May 24, 2009

John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins and Faustus of Riez Were Not Semi-Pelagians

By John Sanidopoulos

Saints John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins and Faustus of Riez are Orthodox Church Fathers. The West has designated these Fathers as Semi-Pelagians out of convenience because they opposed the Augustinian doctrines of the total bondage of the will, of the priority and irresistibility of grace, and of rigid predestination. In fact, these Fathers of the Church were influenced by Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Basil the Great, who could be better viewed as Synergists. Synergistic Soteriology is Orthodox Soteriology, and it is opposed to the errors of Pelagius and Augustine. In other words, these three Fathers took the moderate route in opposing two grave errors: the self-made, man-based salvation of Pelagianism and the monergistic, deterministic salvation of Augustine.

Saint John Cassian expressed his views concerning the relation of grace and freedom in his Conferences according to the tradition he received from the Greek-speaking Fathers by whom he was taught. With unmistakable reference to the Bishop of Hippo, he had endeavored in his thirteenth chapter of Conferences to demonstrate from Biblical examples that God frequently awaits the good impulses of the natural will before coming to its assistance with His supernatural grace; while the grace often preceded the will, as in the case of Matthew and Peter, on the other hand the will frequently preceded the grace, as in the case of Zacchæus and the Good Thief on the Cross. Furthermore, in his Institutes, Saint John shows in chapters 20-22 what he learned from his teacher Paphnutios that there is no salvation apart from the cooperation (synergeia) of man's free-will along with divine grace. Without identifying Augustine by name, Saint Vincent condemned Augustine's doctrine of grace and predestination as well, calling it heresy to teach of "a certain great and special and altogether personal grace of God [which is given to the predestined elect] without any labor  without any effort, without any industry, even though they neither ask, nor seek, nor knock" (Saint Vincent, Commonitorium, ch. 26). Augustine had already passed away in 430, while this refutation was written in 434 to support the teachings of Saint John Cassian. In refuting the doctrines of Augustine, these two Fathers emphasized the cooperation of man's free-will and God's grace not just initially in the process of salvation but throughout one's lifetime.

Augustine was not named in these refutations out of respect for his attempt to combat the heresy of Pelagius. Augustine, more known as a speculative theologian and largely unaware of the traditions of the Greek-speaking Fathers, took his refutation of Pelagius to an opposite extreme to the point of nearly obliterating human free-will. The exchanges between Augustine and the Fathers of the West were respectful and they never labelled each other as heretics, just erring friends. The polemics only started after the death of Augustine by his disciple Prosper who falsely labelled the Fathers of the West as "enemies of grace".

Since false teachers often employ the use of Holy Scripture and manipulate it towards their own teachings, Saint Vincent offers three tests of accurate, Orthodox interpretation of Holy Scripture according to the tradition taught to him by the Greek-speaking Fathers: universality, meaning the entire Church adheres to the teaching; antiquity, meaning the teaching was always taught from the time of the apostolic successors; and consent, meaning that Ecumenical Synods, Fathers and bishops harmoniously agree the teaching is true. He also demonstrates that if any one of these three criteria are compromised, then the faithful should look to the other criteria to establish truth. These three criteria also were used by Saint Vincent to refute the novel doctrines of Augustine.

That Augustine was in error is evident by his frequent use of Scripture to tweak his novel views. In fact, Augustine himself admitted that he once believed in Synergism, or what he calls "a similar error", until he examined what the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:7. Preferring his own interpretation to the consensus of the Holy Fathers, Augustine fell into error. That Saints John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins, and Faustus of Riez were upholding the doctrines of the Greek Fathers is clear from their writings and the fact that they do not deny any established doctrine as Augustine does, but confront a deviation of this doctrine in the person of the unnamed Augustine and his disciples.

Saint Faustus of Riez was the successor of Saint John Cassian and upheld all his teachings. To the doctrine of predestination taught by Augustine and his followers such as Lucidus, Saint Faustus responded that those who ascribe salvation entirely to the will of man (Pelagius) or to irresistible grace (Augustine) fall into heathen folly. In a letter to Lucidus he wrote: "We assert that whoever is lost is lost by his own volition, but that he could have obtained salvation by grace had he cooperated with it. On the other hand, whoever, by means of [this] cooperation attains perfection may, of his own fault, his own negligence, fall and lose it and [become] lost. Certainly we exclude all personal boasting, for we declare that all that we have has been gratuitously received from God's hand" (Epistle to Lucidus, 53:683). Saint Faustus by no means defended Augustinian doctrines as many contemporary Orthodox defenders of Augustine claim, but such a preposterous claim is refuted by the above quotation. Furthermore, the cooperation between God's grace and man's free-will described in the above passage reveals that Saint Faustus also was not a Semi-Pelagian.

In 475, the Synod of Arles condemned Augustine's teaching of predestination. The Synod of Lyons in the fifth century, under the Archbishop of Lyons Saint Patiens, did the same. In 829, the Synod of Paris again condemned Augustine's teaching of irresistible grace and reaffirmed the Orthodox Christian doctrine of Synergism. At the Synod of Mainz in 848, under Saint Hincmar, Augustine's doctrine of double predestination was again condemned. It was not until the Frankish theologians begun studying Augustine during the time of Charlemagne that the tides changed in the churches of the West and divided itself into a hopeless mess. Even now, in the 21st century, one of the many major divisions in Protestantism is over the question of predestination and irresistible grace.

It has been assumed that the Second Synod of Orange in 529 condemned the views of the so-called "Semi-Pelagians" John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins, Faustus of Riez and others. This is a complete misunderstanding of the Synod as Gaul at the time was predominantly Orthodox and largely untainted by Augustine's novel doctrines. A careful examination of the 25 Canons formulated by the bishops of Gaul reveals in fact the upholding of the Orthodox doctrine of Synergism and both a condemnation of the errors of Pelagius as well as those of Augustine, though again out of respect Augustine is not named. That Augustine is refuted here is further evidenced in the writings of Saint Gregory of Tours who never cites Augustine in his works, though he does show admiration for Saint John Cassian as a guide for monasticism in Gaul.