, I say, before this Simon Magus, dared to say that God, the Creator, is the author of evil, that is, of our wickednesses, impieties, flagitiousnesses, inasmuch as he asserts that He created with His own hands a human nature of such a description, that of its own motion, and by the impulse of its necessity-constrained will, it can do nothing else, can will nothing else, but sin, seeing that tossed to and fro, and set on fire by the furies of all sorts of vices, it is hurried away by unquenchable lust into the utmost extremes of baseness?
[63.] There are innumerable instances of this kind, which for brevity’s sake, pass over; by all of which, however, it is manifestly and clearly shown, that it is an established law, in the case of almost all heresies, that they evermore delight in profane novelties, scorn the decisions of antiquity, and, through oppositions of science falsely so called, make shipwreck of the faith. On the other hand, it is the sure characteristic of Catholics to keep that which has been committed to their trust by the holy Fathers, to condemn profane novelties, and, in the apostle’s words, once and again repeated, to anathematize every one who preaches any other doctrine than that which has been received.505505 Gal. ii. 9.
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