Anti-pelagian Writings by St. Augustine
Chapter 54 [XXX.]--On the Letter of Pelagius, in Which He Boasts that His Errors Had Been Approved by Fourteen Bishops.
For I will not be silent as to the transactions which took place after this trial, and which rather augment the suspicion against him. A certain epistle found its way into our hands, which was ascribed to Pelagius himself, writing to a friend of his, a presbyter, who had kindly admonished him (as appears from the same epistle) not to allow any one to separate himself from the body of the Church on his account. Among the other contents of this document, which it would be both tedious and unnecessary to quote here, Pelagius says: |By the sentence of fourteen bishops our statement was received with approbation, in which we affirmed that a man is able to be without sin, and easily to keep the commandments of God, if he wishes.' This sentence,| says he, |has filled the mouths of the gainsayers with confusion, and has separated asunder the entire set which was conspiring together for evil.| Whether, indeed, this epistle was really written by Pelagius, or was composed by somebody in his name, who can fail to see, after what manner this error claims to have achieved a victory, even in the judicial proceedings where it was refuted and condemned? Now, he has adduced the words we have just quoted according to the form in which they occur in his book of |Chapters,| as it is called, not in the shape in which they were objected to him at his trial, and even repeated by him in his answer. For even his accusers, through some unaccountable inaccuracy, left out a word in their indictment, concerning which there is no small controversy. They made him say, that |a man is able to be without sin, if he wishes; and, if he wishes, to keep the commandments of God.| There is nothing said here about this being |easily| done. Afterwards, when he gave his answer, he spake thus: |We said, that a man is able to be without sin, and to keep the commandments of God, if he wishes;| he did not then say, |easily keep,| but only |keep.| So in another place, amongst the statements about which Hilary consulted me, and I gave him my views, it was objected to Pelagius that he had said, |A man is able, if he wishes, to live without sin.| To this he himself responded, |That a man is able to be without sin has been said above.| Now, on this occasion, we do not find on the part either of those who brought the objection or of him who rebutted it, that the word |easily| was used at all. Then, again, in the narrative of the holy Bishop John, which we have partly quoted above, he says, |When they were importunate and exclaimed, He is a heretic, because he says, It is true that a man is able, if he only will, to live without sin;' and then, when we questioned him on this point, he answered, I did not say that man's nature has received the power of being impeccable, -- but I said, whosoever is willing, in the pursuit of his own salvation, to labour and struggle to abstain from sinning and to walk in the commandments of God, receives the ability to do so from God.' Then, whilst some were whispering, and remarking on the statement of Pelagius, that without God's grace man was able to attain perfection,' I censured the statement, and reminded them, besides, that even the Apostle Paul, after so many labours, -- not, indeed, in his own strength, but by the grace of God, -- said, I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.'| And so on, as I have already mentioned.