Are human beings saved by grace or by works? Must we seek God, or does God come after us? Are some predestined to damnation or are all free to embrace salvation? Such questions that still divide Christians today embroiled St. Prosper of Aquitaine in lifelong controversies on the issue of grace versus freedom of the will.
We first meet Prosper Tiro around 425 as a participant in the Semi-Pelagian controversy that rocked the church in southern France. Semi-Pelagians minimized the role of grace in the first steps of becoming a Christian. John Cassian and others vigorously opposed Augustine’s strict views that special grace was required for salvation and thus many were predestined to damnation. Prosper, a monk and lay theologian, championed Augustine. And in 428, a letter from Prosper prompted Augustine to write a major book on predestination.
In 431, Prosper went to Rome and obtained a letter from Pope Celestine I that affirmed Augustine and his views, and urged the French bishops to quell the dispute peacefully. But it raged on. For several more years Prosper wrote extensively, defending and popularizing Augustine’s teaching.
In his book The Call to All Nations, Prosper seems to have mellowed somewhat, allowing that God mercifully made the grace of salvation available to all human beings. In the following excerpt Prosper describes the interplay of grace and free will:
When the word of God enters the ears through the ministry of preachers, the action of the divine power fuses with the sound of the human voice. The soul passes from one will to another will. Although the will that is driven out lingers on for a while, the newborn will claims for itself all that is better in human beings. Thus the law of sin and the law of God do not dwell in the same way and together in the same person. Then the tempter tries to ambush a person through external things, but the mind strong with God’s help prevails. For there are occasions for struggle, and these greatly benefit the faithful. Their weakness is buffeted so that their holiness may not yield to pride. All good things, especially those conducive to eternal life, are obtained, increased and preserved through God’s favor.
Prosper spent the last part of his life in Rome where he served as secretary to Pope St. Leo the Great. During that time he wrote the Chronicle, a universal history from Adam’s fall to the Vandal’s conquest of Rome in 455. He died in Rome around 465.