A Brief “Bonus” Summary from Books At a Glance
By Todd Scacewater
Book One: The Grace of Christ
I am happy to hear of your good health, Albina, Pinianus, and Melania, and received your letter. I dictated these answers quickly and to the best of my ability to the messenger, since he was in a hurry, and since I must continue with my pressing work in Carthage. You write that Pelagius condemned and declared anathema anyone who denies that the grace of God by which “Christ came into this world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15) is not necessary at every moment for every act. But if one were to read the books that he has written and mentioned in his letter to Rome, one would realize that he twists words to suit his own purpose.
In the episcopal proceedings, Pelagius condemned those who say that God’s grace is not given for individual actions, but consists in free choice or in the law and teaching. But his books show that he was not being truthful with his words. For, he distinguishes between the ability, the will, and the action. The ability to do good or bad is given us from God, and for that he is to be praised. But the will and the action belongs to us alone. The latter cannot exist apart from the ability given us from God, while the ability can exist without the will and action. As Pelagius says in his own words, “And to sum up everything in a general statement, our being able to do, say, or think anything good comes from him who gave us this ability and who helps this ability, but our doing or speaking or thinking anything good is due to us, since we can also turn all these toward something evil.” These words can be found in the third book of his defense of free choice.
But Pelagius disagrees, then, with the apostle. For Paul does not say, “with fear and trembling work out your own salvation, for it is God who produces in you the ability.” Far from it. Paul says “It is God, after all, who produces in you the willing and the accomplishment,” or as we read in other manuscripts, especially the Greek ones, “the willing and the action” (Phil 2:13). Do you see how the Holy Spirit foresaw the error of Pelagius and spoke precisely through the apostle?
Now, Pelagius does admit that God’s grace helps our natural ability, but what does he mean by that? In other passages he shows that he means nothing but that the law and the teaching help our ability. He says in one passage that “God helps us through his teaching and revelation, in opening the eyes of our heart, in disclosing to us what is to come so that we are not absorbed with what is present, in exposing the snares of the devil, in enlightening us by the manifold and ineffable gift of his heavenly grace.” So God’s grace for Pelagius is nothing but the law and teaching.
Pelagius ought to admit that grace that enables us to will and act. But he posed an objection to himself that God produces in us the willing and the accomplishment (Phil 2:13). He twists this to mean that God produces the willing and accomplishment in us through exhortation in the law and the Scriptures. But he ought to see that “not all have faith” (2 Thess 3:2) who hear the promises of the kingdom of heaven and not everyone is moved by the teaching. Yet, all those who come to Jesus are drawn by the Father (John 6:44). This coming to the Son is a gift from the Father (John 6:65) and is not restricted to the law.[To continue reading this summary, please see below....]
Buy the books
A TREATISE ON THE GRACE OF CHRIST AND ORIGINAL SIN, by St. Augustine