Part 4
Chapter 3—Of Original Sin

Section 28—Hieronymus. A.D. 390.

Jerom asserted the doctrine of original sin, which not only appears from his saying,[1] that “all men transgressed in paradise, are obnoxious to the sin and punishment of offending Adam, and fell with him from paradise into the captivity of this world:” but from that famous passage of his, in which he has put together many of the principal texts of Scripture we make use of in proof of this doctrine; upon which account, and especially for the sake of his sense in Psalm 51:5, I shall transcribe it at large. His words are these;[2] “The world lies in wickedness, ‘and the heart of man from his youth is bent to that which is evil; nor is the human state without sin one day, from the beginning of its birth; hence David confesses in the Psalms, “Behold, I am conceived in iniquities, and in sins my mother conceived me;” non in iniquitatibus matris meae, vel certe meis, sed in iniquitatibus humane conditionis, ‘not in the iniquities of my mother, or truly in my own, but in the iniquities of the human condition.' Hence the apostle says, “Death reigned from Adam to Moses; even over them that sinned not after the similitude of Adam's transgression.” The weakness of man to fulfill the law he[3] proves thus, “For that no man can fulfill the law, and do all the things which are commanded, the apostle elsewhere testifies, saying, “For what the law could not do,” etc. On those words, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron,” etc., he has this note,[4] “If this be so, where is that, that the doting old woman (meaning Pelagius) devises, that a man may be without sin, if he will; and that the commands of God are easy?” And elsewhere[5] directing himself to Pelagius, “You say,” says he, “that the commands of God are easy, and yet you cannot produce one man that has fulfilled them all; answer me, are they easy or difficult? If easy, produce the man that has fulfilled them; if difficult, how durst thou say, the commands of God are easy, which no man has fulfilled?” Yea, he affirms, that man can do nothing that is good of himself; “Man,” says he,[6] “from the beginning of his creation, makes use of God as his helper; and seeing it is of his grace that he is created, and of his mercy that he subsists and lives, nihil boni operis agere potest absque eo, ‘ he can do no good work without him;' who hath so given free will, that he may not deny his own grace in every work; lest the liberty of the will should redound to the injury of the Creator, and to the hardening of him who is so made free, that without God he knows that he is nothing.” And elsewhere he observes,[7] that “without the Holy Ghost there is no strength;” that is, to do any thing that is good. Moreover over he declares,[8] that “this is the chief righteousness of man, to reckon that what soever power he can have, non suum esse, se, Dominiqui largitus est, ‘ is not his own, but the Lord's who gives it.'” Yea, he pronounces[9] the man “accursed, who not only puts his hope in man, but him that makes flesh his arm, that is, his own strength and whatsoever he does, non Domini clementiae, sed suae putaverit esse virtutis, does not think it is owing to the clemency of the Lord, but to his own power.” He denies that the understanding of the Scripture, and utterance to declare the mind of God, are in the power of man, “for,” says he,[10] “unless all things which are written were opened by him, who has the key of David, “who opens, and no man shuts; who shuts, and no man opens;” nullo alio reserente pan dentur, “they could be opened by no other.' And in another place he says,[11] “The opening of the mouth, is not in the power of man, but of God; as Paul says, “A great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries; wherefore God is called he that opens.” The whole work of conversion, repentance, and spiritual knowledge, is clearly ascribed by him to the power of God, and not man. He represents[12] man as being much in the same case the poor woman was, whom Satan had bound eighteen years, so that she could not look up to heaven, but always on the earth: so man is bound down, et se erigere non possit, “and cannot raise himself up, because he is bound by the devil.” On these words, “I will give them an heart to know me,” he makes this remark:[13] “This is like to that of the apostle, “God is he that worketh in you both to will and to do;” for not only our works, but our will, Dei nitatur auxilio, depends upon the help of God.” And on those words, “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned,” he has this note;[14] “We cannot fulfill this, that we repent, unless we lean on the help of God; for after thou shalt convert me, and I shall be converted unto thee, then shall I know that thou art the Lord my God, and that my errors and sins shall not slay me; vide quantum sit auxilium Dei, et quam fragilis humana conditio, ‘see how great is the help of God, and how frail the condition of man;' that we cannot by any means fulfill this, that we repent, unless the Lord first convert us.” And in another place[15] having cited John 6:44, he thus descants upon it; “When he says, no man can come to me, he breaks the proud liberty of free will; for if ever he would come to Christ unless that is done which follows, “except my heavenly Father draw him; nee quicquam cupiat, et frustra nitatur, he can desire nothing, and in vain he endeavors.” And on these words, which he thus reads, “I will give them thought and sense: that they may know me,” he argues[16] “If thought and sense are given by God, and the understanding of the Lord spring from him who is to be known, ubi est liberi arbitrii tantum superba jactatio, where is the proud boasting of free will?” And having mentioned  Psalm 77:10, which he renders thus; “Now have I begun; this is the change of the right hand of the Most High;' makes this remark upon it,[17] “It is the language of a righteous man, who after meditation in sleep, and distress of conscience, at last says, Now have I begun either to repent or to enter into the light of knowledge; and this change from good to better, non mearum virium sed dexterae et potentiae Dei est, ‘is not owing to my own strength, but to the right hand and power of God.” He frequently argues against the power of free will, from this consideration, that upon a supposition of this there is no need of prayer, “for,” says he, “if only the grace of God lies in this, that he hath made us endued with free will, with which we are content, nor do any longer stand in need of his help, lest if we should, our free will would be destroyed; ‘ then we ought by no means to pray any longer,' and thereby engage the goodness of God, that we may daily receive, what, being once received, is in our power; for we pray in vain,” adds he, “if it is in our will to do what we will. Why should men pray for that from the Lord, which they have in the power of their own free will?” He farther argues[18] against the power of free will from the grace of God, and the help and assistance which he affords to man; “Where,” says he,[19] “there is grace, there is no reward of works, but the free gift of the donor; that the saying of the apostle may be fulfilled, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy;” and yet to will and nill is ours, but that which is ours, is not ours, sine Dei miseratione, without the mercy of God.” And elsewhere he observes,[20] that “where there is grace and mercy, free will in part ceases: it is only by that we win, desire, and give an assent to things that are liked; but it is in the power of the Lord, that that which we desire, labor for, and endeavor after, we are able to fulfill, illius ope et auxilio, by his help and assistance.” And in another place he says,[21] “If not one, nor few, nor many, but all, are governed by their own will, ubi erit auxilium Dei, ‘ where will be the help of God?” Then how did you explain Psalm 37:23; Jeremiah 10:23; John 3:27; 1 Corinthians 4:7, etc.?” And again,[22] he asks, “Where are they that say, that man may be governed by his own will? That such a power of free will is given, that the mercy and justice of God are taken away? Let them be ashamed that say so.” He allows of and pleads for such a free will, as is consistent with, and depends upon the grace, and power of God; “not that,” says he,[23] “free will is taken away from man by the grace of God, but the liberty itself, Dommum habere debeat adjutorem, ought to have God for its helper.” He owns,[24] that “it is ours to will and to run; but, that our willing and running may be accomplished, belongs to the mercy of God; and it is so brought about, that in our willing and running, free will may be preserved, and in the consummation of our will and race, Dei cuncta potentiae relinquantur, all things may be left to the power of God.” Yea, he argues that the Pelagians, and not such as himself destroyed free will; “They boast,” says he,[25] “up and down, that free will is destroyed by us; when, on the contrary, they ought to observe, that they destroy the liberty of the will, who abuse it, contrary to the grace of the donor. Who destroys free will? He who always gives thanks to God, and whatsoever flows in his rivulet, he refers to the fountain? Or, he who says, Depart from me, for I am clean, I have no need of thee?” Thou hast once given me freedom of will, that I may do what I will, why dost thou thrust in thyself again, that I can do nothing unless thou completest thine own gifts in me?” Once more, he observes,[26] “that it is not in this we differ from brute beasts, that we were made with a free will; but in this, that this free will depends upon the help of God, illiusque per singula ope indiget, ‘ and stands in need of his assistance in every action;' which you (Pelagians) do not mean; but this you mean, that he that once hath free will, does not want God for his helper.” From hence we may better understand Jerom's meaning, when he is speaking in favor of free will, as he does in many places; though it is easy to observe that he[27] sometimes considers free will, as man was endued with it at his first creation; at other times he speaks[28] of the power of it, with respect to natural and civil actions, to which also he supposes the power of God was necessary;[29] and very often of the freedom of it, as opposed[30] to force and violence, which it cannot admit of. He also observes,[31] that it is not always the same, and is to be regarded according to the mode, time, and condition of man's frailty. Now in one or other of these senses are the passages to be taken which Dr. Whitby has cited[32] from this writer in favor of free will. It must be owned, that Jerom sometimes drops some things incautiously, and without guard, which are not easily reconciled to his avowed principles; but then these passages should not be urged against his declared opinion and sentiments.


[1] Comment. in Oseam, tom. 6. p. 11, G, H; in Jonam, p. 58, B; in Micheam, p. 62, I; Epitaph. in Nepotian tom. 1. p. 8, A; Adv. Pelag. 1. 3, tom. 2. p. 102, F.

[2] Comment. in Ezech. tom. 5. p. 259, M. 260, A.

[3] Ibid. in Galatians tom. 9. p. 75, M.

[4] Ibid. in Hierem. tom. 5. p. 141, B.

[5] Ad Ctesiph. adv. Pelag. tom. 2. p. 85, B.

[6] Ad Cyprian. Explan. Pa. 89, tom. 3. p. 32.

[7] Com. in Ephesians tom. 9. p. 96, L.

[8] Adv. Pelag. 1. 1, tom. 2. p. 88, H.

[9] Com. in Hierem. tom. 5. p. 141, D.

[10] -- Ad Paulin. tom. 1. p. 36, D.

[11] Com. in Joel, tom. 6, p. 25, C.

[12] Ibid. in Isaiah tom. 5. p. 6, E. F.

[13] Ibid. in Hierem. ib. p. 150, C.

[14] Ibid. p. 158, I.

[15] Adv. Pelag. 1. 3, tom. 2. p. 100, L.

[16] Ibid. 1. 2, p. 98, I.

[17] Ibid. p. 97, B.

[18] Ad. Ctesiph. adv. Pelag. p. 84, I; adv: Pelag. 1. 1, p. 88, I, K, 1. 2, p. 96, E, F, G, p. 102.

[19] Ad Demetriad. tom. 1. p. 23, M.

[20] Adv. Pelag. 1. 1, tom. 2. p. 101, A.

[21] Ibid. 1. 1, p. 91, B; vide etiam Ep. ad Ctesiph. adv. Pelag. p. 84, B.

[22] Com. in Hierem. tom. 5. p. 133, D, E, p. l34, F.

[23] Com. in Ezech. tom. 5. p. 196, K.

[24] Adv. Pelag. 1. 1, 87, K.

[25] Ad Ctesiph. adv. Pelag. p. 84, M.

[26] Ad Ctesiph. adv. Pelag. p. 85, G, H.

[27] Ad Damasum, tom. 3. p. 48, H; Comment. in Zephaniah tom. 6. p. 121, E; ib. in Eccl. tom. 7. P 37, E.

[28] Ibid. in Isaiah tom. 5. p. 4, H; Ibid. in Ezech. ibid. p. 281.

[29] Ad Ctesiph. adv. Pelag. p. 85, A.

[30] Ad Demetriad, tom. 1. p. 24, B; adv. Joviaian. tom. 2. 1. 2, p. 25, C; ad Damasum, tom. 3. p. 41, K; ad Hedibiam, Ibid. p. 46, C, 49, H; Comment in Eccl. tom. 7. p. 34, D; Ibid. in Philemon, tom. 9. p. 116, B.

[31] Adv. Pelag. 1. 3, p. 101.

[32] Discourse, etc. p. 384. Postscript, p. 562; ed. 2. 374, 536.