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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 148. The Pelagian Controversy in Palestine.


Meanwhile, in 414, the controversy broke out in Palestine, where Pelagius was residing, and where he had aroused attention by a letter to the nun Demetrias. His opinions gained much wider currency there, especially among the Origenists; for the Oriental church had not been at all affected by the Augustinian views, and accepted the two ideas of freedom and grace, without attempting to define their precise relation to each other. But just then there happened to be in Palestine two Western theologians, Jerome and Orosius; and they instituted opposition to Pelagius.

Jerome, who lived a monk at Bethlehem, was at first decidedly favorable to the synergistic theory of the Greek fathers, but at the same time agreed with Ambrose and Augustine in the doctrine of the absolutely universal corruption of sin.17151715    Compare, respecting his relation to Pelagianism, O. Zöckler: Hieronymus (1865), p. 310 ff. and p. 420 ff. But from an enthusiastic admirer of Origen he had been changed to a bitter enemy. The doctrine of Pelagius concerning free will and the moral ability of human nature he attributed to the influence of Origen and Rufinus; and he took as a personal insult an attack of Pelagius on some of his writings.17161716    Comp. Jerome: Praefat. libri i. in Jeremiam (Opera, ed. Vallarsi, tom. iv. 834 sq.), where he speaks very contemptuously of Pelagius: “Nuper indoctus calumniator erupit, qui commentarios meos in epistolam Pauli ad Ephesios reprehendendos putat.” Soon afterwards he designates Grunnius, i.e., Rufinus, as his praecursor, and thus connects him with the Origenistic heresies. Pelagius had also expressed himself unfavorably respecting his translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. He therefore wrote against him, though from wounded pride and contempt he did not even mention his name; first in a letter answering inquiries of a certain Ctesiphon at Rome (415);17171717    Epist. 133 ad Ctesiphont. Adv. Pelag. (Opera, i. 1025-1042). then more at length in a dialogue of three books against the Pelagians, written towards the end of the year 415, and soon after the acquittal of Pelagius by the synod of Jerusalem.17181718    Dialogus c. Pelag. (Opera, tom. ii. 693-806). Yet in this treatise and elsewhere Jerome himself teaches the freedom of the will, and only a conditional predestination of divine foreknowledge, and thus, with all his personal bitterness against the Pelagians, stands on Semi-Pelagian ground, though Augustine eulogizes the dialogue.17191719    Op. imperf. contra Jul. iv. 88, where he says of it: Mira et ut talem fidem decebat, venustate composuit. The judgment is just as to the form, but too favorable as to the contents of this dialogue. Comp. Zöckler, Hieronymus, p. 428.

A young Spanish ecclesiastic, Paul Orosius, was at that time living with Jerome for the sake of more extended study, and had been sent to him by Augustine with letters relating to the Origenistic and Pelagian controversy.

At a diocesan synod, convoked by the bishop John of Jerusalem in June, 415,17201720    The Acta of the Conventus Hierosolymitanus, according to a report of Orosius, in his Apologia pro libertate arbitrii, cap. 3 and 4, are found in Mansi, iv. 301 sqq. this Orosius appeared against Pelagius, and gave information that a council at Carthage had condemned Coelestius, and that Augustine had written against his errors. Pelagius answered with evasion and disparagement: “What matters Augustine to me?” Orosius gave his opinion, that a man who presumed to speak contumeliously of the bishop to whom the whole North African church owed her restoration (alluding apparently to the settlement of the Donatist controversies), deserved to be excluded from the communion of the whole church. John, who was a great admirer of the condemned Origen, and made little account of the authority of Augustine, declared: “I am Augustine,”17211721    “Augustinus ego sum.” To this Orosiusreplied not infelicitously: “Si Angustini personam sumis, Augustini sententiam sequere.” Mansi, iv. 308. and undertook the defence of the accused. He permitted Pelagius, although only a monk and layman, to take his seat among the presbyters.17221722    Orosiuswas much scandalized by the fact that a bishop should order “laicum in consessu presbyterorum, reum haereseos manifestae in medio catholicorum sedere.” Nor did he find fault with Pelagius’ assertion, that man can easily keep the commandments of God, and become free from sin, after the latter had conceded, in a very indefinite manner, that for this the help of God is necessary. Pelagius had the advantage of understanding both languages, while John spoke only Greek, Orosius only Latin, and the interpreter often translated inaccurately. After much discussion it was resolved, that the matter should be laid before the Roman bishop, Innocent, since both parties in the controversy belonged to the Western church. Meanwhile these should refrain from all further attacks on each other.

A second Palestinian council resulted still more favorably to Pelagius. This consisted of fourteen bishops, and was held at Diospolis or Lydda, in December of the same year, under the presidency of Eulogius, bishop of Caesarea, to judge of an accusation preferred by two banished bishops of Gaul, Heros and Lazarus, acting in concert with Jerome.17231723    The scattered accounts of the Concilium Diospolitanum are collected in Mansi, tom. iv. 311 sqq. Comp. Hefele, ii. p. 95 ff. The charges were unskilfully drawn up, and Pelagius was able to avail himself of equivocations, and to condemn as folly, though not as heresy, the teachings of Coelestius, which were also his own. The synod, of which John of Jerusalem was a member, did not go below the surface of the question, nor in fact understand it, but acquitted the accused of all heresy. Jerome is justified in calling this a “miserable synod;”17241724    “Quidquid in illa miserabili synodo Diospolitana dixisse se denegat, in hoc opere confitetur,” he wrote, a.d.419, in a letter to Augustine(Ep. 143, ed. Vallars. tom. i. 1067). Comp. Mansi, iv. 315. although Augustine is also warranted in saying: “it was not heresy, that was there acquitted, but the man who denied the heresy.”17251725    Comp. Augustine, De gestis Pelagii, c. 1 sqq. (tom. x. fol. 192 sqq.). Pope innocent I. (402-417) wrote a consoling letter to Jerome, and a letter of reproof to John of Jerusalem for his inaction. Epp. 136 and 137 in Jerome’s Epistles.

Jerome’s polemical zeal against the Pelagians cost him dear. In the beginning of the year 416, a mob of Pelagianizing monks, ecclesiastics, and vagabonds broke into his monastery at Bethlehem, maltreated the inmates, set the building on fire, and compelled the aged scholar to take to flight. Bishop John of Jerusalem let this pass unpunished. No wonder that Jerome, even during the last years of his life, in several epistles indulges in occasional sallies of anger against Pelagius, whom he calls a second Catiline.



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