In the early church, some people rejected Augustine’s view of the will, sin, grace, and predestination. Teachers like John Cassianus (d. ca. 430) and Faustus of Riez (d. ca. 490) argued for for freedom of the will, the ability to reject God’s grace, and they disagreed with Augustine’s emphasis on predestination. This is usually referred to as Semi-Pelagianism; it was huge controversy in the 5th and 6th century Christian church. It also resurfaced in the later middle ages and was one factor that led to the Protestant Reformation. Luther and Calvin stood with Augustine and opposed the Semi-Pelagianism of the Roman Catholic Church.
But back to the early church. In 529 a synod (held in Orange, France) was called to deal with this controversy. Bengt Hagglund explains the Synod of Orange:
“The Synod of Orange, whose 25 canons were drawn for the most part from a collection of quotations from Augustine prepared by Prosper [of Aquitaine], sanctioned Augustine’s teaching of original sin. The synod agreed that as a result of original sin the entire man is changed for the worse, both in body and soul, and that the free will is not undamaged. Both sin and death have come to the entire human race through one man.”
“Furthermore, the anticipatory activity of grace was strongly emphasized: the very prayers in which we pray for grace are themselves stimulated by grace. By ourselves we are unable to take the first step to receive grace. God does not wait until man wills to be cleansed from sin; He rather works through the Spirit to implant this desire within us. Neither is the longing for wholeness, or the beginning of faith, or the feeling of faith something that is part of man by nature. When a man consents to the preaching of the Gospel, this must be attributed to the enlightenment and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Man is not good in himself; God must work all good within him. Even the regenerate must pray to God for help in order to persevere in doing good.”
“…Canon 22 of the Synod of Orange summarizes the content of the entire confession: ‘Of himself, no man is anything but lies and sins. If one does possess something of faith and righteousness, it comes from that fountain after which we ought to thirst in this desert, so that, sprinkled as it were, by some of its drops, we might not succumb on the way.’”
There’s more to it, of course, but suffice it to say the Synod of Orange was a very important assembly in the early church. You can read more about it in chapter 12 of Bengt Hagglund’s History of Theology.
rev shane lems