Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember the 2nd Council of Orange (529) and its far-reaching effect on the doctrines of Divine Grace.

It is the 3rd of July 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


Another summer day this summer of big names and big events- some repeats, but for the next few weeks (that’s as far as I’ve planned out), we are highlighting a few giant events, people, and ideas.

I’ll ask you two questions to introduce our momentous event today.

  1. If you were to find two Christians debating any particular bit of theology- with particular passion- what do you think they would be debating?
  2. When the early church needed to decide on difficult theological issues, what did they do?

We could debate answers for number one, but my guess would be some aspect of predestination/election, how salvation works… God bless those Christians who spent their time debating the two natures of Christ, but I’ve found questions about who “chooses first”; what about those “not chosen”? These tend to be the questions that elicit passion. 

How did the early church “do theology” when there were tricky questions? The answer: councils. Get everyone together and figure it out. Today, we bring these two things together as we remember the Council of Orange (technically the second) that opened on this, July 3rd, 529.

Two things: you say: I’ve not heard of this one, and I’ve heard of many church councils. This was not an ECUMENICAL council- those had to be called by a higher authority and have buy in from around the known world. This council was called in France as a particular theological debate was festering.

Second- the fruit (and color) you know as Orange didn’t come from the Far East to Europe until the late Medieval period, and thus, there is no connection to the soccer halftime treat.

The debate broke out over the doctrines of Pelagius versus Augustine on the primacy of grace.

Pelagius famously taught that sin was not passed down via our first parents and that humans will have the ability to live obedient lives worthy of salvation- grace might *help* us, but humans are basically good and capable of sinlessness.

OK- this was shot down, but what about his little brother, “semi”?

It was “semi” because it disagreed with the original, on original sin- there is a cooperation between God and humanity after humanity makes the first, unaided step towards God.

The Council of Orange would meet to discuss these ideas, spreading around the French countryside (where the city of Orange was), and 15 bishops came together to discuss these Pelagian ideas and those of his great opponent, Augustine of Hippo (that’s the regular Augustine).  

While not an ecumenical council, the decisions of the council would echo throughout the next centuries of theology in the West. The council affirmed the reality of original sin and its impact on body and soul. The crux of the matter was resolved with Canon 6 and its proclamation that  “it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith.” That is, you can’t claim grace as the result of human obedience.

This concept of “prevenient” grace has dominated even in those theological circles that tend to be associated with “human will.” Roger Olsen, an esteemed theologian and “Arminian” (one of those who stresses the human will), wrote: “Calvinists and Arminians agree, against Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism, that the sinner’s will is so depraved and bound to sin that it cannot respond positively to the gospel call without supernatural grace.”

“Prevenient grace”, the idea that however it works- God makes the first move- has been standard theology in the West for the coming 1500 years. Questions remain about the efficacy of the grace- (can it be rejected?) and the extent of the call (is it offered to everyone?). Augustine, who was quoted positively in this context, was not completely adopted- some of his stronger views, later associated with John Calvin and others, were not accepted at this council. 

These are still the likely candidates for late-night dorm conversations, but lest we make caricatures of others, the Council of Orange—529—reminds us that prevenient grace—God “moving first”—is a central and old tenet of Christianity.

The Second Council of Orange helped us settle this- a condemnation of Semi-Pelagianism and affirmation of the primacy of the grace of God- when it first convened on this day in 529.  


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and Mark 9- a remarkable exorcism and exercise of faith:

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer”


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of July 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who tells me there are no words that rhyme with “orange”- he is  Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who knows there is a mountain in Wales known as Blorenge and spores are made in a sac known as a sporange- I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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