|Augustine on grace and free-will|
St. Augustine “Grace and Free-will”
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.
may think they find support in this passage for their view that
God’s grace is given according to our merits.
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.
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.
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withdrawn, man falls, and he is not raised up by his free will, but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.
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.
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
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
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.”
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)
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.
…”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.
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.
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.
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.
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
(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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
God has shut up all in unbelief, that he may have mercy upon all.”
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