Saturday, March 15, 2008


I came across Turretinfan’s (hereafter TF) recent posts concerning Semi-Pelagianism while browsing through his blog yesterday. The first thread on this topic that caught-my-eye was his Pelagiansim, Semi-Pelagianism, Semi-semi-Pelagianism.In this thread, TF links to a previous post Semi-Pelagianism According to Schaff, and IMHO, this second thread (chronologically the prior of the two) should be read first. In the Schaff thread, TF provides an extensive quote from Schaff’s third volume of the History of the Christian Church (section 159 – pages 857-865).

Immediately following this section on Semi-Pelagianism is one termed: “Victory of Semi-Augustinianism. Council of Orange, A.D. 529.” Schaff in this section states: “These transactions terminated at length in the triumph of a moderate-Augustinianism, or of what might be called Semi-Augustinianism, in distinction from Semi-Pelagianism.” (Page 866.)

For what every reason, TF neglects to mention this extremely important distinction that Schaff himself made, and instead states: “That [section 159] provides a very lengthy explanation, but you will find that at other places Schaff simply uses Semi-Pelagian as a synonym for synergistic.”

If one does not keep Schaff’s distinction in mind, one will be susceptible to misconceptions concerning Schaff’s later use of the term Semi-Pelagianism. IMHO, TF himself provides a good example this in the very same thread, which then spills over into to TF’s other thread on this topic.

Returning now to the aforesaid thread, we have TF providing a quote from one of my favorite Reformed theologians, B. B. Warfield. The quote is from the small book, The Plan of Salvation, which is a collection of five lectures given by Warfield. TF quoted from an online version of the first edition (1915) [I happen ot own copies of the second (1935) and third editions (1989).] The quote is from the second lecture, Autosoterism, and contains the interesting term, “semi-semi-Pelgainism”. I do not know if Warfield was the first to use this term, but what is important, is that he is using the term as a substitute for Schaff’s “moderate-Augustinianism” or “Semi-Augustinianism”. Once again, this is an important distinction, and once again, TF has missed the importance. The following is TF’s summation of the Warfield quote:

To summarize, in the set of definitions by Warfield:

Pelagianism Denies:

1. The sufficiency of grace;
2. The necessity of initial grace; and
3. The general necessity of grace.

Semi-Pelagianism Denies:

1. The sufficiency of grace; and

2. The necessity of initial grace.

Semi-semi-Pelagianism Denies:

1. The sufficiency of grace.

IMHO, TF has misrepresented what Warfield actually wrote by substituting the “sufficiency of grace” for “efficacy” of grace. Here is Warfield’s own words:

The necessity of grace had been acknowledged as the result of the Pelagian controversy: its preveniency, as the result of the Semi-pelagian controversy: but its certain efficacy, its “irresistibility” men call it, was by the fatal compromise of Orange denied… (Page 31 – 1989 edition.)

Like his apparent mentor, James White, TF is confusing “sufficiency” and “efficacy”. I have previously dealt with the importance of maintaining a distinction between the two, (HERE and HERE), so will not belabor the point any further in this thread.

To summarize, the Catholic position (explicitly defined at the Second Council of Orange) is not a form of Semi-Pelagianism, but rather it is moderate Augustinianism.

And in conclusion, I would like to recommend a series of excellent posts on this topic at a blog I discovered earlier today: The Supplement.

Grace and peace,



Pontificator said...

Turretinfan's article is helpful (or more particularly, the Warfield passage cited within it), as it accurately identifies Calvinism's departure from the consensual tradition. In fact, semi-semi-Pelagianism (i.e., the denial that all grace is efficacious) has never been specified as a heresy; in fact, quite the opposite is the case. Orange II deliberately left as mystery the mystery of grace and predestination.

I would hope that all Reformed apologists would take note of TF's article and stop calling Catholicism and Orthodoxy Semi-Pelagian. Neither are Semi-Pelagian. If they wish to accuse us of Semi-semi-Pelagianism, I gladly plead guilty, as charged; for the denial of Semi-Semi-Pelagianism is heresy.

David Waltz said...

Hello Pontificator,

Longtime no chat! I concur with your “hope that all Reformed apologists would take note of TF's article and stop calling Catholicism and Orthodoxy Semi-Pelagian”, with some qualifications: first, that they read the quotations of Schaff and Warfield carefully, adding Schaff’s next section; and second, that they carefully analyze Turretinfan’s summarization in the light of those quotations.

As for Warfield’s term “semi-semi-Pelagianism”, I suppose that I too can live with the label, if properly defined. However, I believe that the terms used by Schaff, “moderate Augustinianism” and “Semi- Augustinianism”, are a bit more historical than Warfield’s, and as such, more accurate.

Grace and peace,