We concluded our preceding article with the remark that the late Rev. H. Hoeksema was of the opinion that, although many historians leave the impression that the Synod of Orange A.D. 529, represents a last victory for the Augustinian conception of predestination and sovereign grace, this synod much rather left the impression that it was afraid of the strict Augustinian principles, and that his doctrine was certainly not maintained by this synod. Although maintaining, on the one hand, the total incapability of man to do any good, it also denied, on the other hand, the infallible and irresistible operation of sovereign grace. We will now call attention to this synod and its decisions.
On the one hand, the synod of Orange laid down the following propositions, according to Philip Schaff:
1. The sin of Adam has not injured the body only, but also the soul of man.
2. The sin of Adam has brought sin and death upon all mankind.
3. Grace is not merely bestowed when we pray for it, but grace itself causes us to pray for it.
5. Even the beginning of faith, the disposition to believe, is effected by grace.
9. All good thoughts and works are God’s gift.
10. Even the regenerate and the saints need continually the divine help.
12. What God loves in us, is not our merit, but His own gift.
13. The free will weakened in Adam, can only be restored through the grace of baptism.
16. All good that we possess is God’s gift, and therefore no one should boast.
18. Unmerited grace precedes meritorious works.
19. Even had man not fallen, he would have needed divine grace for salvation.
23. When man sins, he does his own will; when he does good, he executed the will of God, yet voluntarily.
24. The love of God is itself a gift of God.
However, to these propositions or chapters the synod also added a Creed of anthropology and soteriology, which, in opposition to Semi-Pelagianism, contains the following five propositions:
1. Through the fall free will has been so weakened, that without prevenient grace, no one can love God, believe on Him, or do good for God’s sake, as he ought (implying that he may in a certain measure).
2. Through the grace of God all may, by the co-operation of God, perform what is necessary for their soul’s salvation. 3. It is by no means our faith, that any have been predestinated by God to sin, but rather: if there are people who believe so vile a thing, we condemn them with utter abhorrence.
4. In every good work the beginning proceeds not from us, but God inspires in us faith and love to Him without merit precedent on our part, so that we desire baptism, and after baptism can, with His help, fulfill His will.
5. Because this doctrine of the fathers and the synod is also salutary for the laity, the distinguished men of the laity also, who have been present at this solemn assembly, shall subscribe these acts.
Rev. H. Hoeksema remarks in his notes on the History of Dogma that there is nothing in the decisions of this synod of Orange concerning sovereign election and reprobation. And this is understandable in the light of these five propositions. The second proposition declares that all may, by the co-operation of God, perform what is necessary for their soul’s salvation. Although it is true that this synod maintains the Scriptural doctrine that the natural man cannot perform any good, we do well to call attention to the second proposition. In this proposition the synod declares that it is by no means their faith or belief that any have been predestinated by God to sin and that they condemn with utter abhorrence all those who believe so vile a thing. This is a denial of the Scriptural truth of reprobation, as; for example, set forth by the apostle Paul in Romans 9:11-13, 17, 21-22: “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth:) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated . . . For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth . . . . Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering (the objects of this longsuffering are not the vessels of wrath, but the vessels unto honour, H.V.) the vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction.”
Augustine, in his struggle against Pelagius, was concerned in the deepest sense of the word about God’s sovereign predestination. He was very keenly aware of the connection between the doctrines of man’s total depravity and God’s sovereign predestination. And the two are, of course, inseparable. The Augustinian doctrine of sin and grace met with opposition already during Augustine’s lifetime, not only in the person of Pelagius, but also by semi-Pelagians, who made the miserable attempt to effect a compromise between the conception of Augustine and that of Pelagius. It is true, as Rev. Hoeksema remarks, that the teaching of Augustine in regard to sovereign grace and predestination found indeed some defenders. But even these defenders assumed a half-hearted position over against the opponents. This was even the case with Prosper, who was a disciple of Augustine and had stood in close contact and fellowship with him for many years. Of his defense of the Augustinian conception the following may be remarked:
1. On the one hand, he wants to maintain completely the sovereign predestination of God without compromise. There is, according to him, an election and reprobation. And especially in regard to the former, he maintains that it can be explained only out of God’s sovereign good pleasure.
2. Nevertheless, Prosper also maintains and teaches a general will unto salvation in God, approximately in the same sense in which the former Professor Heyns taught such a general will in the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church for many years. For this general will unto salvation Prosper appeals to the text that is so often quoted by Pelagius and Semi-Pelagians, I Tim. 2:4. God wants prayers to be sent up to the throne of grace for all men, and that, too, on the ground that He will have all men to be saved. Here, therefore, Prosper teaches very clearly a general will in God unto salvation, that is, a will in God unto the salvation of all men.
3. It lies in the nature of the case that in the light of this general will unto salvation in God, the doctrine of sovereign reprobation could not be maintained. Prosper teaches that it cannot be said that men are lost because God wills it. To be saved is indeed a free gift of God’s grace. But that many are lost must be attributed to those that are lost themselves. No one is lost because of original sin alone. They are reprobated because of their actual sins, which are foreknown and foreseen by God. And the synod of Orange was far from maintaining the positive doctrine of predestination and sovereign grace.
Finally, concerning this synod of Orange and its subsequent history Philip Schaff writes the following, Vol. III, 869-870:
In pursuance of this requisition, besides the bishops, the Praefectus praetorio Liberius, and seven other illustrious men, signed the Acts. This recognition of the lay element, in view of the hierarchical bent of the age, is significant, and indicates an inward connection of evangelical doctrine with the idea of the universal priesthood. And they were two laymen, we must remember, Prosper and Hilarius, who first came forward in Gaul in energetic opposition to Semi-Pelagianism and in advocacy of the sovereignty of divine grace.
The decisions of the council were sent by Caesarius to Rome, and were confiimed by pope Boniface II, in 530. Boniface, in giving his approval, emphasized the declaration, that even the beginning of a good will and of faith is a gift of prevenient grace, while Semi- Pelagianism left open a way to Christ without grace from God. And beyond question, the church was fully warranted in affirming the pre-eminence of grace over freedom, and the necessity and importance of the gratis praeveniens.
Notwithstanding this rejection of the Semi-Pelagian teachings (not teachers), they made their way into the church again, and while Augustine was universally honored as a canonized saint and standard teacher, Cassian and Faustus of Rhegium remained in grateful remembrance as saints in France. (It was especially Faustus who was of great influence in maintaining the doctrine of the Semi-Pelagians. He taught the doctrine of original sin and the necessity of regeneration. However, he also taught that man himself is able to work out the beginning of his salvation. He can certainly feel his own misery, believe in God, long for Him and seek Him in prayer. He also taught a certain common grace. And, concerning predestination, it was his teaching that this is based on the divine foreknowledge of all our acts. Of a sovereign election Faustus must have nothing, and, of course, still less of a sovereign reprobation—H.V.)
At the close of this period Gregory the Great represents the moderated Augustinian system, with the gratis pmeveniens, but without the gratis iwesistibilis and without a particularistic decvetum absoluzwn. Through him this milder Augustinianism exerted great influence upon the medieval theology. Yet the strict Augustinianism always had its adherents, in such men as Bede, Alcuin, and Isidore of Seviile, who taught a gemina praedestinatio, an election unto salvation, a reprobation unto death; it became prominent again in the Gottschalk controversy in the ninth century, was repressed by scholasticism and the prevailing legalism; was advocated by the precursors of the Reformation, especially by Wiclif and Huss; and in the Reformation of the sixteenth century, it gamed a massive acknowledgment and an independent development in Calvinism, which, in fact, partially recast it, and gave it its most consistent form.
This concludes our discussion of the doctrine of sin as in the years, 250 to 730 A.D. The Scriptural doctrine of sin and grace, and of God’s sovereign predestination, was never popular. Augustine maintained it, but it encountered considerable opposition, during his life and in later years. And the Synod of Orange was far from maintaining the positive doctrine of predestination and sovereign grace. To the subsequent development of this doctrine of sin in the history of the church we hope to call attention in following articles.