Divorce & Remarriage in the Latin West: A Forgotten History


Over the past many years, there have been a number of internet articles that speak of the differences between the Latin West and the Greek East on the question of the indissolubility of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Catholics often have seen the Greek East as deviating from correct teaching on the matter. And both Orthodox and Catholics have often seen the Latin West as a monolith concerning its position on divorce and remarriage. The truth of the matter, however, is much more complex. The Latin West for a long time had a rich tradition of allowing divorce and remarriage under a variety of circumstances and under a number of conditions. My purpose here is to illustrate them and to make the case that this tradition was hardly minor, but a very popular one for many centuries in the Latin West. In many ways, this tradition was analogous to the Greek tradition in the East.

Before I start this list, let me make the following statement. There is much to do with the Greek word or porneia clause in Matthew 19:9. For a brief introduction into the big argument about it, see the following blog post from Shameless Popery. I do not know Greek, so I will not try to offer my own interpretation of the original Greek text nor cite secondary sources in my favor since I cannot critically evaluate their understanding of the Greek. However, I am rather content to work with the Vulgate and the vast Latin literature on the subject. Moreover, I do think it is important to stress that for many centuries, the porneia clause or in Latin the fornicationem clause (see Vulgate Mt 19:9) was understood to be an exception clause. Often this tradition is brushed away as something that was minor. If one only looks at the Church Fathers, then they are perhaps correct. However it should be kept in mind that even the group of Church Fathers who held the majority opinion of no second marriage is further split into various smaller group opinions. For example, Basil and Tertullian both heavily disapproved of second marriages, even after the death of a spouse. Once seen in this light, we begin to understand that the issue of remarriage as a whole, as well as remarriage after divorce, is an extraordinarily complex subject in the first millennium of the Church in both the Latin West and the Greek East.

In terms of the Greek East and its traditions, there is a Catholic blog that already makes use of them to argue its case for the indissolubility of marriage.  In fact, here is one and then another by the popular apologist Dave Armstrong. I won’t go into detail as to how they are mistaken with their assertion that the Orthodox Church has ignored the Eastern Church Fathers’ consensus in that marriage is indissoluble. I will only make the brief comment that many of these Church Fathers are speaking in the context of the parenetic genre. Furthermore, I will quote an excellent article on the matter briefly:

The idea by which the matrimonial bond subsisted in spite of a justified divorce, that is, one founded on Matthew’s clause of exception, is formally contradictory to the general position of the Eastern Fathers. It would be tedious to mention all the explicit testimonies to this effect. Let it suffice to mention St. John of Chrysostom, who confirms that through adultery marriage is dissolved and that after fornication, the husband ceases to be the husband. As for St. Cyril of Alexandria, he expressly states: “It is not a writ of divorce that dissolves marriage before God, but bad actions.”

Bishop Peter L’Huillier, “The Indissolubility of Marriage in Orthodox Law and Practice,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 32 (1988): 206.

If one wishes to read more on the specific issue of Eastern Church Fathers, then I encourage you to read the following article quoted above, which also touches on the Latin Church Fathers too:

Bishop Peter L’Huillier, “The Indissolubility of Marriage in Orthodox Law and Practice,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 32 (1988): 199-221.

At the same time, I’d also like to suggest reading the wonderful article on the Latin West’s treatment of marriage, which I also have used to a great extent to pull my primary sources from:

Jo-Ann McNamara and Suzanne F. Wemple, “Marriage and Divorce in the Frankish Kingdom,” in Women in Medieval Society, edited by Susan Mosher Stuard (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1976), 95-124.

Now, without further ado, let us look at the list! The purpose of this list is not necessarily to prove anything against the present Latin position, most notably held by the Catholic Church (although held by some Protestants as well), about the indissolubility of marriage. Rather my purpose here to highlight a tradition of councils, two Latin Church Fathers, and early medieval penitentials used by priests that clearly allow divorce and remarriage in a variety of circumstances. This tradition in the Latin West goes back to at least the beginning of the fourth century.

Latin Councils of the Church

Council of Arles, AD 314:

De his qui coniuges suas in adulterio depraehendunt, et idem sunt adulescentes fideles et prohibentur nubere, placuit ut, quantum possit, consilium eis detur ne alias uxores, viventibus etiam uxoribus suis licet adulteris, accipiant.

About these [men] who find their wives in adultery, both the wives and the young Christian men are forbidden to marry. It has been decided that, as long as he is able, even if their adulterous wife is living, he is to be given counsel not to marry another woman.

Concilium Arlatense, canon 10, Mansi 2: 472

Concilium Arelatense, canon 10, in Conciliae Galliae A. 314-A.506, edited by C. Munier, CCSL volume 148 (Turnholt, 1963), Page 11

Now, for the Council of Arles, my reader might be confused if they have read the following Catholic blog where the author misunderstands the canon as supporting the indissolubility of marriage. The problem with their translation is that it mistranslates the key phrase, “quantum possit” as “so far as may be.” I’ve highlighted my translation of the phrase in blue. “Possit” is the present subjunctive form of the verb “possum,” which means “to be able,” not “to be.” The proper Latin for the Catholic author’s English translation would be the following: “quantum sit,” which actually wouldn’t even make sense in this context. The implication of this phrase is that the man may marry another woman while his first wife is still alive, if he finds himself unable to abstain from sex. Ideally, he abstains. However, if he cannot, then he should marry again to avoid fornication. This canon far from upholds the principle of the indissolubility of marriage since it sanctions remarriage after divorce. This interpretation is further bolstered by the fact that he is only given advice not to marry again.

Council of Vannes, AD 465:

Eos quoque, qui relictis uxoribus suis, sicut in evangelio dicitur excepta causa fornicationis, sine adulterii probatione alias duxerint, statuimus a communion similiter arcendos, ne per indulgentiam nostrum praetermissa peccata alios ad licentiam erroris invitent.

Also, those who have abandoned their wives, just as it is said in the gospel, except for the cause of fornication, who have married another without proof of adultery, we likewise forbid from communion, in order that not through our indulgence they invite more permitted sins to the license of error.

Concilium Veneticum, canon 2, Mansi 7: 953

Concilium Vernerticum, canon 2, CCSL, 148: Page 152

Council of Soissons, AD 744:

Similiter constituemus, ut nullus laicus homo Deo sacrata femina ad mulierem non habeat nec sua parentem; nec marito viventem sua mulier alius non accipiat, nec mulier vivente suo viro alium accipiat, quia maritus mulier sua non debet dimittere, excepto causa fornicationis deprehensa.

Similarly we will establish, that no layman shall neither have his parents nor a nun as his wife. Neither shall another receive his wife while the husband lives, nor shall the wife receive another while her husband lives, BECAUSE the husband ought not to dismiss his wife, unless a case of adultery has been discovered.

Concilium Suessionense, canon 9, MGH, Concilium 2.1: 35

Now some might object to the above canon as supporting remarriage on the grounds that it excludes remarriage on the grounds that the spouse is still living. They then might further contend that the divorce is in fact only a separation in the case of adultery. This interpretation is simply not possible. The verb “debet” which means “ought to” indicates explicitly that people were often divorced for reasons other than adultery. In those specific cases where adultery did not occur, remarriage while the spouse was alive was forbidden.

Council of Compiègne, AD 757:

Si quis homo habet mulierem legittimam, et frater eius adulteravit cum ea, ille frater vel illa femina qui adulterium perpetraverunt, interim quo vivunt, numquam habeant coniugium. Ille cuius uxor fuit, si vult, potestatem habet accipere aliam.

If any man has a legal wife, and his brother has committed adultery with her, that brother and that woman who committed adultery may never marry one another while living. That man who was her spouse, if he wishes, has the power to marry another.

Capitularia regum francorum, canon 11, MGH 1: 38

Council of Verberie, AD ?758-768?:

Si qua mulier mortem viri sui cum aliis hominibus consiliavit, et ipse vir ipsius hominem se defendo occiderit et hoc probare potest, ille vir potest ipsam uxorem dimittere et, si voluerit, aliam accipiat.

If a wife has conspired in the murder of her husband with another man, and the man [Note: the husband] himself kills the other man in self defense and is able to prove this, that man is able to divorce his wife, and if he wishes, marry another.

Capitularia regum francorum, canon 5, MGH 1: 40

Synod of Rome, AD 826, which Pope Eugenius II presided over:

De his, qui adhibitam sibi uxorem reliquerunt et aliam sociaverunt. Nulli liceat, excepta causa fornicationis, adhibitam uxorem relinquere et deinde aliam copulare; alioquin transgressorem priori convenit sociari coniugio. Sin autem vir et uxor divertere pro sola religiosa inter se consenserint vita, nullatenus sine conscientia episocopi fiat, ut ab eo singulariter proviso constituantur loco. Nam uxore nolente aut altero eorum etiam pro tali re matrimonium non solvatur.

Forma minor: Nullus excepta causa fornicationis uxorem suam dimittat. Si vero vir et uxor pro religion dividi voluerint, cum consensus episcopi hic faciant. Nam si unus voluerit et alius noluerit, etiam pro tali re matrimonium non solvatur.

Concerning those men, who have divorced [their] married wives and marry another. Let no one, except for the cause of fornication, divorce their married wife and then marry another. Otherwise, he combines the transgression of the first with having been married [to another]. If however a man and wife consent to divorce between themselves for the sake of a monastic life, in no way shall it be so without the joint knowledge of the bishop, so that they may be stationed by him in a single prepared location. For [if] due to an unwilling wife or her husband, let it not be dissolved for the sake of the marriage.

Smaller form: Let no one divorce his wife except for the cause of fornication. Truly if a man and a wife wish to separate for [pursuing] a religious life, let them do so with the consent of the bishop here. For if one wishes and another does not wish, let the marriage not be dissolved.

Concilia Romanum, canon 36, MGH, Concilia aevi Karolini, 2.1: 582

As one can easily see, the canonical tradition for remarriage after divorce in the Latin West was strong in the first millennium.

Church Fathers: Jerome and Ambrosiaster

Now let us examine two of the Latin Church Fathers.

Saint Jerome on Matthew 19:9, AD 398:

It is fornication alone that conquers the affection for one’s wife. Indeed, the “one flesh” he has with his wife, he shares with another woman. By fornication she separates herself from her husband. She should not be held, lest she cause her husband to be cursed too, since the Scripture says: “He who holds an adulteress is foolish and impious (Proverbs 18:22).” Therefore, whenever there is fornication and suspicion of fornication, a wife is freely divorced. And since it could have happened that someone brought a false charge against an innocent person, and on account of the second marriage-union hurled a charge at the first wife, it is commanded to divorce the first wife in such a way that he has no second wife while the first one is living. For he says the following: If you divorce your wife not on account of lust, but on account of an injury, why after the experience of the first unhappy marriage do you admit yourself into the danger of a new one? And besides, it could have come to pass that according to the same law, the wife too would have given a bill of divorce to the husband. And so by the same precaution, it is commanded that she not receive a second husband. And since a prostitute and she who had once been an adulteress were not afraid of reproach, the second husband is commanded that if he marries such a woman, he will be under the charge of adultery.

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, Patrologia Latina 26: 0135A – 0135B

Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 19:9, Trans. by Thomas P. Scheck, Commentary on Matthew (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008): 216-217

This passage of Jerome’s commentary is often misunderstood to mean that he supports the indissolubility of marriage here. This is simply not the case. Jerome is notably concerned with the prospect of a husband or wife divorcing their spouse for unjustified reasons or on spurious grounds. If such happens and then they marry, then both the unsuspecting party and the more guilty party are guilty of adultery. Therefore, Jerome questions the motives of anyone who divorces and then marries another. He insinuates that the wronged party of a first marriage should be so emotionally injured that they would not want to marry again. If such is not the case, then it might very well be that the charges against the spouse to give grounds for divorce were trumped up. Jerome forbids or at least cautions against remarriage on these grounds. While I realize that Jerome’s position in his 77th letter is different, I think it is important to note any fluidity or changes in his position.

The anonymous Ambrosiaster (?366-384?):

The apostle’s advice is as follows: If a woman has left her husband because of his bad behavior, she should remain unmarried or be reconciled to him. If she cannot control herself, because she is unwilling to struggle against the flesh, then let her be reconciled to her husband. A woman may not marry if she has left her husband because of his fornication or apostasy, or because, impelled by lust, he wishes to have sexual relations with her in an illicit way. This is because the inferior party does not have the same rights under the law as the stronger one has. But if the husband turns away from the faith or desires to have perverted sexual relations, the wife may neither marry another nor return to him. The husband should not divorce his wife, though one should add the clause “except for fornication”. The reason why Paul does not add, as he does in the case of the woman, “But if she departs, he should remain as he is” is because a man is allowed to remarry if he has divorced a sinful wife. The husband is not restricted by the law as a woman is, for the head of a woman is her husband.

Ambrosiaster, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:11, Patrologia Latina 17: 0230A – 0230B

Ambrosiaster, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7: 11 Trans. by Gerald L. Bray, Commentaries on Romans and 1-2 Corinthians (InterVarsity Press, 2009): 150-151

While Ambrosiaster’s blatant sexism is undoubtedly disturbing to us today (and rightly so), it is clear that he understood some legitimate grounds for divorce and remarriage. Any claim that he thinks marriages are indissoluble contradicts his sanction of remarriage for divorced men.

Latin Penitentials

Lastly let us engage the penitentials used by confessors. The first two examples come from the section known as The Extracts (Excerptiones), which is to say that the following guidelines for penance are pulled from various canons of various councils as well as church fathers. According to Mansi, these were composed around the year of 748, but do take that date with some caution since Mansi’s system of dating is centuries old:

Si mulier discesserit a viro suo, despiciens eum, nolens revertere et reconciliari viro post quinque vel septem annos, cum consensus episcopi, ipse aliam accipiat uxorem, si continens esse non poterit, et poeniteat tres annos, vel etiam quamdiu vixerit, quia juxta sententiam Domini moechus comprobatur.

If a woman separates herself from her husband, despising him, not wishing to return and be reconciled to the man, [then] after five or seven years, with the consent of the bishop, he himself may marry another wife if he is not able to be continent. And let him repent for three years, or even however long he lives, because of the statement of the Lord establishing [the criteria] for an adulterer.

Pseudo-Egobert, Penitentiale Egberti, 122, Mansi 12: 424


Si cujus uxor in captivitatem ducta fuerit, et ea redimi non poterit, post annum septimum alteram accipiat: et si postea propria, id est prior mulier, de captivitate reversa fuerit, accipiat eam, posterioremque dimittat. Similiter autem et illa, sicut superius diximus, si viro talia contigerint, faciat.

If one’s wife is led into captivity, and he is not able to redeem her, after seven years he may marry another. And particularly if afterwards, that is the first woman, returns from captivity, let him receive her and dismiss his second wife. And similarly, just as we have said above, that woman may do if such [events] have befallen her man.

Pseudo-Egobert, Penitentiale Egberti, 123, Mansi 12: 424


Si uxor viri cujusdam adulteretur, maritus eam potest deserere, et aliam ducere, si ea prima fuerit uxor; si autem secunda vel tertia fuerit, non potest aliam ducere: si uxor flagitia sua comittere velit intra quinque annos, alii viro nubere debet. Si mortuus maritus sit, uxor intra annum alium sumere potest. Quicumque maritus uxorem suam deseruerit, et ie injusto matrimonio (alii) adjungat, jejunet septem hyemes severum jejunium, vel quindecim leviora. Quicumque multa mala perpetraverit in homicidium, et occisionem hominis, et injustum concubitum cum bestiis, et cum mulieribus, eat ad monasterium, et semper jejunet usque ad finem vitae, si valde multa miserit.

If the wife of the same man has committed adultery, the husband is able to divorce her, and marry another [only] if she [the adulteress] was the first wife. But if she was the second or the third, he is not able to marry [again]. If the wife wishes to engage in a shameful act during the space of five years, [then] she ought to marry another man. If the husband is dead, the wife is able to marry in the space of a year. Every husband who divorces his wife, and marries another in unjust matrimony, let him fast for seven winters of harsh fasting, or fifteen winters lightly. Whoever perpetrates many evils in homicide, the killing of a man, unjust sexual relations with beasts and with women, let him go forth to the monastery, and fast always until the end of his life, if he truly gives up the many [evils].

Pseudo-Egobert, Penitentiale Egberti, 19, Mansi 12: 436

This prescription above is particularly notable because its position on remarriage is very close to the present-day Orthodox practice.

And the final penitential:

Si maritus cum propria sua uxore [illegible word], lavet se antequam ad ecclesiam abeat; si mulier maritum suum a se rejiciat, et dein nolit resipiscere, et cum eo in quinque annis pacem inire, maritus cum consensus episcopi, aliam uxorem ducere potest. Si maritus uxoris in captivitatem ducatur, expectet cum sex annos, et ita vir uxori faciat, si ei captivitas accidat; si maritus aliam uxorem ducat, et captiva post quinque annos redeat, deserat posteriorem, et captivam sumat, quam antea eodem modo duxerat. Cum vir in adulterio conjunctus sit uxori suae familiae, post uxoris suae mortem, legitimo jure uxori illi conjungatur.

If a husband [illegible word/verb] with his wife, let him wash himself before going over to the church. If the woman rejects her husband from herself, and then does not wish to reflect, and he undergoes five peaceful years with her, the husband with the consent of the bishop is able to marry another. If the husband of the wife is led into captivity, let her wait for six years, and thus the man shall remain married to the wife, if the captured man happens to return to her. If the husband marries another wife, and the captured wife returns after five years, let him desert the latter wife, and retake the [formerly] captured wife, as he was married to her before. When a man is found to have committed adultery by his wife’s family, after the death of his wife, let him be married in legal law to that [other] woman.

Pseudo-Egobert, Penitentiale Egberti, 26, Mansi 12: 438

These exegeses from two Latin Church Fathers, the canons of six Latin church councils (one of them being in Rome and presided over by a pope), and various statements and prescriptions given in the penitentials all serve to make it clear that the Latin West for most of the first millennium had far from reached a consensus on the issue of divorce & remarriage, as well as the issue of indissolubility. If anyone is wanting to know what eventually starts to happen to this tradition beginning in the 9th century, I wholeheartedly suggest reading the McNamara and Wemple article I listed above. All I will say on the matter is that Charlemagne has a big impact on it.

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Upon this Rock: An Addendum

.st-peter-and Keys

Recently it has come to my attention through criticism that my previous blog post on the Latin exegetical tradition of Matthew 16: 18-19 does not accurately take into account the Catholic Church’s position of Peter as the Rock and the keeper of the keys. Before getting into the exact details of these rather strange arguments against me, the relevant passage of the Catholic Church’s catechism should be quoted:

553 Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). 287 The “power of the keys” designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17; 10:11). 288 The power to “bind and loose” connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles 289 and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom. (881, 1445, 641, 881)


Now, what has been alleged against me is that I did not represent the Catholic view accurately. I claimed that the Catholic Church based its office of the papacy on primarily two things: 1.) that Peter was the rock and 2.) that Peter alone held the keys. Several mutually exclusive arguments have been levered against me in order to incorporate my previous blog post as compatible with the current teachings of the Catholic Church. These arguments mostly concern the latter point, that is the keys. These arguments are:

1.) That the Catholic Church does in fact teach that the rest of the apostles and hence bishops hold the keys, but they hold them through Peter, that is the papacy.

2.) That all of the apostles received the keys directly from Christ, however, the office of the papacy is not based upon an exclusive holding of the keys but rather that Peter is the Rock in addition to the fact that Christ first directly gave both the keys and the powers of binding and loosing to Peter, then to the rest of the apostles.

I will address these arguments in their respective order. In addition to my rebuttal of the second argument, I will also make the point that it itself is contrary to Catholic dogma.

The Apostles Have the Keys Through Peter?

First off, I think my original blog post on the matter adequately addressed the idea of having the keys through Peter. The Catechism alludes to this, and my blog post in quite specific detail showed that the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven were given directly to the rest of the apostles, according to some of the Latin writers. Now I do acknowledge that the main focus of my previous blog post was upon the concept of Peter alone being the Rock. Hence, as a result only a few of the writers spoke directly about the keys. Therefore, I wish to summarize some of what I’ve already said about the keys in my previous blog post, in addition to providing new evidence that they were given to the rest of the apostles. Most importantly, I wish to show that these keys were given directly to the other apostles by Christ, not through Peter.

[That] the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven are for discerning knowledge, and the power which receives the worthy into the Kingdom, and excludes the unworthy ought to be understood. And whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. This [applies] as much to Peter as to the all of the apostles and their successors, who hold the same office rightly we lend permission, because he himself appears to them after the passion, saying: Receive the Holy Spirit; every sin that you forgive are forgiven; and every sin that you retain are retained…

Christian of Stavelot’s EXPOSITIO IN MATTHAEUM EVANGELISTAM, Patrologia Latina 106: 1396D; 1397A – 1397B

Christian of Stavelot quite clearly states that the keys are intimately related to the powers of binding and loosing. Furthermore, he states that this gifting of power applies just as much to Peter as to the rest of the apostles and their successors in accordance with John 20: 19-23. Hrabanus Maurus also says much the same in the following: “The keys of the Kingdom of Heaven are themselves for discerning the knowledge and power that he names, with which the worthy ought to be received into the kingdom, while the unworthy ought to be secluded from the kingdom (Commentary on Matthew in Eight Books: PL 107: 992A).” These two men speak of the keys as having to do directly with binding and loosing of sins. In other words, they are the same. Therefore, when Hrabanus Maurus later says “[This power] is given to the rest of the apostles, witness yourself, he who after his passion and resurrection appears to them in triumph breathed and said to all: Receive the Holy Spirit….” In short, the other apostles receive the keys directly from Christ, not through Peter. This position is also reflected in the writings of Jerome:

If, however, Jovinianus should obstinately contend that John was not a virgin, (whereas we have maintained that his virginity was the cause of the special love our Lord bore to him), let him explain, if he was not a virgin, why it was that he was loved more than the other Apostles. But you say, Matthew 16:18 the Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.

St. Jerome, Against Jovianus, Book I: 26

The red is the argument of Jovian, while the blue is Jerome’s. Jerome clearly endorses a primate-like leadership position within the church, an idea and practice the Orthodox Church has never disputed. However, he quite clearly states that later in the Gospels, all of the apostles receive the keys. Since Jerome is referring to the Gospels, consequently this bestowal of the keys must come from Christ since he is referring to the Gospels. Augustine of Hippo believed likewise:

7. Let no one, however, separate these distinguished apostles. In that which was signified by Peter, they were both alike; and in that which was signified by John, they will both be alike hereafter. In their representative character, the one was following, the other tarrying; but in their personal faith they were both of them enduring the present evils of the misery here, both of them expecting the future good things of the blessedness to come. And such is the case, not with them alone, but with the holy universal Church, the spouse of Christ, who has still to be rescued from the present trials, and to be preserved in the future happiness. And these two states of life were symbolized by Peter and John, the one by the one, the other by the other; but in this life they both of them walked for a time by faith, and the other they shall both of them enjoy eternally by sight. For the whole body of the saints, therefore, inseparably belonging to the body of Christ, and for their safe pilotage through the present tempestuous life, did Peter, the first of the apostles, receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven for the binding and loosing of sins; and for the same congregation of saints, in reference to the perfect repose in the bosom of that mysterious life to come did the evangelist John recline on the breast of Christ. For it is not the former alone but the whole Church, that binds and looses sins; nor did the latter alone drink at the fountain of the Lord’s breast, to emit again in preaching, of the Word in the beginning, God with God, and those other sublime truths regarding the divinity of Christ, and the Trinity and Unity of the whole Godhead. which are to be yet beheld in that kingdom face to face, but meanwhile till the Lord’s coming are only to be seen in a mirror and in a riddle; but the Lord has Himself diffused this very gospel through the whole world, that every one of His own may drink thereat according to his own individual capacity. There are some who have entertained the idea— and those, too, who are no contemptible handlers of sacred eloquence— that the Apostle John was more loved by Christ on the ground that he never married a wife, and lived in perfect chastity from early boyhood.  There is, indeed, no distinct evidence of this in the canonical Scriptures: nevertheless it is an idea that contributes not a little to the suitableness of the opinion expressed above, namely, that that life was signified by him, where there will be no marriage.

Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 124, 7

In the red segment above, Augustine, just like Hrabanus Maurus and Christian of Stavelot believed that the keys and the powers of binding and loosing were synonymous. The blue segment is Augustine clearly stating the entire Church has these keys. Now the Catholic might argue that the Church indeed does have these keys, but through Peter. This interpretation of Augustine is not possible, because earlier Augustine said the following:

The Church’s love, which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, discharges the sins of all who are partakers with itself, but retains the sins of those who have no participation therein. Therefore it is, that after saying “Receive the Holy Ghost, (John 20: 22-23)” He straightway added this regarding the remission and retention of sins.

Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 121, 4

Augustine clearly acknowledges that the powers of binding and loosing were given to the apostles. While a Catholic might object that this does not apply to the keys, it has already been established that within the same exact work of Augustine’s, the keys are the very same as the powers of binding and loosing. And if there be any doubt about Augustine’s intentions, let us look at the following:

12. But what follows? “For the poor you have always with you, but me ye will not have always” (John 12:8). We can certainly understand, “the poor you have always;” what He has thus said is true. When were the poor wanting in the Church? “But me ye will not have always;” what does He mean by this? How are we to understand, “Me ye will not have always?” Don’t be alarmed: it was addressed to Judas. Why, then, did He not say, “you will have,” but, “ye will have?” Because Judas is not here a unit. One wicked man represents the whole body of the wicked; in the same way as Peter, the whole body of the good, yea, the body of the Church, but in respect to the good. For if in Peter’s case there were no sacramental symbol of the Church, the Lord would not have said to him, I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven (Matthew 16:19). If this was said only to Peter, it gives no ground of action to the Church. But if such is the case also in the Church, that what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, and what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven,— for when the Church excommunicates, the excommunicated person is bound in heaven; when one is reconciled by the Church, the person so reconciled is loosed in heaven:— if such, then, is the case in the Church, Peter, in receiving the keys, represented the holy Church. If, then, in the person of Peter were represented the good in the Church, and in Judas’ person were represented the bad in the Church, then to these latter was it said, But me ye will not have always. But what means the not always; and what, the always? If you are good, if you belong to the body represented by Peter, you have Christ both now and hereafter: now by faith, by sign, by the sacrament of baptism, by the bread and wine of the altar.

Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 50, 12

It is important to note with the highlighted and underlined blue segment that Augustine clearly defines both Peter and the Church. Peter is his person alone and the Church is more than his person. Augustine clearly states that the keys were not given to Peter alone because otherwise the Church is without power to act. Therefore, Peter was representative of the whole Church. The keys thus were not given to Peter’s person alone, but rather to the whole Church. Augustine reiterates this point in his final tractate on the Gospel of John:

So does the Church act in blessed hope through this troublous life; and this Church symbolized in its generality, was personified in the Apostle Peter, on account of the primacy of his apostleship. For, as regards his proper personality, he was by nature one man, by grace one Christian, by still more abounding grace one, and yet also, the first apostle; but when it was said to him, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven,” he represented the universal Church, which in this world is shaken by divers temptations, that come upon it like torrents of rain, floods and tempests, and falleth not, because it is founded upon a rock (petra), from which Peter received his name. For petra (rock) is not derived from Peter, but Peter from petra; just as Christ is not called so from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. For on this very account the Lord said, “On this rock will I build my Church,” because Peter had said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” On this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed, I will build my Church. For the Rock (Petra) was Christ; and on this foundation was Peter himself also built. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Christ Jesus. The Church, therefore, which is rounded in Christ received from Him the keys of the kingdom of heaven in the person of Peter, that is to say, the power of binding and loosing sins. For what the Church is essentially in Christ, such representatively is Peter in the rock (petra); and in this representation Christ is to be understood as the Rock, Peter as the Church. This Church, accordingly, which Peter represented, so long as it lives amidst evil, by loving and following Christ is delivered from evil. But its following is the closer in those who contend even unto death for the truth. But to the universality [of the Church] is it said, “Follow me,” even as it was for the same universality that Christ suffered: of whom this same Peter saith, “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His footsteps” (1 Peter 2:21). This, then, you see is why it was said to him, “Follow me.”

Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 124, 5

Once again, Augustine reiterates the point that Peter represents the church, particularly in the form of a primacy, which no Orthodox would object to. Additionally, he argues that Christ gives the keys directly to the Church, not through Peter, but to the Church. However, Augustine is also making an ecclesiological argument, some of which I’ve highlighted in blue. He states explicitly that Christ and the confession of faith is the rock upon which the Church will be built, and that the Church is Peter. In short, Augustine is making the case that all bishops are successors to Peter. This sentiment echoes those of St. Cyprian of Carthage:

4. If any one consider and examine these things, there is no need for lengthened discussion and arguments. There is easy proof for faith in a short summary of the truth. The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, “I say unto thee, that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, “Feed my sheep.” And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you: Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whose soever sins ye retain, they shall be retained;” yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity. Which one Church, also, the Holy Spirit in the Song of Songs designated in the person of our Lord, and says, “My dove, my spotless one, is but one. She is the only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her.” Does he who does not hold this unity of the Church think that he holds the faith? Does he who strives against and resists the Church trust that he is in the Church, when moreover the blessed Apostle Paul teaches the same thing, and sets forth the sacrament of unity, saying, “There is one body and one spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God?”

Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church, 4

Take note that Cyprian explicitly states that the rest of the apostles were given like authority of both power and honor. Now many of my Catholic readers might notice something missing in this translation that I have taken from the CCEL above. Notably, the following words are missing from the excerpt:

And the primacy is given to Peter, that there might be shown one Church of Christ and one See; and they are all shepherds, and the Rock is one, which is fed by all the apostles with unanimous consent.

He who deserts the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church is founded.

According to footnotes 3110 and 3112 of the CCEL translation, the above excerpts are interpolated and spurious. In other words, it is missing from the earliest of manuscripts. I encourage the reader to click on the linked translation above and check the footnote for themselves. Not surprisingly, this bit of information is missing from Catholic Answers’ tract on Peter’s Primacy, whereby the make use of this obvious spurious interpolation for their own gains. Let’s look at the Latin from the PL:

  1. Quae si quis consideret et examinet, tractatu longo atque argumentis opus non est. Probatio est ad fidem facilis compendio veritatis. Loquitur Dominus ad Petrum: Ego tibi dico, inquit, quia tu es Petrus, et [Col.0499A] super hancpetram aedificabo Ecclesiam meam, et portae inferorum non vincent eam. Et tibidabo clavesregni coelorum: et quaeligaveris super terram, erunt ligata et in coelis; et quaecumque solveris super terram, erunt soluta et in coelis(Matth. XVI, 18, 19). Et iterum eidem post resurrectionem suam dicit: Pasce oves meas(Joan. XXI, 15). Super illum unum aedificat Ecclesiam suam, et illi pascendas mandat oves suas. Et quamvis Apostolis omnibus post resurrectionem suam parem potestatem tribuat et dicat, Sicut misit me Pater, et ego mitto vos: accipite Spiritum sanctum; si cujusremiseritis peccata, remittentur illi, si cujus tenueritis, tenebuntur(Joan. XX, 21-23), tamen, ut unitatem manifestaret, unam cathedram constituit, unitatis ejusdem originem ab uno incipientem [Col.0500A]sua auctoritate disposuit. Hoc erant utique et caeteri Apostoli quod fuit Petrus, pari consortio praediti et honoris et testatis, sed exordium ab unitate proficiscitur, et primatus Petro datur, ut una Christi Ecclesia et cathedra una monstretur. Et pastores sunt omnes, et grex unus ostenditur, qui ab Apostolis omnibus unanimi consensione pascatur, ut Ecclesia Christi una monstretur. Quam unam Ecclesiam etiam in Cantico canticorum Spiritus sanctus ex persona Domini designat et dicit: Una est columba mea, perfecta mea, una est matri suae, electa genitrici suae(Cant. VI, 9). Hanc Ecclesiae unitiatem qui non tenet, tenere se fidem credit? Qui Ecclesiae renititur et resistit, qui cathedram Petri, super quem fundata est Ecclesia, deserit, in Ecclesia se [Col.0501A] esse confidit? quando et beatus apostolus Paulus hoc idem doceat et sacramentum unitatis ostendat dicens: Unum corpus et unus spiritus, una spes vocationis vestrae, unus Dominus, una fides, unum Baptisma, unus Deus(Ephes. IV, 4-6).

Cyprian of Carthage, On the Unity of the Church IV, Patrologia Latina 4: 0498B – 0499A

The bold underlined blue segments are the interpolated and spurious additions to the text. The footnote linked to the portions state the following:

Uncinis includuntur haec verba ac spuria in notis dicuntur ab edd.

Within the brackets these words are included, and are said to be spurious in the notes by the editor.

et plures edd. Resistit, in Ecclesia Oxon.,

Many editors [have] “resists the Church, confesses to be in the Church himself?”

And if anyone doubts the sincerity of the editor referenced in the PL, his name was Étiene Baluze, an 18th-century Catholic secretary to a French archbishop. He also had minor orders. So any accusation of bias against him is unfounded. It would have been in his interest not to acknowledge the spurious interpolation. The same exact ecclesiology can be found in Alcuin of York’s commentary on the Gospel of John:

Tu es Christus Filius Dei vivi, et ei dicitur: Tibi dabo claves regni coelorum (Matth. XVI, 16, 19); tanquam ligandi et solvendi solus acciperet (Ms., acceperit) potestatem: cum et illud unus pro omnibus dixerit, et hoc cum omnibus tanquam personam gerens ipsius unitatis acceperit; ideo unus pro omnibus, quia unitas est in omnibus.

And he said to him: I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 16: 18-19); so to speak he [Peter] alone receives the powers of binding and loosing. And since that one man [Peter] must have spoken for everyone, and since here he must have received [the keys] as the bearing person of unity itself; therefore one [receives] for everyone, because unity is in everyone [of the apostles].

Alcuin of York, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Patrologia Latina 100: 0983A

Here Alcuin acknowledges that Peter is the first to be given this authority and thus bear unity. However, he also adds that unity is in everyone of the apostles. In other words, everyone of the bishops is a successor to Peter in a sense. Hence, all of the apostles have the keys directly from Christ. St. Bruno of Segni also says much the same:

Et tibi dabo claves regni coelorum. Hoc enim quod principaliter Petro [Col.0214B] dicitur, caeteris quoque apostolis dictum esse intelligi debet: et non tantum apostolis, verum etiam episcopis et sacerdotibus. Istis enim et claves et potestas a Domino data est, ut non solum Ecclesiam, sed et coelos aliis aperient.

Here in fact this statement is said principally to Peter, and it ought to be understood as being said to the rest of the apostles. And not only to the apostles, but truly also to the bishops and priests. In fact, the keys and powers themselves have been given by the Lord to not only will free the Church, but also to open the heavens to others.

Bruno of Segni, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Patrologia Latina 165: 0214A – 0214B

 The Second Argument: The Virtue of Being First and the Rock

I don’t intend on expounding much on this argument mainly because I feel that I have already made the case in my previous blog post that Peter is only the rock in a metaphorical sense. Sacred Tradition really doesn’t take the metaphor any further than a simple metaphor. Furthermore, the second argument states that all of the apostles were given the keys directly by Christ. However, if this were true, then I would like to ask such a Catholic then on what basis do they establish their understanding of primacy? The Orthodox understand the primacy of Peter, in general, as stemming from him being first as well. However, we do not take this to the extent that the Catholics do with Papal Supremacy.

And to the Catholic that professes this second argument, I must inform them as a former Catholic myself, that their understanding of the keys stands in direct conflict with Lumen Gentium, which states:

But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.(27*) This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church,(156) and made him shepherd of the whole flock;(157) it is evident, however, that the power of binding and loosing, which was given to Peter,(158) was granted also to the college of apostles, joined with their head.(159)(28*)

Lumen Gentium Ch. 3, 22

First, it should be noted that the word “alone” applies equally to “rock” and to “bearer of the keys.” Second, let us examine supplementary note #28. This note links to a variety of statements made during the First Vatican Council in the 19th century. These statements mostly have to do with explaining where the unity of the church is located, that is with Peter. Moreover, the document specifically refers to one of St. Leo the Great’s sermons:

Hanc confessionem portae inferi non tenebunt, mortis vincula non ligabunt: vox enim ista, vox vitae est. Et sicut confessores suos in coelestia provehit, ita negatores ad inferna demergit. Propter quod dicitur beatissimo Petro: Tibi dabo claves regni coelorum. Et quaecumque ligaveris super terram, erunt ligata et in coelis; et quaecumquesolveris super terram, erunt soluta et in coelis(Matth. XVI 19). Transivit quidem etiam in alios apostolos jus potestatis istius, et ad omnes Ecclesiae principes decreti hujus constitutio commeavit; sed non frustra uni commendatur, quod omnibus intimetur. Petro enim ideo hoc singulariter creditur, quia cunctis Ecclesiae rectoribus Petri forma praeponitur. Manet ergo Petri privilegium, ubicumque ex ipsius fertur aequitate judicium. Nec nimia est vel severitas, vel remissio, ubi nihil erit ligatum, nihil solutum, nisi quod beatus Petrus aut solverit aut ligaverit. Instante autem passione sua, Dominus, quae discipulorum erat turbatura constantiam, Simon, inquit, Simon, ecce Satanas expostulavit vos, utcerneret sicut triticum. Ego autem rogavi pro te, ne deficiat fides tua. Et tu aliquando conversus confirma fratres tuos,ut non intretis in tentationem(Luc. XXII, 31, 32). Commune erat omnibus apostolis periculum de tentatione formidinis, et divinae protectionis auxilio pariter indigebant, quoniam diabolus omnes exagitare, omnes cupiebat elidere; et tamen specialis a Domino Petri cura suscipitur, et pro fide Petri proprie supplicatur, tamquam aliorum status certior sit futurus, si mens principis victa non fuerit. In Petro ergo omnium fortitudo munitur, et divinae gratiae ita ordinatur auxilium, ut firmitas, quae per Christum Petro tribuitur, per Petrum apostolis conferatur.

The gates of Hell will not hold this confession, the bonds will not bind dead. Indeed the voice itself is the voice of life. And just as he conveys his confessors into heaven, thus he casts his deniers into the flames. Because it is said to the most blessed Peter: To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whomever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whomever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:19). He also transferred the same authority of that power to the other apostles, and the nature of this decree is commissioned to the all of the princes of the Church. But not in error is it confided to one, because it is communicated to everyone. Indeed for that reason is it believed singularly by Peter, because the form of Peter is preferred over the rest of the leaders of the Church. Therefore, the privilege of Peter continues, wherever itself a fair judgment is carried out. Neither is it excessive or severe or diminishing [to say that] nothing will be bound, or nothing will be saved, unless that blessed Peter saves and binds. Moreover, in his great passion, the Lord, when the steadfastness of his disciples was about to be thrown into chaos, said: “Simon, Simon! Behold, Satan has asked for you, that me may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren (Luke 22:31-32). A common trial was with all of the apostles concerning the temptation of fear, and in like manner were requiring the help of a divine protector, since the devil torments everyone, everyone was desiring to escape. However, the specific care of Peter is supported by the Lord, and in particular on behalf of the faith of Peter is it beseeched, so to speak the status of the other [apostles] may be more secure, if the mind of the prince (foremost one) has not been conquered. Therefore, in Peter the strength of everyone is secured, and thus the help of divine grace is ordained, when the vigor, which is given through Christ to Peter, is conferred through Peter to the apostles.

Pope Leo the Great, Sermons IV, Patrologia Latina 54: 0150C – 0152A

Right here Pope Leo I is making the case that the office of Peter continues and that authority and strength is delegated to the rest of the apostles through Peter. In other words, it is not something directly from Christ, but something from Christ through Peter. Therefore, the second argument is not in keeping with Catholic dogma. It puzzles me that a Catholic would try to make such an argument.

As for Leo’s statement itself,  it directly conflicts with the ecclesiology mentioned by Augustine, Cyprian, and Alcuin. Instead of finding unity and authority in each bishopric, Leo seems to suggest that unity and authority is only sourced in the singular office of Peter. As for which ecclesiology someone wants to believe in, well I will leave that to the conscience of the reader. In the end, I have demonstrated quite clearly the all of the apostles received the keys directly from Christ and that to hold such a view is not in keeping with current Catholic ecclesiology.

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Gerauld de Cordemoy’s Philosophy of Language & Mind


Gerauld de Cordemoy was a Cartesian philosopher, historian, and scientist during the closing decades of seventeenth-century France. Under the patronage of the King of France, Cordemoy immersed himself in his studies. One work in particular that has continued to garner attention to this present day is his work on human language, Discours physique de la parole, which was originally published in 1668. In this phenomenal work, Cordemoy investigates the function and origins of human language, and what that might mean with regards to human nature. For example, Cordemoy asserts that the existence of human language is proof that the human mind/soul exists (res cogitans in Cartesian terms). What follows is nothing more than a simple summary of Cordemoy’s insights into human language and mind, and consequently what that might mean concerning the nature of human beings as compared to other animals.

Before beginning, the text that I will use in this summary is based off of the Friedrich Frommann Verlag reprint from 1970. This reprint edition is based off of the 1677 edition of the text, which was the final edition that the author was involved with. There was one final edition made with the help of his son from 1704, but this was well after the death of author (d. 1684).

The Problem of Other Minds

From the very beginning, Cordemoy starts off with the extremely difficult subject of what constitutes reasonable proof of the existence of another mind in a person:

Entre les Corps que je vois dans le monde, j’en apperçois qui sõt en toutes choses semblables au mien, & j’avouë que j’ay grande inclination à croire qu’ils sont unis à des Ames comme la mienne.

Among the bodies that I see in the world, I perceive them in all things to be similar to me, and I confess that I have a great inclination to believe that they have a unity of a soul (mind) [with body] just as myself.

Gerauld de Cordemoy, Discours physique de la parole, 1

The subject necessarily means asking how can one know if their neighbor is truly human and not some sort of extremely elaborate machine designed to fool someone. Here, Cordemoy takes for granted that constituent parts do not establish any sense of unity that can possibly provide a first-person point of view. Leibniz highlights this point quite well in his Monadology, although he was no Cartesian:

17. Moreover, it must be confessed that perception and that which depends upon it are inexplicable on mechanical grounds, that is to say, by means of figures and motions. And supposing there were a machine, so constructed as to think, feel, and have perception, it might be conceived as increased in size, while keeping the same proportions, so that one might go into it as into a mill. That being so, we should, on examining its interior, find only parts which work one upon another, and never anything by which to explain a perception. Thus it is in a simple substance, and not in a compound or in a machine, that perception must be sought for. Further, nothing but this (namely, perceptions and their changes) can be found in a simple substance. It is also in this alone that all the internal activities of simple substances can consist.

Gottfried Leibniz, Monadology, Paragraph 17

Now, before exploring the deep subject, Cordemoy first starts off by explaining the parameters of the human body. Cordemoy acknowledges that certain aspects of a human being’s body are affected by mechanical inputs i.e. environmental factors. For example, being in cold air causes the body to move slower before warming up, while being in warmer air would facilitate easier movement. Nevertheless, Cordemoy observes that there are some aspects that cannot possibly be accounted for under mechanical or physical principles. For instance, for animals, Cordemoy believes that they are simply extremely complex machines that do not have a soul or mind. However, he notices that these animals’ nature determine them to self-preservation. In other words, they often act on instinct. Nature’s inputs cause so-called levers in the physical brain and organs of animals to act in a deterministic fashion just like how when one puts a ball on a hill, one can expect it to begin rolling down it as per the laws of physics. In humans, however, Cordemoy observes something quite different:

Car quand ie vois qu’ils s’approchent avec fermeté de ce qui les va détruire, & qu’ils abandonnent ce qui les pourroit conserver, ie ne puis attribuer ces effets à cette proportion mécanique qui se recontre entr’eux & les obiets…

Because when I see that they [the living being] are approached with the strength that is going to destroy them, and that they abandon the recourse that would preserve them, I am unable to attribute this effect to that mechanical proportion which [I previously] recognized between them and [their external] objects…

Gerauld de Cordemoy, Discours physique de la parole, 7

Such a thing indicates the presence of a free will, which is neither random nor determined. At which point, Cordemoy then goes on to examine the language or speech that his fellow humans exhibit compared to echoes of mountains and the repetition of birds. On the latter he says:

Par exemple, je ne dois pas legerement croire qu’un Perroquet ait aucune pensée quand il prononce quelques mots: car outre que je remarque qu’apres luy avoir repeté une prodigieuse quantité de fois les mémes Paroles dans un certain ordre, il ne rend iamais que les mesmes mots & dans la mesme suite; il me semble que ne faisant point ces redites à propos, il imite moins les hommes, que les échos qui ne répondent iamais que ce qu’on leur a dit; & s’il y a quelque difference entre les Perroquets & les échos, c’est que les rochers en repoussant l’air sans rien changer aux impressions qu’il a receuës, rendent les mémes voix qui les ont frappez, au lieu que les Perroquets forment une autre voix semblable à celle qui leur a frappé l’oreille, & que souvent ils repetent les Paroles qu’on ne leur redit plus. Mais enfin, comme ie ne puis pas dire que les rochers parlent quand ils renvoyent les Paroles, ie n’ose pas asseurer aussi que les Perroquets parlent quand ils les repetent; car il me semble que parler n’est pas repeter les mesmes paroles dont on a eu l’oreille frappée, mais que c’est en proferer d’autres à propos de celles-là: & comme i’ay raison de croire que tous les corps qui font des échos ne pensent point, quoy que ie leur entende redire mes Paroles, parce qu’ils ne les rendent iamais que dans l’ordre que ie les ay proferées; je devrois iuger par la mesme raison, que les Perroquets ne pensent point aussi.

For example, I ought not to thoughtlessly believe that a parrot speaks any sort of thought when it pronounces some words, because besides what I have remarked after him having repeated a prodigious number of times the sames words in a specific order, he only renders the same words and in the exact same order. It seems to me that making these repetitions, he imitates less the people, than the echos [of mountains] which only every bounce back with what we say to them. And if there are some differences between the parrots and the echos [of mountains], it is that the rocks repell the air without rendering any change upon the impressions which one has spoken, [thus] rendering the same voice that strikes them, whereas the parrots form another voice resembling what has struck their own ears, and that often they repeat the words/speech that we have said to them on many occasions. But in the end, just as I am unable to say that the rocks speak when they echo the words, I dare not be assured also that the parrots are speaking when they repeat the words; because it seems to me that speaking is not to repeat the same words of which one ones has been exposed via ear, but rather it is by uttering others concerning those words. And just as I have reason to believe that all of the bodies which make echos do not think, despite hearing them repeat my words, since they only every render them in the order which I have proffered to them; likewise I ought to judge by the same reason, that parrots do not think either.

Gerauld de Cordemoy, Discours physique de la parole, 18-20

On the former, humans, he says:

Mais aussi si ie trouve par toutes les experiences que ie suis capable d’en faire, qu’ils usent comme moy de la Parole, ie croiray avoir une raison infaillible de croire qu’ils ont une Ame comme moy.

But also if I find by every experience that that I am capable of having, that they use speech just like myself, [that is creatively, ie neither random nor determined], I would have an infallible reason to believe that they have a soul/mind just like myself.

Gerauld de Cordemoy, Discours physique de la parole, 21

The Purpose of Language: Giving Signs to Thought

 Cordemoy adopts the view that language is nothing more than making known one’s own thoughts. Additionally, he breaks down his understanding of language by supplying the framework between the signified (the idea that applies to the exterior object) and the signifier (the word). He says:

D’où ie connois, que ces signes sont d’institution; & comme cette institution suppose necessairement de la raison & des pensées en ceux qui sont capables d’en convenir, ie n’avancerois peut estre rien avec temerité, si i’asseurois des à present que ces Corps sont unis à des Ames.

Whence I know that these signs are an institution. And since that institution necessarily presupposes reason and thoughts in those who are capable of agreeing [with me], I would not perhaps advance anything with temerity, if whether I would establish that at present these bodies are united with a soul/mind.

Gerauld de Cordemoy, Discours physique de la parole, 23

This is quite the shocking conclusion on Cordemoy’s part because it was only earlier that he concluded that the use of language in a creative fashion would constitute indubitable proof that the individual speaking has a mind/soul. Now it seems that he is saying otherwise. In short, Cordemoy is attempting to reconcile extreme skepticism with taking a position. Although he provides no concrete solution, which I don’t think anyone ever will, he does explain his criteria for taking a position. He says:

Quand je verray que ces signes conviendront à ceux que i’auray faits pour dire mes pensées; quand ie verray qu’ils me donneront des idées que ie n’avois pas auparavant, & qui se rapporteront à la chose que i’avois déja dans l’esprit; Enfin quand ie verray une grande suit entre leurs signes & les miens, ie ne seray pas raisonnable, si ie ne crois qu’ils le sont comme moy.

When I see that these signs agree with those that I have made for voicing my own thoughts; when I see that they give me ideas which I did not have beforehand, and which will be returned to the thing that I already have in mind; then in the end I see a large series between their signs and my own, I would not be reasonable if I do not believe that they are the same as myself [with body and soul/mind].

Gerauld de Cordemoy, Discours physique de la parole, 28-29

In other words, because Cordemoy can have an intelligible conversation with another person, it means that they think. This is because the words that they use indicate thoughts and bring up thoughts within his own mind. This is why one of the main purposes of language deals with thought itself, although he does include communication as well. Cordemoy also recognizes that the signs or words used to represent an idea are far from fixed due to the existence of foreign languages, which show development and change over time. In particular, those with knowledge of multiple languages use a variety of words to describe the same idea, whether it be in Italian, French, or Spanish. Even within the same language, multiple words might describe the same idea. In short, language is not synonymous with thought. Thought constitutes something deeper than language.

Animals Don’t Have Souls, While Humans Do

Cordemoy asserts throughout his work that animals cannot possibly have souls. This is because, as he puts it, animals always react to stimulus the same way. If an animal is subjected to some sort of stimulus, then it reacts in a predictable manner in terms of issuing forth a cry. For this reason, Cordemoy declares that many animals abide solely by mechanistic principles of stimulus and response, and thus have no free will. With no free will, there is no soul. This to me seems to be a very large leap to make. I think Cordemoy is right insofar that no other animal seems to have a language. The mating calls, danger cries, etc. of animals never change from generation to generation. This indicates one of two things: either they have no ideas behind their cries and signals OR they do not have the capacity to change their social communicatory tools. Cordemoy endorses the former as is clear here:

Or de ces deux choses que nous reconnoissons en nous outre les mouvemens; ie veux dire la perception que nous avons des que les nerfs de nôtre oreille sont ébranlez; & la volonté que nous avons en suite de consentire au movement auquel tout nostre corps est excite, ou de le retenir; il me semble que la derniere es si évidamment distincte de nostre corps, qu’il n’y a que les personnes don’t le jugement est fort precipité, qui n’en connoissent pas la distinction.

Now [there are] two things that we know in ourselves other than movements. [They are] the perception that we have due to our ears that are shaken [by the noise vibrations]; and the will that we have [which] grants movement to everything of our body or restrains our body. It seems to me that the former is so evidently distinct from our body, that only those persons, whose judgment is hastened quickly, doesn’t know the distinction because of it.

Gerauld de Cordemoy, Discours physique de la parole, 119

What Cordemoy is referring to above is the sense of unity when someone encounters pain, love, joy, sadness, etc. The fact that there is a sense of unity, for Cordemoy, necessitates a soul (contemporary philosopher Colin McGinn has some interesting things to say about this). However, since animals behave in a way that seems purely mechanistic, as in accord with the principle that I quoted from Leibniz above, there is therefore no indication of unity. And without unity, there can be neither a soul or ideas, because ideas have content and meaning. Content and meaning necessitate a first-person view (unity).

But what of the latter view? I think it is entirely plausible that animals are restricted in a number of ways that humans are not. However, it seems quite a large leap to make the claim, as Cordemoy does, that this therefore means that animals have no sense of unity. Animals could very well have a sense of unity, but perhaps they lack a will. Or maybe they have a will, but it operates in discreet ways that evade our understanding. That is to say, in ways that do not show up in communication. These theories are interesting, but sort of moot, since I do not know what it is like to be a rock, nor do I know what it is like to be my next-door neighbor, and neither do I know what it is like to be a bat. It seems to me that that this problem brings us to the limits of our understanding.

 Hypothetical Minds Without a Body

In a part of his fifth chapter, Cordemoy posits the hypothetical scenario of there being two minds, but without a body. He then asks how these two minds might communicate. They have no bodies to issue forth sounds, let alone be heard. However, it must be recalled that under Cartesian metaphysics, the aspects of extension do not apply. Therefore, the concern of how sound is both made and received is unnecessary. These two minds would communicate with one another with the brute thoughts that are behind each word or sign in a language. In other words, they would not use a language.

Cordemoy’s hypothesis does not seem likely. First, words are arbitrary as Cordemoy understood. Therefore, they must be products of the mind. So it seems unlikely that the abandonment of the body would therefore affect in anyway an aspect that belonged solely to the mind. However, Cordemoy, for whatever reason does not consider words (signs) to be products of the mind, but rather a property of body:

Car enfin l’esprit doit plus aisément apercevoir une pensée, qui est une chose spirituelle, que le signe de cette pensee, puisque ce signe est une chose corporelle.

Because in the end, the mind ought to more easily learn a thought [from another], which is a spiritual thing/[property of res cogitans], than the sign of that thought, since that sign is a corporeal thing.

Gerauld de Cordemoy, Discours de la parole, 143

If what Cordemoy says is true, then there is a serious problem as to why different languages exist within various peoples. Either their bodies are fundamentally different in composition or genetics, which leads to a difference of language, or language is a product of the mind not the body. Furthermore, Cordemoy also assumes that the primary function of language is for communication across a spatial environment. While not entirely an uncommon assertion, it is disputed by some modern linguists (See Noam Chomsky’s lecture at the University of Dublin).

In the end, Cordemoy’s work on speech, language, and mind reaches some very viable conclusion with regards to the human mind. Its workings, while related to the body due to the brain, neither seem determined nor random. There is also a strong sense of unity. Furthermore, while Cordemoy provides a framework for knowing if another individual has a mind, he openly admits that this test and its conclusions are not beyond a shadow of a doubt. These philosophical problems and issues remain with us to this day, and are likely to continue for the ages to come.

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L’Homme Machine: La Mettrie’s Philosophy of Mind


I recently just finished reading Julien Jean Offray de La Mettrie’s L’Homme Machine and have come away with a surprising appreciation for this 18th century French materialist philosopher. Originally published in 1747, La Mettrie’s philosophical treatise argued in favor of classical materialism instead of Cartesian dualism in seeking to explain the human species. The major underpinnings of La Mettrie’s argument are both his full embrace of the philosophical works of John Locke and the medical science of his day.

One of the primary hallmarks of Cartesian dualism was the belief that human beings were composed of two distinct substances: a thinking substance (res cogitans) or soul and a physical material substance (res extensa). It is important to first note before proceeding that during this period res extensa/body/material matter was thought to comprise of extension, however, this is not how modern physicists think of material matter today, which is why I dub La Mettrie a classical materialist. In fact, as Noam Chomsky is apt to point out, there has not been a coherent notion of material matter since Sir Issac Newton dismantled René Descartes’ framework of it with the publication of Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica in 1687. What set human beings apart from the rest of the animals, as Cartesians argued, was the fact that humans have this res cogitans while animals do not. For the Cartesian philosophers, animals were just extremely complex machines without minds/souls.

La Mettrie rejects the Cartesian notion of res cogitans and argues that human beings are just as much an animal as any other. This is not to say that the mind/soul (L’Esprit / L’Ame), which should not be confused with the brain, does not exist. Rather, La Mettrie argues that the mind must be based upon physical/materialist principles. In short, all animals, including humans, have minds, but that these minds originate from material substances, not from a separate thinking substance (res cogitans). In order to prove his argument, La Mettrie looks for causation of not only mental events, but also bodily events. One such example is the thought experiment of the French king getting agitated for being in the cold. This is because, La Mettrie argues, the French king has not been raised in a cold environment. However, for those who have been raised in a cold environment, they would not be caused such discomfort.

In a more radical experiment, La Mettrie proposes that someone take a young monkey and place it within an urban human setting under the tutelage of a human tutor. The tutor is then to raise the monkey as though it were a human child. La Mettrie argues that the monkey, due to its intense similarities with human beings, would inevitably learn human language for thinking and profiting its own education. Clearly to modern day people, such a proposition is patently ridiculous. Monkeys do not have the mental capacities to do such feats.

Concerning motion itself, La Mettrie points to several medical experiments of his day whereby motion occurs in separated body parts and organs. In one experiment, he details the prodding of muscles which causes them to contract, and another where a human heart is tossed into a fire, whereby it begins to bounce. For La Mettrie, these experiments demonstrate that there is no need for a thinking substance or soul to cause motion. The body parts themselves move, albeit due to outside material forces.

He makes similar arguments concerning ideas and thought themselves. Following in the footsteps of Locke, La Mettrie believes that all ideas are generated due to the inputs of external factors via sensations and the processing of such by thought. This leads him to say:

La plus belle, la plus grande, ou la plus forte imagination, est donc la plus propre aux Sciences, comme aux Arts. Je ne décide point s’il faut plus d’esprit pour exceller dans l’Art des Aristotes, ou des Descartes, que dans celui des Euripides, ou des Sophocles; et si la Nature s’est mise en plus grands frais, pour faire Newton, que pour former Corneille, (ce dont je doute fort;) mais il est certain que c’est la seule imagination diversement appliquée, qui a fait leur différent triomphe et leur gloire immortelle.

The most fine, the most grand, or the strongest imagination is just as well exposed to the sciences as to the arts. I have not decided if it is necessary for the most excellent mind to excel in the art of Aristotle, or Descartes, than in the arts of Euripides, or Sophocles; and [whether] if Nature has placed more effort in forming Newton than in forming Corneille, (which I strongly doubt); but it is certain that only the imagination diversely applied has forged their various triumphs and immortal legacies.

Julien Jean Offray de La Mettrie, L’Homme Machine, 30 (FB Editions)

In short, exposure to new ideas and elements is fundamental to a good education, although one might quibble with La Mettrie’s staunch Lockeanisms. Despite these staunch proclamations of materialism, La Mettrie is eventually forced to concede the limitations of his theory insofar that he doesn’t fully account for thought. His theories offer the explanatory power as to how thought works, but he doesn’t explain why thought exists at all.Towards the end of his work La Mettrie says concerning the matter of thought:

Je crois la pensée si peu incompatible avec la matière organisée, qu’elle semble en être une propriété, telle que l’Electricité, la Faculté motrice, l’Impénétrabilité, l’Entendüe, etc.

I believe that thought is so little incompatible with organized material, that it seems to be a property of material matter such as electricity, motor faculty, impenetrability [due to the property of extension], hearing, etc.

Julien Jean Offray de La Mettrie, L’Homme Machine, 48 (FB Editions)

In the end, while La Mettrie feels that he has divested res cogitans of some of its most central elements of simplicity and centrality, he recognizes that there are still some aspects of it that he has not explained. However, whereas a Cartesian might seek to use this mystery to justify the existence of res cogitans, La Mettrie holds out the hope that one day it might fully be explained in materialistic terms. In some sense, La Mettrie’s hope is very similar to the modern thesis proposed by some cognitive neuroscientists: that things mental arise from brain states.

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Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Pope Francis: Enemies of the Enlightenment

Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill

About a couple of weeks ago, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow expressed himself as against the concept of human rights. Needless to say, the backlash against such comments was substantial insofar that the patriarch felt the need to respond. He made his position all the more precise insofar that he argued that human rights do not constitute the entirety of morality. This part of his position I can fully agree with, because natural rights are based upon a certain conception of natural law. Nevertheless, natural law is not fully encompassing of all of God’s desires. The patriarch then went on to say that natural rights do not allow an individual to choose to sin. I completely disagree, and this is where the patriarch is unequivocally wrong. God quite clearly has allowed us to make our choices and has reserved punishment for himself on almost every matter. This position is clearly shown in the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-30. If one seeks to root out evil in its entirety by criminalizing people exercising their rights in an evil way, such as pornography or some other matter, then they will eventually wind up uprooting society in a more harmful way than if they were to leave the matter alone. We are in a fallen world and are fallen ourselves. There are limits to what we can do.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that Western bishops are any better on this matter. Take for example Pope Francis’ reaction to the the Charlie Hebdo massacre, where he not only explicitly rejected the Enlightenment and the idea of freedom of speech, but elevated all religions above criticism. Francis’ position is remarkably similar to Kirill’s in that they both agree that human rights should not allow people to do things that some might perceive as sinful or evil. According to Francis, Kirill, and many other Christians, it is better to protect their own feelings and sensibilities regarding their own faith even if it is at the expense of criticizing other faiths. Not only does such a position run contrary to the evangelical spirit of Paul the Apostle who endured withering criticism in his ministry, such a position is antithetical to reason, and like the good Christian Galileo Galilei said in his letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God, who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect, has intended for us to forgo their use.” Much of this, as is most clearly shown in the speech given by Pope Francis, has to do with many Christians’ rejection of the principles of the Enlightenment. I think this is a serious error on our part and betrays a serious misunderstanding of the Enlightenment.

At one of its most fundamental level with respect to humans themselves, the Enlightenment concerned itself with the subject of human nature. The idea was and still is that if human nature can be pinpointed, then so can natural law which is to be applied equally across all of society and the world. Orthodox scholar Stanley S. Harakas has examined the scope of natural law:

At its heart the natural moral law speaks to basic social relationships. The natural moral law is perceived by the Fathers as an expression of the basic conditions permitting and protecting the existence of human society. Thus, St. John Chyrsostom, in his Sermons on the Statues characterizes the natural moral commandments as “necessities which hold together our lives.” … The patristic position then points to the content of the natural moral law as quite basic, fundamental and universally applicable to human social (societal) life. The content of the natural moral law is to be identified with the basic rules of conduct which insure the continued existence of any social group. In the mind of the Fathers, these requirements can be specified and particularized.

– Stanley S. Harakas, “Eastern Orthodox Perspectives on Natural Law,” Selected Papers from the Annual Meeting (American Society of Christian Ethics), Eighteenth Annual Meeting (1977): 44.

This is eerily similar to what Edmund Burke wrote concerning human nature and thus implications regarding natural law:

Most of the ideas which are capable of making a powerful impression on the mind, whether simply of Pain or Pleasure, or of the modifications of those, may be reduced very nearly to these two heads, self-preservation and society; to the ends of one or the other of which all our passions are calculated to answer.

– Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Part I: Chapter 6

By no means does this mean that all figures of the Enlightenment thought that the source of all morality is ultimately in some form of natural law theory. In fact, very few did, whom were generally the French materialists, such as Julien Jean Offray de La Mettrie. Many Enlightenment thinkers in fact rejected the notion that natural law encompassed all morality, Edmund Burke being one of them. Arguably, in times past even many Christians have tried to boil down all aspects of morality to natural law, although they had a very different understanding of natural law. However, patristically speaking, this all-encompassing natural law cannot be. Not all moral imperatives can be reduced to natural law. Harakas explains why:

Natural moral law is useful to Christian ethics as it seeks to speak to some moral issues in a pluralistic society. The Christian could note that since the natural moral law, the written law of the Old Testament and the evangelical ethic all have this common core, there is no need for Christians to concern themselves with the natural law, since they have a higher, more complete ethic in the Gospel. This would perhaps be a practical truth in a homogeneous Orthodox Christian society. It obviously is not a practical affirmation in a pluralistic society and world. The “low level morality” of the natural moral law is a very important means for Orthodox Christian ethics to relate to such a society as citizens in participatory democracies. Thus, it is not acceptable to argue against a public policy of abortion on demand with the argument that abortion on demand violates Orthodox Christian ethic of the value of person-hood, which is based on the Orthodox doctrine of the Holy Trinity. This would be perceived as a sectarian approach to a public issue and, therefore, unacceptable. But, by approaching the issue of abortion on demand as a question based on the natural moral law and as a case of “you shall do no murder,” Orthodox Christians can participate in the public debate in an acceptable manner.

– Stanley S. Harakas, “Eastern Orthodox Perspectives on Natural Law,” Selected Papers from the Annual Meeting (American Society of Christian Ethics), Eighteenth Annual Meeting (1977): 49-50.

This same principle can be applied to the Christian moral mandate to forgive others and countless others. There is no basis in natural moral law for engaging these topics, no matter how much some Christians would like it to be so. Therefore, in a pluralistic and secular society, it is wrong for a Christian to use the force of law against those who would rather not forgive or who wish to dip pictures of Christ into jars of piss.

Much of what I am saying is generally dismissed by many of my coreligionists as evil modernist atheistic nonsense. Therefore, I think it is also important to note that the Enlightenment was composed of a wide variety of people: deists, atheists, and Christians. The Christians of the Enlightenment included the likes of René Descartes, Gottfried Leibniz, Blaise Pascal, Edmund Burke, George Berkeley, John Locke, and many others. At the same time, the Enlightenment yielded many thinkers who were highly critical of Christianity. These criticisms of faith put-off my coreligionists to the point where they dismiss the Enlightenment in its entirety. Their immediate impetus is to silence them, in which case I must simply point to Matthew 18:15-17 where Christ directs us to exhort those in error to correct themselves but never to use force. If all else fails in our efforts, then we are to leave them to their own devices. Saint Paul also writes similarly in Galations 6:1, emphasizing that any correction is to be in a spirit of gentleness. Threatening anyone’s ability to speak their mind in any form or fashion is not in the spirit of gentleness. Saint John Chrysostom echoes this sentiment:

“For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force…it is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion. We neither have authority granted us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil, not by force, but by choice.”

St. John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood, Book II

As one can see by the teachings of Jesus Christ and St. John Chrysostom is that Christianity was from the very beginning intended to accommodate a pluralistic world, whether it be pagan, secular, Islamic, etc. insofar that it never demanded through the force of law or by the sword the submission of one’s neighbor to our beliefs. Christianity is supposed to be a faith of peaceful and genuine conversion and gentle correction. Implicit too in these scriptures and this Patristic quote is the fact that thought and freedom of conscience is a fundamental component of human nature. It is the guide to the exercise of our free will and hence our actions. These are the things that we are judged upon. God gave us a will for a reason. It was that we would exercise it and not be coerced, by force or law, as St. John Chrysostom said. This falls under what Burke would consider the aspect of self-interest or self-preservation in human nature. This is not to say that this means that there shall be no laws. Indeed, laws against murder, thievery, adultery, etc. are all necessary to maintain a functioning society, because as Harakas showed quite clearly in his brief article (which I encourage the reader to read in full), mutual trust is a fundamental component to society. Without trust, there can be no society. And as Burke pointed out, human nature is fundamentally social or at least inclined to be. By design God wants us to be social, but he also wants us to make our own decisions.

In short, freedom of conscience is a fundamental human right and our actions that result from such flow therefrom. Many of the great thinkers of the Enlightenment echoed these sentiments, perhaps more clearly than any of the Fathers who do have a mixed record. Descartes recognized this when he formulated his cogito argument, cogito ergo sum:

Non posse a nobis dubitari, quin existamus dum dubitamus; atque hoc esse primum, quod ordine philosophando cognoscimus. … Repugnat enim, ut putemus id quod cogitat, eo ipso tempore quo cogitat, non existere. … Ego cogito, ergo sum. Est omnium prima et certissima, quae cuilibet ordine philosophanti occurrat.

[There is] stuff that is not able to be doubted by us, while we doubt that we exist; and that this is the prime [thing], that we think of for philosophizing in order. … In fact, one rejects that  we might believe that whatever thinks does not exist while at the same time it itself thinks. And therefore [I know] this knowledge:  I think therefore, I am. It is the first and most certain of everything, which occurs in proper philosophizing.

– René Descartes, Principia philosophiae, 1.007

Quid sit cogitatio.

Cogitationis nomine, intelligo illa omnia, quae nobis consciis in nobis fiunt, quatenus eorum in nobis conscientia est. Atque ita non modo intelligere, velle, imaginari, sed etiam sentire, idem est hic quod cogitare.

What is thought?

By the notion of thought, I understand everything that is within us that we are conscious of. And thus not only including the ability to understand, to wish, to imagine, but also to feel, which is synonymous with thinking.

– René Descartes, Principia philosophiae, 1.009

Quomodo, quamuis nolimus falli, fallamur tamen per nostram uoluntatem.

However as much as we may wish not to have failed, we have failed due to our will.

– René Descartes, Principia philosophiae, 1.042

Blaise Pascal also recognized this in his Pensées, and tied it directly to morality more clearly than Descartes:

I can certainly imagine a man without hands, feet, or head, for it is only experience that teaches us that the head is more necessary than the feet. But I cannot imagine a man without thought; he would be a stone or an animal.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Fragment 111  Louise Lafuma edition

Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapour, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this.

Thus all our dignity consists in thought. It is on thought that we must depend for our recovery, not space and time, which we could never fill. Let us then strive to think well; that is the basic principle of morality.

– Blaise Pascal, Pensées, Fragment 200 Louise Lafuma edition

As Christians, we know that God will judge us by not merely our actions but also by our thoughts from which they flow. However, if we attempt to force people not to think certain thoughts or step beyond the bounds of authority that Christ had given us, then we step into the very dangerous territory of not acting in justice, but rather acting in power. Pascal cautioned us about such temptations saying:

Justice is open to dispute, might is easily recognized and beyond dispute. Therefore justice could not be made mighty because might challenged justice, calling it unjust and itself claiming to be just.

Being thus unable to make justice into might, we have made might into justice.

– Blaise Pascal, Penées, Fragment 103 Louise Lafuma edition

As Pascal makes clear, to understand justice is to have critical thought. If we force our beliefs on others rather than convince others of their merit, there can be no critical thought. Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill are wrong. We do have freedom to sin, and laws restricting our ability to sin should be few. Instead of forcing people to adhere to the supreme morality of the Christian faith through force or by law, we should be persuading them to adhere to it. To attempt otherwise runs contrary to the example of Christ.


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Catholic Proof Texts and One-liners for Papal Primacy Debunked: Part One

If there isn’t anything more annoying to an Orthodox individual who happens to engage in debate with a Catholic, it is the endless proof texts that Catholics trudge out to prove their case for their version of papal primacy, namely that the pope is unique and reigns supreme over all of the other bishops. This authority of the pope, according to Catholics, is due solely by the virtue of the pope holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and being the actual rock of the Church. I have heavily criticized such a position before using Latin exegeses from approximately 400 AD to 1200 AD. In that previous post, I had made the case that Sacred Tradition regards the keys given to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19 as the exact same as the powers of binding and loosing, and that at a minimum the rest of the apostles were given these keys. Additionally, Sacred Tradition also regarded Peter as the rock only in metaphorical terms. Nevertheless, as important of a historical and theological revelation as this might be, to a dedicated Catholic believer such truths might not be enough. Instead, what is often resorted to in recourse is to turn to proof texts that have been used for centuries by Catholic apologists to justify their understanding of papal primacy.

What is often characteristic of these so-called “proof texts” is that they are unusually short and come from various genres of literature. As such, they are easily taken out of context. In the case of being excruciatingly short, allow me to provide an example of an instance where something is taken out of context and thus offers a very different picture:

Out+of+context+hilarity+big3+dagashi+kashi+big3_b17da9_5845248Now one would assume that she might be talking about some new and latest drug from the picture, but in actuality she is talking about the latest candy that one could find at a Dagashi store (roughly equivalent to a candy and snack store). As we can see from this example, context very much requires more than single lines. Otherwise, we are prone to misunderstanding. Contextualization is a basic reading skill taught from childhood here in the First World, and we would be foolish not to use it.

As for the latter portion concerning genres of literature, it is somewhat related to the former. Letters and other theological tracts are much easier to take out of context than exegeses. The reason for this is because when one quotes from letters et al, they usually don’t provide the historical scenario unto which the author of the text was writing. The reader of the one-liner “proof-text” has no way of knowing what the full conversation was or what it might have been, because there is no evidence to provide additional clues. All they have is the single solitary line of text in front of them. Meanwhile, within the genre of exegesis, when one quotes from such writings, the reader has a pretty good idea of what the writer is referring to and the full context in which they are writing. This is because Late Antique and Medieval exegeses usually involved commentary verse by verse and line by line. The author almost always quoted the scripture that they were referring to, and it is because of such detailed writing that it makes it much more difficult to take exegeses from the Late Antique and Medieval periods out of context.

Now I will tackle some of the proof-texts that Catholics generally offer in favor of papal authority. By no means is this list meant to be comprehensive, as they are numerous. And neither am I sure how many parts this series of posts will have. However, I do hope to chip away at these fallacies that Catholic apologists have rendered through their poor readings. My efforts of course will be limited due to the fact that I do not have reading knowledge of Greek. Many of their proof-texts are translations from the Greek, albeit removed from their context. Therefore, I am restricted to finding the full sources of their quotes not in the original Greek, but in either English, Latin, German, or French so that I might provide the full context of their quotes.

[Christ] made answer: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church. . . .’ Could he not, then, strengthen the faith of the man to whom, acting on his own authority, he gave the kingdom, whom he called the rock, thereby declaring him to be the foundation of the Church?

St. Ambrose of Milan, Exposition on the Christian Faith, Book IV, Ch. 5: 57

There is nothing contradicting here in this quote to an Orthodox understanding of Peter and papal authority. In fact, this understanding accords well with Jerome’s understanding of Peter as the rock and foundation of the Church in a metaphorical sense. Orthodox understand that Christ and the faith in Christ are the foundation of the Church, not Peter.

‘But,’ you [Jovinian] will say, ‘it was on Peter that the Church was founded’ [Matt. 16:18]. Well . . . one among the twelve is chosen to be their head in order to remove any occasion for division…

St. Jerome, Against Jovianus, Book I: 26

Jerome’s understanding of Peter and the rock of the Church is, as I stated before, in accordance with an Orthodox understanding. Let us look at the full context of this quote:

If, however, Jovinianus should obstinately contend that John was not a virgin, (whereas we have maintained that his virginity was the cause of the special love our Lord bore to him), let him explain, if he was not a virgin, why it was that he was loved more than the other Apostles. But you say, Matthew 16:18 the Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism.

St. Jerome, Against Jovianus, Book I: 26

Note that the red is Jerome quoting Jovinianus’ argument, while the blue is Jerome’s own argument. The full context here reveals quite the different picture, doesn’t it?

Blessed Simon, who after his confession of the mystery was set to be the foundation-stone of the Church, and received the keys of the Kingdom…

St. Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity Book VI: 20

Let me stress that Orthodox do not dispute that Peter received the keys nor that he was privileged in being the first. What we do dispute, again, is that it ended with him and thereby all are subject to him and his successors. Now, allow me to quote the same work of Hilary, which supports the Orthodox position:

36. A belief that the Son of God is Son in name only and not in nature, is not the faith of the Gospels and of the Apostles. If this be a mere title, to which adoption is His only claim; if He be not the Son in virtue of having proceeded forth from God, whence, I ask, was it that the blessed Simon Bar-Jona confessed to Him, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God Matthew 16:16 ? Because He shared with all mankind the power of being born as one of the sons of God through the sacrament of regeneration? If Christ be the Son of God only in this titular way, what was the revelation made to Peter, not by flesh and blood, but by the Father in heaven? What praise could he deserve for making a declaration which was universally applicable? What credit was due to Him for stating a fact of general knowledge? If He be Son by adoption, wherein lay the blessedness of Peter’s confession, which offered a tribute to the Son to which, in that case, He had no more title than any member of the company of saints? The Apostle’s faith penetrates into a region closed to human reasoning. He had, no doubt, often heard, He that receives you receives Me, and He that receives Me receives Him that sent Me. Matthew 10:40 Hence he knew well that Christ had been sent; he had heard Him, Whom he knew to have been sent, making the declaration, All things are delivered unto Me of the Father, and no one knows the Son but the Father, neither knows any one the Father save the Son. What then is this truth, which the Father now reveals to Peter, which receives the praise of a blessed confession? It cannot have been that the names of ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ were novel to him; he had heard them often. Yet he speaks words which the tongue of man had never framed before:— You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. For though Christ, while dwelling in the body, had avowed Himself to be the Son of God, yet now for the first time the Apostle’s faith had recognised in Him the presence of the Divine nature. Peter is praised not merely for his tribute of adoration, but for his recognition of the mysterious truth; for confessing not Christ only, but Christ the Son of God. It would clearly have sufficed for a payment of reverence, had he said, You are the Christ, and nothing more. But it would have been a hollow confession, had Peter only hailed Him as Christ, without confessing Him the Son of God. And so his words You are declare that what is asserted of Him is strictly and exactly true to His nature. Next, the Father’s utterance, This is My Son, had revealed to Peter that he must confess You are the Son of God, for in the words This is, God the Revealer points Him out, and the response, You are, is the believer’s welcome to the truth. And this is the rock of confession whereon the Church is built. But the perceptive faculties of flesh and blood cannot attain to the recognition and confession of this truth. It is a mystery, Divinely revealed, that Christ must be not only named, but believed, the Son of God. Was it only the Divine name; was it not rather the Divine nature that was revealed to Peter? If it were the name, he had heard it often from the Lord, proclaiming Himself the Son of God. What honour, then, did he deserve for announcing the name? No; it was not the name; it was the nature, for the name had been repeatedly proclaimed.

37. This faith it is which is the foundation of the Church; through this faith the gates of hell cannot prevail against her. This is the faith which has the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatsoever this faith shall have loosed or bound on earth shall be loosed or bound in heaven. This faith is the Father’s gift by revelation;

St. Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, Book VI: 36

As can be shown again, Hilary supports the Orthodox understanding, not the Catholic understanding. The keys are the powers of binding and loosing, and all those who have the faith, have the keys. The keys are not exclusive to Peter and his successors.

Peter, the chief of the Apostles, is recalled and the remaining members of the Church are glorified with him for indeed the Church of God is established upon him. This is accord with the Lord’s words who made him the firm and most solid rock upon which he had built his Church [cf. Mt 16.16ff].

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Two Homilies Concerning Saint Stephen

One must understand that Gregory speaks of Peter’s name as a play on words, and throughout this particular work refers to Peter, James, and John as equally important and equal leaders. He refers to the names of James and John as the “sons of thunder” just as Peter is a rock. This is the appropriate context for understanding:

Peter, the chief of the Apostles, is recalled and the remaining members of the Church are glorified with him for indeed the Church of God is established upon him. This is accord with the Lord’s words who made him the firm and most solid rock upon which he had built his Church [cf. Mt 16.16ff]. Then we have mention of James, John and [J.105] as sons of thunder whom the Savior had named and who had brought rain clouds; for the gathering of clouds by necessity herald rain. Thus the clouds represent Apostles and prophetic words; although times of preaching differ, nevertheless the laws of true religion are in harmony and one spirit is the source of various gifts….

St. Gregory of Nyssa, Two Homilies Concerning Saint Stephen

A full reading of this work, which I have linked above, would dispel any notion of Gregory supporting the Catholic position. It is not a long work, and I highly recommend it.

This Peter on whom Christ freely bestowed a sharing in his name. For just as Christ is the Rock, as the Apostle Paul taught, so through Christ Peter is made Rock, when the Lord says to him: ‘Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build My church.’

St. Maximus of Turin, Homilia LXVIII, Patrologia Latina 57: 0394A

Note: Translation is not my own, although I cite the original Latin in the PL. The PL can be found freely available on Google Books.

This actually conforms to the Orthodox understanding and to Jerome’s understanding of it as a metaphor, and it actually matches up quite nicely with St. Bruno of Segni’s interpretation in particular.

After carefully considering all of these proof-texts here, it seems abundantly apparent that they do not support the Catholic interpretation of papal primacy, but rather support the Orthodox view of papal primacy, that is a primacy of honor.

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Pelagius Explored: On His Own Terms Part Three/Conclusion

Cassian, Pelagius, and Augustine

For the past several weeks have been discussing the various aspects of Pelagius’ theology on grace. In part one, I discussed his concept of Creation Grace (die Schöpfungsgnade) and in part two Revealed Grace (die Offenbarungsgnade). In this final post on Torgny Bohlin’s understanding of Pelagius, I will offer an overview of Pelagius’ understanding of die Vergebungsgnade (Forgiving Grace).

Die Vergebungsgnade: Forgiving Grace

Pelagius’ concept of Forgiving Grace can be divided into two parts: A and B. Part A is relatively simple. Pelagius understood Part A in mainly historical terms insofar that it only concerned God’s covenant with Abraham and the Old Testament. He believed that Abraham’s faith was so great that he gained forgiveness for all of his previous sins and that the rock that accompanied the children of Israel throughout their wanderings in the desert was the figure of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). Additionally, he believed that circumcision functioned as some sort of baptism or pre-figurement of baptism. Therefore, the death and resurrection of Christ applied to all of creation – past, present, and future.

As for Part B, this portion of Pelagius’ theology on grace has consistently come under harsh scrutiny. Pelagius believed that Part B of Forgiving Grace was best realized through Christian baptism. The effects of baptism helped the individual to overcome the conseutudo (bad customs) ingrained in humans after the Fall. Baptism annulled the past and future effects of sin. For Pelagius, Forgiving Grace acted in synergy with the human will to realize the will in action (velle in arbitrio, esse in effectu). In short, Pelagius is operating off of Christ’s maxim: The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Mark 14:28). The question then may arise as to whether man merits this grace by explicitly undergoing baptism. This question is often asked, but Pelagius actually doesn’t offer an answer to this question in any of his writings. The “problem” simply does not occur to Pelagius, so he never addressed it.

How Heretical Was Pelagius, If At All?

Perhaps most implicit in Pelagius’ theology on grace is that he rejects any notion of Original Sin. This is not to say that Pelagius believes that humans have not fallen. Indeed, he does believe that humanity has fallen, but that the flaw lay not in human nature but rather lay in blindness or conseutudo (bad customs). Pelagius’ understanding is certainly unorthodox to say the least, but his way of framing the condition of humanity after the Fall is certainly not antithetical to traditional Christian understanding. For example, Pelagius clearly understood the free will and the grace of God as acting in synergy with one another, insofar that it closely resembles St. John Cassian’s understanding of synergy between the human will and God’s grace. This is best represented in Cassian’s Conference XIII, in particular Chapter 3 with his analogy of the farmer and his environment.

But what of the differences? St. Augustine’s position was that humanity was totally depraved in nature after the Fall and that free will is no longer free. Humans cannot hope to believe without first having the gift of grace to restore their free will let alone do truly good works:

…because faith itself does not precede that calling of which it is said: For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance; (Romans 11:29) and of which it is said: Not of works, but of Him that calls (Romans 9:12) (although He might have said, of Him that believes); and the election which the Lord signified when He said: You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. (John 15:16) For He chose us, not because we believed, but that we might believe, lest we should be said first to have chosen Him, and so His word be false (which be it far from us to think possible)…

– Augustine of Hippo, On the Predestination of Saints, Ch. 19, Paragraph 38 Note: In the New Advent translation the chapter and paragraph numbers are reversed. My citations are based off of those found in the Patrologia Latina.


Cur ergo non omnes docet, ut veniant ad Christum; nisi quia omnes quos docet, misericordia docet; quos autem non docet, judicio non docet? Quoniam cujus vult miseretur, et quem vult obdurat: sed miseretur, bona tribuens; obdurat, digna retribuens. Aut si et ista, ut quidam distinguere maluerunt, verba sunt ejus cui Apostolus ait, Dicis itaque mihi: ut ipse dixisse accipiatur, Ergo cujus vult miseretur, et quem vult obdurat; et quae sequuntur, id est, Quid adhuc conqueritur? nam voluntati ejus quis resistit? numquid responsum est ab Apostolo, O homo, falsum est quod dixisti? Non: sed responsum est, O homo, tu quis es qui respondeas Deo? Numquid dicit figmentum ei qui se finxit, Quare sic me fecisti? Annon habet potestatem figulus luti ex eadem massa, et sequentia, quae optime nostis. Et tamen secundum quemdam modum, omnes Pater docet venire ad suum Filium. Non enim frustra scriptum est in Prophetis, Et erunt omnes docibiles Dei. Quod testimonium cum praemisisset, tunc subdidit, Omnis qui audivit a Patre et didicit, venit ad me. Sicut ergo integre loquimur, cum de aliquo litterarum magistro, qui in civitate solus est, dicimus, Omnes iste hic litteras docet; non quia omnes discunt, sed quia nemo nisi ab illo discit, quicumque ibi litteras discit: ita recte dicimus, Omnes Deus docet venire ad Christum, non quia omnes veniunt, sed quia nemo aliter venit. Cur autem non omnes doceat, aperuit Apostolus, quantum aperiendum judicavit: quia volens ostendere iram, et demonstrare potentiam suam, attulit in multa patientia vasa irae quae perfecta sunt in perditionem, et ut notas faciat divitias gloriae suae in vasa misericordiae, quae praeparavit in gloriam (Rom. IX, 18-23). Hinc est quod verbum crucis pereuntibus stultitia est; his autem qui salvi fiunt, virtus Dei est (I Cor. I, 18). Hos omnes docet venire au Christum Deus; hos enim omnes vult salvos fieri, et in agnitionem veritatis venire (I Tim. II, 4). Nam si et illos quibus stultitia est verbum crucis, ut ad Christum venirent, docere voluisset, procul dubio venirent et ipsi. Non enim fallit aut fallitur qui ait, Omnis qui audivit a Patre et didicit, venit ad me. Absit ergo ut quisquam non veniat, qui a Patre audivit et didicit.

Why does he [God] not teach all, so that they might come to Christ? Perhaps because all those he teaches in mercy [he taught]; but those who he does not teach in justice he does not teach [at all]? Because ‘he has mercy on whom he wills, and whomever he wills he hardens. (Romans 9:18)… Thus rightly we say, God leads all to come to Christ, not because they all come [on their own accord], but because no one in any other matter [is able] to come. But why does he not teach all? The Apostle made it abundantly clear: because ‘wanting to show his anger, and his power, he endured with much patience the vessels of wrath who are made for perdition, and so that he might make [some] signs of his divine glory with the vessels of mercy, who he prepared in glory’ (Romans 9:18-23). Hence it is that ‘the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18).‘ Here God teaches all to come to Christ; for here ‘he wishes all to be saved, and to come to knowledge in truth’ (1 Timothy 2:4). For if God wished to teach those whom the word of the cross is foolishness so that they might come to Christ, undoubtedly they too would have come. For he does not deceive nor is deceived when he says, ‘All who have heard from the Father and have learned, come to me’ (John 6:45).Therefore, perish the thought that anyone does not come who has heard from the Father and has learned.

– Augustine of Hippo, On the Predestination of Saints, Ch. 8, Paragraph 14; Patrologia Latina 44: 0971

Augustine’s stark position has never really gained much of a foothold in the Christian East, although it has enjoyed much more popularity in the Latin West, albeit often contended and convoluted. In fact, it can be said that Augustine’s position was condemned by the Orthodox Church at the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672, when it explicitly denounced Calvinism (Note: Augustine himself was not condemned, I believe). But is this to say, necessarily, that human nature was not damaged at all after the Fall? I would say that it was damaged to some extent, but not anywhere near to the extent that Augustine believed it to be. Traditionally, St. John Cassian has been understood to have spoken in these terms, specifically in Chapter 10 and Chapter 12 of his Conference XIII. Nevertheless, if one really wanted to, they could read Pelagius’ understanding of conseutudo (bad customs) into Cassian’s writings, and it is because of this that I am forced to the conclusion that Pelagius’ objections to a wounded human nature and Original Sin are largely semantic on this point. This is not to say that any Orthodox individual should prefer Pelagius’ formulation to the Orthodox formulation of Ancestral Sin. By no means should they. However, Pelagius clearly was not as far off base as has traditionally been assumed.

Aside from this, the only thing that I could take issue with Pelagius is that he all-to-often seems to think that free will itself is nature and that nature is grace. I myself am not inclined to this fuzzy theology, but considering the fact that Pelagius was only trying to answer the charges of both Arianism and Manichaeism, I can certainly forgive him of this imprecision. Additionally, Pelagius implies that natural death is not the result of Adam and Eve’s transgression. In short, I don’t think that Pelagius merits the charge of being a heretic. At worst, I would say that he merits the lesser charge of being in minor error.

The Council of Ephesus and the Council of Trullo

It is often objected that the case for Pelagius cannot be revisited because both the Council of Ephesus (the Third Ecumenical Council) and the Council of Trullo (the Quinisext Council) explicitly condemned Pelagius as a heretic. This is simply not true. First off, Canon IV of Ephesus does not name Pelagius at all, but rather his supposed disciple, Caelestius, whom Pelagius actually denounced. The closest condemnation of Pelagius can be found in the council’s letter to Pope Celestine. That being said, it is historically demonstrable that Pelagius’ teachings were misunderstood and warped in the eyes of his detractors. When read on their own terms, not Augustine’s, his views come across as far less sinister, even if still a bit objectionable on some points (namely Original/Ancestral Sin and the nature of death). The Council of Trullo also happened to have accepted the vast corpus of canons from Carthaginian councils and synods. However, if one looks at the anti-Pelagian Council of Carthage from 418, the canons condemn doctrines and not people. Pelagius is simply not named, and none of the doctrines that are condemned are explicitly advocated by Pelagius.


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Pelagius Explored: On His Own Terms Part Two


In Part One of my series on Pelagius, I had previously discussed the historical context in which Pelagius developed his doctrines regarding grace and free will. Additionally I mentioned the three types of graces that Pelagius believed in: die Schöpfungsgnade (creation grace), die Offenbarungsgnade (revealed grace), and die Vergebungsgnade (pardoning grace). For the discussion of Creation Grace, see Part One. In this post, Pelagius’ views on Offenbarungsgnade or Revealed Grace are outlined.

Die Offenbarungsgnade: Revealed Grace

As with Creation Grace, Pelagius’ Revealed Grace can be divided into two parts: A and B. As a whole, Pelagius believed that Revealed Grace was concerned with acknowledging God’s natural law. Although Pelagius did not believe that the Fall of Man entailed a change in the essence of humanity, he did believe that this Fall entailed the clouding or blinding of mankind’s ability to see or know the will of God and thereby natural law clearly. Pelagius saw this type of grace at work throughout the scriptures, particularly in the Old Testament. He felt that the Revealed Grace worked as a sort of process, which led to true knowledge (Erkenntnis), but not necessarily salvation (Vergebung). The Mosaic Law itself was part of a process that led human law (Gesetz im Verhältnis) to develop more closely to the original and lost natural law (natürlichen Gesetz), which lay in accord with God’s will. This was an integral part for Part A of Revealed Grace. By this means of argument, Pelagius was able to counter the arguments of both the Marconians and the Manichees: that the Old Testament God could not have been the same as the God of the New Testament, because of the stark differences between the two. For Pelagius, the Old Testament foretold the coming of Christ and was a necessary step for the salvation of all of mankind.

Part B of Revealed Grace entails an individual’s belief in Christ as the messiah. For Pelagius, the belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God the Father was an endpoint in the intellectual endeavor of Revealed Grace. In particular, Pelagius discussed the Jews and their own rejection of Christ. In a moment that betrays the common antisemitism of the day, Pelagius went as far as to claim that the Jews crucified Christ (instead of the Romans) because they did not believe in him. According to Pelagius, the rejection of Christ necessarily leads to the failure to grasp the full truth contained within the Old Testament. Here Pelagius was possibly alluding to the vast amount of exegeses of his day, such as the works by Origen, Tychonius, etc. or the sort of exegesis that occurs throughout Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, all of which provided insights as to how the texts of the Old Testament relate to the New Covenant. The lack of the full truth consequently leads to the formation of false knowledge. This formation of false knowledge is not necessarily rooted in malice, Pelagius argues, but rather in ignorance. In short, the rejection of Christ stunts the spiritual growth of the individual, even if they are a morally upright person.

I hope to finish my discussion of Pelagius in my next post, where I will discuss his concept of die Vergebungsgnade (Forgiving Grace) and then conclude with my own thoughts on Pelagius as a whole. In the meantime, what strikes me as interesting is that Pelagius implicitly admits that those who are not Christian can still make morally justified choices. In other words, one must not necessarily be Christian or perhaps even religious to make moral choices, according to Pelagius. The reason for such is solely because the human being is not totally depraved, but merely clouded in judgment. Since unveiling one’s eyes is a process, Pelagius admits that there are a variety of stages of moral progress unto which one proceeds back towards the perfect knowledge of natural law (natürlichen Gesetz).

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Pelagius Explored: On His Own Terms Part One


Issues regarding free will, consciousness, autonomy, and human nature have always fascinated me, both from the philosophical perspective and the theological perspective. One of the most interesting subjects within Christian theology has always been the subject of human free will and the grace of God in their roles in human salvation. The first big battle or debate regarding this complex subject occurred during the fourth and fifth centuries AD between Augustine of Hippo and Pelagius. Anyone formally acquainted with basic Christian history knows all too well that Pelagius lost the argument and has long since been considered a heretic. This legacy is mostly written by Augustine himself, as he characterized the teachings of Pelagius, and possibly some of Pelagius’ successors in the Pelagianist camp.

However, what would our picture of Pelagius look like if rather than reading Augustine’s work and taking his word for it, we simply examined the work of Pelagius himself? History has long not been kind to such endeavors since much of his work has been lost. Yet beginning in 1922 A. Souter began a long-term project of reconstructing Pelagius’ commentaries on the thirteen Pauline epistles from his remaining works, quotations from Augustine, and working with the interpolated Commentary on the Pauline Epistles written by pseudo-Jerome. The project took a number of years, but was finally completed in three volumes in 1931. Since then there have been a large number of analyses of Pelagius’ theology.

Currently, I am in the throes of reading one of the earliest studies of Pelagius since; written in 1957 by Torgny Bohlin titled Die Theologie des Pelagius und ihre Genesis. Bohlin frames his analysis in the following ways: 1.) to avoid the polemic of Augustine; 2.) to take Pelagius on his own terms and to not discuss the work of other Pelagians such as Caelestius; 3.) to understand the historical context of Pelagius and his debates with both the Arians and the Manichees. Bohlin also breaks down Pelagius’ understanding of grace into three categories: die Schöpfungsgnade (creation grace), die Offenbarungsgnade (revealed grace), and die Vergebungsgnade (pardoning grace). Each of these categories he divides into roughly two parts: A and B. It is my purpose here to examine these three categories of Pelagius’ theology of grace and to prod them with Orthodox questions.  This first part will only be concerned with die Schöpfungsgnade (creation grace).

Historical Context of Pelagius’ Theology on Grace

It is important to note that Pelagius did not develop his theology during his encounter with Augustine, but rather developed it many years beforehand. He developed is theology on grace in direct response to two early Christian heresies: Arianism and Manichaeism.

The basic Arian position was that because the Son was the right hand of the Father, he was thereby subordinate to the Father and was created. Pelagius sought to correct this understanding of the Arians by emphasizing the salvific role of Christ. He asserted that Christ was the Word and the Word was there since the beginning (see Genesis and the Gospel of John). Therefore, Christ was not created by the Father. Additionally, Christ is lord according to 1 Corinthians 1:9 as well as having one operation (una operatio) with the Father.

The basic Manichean position was dualistic in that material matter was inherently evil and that spiritual matter was inherently good. Therefore, there were two gods so-to-speak. The god that created material matter was evil, whereas the god that created spiritual matter was good. Essentially, the Manicheans boiled the values of good and evil to material substance or substance dualism. The additional argument on their part was that Christ was therefore not a man, because that would make him evil and therefore not the good god. Pelagius, however, rejected the Manichean arguments on the basis that the evaluations of good and evil do not lie in the substances, but rather that they lie in the will. In other words, substance or matter are morally neutral. What determines good and evil are wills.

Die Schöpfungsgnade: Creation Grace

As mentioned before, Pelagius held that matter or substance was inherently neutral in moral accountability. Therefore, the nature of mankind was not evil or good in anyway in terms of either salvation or damnation. Additionally, Pelagius held that since God’s nature was divine and good, so too was mankind’s nature good. Pelagius makes this connection primarily due to the fact that God thinks and is naturally good. Man too thinks and is able to make choices. These are attributes that God is observed having as well. Pelagius connects this to the fact that man was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and therefore has a number of similarities in nature to him.

The question then becomes, did Pelagius believe that mankind was fallen? It is difficult to say. Pelagius did admit that although our nature was not blemished we were befallen to the service of sin (wir selbst begeben unsere Leiber in den Dienst der Sünde). So implicitly, Pelagius viewed that there is a need and role for grace in salvation. What is more important is that Pelagius viewed this power to will (posse) as not only part of human nature but also as a form of grace itself, that is given by God at the moment of creation (Schöpfungsakt). Bohlin labels this aspect of creation grace as Part A. Part B for creation grace is slightly more complex. Pelagius understands Part B as the aspect of God continually giving us aid with the help of his grace in order to give us real possibilities to will and act.

As can be clearly seen, Pelagius saw human free will as an inherent part of human nature that people still posses naturally to this day. He did not believe that it was stripped during the Fall and thereby leaving mankind totally depraved. Additionally, the power to will itself is part of the nature of God and thus reflects man being made in the image of God. So in this particular sense, free will is both part of human nature and a form of grace. Nevertheless, because man has suffered the Fall, mankind has given itself over to the service of sin. This same creation grace from God therefore acts as a continual form of guidance from God to give us power to make moral choices. So far as is seen now, Pelagius’ teachings are far less sinister than Augustine had made them out to be.

The one remaining question therefore is whether or not Pelagius ever felt that this grace would be stripped from the damned in the afterlife? Pelagius does not seem to have answered this question, but it seems to me at least that Pelagius would not have believed that this grace ever left anyone, even the most heinous sinners. Implicit in this position would be that Pelagius would have not agreed with the idea of Hell being a place in total separation from God. Such a view would have been totally antithetical to his theology on grace.

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Book Overview: John Blair’s The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society

John Blair’s The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society is a superb study on the history of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England from the sixth century to the twelfth century and its ecclesiastical structure. Two peculiarities had set the Anglo-Saxon Church apart from its European counterparts. First, whereas churches on the continent maintained close ties with the royal government, churches in Britain held much closer ties with their respective local communities and local elites, although the royal government was certainly still an important factor. Second, while past historians have often characterized Britain as a battleground between Irish Christianity and Roman Christianity, Blair suggests that the real triumph in Britain was the development of an indigenous Christianity. In institutional terms, the peculiar minster characterized the Anglo-Saxon Church. The minster was an ecclesiastical settlement that was headed by some sort of monastic or priest and contained fellow monastics or laity. Common liturgical and devotional practices gave each minster their sense of unity. These minsters often were in charge of pastoral duties of the local community, and sometimes served as the seat of a local bishop.

The golden age of minsters in England was between 650 and 850. Particularly around the year 670, there was a boom in monastic endowment from the royal estate. At the time, kings and other members of the royal family had developed a yearning to join the monastic life. However, since their lay and clerical subjects expected them to carry out important duties, members of the royal family could not easily make the transition to such a lifestyle. To amend this problem, the members of the royal family developed the idea that they could become monastics via proxy by simply endowing minsters for close family members. Local elites also abided by similar cultural norms, although the fluctuating nature of titles and power during the seventh century makes clear categorization of royal or noble patronage difficult to assess.

As the minster system greatly expanded, logistical and political problems began to develop. Many bishops could not attend to all of their charges, while at the same time they demanded tithes from those same neglected regions. Furthermore, both Bede and Boniface of Mainz attacked the minster system for being in league with corrupt nobles and royals in that the minsters leased out rights that should not have been leased. Bede proposed, as a measure of reform, that the local reputable minsters should elect their own bishops so as to alleviate the logistical problems. As these problems receded, so the logic follows, the corrupt practices of less reputable minsters would be reined in.

Minsters often functioned as integral hubs in lieu of proper city-centers. As minsters grew in importance, so did a view develop that they often qualified as some form of a town or city. For example, when Saint Birinus was given the minster of Dorchester as the seat for his bishopric, Bede called it a gift of a city. The minsters helped to forge monastic towns and were commercial centers because they had access to large amounts of lands, peasant labor, and other forms of labor. As a consequence, minsters functioned as significant centers of production and nexuses of market connections.

Traditionally, historians have thought that the ecclesiastical structures of Anglo-Saxon England declined primarily due to the Viking raids in the middle of the ninth century. However, logistically speaking, it is quite impossible that the few raided monastic institutions sufficiently explain the decline of the minsters by the eleventh and twelfth centuries. A bigger contributor to the decline of the minsters was in fact the vast and progressive secularization of the minsters. While lay involvement with the minsters was nothing new, local aristocracies and the royal state began to seize full authority over the minsters, primarily due to their prominent control over resources and labor. The actions of these secular rulers left few prestigious and independent minsters intact. As the minster and their monastic communities declined, the local churches within them remained. As a result, a process of parochialization began to take hold in Anglo-Saxon England as a by-product of the minster system and its gradual secularization.

The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society offers as fascinating and new perspective on early medieval English history. The minster system that so characterized the Anglo-Saxon Church stood at odds with not only the rest of Europe, but much of Mediterranean Christianity in terms of ecclesial structure. Blair’s book is indeed imposing, coming in at nearly 600 often dry pages. I would not be surprised if this phenomenal work remains the standard and fundamental work on subject for at least the next half-century.


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