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§ 149. Position of the Roman Church. Condemnation of Pelagianism.

The question took another turn when it was brought before the Roman see. Two North African synods, in 416, one at Carthage and one at Mileve (now Mela), again condemned the Pelagian error, and communicated their sentence to pope Innocent.17261726    See the proceedings of the Concilium Carthaginense in Mansi, iv. 321 sqq., and of the Concilium Milevitanurn, ibid. f. 326 sqq. A third and more confidential letter was addressed to him by five North African bishops, of whom Augustine was one.17271727    Mansi, iv. 337 sqq. Pelagius also sent him a letter and a confession of faith, which, however, were not received in due time.

Innocent understood both the controversy and the interests of the Roman see. He commended the Africans for having addressed themselves to the church of St. Peter, before which it was seemly that all the affairs of Christendom should be brought; he expressed his full agreement with the condemnation of Pelagius, Coelestius, and their adherents; but he refrained from giving judgment respecting the synod of Diospolis.17281728    The answers of Innocent are found in Mansi, tom. iii. f. 1071 sqq.

But soon afterwards (in 417) Innocent died, and was succeeded by Zosimus, who was apparently of Oriental extraction (417–418).17291729    The notices of his life, as well as the Epistolae and Decreta Zosimi papae, are collected in Mansi, iv. 345 sqq. At this juncture, a letter from Pelagius to Innocent was received, in which he complained of having suffered wrong, and gave assurance of his orthodoxy. Coelestius appeared personally in Rome, and succeeded by his written and oral explanations in satisfying Zosimus. He, like Pelagius, demonstrated with great fulness his orthodoxy on points not at all in question, represented the actually controverted points as unimportant questions of the schools, and professed himself ready, if in error, to be corrected by the judgment of the Roman bishop.

Zosimus, who evidently had no independent theological opinion whatever, now issued (417) to the North African bishops an encyclical letter accompanied by the documentary evidence, censuring them for not having investigated the matter more thoroughly, and for having aspired, in foolish, overcurious controversies, to know more than the Holy Scriptures. At the same time he bore emphatic testimony to the orthodoxy of Pelagius and Coelestius, and described their chief opponents, Heros and Lazarus, as worthless characters, whom he had visited with excommunication and deposition. They in Rome, he says, could hardly refrain from tears, that such men, who so often mentioned the gratia Dei and the adjutorium divinum, should have been condemned as heretics. Finally he entreated the bishops to submit themselves to the authority of the Roman see.17301730    See the two epistles of Zosimus ad Africanos episcopos, in Mansi, iv. 350 and 353.

This temporary favor of the bishop of Rome towards the Pelagian heresy is a significant presage of the indulgence of later popes for Pelagianizing tendencies, and of the papal condemnation of Jansenism.

The Africans were too sure of their cause, to yield submission to so weak a judgment, which, moreover, was in manifest conflict with that of Innocent. In a council at Carthage, in 417 or 418, they protested, respectfully but decidedly, against the decision of Zosimus, and gave him to understand that he was allowing himself to be greatly deceived by the indefinite explanations of Coelestius. In a general African council held at Carthage in 418, the bishops, over two hundred in number, defined their opposition to the Pelagian errors, in eight (or nine) Canons, which are entirely conformable to the Augustinian view.17311731    It is the 16th Carthaginian synod. Mansi gives the canons in full, tom. iii. 810-823 (Comp. iv. 377). So also Wiggers, i. 214 ff. Hefele, ii. pp. 102-106, gives only extracts of them. They are in the following tenor:

1. Whosoever says, that Adam was created mortal, and would, even without sin, have died by natural necessity, let him be anathema.

2. Whoever rejects infant baptism, or denies original sin in children, so that the baptismal formula, “for the remission of sins,” would have to be taken not in a strict, but in a loose sense, let him be anathema.

3. Whoever says, that in the kingdom of heaven, or elsewhere, there is a certain middle place, where children dying without baptism live happy (beate vivant), while yet without baptism they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, i.e., into eternal life, let him be anathema.17321732    It is significant, that the third canon, which denies the salvation of unbaptized children, is of doubtful authenticity, and is wanting in Isidore and Dionysius. Hence the difference in the number of the canons against the Pelagians, as to whether there are 8 or 9.

The fourth canon condemns the doctrine that the justifying grace of God merely effects the forgiveness of sins already committed; and the remaining canons condemn other superficial views of the grace of God and the sinfulness of man.

At the same time the Africans succeeded in procuring from the emperor Honorius edicts against the Pelagians.

These things produced a change in the opinions of Zosimus, and about the middle of the year 418, he issued an encyclical letter to all the bishops of both East and West, pronouncing the anathema upon Pelagius and Coelestius (who had meanwhile left Rome), and declaring his concurrence with the decisions of the council of Carthage in the doctrines of the corruption of human nature, of baptism, and of grace. Whoever refused to subscribe the encyclical, was to be deposed, banished from his church, and deprived of his property.17331733    Epistola tractoria, or tractatoria, of which only some fragments are extant. Comp. Mansi, iv. 370. This letter was written after and not before the African council of 418 and the promulgation of the sacrum rescriptum of Honorius against the Pelagians, as Tillemont (xiii. 738) and the Benedictines (in the Preface to the 10th volume of the Opera August. § 18) have proved, in opposition to Baronius, Noris, and Garnier.

Eighteen bishops of Italy refused to subscribe, and were deposed. Several of these afterwards recanted, and were restored.

The most distinguished one of them, however, the bishop Julian, of Eclanum, a small place near Capua in Campania, remained steadfast till his death, and in banishment vindicated his principles with great ability and zeal against Augustine, to whom he attributed all the misfortunes of his party, and who elaborately confuted him.17341734    In two large works: Contra Julianum, libri vi. (Opera, tom. x. f. 497-711), and in the Opus imperfectum contra secundam Juliani responsionem, in six books (tom. x. P. ii. f. 874-1386), before completing which he died (a.d.430). Julian was the most learned, the most acute, and the most systematic of the Pelagians, and the most formidable opponent of Augustine; deserving respect for his talents, his uprightness of life, and his immovable fidelity to his convictions, but unquestionably censurable for excessive passion and overbearing pride.17351735    Gennadius, in his Liber de scriptoribus ecclesiastics, calls Julianof Eclanum “vir acer ingenio, in divinis scripturis doctus, Graeca et Latina lingua scholasticus.” By Augustine, however, in the Opus imperf. contra Jul. l. iv. 50 (Opera, x. P. ii. fol. 1163), he is called “in disputatione loquacissimus, in contentione calumniosissimus, in professions fallacissimus,” because he maligned the Catholics, while giving himself out for a Catholic. He was married.

Julian, Coelestius, and other leaders of the exiled Pelagians, were hospitably received in Constantinople, in 429, by the patriarch Nestorius, who sympathized with their doctrine of the moral competency of the will, though not with their denial of original sin, and who interceded for them with the emperor and with pope Celestine, but in vain. Theodosius, instructed by Marius Mercator in the merits of the case, commanded the heretics to leave the capital (429). Nestorius, in a still extant letter to Coelestius,17361736   In Marius Mercator, in a Latin translation, ed. Garnier-Migne, p. 182. accords to him the highest titles of honor, and comforts him with the examples of John the Baptist and the persecuted apostles. Theodore of Mopsuestia († 428), the author of the Nestorian Christology, wrote in 419 a book against the Augustinian anthropology, of which fragments only are left.17371737    In Photius, Bibl. Cod. 177, and in the Latin translation of Marius Mercator, also in the works of Jerome, tom. ii. 807-814 (ed. Vall.). The book was written contra Hiramum, i.e., Hieronymum, and was entitled: Πρὸς τοὺς λέγοντας φύσει καὶ οὐ γνώμῃ πταίειν τοὺς ἀνθρώπους λόγοι πέντε, against those who say that men sin by nature, and not by free will.

Of the subsequent life of Pelagius and Coelestius we have no account. The time and place of their death are entirely unknown. Julian is said to have ended his life a schoolmaster in Sicily, a.d. 450, after having sacrificed all his property for the poor during a famine.

Pelagianism was thus, as early as about the year 430, externally vanquished. It never formed an ecclesiastical sect, but simply a theological school. It continued to have individual adherents in Italy till towards the middle of the fifth century, so that the Roman bishop, Leo the Great, found himself obliged to enjoin on the bishops by no means to receive any Pelagian to the communion of the church without an express recantation.

At the third ecumenical council in Ephesus, a.d. 431 (the year after Augustine’s death), Pelagius (or more properly Coelestius) was put in the same category with Nestorius. And indeed there is a certain affinity between them: both favor an abstract separation of the divine and the human, the one in the person of Christ, the other in the work of conversion, forbidding all organic unity of life. According to the epistle of the council to pope Celestine, the Western Acta against the Pelagians were read at Ephesus and approved, but we do not know in which session. We are also ignorant of the discussions attending this act. In the canons, Coelestius, it is true, is twice condemned together with Nestorius, but without statement of his teachings.17381738    Can. i. and Can. iv. The latter reads: “If clergymen fall away and either secretly or publicly hold with Nestorius or Coelestius, the synod decrees that they also be deposed.” Dr. Shedd (ii. 191) observes with justice: “The condemnation of Pelagianism which was finally passed by the council of Ephesus, seems to have been owing more to a supposed connection of the views of Pelagius with those of Nestorius, than to a clear and conscientious conviction that his system was contrary to Scripture and the Christian experience.”

The position of the Greek church upon this question is only negative; she has in name condemned Pelagianism, but has never received the positive doctrines of Augustine. She continued to teach synergistic or Semi-Pelagian views, without, however, entering into a deeper investigation of the relation of human freedom to divine grace.17391739    Comp. Münscher, Dogmengeschichte, vol. iv. 238, and Neander, Dogmengeschichte, vol. i. p. 412.

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