Augustine on grace and free-will




















St. Augustine “Grace and Free-will”


Chapter 5

When God says: “Turn to me…and I will turn to you,” (Zach. 1:3) the one part, namely, that we turn to Him, apparently pertains to the will, while the other, namely, that He Himself will also turn to us, refers to His grace. The Pelagians may think they find support in this passage for their view that God’s grace is given according to our merits. 

Indeed, Pelagius himself did not dare make such an assertion when his cause was being heard by the bishops in the East, namely, in Palestine, where Jerusalem is located. This charge too, among others, was made against him, that he declared that God’s grace is given according to our merits. Such a view is so foreign to Catholic teaching and so destructive of Christ’s grace that unless Pelagius had anathematized the view charged to him, he would himself have gone out from the Council under anathema.  That Pelagius pronounced this anathema in bad faith is plainly shown in his later works in which he absolutely defends this view, that God’s grace is given according to our merits. 

The Pelagians cull passages from the Scriptures such as the one I mentioned awhile ago—“Turn to me…and I will turn to you,” –to show that it is according to our merits for turning to God that He gives us that grace by which He Himself also turns to us.  Those who hold this view fail to observe that unless this turning of ours to God were itself also a gift, we could not say to Him: “O God of hosts convert us”; and, “Convert us, O God, our Savior.” And there are other similar passages too numerous to mention.  For certainly, this coming of ours to Christ simply means that we turn to Him through belief.  And yet He tells us that “No one can come to me unless it be given him by my Father.” John 6:66.

Chapter 6

13. We prove by these and similar testimonies of Sacred Scripture that God’s grace is not given according to our merits.  We see, in fact, that it is given, and continues to be given daily, not only where there are no good merits, but also where there are many previous merits that are evil..  But it is when grace is unmistakably given that even our own merits begin to be good, though only because of grace.  For if it (grace) is withdrawn, man falls, and he is not raised up by his free will, but rather cast down.  So even when a man begins to possess good merits, he ought not to ascribe them to himself but to God, to whom the Psalmist says: “Be though my helper, forsake me not,” (Ps. 26:9) he makes plain that if he were forsaken, he would be incapable of any good by himself.  This is why he also declared:  “And in my abundance I said: I shall never be moved,” (Ps. 29:7) for he had judged that to be his own whereby he so abounded that he would never be moved.  But in order to show him whose good it was whereof he was beginning to boast, as if it were his own, he was reminded by the gradual withdrawal of grace to avow: “O Lord, in they favor though gavest strength to my beauty.  Thou turnest away thy face from me, and I became troubled. (Ps. 29.8) Consequently, man has need of God’s grace not only to be made just when he is wicked, when he is changed, that is, from a wicked to a just man, and when he is given good in return for evil, but grace must accompany him, and he must lean on it in order not to fall.

15. If, in fact, their (the Pelagians’) understanding of our merits is such that they know that even these are God’s gifts, there would be nothing reprehensible in such a view  (that final grace, namely eternal life is awarded in return for previous merits). But inasmuch as they so extol man’s merits as to maintain that man has these of himself, the Apostle is absolutely right in replying to them: “For what singles thee out? What hast thou that thou hast not received?  And if thou hast received it, why dost thou boast as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7) To a person so minded, one may say in all truth that it is His own gifts that God is crowning, and not your merits. If they are merits such as these, they are evil and God does not crown them; and if they are good merits, they are God’s gifts since, according to the Apostle James: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights.” (James 1:7)…..Consequently, if your good merits are God’s gifts, then He does not crown them as merits of yours, but as gifts of His own.

Chapter 7

17. The last merit mentioned by the Apostle was this: “I have kept the faith.”  But these words were spoken by the very man who says elsewhere: “I have obtained mercy from the Lord that I might be faithful.” (1 Cor. 7:25) For he did not say: “I have obtained mercy because I was faithful,” but rather, “that I might be faithful,” thereby making it plain that to have faith itself is only possible through God’s mercy and that it is a gift of God.  He teaches the same thing where he says “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8) The Pelagians might possibly allege that we have received grace because we have believed, so as to ascribe faith to themselves, and grace to God.  This is why, having said “through faith,” he added, “and that, not from yourselves, for it is the gift of God”…It was not that he denied good works, or stripped them of all value, for he states that God renders to each one according to his works, but rather, that works come from faith, and not faith from works.  Accordingly, our works of justice come from Him who is also the source of our faith, about which it is said: “The just man lives by faith.”

18…..Theirs, then, is not that faith by which the just man lives, namely, a faith which so works through charity that God requites it with eternal life in accordance with its works.  But as these same good works also come from God, who bestows faith and charity upon us, this same Teacher of the Gentiles (Paul) has accordingly spoken of “eternal life” itself as a grace

Chapter 8

19. A serious problem arises here which demands a solution, if only the Lord will provide us with it.  For if eternal life is given in return for good works, as the Scripture clearly indicates where it says that “God will render to everyone according to his works,” then how is it possible for eternal life to be a grace? (Rom. 2:6) For grace is not given in return for works, but freely, as the Apostle himself testifies: “Now to him who works, the reward is not credited as a favor but as something due.” (Rom. 4:4) Again, he says: “There is a remnant left, selected out of grace.” And then adds: “And if out of grace, then not by virtue of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace.” (Rom 11:5-6) How then, is eternal life “grace,” if it is obtained in virtue of works? May it be that the Apostle did not call eternal life a grace? On the contrary, he has said this so plainly that it is absolutely impossible to deny it.  His words do not need a man of acute understanding, but one who merely pays attention.  For, having said that “the wages of sin is death,” he added at once: “But the grace of God is life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23).

In my opinion, no solution for the problem is possible unless we see that our good works themselves, which enable us to receive eternal life, are referred to God’s grace by reason of our Lord’s words: “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) In saying that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that, not from yourselves, for it is the gift of God; not as the outcome of works, lest anyone may boast,” (Eph. 4:8-9) the Apostle himself certainly saw that men might construe his words to mean that good works are not necessary for believers, but that faith alone is sufficient for them.  Again, he also saw that men might possibly boast of their good works as if they were sufficient of themselves to perform them, and that is why he immediately added these words: “for we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God has made ready beforehand that we may walk in them.” (Eph. 4:10)

…Pay attention now, and try to grasp the import of the expression, “not as the outcome of works.” These refer to works that come from yourself, as your own and not to those in which God has molded you, namely works in which God has formed and created you. He was not speaking of that creation whereby we were made men, but of a creation whereof…the Apostle says: If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the former things have passed away; behold they are made new! (2 cor. 5: 17-18)…It follows, my dearly beloved, that if our good life is nothing more than the grace of God, then eternal life, the recompense for a good life is, without any doubt, also a grace of God; for it is freely given in recompense for that which has also been freely given. Now a good life that is so rewarded is itself simply a grace, whereas eternal life, which is given in return as a recompense, is a grace given for a grace, a kind of remuneration, as it were in accordance with justice.

Chapter 9

21. …”And of his fullness we have all received, grace for grace.” Rom. 1:16 It is then, from His fullness that we have, each according to his capacity, received our several portions, so to speak, that enable us to lead a good life, “according as God has apportioned to each one the measure of faith.” (Rom. 12:3) for “each one has his own gift from God, one in this way, and another in that.” (1 Cor. 7:7) And this is grace.  But, over and above this we shall also receive “grace for grace” when we will be given eternal life.  “The grace of God is life everlasting,” so we might thus understand that God brings us to life everlasting, not for any merits of ours, but in accordance with His mercy.  And it is to God that the Psalmist refers where, addressing his soul, he says: “Who crowns thee with mercy and compassion.” Ps. 102:4.

     But is not this crown given in return for good works? Yes, but inasmuch as good works in the just are performed by Him of who it is said: “For it is God who of his good pleasure works in you both the will and performance” (Phil. 2:13). He was not doing away with free will. If such were the case, he would not have declared: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  (Phil. 2:12) For when they are given the command “to work,” an appeal is made to free will, whereas the command to do this “with fear and trembling” is given so they will not take credit for themselves for their good works and become elated over them as if the were their own….Indeed, if you are “in fear and trembling,” you will not be elated as if these were your own good works since it is God who works in you.

Chapter 15

We should keep in mind that He who says, “Make to yourselves a new heart and a new spirit,” is the very one who declares: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you.” (Ezech 36:26)…Why does God commend something of us if He is going to give it Himself?  Why does He give, if it is man who must act? Only because He gives what He commands, whenever He helps man to do what He commands. Free will is always present in us, but it is not always good. ..But the grace of God is always good and brings about good will in a man who before was possessed of an evil will.  It is by this grace, too, that this same good will, once it begins to exist, is expanded and made so strong that it is able to fulfill whatever of God’s commandments it wishes, whenever it does so with a  strong and perfect will. This is the force of those worlds of the Scripture: “If though wilt keep my commandments….” (Sirach 15:16)  So let the man who has the will, but not the power, realize that he does not yet have a perfect will, and let him pray for a will strong enough to fulfill the commandments.  This is certainly the way a man receives help to do as he is commanded.

Chapter 18

….“Dearly beloved, love one another.” (1 John 4:7) When the Pelagians begin to feel elated at these words of the Apostle and to ask why this command is given us at all unless we are able of ourselves to love one another, the same John proceeds to confound them by saying: “For love is from God.” (1 John 4:7) Charity, therefore, is not of ourselves, but of God.

Why then has the command been given, “Let us love one another, for love is of God,” except that this precept should prompt our free will to ask for God’s gift?  And this would certainly be of no avail at all unless the will at first received some measure of love enabling it to ask for more, so as to fulfill what was commended.

38. Let no one then deceive you, my brethren, for we could not love God unless He first loved us. The same John makes this very clear when he says: Let us therefore love, because God first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

…he (Paul) went onto say in another passage, directed to the Thessalonians: “We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly and your charity each for the other increases.” (2 Thess. 1:3) This he said so that they might not be elated over this great blessing which they enjoyed from God, as if it were something they possessed of themselves….as the Apostle says, we ought to thank God in your regard, and not praise you as if you possessed all this of yourselves.

39. …the same Apostle declares in the Romans: “We exult in tribulations, knowing that tribulation works out endurance, and endurance tried virtue, and tried virtue hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given us.” (Rom. 5:3-5)  It is not by ourselves therefore, but by the Holy Spirit who is give to us that this charity shown by the Apostle to be God’s gift, is the reason why tribulation does not destroy patience but rather gives rise to it.  Again, writing in Ephesians, he says:  “Peace to the brethren, and love with faith.”  Now let him tell us whence they (these great blessings) come. “From God the Father,” he replies, “and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph 6:23) These great blessings then are none other than God’s gifts to us.

Chapter 20

If the Scripture is examined carefully, it will not merely show that God has power over the good wills of men which He has changed from being evil and which He directs toward the performance of good acts and life eternal once He has made them good.  It will also reveal that those wills of men which remain creatures of this world are so subject to God’s power that He can bend them wherever and whenever He pleases, whether by bestowing benefits upon some of by inflicting punishment upon others, according as He Himself ordains by His decrees, hidden of course from us, but perfectly just beyond all doubt.

For we find that some sins are also a punishment for other sins, as instanced in those “vessels of wrath” which the Apostle speaks of as “ready for destruction” (Rom. 9:22) or as in the hardening of Pharao’s heart in order, as it is said, to manifest God’s power in him (Exod. 9:16) and as in the flight of the Israelites from the face of the enemy out of the city of Hai (Josh 7) Why did they not use their free will to stand rather than take flight because their wills were thrown into confusion by fear? Was it not for the simple reason that God, as Master of men’s wills, can in His anger instill fear into the hearts of whomsoever He pleases?

…Was it not of his own free will that the wicked man Semei, son of Gera, cursed King David? (2 Kings 16: 11-12)….God inclined his will, which was already perverted by its own wickedness, to a sin of this kind, in accordance with His own just and hidden Judgement.  Nor does the Scripture conceal the reason why God told him in this way to curse David, namely, why He caused his heart to fall into this sin or allowed it to do so. As David said,”Perhaps the Lord will look upon my affliction and the Lord will render me good for the cursing of this day.” Here you have proof of how God uses even the hearts of wicked men to commend and help those who are good.  It was thus that He made use of Judas in his betrayal of Christ and of the Jews who crucified Him.  And, as a result of this, how great have been the blessings which He has bestowed upon the people who were to believe in Him?  He even makes use of the devil himself, the worst of all, but does so in the best way possible to exercise and put to the test the faith of piety of good men; not for His own sake, since He knows everything before it happens, but for our benefit, since it was necessary that He should deal with us in this fashion.

Chapter 21

…For the Almighty, who cannot possibly will anything unjust, is able to set in motion even the inclinations of their will in men’s hearts in order to accomplish through these men whatever He wishes to achieve through their agency.

43. I think it is quite clear that God works in men’s hearts to incline their wills to whatsoever way He wills: either to good in accordance with His mercy, or to evil in accordance with their evil merits, and this, indeed, by His own judgments, sometimes manifest, sometimes hidden, but always just (Rom 9:14) You must keep this conviction firm and unshaken in your heart that in God there is no injustice.

But grace is not given according to men’s merits; otherwise grace is no longer grace, seeing that it is called grace precisely because it is freely given.  Now if God is able, either through good or bad angels, or in some other way, to work in the hearts of even wicked men according to their merits—though He is not the cause of their wickedness, which they have either contracted through original sin or have increased through their own will—what wonder is it that He should work good in the hearts of His elect through the Holy Spirit, when He ahs already brought about a change in these same hearts form evil to good?

Chapter 22

For God has shut up all in unbelief, that he may have mercy upon all.” (Rom. 11:30)

…the Son of Man did not first come into the world to judge the world, but came in order that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:17) He first came out of mercy; He will come hereafter for judgement, to judge the living and the dead, though, even at the present time, there is no salvation without judgement, but it is a hidden judgement.  This is why He says: “For judgement have I come into this world, that they who do not see may see, and they who see may become blind.”

Chapter 23

45. Accordingly, when you observe the case of infants who undoubtedly are all subject to the same condition of having contracted the hereditary sin from Adam, and you see that one is helped to receive baptism, but not another, so that he dies shackled in the very chains of this sin; or that one who was baptized and whose future wickedness was foreseen by God, is abandoned in this life, while another is snatched from this life after baptism “lest wickedness should alter his understanding’ (Wisdom 4:11) –you must refer these things to God’s hidden judgements.  You must not ascribe them to injustice or to a want of wisdom on the part of God in who there is found the very source of justice and wisdom.

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