Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume V/On Nature and Grace/Chapter 71

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Chapter 71 [LXI.]—Augustin Replies Against the Quotations Which Pelagius Had Advanced Out of the Catholic Writers. Lactantius.

Accordingly, with respect also to the passages which he has adduced,—not indeed from the canonical Scriptures, but out of certain treatises of catholic writers,—I wish to meet the assertions of such as say that the said quotations make for him. The fact is, these passages are so entirely neutral, that they oppose neither our own opinion nor his. Amongst them he wanted to class something out of my own books, thus accounting me to be a person who seemed worthy of being ranked with them. For this I must not be ungrateful, and I should be sorry—so I say with unaffected friendliness—for him to be in error, since he has conferred this honour upon me. As for his first quotation, indeed, why need I examine it largely, since I do not see here the author’s name, either because he has not given it, or because from some casual mistake the copy which you[1] forwarded to me did not contain it? Especially as in writings of such authors I feel myself free to use my own judgment (owing unhesitating assent to nothing but the canonical Scriptures), whilst in fact there is not a passage which he has quoted from the works of this anonymous author[2] that disturbs me. “It behooved,” says he, “for the Master and Teacher of virtue to become most like to man, that by conquering sin He might show that man is able to conquer sin.” Now, however this passage may be expressed, its author must see to it as to what explanation it is capable of bearing. We, indeed, on our part, could not possibly doubt that in Christ there was no sin to conquer,—born as He was in the likeness of sinful flesh, not in sinful flesh itself. Another passage is adduced from the same author to this effect: “And again, that by subduing the desires of the flesh He might teach us that it is not of necessity that one sins, but of set purpose and will.”[3] For my own part, I understand these desires of the flesh (if it is not of its unlawful lusts that the writer here speaks) to be such as hunger, thirst, refreshment after fatigue, and the like. For it is through these, however faultless they be in themselves, that some men fall into sin,—a result which was far from our blessed Saviour, even though, as we see from the evidence of the gospel, these affections were natural to Him owing to His likeness to sinful flesh.


  1. Timasius and Jacobus, to whom the treatise is addressed. See ch. 1.
  2. Lactantius is the writer from whom Pelagius takes his first quotations here. See his Instit. Divin. iv. 24.
  3. Lactantius, Instit. Divin. iv. 25.