The Augustinian/Pelagian Controversy Over Free Will

Dear hijas,


“Lord, give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.” -Augustine

“If I ought, I can.” -PelagiusPelagius

Is there a conflict between these two statements? Oh, but we wish there weren’t! Augustine’s simple prayer, ‘Lord, give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt’ explicitly implies that we are dependent on the grace God gives us to accomplish His commands. In other words, we’re asking for God to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. It’s a prayer I’m sure you’ve prayed many, many times. It is a proper prayer to pray, recognizing our utter dependence on God to help us obey and carry out His commands; to give us His power, His grace, to live holy lives before Him.

The British monk Pelagius on the other hand opposed this simple prayer of Augustine. Pelagius said and taught that God would never give a command unless man was capable of his own free will and ability to accomplish it.

At the heart of this controversy was the nature and debate of the Fall of Adam in Genesis 3. Augustine believed rightly, following Scripture such as Ps. 51:5, that man was conceived and brought forth in sin, inheriting the sin nature post-Fall of representative Adam as head of the entire human race. We know it as “original sin”.

Pelagius taught and believed that a baby was born ‘tabula rasa’, Latin for a blank sheet of paper, therefore perfectly capable of obeying and pleasing God. Each of us was a new Adam, in the same state that Adam was at creation. He believed that no one was contaminated by the Fall, nor were they born in sin. That man was not overcome by sin to the point that he could do nothing to satisfy God.

So, the question arose, “Does man need God’s grace in order to stand before Him in righteousness?

Pelagius’ answer: NO, while God’s help is appreciated, it’s not absolutely necessary. Man can simply exercise his free will and choose not to sin.

Augustine’s answer: YES, man is utterly dependent on God’s grace because he was ruined by the sin of Adam and can do absolutely nothing to redeem himself before the wrath of an infinitely holy God.

The debate was centered around principles at the core of the Christian belief system:

1) the fundamental nature of God

2) man

3) the gospel

The stakes couldn’t be higher. It would take a council of Christian leaders within the growing Church in 412 A.D. to settle the issue.

Vaya con Dios mis hijas!

Dear ol’ Dad


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