Pelagianism

Last updated

Pelagianism, also called the Pelagian heresy, is the Christian theological position that the original sin did not taint human nature and that 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) that human beings can earn salvation by their own efforts.

Contents

History

Pelagius Hereticus and John Chrysostom depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493 Nuremberg chronicles f 135r 2.jpg
Pelagius Hereticus and John Chrysostom depicted in the Nuremberg Chronicle , 1493

According to Augustinian theologians, Pelagius rejected the biblical concept of grace [1] , and taught that moral perfection was attainable in this life through human free will without the assistance of divine grace. 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]

An attack on Pelagianism was brought forward in 415 at the Council of Diospolis (also known as Lydda or Lod), [3] which then 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 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 errors of the early Pelagians. [14] These corrections include:

  1. Death did not come to Adam from a physical necessity, but through sin.
  2. New-born children must be baptized on account of original sin.
  3. Justifying grace not only avails for the forgiveness of past sins, but also gives assistance for the avoidance of future sins.
  4. The grace of Christ not only discloses the knowledge of God's commandments, but also imparts strength to will and execute them.
  5. Without God's grace it is not merely more difficult, but absolutely impossible to perform good works.
  6. Not out of humility, but in truth must we confess ourselves to be sinners.
  7. The saints refer the petition of the Our Father, "Forgive us our trespasses", not only to others, but also to themselves.
  8. The saints pronounce the same supplication not from mere humility, but from truthfulness. [15]

Some codices containing a ninth canon: [16] 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. [13] 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's views on free will

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. [13]

Pelagius wrote:

Whenever I have to speak on the subject of moral instruction and conduct of a holy life, it is my practice first to demonstrate the power and quality of human nature and to show what it is capable of achieving, and then to go on to encourage the mind of my listener to consider the idea of different kinds of virtues, in case it may be of little or no profit to him to be summoned to pursue ends which he has perhaps assumed hitherto to be beyond his reach; for we can never end upon the path of virtue unless we have hope as our guide and compassion.

Rees, pp. 36-37

It was because God wished to bestow on the rational creature the gift of doing good of his own free will and the capacity to exercise free choice, by implanting in man the possibility of choosing either alternative.  ... He could not claim to possess the good of his own volition, unless he was the kind of creature that could also have possessed evil. Our most excellent creator wished us to be able to do either but actually to do only one, that is, good, which he also commanded, giving us the capacity to do evil only so that we might do His will by exercising our own. That being so, this very capacity to do evil is also good – good, I say, because it makes the good part better by making it voluntary and independent, not bound by necessity but free to decide for itself.

Rees, p. 38

Yet we do not defend the good of nature to such an extent that we claim that it cannot do evil, since we undoubtedly declare also that it is capable of good and evil; we merely try to protect it from an unjust charge, so that we may not seem to be forced to do evil through a fault of our nature, when, in fact, we do neither good nor evil without the exercise of our will and always have the freedom to do one of the two, being always able to do either.

Rees, p. 43

Nothing impossible has been commanded by the God of justice and majesty ... Why do we indulge in pointless evasions, advancing the frailty of our own nature as an objection to the one who commands us? No one knows better the true measure of our strength than he who has given it to us nor does anyone understand better how much we are able to do than he who has given us this very capacity of ours to be able; nor has he who is just wished to command anything impossible or he who is good intended to condemn a man for doing what he could not avoid doing.

Rees, pp. 53-54

A follower of Pelagius[ who? ] taught:

When will a man guilty of any crime or sin accept with a tranquil mind that his wickedness is a product of his own will, not of necessity, and allow what he now strives to attribute to nature to be ascribed to his own free choice? It affords endless comfort to transgressors of the divine law if they are able to believe that their failure to do something is due to inability rather than disinclination, since they understand from their natural wisdom that no one can be judged for failing to do the impossible and that what is justifiable on grounds of impossibility is either a small sin or none at all.

Rees, pp. 167–168

Under the plea that it is impossible not to sin, they are given a false sense of security in sinning ... Anyone who hears that it is not possible for him to be without sin will not even try to be what he judges to be impossible, and the man who does not try to be without sin must perforce sin all the time, and all the more boldly because he enjoys the false security of believing that it is impossible for him not to sin ... But if he were to hear that he is able not to sin, then he would have exerted himself to fulfil what he now knows to be possible when he is striving to fulfil it, to achieve his purpose for the most part, even if not entirely.

Rees, p. 168

Church Fathers on free will

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

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

Later responses

Thomas Bradwardine (c. 1290–1349) wrote De causa Dei contra Pelagium et de virtute causarum ad suos Mertonenses. [20] 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. [21]

Reformation

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. [22]

Contemporary responses

In the book Guardare Cristo: Esercizi di fede, speranza e carità (Looking at Christ: Exercises of faith, hope and charity), [23] Pope Benedict XVI wrote:

the other face of the same vice is the Pelagianism of the pious. They do not want forgiveness and in general they do not want any real gift from God either. They just want to be in order. They don’t want hope they just want security. Their aim is to gain the right to salvation through a strict practice of religious exercises, through prayers and action. What they lack is humility which is essential in order to love; the humility to receive gifts not just because we deserve it or because of how we act ...

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 ..." [24] 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." [25]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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. [26]

Mormon philosopher Sterling M. McMurrin, argued that "[t]he theology of Mormonism is completely Pelagian." [27] 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." [26] 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". [28] Pelagianism is not the official stance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [29] [30]

See also

Related Research Articles

Arminianism Based on theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius and his historic supporters

Arminianism is a branch of Protestantism based on the theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) and his historic supporters known as Remonstrants. His teachings held to the five solae of the Reformation, but they were distinct from particular teachings of Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and other Protestant Reformers. Jacobus Arminius was a student of Theodore Beza at the Theological University of Geneva. Arminianism is known to some as a soteriological diversification of Calvinism; to others, Arminianism is a reclamation of early Church theological consensus.

Original sin Christian belief in the state of sin in which humanity has existed since the fall of man

Original sin, also called ancestral sin, is a Christian belief in a state of sin in which humanity has existed since the fall of man, stemming from Adam and Eve's rebellion in Eden, namely the sin of disobedience in consuming the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Theologians have characterized this condition in many ways, seeing it as ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a "sin nature", to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.

Predestination Doctrine that all events have been willed by God

Predestination, in theology, is the doctrine that all events have been willed by God, usually with reference to the eventual fate of the individual soul. Explanations of predestination often seek to address the "paradox of free will", whereby God's omniscience seems incompatible with human free will. In this usage, predestination can be regarded as a form of religious determinism; and usually predeterminism, also known as theological determinism.

Justificatio sola fide, meaning justification by faith alone, is a Christian theological doctrine commonly held to distinguish many Protestant denominations from the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The doctrine asserts that it is on the basis of their faith that believers are forgiven their transgressions of the law of God rather than on the basis of good works which they have done. This forgiveness is known as "justification". In classical Lutheran and Reformed theologies, good works are seen to be evidence of faith, but the good works themselves do not determine salvation.

Total depravity Calvinist doctrine that the fall of man enslaves all to sin; needing Justification

Total depravity is a Christian theological doctrine derived from the concept of original sin. It is the teaching that, as a consequence of the Fall of Man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin as a result of their fallen nature and, apart from the efficacious or prevenient grace of God, is utterly unable to choose to follow God, refrain from evil, or accept the gift of salvation as it is offered.

Predestination in Calvinism Calvinism doctrine

Predestination is a doctrine in Calvinism dealing with the question of the control that God exercises over the world. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, God "freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass." The second use of the word "predestination" applies this to the salvation, and refers to the belief that God appointed the eternal destiny of some to salvation by grace, while leaving the remainder to receive eternal damnation for all their sins, even their original sin. The former is called "unconditional election", and the latter "reprobation". In Calvinism, some people are predestined and effectually called in due time to faith by God.

Grace in Christianity aspect of Christianity

In Western Christian theology, grace is "the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it". It is not a created substance of any kind. "Grace is favour, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life." It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to people "generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved" – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God.

Pelagius British monk

Pelagius was a theologian who advocated free will and asceticism. He was accused by Augustine of Hippo and others of denying the need for divine aid in performing good works. They understood him to have said that the only grace necessary was the declaration of the law; humans were not wounded by Adam's sin and were perfectly able to fulfill the law without divine aid. Pelagius denied Augustine's theory of original sin. His adherents cited Deuteronomy 24:16 in support of their position. Pelagius was declared a heretic by the Council of Carthage (418). His interpretation of a doctrine of free will became known as Pelagianism.

Justification (theology) Gods righteous act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin

In Christian theology, justification is God's righteous act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin while, at the same time, declaring the ungodly to be righteous, through faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice.

Semipelagianism is a Christian theological and soteriological school of thought on salvation; that is, the means by which humanity and God are restored to a right relationship. Semipelagian thought stands in contrast to the earlier Pelagian teaching about salvation, which had been dismissed as heresy. Semipelagianism in its original form was developed as a compromise between Pelagianism and the teaching of Church Fathers such as Saint Augustine, who taught that people cannot come to God without the grace of God. In semipelagian thought, therefore, a distinction is made between the beginning of faith and the increase of faith. Semipelagian thought teaches that the latter half – growing in faith – is the work of God, while the beginning of faith is an act of free will, with grace supervening only later. It too was labeled heresy by the Western Church at the Second Council of Orange in 529.

Prevenient grace is a Christian theological concept rooted in Arminian theology, though it appeared earlier in Catholic theology. It is divine grace that precedes human decision. In other words, God will start showing love to that individual at a certain point in his lifetime.

Satisfaction theory of atonement

The satisfaction theory of atonement is a theory in Catholic theology which holds the Jesus Christ redeemed humanity through making satisfaction for mankind's disobedience through his own supererogatory obedience. The theory draws primarily from the works of Anselm of Canterbury, specifically his Cur Deus Homo. It has been traditionally taught in the Roman Catholic tradition of Western Christianity. Theologically and historically, the word "satisfaction" does not mean gratification as in common usage, but rather "to make restitution": making an offering the value of which redeems the injury or insult which was inflicted on the offended party. Since one of God's characteristics is justice, affronts to that justice must be atoned for. It is thus connected with the legal concept of balancing out an injustice.

Caelestius was the major follower of the Christian teacher Pelagius and the Christian doctrine of Pelagianism, which was opposed to Augustine of Hippo and his doctrine in original sin, and was later declared to be heresy.

Julian of Eclanum was bishop of Eclanum, near today's Benevento (Italy). He was a distinguished leader of the Pelagians of 5th century.

History of the Calvinist–Arminian debate Christian theological debate

The history of the Calvinist–Arminian debate begins in early 17th century in the Netherlands with a Christian theological dispute between the followers of John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius, and continues today among some Protestants, particularly evangelicals. The debate centers around soteriology, or the study of salvation, and includes disputes about total depravity, predestination, and atonement. While the debate was given its Calvinist–Arminian form in the 17th century, issues central to the debate have been discussed in Christianity in some form since Augustine of Hippo's disputes with the Pelagians in the 5th century.

Free will in theology is an important part of the debate on free will in general. Religions vary greatly in their response to the standard argument against free will and thus might appeal to any number of responses to the paradox of free will, the claim that omniscience and free will are incompatible.

Regeneration, while sometimes perceived to be a step in the Ordo salutis, is generally understood in Christian theology to be the objective work of God in a believer's life. Spiritually, it means that God brings Christians to new life or "born again" from a previous state of separation from God and subjection to the decay of death. Thus, in Lutheran and Roman Catholic theology, it generally means that which takes place during baptism. In Calvinism and Arminian theology, baptism is recognized as an outward sign of an inward reality which is to follow regeneration as a sign of obedience to the New Testament.

Christian views on sin

The doctrine of sin is central to Christianity, since its basic message is about redemption in Christ. Christian hamartiology, a branch of Christian theology which is the study of sin, describes sin as an act of offence against God by despising His persons and Christian biblical law, and by injuring others. In Christian views it is an evil human act, which violates the rational nature of man as well as God's nature and His eternal law. According to the classical definition of St. Augustine of Hippo sin is "a word, deed, or desire in opposition to the eternal law of God." Christian hamartiology is closely related to concepts of natural law, moral theology and Christian ethics.

Augustinianism

Augustinianism is the philosophical and theological system of Augustine of Hippo and its subsequent development by other thinkers, notably Boethius, Anselm of Canterbury and Bonaventure. Among Augustine's most important works are The City of God, De doctrina Christiana, and Confessions.

Augustinian–Calvinism is a term used to emphasize the origin of John Calvin's theology within Augustine of Hippo's theology over a thousand years earlier. By his own admission, John Calvin's theology was deeply influenced by Augustine of Hippo, the fourth-century church father. Twentieth-century Reformed theologian B. B. Warfield said, "The system of doctrine taught by Calvin is just the Augustinianism common to the whole body of the Reformers." Paul Helm, a well-known Reformed theologian, used the term Augustinian Calvinism for his view in the book "The Augustinian-Calvinist View" in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views.

References

Notes

    Citations

    1. González 2005, p. 128.
    2. Stump & Kretzmann 2001, pp. 130–135.
    3. Jennings, Daniel R. (n.d.). "Synod Of Lydda To Investigate Pelagius' Teachings, 415 AD". Patristics in English. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
    4. Walker 1918, p. 187.
    5. 1 2 Reese 1996, p. 421.
    6. Knowles, George. "Unitarian Universalists". controverscial.com. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
    7. Cohen 2016, p. 523.
    8. 1 2 3 Pelagianism - 01 at the Wayback Machine (archived 2014-07-28)
    9. Neander, Schneider & Morrison 1851, pp. 299-.
    10. Zimmer 1901, p. 20.
    11. Harvey & Hunter 2008, p. 263.
    12. [Letter CCVI. To Mr. Alexander Coates. July 7, 1761]
    13. 1 2 3 Pohle 1911.
    14. Denzinger 1957, pp. 44-.
    15. https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/carthage_canons_on_sin_and_grace.htm
    16. Denzinger 1908, note 3.
    17. "Pelagianism". Oxford Index. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
    18. Justin Martyr 1885.
    19. Fathers of the second century : Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria. Roberts, Alexander, 1826-1901., Donaldson, James, Sir, 1831-1915., Coxe, A. Cleveland (Arthur Cleveland), 1818-1896. New York: Cosimo Classics. 2007. ISBN   978-1-60206-472-0. OCLC   795519750.CS1 maint: others (link)
    20. Oberman 1957.
    21. Webster 1980, p. 783, Johannes von Goch.
    22. Cottret, Cottret & Michel 2002.
    23. Ratzinger 1989.
    24. Winters, Michael Sean (12 June 2013). "Pope Francis on Pelagians, Gnostics and the CDF". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
    25. Ladaria, Luis F.; Morandi, Giacomo (22 February 2018). "Letter Placuit Deo to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Certain Aspects of Christian Salvation". vatican.va. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
    26. 1 2 2 Nephi 2:26 , Book of Mormon
    27. McMurrin 2014.
    28. 2 Nephi 2:8 , Book of Mormon
    29. "What do Mormons believe concerning the doctrine of grace?", Mormon.org, LDS Church
    30. James (n.d.), "A Review of Pelagianism", Lehi's Library (blog)[ unreliable source? ]

    Sources

    Further reading

    • Bercot, David. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, Hendrickson Publishers
    • Squires, Stuart. The Pelagian Controversy: An Introduction to the Enemies of Grace and the Conspiracy of Lost Souls