B. B. Warfield says in The Plan of Salvation [PDF]:

Into the place of Pelagianism there stepped at once Semipelagianism; and when the controversy with Semi-pelagianism had been fought and won, into the place of Semi-pelagianism there stepped that semi-semi-pelagianism which the Council of Orange betrayed the Church into. ... The necessity of grace had been acknowledged as the result of the Pelagian controversy: its preveniency, as the result of the Semi-pelagian controversy: but its certain efficacy, its "irresistibility" men call it, was by the fatal compromise of Orange denied. ... [After Orange it was not] any longer legally possible to ascribe salvation so entirely to the grace of God that it could complete itself without the aid of the discredited human will—its aid only as empowered and moved by prevenient grace indeed, but not effectually moved, so that it could not hold back and defeat the operations of saving grace.

But I've read through the canons of the Council of Orange and I don't see how he concludes that. Is he right?

2 Answers 2


Resistible grace in the Council of Orange

The conclusion to the council's canons says:

After grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul.

This was the wording that I missed earlier. In other words, while God provides the initial impetus for salvation through grace, man is only saved thereafter "if they desire." This is clearly not consistent with "irresistible grace," or what Warfield terms "certain efficacy" of grace. Dialogist's answer is therefore more or less correct to say that what "troubled Warfield was that the Council of Orange ascribed any importance at all to man's free will," though Warfield, as a Calvinist, would affirm "free will" in a certain compatibilist sense.

Reformed objections to the Council of Orange

John Leith says in Creeds of the Churches, page 37:

At the Council of Orange ... double predestination is repudiated and irresistible grace is omitted.

Similarly, Charles R. Biggs says in an article that the council "failed to articulate Augustine's teaching on predestination and irresistible grace." Biggs says in another article that "problems with the Synod of Orange" are the following:

(1) The irresistibility of grace is not affirmed. (2) Predestination to evil is condemned. (3) The reception of grace is so bound to baptism that the sacramental quality of grace and the merit of good works are put in the foreground.

Herman Bavinck says in Reformed Dogmatics: Vol 1:

The Synod of Orange ... accepted prevenient grace but did not decisively adopt irresistible grace and particular predestination. In the years following, not much Augustinianism was left intact."

So we can summarize the reformed objections to the council as follows:

  • Irresistible grace is omitted or denied (this is what the question was about)
  • Double predestination, which goes hand in hand with irresistible grace, is denied
  • Augustinian soteriology was weakened as a result and later diminished within the church until it was restored in the Reformation
  • What is the "Augustinian soteriology" that you say existed previously in the Church?
    – user22553
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 19:23
  • @Dialogist It's not that I'm saying it, I'm summarizing what the reformed writers, in this case specifically Bavinck, are saying. I explicitly called that a "reformed objection" to the council. But specifically, it's referring to the other two bullet points: irresistible grace and double predestination. Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 19:43
  • OK, understand. What then is the "Augustinian soteriology" that the reformed writers are maintaining existed? I think it is in all that you wrote, but how would one summarize it?
    – user22553
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 19:45
  • @Dialogist I think it has a number of components, but the major components that were rejected at Orange were irresistible grace and double predestination. I guess you could sum up its whole with the term "divine determinism." Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 20:56

In defending the Church against Pelagianism, Augustine took the extreme stance of denying any role at all of man's free will in his salvation. He once wrote, for example:

Will you dare say that even when Christ prayed that Peter's faith might fail, it would still have failed if Peter had willed it to fail? As if Peter could in any measure will otherwise than Christ had wished for him that he might fail.

On Rebuke and Grace, Chapter 17

Although Augustine appeared not to be fanatical about his views, others in the Church - especially Prosper of Aquitaine - adopted his extreme anti-Pelagian views. Other Church Fathers such as John Cassian argued that grace and free will must be viewed in the context of a sort of synergy between God and man, but Prosper and others dismissed this view altogether. Prosper wrote, for example,

By a sort of contradiction, there is taught that ... [some] from the endowments of free will, have this desire to seek, to ask and to knock ...

Contra Collatorum, Chs 2:2, 2:4

Augustine himself modified his views in later works. In The Call of All Nations he writes that he sought "to investigate what restraint and moderation we ought to maintain in our views in this conflict of opinions" (Book I.1). He emphasized that grace does not compel man but acts in harmony with man's free will:

If we give up completely all wrangling that springs up in the heat of immoderate disputes, it will be clear that we must hold for certain three points in this question. First, that God wills all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of truth. Secondly, there can be no doubt that all who actually come to the truth and to salvation, do so not in virtue of their own merits but of the efficacious help of divine grace. Thirdly, we must admit that human understanding is unable to fathom the depths of God's judgments.

Book II.1

This was a considerable modification of his previous view that grace was not only a help, but the sole agent in man's salvation. The Canons of the Council of Orange reflect Augustine's modified views. While firmly emphasizing the role of God's grace, they do not explicitly deny that the actions of man himself also have a role in his salvation. The Canons simply state that man cannot be saved solely through his own will, which was essentially the Pelagian thesis. What probably troubled Warfield was that the Council of Orange ascribed any importance at all to man's free will.

[Most of the above follows the explanation of the Pelagian controversy found in Seraphim Rose's book, The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church]

  • 1
    Thanks. I don't think this is precisely correct, but I've done some new research (thanks to this answer) and I'll be providing an alternative answer soon. I upvoted your answer for the effort and for being at least substantially correct and pointing me in the right direction. I'll ping you when it's posted; it'll of course be open to critique. Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 18:08
  • 1
    Thank you. I am sure I will benefit from your research. One thing I wanted to point out , though I am not sure how relevant it is, is that irrespective of its canons the Council of Orange was a local council within the See of Rome and had no canonical standing with the rest of the Church (i.e. the Sees of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem). The canons of other local councils such as the 4th century councils of Carthage were later adopted by the entire Church at subsequent Ecumenical Councils, but this was not the case with the Council of Orange.
    – user22553
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 18:20
  • I've now answered. I'll amend what I said earlier and say that I think your answer is pretty much exactly right (with a tiny terminological quibble that I mention in my answer). I'll probably end up accepting whichever of the two answers gets the most upvotes. Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 19:09
  • What is very interesting in all of this is that Augustine's early teachings on predestination and free will were roundly condemned in the east and in much of the west. But despite the fact he even repudiated some of these teachings himself later, he is still seen as providing patristic support for Calvinist theology. You might find the book by Seraphim Rose interesting. It discusses how Augustine's teachings on these topics have been received by the east and the west throughout history.
    – user22553
    Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 19:15
  • I may pick it up at some point. I think I'm more interested in Augustine's personal theological development though. Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 19:22

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