Original Sin and Ephesus: Carthage’s Influence on the East

Ruins of Carthage
Ruins of Carthage

In my last post, I argued that the doctrine of original sin as defined at the Council of Carthage in 418 is just as authoritative in the East as it is in the West because of the inclusion of the canons from Carthage in Canon 2 of the Council in Trullo (692, also known as the Quinisext or Penthekti Council). At first glance, this case may appear significantly overstated; yet another wooden canonical reading by an Internet pedagogue. After all, Trullo has long been understood in the East to be merely administrative in function: a standardization of various canonical norms. Surely, one might propose, Trullo did not intend to take on so weighty a theological matter as original sin!

This objection is a strong one. Trullo indeed is administrative and there was no recorded controversy over original sin in the 7th century which would necessitate such a move. However, this objection contains a fatal flaw: it assumes that Carthage’s doctrine of original sin would have been so controversial in the 7th century East that its addition via Trullo to the Greek nomocanon would have been anything but pro forma.

The goal of this post is to demonstrate this assumption false. Specifically, I will lay out a case that original sin was confirmed both East and West and that Carthage came to be authoritative in the East immediately, in or around the year 419; or at the very least by the Council of Ephesus (431). Thus, the action taken at Trullo was simply a move of Carthage in ecclesiastical law from de facto to de jure. Put simply, by the time 692 rolled around, Carthage was so widely accepted in the East that its official adoption at Trullo was a mere formality.

A Brief Timeline of the Pelagian Controversy

Pelagius traveled from Britain to Rome circa 380. There, he befriended Celestius. After the fall of Rome in 410, the two moved to Carthage. Celestius petitioned for ordination in Carthage, but due to questions about his doctrine, his theology was reviewed at the Conference of Carthage in 411. The synod ruled Celestius’ theology deficient on six points. Celestius eventually moves to Ephesus where he was ordained.

The next year, Pelagius arrives alone in Palestine. But in a short time, controversy arose again. At the accusation of St Jerome and Orosius, a small council is called in Jerusalem (415) under Bishop John. The council is unable to come to a decision due to the Greek/Latin language difficulties and a poor translator. Both parties agree to forward the dispute to a Latin adjudicator, but within two years a new council is called in Diospolis (417). The primary accusers were prevented from attending by illness, and Orosius was detained by Bishop John. Having no accusers, Pelagius was able to convince the council by duplicity (de Gestis Pelagii XXXII). Pelagius is thus acquitted by Jerusalem, but not without condemning certain of his doctrines.

The acquittal of Pelagius in Jerusalem caused an explosion in activity around the world in 417 and 418. In North Africa, several local councils quickly condemn Pelagius again. In the East, Celestius is condemned in Constantinople under Bishop Atticus upon review of the canons of Carthage from 411 (Marius Mercator Comm. 1.1). Similarly, Celestius is again condemned by an imperial court in Cilicia under Theodosius II. Hoping to gain some traction in the East, Julian of Eclanum (another Western Pelagian), writes to Rufus of Thessaloniki attempting to exploit the ill will between Rufus and Atticus. This attempt fails as Rufus sides with Atticus and Augustine, passing a copy of this epistle to the West for refutation.

Alexandria is drawn into the dispute as well. Pelagius was distributing a heavily edited copy of the Acts of Jerusalem, showing it to be far more in favor with him. Simultaneously, Augustine wrote to Jerusalem and to Cyril of Alexandria (an unbiased third party) to request copies of the acts of the council, a fact we know from a recently discovered epistle of Augustine. As part of the exchange with Cyril, Augustine provides a copy of his work de Gestis Pelagii (the only known work of Augustine with a Greek translation!). The inclusion of this work causes a minor controversy in Alexandria which we will deal with shortly. Augustine also provided his work de Natura et Gratia to Jersusalem. Scholars Wickham and Dunn additionally theorize that:

  1. These works were sent to Constantinople as well.
  2. That all three cities had copies of both of Augustine’s works as well as Jerome’s.

The previously mentioned councils of North Africa ultimately appeal to Rome for a final judgement, and Pope Innocent I accepts the doctrine of original sin and condemns both Pelagius and Celestius. This victory is short lived, however, because only weeks after this judgement, Pope Innocent I dies and Pope Zosimas is convinced by Celestius to reopen the case.

The Council of Carthage is called in 418, where Pelagius and Celestius are condemned, this time in nine points. Due to the global nature of the problem, immediately after the council, Pope Zosimas sends his Epistola Tractoria throughout the world. Emperors of the East and West, Theodosius II and Honorius respectively, enforce the decision as Roman imperial policy and send a joint letter to Aurelius and Augustine informing them of the banishment of Celestius and Pelagius as well as encouraging the bishops to write theological letters to encourage theological adoption of the council. The global scope of this controversy, the epistle of Pope Zosimas and the imperial enforcement of this ruling made sure that the ruling was widely distributed in the Greek speaking world.

The Reception of Carthage in the East

Marius Mercator
Marius was a North African expatriate living in Constantinople from 429. He was involved directly in the Council of Ephesus, and records the Pelagian controversy from a Constantinopolitan perspective in his work Commonitorium De Coelestio Imperatori Oblatum. The impact of this work, in Latin, among Greek speakers is unknown. However, his first chapter is extremely helpful in its description of the records available in the East before Ephesus.

Constantinople possesses the acts of the earlier council of Carthage (411), including the six canons of condemnation against Celestius. Constantinople also possesses the acts of the review of Celestius by Pope Zosimas that leads to the calling of Carthage in 418. Most importantly, in 1.5, Marius gives us two important details regarding the Epistola Tractoria. First, it contains the canons of Carthage in 418 (capitula de quibus accusatus). Second, Marius describes the destinations to which the letter was sent: Egypt, Constantinople, Thessalonica and Jerusalem (notably missing: Antioch).

Marius further goes to explain that the Epistola Tractoria was signed by the bishops of these sees per the request of Pope Zosimas. Put simply, every major see in the East, with the exception of Antioch, had agreed to the condemnation of Pelagius and Celestius and had signed off on the Canons of Carthage (418).

The Council of Ephesus
Within a decade of the end of the Pelagian controversy, Nestorius was elected bishop of Constantinople. His involvement with the local Christological debates stirred up a controversy over his Christology. The details of this dispute are largely irrelevant for this thesis, but what is significant is that Celestius had managed to find sanctuary under Nestorius.

St Cyril of Alexandria, with the imperial support of Theodosius II, called what we now consider the 3rd Ecumenical Council which would ultimately condemn Nestorius. St Cyril had a problem, however: the council was already starting to unravel before the delegations from Antioch or Rome had arrived. In a controversial move, he began the council anyway. Within five days, Antioch had arrived but refused to recognize the validity of the council. After another five days, Rome’s delegation finally arrived. By this time, the precarious situation of the council had gone from bad to worse: Antioch had called its own council and gone into schism.

In order to make the council authoritative, it would need reception from both Rome and Jerusalem. Constantinople, whose patriarch was on trial, would never approve of the verdict and Antioch had already denounced it. In addition to episcopal support, imperial support would be needed as well. Further, without a broad base of support across both the anti-Nestorian and undecided laity in Constantinople and Jerusalem, Ephesus would probably just result in schism as local people rallied around their bishops. The answer, we will find, will come in Nestorius’ support for Celestius.

Celestius receives four mentions in the council of Ephesus: three in session seven (one in the preface, and two in the canons) and one in the concluding letter to Rome. They are as follows (emphasis added):

Session VII – Preface

The holy and ecumenical Synod, gathered together in Ephesus by the decree of our most religious Emperors [Valentinian III and Theodosius II], to the bishops, presbyters, deacons, and all the people in every province and city:

When we had assembled, according to the religious decree [of the Emperors], in the Metropolis of Ephesus, certain persons, a little more than thirty in number, withdrew from among us, having for the leader of their schism John, Bishop of Antioch. Their names are as follows: first, the said John of Antioch in Syria, [etc.] … These men, having no privilege of ecclesiastical communion on the ground of a priestly authority, by which they could injure or benefit any persons; since some of them had already been deposed; and since from their refusing to join in our decree against Nestorius, it was manifestly evident to all men that they were all promoting the opinions of Nestorius and Celestius; the Holy Synod, by one common decree, deposed them from all ecclesiastical communion, and deprived them of all their priestly power by which they might injure or profit any persons.

Session VII – Canon 1

Whereas it is needful that they who were detained from the holy Synod and remained in their own district or city, for any reason, ecclesiastical or personal, should not be ignorant of the matters which were thereby decreed; we, therefore, notify your holiness and charity that if any Metropolitan of a Province, forsaking the holy and Ecumenical Synod, has joined the assembly of the apostates, or shall join the same hereafter; or, if he has adopted, or shall hereafter adopt, the doctrines of Celestius, he has no power in any way to do anything in opposition to the bishops of the province, since he is already cast forth from all ecclesiastical communion and made incapable of exercising his ministry; but he shall himself be subject in all things to those very bishops of the province and to the neighbouring orthodox metropolitans, and shall be degraded from his episcopal rank.

Session VII – Canon 4

If any of the clergy should fall away, and publicly or privately presume to maintain the doctrines of Nestorius or Celestius, it is declared just by the holy Synod that these also should be deposed.

The Letter of the Synod to Pope Celestine

For as soon as [John of Antioch] had come to Ephesus, before he had even shaken off the dust of the journey, or changed his travelling dress, he assembled those who had sided with Nestorius and who had uttered blasphemies against their head, and only not derided the glory of Christ, and gathering as a college to himself, I suppose, thirty men, having the name of bishops (some of whom were without sees, wandering about and having no dioceses, others again had for many years been deposed for serious causes from their metropolises, and with these were Pelagians and the followers of Celestius, and some of those who were turned out of Thessaly), he had the presumption to commit a piece of iniquity no man had ever done before.

First, it must be noted that nowhere in this council is Celestius put on trial. On the contrary, his guilt is everywhere assumed by St Cyril and the acts of Ephesus. Neither is there any recorded controversy on this point.

Second, anyone who will be tempted to side with Nestorius will not be afraid of the condemnation of Nestorius. Nor are they likely to be afraid of a few bishops (unjustly?) deposed. The real threat behind these pronouncements is the assumption that to support Nestorius is the same as supporting the Pelagian heresy. The clear intention is to use Celestius and his condemnation at Carthage to borrow credibility for Ephesus.

How does this line of argumentation affect each of the players at Ephesus?

For Rome, the answer is obvious. Rome has already condemned Nestorius for his failure to recant within ten days and the assent to Carthage’s condemnation of Celestius just sweetens the deal. The end result is that Rome will overlook the minor procedural issues and accept the council.

For Jerusalem, upholding Ephesus gives them an opportunity to be on the right side of the Pelagian controversy after their previous acquittal of Pelagius. Conversely, a failure to subscribe to Ephesus might raise suspicions that they aren’t willing to condemn Pelagianism, in spite of their signature on the Epistola Tractoria. This latter problem would also interfere with their desire to see Jerusalem replace Antioch in the hierarchy. The cost for Jerusalem in rejecting the council would be quite high.

For Theodosius II, the case is obvious: Nestorius, by harboring Celestius, is in violation of imperial law. And given Theodosius’ direct involvement in the Pelagian controversy, it is obvious which side he will have to be on to save face. The inclusion of Celestius in Ephesus simply forces the imperial hand.

The cleverness of the move to drag Celestius into the Council of Ephesus is how to reach those in Constantinople and Syria who are either opposed to Nestorius or are otherwise uncommitted. The key here comes in St Melania the Younger. St Melania was a wealthy Roman noblewoman who, having amicably left her marriage for monasticism, was one of the principal opponents of Nestorius in Constantinople. She had expended considerable wealth constructing churches, founding monasteries and charity in Asia Minor and Jerusalem. However, before she had arrived in the East she and her husband had spent seven years in (you guessed it) Carthage, including significant time under the direct tutelage of St Augustine. In fact, there is even scholarly debate about whether the Augustinian monastic rule was created for the use of St Melania. She and her husband were both so beloved by the people that he was almost ordained against his will due to threats of violence. Although the influence of St Melania on the reception of Ephesus in the East is likely unmeasurable, a woman so highly regarded both in the imperial court and among the laity and who was already deeply involved in the unseating of Nestorius is likely to have exerted a great deal of influence on the popular level.

Cyril of Alexandria
The question we must ask, then, is “Did Cyril of Alexandria support the condemnation of Pelagius merely for pragmatic reasons?” The Lionel Wickham answers this question in the affirmative in his article Pelagianism in the East. This is based upon two criteria:

  1. The historical record of an accusation that Cyril had admitted a Pelagian to communion.
  2. The lack of any sort of theological controversy in Alexandria or any reference to Augustine in Cyril’s writings.

Geoffrey D. Dunn, in his article Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria and the Pelagian Controversy, argues against Wickham based on a theological analysis of Cyril’s notion of original sin. I will not recount the full force of his argument here, but it can be summarized by quoting Dunn himself:

[Cyril] was, from early in his episcopate, theologically an opponent of Pelagius’s views implicitly though not explicitly. … His position would have raised no questions of his orthodoxy in Augustine’s mind.

– Augustinian Studies, Issue 37 Volume 1 p87

To this, a few other thoughts need to be added. First, the accusation of Cyril’s admission of a Pelagian to communion only further establishes my thesis: the condemnation of Pelagianism was widely accepted in the East, which is why the accusation is potentially scandalous for Cyril. The presence of a Pelagian in Alexandria does not necessarily imply Cyril’s theological agreement with Pelagianism, however. It was often politically useful to permit the presence of an opponent in your territory.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, a minor controversy did in fact break out over Augustine’s correspondence with Cyril, but not over the issue of original sin. Augustine had written that not all sinners would face eternal punishment (he is suggesting here a primitive notion of purgatory). This statement, and not his musings on original sin, were found to be controversial in Alexandria. Since Augustine had already obtained significant stature in the East, it was presumed that the messenger had corrupted the text. Hence Cyril wrote back to Augustine to obtain the “correct” version of his work. Augustine responded that the version he sent was the correct one and the messenger had not edited the text. That Cyril explicitly questioned a portion of the document not related to original sin means that he read the work of Augustine, understood it, and commented intelligently. When combined with Dunn’s thorough argument from Cyril’s theology and Cyril’s signature on the Epistola Tractoria a clear picture emerges: Cyril was a supporter of Carthage.

The Legacy of Carthage and Later Councils
One last point on the reception of Carthage in the East needs to be made regarding Atticus’ legacy in the following years. Atticus, as we have seen, was an opponent of Pelagianism. During his episcopate, he was involved in only one other minor theological issue. Thus, if we find that Atticus is upheld in later days as a touchstone of Orthodoxy, it is precisely for his role against Pelagianism. And this is, in fact, what we find.

In the first session of the Council of Ephesus, Atticus’ statement on Christology is listed among statements from other great teachers of Orthodoxy: Ambrose, Basil, Gregory the Theologian, and Gregory of Nyssa, among many others.

During the Council in Constantinople (448) against Eutyches, as recorded in the acts of Chalcedon, the prosecutor Eusebius declares a statement of his Orthodoxy as follows (emphasis added):

[I] have abided by the creed of the 318 holy fathers who convened at Nicaea, all the proceedings of the great and holy council in the metropolis of Ephesus, and the beliefs and definitions of the blessed Cyril then bishop of the great city of Alexandria, Athanasius, Gregory the Great, Gregory and Gregory, and Atticus and Proclus the holy bishops.

Similarly, when Eutyches attempts to defend himself via an appeal to Pope St Leo I, he says (emphasis added):

I agree to everything that was laid down about the same Faith by the same holy Synod: of which Synod the leader and chief was Cyril of blessed memory bishop of the Alexandrians, the partner and sharer in the preaching and in the Faith of those saints and elect of God, Gregory the greater, and the other Gregory, Basil, Athanasius, Atticus and Proclus.

And again, at 2nd Constantinople we find a similar list, with a curious modification. St Justinian says (emphasis added):

We further declare that we hold fast to the decrees of the four Councils, and in every way follow the holy Fathers, Athanasius, Hilary, Basil, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Theophilus, John (Chrysostom) of Constantinople, Cyril, Augustine, Proclus, Leo and their writings on the true faith.

While Atticus isn’t mentioned in this last quote, Augustine takes his place in exactly the same order. The switch to Augustine here is to utilize his reputation as an opponent of Pelagius to gain credibility for his writing which permits the condemnation of a person after their death. This will be used in order to condemn Origen.

Thus it is clear that the universal reception of the condemnation of Pelagius is used to bring credibility not only to Ephesus, but to Chalcedon and 2nd Constantinople.

The Reception of Pelagius in the Nestorian East
The acceptance of Carthage among the major sees of Roman Christianity, East and West, meant the expulsion of Pelagianism from the Roman Empire. Most of the major Pelagian figures we find in Constantinople under Nestorius follow Nestorius into East Syria where they find refuge there. This exile proceeds to have a strong impact on the Assyrian Church of the East:

The only Eastern Communion which seems to have fallen into any serious doctrinal error on the subject of Baptism, is the Nestorian. Theodore of Mopsuestia, if not absolutely heretical, was at least extremely unsound, on the subject of original sin; and his followers have, as usual, added to his errors. Thus Sabarjesus, Catholicus of Chaldæa, in a synod holden by him in A.D. 596, condemned those who asserted that, since the fall of Adam, sin is innate in human nature. This is clear enough; and no doubt the statements of subsequent Nestorian writers are extremely unsatisfactory, and may easily be perverted into Pelagianism. Thus, George of Arbela; “Of old time adults were baptized, involved in sin, and called by grace to faith. But now, the children of Christian Nestorians are baptized; infants who are pure, and not polluted with sins.” And again, Timothy II, who was Catholicus, as we have seen, about A.D. 1320; “If Baptism is for the remission of sins, why do we baptize infants and children, who are free from sin?” At the same time, it is pretty clear that both writers are speaking of actual, not of original, sin. For the same George of Arbela, in another part of the same work, sets forth clearly the true doctrine; and he is quoted with approbation by Timothy, in his work on the Seven Sacraments. All that can be concluded is that, by the Nestorians, the subject has been treated in a confused and unsatisfactory manner; and that the doctrine of original sin has not been brought prominently forward. This is clear from the fact that the Nestorian ritual actually contains a burial office for children dying unbaptized.

– John Mason Neale, A History of the Holy Eastern Church, p950.


The dispute that arose over Pelagianism was not localized to the West—it was truly a global phenomenon. Even during the controversy, it had strong opponents in the East. The Epistola Tractoria, containing the results of Carthage, gained nearly universal support in the Greek speaking world. This is so true that the rejection of Pelagianism becomes a touchstone of Orthodoxy in nearly every later council, but most especially Ephesus.

When this is combined with the anthropology of St Maximus who incorporates Carthage’s doctrinal points, it becomes clear that the position of Carthage was well established in the East before we ever arrive at Trullo. Trullo’s intent then is simply to acknowledge in law what has long been acknowledged in praxis and theology: the canons of Carthage on original sin are ecumenical.


  1. So, it is not necessarily germane to the major thesis of this post, but the mention of purgatory in this context prompts me to place a “request” as it were for reflection. I’ve had occasion to wonder how the modern understanding of purgatory in Catholic theology, which is really about the process of purgation, and thus transformation, fits into the Orthodox understanding of theosis. I mean here that purgatory, seen as potentially an expression of an Orthodox impulse within an overly legalistic understanding of justification, might be seen, liberated from that legalistic framework, as an acknowledgement that purification, real transformation, expressed in a way understandable to the medieval / premodern Western European worldview, is necessary to make us “fit for heaven.” I doubt it is reconciled this simply, but I’m wondering if there is anything to this idea of a real connection between purgatory and theosis.

    1. The debate over purgatory at the council of Florence dealt entirely with the nature of the fire, not whether or not purgatory was true. This historical note should prove interesting.

      If you remember back to my previous post, condemnation in the post-Carthagean Latin West was a failure to merit salvation (Christian perfection or theosis). This articulation drives a concern in Augustine for all of those pious Christians who had not yet obtained Christian perfection (which is, indeed, all of us). Purgatory provides a way for Christians who have merited a degree of perfection, but not its entirety, to “finish the race” after death. All of this is driven by Origen’s “problem of cycles.”

      1. Yeah. I’m not as well versed in the history of councils as I ought to be, but I’m more interested in what we can say today. As a Catholic theology person (newly chrismated Orthodox), raised and educated after Vatican II, I have never bought the idea that we could merit salvation…it is a gift freely given by Christ who saves us. I also was taught that the temporal idea of purgatory was a carryover from the middle ages, no longer embraced by Catholic theologians, which then made indulgences rather nonsensical to me, except as a sort of notional placeholder for the belief in our communion in salvation (we’re saved as a church, not simply as individuals), within a framework of individualized and legalistic justification. However, the idea that we aren’t yet fit for heaven, which we recognize when we are starkly honest with ourselves, seemed to make purgatory a useful notion, understood as a general tag for the process of being made holy. Of course, the Eastern understanding of a life of repentance and the process of theosis makes waaaayyyy more sense, which is a good way to sum up a major aspect of my coming home to Orthodoxy.

        My intuition is that the doctrinal systems (for lack of a more concise term) are not quite as different today as it might seem, but that Orthodox Christianity has essentially stuck with the things our fathers found to “work” as authentic theoretical and practical expressions of the gospel, instead of getting distracted by new and largely irrelevant ideas (rediscovery of Aristotelian metaphysics might be one example of this), and taking some rather convoluted detours, as has happened in the West. Those who don’t want to alter Christianity in the West today (there are obviously millions who would like to alter it) keep finding ways to restate the Orthodox truth, but the only way to do it without tearing brain muscles (I tried for years) is simply to come home to Orthodoxy (“Come to me, all who labor…and I will give you rest”).

        Still, I think the project of finding (and nurturing) the seeds of the Orthodox Catholic faith still present (though often buried) in Roman Catholicism may help with the overall project of helping the Roman communion to come back into Orthodox communion, something for which I fervently pray.

        1. Indeed, Rome is far more “Greek” in her theology today than she has been since the schism.

          However, theology of “merit” in both the Greek and Latin worlds has always been predicated on the grace of God (or “the life of the Spirit” if you prefer Pauline terminology). The Protestant charge on this point is, at best, a misunderstanding.

      2. All of this is driven by Origen’s “problem of cycles.”

        I know what Origin’s problem of cycles is, but I do not understand how it relates to the preceding. What’s the connection?

        1. The problem of cycles actually predates Origen in the Gnostics, although in a different form. The problem is: if Adam fell, why can’t he fall again after his salvation?

          Irenaeus, answering a related problem, responds with a notion of innocent yet imperfect. As it would later be developed by many authors, Adam was innocent but imperfect. God is making us perfect. And when we are perfect, we will not have Adam’s problem anymore. Hence, the cycle is broken.

          For Augustine, the unbaptized are not perfect so they go to Hell. This seems straight forward, until you get to the later canons of Carthage: even the saints are imperfect. So if even the saints are imperfect in this life, how can anyone get into Heaven? There are basically two answers:

          1. God can let them in by divine fiat. This has the problem that if God can simply let in anyone in by fiat, why doesn’t he just let *everyone* in by fiat. And if God lets everyone in by fiat, why didn’t he just fix Adam in the first place by fiat and avoid the whole problem of evil? And if he could do that, why not just make Adam perfect in the first place? … and we are back in the problem of cycles.
          2. There is some place, after this life, where we move from baptized to perfect. (Purgatory)

          I’ll try to cover all this in detail. I’m working my way through Trigg’s Origen’s Influence on the Young Augustine, so I should have some meat soon.

          1. Ah. That makes sense. Thanks! I thought you were saying that Purgatory was Origenistic, rather than that it was entailed by a response to Origen.

  2. Nathan,

    My objection to your last post was not based on the fact that Trullo only addressed administrative issues per se. I only used that objection because it seemed (at least to me) as if your whole premise was that the Augustinian view of original sin was ecumenical only because it was accepted at Trullo. I see that you now propose an Ephesine-Augustinian shift vs. a Trullan one.


    1) Do you still believe that the pre-Carthage/Augustine Eastern Fathers were undeveloped in their formulations of original sin and that their views are inadequate for quoting?
    2) Do you believe that the Church had no “official view of original sin until Carthage”? I ask this question because you stated that in one of your responses to your last post. Can we really say that the Church has no “official view” of an issue until a council?
    3) Since you accept the Augustinian view of original sin, do you also accept that unbaptized infants perish without any hope of salvation? If you really accept Augustinian original sin then surely this has to be accepted unless you accept St. Augustine’s formulation without accepting the ramifications that he drew from his formulation. Many Augustinian western fathers understood and accepted that unbaptized infants perish eternally.
    4) In light of your research, what is the Orthodox view of original sin?
    5) How does your view differ from Fr. Romanides?
    6) How does your view differ from Dr. Marshall’s?

    I’m pressed for time so my responses may be very limited. A sincere thanks for your research and I look forward to your answers.

    1. This almost doesn’t quite seem worth mentioning, but it is at least worth noting (since this seems to be something that is being repeated in comments) that the author’s first name is Nathaniel, not Nathan. Both are of course admirable saints from Scripture, but it’s the New Testament fellow whose namesake writes here.


    2. Carthage and the Epistola Tractoria is where the Canons become de facto.
      Trullo is where they become de jure.


      1. I understand this to be a complex situation resistant to simple answers. Certainly in one sense we can say that previous views are underdeveloped merely based on the fact that Pelagianism had not been asserted. Nevertheless, different fathers posses different degrees of development. Irenaeus is, I think, fairly nuanced, as are Cyril and the Cappadocians. I also think there is a degree of hermeneutical issues at play. This is the main reason I think the gaping hole in the Eastern reception of Carthage is in Antioch. Chrysostom falls into this category, I suspect. However, at least one quote from Chrysostom puts him in the pro-Carthage camp IMHO, though this is certainly an anachronism. All of this can be summed up by this statement: East and West are constructs of our post-schism self-understanding. Rather, there are discrete schools of thought that wind through various authors. We ought not oversimplify.

      2. I believe that St Paul contradicts Pelagius/Celestius pretty directly. It is this reading of Paul that is canonized at Carthage. So in this sense, Paul is the official view and Carthage is just elaborating on Paul. But as regards “official views,” there was no official view until a council ruled on it. That doesn’t mean that heresy isn’t heresy before the council.

      3. I accept Carthage’s view of original sin, which although borrowing many points from Augustine is not identical to him. There have been numerous philosophical articulations of original sin, including both Augustine and Maximus. None of them are canonized (and probably shouldn’t be). An apophatic approach here is helpful: Pelagius is wrong, but not every point of Augustine is dogma. One of the goals of this series is to show that, while Augustine certainly doesn’t get everything right, his thought is well within the bounds of speculation for his time period (East and West).

      4. This is the ultimate question I am hoping to address. But we’ll need more posts to get there. Sorry!

      5. I have just acquired Fr Romanides’ book and am reading through it now. I have previously only read excerpts. I hope to give a more substantial answer to this in a future post.

      6. I have not read any of Dr Marshall’s work, aside from one post on ‘reatus’.

      1. Thanks Nathaniel!

        Forgive me, I keep asking questions only because I want to identify your position.

        What is the Carthaginian view of original sin that you say that you accept?

        How do you decide which parts of Augustinian original sin to accept or reject; and on what basis? The
        Western Fathers (including some disciples of St. Augustine) decided to keep closer to St. Augustine in their interpretation of Carthage than you seem to.

        Would you say that the Church was not “officially” trinitarian until Nicea I 325?

        I ask specifically about Dr. Marshall’s work here: http://taylormarshall.com/2006/02/must-eastern-orthodox-believe-in.html. It is indeed a short post with many assumptions BUT his point seems identical to yours. He even bases his premise primarily on Ephesus and not Trullo. He, however, holds that Carthage teaches that unbaptized infants that perish are irredeemable. He states that Orthodox must accept this as a dogma based on our own conciliar tradition.

        Thanks again brother.

        1. 1. I’ll detail the view of Carthage in further posts. It needs more space than a comment can give.

          2. We accept the stuff from Augustine that is canonized (original sin and non-[re-]baptism). The rest is theological speculation. This simply means it may or may not be helpful and/or correct. There is no magical formula for how to approach this stuff. You just need a good education and theological skill.

          3. By “officially” I generally mean which views the Church will tolerate within her boundaries. The divinity of Christ was always true (and I would argue metaphysically necessary given St Paul’s arguments against the Judaisers). However, after 325 (more or less), the Church did not tolerate Arians within her boundaries. Today, the Church tolerates many heresies. They just aren’t canonized yet. There are also several significant theological disputes in Orthodoxy today, like the theology of the sacrament of marriage (cf Viscuso/Meyendorff).

          4. Dr Marshall is over-simplistic in that post, but generally correct. For instance, his statement that “Carthaginian canons were accepted by the Church at [Ephesus]” is untrue. They were accepted earlier via the Epistola Tractoria and only tacitly affirmed at Ephesus. But his conclusion that the canons are ecumenical is correct. I don’t see where he states that “unbaptized infants that perish are irredeemable.” But I have already argued (in my previous post) that this idea is a later addition to Carthage and is not upheld either in Orthodoxy or Rome.

          1. Dr. Marshall Point 9: Children dying without baptism are excluded from both the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life.

            Nathaniel, it’s difficult to believe that this belief is a later addition if St. Augustine and his disciples understood original sin this way. I certainly hope it is!

          2. I skipped over his 9 points because I thought them to be just summaries of the canons (and they mostly are). Dr Marshall here is following his own interpretation of the numbering of the Latin text. Neither Rome nor Orthodoxy has ever held his point 9 to be canonical. Just because Augustine believed a thing and it found its way in a later edition of the text does not mean that Carthage upheld it. I will try to find the Latin/Greek originals for this.

          3. Nathaniel,

            Thanks for the link. The canon regarding infants may or may not be an interpolation. If you don’t think that we receive the guilt of Adam or that unbaptized infants perish eternally then is there actually any dispute? I thought augustinian original sin was defined by those two beliefs. Perhaps not.

            Also, can you please comment on a quote from chap 4 of the Tome of Leo for me? It is associated with our topic but I really just want some help understanding it. You seem very qualified due to your knowledge of our western Holy Fathers.

            “The Lord assumed His mother’s nature without her faultiness: nor in the Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin’s womb, does the wonderfulness of His birth make His nature unlike ours.” (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers)

            “From the mother of the Lord, nature, not guilt, was assumed; and in the Lord Jesus Christ born from the womb of the Virgin, because His birth was miraculous, nature was not for that reason different from ours.” (Denzinger)

          4. I do not think that the condemnation of infants is part of the original resolution of Carthage.

            I do, however, think *some* notion of inherited guilt is, but not the type condemned by St Basil and others. The key is how you understand this phraseology. We’ll get to this. Slow and thorough is my game plan.

            Regarding Pope St Leo, the phrase is “natura, non culpa” in Latin. He means that Christ is born without the guilt of Mary’s original sin.

          5. FYI, “natura, non culpa” is “φύσις, οὐχ ἁμαρτία” in the Greek copy of the Tome. In the Latin: “nature, not guilt [or fault, or defect].” and in the Greek “nature, not sin.” One should note that ἁμαρτία (failure, fault, error, guilt or sin) has the same ambiguity regarding guilt as culpa does. So the intent here is not some new doctrine but merely an attempt to render ἁμαρτία faithfully in the Latin.

          6. Nathaniel,

            I saw that St. Photios’ collection of the canons included Canon 3 on infants in the Hefele link as well. Have you seen any eastern post-Carthage Councils or Fathers embrace this teaching specifically? I know Sts. Fulgentius and Gregory the Dialogist did, likely St. Bede as well, but I know of no eastern fathers.

            We also know that Orthodoxy and Rome do not now…

            I’m looking forward to your research into this.

          7. This document is excellent. I’ve linked to it before, but its breadth cannot be overlooked.

            Another significant quote is found in St Photios:

            After the death of the holy Augustine certain of the clergy began to reassert these impious doctrines. They began to speak evil of Augustine and falsely accused him of denying free will; …

          8. You have to be careful reading St Photios’ Bibliotheca. The fact that he read the canons doesn’t necessarily imply that he embraced them — although it is true that he doesn’t seem to have found them objectionable. And he describes Canon 3 as ruling out a middle place — something which other Greek Fathers do, e.g. Symeon the New Theologian — but not actually condemning unbaptized infants to Hell. He well may have, but we shouldn’t just assume so from this brief and summary passage.

          9. I am in complete agreement. To borrow a turn of phrase, I don’t believe that either Rome or Orthodoxy have ever “received” the condemnation of infants, whether or not the rejection of the “middle place” is upheld or not. This phrase from the Vatican document summarizes it well (and I think few Orthodox could disagree):

            A theological reading of the history of Catholic teaching up to Vatican II shows in particular that three main affirmations which belong to the faith of the Church appear at the core of the problem of the fate of unbaptised infants.

            1. God wants all human beings to be saved.
            2. This salvation is given only through participation in Christ’s paschal mystery, that is, through Baptism for the forgiveness of sins, either sacramental or in some other way. Human beings, including infants, cannot be saved apart from the grace of Christ poured out by the Holy Spirit.
            3. Infants will not enter the Kingdom of God without being freed from original sin by redemptive grace.
      1. Good luck finding Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, vol. 88 though–neither Amazon nor Google Books seems to have it.

          1. Not in the catalog, not even the Catholic Libraries have it. Perhaps you need to be on the East Coast, where the libraries were around ~1900. But I wouldn’t have the time to translate it anyway.

          2. There’s an English translation from 2005 available on Amazon, with the book number 1565482093, and the title: Letters 211-270, 1*-29* (II/4) (Works of Saint Augustine). It looks like you can get a copy for between $20-$30. If I remember correctly, there was at least one letter of Augustine to Cyril that was known before the Divjak finds, so it might not be in that volume. Nathaniel can correct me on this if I’m mistaken.

          3. Yes, though this previously-known letter doesn’t really contain anything interesting that isn’t in pretty much every secondary work on the topic. The Divjak epistles are the important ones.

  3. Nice summary Nathaniel. I wrote a seminar paper on the topic of Pelagianism in the East back in 2008 and investigated the connection between Pelagianism and Messalianism, which seemed to be assimilated in some of the eastern sources for this period. There’s an interesting article by Vööbus on original sin between Pelagianism and Theodore of Mopsuestia. Unfortunately I don’t have the paper on my current hard drive so I can’t check (I hope I didn’t lose it!).

    1. Photius underscores the connection between Pelagianism and Nestorianism as well. Of course, this problem is complicated by the fact that Augustine has a tendency towards Nestorianism. I suspect this connection between these heresies may be post hoc.

      1. The other “minor theological issue” that Atticus dealt with, which you mention above, is Messalianism, correct? Not so minor, IMHO 🙂 I think Messalianism, despite its nebulousness in the sources, is a helpful avenue along which to investigate original sin in the East, both because of the historical connection through attempts to tie it to Pelagianism (by St Jerome, among others) and because it elicited serious theological thought about some of the same issues, like the efficacy of baptism, by Fathers such as Mark the Monk and Diadochos of Photiki. The monograph by Elizabeth Clark on _The Origenist Controversy_ also shows connections of the debate to Origenism, the perennial ghost lurking in the background, which was not really exorcized (or tamed) till St Maximos.

        1. Yes, you are probably right. Of course this only goes to further prove my thesis, so I’ll happily admit to being wrong on this point. 🙂

        2. I should also add that, in my reading, I only came across a single epistle of Atticus on Messalianism. What I should have said, but didn’t, is that his role in this controversy was minor and less direct than with Pelagianism. I may be wrong on this point.

    1. St John Cassian deserves consideration. However, I think the term semi-Pelagianism is almost entirely useless since it is both essentially undefined in its content and functions as a slur via association fallacy. There is also the problem of lack of antiquity for the term. Ogliari (Gratia et Certamen) argues that the term is a very recent creation. So rather than using labels, we need to examine specific doctrinal assertions (which I aim to tackle in future posts).

    2. There’s a post on here from about a year ago that deals with so-called Semi-Pelagianism, entitled “The Curious Case of St John Cassian.”

  4. Nathaniel,

    According to Christopher Livanos, St. Photios was closer to Theodore than St. Augustine and Carthage.

    St. Photios: “The tenets of their heresy, to summarize, are these: They say that men fall not by their reasoning but by their nature. They do not mean the nature in which Adam subsisted when he was first created (for they say this was the good creation of a good God), but that which he later inherited on account of sin, having exchanged good for evil and the immortal for the mortal by his own evil action. Therefore, [they say], having first been good by nature, men became evil, and it is by nature and not by choice that men acquire sin. Secondly, they go on to say that not even children, not even newborns, are exempt from sin. This is so, according to them, because nature subsists in sin on account of Adam’s transgression, and the sinful nature, as they would call it, extends to the entire race which comes from him.]”

    Thus we see that the doctrine of Original Sin, a cornerstone of Western theology, was viewed as a “sickness” and a “heresy” by one of the East’s most important theologians. That Photios does not mention Augustine in his condemnation of this doctrine, which he rightly states was common in the West, indicates that he really knew very little about the North African saint and that what mention of him there is in his work is mere name-dropping. It is unmistakable that the doctrine Photios attacks is identical to that of Augustine, right down to the conclusion that even newborn babies are guilty of Adam’s sin. It is all the more remarkable how vehemently Photios attacks the Western view of sin given that the authority he cites in favor of his own views is Theodore of Mopsuestia, a Nestorian regarded as a heretic by the Orthodox Church. The Nestorian Schism, dating back to the Council of Ephesus in 431, was, in Photios’s time, the longest-standing division among Christians, yet Photios still believed that a Nestorian was better than a “heretic” who believed in Original Sin. (Greek Tradition and Latin Influence in the Work of George Scholarios by Christopher Livanos)

    1. I’m skeptical of this claim. Much of this depends on how he is using the language. If the heretics are suggesting that there is actually a “thing” called “human nature” which is corrupted and which causes necessary evil action, then Maximus and Augustine would agree with Photios. So I’d have to see the context of the work here. Can you cite it?

      Regardless, arguments from Theodore aren’t going to gain much traction in Orthodoxy.

  5. Nathaniel, going back to this article’s predecessor, I have a quick question (since comments are disabled on that article). You seem to imply–without elaborating–that there is a theological distinction in the Fathers between inherited “sin” and inherited “guilt.” As an inquirer I’ve had an impossible time trying to get an understanding of the Orthodox teaching on the effects of the Fall (with regard to mankind), and I think a clerification on this point might help. Thanks much.

    1. Early Greek Fathers, such as Ss Basil and Gregory, stress that if I commit an act, no one else is guilty of that act. This is what we might call “personal guilt.” While St Augustine uses guilt in this same way, he *also* deploys the term in a new and different way. For Augustine, the word “guilt” can also be used to describe the diseased state of humanity after Adam. But he is deploying this word in a different way than Ss Basil and Gregory. This is why St Augustine’s usage of the word is *analogous* to personal guilt, but is not the same thing. My point in the last post was that later Greek Fathers, like Maximus and Photios (and many, many others) seem very comfortable talking in phraseology that is similar to Augustine’s.

      So the distinction is not between inherited sin and inherited guilt, but rather:
      1. personal sin vs inherited sin
      2. personal guilt vs inherited guilt

      The terms sin and guilt above are not used in the same way. This is the great difficulty of many Orthodox who attack the notion of “inherited guilt.” They fail to see that guilt is being used in a different way. They miss this equivocation and as a result attack something falsely. Unfortunately, what makes matters worse is that certain Protestant groups have *also* missed this equivocation. So, for the Reformed for instance, there is no difference between personal and inherited guilt. In as far as Orthodox wish to attack this worldview, I am supportive. However, I don’t believe this critique applies to Augustine himself, or the Councils of Carthage/Orange or to the Roman Catholic Church.

  6. Having only recently discovered this blog, I plead guilty for submitting such a late comment. None the less, being involved in a number of conversations concerning this things, I would appreciate any feedback there might be. Now, I admit up front that arguing from analogy is dangerous, but I think that in this case may be useful. The analogy is this: A young woman through misuse of drugs becomes an addict. Let’s say a heroin addict. After the onset of her addiction, and the generally wild lifestyle which frequently goes along with such addiction, she becomes pregnant. Completing the term of pregnancy (no doubt against the advice of most of her acquaintances and family) she is delivered of baby boy (let us say). Because of the physiological relation between the mother and the child during the pregnancy, the baby is also an addict. In other words he has inherited his mother’s sin. Without outside intervention, he will almost certainly grow up to be a heroin user. Even with outside intervention, he will still be an addict such that one fall from total abstinence of the drug would probably send him down to the point where he cannot recover on his own. The question I wish to ask is simply whether or not he is or could possibly be *guilty* of his mother’s sin. That is, can he in any way be held responsible or culpable for his mothers sin? It seems to me, without trying to cite chapter and verse that Pelagius would say: “No, addiction is a psychological myth, and there is nothing to his condition which he cannot take care of by himself. Augustine, on the other hand would say; “Well, he has inherited a humanity which has been terminally corrupted by his mother, maybe he can be held responsible for his mother’s transgression, but he certainly cannot deal with the problem by himself.” The Latin Church would say: “While it may be tempting to think so, he cannot be held accountable for his mother’s misdoings, but needs outside help.” The Greeks would have said the above without the “While it may be tempting…” prothesis. The 16th century reformers wishing to take St. Augustine to what they see as the logical conclusion of his statements said: “He’s guilty period.” The point being (1) the differentiation between “sin” and “guilt”, and (2) the conditions wherein “guilt” could possibly be inherited.
    +Melchisedek Pittsburgh

  7. Ilmo senõr paz y bien.

    Saludos desde Brasil.

    Creo que al classificar la doctrina de Teodoro de Mopsuestes como insana y enferma cometes harto erro puez em la Biblioteca de S Fotius ay la reseña de um livro de Teodoro ya no ecxistente en que lo Obispo oriental presenta y describe lá doctrina de Augustin como herética y maniquea. Puesto. S Fotius depues de lo tener transcripto juzga que cuanto a este punto estava Teodoro de buen acuerdo com la dita fe ortodoxa y que sus juizios contra Agustin eram perfectamente acleptables.

    Es lo que a dicho Fotius en la Biblioteca.

    Ahora tenemos muchos otros problemas.

    Pues Teodoro era lo mejor amigo de Juan Crisóstomo y este há pronunciado una homilia traduzida por Juliano de Aeclanum (Obismo mui versado en griego) en la cual niega (como los nestorines que citas) que los niños tengam pecados. Ora que hace Augustin face a esto? Adiciona a las palavras de Juan la copla personales, restriccion que Juan no havia echo! Y tartamudea Agustin sem poder obtener cualquier testigo mas efectivo de Crisostomo sobre la imputacion do pecado de Adan a los ninos!

    Ahora hago te una pregunta:

    Cierto que la doctrina natualista que se atribuye a Pelagio tenga sido repudiada em el Oriente. Juzga ahora que la augustiniana com la concepcion de Massa Damnata, de salvacion restricta y de soberania de la gracia fué de algum modo aprobava por los Ortodoxos o que sea Ortodoxa????

    Harnack he dicho que la Cristianidad ante nicena era semi pelagiana. Puesto. Karl Rahner en su livro sobre La gracia y la liberdad no es de otro parecer susteniendo que Irieneu y todos los padres griegos eran semi pelagianos. Puesto. Por Tixeront, Cayré y otros somos informados de que Enodio de Pavia, Juan Cassiano, Vicente de Lerins, Fausto de Riez y especialmente el diacono S Genadios de Marselle, dentre otros eram todos semi pelagianos. Grotius y Leibnitz en el siglo XVII descrebieran la iglesia griega como semi pelagiana. Ante esto se me presenta una question: Como podria Agustian ser acepto y acojido en un Oriente que si no era pelagiano era indudablemente semi pelagiano? Como conciliar sus doctrinas con las da Ortodoxia, de Origenes, Atanasio, Cirilo y otros padres que no cessan de afirmar la capacidad del hombre para conocer, juzgar, desear el bien y mismo para aderir a Cristo y colaborar activamente com la gracia?

    Por isso te pieço um posicionamiento faz el semi pelagianismo.

    Gracias a ud saludos de Brasil.

    Por el Ortodoxo semi pelagiano

    1. Thank you for your comment and greetings from the USA!

      My Spanish is poor. However, I believe I understand the gist of your argument. Namely, you believe that all the Fathers in the East would find Augustine heretical. I think this argument is extremely problematic.

      First, let’s examine the Alexandrian tradition. Origen outlines his own doctrine of Original Sin in his Commentary on Romans (see particularly Chapter 5). Athanasius clearly teaches that corruption (which includes a corruption of the will) and death – and the subsequent condemnation thereof – passes to all men and is only solved by baptism into Christ. I, personally, credit Athanasius with the idea of the Massa Damnata (though the Latin terminology Augustine uses comes from Abrosiaster). Cyril too, agrees with Augustine on this point. I spent some time in this very article on this topic. Please see further Dunn’s article. See also my upcoming article on Inherited Guilt in Augustine and Cyril. Augustine is best understood as the bridge between the Alexandrian and Latin traditions.

      Second, Augustine responds explicitly to the charge from Chrysostom in Against Julian I.6. He argues, in the first place, that Julian’s translation is slanted towards the Pelagian position. He does this by comparing the Greek with their own Latin translation (I.6.22). He then cites Chrysostom as saying: “When Adam sinned that great sin, and condemned all the human race in common, he paid the penalties in grief.” (I.6.24)

      Third, the case of Photius is an interesting one. He stridently defends Augustine from criticism (Bibliotheca 54). Yet, in another passage he responds to a treatise of Theodore of Mopsuestia against Jerome on Original Sin in a somewhat mixed way (Ibid 177). This passage is confusing; and is probably owed to Photius’ own confusion. He does not recognize, for instance, that Theodore is writing against Jerome. The first half of this chapter is often read as Photius’ opposition to Original Sin. But it is better understood as simply Photius’ summary of Theodore’s opposition. However, it is true that Photius does appear sympathetic to Theodore’s critique. This sympathy must be contextualized, however, with by the fact that Photius is only reading from Theodore’s perspective — not knowing that Theodore’s opponents are Jerome and Augustine. Further, Photius does offer a critique of Theodore; and this critique is precisely along the same lines as the council of Carthage and Augustine. That is to say, where Photius is confused he appears to support Theodore; but where he is not, he clearly supports Carthage. One should further note that where Photius finds confused agreement with Theodore (such as original sin passing by the concupiscence of sexual reproduction) he would also oppose his own beloved Maximus the Confessor and Damascene. That is to say, we should not take Photius’ obvious confusion to be a systematic stand against Augustinian theology; which he always defends when not confused.

      Fourth, further work has been done on the later so-called semi-Pelagian debates by Augustine Casiday demonstrating that their own so-called opposition to Augustine is largely overblown. The question of how to contextualize Fulgentius and his later reception in the West is a topic that needs further study.

      Fifth, I do think you have rightly identified that the strongest opposition to Original Sin does, in fact, come from the East Syrian tradition. Pelagius himself appears to have received his own theology from Rufinus the Syrian. And it is among the Syrians that we find theology most sympathetic to Pelagius. However, it is also clear that this is a point of dispute *within* the Syrian tradition. It is also clear that the East, particularly Constantinople, called several councils condemning Pelagianism. The anti-Augustinians in the East eventually left the Church with the Nestorians. What remained, including the notable figures of Maximus, Damascene, Photius, Symeon, Scholarius and Palamas are all pro-Augustinian and anti-Pelagian.

      Sixth, it is true that 20th century scholarship was very sympathetic to Pelagius and the semi-Pelagians. However, it is also true that the scholarship since has largely served to correct this in a more nuanced way.

  8. I suspect that neither Pelegius or Augustine were correct on Original Sin. No one in the early Church was more consistently wrong then Augustine.

    The Council of Orange condemned Pelegius but also condemned Double Predestination.

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