Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/Against Two Letters of the Pelagians/Book II/Chapter 5
Chapter 5 [III.]—The Calumny of the Pelagians Against the Clergy of the Roman Church.
Moreover, they accuse the Roman clergy, writing, “That, driven by the fear of a command, they have not blushed to be guilty of the crime of prevarication; so that, contrary to their previous judgment, wherein by their proceedings they had assented to the catholic dogma, they subsequently pronounced that the nature of men is evil.” Nay, but the Pelagians had conceived, with a false hope, that the new and execrable dogma of Pelagius or Cœlestius could be made acceptable to the catholic intelligences of certain Romans, when those crafty spirits—however perverted by a wicked error, yet not contemptible, since they appeared rather to be deserving of considerate correction than of easy condemnation—were treated with somewhat more of lenity than the stricter discipline of the Church required. For while so many and such important ecclesiastical documents were passing and repassing between the Apostolical See and the African bishops, —and,moreover, when the proceedings in this matter in that see were completed, with Cœlestius present and making answer,—what sort of a letter, what decree, is found of Pope Zosimus, of venerable memory, wherein he prescribed that it must be believed that man is born without any taint of original sin? Absolutely he never said this—never wrote it at all. But since Cœlestius had written this in his pamphlet, among those matters, merely, on which he confessed that he was still in doubt and desired to be instructed, the desire of amendment in a man of so acute an intellect, who, if he could be put right, would assuredly be of advantage to many, and not the falsehood of the doctrine, was approved. And therefore his pamphlet was called catholic, because this also is the part of a catholic disposition,—if by chance in any matters a man thinks differently from what the truth demands, not with the greatest accuracy to define those matters, but, if detected and demonstrated, to reject them. For it was not to heretics, but to catholics, that the apostle was speaking when he said, “Let us, therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded; and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” This was thought to have been the case in him when he replied that he consented to the letters of Pope Innocent of blessed memory, in which all doubt about this matter was removed. And in order that this might be made fuller and more manifest in him, matters were delayed until letters should come from Africa, in which province his craftiness had in some sort become more evidently known. And afterwards these letters came to Rome containing this, that it was not sufficient for men of more sluggish and anxious minds that he confessed his general consent to the letters of Bishop Innocent, but that he ought openly to anathematize the mischievous statements which he had made in his pamphlet; lest if he did not do so, many people of better intelligence should rather believe that in his pamphlet those poisons of the faith had been approved by the catholic see, because it had been affirmed by that see that that pamphlet was catholic, than that they had been amended because of his answer that he consented to the letters of Pope Innocent. Then, therefore, when his presence was demanded, in order that by certain and clear answers either the craft of the man or his correction might plainly appear and remain doubtful to no one, he withdrew himself and refused the examination. Neither would the delay which had already been made for the advantage of others have taken place, if it could not be of advantage to the pertinacity and madness of those who were excessively perverse. But if, which be far from the case, it had so been judged in the Roman Church concerning Cœlestius or Pelagius, that those dogmas of theirs, which in themselves and with themselves Pope Innocent had condemned, should be pronounced worthy of approval and maintenance, the mark of prevarication would rather have to be branded on the Roman clergy for this. But now, when the first letters of the most blessed Pope Innocent, in reply to the letters of the African bishops,  would have equally condemned this error which these men are endeavouring to commend to us; and his successor, the holy Pope Zosimus, would never have said, never have written, that this dogma which these men think concerning infants is to be held; nay, would even have bound Cœlestius by a repeated sentence, when he endeavoured to clear himself, to a consent to the above-mentioned letters of the Apostolic See;—assuredly, whatever in the meanwhile was done more leniently concerning Cœlestius, provided the stability of the most ancient and robust faith were maintained, was the most merciful persuasion of correction, not the most pernicious approval of wickedness; and that afterwards, by the same priesthood, Cœlestius and Pelagius were condemned by repeated authority, was the proof of a severity, for a little while intermitted, at length of necessity to be carried out, not a denial of a previously-known truth or a new acknowledgment of truth.
- See On Original Sin, 9, 5, 8.
- Phil. iii. 15.
- See Augustin’s Letters, 181, 182, 183.