Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/Against Two Letters of the Pelagians/Book II/Chapter 18
Chapter 18.—The Desire of Good is God’s Gift.
For they have thought that it was to be objected to us that we say “that God inspires into unwilling and resisting man the desire,” not of any very great good, but “even of imperfect good.” Possibly, then, they themselves are keeping open, in some sense at least, a place for grace, as thinking that man may have the desire of good without grace, but only of imperfect good; while of perfect, he could not easily have the desire with grace, but except with it they could not have it at all. Truly, even in this way, too, they are saying that God’s grace is given according to our merits, which Pelagius, in the ecclesiastical meeting in the East, condemned, in the fear of being condemned. For if without God’s grace the desire of good begins with ourselves, merit itself will have begun—to which, as if of debt, comes the assistance of grace; and thus God’s grace will not be bestowed freely, but will be given according to our merit. But that he might furnish a reply to the future Pelagius, the Lord does not say, “Without me it is with difficulty that you can do anything,” but He says, “Without me ye can do nothing.” And, that He might also furnish an answer to these future heretics, in that very same evangelical saying He does not say, “Without me you can perfect nothing,” but “do” nothing. For if He had said “perfect,” they might say that God’s aid is necessary not for beginning good, which is of ourselves, but for perfecting it. But let them hear also the apostle. For when the Lord says, “Without me ye can do nothing,” in this one word He comprehends both the beginning and the ending. The apostle, indeed, as if he were an expounder of the Lord’s saying, distinguished both very clearly when he says, “Because He who hath begun a good work in you will perfect it even to the day of Christ Jesus.” But in the Holy Scriptures, in the writings of the same apostle, we find more about that of which we are speaking. For we are now speaking of the desire of good, and if they will have this to begin of ourselves and to be perfected by God, let them see what they can answer to the apostle when he says, “Not that we are sufficient to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God.” “To think anything,” he says,—he certainly means, “to think anything good;” but is it less to think than to desire. Because we think all that we desire, but we do not desire all that we think; because sometimes also we think what we do not desire. Since, then, it is a smaller thing to think than to desire,—for a man may think good which he does not yet desire, and by advancing may afterwards desire what before without desire he thought of,—how are we not sufficient as of ourselves to that which is less, that is, to the thinking of something good, but our sufficiency is of God; while to that which is greater,—that is, to the desire of some good thing—without the divine help, we are sufficient of free will? For what the apostle says here is not, “Not that we are sufficient as of ourselves to think that which is perfect;” but he says, “to think anything,” to which “nothing” is the contrary. And this is the meaning of what the Lord says, “Without me ye can do nothing.”
- John xv. 5.
- Phil. i. 6.
- 2 Cor. iii. 5.