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WORKS OF ARMINIUS - THE OPINION OF ST. AUGUSTINE
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III. THE OPINION OF ST. AUGUSTINE
1. Quotations from his writings. 2. These passages confirm the interpretation of the author. It is objected, that St. Augustine afterwards gave a different explanation, and retracted his former opinion; to this the reply is, it appears that his interpretation of this chapter was free from any such change. 3. What St. Augustine properly retracted is shown by quotations from his writings. 4. His modesty in the explanation of this chapter. He understands this passage to refer, not to actual sins, but to the internal motions of concupiscence.
If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. The law is indeed sufficiently defended from all crimination. But we must be on our guard to prevent any one from supposing, that, by these words, the free exercise or choice of the will is taken away from us; which is not the fact. For now is described a man placed under the law, before [the arrival of] grace. (Exposition of certain Propositions from the Epistle to the Romans, cap. 7.)
But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, &c. He calls that "the law of sin" by which every one is bound who is entangled in the habit or nature of the flesh. He says that this wars against "the law of the mind," and "brings it into captivity to the law of sin." From this, the man is understood to be described who is not yet under grace. For, if the carnal habit or nature were only to maintain a warfare, and not to bring into captivity, there would not be condemnation. For in this consists condemnation -- that we obey and serve corrupt and carnal desires. But, if such desires still exist and do not all disappear, yet in this case we do not yield obedience to them, we are not brought into captivity, and we are now under grace, concerning which he speaks when he cries out for the aid of the Deliverer, that this might be possible through the grace, of love, which fear was not able to do through the law. For he has said, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death," And he added, "the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord." He then begins to describe man placed under grace, which is the third degree of those four into which we have distinguished mankind.
But not being yet content with the past inquiry and explanation, lest I had, with too much negligence, passed by any thing in it, (Rom. 7,) I have still more cautiously and attentively examined the very same words of the apostle, and the tenor of their meanings. For you would not consider it proper to ask such things, if the manner in which they may be understood were easy and devoid of difficulties. For, from the passage in which it is written -- "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid," unto that in which the apostle says, "I find then a law, that, when I would do good," &c., and, I believe, as far the verse in which, it is said, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death, The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord" -- you wished me to elucidate or resolve the question first from these passages, in which the apostle seems to me to have transfigured unto himself, a man placed under the law, with whose words he speaks from his own person. (To Simplicianus, the Bishop of the Church of Milan.) Hence it is evident, FIRST, that the church had at that period prescribed nothing definite concerning the meaning of this passage: For Simplicianus, the bishop of Milan, indeed, officiating in the very Church in which St. Ambrose had formerly discharged the Episcopal functions, would not have earnestly requested to have the opinion of St. Augustine, if the opinion to be maintained concerning it had been prescribed. Secondly. After St. Augustine had diligently considered the matter, he openly declares, that the whole passage must be understood as referring to a man under the law. "For," he says, "I was without the law once." By this he plainly shows that he was not speaking properly in his own person, but generally in the person of "the old man."
He afterwards subjoins the cause why it is so, and says, "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal," in which he shows, that the law cannot be fulfilled except by spiritual persons, who do not become such without the aid of grace.
Indeed, when he had said -- "but I am carnal," he also subjoined the kind of carnal man that he was. For even those who are now placed under grace, and who are now redeemed by the blood of Christ, and born again through faith, are called "carnal" after a certain manner; to whom the same apostle says, "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal," &c. (1 Cor. iii, 1.) But that man who is still under the law and not under grace, is so very carnal as not yet to be born again from sin, but to be sold under the law by sin; because the price of deadly pleasure embraces that sweetness by which a man is deceived and delighted to act even contrary to the law, since the pleasure is greater in proportion to its unlawfulness, &c. "He consents, therefore, to the law of God," inasmuch as he does not what it prohibits, but chiefly by not willing that which he does. For, not being yet liberated by grace, he is conquered [by sin], although through the law he is both conscious that he is acting improperly, and is reluctant. But with regard to that which follows, where he says, "Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me;" he does not, therefore, say it, because he does not consent to commit sin, though he consents to the law by disapproving of the sin which he commits. But he is still speaking in the person of a man placed under the law, who is not yet under grace, and who is indeed drawn, by reigning concupiscence and by the deceitful sweetness of prohibited sin, to perpetrate evil, though, through his knowledge of the law, he partly disapproves of such bad actions. But this is the reason why he says, "It is no more I that do it," because, being conquered, he does it, since it is done by evil desires, to whose conquering power he yields. But grace causes him no longer thus to yield, and strengthens the mind of man against lusts, of which grace the apostle is now about to treat.
(Ibid.) SEE ALSO WHAT IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWS THIS QUOTATION.
But the whole of this is said for the purpose of shewing to man, while yet a captive, that he must not presume on his own strength or power. On this account he reproved the Jews as proudly boasting about the works of the law, when they were attracted by concupiscence to whatsoever was unlawful, though the law, of which they boasted, declared "Thou shalt not covet," or indulge in concupiscence. Therefore, a man who is conquered, condemned and captivated, must humbly declare -- a man who, after having received the law, is not as one that lives according to the law, but is rather a transgressor of it, must humbly exclaim, "O wretched man that I am," &c.
2. That man who will compare these passages from St. Augustine with my arguments concerning Romans 7, will perceive that we entirely agree in sentiment, and that I subscribe to this opinion of St. Augustine. From these extracts, it likewise appears that nothing had, at that period, been prescribed by the church concerning this portion of the apostolical writing,, but nothing towards that part especially -- that it was to be understood about a man who is regenerate and placed under grace.
But I am here met with this objection: "St. Augustine, in subsequent years, gave a different explanation to this chapter, that is, as being applicable to a regenerate man placed under grace, as he has done in the 43rd, 45th, and 47th of his discourses On Time, and in several other passages." I confess, that the fact was as it is here stated; and we will afterwards examine those passages; we shall perceive how much they are able to contribute towards the establishment of the opinion that is opposed to mine. "But," the same objectors say, "St. Augustine retracted and condemned that very opinion which he had first explained in his treatise, entitled, An Exposition of certain Propositions in the Epistle to the Romans, and in his book addressed to Simplicianus, bishop of Milan; his authority, therefore, cannot be adduced in confirmation of that opinion."
To this I might reply, First, from the fact of St. Augustine having first entertained the same opinion about this passage as I do, and afterwards a different one, it is evident that neither of these opinions had been considered by the church in the light of a catholic or universally admitted doctrine. Secondly. It is possible that St. Augustine may, in the beginning, have held a more correct opinion than that which he subsequently maintained, especially when, in the first instant, he followed his own judgment, which had been formed from an accurate inspection of the entire chapter, and from a diligent comparison of different sentiments on the subject; but he was afterwards influenced by the authority of certain interpreters of holy writ, as he informs us in his Retractions, (lib. I, cap. 23,) though he adds, that he had with much diligence considered the subject; for he did not consider it without some of that prejudice which he had imbibed from the authority of those expositors.
3. But though I might make those preliminary replies, yet the answer which I will give is this: St. Augustine never trusted or condemned that opinion by which he had explained this chapter as applicable to a man placed under the law; but he only retracted this part of his early opinion "These words must not be received as uttered in the person of the apostle himself, who was then spiritual, but in that of a man placed under the law and not yet under grace." For he had made two assertions, First, that this chapter must be understood as relating to a man placed under the law. Secondly, that it must neither be understood as relating to a man placed under grace, nor as relating to the apostle himself who was then spiritual. The former of these assertions was never retracted by St. Augustine; the latter he has retracted, as will most clearly appear to any one who will examine the passage, which it will be no trouble to transcribe on this occasion, since the works of this father are not in the hands of every one. In the first book of his "Retractions," (cap. 23,) he says:
"While I was yet a priest, it happened that the Epistle of the apostle to the Romans was read among us who were at that time together at Carthage, and my brethren made inquiries of me about some passages in it, to which when I had given as proper replies as I was able, it was the wish of my brethren that what I spoke on this subject should be written out, rather than be uttered in an extemporaneous manner; when, on this point I had acceded to their request, another book was added to my Opuscula. In that book I say, ' But when the apostle asserts, For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin, he shows in a manner sufficiently plain, that it is impossible for the law to be fulfilled by any persons, except by those who are spiritual, and are made such by the grace of God.' This I wished not to be received in the person of the apostle, who was at that time spiritual, but in that of a man placed under the law, and who was not yet under grace. For that was the manner in which I first understood these words; which I afterwards considered with more diligence, after having perused the productions of certain commentators on the divine oracles, by whose authority I was moved; and I perceived that, when he says for we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin, the words may also be understood as referring to the apostle himself. This I have shown, with as much diligence as I was able, in those books which I have lately written against the Pelagians.
"In this book, therefore, I have said that, by the words but l am carnal, sold under sin, through the remainder of the chapter to the verse in which he says, O wretched man that I am! a man is described who is still under the law, but not yet placed under grace, who wills to do that which is good, but who, conquered by the desires of the flesh, does that which is evil. From the dominion of this concupiscence the man is not delivered, except by the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, by the gift of the Holy Ghost, through whom love being diffused, or shed abroad, in our hearts, overcomes all the desires of the flesh, that we may not consent to those desires to do evil, but rather that we may do good. By this, indeed, is now overturned the Pelagian heresy, that will not admit that the love by which we live good and pious lives is from God to us, but that asserts it to be from ourselves.
"But in those books which we have published against the Pelagians, we have shown, that the words of the apostle in Romans 7, are better understood as those of a spiritual man who is now placed under grace on account of the body of flesh which is not yet spiritual, but which will be so in the resurrection of the dead, and on account of carnal concupiscence itself, with which the saints maintain such a conflict, not consenting to it for evil, as not to be without its opposing motions in this life which yet they resist. But the saints will not have such motions to evil in that world in which death will be swallowed up in victory. Therefore, on account of this concupiscence and those motions to which such a resistance is given as they may still be in us, [or as suffers them yet to be in us,] every holy person who is now placed under grace can utter all those words which I have here said are the expressions of a man who is not yet placed under grace, but under the law. To show this, would require much time; and I have mentioned the place where I have shown it."
"Of the books which I wrote when a bishop, the first two were addressed to Simplicianus, bishop of the church of Milan, who was successor to the blessed Ambrose -- in them I discussed diverse questions. Two of the questions on which I treated in the first book, were from St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. The first of them was on what is written in vii, 7 -- What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid! -- down to the 25th verse in which it is said, Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God though Jesus Christ our Lord. In that book, I have expounded these words of the apostle, The law is spiritual, but l am carnal, and the other expressions by which the flesh is shown to contend against the Spirit. In it I have explained them in such a manner as that in which a man is described who is still under the law, but not yet placed under grace. For a long time afterwards elapsed, before I discerned that they could also be the words of a spiritual man, and this with a stronger semblance of probability." (Retractations, lib. 2, cap. 1.)
4. These are the passages transcribed with verbal accuracy, in which St. Augustine retracts the opinion which he had previously explained, from which it is apparent that he neither rejected his former opinion, nor convicted it of falsehood, error or heresy; but that he only said, "This passage in the apostle's writings may also be understood as referring to a man who is regenerate, spiritual, and placed under grace, and this much better and with more probability than concerning a man placed under the law;" yet he says that this [his first] opinion is opposed to the Pelagian heresy. But the very words which he employs in his Retractations teach us, that this chapter in the apostolical writings may likewise be understood concerning a man who is placed under the law, but [according to his latest judgment] not so well, and with less probability.
We see therefore, that the modesty of St. Augustine was at an immense distance from the vehemence of those who assert, that "this part of holy writ must be understood concerning a man who is placed under grace, nor can it by any means be explained as referring to a man placed under the law without incurring the charge of Pelagian heresy." Let the reader examine, if he pleases, the works of St. Augustine, (tom. 10,) concerning the words of the apostle, (Sermon 5, on Romans vii, 7, fol. 59, col. 3,) "Speak to me, holy apostle, about thyself, when no one doubts that thou art speaking about thyself."
But it is improper for this last, whether it be an explanation or a retractation of St. Augustine, to be urged by those who reject the cause of this change, by which, he openly declares, he was moved to suppose that this passage might likewise be explained in reference to a man under grace, and this much better and with greater probability. He says that the cause of it was, because he perceived that this man might be called "carnal" on account of the body of flesh which is not yet spiritual, and because he has yet within him the desires of the flesh, though he does not consent to them. This is also the opinion of those expounders whom St. Augustine says he followed.
But our divines who oppose themselves to me on Romans 7, do not explain that chapter in this manner, as, -- to will that which is good, is to will not to lust or indulge in unlawful desires, and to do evil, is to lust; but they explain it, actually to do or to commit that which is evil. The authority, therefore, of St. Augustine ought not to be produced by them; because, as we shall afterwards more clearly demonstrate, his judgment was this: If this chapter be explained as referring to actual sins, it cannot be explained concerning a regenerate man. But if it be explained respecting a regenerate man, it must necessarily be understood only concerning the inward motions of concupiscence or lust.
Wherefore, I have St. Augustine in his first opinion, fully agreeing with me, and in his latter not differing greatly from me; but those who are opposed to me have St. Augustine contrary and adverse to them in both these his opinions.