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 The Principles of Theology - Article 10

by W.H.Griffith Thomas


<< The Teaching of the Article

Part 2. The History of the Article

The question of the will was debated centuries before Christianity, and the subject was forced on the Church and could no longer remain a matter of mere philosophic discussion. A new element arose in connection with the Fall of man, and the problem was raised as to how far that affected the will. The subject is not clearly set forth in the Apostolic Fathers, mainly because there were no controversies to colour opinions, though the freedom of the will is definitely taught by Justin Martyr. Early heretics like the Gnostics were fatalists, but Origen emphasised human freedom. The Pelagians insisted upon absolute freedom of will, and Augustine was the first to face the problem fully. After him came the Semi-Pelagians, who taught that man had free will sufficient to enable him to turn to God, but not to persevere. The Semi-Pelagians taught that so much good will remains as to wish to be healed, velle sanari, quærere medicum, but later came the idea that even this velle sanari was the result of a general action of grace on mankind, God’s Spirit giving the initial impulse.

In the Middle Ages there was a perpetual tendency towards Semi-Pelagianism, due to the erroneous idea of original righteousness, for if man is only deprived of superadded grace, the natural powers were capable of good motions of themselves. But thought divided itself into two schools. The Dominicans, as represented by Thomas Aquinas, 1274, were substantially Augustinian, and taught the need of grace before the will could incline towards God. On the other hand, the Franciscans, represented by Duns Scotus, 1308, taught entire freedom of will and were virtually Pelagian. It was in this connection that the doctrine of grace de congruo arose, which meant that man’s endeavour to attain to godliness deserved this congruous grace. They thought that some element of goodness was to be attributed to man’s unaided efforts towards the attainment of holiness, and that in some way this effort merited the bestowal of Divine grace. The Council of Trent was divided on the subject, though generally through the Jesuits the Church of Rome tended towards the Scotist view. It is well known that on these subjects the Roman view is essentially Pelagian, or at least semi-Pelagian.

On the other hand, Luther and Calvin favoured the Thomist view, and of course opposed the very idea of the doctrine of “congruous merit.” Our Article meets these points without entering into the subtleties of controversy as to how far man’s will has been affected by the Fall. It is sometimes said that the second clause of our Article, dating from 1553, was before the time when Calvin was known in England, and that therefore it represents our own independent view. This is true, but it is not the whole truth, since all our Reformers were what may be called Augustinians. In 1553 this Article was followed by one “Of Grace,” to oppose the fatalism of the Anabaptists. This was omitted in 1563, probably because the error was no longer of serious importance, and also, it has been suggested, to make it easier for strong Calvinists to accept the Articles, since they believed in irresistible grace. During the Marian persecution many English Divines were brought into contact on the Continent with foreign Reformers, and afterwards came back strongly in favour of more extreme Calvinistic views.

Later on came the controversy at the beginning of the seventeenth century connected with the Dutch theologian, Arminius, who, by a natural rebound from the extreme Calvinism of his time, took the Scotist view. The result was the calling of the Synod of Dort, or Dordrecht, at which the Arminians were excommunicated and definite Calvinistic views were promulgated. After the Council of Trent the Church of Rome continued to be divided on the subject, the Jesuits maintaining a Pelagian view, while the followers of Jansenius, known as Jansenists, upheld the Augustinian and Dominican position. At length the Jansenists were condemned and the Jesuits gained the upper hand in the Church of Rome. [1]


>> Part 3. The Question Stated (to be added)



[1] For the history, of which the above is a brief outline, see Harold Browne, Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles, pp. 252-264; the question will receive further attention under Article 17.





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Article 10

>> Introduction

>> The Teaching of the Article

>> The History of the Article

>> The Question Stated

Content of The Principles

>> Index

>> Preface by J I Packer

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Trinity

>> 2 - Christ

>> 3 - Descent into Hell

>> 4 - Resurrection

>> 5 - Holy Spirit

>> 6 - Holy Scripture

>> 7 - The Old Testament

>> 8 - The Three Creeds

>> 9 - Of Original or Birth Sin

>> 10 - Of Free Will

>> 11 - Of the Justifcation of Man




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