REFUTATION VI: OF THE SEMIPELAGIAN HERESY.
- The Semipelagians admit that the strength of the will of man has been weakened by Original Sin, and, therefore, allow that Grace is requisite to do what is right; but they deny that it is necessary for the beginning of Faith, or for the desire of eternal salvation; for they say that as the belief of sick people in the utility of medicine, and the wish to recover their health, are not works for which medicine is necessary, so the commencement of belief or call it an affection for the Faith and the desire of eternal salvation, are not works for which Grace is necessary. But we are bound to believe with the Catholic Church, that every beginning of Faith, and every good desire we entertain, is a working of Grace in us.
THE COMMENCEMENT OF FAITH AND EVERY GOOD DESIRE IS NOT FROM OURSELVES, BUT FROM GOD.
- First, that is clearly proved from St. Paul : ” Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves, as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God” (II. Cor. iii, 5). Thus the beginning of believing that is, not that beginning of Faith arising from the intellect, which naturally sees the truth of the Faith, but that pious desire of Faith, which is not yet formal faith, for it is no more than a thought, of wishing to believe, and which, as St. Augustine says, precedes belief this good thought, according to St. Paul, comes from God alone. Such is the explanation St. Augustine gives of the text : ” Attendant hie, et verba ista perpendant, qui putant ex nobis esse Fidei coaptum, et ex Deo esse Fidei supplementum. Quis enim non videt, prius esse cogitare quam credere ? Nullus quippe credit aliquid, nisi prius crediderit esse credendum. Quamvis enim rapte, quamvis celerrime credendi voluntatem quaadam cogitations antevolent, moxque ilia ita sequatur, ut quasi conjunctissima comitetur; necesse est tamen, ut omnia quæ credentur, praaveniente cogitatione credantur ……. Quod ergo pertinet ad religionem et pietatem (de qua loquebatur Apostolus), si non sumus idonei cogitare aliquid quasi ex nobis- metipsis, sed sufficientia nostra ex Deo est; profecto non sumus idonei credere aliquid quasi ex nobismetipsis, quod sine cogitatione non possumus, sed sufficientia nostra, qua credere incipiamus, ex Deo est” (1).
- It is proved, secondly, by another text of St. Paul, in which he shows the reason of our proposition. Hesays : ” For who distinguished thee ? or what hast thou that thou hast not received” (I. Cor. iv, 7). If the beginning of that good will, which disposes us to receive the Faith from God, or any other gift of Grace, came from ourselves, that would distinguish us from others who had not this commencement of a wish for eternal life. But St. Paul says, that all that we have, in which is comprised every first desire of Faith or salvation, is received from God: “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” St. Augustine was of opinion, for a time, that Faith in God was not from God, but from ourselves, and that by that we obtain afterwards from God the Grace to lead a good life; but this text of the Apostle chiefly induced him to retract this sentiment afterwards, as he himself confesses (2) : “Quo præcipue testimonio etiam ipse convictus sum, cum similiter errarem : putans Fidem, qua in Deum credimus, non esse donum Dei, sed a nobis esse in nobis, et per illam nos impetrare Dei dona, quibus temperanter et juste, et pie vivamus in hoc sæculo.”
- That is confirmed by what the Apostle says in another place : For by Grace you are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God. Not of works that no man may glory” (Ephes. ii, 8, 9). St. Augustine (3) says that Pelagius himself, to escape condemnation from the Synod of Palestine, condemned (though only apparently) the proposition, that ” Grace is given to us according to our merits.” Hence, the Saint says : ” Quis, autem, dicat euro, qui jam cœpit credere, ab illo inquara credidit, nihil mereri ? Unde sit, ut jam merenti cetera dicantur addi retributione Divina : ac per hoc gratiam Dei secundum merita nostra dari : quod objectum sibi Pelagius, ne damnaretur, ipse damnavit.”
(1)St. Aug l. de Præd S. S. c. 2. (2) Ibid. c, 3. (3) St. Aug. ibid, c. 1.
- Our proposition is proved, thirdly, from the words of the Incarnate Wisdom himself: “No man can come to me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him” (John, vi, 44). And in another place he says : ” Without me you can do nothing” (John, xv, 5). From this it is manifest that we cannot, with our own strength, even dispose ourselves to receive from God the actual graces which conduce to life everlasting, for actual grace is of a supernatural order, and, therefore, a disposition morally natural cannot dispose us to receive a supernatural grace. ” If by grace it is not now by works,” says St. Paul, ” otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rom. xi, 6). It is certain, therefore, that Grace is given to us by God, not according to our natural merits, but according to his Divine liberality. God who makes perfect in us every good work, He also commenced it : ” He who began a good work in you will perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil, i, 6). And in another place the Apostle says that every good wish has its beginning from God, and is brought to a conclusion by Him : ” For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will” (Phil, ii, 13). And here we are called on to advert to another error of the Semipelagians, who asserted that Grace was necessary to do what was good, but not necessary for perseverance in goodness. But this error was condemned by the Council of Trent (Sess. vi, cap. 13), which teaches that the gift of perseverance can only be obtained from God, who alone gives it : ” Similiter de perseverantiæ munere …….quod quidem aliunde haberi non potest nisi ab eo, qui potens est eum qui stat statuere, ut perseveranter stet.”