Monday, June 7, 2010


I recently saw an interesting reference to the Council of Orange on a friend's blog and decided to check it out. I pulled down one of my church history books from seminary and found that there were actually two councils which took place at Orange in southern France, the first in 473 and the second in 529. It is the second of these councils which I found so interesting and also encouraging.

The Catholic Encyclopedia says of the second Council of Orange:
It was attended by fourteen bishops with St. Cæsarius of Arles as president, and its deliberations bore on the current errors concerning the doctrine of grace and free will, i.e. Semipelagianism. Cæsarius had informed Felix IV of the pernicious activity of the Semipelagians in Gaul and had applied to him for support. The pope, in response, sent him a series of "Capitula", i.e. propositions or decrees drawn almost in their entirety from the works of St. Augustine and the "Sententiæ" of St. Prosper of Aquitaine.
These “capitula” became the basis of the canons of the Council of Orange. The council published twenty-five canons. Here are some of the ones which I found the most interesting:
1. If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was "changed for the worse" through the offense of Adam's sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture which says, "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:20); and, "Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey?" (Rom. 6:16); and, "For whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved" (2 Pet. 2:19).

3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God, he contradicts the prophet Isaiah, or the Apostle who says the same thing, "I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, quoting Isa. 65:1).

6. If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).

7. If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, "For apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5).

21. Concerning nature and grace. As the Apostle most truly says to those who would be justified by the law and have fallen from grace, "If justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Gal. 2:21), so it is most truly declared to those who imagine that grace, which faith in Christ advocates and lays hold of, is nature: "If justification were through nature, then Christ died to no purpose." Now there was indeed the law, but it did not justify, and there was indeed nature, but it did not justify. Not in vain did Christ therefore die, so that the law might be fulfilled by him who said, "I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfil them" (Matt. 5:17), and that the nature which had been destroyed by Adam might be restored by him who said that he had come "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,

This was a really intriguing post. I was aware that most (if not all) denominations knock Pelagianism as heresy. However, if I am reading this correctly, it appears the second Council of Orange declared Semipelagianism as heresy as well. True?

In the first canon, the concept of the fall of man is discussed, quoting Romans 6:16. What about Romans 5:12-13? "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned--For sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law."

How can there be sin against a law that hasn't been given yet? On the other hand, Genesis makes it sound like the law was given right up front. Adam is commanded not to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil even before Eve is created. (This could probably be a discussion in itself.)

On a literary tangent, your post reminded me of something in 'The Dante Club'--which I'm guessing you've read. If you're not familiar, it's a fictional mystery crafted around the history of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and company translating Dante's 'Comedy' in 1865 Boston. The 'Club' met a great deal of resistance as Dante was considered too Catholic for America. Fellow translator and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes reflects "There was still the temptation to believe the world was a mere trap for human sin. But sin, the way he saw it, was only the failure of an imperfectly made being to keep a perfect law."

What do you think?

It seems I've rambled quite a bit today, so I'll stop. It's always good to hear from you. Will you have any time to relax this summer? Or are you going to be buried with residency scouting?

Take care,

~Scarlet Pimpernel