A POST BY JARED:
One of the most famous theologians of all-time is Augustine of Hippo, the man who almost single-handedly defined what was orthodox or what it meant to be a Christian in the first few centuries after the death of Christ. His contributions to the church are broad, in fact it is difficult to speak of any Christian doctrine without inadvertently relying on his thought. He is known as the Doctor of Grace, and his instruction on the nature of grace and the sovereignty of God in salvation were fundamental to medieval theology, the Protestant Reformation, and the formation of the doctrine of grace ever since.
Augustine’s greatest contribution to the church is his definition of the doctrine of original sin, which stated that all men since the fall have been so corrupted by sin that they are incapable of pursuing God. This doctrine was born out of a conflict between Augustine and a charismatic church leader named Pelagius, who taught that humankind does not necessarily sin, but can willingly choose to love God and keep his commandments, prior to any redeeming experience of grace. It is no secret who won the day. The Pelagian doctrine of free will and perfectability was condemned as heresy at the Council of Carthage in 418A.D.
After this council Augustine continued to write, teach, and lead as the Bishop of Hippo until his death on August 28, 430A.D. In his defense of the doctrine of original sin he argued that sin has so corrupted man’s nature that it is only by the grace of God that any are saved. It is in the wake of this argument that the current tension of divine and human freedom meet. The ancient question of freedom & sovereignty can be laid at the feet of Augustine’s doctrine of original sin. It was this very question that brought Augustine, less than 100 years after his death, under intense scrutiny.
On July 3rd, 529 Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, and the subsequent doctrine’s of predestination and effectual grace, were called into question. The church, since Augustine’s death, had grown increasingly hostile to the way in which Augustine articulated and defended God’s sovereignty and man’s corrupted state in the process of salvation. Had it not been for a seemingly unknown theologian by the name of Caesarius of Arles, we may have never have known the full weight of Augustine’s theology of grace. In his defense of Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, and specifically how that impacts the tension between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man, he says this:
“Perhaps you say: ‘God does indeed desire that all would believe in him, but not all are willing. Why? Because they are unable to do so without His grace.’ At this point I ask you whether [you meant that] the human will has the power to contradict the divine will rather than that the power of God is able to convert human wills to itself… If [God] has done whatever He has willed, [then] whatever He has not done He has not willed — by a hidden and profound and yet a just and incomprehensible judgment.”
-Caesarius of Arles, quoted in
The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition by Jaroslav Pelikan
Ultimately, Augustine’s doctrine of grace and original sin were upheld as genuine Christian doctrine. The question remains: what is left when the divine & human meet? Is it such that man’s will has the ability to forsake the will of God? Or is the will of God capable of moving even the most resolute desires of man?