Friday, July 3, 2009

The Council of Orange on Grace

Caesarea of Arles who presided over the Second Council of Orange in 529 AD

I am a student of Church History. My recent reading and studies are focusing on the period between 500 and 1000 AD. On one hand the legalization of Christianity under Constantine (313 AD) was a good thing- less persecution for professing believers, an opportunity for the Church to gather itself organizationally, and a general expansion of it's outreach. On the other hand, after Constantine there seems to have been a decline in biblical scholarship (coinciding with the overall cultural decline and fall of Rome) and a growing lust for power by various ecclesiastical leaders, particularly regional bishops. While the subject of a future post, the notion of a prime bishop or "Pope" comes from this wrestling for power among bishops. When tracking the preservation and promotion of the biblical doctrines of grace, the years between 500 and 1000 are generally dark. There is at least one profound, encouraging exception where the biblical doctrines of grace are rightly discerned in the midst of a confused time.

The Second Council of Orange in 529 AD was an outgrowth of the controversy between Augustine and Pelagius from 120 years prior. To put it simply, this controversy had to do with the degree to which a human being is responsible for his or her own salvation, and the role of the grace of God in bringing about salvation. The Pelagians held that human beings are born in a state of innocence- that there is no such thing as a sinful nature or original sin.

The Council of Orange dealt with the Pelagian-fueled doctrine that the human race, though fallen and possessed of a sinful nature, is still "good" enough to able to lay hold of the grace of God through an act of unredeemed human will. The Council held to Augustine's view and repudiated Pelagius. Note one powerful statement by the Council of Orange-

If anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, or that we can be saved by assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the effectual work of the Holy Spirit, who makes all whom He calls gladly and willingly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray from the plain teaching of Scripture by exalting the natural ability of man, and does not understand the voice of God who says in the Gospel, "For apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God" (2 Cor. 3:5).

Despite this clear statement by various church leaders in 529 AD at Orange, the church drifted toward Pelagianism- a relatively common slide when biblical authority and sufficiency is neglected or marginalized by the "wisdom" of man. As the Roman Catholic Church grew in political power and influence it declined as an instrument of the grace of God that rightly handled the Word of Truth. Despite the above statement from Orange receiving "Papal Sanction", the doctrines of Pelagius gained more ground than those of Augustine during this 500 year period. Eventually, during the Reformation, the doctrines of Grace rightly understood at Orange were re-discovered.

Every era of the Church will struggle with a pull toward a man-centered "gospel" (which is no gospel at all). Despite this constant tug away from grace, God continuously grants reformation and revival making good on the promise of Christ to build His Church.


Rick Calohan said...

Recently Dorothy and I have been doing a point counterpoint with a Roman Catholic in the Philippines. Part and parcel of Reform Theology is sound doctrine and creeds that we uphold based on what the Bible and not man-made traditions teach.

Thanks to websites like The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry equips Christians and defends the faith. CARM can be found at

I think a stumbling block for non-Reform Christians is the false premise that they as individuals had a role in their salvation. That by their works, actions, and deeds, they were able to add what Christ has already done for us at the Cross of Calvary.

CARM has a 20 question quiz with three questions that deal with essentials. In short if you deny one you can not honestly consider yourself a Christian.

What are the essentials? Easy. The Bible tells us what they are.

1) Jesus is God in flesh;
2) Jesus rose from the dead in the same body he died in; and
3) Salvation, or the forgiveness of sins, is by grace through faith. You cannot add anything to Jesus' finished work.

There are many extremely important doctrines in the Bible: the Trinity, resurrection, forgiveness, the virgin birth, etc. But the Bible itself declares that these three are essential. If you deny any one of the three then you are not a Christian.

While most if not all Christians would acknowledge the first two essentials many people who consider themselves Christian seem to always stumble at the third essential.

As the Apostle Paul warned the church in Galatia, Galatians 2: 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Zach said...

Throw us a bone, Tony! I'd like to see the post-Orange II teachings in which the Catholic Church embraces the heretic Pelagius and turns her back on her most beloved doctor of grace, St. Augustine.

The truth is that the Catholic Church has continued to teach those doctrines of grace, as shown in the latest version of her Catechism:

"Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God. . . This vocation to eternal life is supernatural. It depends entirely on God's gratuitous initiative, for he alone can reveal and give himself. It surpasses the power of human intellect and will, as that of every other creature."

Have fun at Horn Creek. I had great times there in the early nineties!

Adam said...

Not to be redundant, but the Apostle Paul of Tarsus said...

Romans 5:12 ESV
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned--

Romans 5:15 ESV
...For if many died through one man's trespass...

Romans 5:18 ESV
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men...

Romans 5:19 ESV
For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners...

Paul said all this in half a chapter's portion of a letter. I wonder how those who deny the doctrine of original sin reconcile these verses (and the rest of the Bible), maybe they pull a Thomas Jefferson and cut them out of the Bible?

R.C. Sproul has this to say about the 1% of modern evangelicals who currently hold to man-centered “gospel”

We have not broken free from the Pelagian captivity of the church.
That one percent is the "little something" Luther sought to demolish because it removes the sola from sola gratia and ultimately the sola from sola fide. The irony may be that though modern Evangelicalism loudly and repeatedly denounces Humanism as the mortal enemy of Christianity, it entertains a Humanistic view of man and of the will at its deepest core. We need an Augustine or a Luther to speak to us anew lest the light of God's grace be not only over-shadowed but be obliterated in our time.

Frontier Forest said...

So much to learn. And just think, I used to think any history was boring. To ignore such a foundation is to dishonor those who gave their lives for the righteous cry of Grace!

Ray and Janell said...

great post tony. as much as i love church history, i can't consider myself a student of it ... i just don't study it enough. thanks for your work in this area and for bringing nuggets of it out for the rest of us to enjoy.

Reepicheep said...

I appreciate the reference. Frankly, I find modern Roman teaching on justifcation to be all over the map. I still recall the statement of Trent (which has yet to be rescinded) in the 11th canon-

"If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and remains in them, or also that the grace by which they were justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema."

It's the Roman doctrine of "infused grace" which renders this discussion so difficult. I'll make that the subject of a future post.

Zach said...

Welcome back, Tony. I missed your blogging, buddy!

You write that Catholic teaching on justification is "all over the map". Some might say the same about the Scriptures themselves when they treat these topics. Prima facie, the Scriptures assume both the free will of man and the sovereignty of God -- the essentiality of both faith and works -- with God's grace as the ultimate cause of it all.

How all of these "both/and's" can coexist is a great mystery beyond our comprehension, and the Catholic Church has steadfastly refused to try to force the mystery into an "either/or" box. It affirms the teachings of Scripture--all of them--and humbly acknowledges that, this side of eternity, we will never be able to fully comprehend the mind of God--or the cosmic complexities that He has built into His economy of salvation.

I see the 11th Canon of Trent as only peripherally germane to this particular topic. As you mention, its purpose is to affirm that justification is infused, not externally imputed. Because it is God who does the infusing, this in no way indicates Pelagian sympathies within the Church.

Additionally, I don't know why you would expect the Catholic Church to retract this teaching. As a student of Church History, surely you know that, prior to the Reformation, all Christians held to the notion of infused justification. The notion of forensic, imputed justification was a novelty emanating from the fertile mind of Melanchthon. As noted Protestant theologian Alister McGrath writes:

The importance of this development lies in the fact that it marks a complete break with the teaching of the church up to that point. From the time of Augustine onwards, justification had always been understood to refer to both the event of being declared righteous and the process of being made righteous. Melanchthon’s concept of forensic justification diverged radically from this. As it was taken up by virtually all the major reformers subsequently, it came to represent a standard difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic from then on.

I look forward to your upcoming post on the topic.

Reepicheep said...


I certainly respect McGrath and have read several of his books. I don't know the complete context of the quote you have noted, but it is interesting for him to say what he does. I will address this statement in the quote-

"From the time of Augustine onwards, justification had always been understood to refer to both the event of being declared righteous and the process of being made righteous."

In fairness, honing the biblical doctrine of justification wasn't a focal issue in the early church, martyrdom was. Augustine, while often confusing, basically provided the basis for a biblically developed doctrine of Justification-which became necessary due to the gross errors of Rome. The Reformers were in the right time and place to bring the needed correction to the poor Romish doctrine of teh middle ages.

Very frankly, I'm not as concerned about the holdings of the medieval Roman church as I am the teaching of Scripture.

Justification has always been primarily forensic- that is, we are declared righteous due to our union with Christ by faith. The working out of this justifcation is called sanctification. Justification and Sanctification are distinct acts of God's free grace- but in no way unrelated.

God gives continuing grace to the justified sinner, this is what sanctification is. "infused" is a confusing term and I see it as unbiblical to confuse justification and sanctification.

Having said all this, I am not convinced there aren't some clear voices about the biblical doctrine of justification between 400AD and 1400 AD. The Council of Orange is certainly one such example. I will do some digging.

Further, looking at Roman doctrine in this time period- something I am currently deeply engrossed in- convinces me all the more of the providential placement by God of the Reformation. As I preach through Galatians, it strikes me how similar the Judaizers and Roman theology can be.

And...No, I don't expect Roman Catholic teaching to be retracted. They've never done that. How can they with their understanding of ex cathedra and the like? They just keep adding layers to what has already been taught keepin most RC's thoroughly confused. That's the reality. Yes, many former Protestants like yourself serve as active apologists for Papism, but with all due respect, you seem to ignore the vastly varying teachings between the sects withing Romanism. Their worst offense is the consistent lack of dealing with the biblical text exegetically NOW. It's constantly a reference to this or that person from Church History rather than a faithful exposition of the Scriptures. Obviously we can go round and round on this, but reading Galatians hits me square in the eyes---The Judaizers of old are basically equal with the Roman Catholic Church of today.

Certainly I think there are genuine Christians in the Roman Catholic Church- those who truly trust Christ alone for salvation- but I think such folks are largely in spite of the teaching of Rome rather than because of it.

Rick Calohan said...

Here is what John Gerstner said regarding Sola Fide:

What is "Sola Fide"?
Faith is an instrument with no power in and of itself. Faith is the gift of God when He regenerates a lost sinner. This divine ability is given and it is the instrument in which we take hold of Christ by believing in His meritorious life, death and resurrection. Salvation is by works. The works of Christ alone applied to the sinner, received by faith. "Strictly speaking, the true Christian church does not teach justification by faith. It teaches justification by Christ. Where does the faith come in? It is simply the uniting with, becoming one with, the Lord Jesus Christ. Being married to Christ, all that is His becomes His bride's, the believer's…that is the meaning of the word 'reckons' or imputes or credits. The justified one 'does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked'(Rom. 4:5)."- John Gerstner, 'Justification by Faith Alone'

I also like John Calvin's response to Councils of Trent CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them (remains in them); or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour (good will) of God; let him be anathema.

CALVIN'S RESPONSE -I wish the reader to understand that as often as we mention Faith alone in this question, we are not thinking of a dead faith, which worketh not by love, but holding faith to be the only cause of justification (Gal. 5:6; Rom. 3:22). It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone…we do not separate the whole grace of regeneration from faith, but claim the power and faculty of justifying entirely for faith, as we ought. -John Calvin, 'Acts of the Council of Trent 3:152'

Frontier Forest said...

You guyes are way above me! But thanks for the lively and interesting debate.

Zach said...

Very frankly, I'm not as concerned about the holdings of the medieval Roman church as I am the teaching of Scripture.

It's constantly a reference to this or that person from Church History rather than a faithful exposition of the Scriptures.



The topic of your post was Church History, so it's hardly fair for you to complain when I reference Church History in my reply. You made a very specific accusation that "the doctrines of Pelagius gained more ground than those of Augustine" between the Second Council of Orange and the Reformation, and I challenged you to present the evidence.

When you produced the 11th Canon on Justification from the Council of Trent, I replied that this merely affirms the unanimous teaching of the Church from its inception--namely, that justification is infused. It's not that I am unable produce Scriptures in abundance to support the teaching that justification is infused (Ps 51, 1 Cor 1:2, 1 Cor 6:11, Acts 15:9, Acts 20:32, Acts 26:18, 2 Pet 1:9, to name a few), rather it's that we are all looking at the same Scriptures and reaching opposite conclusions. The Fathers of the Church examined these Scriptures, as well, and their interpretations thereof help prevent us from running off the exegetical rails.

When the Fathers reach a unanimous conclusion on a particular doctrine (as they do in affirming that justification is infused), and a Christian finds himself disagreeing with that conclusion, there should be a strong, strong presumption that he may be interpreting Scripture erroneously. Otherwise, he will find himself espousing that radical, untethered vision of the faith described by John Stott:

"The hallmark of an authentic evangelicalism is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh biblical scrutiny and, if necessary, reform."

Reepicheep said...


Come on now, what’s fair on “my” blog? Ha ha.. Just messing with you.

I contested the doctrines of Pelagius gained more ground than those of Augustine between the Second Council of Orange and the Reformation. The evidence is the state of the doctrine of Justification among the Roman clergy by the time of Wycliffe, Hus, and Luther.

While Orange, Florence, and even Trent condemned certain aspects of Pelagianism. There was allowed to remain a certain place for man's "free will" and a deficient view of original sin. To check the state of Roman theology during the period we are speaking of, one has only to look at Aquinas who believed that man was fallen, but not in whole. He believed the will of man was fallen, but somehow not the intellect. I admit to not always understanding Aquinas, even having read Summa more than once, but I think I'm right on this point. Francis Schaeffer backs my understanding-

“Aquinas held that man had revolted against God and thus was fallen, but Aquinas has an incomplete view of the Fall. He thought that the Fall did not affect man as a whole but only in part. In his view the will was fallen or corrupted but the intellect was not affected. Thus people could rely on their own human wisdom, and this meant that people were free to mix the teachings of the Bible with the teachings of the non-Christian philosophers.”

Now, before Aquinas (and indeed during his time) Rome was busier fighting the Crusades and grabbing for political power than forging solid biblical theology and honing accurate biblical doctrine. So just because a clear understanding of the bible's teaching on "imputed righteousness" didn't come until the Reformation doesn't mean it isn’t the bible’s teaching.
I strongly contest the years 400-1400 were largely dark for the Church in regards to biblical scholarship and doctrine. Again, Rome was more enthralled with political power and fighting Crusades than studying Scripture. That may sound harsh, but I have become convinced of this. The Reformation changed this for everyone who called themselves Christian. At very least the Reformation caused the Clergy to open the bible again, and even better- all Christians. It’s amazing to me that Luther had barely read the Scriptures before being made a “doctor” of the Church. This was normal for monks and priests before the Reformation. It was like unto the days of Josiah in Israel…the book of the Law was unknown to the ones who should have known it best. The Reformation was a sure blessing of God returning the Word of God to the Clergy and the people of God. Your turn to throw “us” a bone on that. :)

A good number of the Popes before the Reformation were a huge embarrassment to anyone who cares about godliness (not to mention the notion of the vicarship of Christ). The Popes after the Reformation at least started to appear religious again. They finally had some reasonable scholarly competition.

Now as it relates to your citing various verses in support of "infused" justification (righteousness) I can only say you are displaying the very reason Reformation was needed.

You are confusing Justification (a one-time act of God's grace) with Sanctification (an ongoing process of God giving grace). Confusing Justification with Sanctification can lead to a works-righteousness scheme akin to that of the Judaizers.

Every verse you cited is in favor of the need of God's grace for sanctification and not direct references to justification. Now, having said that, Sanctification necessarily follows Justification, so it's understandable how these verses can some times be confused, but not excusable.

More to come on the difference between the biblical doctrine of "imputed righteousness" and the Roman doctrine of "infused righteousness".

Rick Calohan said...

From deep deep love of and well of Reform Theology John Gerstner

Infused vs. Inputed Righteousness
"Some Romanists will say that they teach justification by grace- by Christ's righteousness, in fact. But the righteousness of Christ which they claim justifies is not Christ's own personal righteousness reckoned or credited or given or imputed to believers. Romanists refer to righteousness which Christ works into the life of the believer and infuses into him in his own living and behavior. It is not Christ's personal righteousness but the believer's personal righteousness, which he performs by the grace of God…Protestantism's salvation by faith versus Rome's salvation by works- -this is not a technically accurate way to state this vital difference, but it points to the truth. The Protestant trusts Christ to save him and the Catholic trusts Christ to help him save himself…If it is a salvation based on works that come from grace, it is not based on grace but on the Christian's works that come from grace… Faith is merely union with Christ who is our righteousness, our grace, our salvation…Our righteousness does not result from His righteousness, it is His righteousness."-John Gerstner, 'Justification by Faith Alone'

Ladee Bugg said...

It does appear that Pelagianism has some long tentacles--when I first learned what it was I was delighted because at last I understood why my grandmother believed that little babies were pure and sinless--but it was a tragedy because she died at 102 still believeing the same.

Zach said...

So just because a clear understanding of the bible's teaching on "imputed righteousness" didn't come until the Reformation doesn't mean it isn’t the bible’s teaching.


I just find it amazing that you are comfortable with the notion that Ambrose, Augustine, Athanasius, Chrysostom, Cyril, Basil--nay, all of the Church militant for the entire duration of its first 1,500 years of existence--could have gotten it dead wrong on so fundamental an issue--yet good ol' Philipp Melanchthon somehow was the first to see the true teaching of Scriptures.

How can you then point to the Fathers with confidence on any issue? Maybe they got the Canon of Scripture wrong (well, I guess you think they did with respect to the Deuterocanon), maybe their concept of the Trinity is a little off, maybe they misread the Scriptures with respect to hell (as Stott suspects). If their witness can be trumpeted or disregarded ad hoc based on one's personal exegesis of the Scriptures, then what good are they? Who are we kidding here? The ultimate criteria of truth is one's personal interpretation of Scriptures. If the Fathers happen to agree with what I see in the Bible, well all the better for them. If not, well, I guess they were simply too busy with temporal things to discover that "clear bible teaching".

I know, I'm getting feisty again. I need to take my nerve pill. :)

Reepicheep said...


I have read Augustine quite a bit. I do not see any kind of advanced focus on the notion of "infused righteousness" in his work. I am open to correction. Please share.

As for Ambrose and co., I have only a limited knowledge of their primary writings. Indeed, they don't have lots of stuff in print, I know that much. On the issue of "infused righteousness" I am more than willing for you to point me to the sources (of theirs) that can help me understand what they believe Scripture taught. Not isolated quotes, give me the actual sources and I'll dig.

Reepicheep said...

John Gertsner wrote this excellent piece a few years back-

Gertsner on History of Justification

Ladee Bugg said...

I just wondered if the scribes and pharasees felt like that when Jesus began to teach--or did they clearly know they were in error---I mean as creatures we do slide--like when the Dr. says no more sugar--then we become ill--we knew--we just were not challenged on a regular basis.I am asking.

Reepicheep said...

LB-excellent point.

Zach said...

Fair enough, Tony. I'll round up some sources. Thanks.

Ladee Bugg said...

Reepicheep--wanted to thank you for Dr. Gerstener's article on Justification--I really like him--I met him once--I believe it was his last public meeting before he died--he was so week hanging on to the pulpit.

Rick Calohan said...

A wonderful interview between Drs. R.C. Sproul and John Gerstner