Anathemas of the Church Against Those Who Deny Original Sin and the Need of Grace

The following Anathemas, contained in the Book of Canons of the Orthodox Church, i.e. the Pedalion [Rudder], are binding upon all Orthodox Christians. No one may deny or dispute these without falling under condemnation [anathema].  The interpretations of St. Nikodemus of the Holy Mountain are provided as context to the anathema. These anathemas much contradict the renovationist heretics who attack the Orthodox doctrine of Original Sin, especially those who attack St. Augustine of Hippo, thus placing themselves like the other heretics, under the dreadful anathema of the Church. Patriarch Gennadius Scholarius of Constantinople, the disciple of St. Mark of Ephesus, with other holy men, declared: “If anyone does not believe and call Augustine saint and blessed, he is anathema.”


It it far past time that hierarchs rise up and either uphold, or re-affirm the anathematizations and condemnations against those who reject St. Augustine and the teaching of the Church on original sin. Hierarchs and Synods must anathematize those modern heretics of the modernist-renovationist movement, who have insinuated themselves into certain Greek [and even Russian] professing True Orthodox jurisdictions; those men who ‘professing themselves to be wise, became fools.’ However, will there be any Synods that do this? Or do they rather fear some ‘schism’?  It is better to have heretics expelled from the Church than to have them stay and continue their poison.  What use is it to condemn Ecumenist heresy, but to fall prey to Pelagianistic heresies? Both separate one from God.


Anathemas from the Universally Approved Local Council of Carthage in 418/19 [Found in the Book of Canons of the universal Orthodox Church, i.e. Pedalion, or Rudder]:

Canon 120. It has pleased the Council to decree that whoever calls Adam, the first man created, a mortal man so made that whether he sin or not he is bound to die in the body, that is, to depart from the body, not owing to his deserving this fate by reason of the sin, but because of a necessity inherent in his nature, let him be anathema.

Interpretation by St. Nikodemus

The present Canon overthrows the heresy of Pelagius, and of his disciple Celestius. For these men (as divine Augustine bears witness in his discourse concerning original sin, chapters 5 and 6), be it noted, were condemned because they believed and held that original sin is not begotten together with the human being, and that it is a mistake, not of his nature, but of his will, and consequently from this they concluded that even Adam died this physical death, not on account of his sin, which was done as a matter of choice, but owing to a necessity inherent in his nature, which was built to be mortal from the very beginning, and was bound to die whether Adam, sinned or did not sin by choice. Hence the present Council, in overthrowing this heretical view, anathematizes those persons who make this assertion For, if Adam actually were mortal by necessity of his nature, then: First’ God, who built it to be so, would have to be also the creator and cause of death. But God did not create death, according to Scripture. Secondly, that flesh which Adam had before the transgression ought not to have been any different from our own, but, on the contrary, would have had to be, like ours, gross and mortal and antitypal; seeing that we too who have been born after that transgression are in accordance with the same necessity of nature mortal, and at all events are destined to die. (Book of Wisdom, 1:13). But St. Gregory the Theologian (in his sermon on the birth of Christ) insists that this gross and antitypal flesh which we ha\e now is such as Adam had only after the transgression, and not before it. And thirdly, if death came from nature, how is it that St. Paul says that “through sin death entered the world” (Rom. 5:12); and Solomon says that “it was by the devil’s envy that death entered the world” (Wisdom 2:24)? So, according to this Canon, God created man not mortal by natural necessity, but by nature immortal. And since it is characteristic of whatever is good not to force anyone to be good, therefore and on this account He created man free and independent with respect to his soul, in order that he might be induced to be good as a matter of choice and remain good, not by the exercise of force and violence, but by virtue of self-mastery and voluntarily; and by thus remaining good, that he might thenceforth maintain also the natural immortality of the body. But inasmuch he himself of his own accord was moved to evil by willful choice and preference, he no longer had the power, or ability, to keep the body in its natural immortality in which it was built; hence there ensued the death of this body. And, to speak more clearly with the great Gregory of Thessalonica, since the superior and higher part of man, the soul, became separated through sin and transgression from the real life, which is the grace of God, and fell into the real death, which is wickedness; therefore and on this account the lower and inferior part, or, more expressly speaking, the body, became separated from the life according to nature, and fell into the death contrary to nature. And just as the soul, being by nature, subject to God, failed to subject itself to Him, so and in like manner the body, subject by nature to the soul, evaded subjection to it with the disorders of its senses, pf its passions, and lastly with its decomposition into the elements of which it was composed, which dissolution is death. In agreement with the present Canon the following seven Canons of the present Council overthrow the heresy of Pelagius and Celestius: these are cc. CXXI, CXXII, CXXIII, CXXIV, CXXV, CXXVI, and CXXVII.


Canon 121. It has pleased the Council to decree that whosoever denies the little ones newly born from the wombs of their mothers when they are being baptized, or asserts that they are baptized for the remission of sins, but that they have inherited no original sin from Adam obliging them to be purified in the bath of renaissance (whence it follows that in these persons the form of baptism for the remission of sins is not true, but is to be regarded as factitious), let him be anathema; for no other meaning ought to be attached to what the Apostle has said, viz., “Sin entered the world through one human being” (Rom. 5:12), and thus it passed over into all human beings; wherefore all of them have sinned, than that which the catholic Church diffused and spread abroad every-where has ever understood those words to mean. For it is on account of this Canon of the faith that even the little ones too, who are as yet incapable of committing if any sin of their own to render them guilty of any offense, are truly baptized for the remission of sins, in order that what sin they inherited from the primordial birth may be purified in them through the process of renaissance.

Interpretation by St. Nikodemus

This view too was a product of the heretical insanity of the Pelagians: this refers to their saying that newly begotten infants are not baptized for the remission of sins, as the Orthodox Church believes and maintains, but, instead, if anyone say that they are baptized for the remission of sins, yet the infants themselves have not incurred any taint from the original (or primordial) sin of Adam, such as to require to be removed by means of baptism (since, as we have said, those men believed that this original sin is not begotten with the human being, simply because this was not any offense of nature, but a mischoice of the free and independent will). So the Council in the present Canon anathematizes the heretics who say this: First, because the form of the baptism for the remission of sins which is given to infants is not true according to them, but false and factitious, since, according to them, those infants have no sins to be pardoned. Secondly, because the Apostle in what he says makes it plain that sin entered the world through a single human being, namely, Adam, and that death entered through sin, and thus death passed into all human beings, since all of them have sinned just like Adam. This passage, I say, cannot be taken to mean anything else than what the catholic Church of the Orthodox has understood and believed it to mean, to wit, that even the newborn infants, notwithstanding the fact that they have not sinned by reason of any exercise of their own free and independent will, have nevertheless entailed upon themselves the original sin from Adam; wherefore they need to be purified through baptism necessarily from that sin: hence they are truly, and not fictitiously, being baptized for the remission of sins.


Canon 122. It has pleased the Council to decree that whosoever should declare that the grace whereby we are justified through Jesus Christ our Lord to be effective only for the remission of sins already perpetrated, and not to afford help by way of preventing perpetration of other sins in addition thereto, let him be anathema.

Interpretation by St. Nikodemus

The Pelagians expressed their heretical views in three propositions. The first proposition was to the effect that by employing only his natural powers and abilities a human being could keep the whole law and be justified, and could persist in righteousness, and enjoy life everlasting. Another proposition was to the effect that a human being does not need any inner or internal grace of God to incite him to do right, or to help him, or to justify him, but that, on the contrary, all he needs for his salvation is self-mastery, the law, training and teaching, and example. And the third proposition was to the effect that although grace is given by God yet it is given for the value of self-mastery. Hence upon this second proposition of theirs depends also this feature which the present Canon decrees, to wit, that the grace of God, which through Jesus Christ justifies a human being in baptism, graciously affords a remission only of previous sins, but not also to help keep one from sinning another time; wherefore it anathematizes all those persons too who say this. For the catholic Church believes wholly the opposite contrary, namely, that the grace bestowed through Jesus Christ in baptism affords both remission of previous sins and power and help to prevent us from further sinning, provided we ourselves do not yield ourselves to sins as a result of negligence. That is why David says: “O God, attend to my help. Ο Lord, hasten to aid me” (Ps. 70:1); and “My help cometh from the Lord” (Ps. 121:2), etc. St. Paul also says along the same line: “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities; … the Spirit itself intercedeth in our behalf” (Rom. 8:26). And countless other passages along the same line are to be found in the divine Scriptures.


Canon 123. It has pleased the Council to decree that whosoever should say, with reference to the same grace of God given through our Lord Jesus Christ, that it helps us only to keep from sinning in this respect that the knowledge and cognoscence of sins is revealed to us through it, and enables us to know what to seek after and what to shun, though it does not afford us further help whereby to discern what we ought to do, nor does it further cause us to love and to have the strength to do it, let him be anathema. For in view of the fact that the Apostle says “knowledge puffeth up, whereas love edifieth” (I Cor. 8:1), it is utterly impious to believe that we have the grace of Christ for the purpose of puffing ourselves up, but have it not for the purpose of edifying ourselves, when, as a matter of fact, both are free gifts of God, that of knowing what we must do and that of loving what we must do, in order’that thanks to the edifying power of love knowledge be unable to puff us up, precisely as has been written out of God: “He that teacheth man knowledge” (Ps. 94:10). Thus too it is further written: “Love is of God” (I John 4:7).

Interpretation by St. Nikodemus

In the present Canon too the Council anathematizes the Pelagians and Celestians, who used to assert that the grace of God helps us only in this respect to keep from sinning in that it enables us to know what we ought to seek and do, or, in other words, what things are good and right, and what things we ought to shun, or, in other words what things are bad and evil; and not that it graciously bestows upon us also the inclination to love and the strength to do those things which are good and right, as we well know that they are. For both gifts are equally and alike gifts of God, both the knowledge and the love. For as concerning the knowledge David says: “He that teacheth man knowledge” (I.e.), while as concerning love the beloved disciple says: “Love is of God” (I.e.). But in another way too it is impious for us to believe that the grace of God bestows upon us knowledge, which by itself, as St. Paul says, puffeth up, or, in other words, causes presumptuousness; but does not also bestow upon us love, which edifieth and strengtheneth us so as to enable us to do what is good. In sum, just as knowing what we ought to do is a free gift bestowed by divine grace, so and likewise is loving what we ought to do. The knowledge, though, is indeed attributed to the mind, while the love is attributed to the will, the two chief and main faculties, or powers, of the soul.


Canon 124. It has further pleased the Council to decree that whosoever should say that the reason why the grace of righteousness has been bestowed upon us is in order that we might through self-mastery be able the more easily and readily to fulfill it through grace, as though indicating that even if the grace had not been given we should still have been able, howbeit not easily and readily, to fulfill the divine commandments without its aid, let him be anathema. For when the Lord was speaking about the fruits of the commandments, He did not say, “Without me ye will have difficulty in doing anything” (cf. John 15:5).

Interpretation by St. Nikodemus

This Canon too anathematizes the Pelagians and Celestians for saying that simply because God made us masters of ourselves in respect of being free to do as we please we can execute the commandments even without the aid of divine grace, though not easily, but with difficulty, whereas through the aid afforded by divine grace we are enabled to carry these out more easily, since even the Lord, in speaking about the divine commandments, did not say, “Without me ye can do these only with difficulty,” but, instead, He simply said, “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5) Neither with ease nor with difficulty, that is to say, so that everything depends upon divine grace, and without the latter we can accomplish nothing.


 Canon 125. It has pleased the Council to decree, what St. John the Apostle said: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8), that whosoever shall deem that this thought is to be interpretated as meaning that we ought out of humility to refrain from saying that we have no sin, not that it is truly so, shall be anathema. For the Apostle goes on to say in anticipation of such a misinterpretation: “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (ibid., 1:9). Where it is made quite plain that this was said not only out of humility, but furthermore truthfully. For the Apostle might have said, “if we say that we have no sin, we are exalting ourselves, and there is no humility in us;” but by saying “We are deceiving ourselves, and there is no truth in us,” he quite evidently pointed out that anyone asserting that he himself has no sin is not telling the truth, but, on the contrary, is lying.

Interpretation by St. Nikodemus

Inasmuch as the dogmas of the Pelagians agreed in a way with those of the Massalians, in that both the former and the latter placed the beginning of salvation, not primarily in divine grace, but in human power; consequently, since the Massalians too believed wrongly that when the Holy Spirit comes to a human being sensibly and visibly, it frees him from the passions and he no longer needs to engage in fastings or other struggles dear to God, the Pelagians perhaps, entertaining such views as these, were wont to say that what St. John asserted, viz., that if perchance we say that we have no sin, we are deluding ourselves, and are not telling the truth, could not truthfully be said saints (in that the latter, that is to say, having been freed from the passions by the Holy Spirit, thereafter had no sins, nor could commit any), but could be said only out of humility, or on account of humble-mindedness. Hence the present Canon anathematizes those who affirm this heretical view of the passage in question, on the ground that they are misinterpreting it. For the same Apostle John says subsequently that if we confess our sins, the Lord is faithful and just, and will pardon our sins, and will cleanse us from every unrighteousness. From which words it becomes manifest that it was not on account of humility, but as a matter of truthfulness that the saint made the above assertion, since the Apostle could have said, “if we say that we have no sin, we are proud, and there is no humility in us.” Hence, by not saying this, he is pointing out that anyone who says that he has no sin, is not telling the truth, but, on the contrary, is lying.


Canon 126. It has pleased the Council to decree that whosoever should declare that in the Lord’s prayer the reason why saints say “forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12) is not that they are saying this in their own behalf, since this petition is no longer necessary to them, but in behalf of others, of those sinners who are among their people; and that each one of them does not say personally, “forgive me my debts,” but, instead, says (vicariously), “forgive us our debts” (Luke 11:4), on the ground that he is to be understood as petitioning the Righteous One in behalf of others, rather than in behalf of himself, let him be anathema, for James the Apostle was a saint and a righteous and just man when he said: “For in many things we all sin” (James 3:2, as translated in this Canon). Since, why is it that the word “all” is added? unless it be, in order that the meaning be in keeping with that of the psalm where it is written: “And enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified” (Ps. 143:2). And in the prayer of most wise Solomon: “There is no human being that has not sinned” (I Kings 8:46). And in the book of St. Job the words: “He stampeth in the hand of every man; in order that every man may know his own weakness” (Job 37:3). Hence, furthermore, the saint and righteous man Daniel the Prophet, speaking in the plural number, says the following words: “We have sinned; we have committed iniquity” (Dan. 9:5), and the rest of what he there humbly and truthfully confesses, in order not to have it thought, as some persons understand it, that he was speaking not about his own sins, but rather about those of his people. After this passage he said: “I was praying, and was confessing my sins and the sins of my people to the Lord my God” (ibid., 9:20) He did not want to say, “our sins,” but, on the contrary, expressly said that they were sins of his own and of his people, since it would seem that the Prophet could foresee that they were going to understand it wrongly.

Interpretation by St. Nikodemus

This Canon too discusses insanities of the Pelagians like the ones above. For it anathematizes them for saying that when saints recite the Lord’s prayer, they themselves do not say the words “Forgive us our sins,” since they do not need to make any such request, as being passionless and sinless, but they say them for the sins of others. For even St. James the Brother of God says: “All of us commit many offenses.” And David says: “Enter not, Ο Lord, into judgment with me thy servant, because no man living can appear righteous in thine eyes.” Solomon, too, in the prayer which he made to God after building the Temple said,: “There is no man in the world who has not sinned.” And Job: “He stampeth a seal in the hands of every human being in order that every human being may know his own weakness.” Moreover, the prophet Daniel in praying said first in the plural number, “We have sinned; we have committed iniquities;” and afterwards he adds in the singular number: “I was confessing my sins and the sins of my people.” And he said this thus clearly in order to prevent anyone from thinking that he was referring to the sins of his people, and not to his own sins, prophetically stopping the mouths of men who would wrongly insist that that was what he meant.


Canon 127.  It has pleased the Council to decree that any persons whatsoever that would have it that the words in the Lord’s prayer “Forgive us our debts,” which we are wont to say, are said by saints because of their humility, and not truthfully, let them be anathema. For who could bear to hear anyone praying, not to men, but to the Lord Himself, lyingly one asking only with his lips to be forgiven sins which he is not conscious of having committed?

Interpretation by St. Nikodemus

This Canon too anathematizes the Pelagians for saying that the saints do not say in accordance with the truth, “Forgive us our debts,” since they have no sins and debts, but only out of humility and modesty. For who, it says, can bear to hear persons supposed to be saints saying this lyingly not to men, but to God, and with their lips asking forgiveness for their sins, but with their heart considering that they have no sins? For this would be deemed to be trifling with God, and not praying, which in regard to saints it would be absurd even to think of.