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History of the Creeds
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History of the Creeds

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Introduction   Theology   Christology   Anthropology   

Anthropology - The Manner of Man's Salvation

The student will have observed that the heresies and controversies so far discussed were problems mainly in the Eastern wing of the Church. Theology and Christology were not grave problems in the West where such leaders as Tertullian had led the Church to the orthodox view of the relationship of Christ to the Father and of His two natures to each other. The Western Church was not as concerned with speculative metaphysical theology as the more rationalistic Greek thinkers of the Eastern Church were. Instead, the thinker of the Church in the West were concerned with more practical problems. This distinction becomes quite clear to any student of ancient history. The Gree mind made its contribution in the fielGreek thought; whereas the more practical Roman mind was concerned with matters of practice in the Church. For example, Augustine and Pelagius were concerned with the problem of how man is saved. Was man to be saved by the divine power only, or was there a place in the process of salvation for the human will?

Pelagius (ca. 360-420), a British monk and theologian, came to Rome about 400 where, with the help of Coelestius, he preached his idea of how man is saved. He met Augustine in Africa about 410 and soon found that Augustine would have no part of his ideas. He was banished from Rome in 418. Pelagius, the cool, calm individual, had known nothing of the struggle of soul through which Augustine had gone before he was saved. Hence, Pelagius was more willing to give the human will a place in the process of salvation. But Augustine had found his will helpless to extricate him from the morass of sin in which he found himself because of his sinful nature.

Pelagius believed that each man is created free as Adam was and that each man has the power to choose good or evil. Each soul is a separate creation of God and, therefore, uncontaminated by the sin of Adam. The universality of sin in the world is explained by the weakness of human flesh rather than by the corruption of the human will by original sin. Man does not inherit original sin from his first ancestor, although the sins of individuals of the past generation do weaken the flesh of the present generation so that sins are committed unless the individual wills to cooperate with God in the process of salvation. The human will is free to cooperate with God in the attainment of holiness and can make use of such aids to grace as the Bible, reason and the example of Christ. Because there is no original sin, infant baptism is not an essential element in salvation.

Augustine, the great bishop of Hippo, opposed what he believed was a denial of the grace of God by insisting that regeneration is exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit. Many was originally made in the image of God and free to choose good and evil, but Adam's sin bound all men, because Adam was the head of the race. Man's will is entirely corrupted by the Fall so that he must be considered totally depraved and unable to exercise his will in regard to the matter of salvation. Augustine believed that all inherit sin through Adam and that no one, therefore, can escape original sin. Man's will is so bound that he can do nothing to bring about his salvation. Salvation can only come to the elect through the grace of God in Christ. God must energize the human will to accept His proffered grace, which is only for those whom He has elected to salvation.
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History of the Creeds is a chapter in Christianity Through The CenturiesOff-site Link by Earle E. Cairns, Ph.D.

Originally published in 1954, the current edition of this classic on church history is revised, expanded and updated to the late twentieth century. The chapter presented here is from the 1977 edition.

Pelagius' views were condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431, but neither the Eastern nor Western churches ever fully accepted Augustine's views. John Cassianus, a monk, endeavored to find a compromise position by which the human and divine will could cooperate in salvation. He taught that all men ware sinful because of the fall, and that their wills are weakened but not totally corrupted. Man's partially free will can cooperate with divine grace in the process of salvation. He feared that the doctrines of election and irresistible grace taught by Augustine might lead to ethical irresponsibility. The view of Cassianus was condemned at the Synod of Orange in 529 in favor of a moderate Augustinian view.

The problem raised by Pelagius and Augustine has, however, been perennial in the Christian Church. Modernism is our day is only a resurgence of the Pelagian idea that man can achieve salvation by cooperation with the divine through his own efforts. The problem is whether Christianity is a matter of morals or religion; man's free will or God's grace; character development by culture or by a conversion that makes such development possible; a matter of man's rational powers or God's revelation. The Church has always been closer to Augustine's view than to those of Pelagius or John Cassianus, although the views of the medieval Church on this point were similar to those of Semi-Pelagians who followed John Cassianus.

Most of the major controversies were ended by 451, but they left a definite impact upon the Christian Church. The unity of the Church was preserved but at the expense of the freedom of spirit that was so characteristic of the Early Church. Christians were now in possession of authoritative statements as to the sense in which the Scriptures were to be interpreted on major doctrinal issues. But there were also some disadvantages that must be considered. The emphasis upon the theological led to a danger that men might be orthodox in faith but not live up to the ethical implications of that faith. Creed and conducts must always go hand in hand. It was also sad that many Christians felt that the Church could resort to violence and persecution in its attempt to keep the faith pure. The emperor as an arbiter of differing viewpoints at councils was able to assert power of the state in religious matters and end the separation of the Church and state. But we can be grateful to those who risked life as well as position to get the Church to accept doctrines that are true to the Scriptures, and we can unite in praise to God for His providential guidance in all these matters.



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