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“Pelagius - Letter and Confession of Faith to Innocent I

Around 417 Pelagius sent this letter with a written statement of faith to Pope Innocent I maintaining that he was orthodox in his faith.

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Click here to read at earlychurchtexts.com in the original Latin (with dictionary lookup links). The translations below are: NPNF, Augustine, On the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin  (extracts) for Letter; and W. Wall, The History of Infant-Baptism, Vol. 1, p. 343 (London 1819) for Libellus (both altered slightly).

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Relevant books
at Amazon
(Click on pictures or links.)

Augustine
(tr. J.A. Mourant and W.J. Collinge)

Four Anti-Pelagian Writings (Fathers of the Church)

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Gerald Bonner

Church and Faith in the Patristic Tradition: Augustine, Pelagianism, and Early Christian Northumbria (Collected Studies Series, 521)

See particularly chapters

"Pelagianism and Augustine"

"Augustine and Pelagianism"

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Peter Brown

Religion and Society in the Age of St. Augustine

See the chapter
"Pelagius and His Supporters: Aims and Environment"

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Theodore De Bruyn

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J. Patout Burns

The development of Augustine's doctrine of operative grace

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Robert Dodaro
Augustine and his Critics

(See chapter See the chapter by James Wetzel: Snares of Truth: Augustine on Free will and Predestination.)

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John Ferguson

Pelagius: A Historical and Theological Study

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B.R. Rees

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B.R. Rees

Pelagius: A Reluctant Heretic

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James Wetzel
Augustine and the Limits of Virtue

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Robert Van De Weyer

The Letters of Pelagius (Early Christian Writings)

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Ed. R. Williams

(See chapters by R. A. Markus, The Legacy of Pelagius; and L. Wickham, Pelagianism in the East.)

LETTER TO INNOCENT I (Reconstructed from from fragments in Augustine's On the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin)

There are two subjects, most blessed pope, about which some men are trying to vilify me. One of these is, that I refuse to infants the sacrament of baptism, and promise the kingdom of heaven to some, independently of Christ’s redemption. Another of them is, that I so speak of man’s ability to avoid sin as to exclude God’s help, and so strongly confides in free will that I repudiate the help of divine grace.

[I have] never heard even an impious heretic say this about infants. Who indeed is so unacquainted with Gospel lessons, as not only to attempt to make such an affirmation, but even to be able to lightly say it or even let it enter his thought? And then who is so impious as to wish to exclude infants from the kingdom of heaven, by forbidding them to be baptized and to be born again in Christ? Christ quite clearly says: “Whosoever is not born again of water and the Spirit cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven”. Who indeed is so impious as to have the heart to refuse the common redemption of the human race to an infant of any age whatever? Can any one forbid a second birth to an eternal and certain life, to him who has been born to this present uncertain life?

See how this epistle will clear me before your Blessedness; for in it we clearly and simply declare, that we possess a free will which is unimpaired for sinning and for not sinning; and this free will is in all good works always assisted by divine help.

Now this power of free will we declare to reside generally in all alike--in Christians, in Jews, and in Gentiles. In all men free will exists equally by nature, but in Christians alone is it assisted by grace. In the one, the good of their created condition is naked and defenceless; in these, however, who belong to Christ, there is defence afforded by Christ’s help. Those deserve judgment and condemnation, because, although they possess free will whereby they could come to have faith and deserve God’s grace, they make a bad use of the freedom which has been granted to them. But these deserve to be rewarded, who by the right use of free will merit the Lord’s grace, and keep His commandments.

Let them read our brief book, which we have sent to your blessedness, in which we hold fast to one baptism, which should be administered with the same sacramental words for infants as for adults, and in which we confess free will in such a sense that we declare ourselves to be always in need of the help of God.

Let them read the epistle which we wrote about twelve years ago to that holy man Bishop Paulinus: its subject throughout in some three hundred lines is the confession of God’s grace and assistance alone, and our own inability to do any good thing at all without God. Let them also read my epistle to the holy Bishop Constantius, wherein I have -- briefly no doubt, but yet plainly -- conjoined the grace and help of God with man’s free will.

Let them read moreover what I wrote, when I was in the East, to Christ’s holy virgin Demetrias, and they will find that we so commend the nature of man as always to add the help of God’s grace.

Let them also read my recent little treatise which we were obliged to publish a short while ago in defence of free will, and let them acknowledge how unfair is their determination to disparage us for a denial of grace, when we throughout almost the whole work acknowledge fully and sincerely both free will and grace.


CONFESSION OF FAITH

1. We believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things, visible and invisible.

2. We believe also in the Lord Jesus Christ, by whom all things were created; very God, the only begotten, the true Son of God, not a made or adopted One, but begotten; of one substance with the Father, which the Greeks express homousion; and in such a manner equal in all things with the Father, that he cannot be [accounted] inferior either in time, or degree, or power; and we acknowledge him that is begotten to be of the same greatness as he is that begot him.

3. And whereas we say the Son is begotten of the Father, we do not ascribe any time to that divine and ineffable generation; but do mean, that neither the Father nor the Son had any beginning; for we cannot otherwise confess the Father to be eternal, unless we do also confess the Son to be co-eternal; for he is called the Father as having a Son; and he who ever was a Father, ever had a Son.

4. We believe also in the Holy Spirit, very God, proceeding from the Father, equal in all things with the Father and the Son, in power, in will, in eternity, in substance.

5. Neither is there any degree [or graduation] in the Trinity, --nothing that can be called superior or inferior, but the whole Deity is equal in its perfection; so that except the words that signify the propriety of the persons, whatsoever is said of one person, may very well be understood of all Three.

6. And as in confutation of Arius, we say that the substance of the Trinity is one and the same, and do own one God in three Persons, so avoiding the impiety of Sabellius, we distinguish three Persons expressed by their property, --not saying that the Father is a father to himself, nor the Son a son to himself, nor the Holy Spirit the spirit of himself; but that there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit; for we acknowledge not only [several] names, but also properties of the names, that is, Persons, or, as the Greeks express them, Hypostases, that is substances [or natures].

7. Nor does the Father at any time exclude the person of the Son, or of the Holy Spirit; nor again does the Son, or the Holy Spirit, receive the name or person of the Father; but the Father is always Father, the Son always Son, and the Holy Spirit always Holy Spirit; so that they are in substance one thing, but are distinguished by persons and by names.

8. And we say That this Son of God, who, with the father and the Holy Spirit, inherited eternity without any beginning, did, in the end of the world, take upon him, of Mary, who was always a virgin, perfect man of our nature; and the Word was made flesh, by taking manhood to him, not by altering his Deity. And we do not say that the Holy Spirit was instead of seed, as a certain person does most impiously hold [or as some very impious persons hold]; but that he operated by the power and influence of the Creator.

9. And we do in such a manner hold that there is in Christ one person of the Son, as that we say there are in him two perfect and entire substances [or natures] viz. of the Godhead, and of the Manhood, which consists of body and soul. And as we do condemn Photinus, who confesses in Christ only a mere man, --so we do anathematize Apollinarius, and all of that sort, who say that the Son of God did take on him something less than the whole human nature; and that the man [or manhood] which was assumed, was either in body, or in soul, or in mind, unlike to those for whose sake it was assumed; whom we do hold to have been like unto us, saving only the stain of sin, which is not natural to us.

10. We do also abhor in like manner the blasphemy of those who go about by a new interpretation to maintain, that since the time of his taking flesh, all things pertaining to the divine nature did pass into the man [or manhood] and so also that all things belonging to the human nature were transferred into God [or the diving nature]. From whence would follow (a thing that no heresy ever offered to affirm) that both substances [or natures] viz. of the divinity and the humanity, would by this confusion seem to be extinguished, and to lose their proper state, and be changed into another thing; so that they who own in the Son an imperfect God and an imperfect man, are to be accounted not to hold truly either God or man.

11. But we do hold that our nature, capable of suffering, was so assumed by the Son of God, as that the divinity did remain incapable of suffering; for the Son of God suffered (not in appearance only, but really) all those things which the Scripture speaks of, i.e. hunger, thirst, weariness, pain, death, and the like.

12. He suffered in that nature which was capable of suffering, i.e. in that which was assumed; for the Son of God is, in respect of his Godhead, incapable of suffering as the Father; incomprehensible as the Father; invisible as the Father; unchangeable as the Father --and though the proper Person of the Son, that is, the Word of God, did take on him humanity capable of suffering, yet the Godhead of the WORD, in its own nature, did not suffer any thing by the inhabiting of the humanity, as did not the whole Trinity, which we must of necessity confess to be incapable of suffering.

13. The Son of God, therefore, died, according to the Scriptures, in respect of that which was capable of dying. The third day he rose again: he ascended into Heaven: he sits on the right hand of God the Father; the same nature of flesh still remaining in which he was born, and suffered, in which also he rose again; for the nature of his humanity is not extinguished, but is glorified, being to continue for ever with the divinity.

14. Having, therefore, received of the Father the power of all things in Heaven and Earth, he will come to judge the living and dead, --that he may reward the just, and punish the sinners.

15. We do also believe the resurrection of the flesh, in such a manner as to say that we shall be restored again in the same truth of our limbs in which we are now; and that we shall for ever remain such as we shall be once made after the resurrection.

16. That there is one life for the saints, but rewards different according to their labour; as on the other side the punishments of wicked men shall be according to the measure of their sins.

17. We hold one baptism, which we say ought to be administered with the same sacramental words to infants as it is to elder persons.

18. If after baptism a man do fall, we believe he may be recovered by repentance [or penance].

19. We receive the Old and New Testament in the same number of books as the authority of the Holy Catholic Church doth deliver.

20. We believe that our souls are given by God, and we hold that they are made by him; anathematizing those who say that souls are, as it were, a part of the substance of God. We do also condemn those who say that the souls have sinned in a former state, or that they have lived in the celestial regions before they were sent into bodies.

21. We do also abhor the blasphemy of those who say that any impossible thing is commanded to man by God; or that the commandments of God cannot be performed by any one man, but that by all men taken together they may:

22. Or that do condemn first marriages in compliance with Manichaeus, or second marriages in compliance with the Montanists.

23. Also we do anathematize those who say that the Son of God did tell lies by necessity of the flesh; and that, because of the human nature which he had taken on him, he could not do all things that he would.

24. We do also condemn the heresy of Jovinian, who says that in the life to come there will be no difference of merits [or rewards]; and that we shall there have virtues [or graces] which we took no care to have here.

25. Free will we do so own, as to say that we always stand in need of God’s help; and that as well they are in an error who say with Manichaeus that a man cannot avoid sin, as they who affirm with Jovinian that a man cannot sin; for both of these take away the freedom of the will. But we say that a man always is in a state that he may sin, or may not sin, so as to own ourselves always to be of a free will.

26. This is, most blessed Pope, our faith which we have learned in the Catholic Church, and which we have always held and still hold; in which, if there be any thing that is, perhaps, unwarily or unskilfully expressed, we desire it may be amended by you, who do hold both the faith and the see of Peter. And if our confession be approved by the judgment of your apostleship, then whoever shall have a mind to find fault with me will show, not me to be a heretic, but himself unskilful or spiteful, or even no Catholic.


 



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original Latin text
Pelagius Letter to Innocent I
Pelagius Confession of Faith to Innocent I
Epistola ad Innocentium I
Libellus Fidei
Pelagius' views about grace, free will and divine aid
Pelagius and Pelagianism
Augustine debate with Pelagius
Migne Latin
Patrologiae Latinae Cursus Completus
Patrologia Latina

 

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