Be Quiet! Move Slowly! Arminius is not ‘semi-Pelagian’! Take More Time!

arminiusprintWell, I have just received word from an Arminius scholar (not Roger Olson) that my recent post on Arminius is very under-informed, and that my conclusions about Arminius being somewhat (if not full-blown) semi-Pelagian are, well, under-informed (or just not the case). I was told that I should be more cautious before basically wading into waters that I don’t yet understand. I can appreciate that, coming from the scholar it is coming from. But I am not at all convinced, yet, that my conclusions about Arminius are totally aloof (if at all!). It is true that this is a blog (which is part of the point, I’d like to add!), and so the thoughts communicated here are BLOGGY. Even though they are just bloggy, I agree, that does not mean I am not responsible for what I write; but the readerly expectations of this genre should be such that this is a blog. It is where I throw out thoughts (not usually argue them). It is where I think out loud with the rest of you. I suppose the irony, to me, of this scholar contacting me, and telling me to be more careful and slow in regard to my reading of Arminius, is that this whole discussion about Arminius happened because I posted something about him on my blog. And, for me, this is the way that I use blogging. I don’t have an actual physical location, or a network of physical bodies around me to go to the coffee shop with and talk out my theology; that’s what this space is for. So actually, if anything, I am only more encouraged to continue to place my raw thinking out in the ‘sphere’ if in fact it results in having certain scholars contacting me, and telling me to cool it. As long as they give me constructive feedback on why they think I should “cool it;” then for me, taking the risk of coming off looking wet behind the ears is worth it. And as of yet, based on what I read directly from Arminius, I am not persuaded that my conclusions were totally unfounded or wrong. I I have more time, I will engage with a few more passages from Arminius; ones that will illustrate further why concluded that Arminius was semi-Pelagian. As my interlocutor informed me, my conclusion in this regard is an old and tired reading of Arminius; and I realize it is the common charge and reading of Arminius (especially from the “Reformed” side of things). But, again, as I read Arminius directly, it is totally obvious that he endorsed a cooperative model of salvation; and there are only finite theological frameworks and grammar, in his scholastic period especially, that can fund that type of model of salvation—and as far as I am concerned, that takes us to a very semi-Pelagian/Augustinian locus. 

I am not done with Arminius. You will hear more about him in the days to come right here at my blog.

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7 comments

  1. I have to say that the reason I follow this blog is because it’s so, well, as you say–“bloggy”. So many blogs now are–even from their inception–venues for self-promotion in which everything that goes up is so safe and polished. This kind of writing invites no response. It takes no risks. As this has become the trend of blogs, I’ve stopped paying attention. But I really like what you’ve got going. It reminds me of how it was when people first started blogging about theology.

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  2. Maybe we should stop using this short-hand descriptives to label people. Pelagius was not a scholastic and neither was Augustine. They both wrote in categories that are in some degree alien to us. That’s especially apparent when the debate between Pelagius and Augustine is boiled, incorrectly, down to whether or not there is free will. Augustine never denied that man has a will that freely chooses.

    So maybe it would be better to do away with a charge of “Pelagianism” and flatly rebuke Arminius for commodifying and reifying grace as something outside the very person and life of Christ. This was the real and invisible war within the Reformation: turning from Christ to system. This same tendency was what was wrong with Pelagius: from Christ to moralism. Augustine had no place for laxity and un-discipleship in the Church, but the way to it was by looking to the Savior and not ascetic virtues and moral practice. That was what was, as we believe from what was left from Pelagius, was so damnable about Pelagius’ mission in Rome and abroad.

    Just a thought from fellow follower of Christ and a friend of Augustine(!) 🙂 ,
    Cal

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  3. Well, Matt, thanks. I am an old school theoblogger I suppose; I’ve been doing it since 2005, consistently (even through cancer 😉 ). Anyway, thanks. And I agree with you about the trend of theological blogging, it isn’t much fun to read most anymore. I’m glad I still have a modicum of the old school left :-).

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  4. Cal,

    Yeah, I agree with you to a degree. Nevertheless, Pelgainism actually signifies what you describe (in its historic sense). And so I still don’t have problems using it. But, it has accrued some negative and pejorative tones to it; so it is becoming harder and harder to use it w/o sounding that way. Which is why I agree with you to a point.

    Augustine’s conception of grace as the Holy Spirit (donum Rom 5.5) is much more to my liking as well.

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  5. I like that Cal “This same tendency was what was wrong with Pelagius: from Christ to moralism. Augustine had no place for laxity and un-discipleship in the Church, but the way to it was by looking to the Savior and not ascetic virtues and moral practice”. I’m thinking that that mood (ascetic virtues and moral practice) is pretty endemic in the Church, whether one is Arminian or Calvinist, conservative, or in some ways liberal (except possibly libertine). Again, being conservative myself, not that we should be lax, but the way home is not moral-ism.

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  6. Bobby, it would be helpful if you would provide us your definition of Semi-Pelagianism. Is your Semi-Pelagianism identical to what was condemned at the Synod of Orange, or is it perhaps something different?

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  7. It is the Cassian “Hook”, Fr Kimel. That conception. I would also hold that any conception of created grace constitutes semi-Pelagianism. Or any model of salvation that is based on a cooperative model (i.e. operative grace), or any model that uses “enablement” language for grace.

    Here is the conclusion to the Council of Orange (for anyone else interested)

    CONCLUSION. And thus according to the passages of holy scripture quoted above or the interpretations of the ancient Fathers we must, under the blessing of God, preach and believe as follows. The sin of the first man has so impaired and weakened free will that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought or believe in God or do good for God’s sake, unless the grace of divine mercy has preceded him. We therefore believe that the glorious faith which was given to Abel the righteous, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and to all the saints of old, and which the Apostle Paul commends in extolling them (Heb. 11), was not given through natural goodness as it was before to Adam, but was bestowed by the grace of God. And we know and also believe that even after the coming of our Lord this grace is not to be found in the free will of all who desire to be baptized, but is bestowed by the kindness of Christ, as has already been frequently stated and as the Apostle Paul declares, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29). And again, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). And again, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and it is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). And as the Apostle says of himself, “I have obtained mercy to be faithful” (1 Cor. 7:25, cf. 1 Tim. 1:13). He did not say, “because I was faithful,” but “to be faithful.” And again, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7). And again, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas. 1:17). And again, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). There are innumerable passages of holy scripture which can be quoted to prove the case for grace, but they have been omitted for the sake of brevity, because further examples will not really be of use where few are deemed sufficient.

    According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema. We also believe and confess to our benefit that in every good work it is not we who take the initiative and are then assisted through the mercy of God, but God himself first inspires in us both faith in him and love for him without any previous good works of our own that deserve reward, so that we may both faithfully seek the sacrament of baptism, and after baptism be able by his help to do what is pleasing to him. We must therefore most evidently believe that the praiseworthy faith of the thief whom the Lord called to his home in paradise, and of Cornelius the centurion, to whom the angel of the Lord was sent, and of Zacchaeus, who was worthy to receive the Lord himself, was not a natural endowment but a gift of God’s kindness.

    So my view is more maximalist than the one provided by Orange. I don’t see grace as medicine (pace Aquinas), but as the healing and recreated life of God in Jesus Christ (it is God’s act in Christ for us, and His being in becoming—so no separation between the person and work of Christ).

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