“Christic” Grace in Augustine’s Christology

“If Adam had been created upright (rectus ) and without defects (sine ullo uitio ), how could he possibly lack the gift of final perseverance? Augustine responds by saying that Adam was not lacking in this respect, but that he lost that gift when he fell from the state of grace in which God has created him. Moreover, the real difficulty arises as the logical consequence of the first statement, viz. : if Adam was perfect, how could he, in fact, lose his perfection, and sin against God?

Ogliari, Gratia et Certamen: The Relationship between Grace and Free Will in the Discussion of Augustine with the so-called Semi-Pelagians, Leuven, 2003.

“Analogously [to the angels], the first man, had he so willed could have remained in his original state of uprightness (rectitude) and bliss (beatitudo) without any defects or faults. Had he stood firm using his free will in accordance with God’s plan, instead of abusing the gift God had given, he too would have received, like the angels who did not rebel against God, eternal, perfect bliss and happiness of resting in God’s beneficent regard. Having freely abandoned God, Adam was condemned to be abandoned by God, together with his heirs who share in his sin.”

Ogliari, 78.

“Since the time of Adam’s fall and condemnation in which all men became obstricti, only Christ’s redemptive and gratuitous death is able to save those predestined, through God’s design, for salvation.  This redemptive grace is great but at the same time different (magna, sed dis parem) from the gratia laeta …Mankind then requires not so much a laetior gratia as a potentior gratia, a more powerful grace than that given to Adam, namely the grace that comes only from the incarnate Son of God, Christ the Savior, through whom human beings are enabled to overcome the sinful desires of the flesh…the grace accorded to Adam was ultimately dependent on his own free will which having been perfectly created, was able to decide whether to remain in perfection and persevere in justice of abandon it. The grace accorded to Adam’s heirs through Christ, instead is more powerful (plus potest), not only because it gives man the possibility of doing good and persevering in it, but above all because it makes him desirous of that same good.”

Ogliari, 80.

“In Augustine’s eyes, divine grace is ‘one’, even though it operates on different levels (or regimes, temps), and is per se efficacious at any stage. Adam was left completely free in his decision for good or evil, and yet could not have desired and chosen good, nor persevered in it, except under the sovereign influence of God’s bountiful grace.  On the other hand, the internal action exercised by Christ’s grace on Adam’s descendants, an action which has to be sought ‘plus loin,-et plus bas’, possesses the prodigious feature of providing fallen human nature with the capability of following righteousness in an unquestionable and unfailing manner. This does not mean that the human being remains passive before grace, but certainly, de facto, he remains a secondary co-operator, subordinate and subservient to the agency of grace…In other words, if primordial operative grace did preserve intact the human (and angelic) ability to obey or disobey the will of God, in Adam’s heirs, this ability would seem to be overshadowed from the beginning by the ‘Christic’ grace, the direct cause of mankind’s desire for good and of its perseverance in it.”

Ogliari, 81-82

“The propensity for sin, or ‘metaphysical weakness’ (which does not entail any necessity for Adam to sin, but rather his ability to choose evil over good and virtue) was caused by the fact that, like all creatures, he was originally created ex nihilo.

Ogliari, 83

“There are two examples, above all, which illustrate the mystery of predestination: one is the case of infants and the other Christ the mediator. In both cases, merits play no part: they play no part in the case of baptized infants set apart through no merits of their own (nor in the case of unbaptized infants who are condemned at death, though obviously not because of demerit or actual sins).  Neither does it play a part in the case of Christ, who being simultaneously God and man, could not be regarded as Mediator and Savior of humanity simply on account of his possible merits.”

Ogliari, 162.

“In considering the most illustrious instance of predestination and grace (praeclarissimum lumen praedestinationis et gratiae), Christ the Savior, the bishop of Hippo states that it is obviously not because of any precedent merits that his human nature obtained the privilege of being assumed into the oneness of person by the Logos, the Word co-eternal with the Father.  The man born of the virgin had been predestined from all eternity by an absolutely gratuitous divine decree to be assumed by the Son of God from the very first moment of his existence. And it was precisely because divinity made the human nature of Jesus Christ (which was the same as ours) its own, that such nature received a perfect and unchangeable sanctity, a sanctity that has become the sources and paradigm of human sanctity ever since. Furthermore, Augustine continues, the fact that the humanity of Jesus Christ, the head of the body, was predestined to be taken up in the hypostatic union with the logos is clearly witnessed by Paul (cf. Rom 1, 1-4). And if Christ was gratuitously predestined to be our head, so we too are predestined to be his members without having to gain positions by means of our own merits.

Ogliari, 166.

“The actual meaning given by Paul to Rom 1,1-4 was not the same as that given by Augustine. The Apostle meant that Christ, the offspring of David according to the flesh, had been constituted according to the Spirit of holiness in the power of Sonship of God thanks to his resurrection from the dead. ‘Constituted’ is the most probable and accepted meaning of the Greek aorist όρισθεντος (= to mark out, to delimit as a boundary [ορος], to constitute), a term which in the Latin text used by Augustine has been translated with  praedestinatus.  Thus Paul does not speak of the man Jesus being predestined to become the Son of God by virtue of the assumption of his humanity by the Son of God himself.”

Ogliari, 166, Ftnt. 343

“Such grace, Augustine continues, is bestowed on men through Christ, the Adam nouissimus, in whom we are chosen and predestined to become members of his body, the Church, and to form, together with him as head, the Christus totus.  Since Christ was predestined never to depart from God, so we, the members of his body, are predestined to remain in God (permanents cum Deo) and persevere in him.”

Ogliari, 171.

“For Augustine only the first Adam’s sinless nature can properly be called ‘human nature’. As we have seen, at the end of his life he categorically reaffirmed that, when referring to Adam’s heirs, the expression was only employed as a metaphor.” [Retractationes 1, 10, 3]

 Ogliari, 406.


  1. “The man born of the virgin had been predestined from all eternity by an absolutely gratuitous divine decree to be assumed by the Son of God from the very first moment of his existence.”

    Had Augustine expressed nestorianlike ideas?


  2. The very same phrase distressed me as well. I thought it so out of line that I must have been misreading it.

    Then I read the last quote….

    “For Augustine only the first Adam’s sinless nature can properly be called ‘human nature’. As we have seen, at the end of his life he categorically reaffirmed that, when referring to Adam’s heirs, the expression was only employed as a metaphor.”

    ….. as expressing not that human nature was redeemed, but replaced. Did I misread this?

    The condemnation of unbaptized infants is a recurring theme in Augustine’s writings. Is there anything similar in any of the Eastern Fathers?


  3. ioannis,

    No, you did not misread. Since Augustine was not able to take part in Ephesus I don’t think he intended his Christology to be Nestorian. That said, his predestinarian views tend to produce a Nestorianizing christology or an Adoptionistic one.

    I posted the remarks to make clear the relationship between certain glosses of predestination and Christology. I do not think that one can consistently maintain both together.

    Another thing to note is the other case that Augustine takes as a prime example of monergism, namely baptismal regeneration. I don’t think it is so since baptism conveys two gifts, one according to nature and the other according to and activated by the person.


  4. Perry Robinson,

    You wrote “Another thing to note….two gifts, one according to nature and the other according to and activated by the person”

    When you say “according to nature” you mean the nature of Holy Spirit or man’s nature?


  5. Perry, while I suspect you are right about the (lack of) connection between baptismal regeneration and monergism, at least one council makes such a connection. From Orange:

    “If anyone maintains that some are able to come to the grace of baptism by mercy but others through free will, which has manifestly been corrupted in all those who have been born after the transgression of the first man, it is proof that he has no place in the true faith.” — Canon 8

    “The freedom of will that was destroyed in the first man can be restored only by the grace of baptism, for what is lost can be returned only by the one who was able to give it.” — Canon 13

    “And we know and also believe that even after the coming of our Lord this grace is not to be found in the free will of all who desire to be baptized, but is bestowed by the kindness of Christ … According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. … We also believe and confess to our benefit that in every good work it is not we who take the initiative and are then assisted through the mercy of God, but God himself first inspires in us both faith in him and love for him without any previous good works of our own that deserve reward, so that we may both faithfully seek the sacrament of baptism, and after baptism be able by his help to do what is pleasing to him. We must therefore most evidently believe that the praiseworthy faith of the thief whom the Lord called to his home in paradise, and of Cornelius the centurion, to whom the angel of the Lord was sent, and of Zacchaeus, who was worthy to receive the Lord himself, was not a natural endowment but a gift of God’s kindness.” — Conclusio

    While certainly this is a local council, I’m not convinced that we can merely discard its canons. Perhaps Bradshaw’s work on the synergy of grace/will qua primus actus can help clarify this. Any thoughts on Orange?


  6. Perry Robinson,

    Would you care to tell me how do you mean those gifts which are according to human nature? Why is it wrong to say that all gifts bestowed upon a certain man through baptism are only according to person?

    Could you also tell me which exactly is Augustine’s position on that? Did he believe that all gifts are exclusively according to nature and, if yes, what does that mean?


  7. ioannis,

    If they were all according to person, then the person’s will would be trumped and grace would overide nature.

    Augustine held that the initial state of regeneration was caused by God apart from and prior to any human activity. That divine action freed up the human will and empowered it to respond rightly in faith. Augustine then takes regeneration to be such that to regenerate the nature implies a regeneration of the person and vice versa. This I take to betray something of a confusion between person and nature in his theology.

    I take them to be according to nature as referenced by Palamas and Diadochus. “And St. Diadochus says ‘Divine grace confers on us two gift through the baptism of regeneration, one being infinitely superior to the other. The first is given to us at once, when grace renews us in the actul waters of baptism and cleanses all the lineaments of our soul, that is, the image of God in us, by washing away every stain of sin. The second-our likeness to God-requires our co-operation.'” Treatise on the Spiritual Life, p. 92.


  8. Nathaniel,

    A couple of things to note. Orange doesn’t follow everything Augustine taught. Second with canon 8 it depends on what we mean by “free will” in the context of the Pelagian and “semi-Pelagian” controversy. Does it mean free activity apart from grace? If not, what kind of aid does it rule out?

    As to canon 13 the question is what does the canon mean by “free will” that pre-lapsarian Adam possessed? And what does it mean by “destroyed?” Does it mean totally annihilated so that there is no will at all, or no freedom at all or no full freedom?

    As for the conclusion, again the question is does a synergistic model entail a denial of the primacy of grace? I don’t think so.


  9. I agree that Orange doesn’t follow Augustine wholly. However, I still think this phrase is problematic for a pre-baptismal synergistic view: “According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul.”

    In essence, this states that synergy (“with the aid and cooperation of Christ”) is enabled by baptism. I see two possible readings here. The first is pre-baptismal monergism. The second is pre-baptismal synergism. In the first case it would imply a total inability to cooperate with Christ before baptism. In the second case, it implies that after baptism cooperation with Christ is either natural (according to nature) or at the least made significantly easier (through the imparting of the Holy Spirit?). I suspect the first of these is problematic.

    Of course grace is ontologically primary in both monergism and synergism. In monergism it is also temporally primary by necessity. Bradshaw argues that while grace is ontologically primary, it is temporally the same act (when in concert). I haven’t read enough St Maximus to know how this squares with him.

    In any case, I find it somewhat comforting that Orange rules out a strict monergism explicitly.


  10. Here’s my thinking thus far: If human nature is graced with virtue to begin with, then when an unbaptized person is virtuous, it is according to humanly graced nature, actualized by the person. Though with infants, I think it is easier for them before they develop sinful habits or are caused to stumble. With the splitting of our faculties at the fall, everyone has to overcome temptations and train their gnomic wills.

    In baptism one enters into the body of Christ, whose humanity we share, or vice versa. One may do the same virtuous things, but it is with Christ and thus better. Baptized infants are in the body of Christ. St. Gregory Nanzianzus’ quote above is interesting regarding unbaptized infants. I wonder if their not being baptized can be overcome by the tears and prayers of their parents. Also, I’ve heard that after Christ, we die because He died, not so much because of sin anymore. In that case, all who die are sort of baptized into His death, and I think there is a cleansing that occurs to all upon death. Where that puts the unbaptized on judgment day, much less those who don’t choose to live according to their baptism on this earth, I’ll leave to God’s mercy.


  11. Regarding an unbaptized person’s will to be baptized, I wonder if that can be according to human nature too. It is natural to want to be joined with our Creator. I suppose that this is grace because God made us to want to bond with our parents. I think those who avoid it go against their nature through fear, temptation in other directions and lies from the devil. Does it take extra grace given to some and not others for them to be able to choose to enter into Christ through His Church? That gets a little too dangerously close to Calvinism for me.


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