Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/On Nature and Grace/Chapter 59
Chapter 59 [LI.]—In What Sense Pelagius Attributed to God’s Grace the Capacity of Not Sinning.
In order, however, to escape from the odium wherewith Christians guard their salvation, he parries their question when they ask him, “Why do you affirm that man without the help of God’s grace is able to avoid sin?” by saying, “The actual capacity of not sinning lies not so much in the power of will as in the necessity of nature. Whatever is placed in the necessity of nature undoubtedly appertains to the Author of nature, that is, God. How then,” says he, “can that be regarded as spoken without the grace of God which is shown to belong in an especial manner to God?” Here the opinion is expressed which all along was kept in the background; there is, in fact, no way of permanently concealing such a doctrine. The reason why he attributes to the grace of God the capacity of not sinning is, that God is the Author of nature, in which, he declares, this capacity of avoiding sin is inseparably implanted. Whenever He wills a thing, no doubt He does it; and what He wills not, that He does not. Now, wherever there is this inseparable capacity, there cannot accrue any infirmity of the will; or rather, there cannot be both a presence of will and a failure in “performance.” This, then, being the case, how comes it to pass that “to will is present, but how to perform that which is good” is not present? Now, if the author of the work we are discussing spoke of that nature of man, which was in the beginning created faultless and perfect, in whatever sense his dictum be taken, “that it has an inseparable capacity,”—that is, so to say, one which cannot be lost,—then that nature ought not to have been mentioned at all which could be corrupted, and which could require a physician to cure the eyes of the blind, and restore that capacity of seeing which had been lost through blindness. For I suppose a blind man would like to see, but is unable; but, whenever a man wishes to do a thing and cannot, there is present to him the will, but he has lost the capacity.
- Rom. vii. 18.