-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Desire To Be an Orange...I Desire To Be an Orange...I Desire To Be an Orange.

Pelagius believed that the term "free will," "suggests that the will has equal powers in either direction, whether it wishes to strive for evil or for good. For if without the help of God the will were only free to do evil only, it would falsely be called free."1 Is this really a fair assessment of what the will is? One's equal ability to take one path over another, whatever those paths may be?

Luther and Chemnitz believed that the will was not some individual part of man separated from, say, his mind, heart, emotions, etc., but rather, that it was the accumulation of the entire person. This makes perfect sense from our own experience. When we have two roads ahead of us we are influenced by our reason, our hearts, our past experiences, and even the chemical makeup of our brains. The point being, that the will is not some autonomous capacity in man that stands above all of these factors and makes its judgements about what it is going to do.

The concept that the will is only free if it can with "equal powers" choose one side or another is absurd. There are things, many of which we have no control over, that influence how we make decisions. An abused child, whether he/she likes it or not, will probably have a hard time loving and entrusting themselves to their future spouses. Does this mean they do not have free will?

Martin Chemnitz writes that, "We call free will the human powers or faculties in mind, heart, and will, namely when the human mind can understand, consider, and evaluate something that is presented or proposed."2 Simply put, the will is the capacity of man to look at his choices and to use his mind, heart, and will, to decide his/her future path; it is the ability to make choices. Now the question must be asked, do the "external" factors, such as feelings, emotions, reason, past experiences, chemical makeup of our brain, etc., mean that we do not have a free will?

It becomes a question of, are we going to define free will as the ability to make choices, or the ability to have "equal powers" to choose one path over another? I think Pelagius would be very depressed if he lived in our day and age. We have all around us talk from the scientific and philosophic communities, asking if we are just the makeup of nerve signals going off in our brain, or if we are just the product of genetic transference and external stimulant influence, or chemical reactions in our brain. To a certain extent, theological talk transcends these existential questions, in that we find our definition in Christ, not our biological being. But these things certainly shed light on the naivety of demanding "equal power" in our ability to choose one path above another.

In fact, though, it is more than naivety, it is really a matter of arrogance. St. Jerome, who we commemorate today in the liturgical calendar, writes, "What the Latin calls 'free will' the Greeks call autexousia or autexousion. In the context of this weakness of nature, it is quite a arrogant term for it means man's power over himself, which is not subject to any command and which can be stopped or hindered by no one. It is an arrogant term, I say, since Paul complains even about the regenerate, who are led by the Spirit of God, 'The evil which I would not, that I do.' (Rom. 7:19)."3 This term is made up of two Greek words, the first, autos, which means "self" or "of one's self." The second word being exousia, which implies ability, capacity, liberty, and mastery over. As Jerome states it means a man's power over himself, not subject to any "external" factors. This s exactly how Pelagius defined free will.

As we have shown, this idea of having mastery over one's self, the equal ability to turn one way or another, independent of external forces, is a fallacy, even in the completely secular sense. We know enough about how the mind works, the role of genetics, one's reasoning, one's past experiences, and one's emotions, to know that one's will is certainly not free in the sense that with "equal powers" we are able to direct our path in "either direction."

We must therefore make a distinction between the capacity to choose, that is, to make choices, and what we are capable of making choices about.

As Lutherans we have an even greater reason to say why the unregenerate will is not capable of making decisions in spiritual matters. I could obviously list dozens of verses from Scripture, not to mention from the Confessions, but that will be unnecessary. We know that the unregenerate man is completely dead in his sins, that he contains no spark that can orientate him towards true good.

This is not, properly speaking, a limitation in our will, but a limitation in our nature. This is important to note. Our entire natures are in rebellion against the things of God, and the unregenerate actually hate God. To ask the will, which we have already noted is the accumulation of our whole person, to love God with all its heart, soul, mind, and strength, is an impossible task. To ask the whole person--heart, soul, mind, and strength--whose whole person is in rebellion against God, to love him is an impossibility. This is not a limitation of the will, properly speaking, but a limitation of the complete man who is completely in opposition to God.

Therefore Augustine, in response to Pelagius' desire to maintain his free will, will write: "Surely, you are acting of your own free will without God's help, but you are doing evil."4 This is because Pelagius asks of his will to do something it cannot accomplish. It is as if I were to say: "I desire to be an orange...I desire to be an orange...I desire to be an orange." Just because I am not able, through sheer willpower, to become an orange, does not mean I do not have free will. I am rather asking of my will to do something that it cannot do.

The arrogance of Pelagius is the same arrogance we see in ourselves, and in our first parents. It is the arrogance of desiring to establish our relationship with God on our own terms; to justify why we have a right to live in communion with God.

God desires to reestablish our relationship with him in the same way he created his relationship with our first parents, that is through his Word. As Christ tells us, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every Word going out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4; Deut. 8:3). Robert Kolb writes: "Restoration to a proper, righteous relationship with God takes place through the action of God in His Word, through its re-creative power."5 Our first parents' rejection of the Word of God brought spiritual death to all mankind. To literally re-create our original relationship with God would be to re-establish the relationship where we live "on every Word going out of the mouth of God." This is accomplished through faith, which like the original creation, is a complete gift from God, where we cling to the Word of God alone. The will has absolutely no capability to bring about this resuscitation, it can only happen through the re-creative breath of God's Spirit in the Word as he breathes into man's nostrils, bringing him back to life (Gen. 2:7).

1. Martin Chemnitz, The Doctrine of Man in Classical Lutheran Theology [TDOM], ed. Herman A. Preus and Edmund Smits (Minneapolis, Minn: Augsburg Publishing House, 1962), 74.

2. Martin Chemnitz, Ministry, Word, and Sacraments, trans. Luther Poellot (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1981), 66.

3. St. Jeome quoted in, TDOM, 72.

4. St. Augustine quoted in, TDOM, 74.

5. Robert Kolb, “God and His Human Creatures in Luther’s Sermons on Genesis: The Reformer’s Early Use of His Distinction of Two Kinds of Righteousness,” Concordia Journal 33, no. 2 (2007), 176.


L P Cruz said...

Hi Joel

I am researching on Pelagius' understanding of justification. I am interested because RC Apologist using guilt by association say that Lutherans follow Pelagius in being solafideist.

Do you have any information on Pelagius' view of justification, perhaps you can write on it.

Let me know.

Joel Woodward said...

Hey Lito,

Unfortunately, my knowledge of Pelagius doesn't much exceed what could be found on a wikipedia entry. Good luck, though. I would be interested to hear your own conclusions. I am really enjoying your blog, by the way. Keep up the good work.

In Christ,
Joel W.