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Pelagianism, also called Pelagian heresy, is the Christian theological position that the original sin did not taint human nature and mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special divine aid or assistance. This theological theory is named after the British monk Pelagius (c. AD 360 – 418), although he denied, at least at some point in his life, many of the doctrines associated with his name. Pelagius taught human will, as created with its abilities by God, was sufficient to live a sinless life, although he believed God's grace assisted every good work. Pelagianism has come to be identified with the view (whether taught by Pelagius or not) human beings can earn salvation by their own efforts.

History


According to Augustinian theologians, Pelagius rejected the Biblical concept of grace.[1] According to his opponents, Pelagius taught moral perfection was attainable in this life without the assistance of divine grace through human free will. Augustine contradicted this by saying perfection was impossible without grace because we are born sinners with a sinful heart and will. The Pelagians charged Augustine with departing from the accepted teaching (e.g.: John 8:11) of the Apostles and the Bible, demonstrating the doctrine of original sin amounted to Manichaeism, which taught that the flesh was in itself sinful (and thus denied Jesus came in the flesh). This charge would have carried added weight since contemporaries knew Augustine had himself been a Manichaean layman before converting to Christianity. Augustine also taught a person's salvation comes solely through a free gift, the efficacious grace of God, but this was a gift one had no free choice to accept or refuse.[2]

Pelagianism was attacked in 415 at the Council of Diospolis (also known as Lydda or Lod),[3] which found Pelagius to be orthodox.[4] But it was later condemned at the Council of Carthage (418)[5] and this condemnation was ratified at the Council of Ephesus in 431. The strict moral teachings of the Pelagians were influential in southern Italy, where they were openly preached until the death of Julian of Eclanum in 455; in Sicily, where the anonymous "Sicilian Briton" wrote; and in Britain until the coming of Saint Germanus of Auxerre c 429.[6] Despite repeated attempts to suppress Pelagianism and similar teachings by orthodox clergy, some followers of Pelagianism were still active in the Ostrogothic Kingdom (493–553), most notably in Picenum and Dalmatia during the rule of Theoderic the Great.[7]

In De causa Dei contra Pelagium et de virtute causarum, Thomas Bradwardine denounced Pelagianism in the 14th century, as did Gabriel Biel in the 15th century.[5]

Pelagius


Little is known about the life of Pelagius, and although he is frequently referred to as a British monk, his origins are by no means certain. ("Pelagius" is derived from the Greek "pelagikos", meaning of the sea.)[8] Augustine says that he lived in Rome "for a very long time" and referred to him as "Brito" to distinguish him from a different man called Pelagius of Tarentum. Bede refers to him as "Pelagius Bretto".[9] St. Jerome suggests he was of Scottish descent which at the time would most certainly have meant he was from Ireland, since in the time of Pelagius, "Scots" referred to the Irish because Scota (source of "Scottish" or "Irish" in the early Middle Ages) was one of their matronyms; the word Irish comes from the matronym Ériu.[10] Other sources place his origins in Brittany.[11] He was certainly well known in the Roman province, both for the harsh asceticism of his public life, as well as the power and persuasiveness of his speech. Augustine, a pillar of the Church, referred to him as "saintly" before their falling out and John Wesley said "he was both a wise and a holy man".[12]

Beliefs


The teachings of Pelagius are generally associated with the rejection of both original sin and infant baptism.[13] Although the writings of Pelagius are no longer extant, the eight canons of the Council of Carthage (418) provided corrections to the perceived errors of the early Pelagians. These corrections include:

Some codices containing a ninth canon:[15] Children dying without baptism do not go to a "middle place" (medius locus), since the non-reception of baptism excludes both from the "kingdom of heaven" and from "eternal life". Pelagianism stands in contrast to the official hamartiological system of the Catholic Church that is based on the theology of Saint Augustine of Hippo. Semipelagianism is a modified form of Pelagianism that was also condemned by the Catholic Church at the Council of Orange (529).

Of far-reaching influence upon the further progress of Pelagianism was the friendship which Pelagius developed in Rome with Caelestius, a lawyer of noble (probably Italian) descent. In the capacity of a lay-monk Caelestius endeavoured to convert the practical maxims learnt from Pelagius, into theoretical principles, which he then propagated in Rome.[16] The denial of the transmission of Original Sin seems to have been introduced into Pelagianism by Rufinus the Syrian, who influenced Pelagius' supporter Celestius.[17] Pelagius' views were sometimes misrepresented by his followers and distorted by his opponents. "Pelagianism has come to mean – unfairly to its founder – the view that human beings can earn salvation by their own efforts."[8]

Comparison of teaching


Pelagius was disturbed by the immorality he encountered in Rome and saw Christians using human frailty as an excuse for their failure to live a Christian life.[8] He taught that the human will, as created with its abilities by God, was sufficient to live a sinless life, although he believed that God's grace assisted every good work. Pelagius did not believe that all humanity was guilty in Adam's sin, but said that Adam had condemned mankind through bad example. The value of Christ's redemption was, in his opinion, limited mainly to instruction and example.[16]

Pelagius wrote:

A follower of Pelagius taught:

Many of the Church Fathers before Augustine taught that humans have the power of free will and the choice over good and evil.

  • Justin Martyr said that "every created being is so constituted as to be capable of vice and virtue. For he can do nothing praiseworthy, if he had not the power of turning either way".[24]
  • Theophilus (c.180) said, "If, on the other hand, he would turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he would himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with power of himself."
  • Irenaeus said, "But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff."
  • Clement of Alexandria (c.195) said, "We ... have believed and are saved by voluntary choice."

Jerome (d. 420) emerged as one of the chief critics of Pelagianism, because, according to him, sin was an unavoidable part of human nature.

Later responses


Thomas Bradwardine (c. 1290–1349) wrote De causa Dei contra Pelagium et de virtute causarum ad suos Mertonenses.[25] Johann Pupper, also known as Johannes von Goch (c. 1400–1475), an Augustinian, recommended a return to the text of the Bible as a remedy for Pelagianism.[26]

Pelagianism became a common accusation during the Protestant Reformation; Reformers often used the epithet to critique what they saw as late-medieval Catholicism's undue emphasis on doing good works. Martin Luther (1483–1546), John Calvin (1509–1564), and Cornelius Jansen (1585–1638) reacted in different ways against Pelagianism, and evaluations of Lutheran, Reformed, and Jansenist theologies have often turned on the question of what is or is not Pelagian.[27]

In the book Guardare Cristo: Esercizi di fede, speranza e carità (Looking at Christ: Exercises of faith, hope and charity),[28] Pope Benedict XVI wrote:

In a June 2013 talk with the leadership of the Religious Confederation of Latin America and the Caribbean (CLAR), Pope Francis alluded to Pelagian tendencies when he referred to "restorationists", one group of whom sent him after his election 3,525 rosaries. The pope said he was "bothered" by this need to count prayers and labeled it "pelagianism." He went on to comment: "these groups return to practices and disciplines I lived – not you, none of you are old – to things that were lived in that moment, but not now, they aren't today ..."[30] The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith subsequently emphasised "neo-Pelagianism" in a letter of February 2018 titled Placuit Deo, stating, "A new form of Pelagianism is spreading in our days, one in which the individual, understood to be radically autonomous, presumes to save oneself, without recognizing that, at the deepest level of being, he or she derives from God and from others."[31]

The second Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints states that "We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression." The Book of Mormon states that the "original sin" allowed humanity to progress in the Plan of Salvation.[32]

Mormon philosopher Sterling M. McMurrin, argued that "[t]he theology of Mormonism is completely Pelagian."[33] Mormon theology teaches that the Atonement of Jesus Christ has overcome the effects of "original sin" for all mankind. For example, the Book of Mormon, a sacred text for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, teaches: "[T]he Messiah cometh in the fullness of time, that he might redeem the children of men from the fall. And because they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good and evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at that great and last day, according to the commandments which God has given."[34] It also teaches: "there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah".[35] Pelagianism is not the official stance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[36][37]

See also


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