The doctrine of "faith alone," or sola fide, teaches that people are justified only by their faith in Christ, not by any works they do. It was emphasized during the Protestant Reformation, where it was one of the marks distinguishing Protestants from Roman Catholics.

However, I found an interesting statement in Bruce Shelley's Church History in Plain Language that seems to indicate a much earlier origin. He describes the views of Pelagius (d. 418) as follows:

God predestinates no one, except in the sense that he foresees who will believe and who will reject his gracious influences. His forgiveness comes to all who exercise "faith alone"; but, once forgiven, man has power of himself to live pleasing to God. (138)

Of course, Pelagius's views on sin differed significantly from those of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation and most modern Protestants. As a result, his doctrine of "faith alone," if it exists, will likely differ in particulars from that of Protestants. So I'd like to know:

  • Did Pelagius believe in a doctrine called "faith alone" or one bearing resemblance to the Protestant doctrine?
    • That is, did he believe that faith without works caused someone to be saved?
  • If yes, what are the main ways in which his view differed from that of Protestant leaders like Luther and Calvin?
  • I think you're asking this question from a mistaken context. Pelagius was regarded as a heretic because he taught that man could, at least in theory, be saved without the grace of God. Grace was a sort-of fallback for the weak. This article gives a nice historical commentary on the matter (blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxyandheterodoxy/2012/08/13/…). I don't think he taught anything remotely like faith-alone. Luther and Calvin are aligned with St. Augustine who was Pelagius's chief opposition.
    – Ian
    May 9, 2016 at 19:38
  • @Ian Right; I know his view of sin differed dramatically. But my understanding (not contradicted by your link, as far as I can tell) is that he believed that many or most people needed forgiveness from God. If such people could receive forgiveness by "faith alone," that seems similar to the Protestant doctrine in that respect. Of course, it would be vastly different in others. May 9, 2016 at 19:45
  • Do you mean forgiveness as understood through the lens of penal substitution. Forgiveness taken as a satisfaction of God's justice? This is generally how Calvin and Luther viewed it, but I haven't read an ancient Christian writer who teaches this, but I may be wrong. Perhaps later I'll do some reading as the question is interesting.
    – Ian
    May 9, 2016 at 22:07
  • @Ian I don't have any evidence that Pelagius would have accepted penal substitution, so I'm not assuming that. I just mean forgiveness, the idea that God grants mercy, on the basis of faith, not works. Pelagius's atonement theory, whatever it was, might come into play, but I'm not assuming anything in that regard. May 9, 2016 at 22:12

2 Answers 2


Below I've tried to summarize Calvin's views and then characterize Pelagius' as they relate to salvation by faith alone. All quotes from Calvin below are from his Institutes of the Christian religion. I will therefore just reference chapter and part in my quotes from Calvin. I left Luther out, because I don't have any of his books on hand.

Faith Alone according to Calvin:

John Calvin taught what is familiar to most contemporary Protestants

Book 3 Chapter 2 Part 1

"God by his Law prescribes what we ought to do, failure in any one respect subjects us to the dreadful judgment of eternal death, ... it is not only difficult, but altogether beyond our strength and ability to fulfill the demands of the Law ... " (no merit in ourselves can be found) "there is only one method of deliverance which can deliver us ... when Christ the Redeemer appears ... if we with true faith embrace this mercy, and with firm hope rest in it.

Part 2

"Faith consists not in ignorance, but in knowledge - knowledge not of God merely, but of the divine will. We do not obtain salvation either because we are prepared to embrace every dictate of the church as true, or leave to the church the province of inquiring and determining; but when we recognize God as a propitious Father through the reconciliation made by Christ ... By this knowledge ... we obtain an entrance into the kingdom of heaven."

Part 3

"Faith consists in the knowledge of God and Christ"

So faith is the knowledge of Christ's work for us by which we receive his righteousness.


Now attempting to characterize whether Pelagius taught that man may be saved by faith alone is more difficult. He certainly did not teach that man must be saved by faith alone as Calvin did.

The Seven Ecumenical Councils from Shaff's Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, the Excursus on Pelagianism (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105.xiv.xxvi.html)

"Further he taught that man could live without committing any sin at all. And for this there was no need of grace; indeed grace was not possible, according to his teaching. The only “grace,” which he would admit the existence of, was what we may call external grace, e.g. the example of Christ, the teaching of his ministers, and the like."

Augustine gives some more detail about how Pelagius believed man could be saved without grace here: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105.xiv.xxvi.html (chapter 22 of his Anti-Pelagian writings)

We take for granted that Pelagius must have thought that if a man has chosen to be without sin, then he will enjoy eternal life. So it can be safely stated that man did not need to be saved by faith-alone. The question then is how Pelagius viewed those who had sinned and therefore needed grace; could those poor souls be saved by faith alone in the way Calvin understood it? I think the answer is no.

Unfortunately the best on topic content that I found comes from St. Augustine in his polemic against Pelagius.

St. Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings Chapter 33 (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105.xiv.xxxvii.html), quoting Pelagius here:

"we declare that God gives to the person, who has proved himself worthy to receive them, all graces, even as He conferred them on the Apostle Paul."

I don't think it takes much imagination to see how this statement by Pelagius directly opposes salvation by faith alone as taught by Calvin or any other Protestant (it is probably even unagreeable to Catholics); so long as we extend the grace he refers to here to include saving grace and not just the grace received by believers after baptism (personally I don't differentiate between the two). Chapter 33-36 of this work is where St. Augustine makes the following important points:

  • Grace is given to those who don't deserve it
  • If grace were given to the deserving it wouldn't be grace
  • Faith is given by God and works follow after this faith is implanted in the believer

All of these points are made as refutations of Pelagius' teachings and all points are foundational to the reformed doctrine in question; so if St. Augustine is to be believed, then Pelagius definitely couldn't have believed that man is saved by faith alone. However, this condemnation seems to all be hung on this one statement from Pelagius (I didn't read all those chapters in detail).

Following are some secondary considerations:

Pelagius - Letter and Confession of Faith to Innocent I (http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/pelagius_letter_and_confession_to_innocent.htm)

"If after baptism a man do fall, we believe he may be recovered by repentance [or penance]."

This little snippet stands opposed to Calvin's teachings. He did say that repentance was required throughout life, but firmly rejected the Catholic practice of penance and the sacrament of confession altogether. Pelagius, however, appears to view it as a necessary action for those who have sinned to restore their salvation. It is worth noting that this was not a controversial doctrine at the time, St. Augustine probably agreed with him on this point.

St. Augustine: Anti-Pelagian Writings Chapter 28 (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf105.xiv.xxxii.html)

"the Church is by the laver cleansed from every spot and wrinkle ... And who amongst us denies that in baptism the sins of all men are remitted, and that all believers come up spotless and pure from the laver of regeneration?"

Pelagius most certainly taught that those defiled by sin must be baptized to receive the forgiveness of sins. This contradicts how many Protestants conceive of salvation by faith-alone: believing saves you and baptism is just a symbol of that belief. However, I cannot say how Calvin would respond to this, he seems to emphasize different aspects of baptism, but not deny that it is how we initially receive grace: "forgiveness ... at our first regeneration we receive by baptism alone" (4:15:3). However, he mostly talks about how baptism gives the believer "knowledge and certainty" (4:15:1) of the gifts of salvation. Since knowledge = faith to Calvin, perhaps we can say that Calvin thought that baptism gives better understanding and assurance which is in itself perfecting the faith that already exists and therefore needful for salvation; however it is still this faith that saves. I think Calvin's views on baptism differ from Pelagius', but have some overlap. When Calvin attacks Pelagius he does so for his conception of infant baptism, not on his teachings about why converts need baptism. I don't think we can say that this teaching alone would exclude him from believing in faith-alone salvation from Calvin's viewpoint, but according to some it would.

In summary, imposing a contemporary reformed doctrine on Pelagius is difficult, because it was not what he was on trial for. None of his accusers condemned him for saying that man must work for his salvation or apply his effort to it. He was condemned for allowing that man may be saved apart from grace. Notice that the anathemas against Pelagius from the council of Carthage (http://www.earlychurchtexts.com/public/carthage_canons_on_sin_and_grace.htm) say that "without the grace of God we can do no good thing." They do not say that man cannot perform actions pleasing to God which are beneficial to salvation; neither do they say that man is saved by faith alone, they simply state that man cannot do any of these things with God's grace (note St. John Cassian's exhortation to a synergistic view of salvation in response to Augustine's polemical writings; as talked about in the article posted in my first comment).

The best proof we have is Augustine's words against Pelagius, but one may think that he is extrapolating the words of the heretic a bit.

As an aside, I would use caution with the phrase "faith apart from works" when referring to the soteriology of Calvin. He certainly taught that believers were to inherit salvation through good works.

Book 3 Chapter 18 Part1

"But though it is by mercy alone that God admits his people to life, yet as he leads them into possession of it by the course of good works"

Part 3

"believers must continue running during the whole course of their lives in order that they may attain it"

  • Thanks, this is great! One quibble: I'm not sure that your point regarding penance is very strong (Pelagius: "we believe he may be recovered by repentance") since repentance/penance were the same word. But I don't know how well developed the Catholic doctrine of penance was at that time. If this line actually refers to simple repentance (turning away, asking forgiveness), I wonder if this might actually be evidence for some kind of "faith alone" doctrine. May 10, 2016 at 12:17
  • @Nathaniel - It is my understanding that penance/repentance at that time would be understood to at least include and oral confession to the church as a whole, or at least to a priest. This page contains a list of quotes from different church fathers regarding the practice: wenorthodox.com/2012/12/…. The necessity of this oral confession, and the need of a priest or the church to offer/confirm forgiveness is condemned by Calvin, but it wasn't as highly developed as the Catholics later made it I presume.
    – Ian
    May 10, 2016 at 14:01

I have read from certain articles that Saint Pelagius theology is being revived among some circles just like theologians' inclination towards New Perspective on Paul and Molinism. It is believed that Pelagius was deliberately condemned as heretic by Augustin who failed to convict him of the charges against Synods of Jerusalem and Diospolis in the year 415, but later successfully convicted him as heretic. http://silouanthompson.net/2010/02/pelagius-to-demetrias

The views of Pelagius on the nature of sin and soteriology are very similar to the theology of 16th century Luis Molina of Molinism; read this to understand Molinism under Scientia Media heading.

Since his writings are not available for us to study, we can only make our best guesses on such quotes by scholars who have read some portions of his writings. I doubt that Pelagius had literally meant the faith-alone idea in that quoted statement; it could have meant faith-itself too. God forgives all sins based on faith itself. This does not mean faith is the only criteria of salvation. This still does not overrule the forgiveness received by some who have repented and turned to righteousness apart from the conscious knowledge of revelation; there are some who receive providential forgiveness and atonement of Christ. They are among the vast number of human population unevangelized and misinformed of the revelation; and all those who are born before Christ in all the nations. However the number of such people receiving providential salvation may differ in views of different proponents of Pelagianism or Molinism. I believe if you want to study Pelagianism then study Molinism.

The main issue of difference between Pelagius and Augustin theology is the denial of monergism or total depravity of man. Children are born innocent and they go to heaven if they die apart from faith or baptism. Pelagius might have affirmed infant baptism saying we would not deny anyone of the baptism even the infants, but it must be in context of giving a clever answer to acquit himself of the mainstream leaders charges during the hearing. He would not have actually believed that children are born sinners like the other leaders did.

We should consider the theologian's arguments that Pelagius has been misrepresented by his enemies and that we have only fraction of his records surviving. I would love to read all the online resources that shares his commentary on Romans and any other letters that have been recently discovered.

I like to use Romans 2:13-15 as the best evidence for Pelagius theology; and the doctrines of free-will. Many early leaders prior to Augustine had very same interpretation of free-will and nature of sin as Pelagius. Following are some of those quotes:


Chap. XXXVII. — Men Are Possessed of Free Will, and Endowed with the Faculty of Making a Choice. It Is Not True, Therefore, That Some Are by Nature Good, and Others Bad.

  1. This expression [of our Lord], “How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not,” (Mat 23:37) set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests (ad utendum sententia) of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all. And in man, as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice (for angels are rational beings), so that those who had yielded obedience might justly possess what is good, given indeed by God, but preserved by themselves. On the other hand, they who have not obeyed shall, with justice, be not found in possession of the good, and shall receive condign punishment: for God did kindly bestow on them what was good; but they themselves did not diligently keep it, nor deem it something precious, but poured contempt upon His super-eminent goodness. Rejecting therefore the good, and as it were spuing it out, they shall all deservedly incur the just judgment of God, which also the Apostle Paul testifies in his Epistle to the Romans, where he says, “But dost thou despise the riches of His goodness, and patience, and long-suffering, being ignorant that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But according to thy hardness and impenitent heart, thou treasurest to thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” “But glory and honour,” he says, “to every one that doeth good.” (Rom 2:4, Rom 2:5, Rom 2:7) God therefore has given that which is good, as the apostle tells us in this Epistle, and they who work it shall receive glory and honour, because they have done that which is good when they had it in their power not to do it; but those who do it not shall receive the just judgment of God, because they did not work good when they had it in their power so to do.

  2. But if some had been made by nature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for such were they created; nor would the former be reprehensible, for thus they were made [originally]. But since all men are of the same nature, able both to hold fast and to do what is good; and, on the other hand, having also the power to cast it from them and not to do it, — some do justly receive praise even among men who are under the control of good laws (and much more from God), and obtain deserved testimony of their choice of good in general, and of persevering therein; but the others are blamed, and receive a just condemnation, because of their rejection of what is fair and good. And therefore the prophets used to exhort men to what was good, to act justly and to work righteousness, as I have so largely demonstrated, because it is in our power so to do, and because by excessive negligence we might become forgetful, and thus stand in need of that good counsel which the good God has given us to know by means of the prophets.

  3. For this reason the Lord also said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Mat 5:16) And, “Take heed to yourselves, lest perchance your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and worldly cares.” (Luk 21:34) And, “Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning, and ye like unto men that wait for their Lord, when He returns from the wedding, that when He cometh and knocketh, they may open to Him. Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when He cometh, shall find so doing.” (Luk 12:35, Luk 12:36) And again, “The servant who knows his Lord’s will, and does it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.” (Luk 12:47) And, “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luk 6:46) And again, “But if the servant say in his heart, The Lord delayeth, and begin to beat his fellow-servants, and to eat, and drink, and to be drunken, his Lord will come in a day on which he does not expect Him, and shall cut him in sunder, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites.” (Luk 12:45, Luk 12:46; Mat 24:48, Mat 24:51) All such passages demonstrate the independent will151 of man, and at the same time the counsel which God conveys to him, by which He exhorts us to submit ourselves to Him, and seeks to turn us away from [the sin of] unbelief against Him, without, however, in any way coercing us.

Chap. XXXIX. — Man Is Endowed with the Faculty of Distinguishing Good and Evil; so That, Without Compulsion, He Has the Power, by His Own Will and Choice, to Perform God’s Commandments, by Doing Which He Avoids the Evils Prepared for the Rebellious.

  1. Man has received the knowledge of good and evil. It is good to obey God, and to believe in Him, and to keep His commandment, and this is the life of man; as not to obey God is evil, and this is his death. Since God, therefore, gave [to man] such mental power (magnanimitatem) man knew both the good of obedience and the evil of disobedience, that the eye of the mind, receiving experience of both, may with judgment make choice of the better things; and that he may never become indolent or neglectful of God’s command; and learning by experience that it is an evil thing which deprives him of life, that is, disobedience to God, may never attempt it at all, but that, knowing that what preserves his life, namely, obedience to God, is good, he may diligently keep it with all earnestness. Wherefore he has also had a twofold experience, possessing knowledge of both kinds, that with discipline he may make choice of the better things. But how, if he had no knowledge of the contrary, could he have had instruction in that which is good? For there is thus a surer and an undoubted comprehension of matters submitted to us than the mere surmise arising from an opinion regarding them. For just as the tongue receives experience of sweet and bitter by means of tasting, and the eye discriminates between black and white by means of vision, and the ear recognises the distinctions of sounds by hearing; so also does the mind, receiving through the experience of both the knowledge of what is good, become more tenacious of its preservation, by acting in obedience to God: in the first place, casting away, by means of repentance, disobedience, as being something disagreeable and nauseous; and afterwards coming to understand what it really is, that it is contrary to goodness and sweetness, so that the mind may never even attempt to taste disobedience to God. But if any one do shun the knowledge of both these kinds of things, and the twofold perception of knowledge, he unawares divests himself of the character of a human being.

  2. How, then, shall he be a God, who has not as yet been made a man? Or how can he be perfect who was but lately created? How, again, can he be immortal, who in his mortal nature did not obey his Maker? For it must be that thou, at the outset, shouldest hold the rank of a man, and then afterwards partake of the glory of God. For thou dost not make God, but God thee. If, then, thou art God’s workmanship, await the hand of thy Maker which creates everything in due time; in due time as far as thou art concerned, whose creation is being carried out.154 Offer to Him thy heart in a soft and tractable state, and preserve the form in which the Creator has fashioned thee, having moisture in thyself, lest, by becoming hardened, thou lose the impressions of His fingers. But by preserving the framework thou shalt ascend to that which is perfect, for the moist clay which is in thee is hidden [there] by the workmanship of God. His hand fashioned thy substance; He will cover thee over [too] within and without with pure gold and silver, and He will adorn thee to such a degree, that even “the King Himself shall have pleasure in thy beauty.” (Psa 45:11) But if thou, being obstinately hardened, dost reject the operation of His skill, and show thyself ungrateful towards Him, because thou weft created a [mere] man, by becoming thus ungrateful to God, thou hast at once lost both His workmanship and life. For creation is an attribute of the goodness of God but to be created is that of human nature. If then, thou shalt deliver up to Him what is thine that is, faith towards Him and subjection, thou shalt receive His handiwork, and shall be a perfect work of God.

Second Century - Theophilus, bishop of Antioch- Letter to Autolycus Book 2- Chapter XXVII (27).—The Nature of Man. But some one will say to us, Was man made by nature mortal? Certainly not. Was he, then, immortal? Neither do we affirm this. But one will say, Was he, then, nothing? Not even this hits the mark. He was by nature neither mortal nor immortal. For if He had made him immortal from the beginning, He would have made him God. Again, if He had made him mortal, God would seem to be the cause of his death. Neither, then, immortal nor yet mortal did He make him, but, as we have said above, capable of both; so that if he should incline to the things of immortality, keeping the commandment of God, he should receive as reward from Him immortality, and should become God; but if, on the other hand, he should turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he should himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with power over himself. 603 That, then, which man brought upon himself through carelessness and disobedience, this God now vouchsafes to him as a gift through His own philanthropy and pity, when men obey Him. 604 For as man, disobeying, drew death upon himself; so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself life everlasting. For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/02042.htm

Theophilus To Autolycus (Theophilus of Antioch) > Book III Chapter 9. Christian Doctrine of God and His Law.

Now we also confess that God exists, but that He is one, the creator, and maker, and fashioner of this universe; and we know that all things are arranged by His providence, but by Him alone. And we have learned a holy law; but we have as lawgiver Him who is really God, who teaches us to act righteously, and to be pious, and to do good. And concerning piety He says, "You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make unto you any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I am the Lord your God." Exodus 20:3 And of doing good He said: "Honour your father and your mother; that it may be well with you, and that your days may be long in the land which I the Lord God give you." Again, concerning righteousness: "You shall not commit adultery. You shall not kill. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife, you shall not covet your neighbour's house, nor his land, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his beast of burden, nor any of his cattle, nor anything that is your neighbour's. You shall not wrest the judgment of the poor in his cause. Exodus 23:6 From every unjust matter keep you far. The innocent and righteous you shall not slay; you shall not justify the wicked; and you shall not take a gift, for gifts blind the eyes of them that see and pervert righteous words." Of this divine law, then, Moses, who also was God's servant, was made the minister both to all the world, and chiefly to the Hebrews, who were also called Jews, whom an Egyptian king had in ancient days enslaved, and who were the righteous seed of godly and holy men— Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. God, being mindful of them, and doing marvellous and strange miracles by the hand of Moses, delivered them, and led them out of Egypt, leading them through what is called the desert; whom He also settled again in the land of Canaan, which afterwards was called judæa, and gave them a law, and taught them these things. Of this great and wonderful law, which tends to all righteousness, the ten heads are such as we have already rehearsed.

Chapter 10. Of Humanity to Strangers. Since therefore they were strangers in the land of Egypt, being by birth Hebrews from the land of Chaldæa,— for at that time, there being a famine, they were obliged to migrate to Egypt for the sake of buying food there, where also for a time they sojourned; and these things befell them in accordance with a prediction of God—having sojourned, then, in Egypt for 430 years, when Moses was about to lead them out into the desert, God taught them by the law, saying, "You shall not afflict a stranger; for you know the heart of a stranger: for yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt." Exodus 22:21

Chapter 11. Of Repentance. And when the people transgressed the law which had been given to them by God, God being good and pitiful, unwilling to destroy them, in addition to His giving them the law, afterwards sent forth also prophets to them from among their brethren, to teach and remind them of the contents of the law, and to turn them to repentance, that they might sin no more. But if they persisted in their wicked deeds, He forewarned them that they should be delivered into subjection to all the kingdoms of the earth; and that this has already happened them is manifest. Concerning repentance, then, Isaiah the prophet, generally indeed to all, but expressly to the people, says: "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near: let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord his God, and he will find mercy, for He will abundantly pardon." Isaiah 55:6 And another prophet, Ezekiel, says: "If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed, and keep all My statutes, and do that which is right in My sight, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he has committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him; but in his righteousness that he has done he shall live: for I desire not the death of the sinner, says the Lord, but that he turn from his wicked way, and live." Ezekiel 18:21 Again Isaiah: "You who take deep and wicked counsel, turn, that you may be saved." Isaiah 31:6 And another prophet, Jeremiah: "Turn to the Lord your God, as a grape-gatherer to his basket, and you shall find mercy." Jeremiah 6:9 Many therefore, yea rather, countless are the sayings in the Holy Scriptures regarding repentance, God being always desirous that the race of men turn from all their sins. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/02043.htm

John Chrysostom (347-407, undefiled by gnostic Augustine writes in Homily V. Romans i. 28. "For not only is it possible without hearing to be a doer, but even with hearing not to be so. Which last thing he makes plainer, and that with a greater advantage over them, when he says, “Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” (Rom. 2. 21.) But here he is still making the former point good. Rom. 2.14. “For when the Gentiles,” he says, “which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.” I am not, he means, rejecting the Law, but even on this score I justify the Gentiles. You see how when undermining the conceit of Judaism, he giveth no handle against himself as villifying the Law, but on the contrary by extolling it and showing its greatness he so makes good his whole position. But whenever he saith “by nature,” he means by the reasonings of nature. And he shows that others are better than they, and, what is more better for this, that they have not received the Law, and have not that wherein the Jews seem to have an advantage over them. For on this ground he means they are to be admired, because they required not a law, and yet exhibited all the doings of the Law, having the works, not the letters, graven upon their minds. For this is what he says, Rom. 2.15. “Which show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.” Rom. 2.16. “In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel.” See how he again puts that day before them, and brings it close to them, battering down their conceit, and showing, that those were to be the rather honored who without the Law strove earnestly to fulfil the things of the Law. But what is most to be marvelled at in the discretion of the Apostle, it is worth while to mention now. For having shown, from the grounds given, that the Gentile is greater than the Jew; in the inference, and the conclusion of his reasoning, he does not state it, in order not to exasperate the Jew. But to make what I have said clearer, I will give the very words of the Apostle. For after saying, that it is not the hearers of the Law, but the doers of the Law, that shall be justified, it followed to say, “For when the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law,” they are much better than those who are instructed by the Law. But this he does not say, but he stays at the encomium of the Gentiles, and does not yet awhile carry on his discourse by way of comparison, that so at least the Jew may receive what is said. And so he does not word it as I was doing, but how? “For when the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law unto themselves; which show the work of the Law, written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness.” For the conscience and reason doth suffice in the Law’s stead. By this he showed, first, that God made man independent, so as to be able to choose virtue and to avoid vice. And be not surprised that he proves this point, not once or twice, but several times....."

Ver. 15. Which show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another. Ver. 16. In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel. See how he again puts that day before them, and brings it close to them, battering down their conceit, and showing, that those were to be the rather honored who without the Law strove earnestly to fulfil the things of the Law. But what is most to be marvelled at in the discretion of the Apostle, it is worth while to mention now. For having shown, from the grounds given, that the Gentile is greater than the Jew; in the inference, and the conclusion of his reasoning, he does not state it, in order not to exasperate the Jew. But to make what I have said clearer, I will give the very words of the Apostle. For after saying, that it is not the hearers of the Law, but the doers of the Law, that shall be justified, it followed to say, For when the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, they are much better than those who are instructed by the Law. But this he does not say, but he stays at the encomium of the Gentiles, and does not yet awhile carry on his discourse by way of comparison, that so at least the Jew may receive what is said. And so he does not word it as I was doing, but how? For when the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law unto themselves; which show the work of the Law, written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness. For the conscience and reason does suffice in the Law's stead. By this he showed, first, that God made man independent, so as to be able to choose virtue and to avoid vice. And be not surprised that he proves this point, not once or twice, but several times. For this topic was very needful for him to prove owing to those who say, Why ever is it, that Christ came but now? And where in times before was the (most manuscripts this mighty) scheme of Providence? Now it is these that he is at present beating off by the way, when he shows that even in former times, and before the Law was given, the human race (Gr. nature) fully enjoyed the care of Providence. For that which may be known of God was manifest in them, and they knew what was good, and what bad; by means whereof they judged others, which he reproaches them with, when he says, wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself. But in the case of the Jews, besides what has been mentioned, there was the Law, and not reason or conscience only. And why does he put the words accusing or else excusing?— for, if they have a Law written, and show the work of it in them, how comes reason to be able to accuse them still? But he is not any longer speaking of those only who do well, but also of mankind (Gr. the nature) universally. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/210205.htm

  • Hi Michael, Reading over your post it seems that you are conflating Pelagian beliefs with those of the early church fathers. I advise you read St. John Cassian's work On The Incarnation Against Nestorius to see how the patristic perspective diverges sharply from the Pelagian one. The patristic writers certainly neither taught Reformed doctrine or Pelagianism. Also read the Second Council of Orange and note that it strongly condemns Pelagianism and the doctrine of predestination (read the conclusion).
    – Ian
    Jun 16, 2017 at 20:27
  • These quotes are of very early Christians, way before Augustinian domination or Catholic councils like Orange. Their views definitely align with Pelagians' views. I believe there has been a great misconception on Pelagian based on Augustine's misrepresentation out of envy. @Ian Pelagian and many early Christians did not believe in monergism or faith-alone.
    – Michael16
    Jun 17, 2017 at 18:05
  • Pelagius also denied the trinity by teaching that Jesus Christ was not fully divine (if you haven't yet, read this link I posted earlier as I believe it is a faithful summary of the history: blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxyandheterodoxy/2012/08/13/…). I understand the fathers to have a synergistic view, meaning that our wills must work in concert with God's initial and continuous will for our salvation. This diffs from Pelagianism that teaches that man can be saved without grace altogether. But none of the fathers were Reformed.
    – Ian
    Jun 18, 2017 at 0:29
  • And the writings of St. John Chrysostom were certainly after the first ecumenical council. The council of Orange is not an ecumenical council, but it does refute Reformed doctrine (faith alone and predestination).
    – Ian
    Jun 18, 2017 at 0:31
  • @Ian early synergist fathers implicitly believed same that man can be saved without grace, such as every child born is innocent, and goes to heaven if dies, and Rom2:12-14. I highly doubt your link claiming that he denied trinity. You should make a new Q asking for its authenticity. It has to be ridiculous. Even the heretic Augustine didn't make such false charges on him as far as I know. Chrysostom was a Pelagian. Catholicism didn't take form then.
    – Michael16
    Jun 20, 2017 at 6:41

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