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An examination of Pelagius Why He was Right

by Lewis Loflin

Pelagius (c. a. 354-418?) and his Christianity are more in line with the teachings of Jesus while those of Augustine are derived from a Gnostic cult known as Manacheism, a form of Mesopotamian Gnosticism. St. Augustine would define Original Sin for the Latin Church, but Pelagius saw through this appalling nonsense. (Gnosticism claims all creation and flesh are corrupt and even sex within marriage was evil.) Like Arius who tried to bring the Christian church in line with Jesus and the Bible, Pelagius too would try to bring the church back to the moral teachings of Jesus. Both lost.

The whole argument is over the question of original sin a concept invented by Paul and later expanded by St. Augustine in the West. Due to the politics of Augustine, Pelagius was convicted of heresy in the West, but was cleared by the Eastern Churches while Augustine himself was rejected later on.

Pelagius was accused along with his disciple, Coelestius of the following beliefs:

  1. Adam was created liable to death, and would have died, whether he had sinned or not.
  2. The sin of Adam hurt himself only and not the human race.
  3. Infants at their birth are in the same state as Adam before the fall.
  4. Neither by the death nor fall of Adam does the whole race of man die, nor by the resurrection of Christ rise again.
  5. The Law introduces men into the kingdom of heaven, just in the same way as the Gospel does.
  6. Even before the coming of Christ there were some men sinless.

Ref. Catholic Encyclopedia.

Thus he claimed one could achieve grace through ones own free will without the church, its priests, and all its trappings. Many early Christians believed that following Jesus example and living life as He taught was the way to salvation, but this left nothing for the church to do and so this was declared heresy. Like the Arian Heresy, controversy would rage in the church for years and still haunts us today.

After much theological and political maneuvering, pope Zosimus condemned Pelagius and Augustine's view of sin more or less became the official one. Later, a middle road was sought which would be somewhere between Pelagius and Augustine. John Cassian. (360? - c. 435?) produced what is known as Semi-Pelagianism. What this boils down to is Augustine claims man is corrupt/dead and only the elect are saved; Pelagius claimed all man were alive/good and could be saved; Cassian says were just sick and can be cured.

While it's true Pelagius was convicted in the West for heresy due to politics and the urgings of Augustine, Pelagius was cleared in the Eastern Churches. (The Catholic Church claimed this was because of his accusers not being able to be at the trial.) To quote: immense impact that Augustine has had in shaping the landscape of Western Christianity; and the divergence of the Augustinian trajectory of theology from the Apostolic and Patristic Tradition has been carefully charted...

Condemnations of Pelagianism were included in the ecumenical Synod of Ephesus only under Western influence...was actually tried at local councils in the East, the evaluation was positive. Pelagius was not condemned simply on theological grounds. Rather, Pelagius' teaching was seen as a threat...
See Pelagius: To Demetrias by Deacon Geoffrey O Riada

Both Martin Luther and John Calvin (founded Calvinism) would base their theology on Augustine and Paul, rejecting Jesus' moral teachings as irrelevant. This is the basis of most evangelical/fundamentalist Protestant churches. Some claim "Pelagius accuses Augustine and Jerome of being under the influence of Manicheanism. Their doctrine of original sin restored evil to a Manichean status, and their predestination was tantamount to Manichean fatalism."

Semi-Pelagianism would influence both Celtic Christianity and later may have contributed to Arminianism, which says as follows:

  1. God has decreed to save through Jesus Christ those of the fallen and sinful race who through the grace of the Holy Spirit believe in him, but leaves in sin the incorrigible and unbelieving. (In other words predestination is said to be conditioned by God's foreknowledge of who would respond to the gospel)
  2. Christ died for all men (not just for the elect), but no one except the believer has remission of sin.
  3. Man can neither of himself nor of his free will do anything truly good until he is born again of God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
  4. All good deeds or movements in the regenerate must be ascribed to the grace of God, but his grace is not irresistible.
  5. Those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith have power given them through the assisting grace of the Holy Spirit to persevere in the faith. But it is possible for a believer to fall from grace.

Arminius and his followers claimed they were not Pelagians, and they are certainly not.

Arminianism is generally characterized by an emphasis on the fatherhood of God, the supreme moral and religious example of Jesus, the essential goodness of man and his infinite capabilities of growth in reason and freedom, the duty of doing something to correct all those conditions whether ignorance or social injustice-that stultified the being of man. Strongly indorse critical Biblical scholarship. Usually denies the existence of the wrath of God and equates God with love.

This is what's followed by many Mainline Protestant Churches today and sounds close to Pelagianism. For example, the evangelical tenets of Arminianism found a forceful expression in the teachings of John Wesley and the Methodists, with its emphasis on the moral responsibility of man, the need of a new birth, and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

Why Pelagius was Right

Protestants claim the Bible is the sole authority on God, and considering the hostility of both Protestants and Catholics towards Pelagius, we must turn to the Bible and our God-given reason for answers. Let's take the issues Pelagius confronted one at a time and see if his claims are false based on Scripture.

Adam was created liable to death, and would have died, whether he had sinned or not. There is nothing in Genesis claiming that Adam was immortal. In 2:17 we have thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. He didn't die of course from eating the fruit, but we find also this in Genesis 3:22, "And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever..." Adam was expelled from the Garden for the express purpose he would not be made immortal. It seems God never intended humans to be immortal, which throws any idea of life after death (bodily resurrection) into question. Pelagius was right on this count.

The sin of Adam hurt himself only and not the human race. Throughout the Jewish Scriptures God says over and over that only the sinner will die, not mothers, fathers, their children, etc. (See Deut. 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6; Ezek. 18:20; Ezek.33:20; etc.) One is held liable for his/her own actions, not that of others. If Adam was the "father" of the human race, we are not responsible for his actions. Thus God said clearly the innocent are not liable for the actions the guilty.

The fact is Jesus Himself never mentions Adam or any "Fall" in any gospel. The Apostle Paul invented this entire concept of Adam causing humans to lose immortality they never had in the beginning because we are responsible for Adam. Romans 5:12, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" Romans 5:19, "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners..." Paul by the way never met Jesus in the flesh. The entire concept of God sacrificing His "Son" an innocent person just to make up for the "crime" of someone else is immoral in itself and contrary to God's words in the Old Testament.

Even before the coming of Christ there were some men sinless. This brings up one of the most thorny issues for Christian dogma in that all of those prior to Jesus are burning in hell for the mere fact they were born before Jesus was ever "conceived." Thus they are punished for something they had no possible power to prevent. The Bible again proves Pelagius was right on this issue.

There were many sinless men: Numbers 14:24, "But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully..." 2 Kings 22:2, "And he (Josiah) did that which was right in the sight of the LORD..." God went so far as to referred to Abraham as "My friend" (Isaiah 41:8) and Daniel as "beloved." (Daniel 9:23; 10:11; etc.) This brought up one of Pelagius main arguments: Why would God give commands He knows nobody could carry out? Pelagius' opponent St. Augustine and later Calvin and Luther claimed just this. Again, enter Paul.

Among Paul's many abuses and misquotes of the Old Testament, none stands out more than Romans 10:8 as Paul wrote, ""But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach)." This was a misquote of Deuteronomy 30:10-14 which states: "if you will hearken to the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes...The word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it."

Jesus Himself (whom Paul never met in the flesh) is very clear on this as well. In Matthew 19:16, "And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" Jesus denied being God, and told the young man very specific things he could (and expected him to be able to do it) which didn't include any "faith in Jesus Christ" or blood atonement by His suffering and death. (Also see Mark 10:17 and Luke 18:18.)

But according to Calvin, even faith in Jesus won't "save" you. Under the Augustine/Calvinist view of predestination, God's "grace" is bestowed on people on a whim and one is damned even if they accept Jesus.

Infants at their birth are in the same state as Adam before the fall. Christians on the abortion issue claim life begins at conception and equally deny reincarnation. Thus a new life begins as a blank slate with nothing other than instinct or reflex. This also call into questions of infant Baptism (which Pelagius felt only introduced one to God) because as we saw, because God said in the Old Testament we are only responsible for our own actions. Only Paul's discredited claims address such an issue.

Neither by the death nor fall of Adam does the whole race of man die, nor by the resurrection of Christ rise again. This is the real reason why Christianity needs the Original Sin doctrine. If Original Sin is false as the Old Testament shows just that and there are clearly men who overcame sin without faith in Jesus, then by our own efforts we can achieve this task. Thus we don't need Christianity, its institutions, and leaders to control our lives. One is Jesus' own relatives prior to His birth. To quote Luke 1:5-6,

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless...

The Law introduces men into the kingdom of heaven, just in the same way as the Gospel does. Jesus in no manner did away with the Law of Moses. Matthew 5:17, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." Mt.19:17 "If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." It's given through much of the Old Testament that in fact the Law given by God to Moses is the way to the Kingdom.

But Paul has a different view of things. He is inconsistent and confused on this issue as we shall see:

Romans 2:6, 13 "Who will render to each one according to his deeds'. For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified." 2 Cor.5:10 "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." 2 Cor.11:15 "Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works."

But Paul contradicts himself: Romans 3:20 "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight." Romans 3:28 "A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." This one is even more questionable: Romans 1:16-17 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God salvation to every one that believeth .... As it is written, The just shall live by faith." This only appears in Paul's writings (Galatians 3:11-12, Hebrews 10:38) and nowhere did Jesus ever say such a thing and nowhere in the Old Testament is such a statement to be found. In fact the phrase "by faith" or "faith alone" does not appear at all in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.

Some Encyclopedia Stuff


Pelagius, although little is known of him only he is thought to have come from Britain and personally played an important role in shaping the early character of the Celtic Christianity. Although a priest, Pelagius was a Celtic monk and a highly respected spiritual leader for both laymen and clergy. What is recorded of his behavior denotes his Celtic heritage. He firmly believed in the individual -- his free will and his ability to better himself as a spiritual being.

These ideas pitted Pelagius directly against the Christian Church of the time. It was the time when the Church was trying to combat the heresy of the Donatists of North Africa. Simply stated the Donatists claimed the efficacy of the sacraments depended upon the spiritual state of the priest who dispensed them.

Such a declaration caused a great dilemma for the Church. For, if agreed to, it meant "the entire ceremonial edifice of the Church would be dependent on the moral character of the clergy and no one could ever be sure that a given rite had been supernaturally effective." But, if the Donatists' declaration was declared false then "a sacrament could be effectively administered even by a heretic or heathen. "

The defense against the heresy was to save the structure of the Church. At the time many men of the Church including Augustine were speaking out against the heresy claiming "the Church (in the word's of Augustine's predecessor, Optatus of Mileum) is an institution, "whose sanctity is derived from the sacraments, and not estimated from the pride of persons. ... The sacraments are holy in themselves and not through men."

Needless to say, the Church's stand would prevail. But, all Celts failed to see it that way including Pelagius and his chief disciple Caelestius who were contemporaries of the churchman Patrick in Ireland. Pelagius and Caelestius held firmly to the Stoic doctrine of free will. Neither did they hold to Augustine's doctrine of original sin which the Church adopted.

Pelagius did not believe that man's nature was tainted by the sin of Adam; and therefore, by his own nature and efforts could only inherit hell or damnation. He dismissed Augustine's assumption that man could only gain salvation through the Church .

He declared the doctrine of original sin abdominal, detesting it completely. It is this doctrine which declares that all men are conceived in sin and can only be saved by the unmerited grace of God which is only received through Jesus Christ and His Church.

The view of Pelagius and his followers firmly held to the Stoic doctrine of the free will of man and the innate goodness of nature, which they claimed, was not corrupted but only modified by sin. Such a stand put them in direct opposition to their great antagonist Augustine. However, their view served for the basis of Pelagianism.

Pelagius' views was not the only source of his troubles with the Church. He visited Rome around 380. What he saw and heard was in direct opposition to the rigorous asceticism practiced by him and his followers. He was repelled by the grandeur of the Church hierarchy, especially the Papacy.

He " blamed Rome's moral laxity on the doctrine of divine grace that he heard a bishop cite from the Confessions of Saint Augustine, who in his prayer for continence beseeched God to grant whatever grace the divine will determined. Pelegius attacked this teaching on the grounds that it imperiled the entire moral law." He won a great following and met his closest friend and collaborator, a lawyer, Caelestius.

When returning to Ireland they continued to meet the criticism of Augustine, but Pelagius because of his life of asceticism and insistent preaching on "man's basically good moral nature and on man's own responsibility for choosing Christian asceticism for his spiritual advancement" continued to win a wider following.

Around 412 Pelagius went to Palestine where in 415 he appeared before the synod of Jerusalem accused of heresy. He succeeded in clearing himself to avoid being censured. To combat future attacks from Augustine and the Latin biblical scholar Jerome he wrote his De libero arbitrio ("On Free Will") in 416, which brought about his condemnation by two African councils.

Both he and Caelestius were considered for condemnations and excommunication by Pope Innocent I, but Innocent's successor Zosimus first pronounced Pelagius innocent on the basis of his Libellus fidei ("Brief Statement of Faith"), but reconsidered after the investigation was renewed by the council of Carthage in 518. Zosimus confirmed the councils nine canons condemning Pelagius. There is no further information concerning Pelagius after this date.

However, Pelagius is remembered for trying to free mankind from the guilt of Adam. He and his followers remind us once again that in the early history of the Church there were dissenters. "The great German theologian Karl Barth a few years ago described British Christianity as "incurably Pelagian."

The rugged individualism of the Celtic monk, his conviction that each person is free to choose between good and evil. And his insistence that faith must be practical as well as spiritual remain hallmarks of Christians in Britain. An the British imagination has remained rooted in nature, witnessed by the pastoral poetry and landscape panting in which Britain excels, indeed that peculiar British obsession with gardening is Celtic in origin.

Visitors to the British Isles are often shocked at how few people attend church each Sunday. Yet to the Britons, church-goers as well as absentees, the primary test of faith is not religious observance, but daily behavior towards our neighbors and towards one's pets, livestock and plants."


Pelagius Enclopedia

From the Columbia Encyclopedia;


Christian heretical sect that rose in the 5th cent. challenging St. Augustine's conceptions of grace and predestination. The doctrine was advanced by the celebrated monk and theologian Pelagius (c.355-c.425). He was probably born in Britain. After studying Roman law and rhetoric and later theology in England and Rome, he preached in Africa and Palestine, attracting able followers, such as Celestius and Julian of Eclannum.

Pelagius thought that St. Augustine was excessively pessimistic in his view that humanity is sinful by nature and must rely totally upon grace for salvation. Instead Pelagius taught that human beings have a natural capacity to reject evil and seek God, that Christ's admonition, "Be ye perfect," presupposes this capacity, and that grace is the natural ability given by God to seek and to serve God.

Pelagius rejected the doctrine of original sin; he taught that children are born innocent of the sin of Adam. Baptism, accordingly, ceased to be interpreted as a regenerative sacrament. Pelagius challenged the very function of the church, claiming that the law as well as the gospel can lead one to heaven and that pagans had been able to enter heaven by virtue of their moral actions before the coming of Christ. The church fought Pelagianism from the time that Celestius was denied ordination in 411. In 415, Augustine warned St. Jerome in Palestine that Pelagius was propagating a dangerous heresy there, and Jerome acted to prevent its spread in the East. Pelagianism was condemned by East and West at the Council of Ephesus (431).

A compromise doctrine, Semi-Pelagianism, became popular in the 5th and 6th cent. in France, Britain, and Ireland. Semi-Pelagians taught that although grace was necessary for salvation, men could, apart from grace, desire the gift of salvation, and that they could, of themselves, freely accept and persevere in grace. Semi-Pelagians also rejected the Augustinian doctrine of predestination and held that God willed the salvation of all men equally.

At the instance of St. Caesarius of Arles, Semi-Pelagianism was condemned at the Council of Orange (529). By the end of the 6th cent., Pelagianism disappeared as an organized heresy, but the questions of free will, predestination, and grace raised by Pelagianism have been the subject of theological controversy ever since (see Molina, Luis; Arminius, Jacobus). Pelagius' Expositions of Thirteen Epistles of St. Paul was edited in English by Alexander Souter (3 vol., 1922-31). 1 See J. E. Chisholm, The Pseudo-Augustinian Hypomnesticon against the Pelagians and Celestinans (Vol. I, 1967); J. Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (1971).

From Rey:

I was reading your article and came upon this paragraph.

Jesus Himself (whom Paul never met in the flesh) is very clear on this as well. In Matthew 19:16, "And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" Jesus denied being God, and told the young man very specific things he could (and expected him to be able to do it) which didn't include any "faith in Jesus Christ" or blood atonement by His suffering and death. (Also see Mark 10:17 and Luke 18:18.)

There is a rather interesting variant here that I think you need to be made aware of. The Greek Text followed by the KJV (the Textus Receptus) has Jesus say: "Why do you call me good? None is good but one, i.e. God! But if you would enter into life, keep the commandments."

HOWEVER, the NU-Text (Critical Text, Alexandrian, Nestle-Aland) has him say: "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is one [thing] that is good, and if you would enter into life, keep the commandments."

Interesting eh??? I've come to the conclusion that rabid Paulinist Augustinians altered the text from "Why do you ask me about what is good?..." to "Why do you call me good?..." to make it as though Jesus was denying that men could be good. And as a side effect, they made him deny being good himself and deny being God and they were too stupid to realize what they had done!

Thought you might want to know.

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