Part 4

Chapter 6—Of The Heathens

To the doctrine of the ancients, concerning the necessity of grace to the performance of every good work, the Pelagians objected the virtues and famous actions of the heathens. These Vossius, a favorite author of Dr. Whitby's[1] has largely proved, under various theses or propositions to want all the conditions requisite in good works; such as doing them according to the law of God, in love to him, from faith in him, and with a view to his glory; and that "though some few of the ancients were of opinion, that the more virtuous among the heathens, such as Socrates and others, were saved, yet this notion was condemned of old by the other fathers, especially in the time of Austin." The collection which Dr. Whitby[2] has made out of the fathers, is very little to the purpose, chiefly relating to the endowments of nature, the blessings of providence, and temporal favors bestowed on heathens in common with others, denied, by none. The principal testimonies in favor of the good works and salvation of the heathens are taken from Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Chrysostom, and Jerom; but these, as Dr. Edwards observes,[3] at least some of them, had been bred in a philosophical way themselves, and so had retained a charity for that sort of men, yea, thought better of them than they deserved. Besides, should these testimonies be examined, they will not be found so full and express as they are thought to be; and other passages of these writers may be produced, contradicting of them. As to Justin Martyr, when he says, that such as Socrates and Heraclitus were Christians, he does not mean, as a learned man of our nation has observed,[4] that they were perfectly, only in part so; that is, as they were partakers of and lived according to the logos, or reason, which Christ, the Word and Son of God, imparts to every man. And as to Clement of Alexandria, Vossius has clearly shown,[5] that he could not say or think, that any could be saved without faith, and without the knowledge of Christ; which he supposed the heathens had through Christ's descent into hell, and preaching to them there. Nor that he could mean that the philosophy of the Greeks was sufficient to salvation, only at most, that it was one degree towards, or what had a tendency to lead to Christ. And though Chrysostom says, that before the coming of Christ, they that did not confess him might be saved, yet he elsewhere affirms,[6] that the works of men ignorant of God, are like to the garments of the dead, who are insensible of them; his words are these; "They that labor in good works, and know not the God of piety, are like leipsanois neeron, ‘to the remains of the dead, who are clothed with beautiful garments but have no sense of them.'" And though Jerom talks in one place,[7] of "the knowledge of God being by nature in all, and that no man is born without Christ, and hath not in himself the seeds of wisdom and justice, and other virtues; whence many without faith, and the gospel of Christ, do some things either wisely or holily;" yet in another place he says,[8] "Let us bring forth that sentence (The just shall live by faith) against those who, not believing in Christ, think themselves to be strong, wise, temperate, and just; that they may know that no man liveth without Christ, sine quo omnis virtus in vito est, without whom all virtue is to be reckoned for vice." To which I shall add two or three testimonies more, showing that the virtues of the heathens were not properly good works, but had only a show of them, and were insufficient to salvation, and conclude, says Origen,[9] "if a conversation of good manners were sufficient to men for salvation, how is it that the philosophers among the Gentiles, or many among heretics, continenter viventes nequaquam salvantur, ‘who live soberly, are not saved?' but because the falsity of their doctrine darkens and defiles their conversation." Again he observes[10] from Peter in Clement, "that good works which are done by unbelievers profit them in this world, non et in illo ad consequendam vitam aeternam, but not to obtain eternal life in the other." Cyprian has these words;[11] "The philosophers also profess to follow this (patience), but as theft wisdom is false, so is their patience: for how can he be either wise or patient, qui nec sapientiam nec patientiam Dei novit, who neither knows the wisdom nor patience of God?" Ambrose[12] expresses himself in this manner, "Virtues, without faith, are leaves; they seem to be green, but cannot profit; they are moved with the wind, because they have no foundation. How many heathens have mercy, have sobriety! but they have no fruit, quia fidem non habent, because they have no faith."


[1] Hist. Pelag, 1:3, par 3, p. 358 ad 379.

[2] Discourse, etc. p. 550, etc.; ed. 2. 527, etc.

[3] Veritas Redux, p. 439.

[4] Bulli Judicium, Eccl. Cathol. de necess, credendi qued Christ. sit Deus, append, ad c. 7, p. 201, etc.

[5] Hist. Pelag. 1.3, par. 3, p, 376, 377.

[6] Serm. De Fid. et Leg. Nat. tom. 6. p. 838.

[7] Comment. in Galatians p. 70, M.

[8] Ibid. p. 76, B.

[9] In Matthew hom. 27, fol. 53.

[10] Ibid. 35, fol. 74; vide etiam Comment. in Romans 1. 2, fol. 142.

[11] De Bono Patientiae, p. 313.

[12] Enarrat. in Psalm 1 p. 665.