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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Bit About the Free Will

A 17th century Calvinist print depicting Pelagius. The text under the image is condemning him unequivocally ( Accurst Pelagius with that false pretence, and so on): a condemnation that follows the tradition inaugurated by Augustine. Recent studies have defended Pelagius as a misunderstood orthodox.

Here are some very quick notes. An introduction to the works of Augustine is on the website of Georgetown University (which is run by Jesuits, by the way) at:

From Augustine comes the classification of human - sin relations:

  • before the Adamic Fall, the ability to either sin or not sin (posse peccare / posse non peccare): Pre-Fall Humanity
  • after the Fall, unable to not sin (non posse non peccare): Fallen Humanity
  • after the Redemption on the Cross, able not to sin (posse non peccare): Redempted Humanity
  • At the End of Times, unable to sin (non posse peccare): Glorified Humanity
(You can find this classification for instance at Human Nature in Its Fourfold State, http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/four-fold.html).

It is a classification raising of course questions about the place that remains for our free will. And also the observation that our civilization, shaped by centuries of biblical authority, lives with the complex of Original Sin, tempting to see each human as potentially guilty by association. Let's also note here that Eastern and Western theologians differ in some subtle nuances on the theory of Original Sin. In the East it is viewed rather as the Ancestral Sin (with implications on the consequences for the human condition: Original Sin is kind of Mother of All Sins so to speak, and so all humans share the responsibility; Ancestral Sin makes us victims rather than shareholders). If I find the text I have read on this not long ago I'll let you know.

Pelagius had very distinct views on these issues. I found a synthetic presentation (followed by the point by point responses of Augustine) at:

Here are the seven points of Pelagius:

  • First, Adam was created neither holy nor evil. His will was in a state of moral equilibrium or moral indifference.
  • Second, Adam would have died physically whether he sinned or not. Physical death is not a penalty for sin but is the inevitable corollary of being a creature.
  • Third, Adam's fall affected neither himself nor his posterity, except insofar as he set for them a bad example. Infants, therefore, are born innocent and without a sin nature. They are in the same condition as Adam was before his fall.
  • Fourth, freedom of will consists in the power of contrary choice, i.e., man is both able to sin (posse peccare) and able not to sin (posse non peccare). He is equally capable of either.
  • Fifth, ability limits obligation. The commands and prohibitions in Scripture necessarily imply the ability to fulfill them. Inability destroys responsibility.
  • Sixth, grace is external, resistible, and consists primarily of moral instruction and the law of God.
  • Seventh, perfection in holiness or freedom from sin is possible in this life.




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