This book was written by Pelagius
and given to two of his disciples, Timasius and Jacobus, who later
compared it with some of the writings of Augustine
and discovered discrepancies. They then forwarded a copy to
Augustine and he replied with a treatise entitled On
Nature and Grace from which these fragments come. The
purpose of Pelagius’ work, according to Augustine,
was to substantiate the possibility, not the reality, that a man could
have lived without sin from his birth to his death.
Surely the reason he 'thinks this is because to him sin is 'Substance in
not a Choice he makes from the volition of his will. The crux of the
dispute between them was always centered on free will
and choice vs sin being an indwelling malady one cannot avoid. Is it
possible to live without committing vile sins against God,
that's the matter of discussion, Augustine had no desire to try, so he
invented a doctrine to excuse himself.
It is one
thing to inquire whether a thing can be, which has respect to its
possibility only; and another thing,
whether or not it is.
are treating of possibility only; and to pass from this to something
else, except in the case of some certain
fact, we deem to be a very serious and extraordinary process."
once more repeat my position: I say that it is possible for a man to be
without sin. What do you say? That it is
impossible for a man to be without sin? But I do not say that there is a
man without sin; nor do you say, that
there is not a man without sin. Our contention is about what is
possible, and not possible; not about what is, and
man indeed is clean from pollution’; and, ‘There is no man that sinneth
not’; and, ‘There is not a just man
upon the earth’; and, ‘There is none that doeth good’. There are these
and similar passages in Scripture but
they testify to the point of not being, not of not being able; for by
testimonies of this sort it is shown what kind of
persons certain men were at such and such a time, not that they were
unable to be something else. Whence
they are justly found to be blameworthy. If, however, they had been of
such a character, simply because they
were unable to be anything else, they are free from blame.
5. He is
not condemned; because the statement that all sinned in Adam, was not
made because of the sin which
is derived from one's birth, but because of imitation of him."
man,' you will say, 'may possibly be [without sin]; but it is by the
grace of God.' I thank you for your kindness,
because you are not merely content to withdraw your opposition to my
statement, which you just now opposed,
or barely to acknowledge it; but you actually go so far as to approve
it. For to say, 'A man may possibly, but by
this or by that,' is in fact nothing else than not only to assent to its
possibility, but also to show the mode and
condition of its possibility. Nobody, therefore, gives a better assent
to the possibility of anything than the man
who allows the condition thereof; because, without the thing itself, it
is not possible for a condition to be."
you will say, 'you here seem to reject the grace of God, inasmuch as you
do not even mention it."'
is it I that reject grace, who by acknowledging the thing must needs
also confess the means by which it
may be effected, or you, who by denying the thing do undoubtedly also
deny whatever may be the means
through which the thing is accomplished?"
9. Whether he confesses it to be by grace, or by aid, or by mercy,
whatever that be by which a man can be
without sin,-every one acknowledges the thing itself."
10. If I
were to say, man is able to dispute; a bird is able to fly; a hare is
able to run; without mentioning at the same
time the instruments by which these acts can be accomplished-that is,
the tongue, the wings, and the legs;
should I then have denied the conditions of the various offices, when I
acknowledged the very offices
11.Certain persons allege that some sins are light by their very
frequency, their constant irruption making it
impossible that they should be all of them avoided. [It was] proper
that they should be censured even as light
offences, if they cannot possibly be wholly avoided."
was proposed to me] are you even yourself without sin? [To this I
answered] it is rather to be imputed to my
own negligence that I am not without sin [as opposed to personal
have been told in refutation to my beliefs] that it is nowhere written
in so many words, [that] ‘A man can be
without sin’." [We need to keep in mind] that the question here is not
in what precise words each doctrinal
statement is made."
Apostle James writes] ‘But the tongue can no man tame.’ [We need to keep
in mind as we interpret this
that it must be interpreted] as if it were written by way of reproach;
as much as to say: Can no man then, tame
the tongue? As if in a reproachful tone, which would say: You are able
to tame wild beasts; cannot you tame the
tongue? As if it were an easier thing to tame the tongue than to
subjugate wild beasts."
15.Concerning sins of ignorance] a man ought to be very careful to avoid
ignorance; and that ignorance is blame-
worthy for this reason, because it is through his own neglect that a man
is ignorant of that which he certainly
must have known if he had only applied diligence.
which have been committed do notwithstanding require to be divinely
expiated, and that the Lord must be
entreated because of them [that is, for the purpose, of course, of
obtaining pardon] because that which has
been done cannot be undone [by the] power of nature and will of man."
have first of all to discuss the position which is maintained, that our
nature has been weakened and
changed by sin. I think that before all other things we have to inquire
what sin is, some substance, or wholly a
name without substance, whereby is expressed not a thing, not an
existence, not some sort of a body, but the
doing of a wrongful deed. I suppose that this is the case; and if so
how could that which lacks all substance
have possibly weakened or changed human nature?"
sickness [of sin] ought not to have been contracted by [our forefather
Adam committing] sins, lest the
punishment of sin should amount to this, that more sins should be
seek Him [for infants?]? They are whole (i.e. not affected with an
inescapable controlling sinful nature to
which they are powerless because of Adam’s sin) for whom you seek the
Physician. Not even was the first man
condemned to die for any such reason [as having an uncontrollable
nature], for he did not sin afterwards."
his (Adam’s) posterity also not only are they not more infirm than he,
but they actually fulfilled more
commandments than he ever did, since he neglected to fulfill one.
very matter of sin is its punishment, if the sinner is so much weakened
that he commits more sins."
ought not so to have been punished, that the sinner, through his
punishment, should commit even more
have actually heard that it was taught that] man was so formed as to be
able to pass from righteousness to
sin, and yet not able to return from sin to righteousness."
Lord was able to die without sin. no
evil is the cause of anything good."
logical conclusion of assuming that men of necessity must sin is that]
sin was necessary in order that
there might be a cause for God's mercy."
no doubt, applies His mercy even to this office, whenever it is
necessary because man after sin requires
help in this way, not because God wished there should be a cause for
such necessity. But just in the same way
it is the duty of a physician to be ready to cure a man who is already
wounded; although he ought not to wish
for a man who is sound to be wounded."
There are those who say that] it was really necessary to man, in order
to take from him all occasion for pride
and boasting, that he should be unable to exist without sin. [This
doesn’t make sense. It is] the height of
absurdity and folly, that there should have been sin in order that sin
might not be; inasmuch as pride is itself, of
course, a sin. But
God is able to heal all things."
shall I say more than this in response to the argument that sin can be
cured by sin, that we may believe
that fires are quenched by fires, if we may believe that sins are cured
how shall we separate pride itself from sin? To sin is quite as much to
be proud, as to be proud is to sin;
for only ask what every sin is, and see whether you can find any sin
without the designation of pride."
sin if I mistake not, is a contempt of God, and every contempt of God is
pride. For what is so proud as to
despise God? All sin, then, is also pride, even as Scripture says, Pride
is the beginning of all sin."
again, how can one be subjected to God for the guilt of that sin, which
he knows is not his own? For his
own it is not, if it is necessary. Or, if it is his own, it is
voluntary: and if it is voluntary, it can be avoided."
32. Certain persons advanced against me that I was teaching] that man is
placed on an equality with God, if he is
described as being without sin [but this is not the case]."
resist those who have said to me that] ‘What you assert seems indeed to
be reasonable, but it is an arrogant
thing to allege that any man can be without sin.’ [If what I am
alleging is true then it cannot be said to be
arrogant.] On what side must humility (the opposite of arrogance) be
placed? No doubt on the side of
falsehood, if you prove arrogance to exist on the side of truth."
must we suppose that those holy men quitted this life, with sin, or
Following is a list of those] who not only lived without [recorded]
sin, but are described as having led holy lives,
Abel, Enoch, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joshua the son of
Nun, Phinehas, Samuel, Nathan, Elijah,
Joseph, Elisha, Micaiah, Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, Mordecai,
Simeon, Joseph to whom the Virgin
Mary was espoused, John, Deborah, Anna the mother of Samuel, Judith,
Esther, the other Anna, daughter of
Phanuel, Elisabeth, and also the mother of our Lord and Saviour, for of
her we must needs allow that her piety
had no sin in it."
perhaps they will ask me: Could not the Scripture have mentioned sins of
all of these? This might be
rightly asked of those whom Scripture mentions neither as good nor as
bad; but of those whose holiness it
commemorates, it would also without doubt have commemorated the sins
likewise, if it had perceived that they
had sinned in anything."
granted that it has sometimes abstained, in a numerous crowd, from
narrating the sins of all; still, in the
very beginning of the world, when there were only four persons in
existence, what reason have we to give why it
chose not to mention the sins of all? Was it in consideration of the
vast multitude, which had not yet come into
existence? Or because, having mentioned only the sins of those who had
transgressed, it was unable to record
any of him who had not yet committed sin? It is certain that in the
earliest age Adam and Eve, and Cain and
Abel their sons, are mentioned as being the only four persons then in
being. Eve sinned, - the Scripture
distinctly says so much; Adam also transgressed, as the same Scripture
does not fail to inform us; whilst it
affords us an equally clear testimony that Cain also sinned: and of all
these it not only mentions the sins, but
also indicates the character of their sins. Now if Abel had likewise
sinned, Scripture would without doubt have
said so. But it has not said so, therefore he committed no sin; nay, it
even shows him to have been righteous.
What we read, therefore, let us believe; and what we do not read, let us
deem it wicked to add.
we read, therefore, let us believe; and what we do not read, let us deem
it wicked to add; and let it suffice
to have said this of all cases."
opponents have presented to me the words of the Apostle when he writes]
‘All have sinned.’ [What we
need to understand is that] the apostle was manifestly speaking of the
then existing generation, that is, the
Jews and the Gentiles."
regards to the passage which states ‘By one man sin entered the world,
and death by sin, and so death
passed upon all men; in which all have sinned. As by the offence of one,
upon all men [came a bringing] to
condemnation, even so by the righteousness of One, upon all men [came a
bringing] unto justification of life
(Rom. 10:3-4).’ I teach that] there can be no doubt that not all men are
sanctified by the righteousness of
Christ, but only those who are willing to obey Him, and have been
cleansed in the washing of His baptism [thus
there can be no doubt that not all men are sinners, but only those who
are willing to disobey him.
be it so, I agree; he testifies to the fact that all were sinners. He
says, indeed, what they have been, not
that they might not have been something else. Wherefore if all then
could be proved to be sinners, it would not
by any means prejudice our own definite position, in insisting not so
much on what men are, as on what they
are able to be.
must accept] that God is as good as just, and made man such that he was
quite able to live without
evil of sin, if only he had been willing."
proceeds not from a man's will which he can do by nature."
far as the present question is concerned, it is not pertinent to inquire
whether there have been or now are
any men in this life without sin, but whether they had or have the
ability to be such persons."
you will tell me this is what disturbs a great many, - that you do not
maintain that it is by the grace of God
that a man is able to be without sin. What blindness of ignorance, what
sluggishness of an uninstructed mind,
which supposes that that is maintained and held to be without God's
grace which it only hears ought to be
attributed to God!"
when it is said that the very ability is not at all of man's will, but
of the Author of nature, - that is, God, -
how can that possibly be understood to be without the grace of God which
is deemed especially to belong to
God? That this may become still plainer, we must enter on a somewhat
fuller discussion of the point. Now we
affirm that the possibility of anything lies not so much in the ability
of a man's will as in the necessity of nature.
Take for instance, my ability to speak. That I am able to speak is not
my own; but that I do speak is my own, -
that is, of my own will. And because the act of my speaking is my own, I
have the power of alternative action, -
that is to say, both to speak and to refrain from speaking. But because
my ability to speak is not my own, that is,
is not of my own determination and will, it is of necessity that I am
always able to speak; and though I wished not
to be able to speak, I am unable, nevertheless, to be unable to speak,
unless perhaps I were to deprive myself
of that member whereby the function of speaking is to be performed."
45. Whatever is fettered by natural necessity is deprived of determination
of will and deliberation. We may
perceive the same thing to be true of hearing, smelling, and seeing, -
that to hear, and to smell, and to see is of
our own power, while the ability to hear, and to smell, and to see is
not of our own power, but lies in a natural
we must understand that it is of us not to sin, but yet that the ability
to avoid sin is not of us? However if we
accept this then we are constrained to say that inasmuch as not to sin
is ours, we are able to sin and to avoid
sin. However, if we take the opposite side we will say that] inasmuch
as, however, it is not of us to be able to
avoid sin; even if we were to wish not to be able to avoid sin, it is
not in our power to be unable to avoid sin. I
think that this illustration will show the logical conclusions of both
will can take away that which is proved to be inseparably implanted in
have asked me, ‘Why do you affirm that man without the help of God's
grace is able to avoid sin?’ To
this I answer; ‘The actual capacity of not sinning lies not so much in
the power of will as in the necessity of
nature. Whatever is placed in the necessity of nature undoubtedly
appertains to the Author of nature, that is,
God. How then can that be regarded as spoken without the grace of God
which is shown to belong in an
especial manner to God?’"
must be understood of the nature of man] that it has an inseparable
capacity [to do the right thing.]"
you will tell me that, according to the apostle, the flesh is contrary
to us (Gal 5:17). How can it be that in the
case of any baptized person the flesh is contrary to him, when according
to the same apostle he is understood
not to be in the flesh? For he says, `But ye are not in the flesh.'"
see from these numerous passages of the Apostle Paul] that the flesh is
often mentioned by him in such a
manner as proves him to mean not the substance, but the works of the
made man's spirit? God, without a doubt. Who created the flesh? The
same God, I suppose. Is the God
good who created both? Nobody doubts it. Are not both good, since the
good Creator made them? It must be
confessed that they are. If, therefore, both the spirit is good, and
the flesh is good, as made by the good
Creator, how can it be that the two good things should be contrary to
what a man will say, who is unwilling to cry out with the apostle, "‘Who
shall deliver me from the body of
this death? The grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.’"
Apostle says in Romans ‘Who shall deliver me from the body of this
death? The grace of God, through
Jesus Christ our Lord.’] But why should I so exclaim, who am already
baptized in Christ? It is for them to cry out
thus who have not yet received so great a benefit, whose words the
apostle in a figure transferred to himself, -
if indeed even they say so much."
55. As we
remarked, the passage in which occur the words, `The flesh lusteth
against the Spirit,' must needs have
reference not to the substance, but to the works of the flesh."
oppose what we are saying because the plain truth is that the devil
opposes us. We must resist him,
and he will flee. `Resist the devil,' says the blessed apostle, `and he
will flee from you.' From which it may be
observed, what his harming amounts to against those whom he tees; or
what power he is to be understood as
possessing, when he prevails only against those who do not resist him."
indeed will ask, ‘And who would be unwilling to be without sin, if it
were put in the power of a man?’ To
this I answer, that by this very question they acknowledge that the
thing is not impossible; because so much as
this, many, if not all men, certainly desire."
It behooved for the Master and Teacher of virtue to become most
like to man, that by conquering sin He
might show that man is able to conquer sin. Again Lactantius says
And again, that by subduing the desires of the
flesh He might teach us that it is not of
necessity that one sins, but of set purpose and will.
blessedness has been appointed only for the pure in heart, that we shall
see that which is immortal in God."
Again Hilary has said, ‘This Job had so effectually read these
Scriptures, that was because he worshipped
God purely with a mind unmixed with offences: now such worship of God is
the proper work of righteousness."
Hilary, likewise, while expounding that passage of the psalm in which
it is written, ‘Thou hast despised all those
who turn aside from Thy commandments,’ says:] ‘If God were to despise
sinners, He would despise indeed all
men, because no man is without sin; but it is those who turn away from
Him, whom they call apostates, that He
Ambrose of Milan has said, ‘Inasmuch as the Church has been gathered
out of the world, that is, out of sinful
men, how can it be unpolluted when composed of such polluted material,
except that, in the first place, it be
washed of sins by the grace of Christ, and then, in the next place,
abstain from sins through its nature of
Remember that John Chrysostom has said, ‘that sin is not a substance,
but a wicked act. And because it is
not natural, therefore the law was given against it, and because it
proceeds from the liberty of our will."
Remember what Xystus, bishop of Rome and martyr, has once said] ‘God
has conferred upon men liberty of
their own will, in order that by purity and sinlessness of life they may
become like unto God?’ [and] ‘A pure mind
is a holy temple for God, and a heart clean and without sin is His best
altar.’ [Xystus has also said] ‘A man of
chastity and without sin has receded power from God to be a son of
Jerome has written] `Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see
God.' These are they whom no
consciousness of sin reproves. The pure man is seen by his purity of
heart; the temple of God cannot be
defiled.’ [He has also said] ‘God created us with free will; we are
drawn by necessity neither to virtue nor to
vice; otherwise, where there is necessity there is no crown."