Part 4
Chapter 3—Of Original Sin

The Impotence of Man's Free Will and the Necessity of the Grace of God,
To Every Thing That Is Spiritually Good

Austin has proved the doctrine of original sin out of the writings of the fathers that were before him, by producing such clear testimonies of theirs that, as Vossius says,[1]it is very much to be wondered at, that there were any formerly, or any now to be found, who think that this was a device of Austin's, and would persuade others so; against these,” adds he, “we shall show, that even before the times of Austin, ecclesiam Dei semper in eo conspirasse, “the church of God always agreed in this,' that we sinned in Adam, in whose loins we were virtually contained, and by that sin deserved a privation of original righteousness, temporal death, and an eternal separation from God.” The testimonies of Vossius, besides those of Austin, together with an addition of many others, will be given under the following Sections in proof of this point. These early writers did indeed say many things incautiously, and without guard, concerning free will, which are not easily reconcilable to other expressions of theirs, to which they were led by the opposition they made to the errors of Valentinians, Basilidians, Marcionites, Manichees, and others, who held two different natures in man; that some were naturally good, and others naturally evil, and either of them could possibly be otherwise. Now it was common with the fathers, that when they set themselves against one error, they generally went into the other extreme; this is observed[2] even of Austin himself, “that when he wrote against Arius, he seemed to favor Sabellius; when against Sabellius, Arius; when against Pelagius, the Manichees; when against the Manichees, Pelagius.” Moreover, Vossius[3] has this to say on their behalf, that “those holy martyrs, and other famous doctors, when they ascribe to man freedom to that which is good, either treat only of things natural and moral; or if at any time they speak of works of piety, and such as belong to God, they consider the will of man in common, and indefinitely, not distinguishing what he can do by the strength of nature, and what by the strength of grace, but only attributing that nature to man, by which, before grace, he can do, or not do moral good; and after strength received by race can believe or not believe, do, or omit works of piety; contrary to which were the opinions of the Bardesanists, Manichees, and like. If we interpret the fathers otherwise, adds he, we must not only make them contradict one another, but themselves also.  Besides, we shall make it appear in the following Sections, by a variety of testimonies, that they held the weakness and disability of man, without the grace of God, to do any thing that is spiritually good, yea, even that is morally so; and that the will of man is sinful, and the root of sin; and that it is in a state of servitude and bondage to sin, until released by the grace of God: and as to the necessity of the grace of God to the performance of every good action, Vossius[4] asserts and proves what follows, that the Latin writers who were before the times of Pelagius, clearly acknowledged the necessity of grace; both the Africans, as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Arnobias; and the Italians, French, and others, as Lactantius, Hilary, and Ambrose; nor can any one be produced who thought otherwise.” Again,[5] “They who deny that the Greek fathers understood the doctrine of the necessity of grace, do them a very great injury since, they often most plainly assert it. The citations made by him in proof of this, with many others, will be given hereafter. I conclude with the words of Vincentius Lirinensis:[6] “Whoever,” says he, “before the profane Pelagius, presumed that there was such a power in free will, as to think the grace of God unnecessary to help it through every act in things what are good? Who before his prodigious disciple Caelestius denied, that all mankind are guilty of Adam's transgression?”


[1] Hist. Pelag. 1. 2, par. 1, thes. 6, p. 150.

[2] Rivet. de Patrum Authoritate, c. 11, s. 4, p. 68.

[3] Hist. Pelag. 1. 8, par. 1, p. 282.

[4] Ibid. thes. 1, p. 267.

[5] Ibid. thes. 2, p. 272.

[6] Commonitor. 1, adv. Haeres. c. 34.