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Home > Fathers of the Church > Letters of St. Augustine > Letter 214

Letter 214

TO MY VERY DEAR LORD AND MOST HONOURED BROTHER AMONG THE MEMBERS OF CHRIST, VALENTINUS, AND TO THE BRETHREN THAT ARE WITH YOU, AUGUSTIN SENDS GREETING IN THE LORD.

1. Two young men, Cresconius and Felix, have found their way to us, and, introducing themselves as belonging to your brotherhood, have told us that your monastery was disturbed with no small commotion, because certain among you preach grace in such a manner as to deny that the will of man is free; and maintain--a more serious matter--that in the day of judgment God will not render to every man according to his works. At the same time, they have pointed out to us, that many of you do not entertain this opinion, but allow that free will is assisted by the grace of God, so as that we may think and do aright; so that, when the Lord shall come to render unto every man according to his works, He shall find those works of ours good which God has prepared in order that we may walk in them. They who think this think rightly.

2. "I beseech you therefore, brethren," even as the apostle besought the Corinthians, "by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you." For, in the first place, the Lord Jesus, as it is written in the Gospel of the Apostle John, "came not to condemn the world, but that the world by Himself might be saved." Then, afterwards, as the Apostle Paul writes, "God shall judge the world when He shall come," as the whole Church confesses in the Creed, "to judge the quick and the dead." Now, I would ask, if there is no grace of God, how does He save the world? And if there is no free will, how does He judge the world? That book of mine, therefore, or epistle, which the above-mentioned brethren have brought with them to you, I wish you to understand in accordance with this faith, so that you may neither deny God's grace, nor uphold free will in such wise as to separate the latter from the grace of God, as if without this we could by any means either think or do anything according to God,--which is quite beyond our power. On this account, indeed, it is, that the Lord when speaking of the fruits of righteousness said, "Without me you can do nothing."

3. From this you may understand why I wrote the letter which has been referred to, to Sixtus, presbyter of the Church at Rome, against the new Pelagian heretics, who say that the grace of God is bestowed according to our own merits, so that he who glories has to glory not in the Lord, but in himself,--that is to say, in man, not in the Lord. This, however, the apostle forbids in these words: "Let no man glory in man;" while in another passage he says, "He that glories let him glory in the Lord." But these heretics, under the idea that they are justified by their own selves, just as if God did not bestow on them this gift, but they themselves obtained it by themselves, glory of course in themselves, and not in the Lord. Now, the apostle says to such, "Who makes you to differ from another?" and this he does on the ground that out of the mass of perdition which arose from Adam, none but God distinguishes a man to make him a vessel to honour, and not to dishonour.

Lest, however, the carnal man in his foolish pride should, on hearing the question, "Who makes you to differ from another?" either in thought or in word answer and say: My faith, or my prayer, or my righteousness makes me to differ from other men, the apostle at once adds these words to the question, and so meets all such notions, saying, "What have you that you did not receive? Now, if you received it, why do you glory, as if you did not receive it?" Now, they boast as if they did not receive their gifts by grace, who think that they are justified of their own selves, and who, on this account, glory in themselves, and not in the Lord.

4. Therefore I have in this letter, which has reached you, shown by passages of Holy Scripture, which you can examine for yourselves, that our good works and pious prayers and right faith could not possibly have been in us unless we had received them all from Him, concerning whom the Apostle James says, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights." And so no man can say that it Is by the merit of his own works, or by the merit of his own prayers, or by the merit of his own faith, that God's grace has been conferred upon him; nor suppose that the doctrine is true which those heretics hold, that the grace of God is given us in proportion to our own merit. This is altogether a most erroneous opinion; not, indeed, because there is no desert, good in pious persons, or evil in impious ones (for how else shall God judge the world?), but because a man is converted by that mercy and grace of God, of which the Psalmist says, "As for my God, His mercy shall prevent me;" so that the unrighteous man is justified, that is, becomes just instead of impious, and begins to possess that good desert which God will crown when the world shall be judged.

5. There were many things which I wanted to send you, by the perusal whereof you would have been able to gain a more exact and full knowledge of all that has been done by the bishops in their councils against these Pelagian heretics. But the brethren were in haste who came to us from your company. By them we have sent you this letter; which is, however, not an answer to any communication, because, in truth, they brought us no epistle from your beloved selves. Yet we had no hesitation in receiving them; for their simple manners proved to us clearly enough that there could have been nothing unreal or deceptive in their visit to us. They were, however, in much haste, as wishing to spend Easter at home with you; and my earnest prayer is, that so sacred a day may, by the Lord's help, bring peace to you, and not dissension.

6. You will, indeed, take the better course (as I earnestly request you), if you will not refuse to send to me the very person by whom they say they have been disturbed. For either he does not understand my book, or else, perhaps, he is himself misunderstood, when he endeavours to solve and explain a question which is a very difficult one, and intelligible to few. For it is none other than the question of God's grace which has caused persons of no understanding to think that the Apostle Paul prescribes it to us as a rule, "Let us do evil that good may come." It is in reference to these that the Apostle Peter writes in his second Epistle; "Wherefore, beloved, seeing that you look for such things, be diligent, that you may be found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless and account that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given unto him, has written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things: in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction."

7. Take good heed, then, to these fearful words of the great apostle; and when you feel that you do not understand, put your faith in the meanwhile in the inspired word of God, and believe both that man's will is free, and that there is also God's grace, without whose help man's free will can neither be turned towards God, nor make any progress in God. And what you piously believe, that pray that you may have a wise understanding of. And, indeed, it is for this very purpose,--that is, that we may have a wise understanding, that there is a free will. For unless we understood and were wise with a free will, it would not be enjoined to us in the words of Scripture, "Understand now, you simple among the people; and you fools, at length be wise," The very precept and injunction which calls on us to be intelligent and wise, requires also our obedience; and we could exercise no obedience without free will. But if it were in our power to obey this precept to be understanding and wise by free will, without the help of God's grace, it would be unnecessary to say to God, "Give me understanding, that I may learn Your commandments;" nor would it have been written in the gospel, "Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures;" nor should the Apostle James address us in such words as, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not; and it shall be given him." But the Lord is able to grant, both to you and to us, that we may rejoice over very speedy tidings of your peace and pious unanimity. I send you greeting, not in my own name only, but of the brethren also who are with me; and I ask you to pray for us with one accord and with all earnestness. The Lord be with you.

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Source. Translated by J.G. Cunningham. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1102214.htm>.

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