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Rejection of dual predestination (to hell and to heaven)

The Council of Orange is said to have repelled ‘semi-Pelagianism’ with ‘semi- Augustinianism’. The council’s concluding words reject extreme Augustinianism, such as the teaching that ‘any are foreordained to evil by the power of God’. It denies that human beings are God’s puppets, fated to good or evil, noting that ‘after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility ... to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance with regard to the salvation of their soul’ (Conclusion). Life is not, according to the Council of Orange, like a Coen Brothers movie.

THE LIMITS OF REASON 1: THE COUNCIL OF ORANGE 25

Setting limits to reason

With the widespread acceptance of Orange’s teaching as Christian dogma, it was off- limits to claim that we can give credence to the Christian ‘salvation story’ by thinking it through for ourselves. Orange does not deny that there is truth in philosophy or in non-Christian religion. It does deny that Christianity can be equated with such philosophies or religions. It claims in effect (though not in those words) that Christianity is uniquely a matter of ‘faith’ as a gift of God. Many religions claim to be based on a divine revelation. Even philosophers (like Socrates) have claimed some kind of inspiration or have created ‘sacred mythologies’ (as Plato did). Christianity claims that its own divine revelation is not transparent or self-illuminating; it is only by the power of God that God’s Word can be heard and seen by us. Christianity claims that there is no ‘assent’ to the divine teaching without grace, and that this grace is faith.

Orange’s dogmas set limits to what Christians can believe regarding what human reason is able to know about the saving God. In the future, as a consequence of these dogmas, rationalists from Abelard to Voltaire would be stigmatized by Christians not only as having an unreasonable confidence in the powers of reason but as Pelagian, that is, as people who reject Paul’s midrash of Gen. 3, Adam and Eve, the serpent and the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Study questions

  • 1. Look at the Decrees of the Council of Trent online and work out how they use the Council of Orange.
  • 2. View the Reformation Confessions online and explain how the Council of Orange influenced them.
  • 3. What is the difference between knowledge of God and saving knowledge of God?
  • 4. If we cannot have saving knowledge of God without supernatural faith, can we know by natural reason that God is three persons in one being?
  • 5. Is Christianity a religion or philosophy of life?
  • 6. Is it meaningful to talk about the five great ‘world faiths’ or ‘world religions’ (Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism)?
  • 7. What limits would you set on reason in terms of what we can know about Ultimate Truth?

Further reading

Augustine, Saint, Concerning the City of God against the Pagans, trans. Henry Bettenson (London: Penguin, 1972), pp. X-XI.

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31/07/14 6:18 PM

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