Page images
PDF
EPUB

DISSERTATION II.

ON THE CONTROVERSIES CONCERNING PREDESTINATION AND GRACE.

ABOUT the beginning of the fifth century arose a religious quarrel between our countryman Pelagius, a defender of free will or human liberty, and Augustin, who was a fatalist; an obscure a and intricate controversy concerning divine assistance, or grace, as they called it, freedom of acting, and predestination,

a

Fixt fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute;

a controversy, which after it once began, never ceased, but hath been carried on by Calvinists, Arminians, Jansenists, Jesuits, Fatalists, &c.

Augustin in the days of his youth had been seduced by the Manichæans: afterwards he saw through the errors and absurdities of the sect, and forsook it. But when he was become an orthodox bishop, he propagated and defended the doctrine of predestinarian fa

* Our king James the first made an edict, that no divine, under the dignity of a bishop or a dean, should presume to preach upon the profound mysteries of Predestination. I shall leave it to the reader to make such remarks as he thinks proper upon this superannuated edict.

tality, and the doctrine of persecution; for which posterity is little obliged to him.

As to the affair of persecution, he seems to have been severe by religion, and gentle by temper; which shows how important and necessary it is to have reasonable principles, without which the best-natured man is capable of doing the most ill-natured actions. Upon many occasions he interceded for the mitigation of the penalties against Pagans, Heretics, and Schismatics, even when they deserved punishment for their seditions, riots, depredations, and murders. In this respect he was mild even to an excess; for as men should not be persecuted and oppressed for speculative opinions, so they, who, under the mask of religion, or through mere wickedness, rob, plunder, maim, wound, and assassinate, should never go unpunished, and should be made examples, for the security of the government, and the good of civil society. This foolish mildness was afterwards preached up and observed by several religious persons. Thus in the eighth century, when two brothers of Gregory, bishop of Utrecht, were murdered in a forest by some robbers, and the assassins were taken and sent to Gregory, to be treated as he thought fit, he clothed and fed and dismissed them, bidding them go and sin no more. Fleury, Hist. Eccl. ix. 479. The law of God The law of God says, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed:" but it hath been a common practice with superstitious Christians, to burn heretics, and to spare the vilest malefactors at the same time.

1. Cal

Augustin, speaking of the Stoical doctrine, that all sins are equal, treats it as an insult upon common senseb. And yet he could not see that his own system was more absurd than all the Stoical paradoxes put together. What would a Stoic have said, if he had heard a Christian philosopher affirm that an infant, dying the same day in which he was born, was eternally damned for the sin of Adam?

Non sani esse hominis non sanus juret Orestes.

This Stoical doctrine, at the bottom, was only a quib. ble. These philosophers meant by it, that all sins were so far alike, as they were deviations from the rule of reason; that all actions which are not right, are wrong, and equally deserve to be called so; just as all lines which are not straight, are crooked.

Their doctrine, that pain is no evil, is another quibble. They were not so absurd as to hold that pain was not painful and inconvenient; they only meant that it was no moral evil.

Faustus, a Semipelagian bishop, disputing against Augustin, says, "If one is doomed to life, and another to perdition, we are not born that we may be judged, but we are judged before we are born"". The remark is just, and ten Augustins and Calvins cannot answer it.

b De parilitate peccatorum soli ausi sunt disputare contra omnem sensum generis humani.

Si ergo unus ad vitam, alter ad perditionem, ut asserunt, deputatus est, sicut quidam sanctorum dixit, Non judicandi nascimur, sed judicati, De Lib. Arb. i. 4.

Augustin fell into his predestinarian notions, as Le Clerc observes, first by retaining some of his Manichæism; secondly by meditating upon the epistles of St. Paul, which he understood not, having only a slender knowledge of the Greek tongue and of the ancient fathers; and thirdly by a special grace and illumination which he fancied to have been conferred upon himself.

This doctor of grace had another notion, which is productive of many bad consequences, namely, that heretics have no right to their own goods and chattels. See Barbeyrac Mor. des P. 297.

According to Du Pin, he had a fine genius, and much vivacity and penetration, and was a skilful disputant. From general principles he drew a vast variety of consequences, and formed a system which is tolerably well connected in all its parts. He often quitted the sentiments of those who had been before him, and struck out new methods and interpretations. He was, as Cicero said of himself, magnus opinator, a great advancer of sentiments which were only conjectures and probabilities. He had less learning than genius, was not skilled in the languages, and had read little of the ancients. His style was fluent, but not polite and elegant, nor free from barbarisms. He was full of repetitions, and eternally dwelling upon the same sub

* As opinator is a man who proposes dubious opinions in a dubious manner, Augustin ought perhaps rather to be called, in scholastic Latin, Magnus dogmatizator.

jects. He hath discussed all sorts of points and ques. tions, and from his writings was formed that body of theology which was adopted by the Latin fathers who arose after him, and in a great measure by the scholastic divinese.

The style of Pelagius, says Du Pin, is dry and low. He had little science, but good sense enough; and his reflections are short and judicious.

If Pelagianism was a rejecting of divine assistance, it deserved to be rejected as a false doctrine; but whether the poor Pelagians had such notions, and ascribed too much to man and too little to God, this is quite another question, for the determining of which we must not at all rely upon the testimony of their ignorant, cruel, and boisterous adversaries. One thing seems to be extremely plain and undeniable, that what was afterwards called Semipelagianism was the very doctrine of all the Greek fathers, from Justin Martyr down to Chrysostom and the writers of the fifth century.

Tillemont, after having vainly endeavoured to show that Chrysostom (according to his notions of orthodoxy) was orthodox in this point, thus concludes; "This however is certain, that he was not chosen of God to make the church triumph over the Pelagian heresy, nor have the popes, councils, and tradition proposed

* See an epistle of Erasmus to Eckius, p. 397. in which he sets Augustin far below Jerom, and with great reason. Augustin, as he observes, is Scriptor et obscure subtilitatis, et parum amœnæ pro lixitatis. Epist. 1000. Scriptor Tepavrohoyos. Epist. 1004.

« PreviousContinue »