2/3/2016 0 Comments
The Pelagian approach to justice and doing good works suffers paradox. The work from Saint Jerome's dialogue, Against the Pelagians, reveals the error of allowing the implied meaning of a text to stand without an explicit expression of the meaning. Atticus, an Augustinian, debates with Critobulus, a Pelagian, about the sense of free will and the role of God’s grace. Critobulus insists, in his writing, that man can be sinless in doing good works. Atticus inquires about the meaning of this thought in hopes to clarify whether Pelagianism and Orthodox Christian doctrine are compatible.
While Pelagianism argued for strict adherence to the letter of the law in the determined action of one’s sinlessness, the spirit of God's grace is implied. Critobulus responds to Atticus to clarify the charge from the Augustinians that Pelagians teach that man can be without sin if he chooses. While the orthodox doctrine of the church agrees that man does possess free will to choose obedience to God's law, only, “by God’s grace and assistance” is obedience t o the law possible. Critobulus clarifies to Atticus that Pelagians do not disregard the work of grace in the sanctification of man. While the aid of grace is not specifically spoken, man can be without sin, if he chooses, with “the aid of the grace of God being presupposed.”
The Pelagian argues that the spirit of grace is implied, or understood, in the ability of man to choose the path to the state of sinlessness. The spirit of God’s Law dominates in this argument in one following the letter of the law in piety. In contrast, the Augustinians insist that the letter of the law be clearly expressed by declaring in the discussion of free will, that God's grace alone causes just actions through God’s law. While the Augustinians insist on the clear verbiage of the letter of the law about God’s grace, the spirit of God’s law must be trusted over following the legal requirement of the letter of the law for salvation.
In not writing the words, “by God’s grace and assistance,” the Pelagians found themselves in distress with the orthodox teaching of doctrine. An exchange between Atticus and Critobulus shows the point of the Augustinians in expressing God’s grace.
Critobulus: ...what I did write is perfectly clear. I said that man can be without sin, if he chooses. Did I add, without the grace of God?
Atticus: No; but in fact that you added nothing implies your denial of the need of grace.
Critobulus: Nay, rather, the fact that I have not denied grace should be regarded as tantamount to an assertion of it. It is unjust to suppose we deny whatever we do not assert.
Atticus: You admit then that man can be sinless, if he chooses, but with the grace of God.
Critobulus: I not only admit it, but freely proclaim it.
Atticus: So then he who does away with the grace of God is in error.
Critobulus: Just so. Or rather, he ought to be thought impious, seeing that all things are governed by the pleasure of God, and that we owe our existence and the faculty of individual choice and desire to the goodness of God, the Creator.
The conclusion of this round of discussion proves the position of the Augustinians. To not speak clearly of God’s grace implies that grace is not necessary. By implying that God’s grace is ‘presupposed' in all human choice of piety, the grace of God is abandoned. The spirit of the Pelagian intent is that God's grace is understood and requires no clarification in speaking of free will. The free will of man apart from God’s grace is the power of man without God to be just. The spirit of God’s grace cannot be assumed or implied lest one be thought impious.
The issue is that Atticus did not understand clearly the Pelagian position on God's role in just actions of man. Clarity must be perfected; otherwise, Pelagian doctrine is in error due to doubt. Atticus points out the problem of misunderstanding the meaning of Critobulus’ work. “How is it then that everybody thinks you do away with the grace of God and maintain that all our actions proceed from our own will...but in fact that you added nothing implies your denial of the need of grace.” Where it appears that Augustinian theology emphasizes faith in the spirit of God’s law over following the letter of God's law, Augustinianism also emphasizes obedience to the letter of the law. Where the Pelagians want to impose the grace of God on all actions, without clarifying that it is the origin, Augustinians emphasize that any discussion of good actions, or just works, must clearly indicate, with words, that God’s grace is the source of the just actions. Any theological description of just action, apart from the clear expression of the phrase, “by God's grace,” will imply that the good action is the work of man alone. The error of the Pelagians is that they wish to follow the spirit of good actions by suggesting that God's grace is always manifesting in humanity’s great works. But, in doing so, they change the meaning of just actions apart from God's grace.
The Augustinian position on God’s grace is not only the Spirit of God’s law; it is also the Letter of the Law. According to Augustine, justice is not the works of the human by following the letter of the law, but rather the Spirit of God’s grace causing the work that humanity cannot do apart from God’s grace.
 Critobulus: “I said, Atticus, that man can be without sin, if he chooses; not, as some maliciously make us say, without the grace of God (the very thought is impiety), but simply that he can, if he chooses; the aid of the grace of God being presupposed.”
Saint Jerome, Against The Pelagians, trans. Unknown (Wyatt North Publishing, 2012), KOBO epub, [Book I, p. 2]
 Ibid., Book I, p. 4.
 Ibid., Book I, p. 2.