Author Topic: How Heretical Was Pelagius?  (Read 2977 times)

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Offline Rohzek

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How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« on: March 15, 2016, 04:35:02 PM »
I just finished reading Die Theologie des Pelagius und ihre Genesis by Torgny Bohlin, and it has left me seriously questioning as to what extent Pelagius was a heretic. First off, let it be noted that the study was conducted under the framework that Pelagius' writings were the only ones considered in the survey of his theology. The writings of other Pelagians like Caelestius, and of detractors such as Augustine were purposely ignored so as to give Pelagius a fair shake, which is sensible since Pelagius himself denounced many of his fellow Pelagians (namely Caelestius).

So allow me to give the run-down. In terms of historical context, Pelagius formed his theology on grace in order to combat Manichaeism and Arianism. So I think this is pretty important to understand where he is coming from. Now, I don't want to write too too much in terms of Pelagius' beliefs in the first post, so I will just give a number of bullet points to summarize them.

1.) Man's nature is timeless and therefore is unchanging.
2.) Free will itself or rather the ability to choose (posse) is a form of God's grace (die Schöpfungsgnade).
3.) The Fall of Mankind did not damage the nature of mankind in any way.
4.) However, the Fall of Mankind did lead to a sort of blindness in all humans to the extent that it impeded the actualizing of the will in the accordance with God's will (think The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Mark 14:28)). This blindness he refers to as conseutudo.
5.) Baptism helps to overcome this blindness (die Vergebungsgnade/Forgiving Grace)
6.) Therefore, the free will of the individual can actualize God's will through action (velle in arbitrio, esse in effectu) in a synergetic manner.

This is basically a rough sketch of Pelagius' beliefs. Obviously some serious questionable things remain, insofar that Pelagius denied Original Sin and that he implies bodily death has always been a facet of humans even before the Fall. I think the first one is forgivable insofar that Pelagius was arguing against Augustine's notion of Original Sin, which even us Orthodox reject (and modern Catholics too). The latter position seems to only be implied by Pelagius, not specifically advocated by him. Additionally, while Pelagius refuses to admit that the nature was damaged in any way, his concept of conseutudo serves that same function, so the difference on this particular point between him and say St. John Cassian is largely semantic. Additionally, Pelagius' understanding of synergy is very close to Cassian's.

One other thing that bothers me is that Pelagius thinks that Free Will is a form of grace itself, which is actually one thing he and Augustine had in common so-to-speak. I'm inclined to disagree.

Some other factors should also be noted. First, Pelagius was not condemned in the canons of Ephesus, although he is mentioned by name in the council's letter to Pope Celestine. Additionally, the canons from the Council of Carthage in 418 that were admitted by the Council of Trullo do not mention Pelagius by name either, only doctrines, none of which Pelagius explicitly advocated although one or two are implied in his framework.

So, that about sums it up. What do you all think? To what extent was Pelagius heretical? If at all? Personally, I think that he was wrong on some things, which I have spoken of briefly above. That being said, I think going out of our way to brand him a heretic at the ecumenical level seems to a bit harsh.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2016, 04:39:26 PM by Rohzek »
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Offline primuspilus

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #1 on: March 15, 2016, 05:06:20 PM »
I remember reading somewhere recently that Pelagius didnt teach Pelagianism. I dont remember where though. Pretty compelling argument, IIRC.

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Offline Minnesotan

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2016, 01:58:48 AM »
I remember reading somewhere recently that Pelagius didnt teach Pelagianism. I dont remember where though. Pretty compelling argument, IIRC.

PP
I've read the same thing.

I think the Pelagian controversy has too often been viewed from the lens of Protestant vs. Catholic (and, later, Calvinist vs. Arminian) disputes rather than being seen on its own terms. Pelagius' name has become a shorthand for everything from works-righteousness (which is ironic), to putting trust in the sacraments or church rather than in God's invisible predestination (also ironic!), to theological modernism and/or liberalism.

From what I've read about Pelagius, he was like a very early Charles Finney; he did revival preaching around Rome. (The Zeroth Great Awakening?) Some historians now think the real focus of the controversy may have been on ecclesiology, since if individuals could attain salvation on their own there would be no need for the church or the sacraments. The focus of his preaching was on individual righteousness and good works.

It's hard to tell what he actually believed since so many of the teachings ascribed to him were in fact those of Caelestius. One other thing is that some of the Western local councils actually condemned as "Pelagianism" ideas that are in fact held by almost all Orthodox; for instance, there was a council IIRC that condemned as Pelagianism the idea that unbaptized infants who die won't automatically be damned. In comparison I doubt even 0.1% of today's Catholics (apart from ultra-traditionalists) still believe in the damnation of infants.

The Moral influence theory is commonly linked to Pelagianism and it isn't hard to see why. But again it's not clear if Pelagius really taught that the atonement was solely about moral influence. (Everyone except some hardcore Calvinists would agree that moral influence was at least an aspect, although not the sole focus, of Christ's work).
« Last Edit: March 16, 2016, 02:02:22 AM by Minnesotan »
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Offline scamandrius

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2016, 09:57:07 AM »
The reception of Pelagius was different in the East than in the West.  The West, especially St. Augustine, went all-in to condemn him, but when Pelagius approached the Eastern bishops, they really didn't understand what all the hubbub was about.  But, one of Pelagius' disciples, a man by the name of Jovian, did start teaching a number of things that were clearly contrary to the teachings of the Church and was condemned.  So Pelagius ended up being excommunicated by a Synod in Jerusalem because of what one of his disciples was doing. 

Sorry, I can't remember years off of the top of my head.  I did a project on this many years ago so I'm fuzzy on the details.
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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2016, 02:50:06 PM »
One other thing is that some of the Western local councils actually condemned as "Pelagianism" ideas that are in fact held by almost all Orthodox; for instance, there was a council IIRC that condemned as Pelagianism the idea that unbaptized infants who die won't automatically be damned. In comparison I doubt even 0.1% of today's Catholics (apart from ultra-traditionalists) still believe in the damnation of infants.

Wow, this is real!

Quote from: Council of Carthage, 418, Can. 3.1
If any man says that in the kingdom of heaven or elsewhere there is a certain middle place, where children
who die unbaptized live in bliss (beate vivant), whereas without baptism they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,
that is, into eternal life, let him be anathema.
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Offline Alveus Lacuna

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2016, 03:15:27 PM »
One other thing is that some of the Western local councils actually condemned as "Pelagianism" ideas that are in fact held by almost all Orthodox; for instance, there was a council IIRC that condemned as Pelagianism the idea that unbaptized infants who die won't automatically be damned. In comparison I doubt even 0.1% of today's Catholics (apart from ultra-traditionalists) still believe in the damnation of infants.

Wow, this is real!

Quote from: Council of Carthage, 418, Can. 3.1
If any man says that in the kingdom of heaven or elsewhere there is a certain middle place, where children
who die unbaptized live in bliss (beate vivant), whereas without baptism they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,
that is, into eternal life, let him be anathema.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm really a heretic on a lot of this. I'm pretty much a Universalist at this point, albeit one that believes in torment and punishment for sin, but not eternally. But I know that a great many ancient Christians believed that you had to be baptized to be saved. I'm just not sure how far I can go with my ideas and still be consistent with this 'ancient faith'. I certainly hold to the basics on ecclesiology (bishop w/ apostolic succession and faith), belief in the power of the mysteries, etc. that are indicative of early Christians. But I'm not sure about the nature of salvation itself. How it works, who it's available to, etc. I just don't know. I guess my biggest hope is that God's not a petty egotist who doles out infinite punishment for finite transgressions. I can take finite punishment, understood in a kind of purgative and healing way, but that's about all I can handle intellectually. I'm just thinking out loud here. Forgive me if I'm derailing things.

Offline Alpo

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2016, 03:35:11 PM »
^You are in pretty good company. Even St. Augustine who is usually blamed for inventing torments of Hell in various conspiracy theories seems not to have believed in eternal punishments.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2016, 03:53:49 PM by Alpo »
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Offline MalpanaGiwargis

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #7 on: March 16, 2016, 03:46:25 PM »
In comparison I doubt even 0.1% of today's Catholics (apart from ultra-traditionalists) still believe in the damnation of infants.

I doubt even 0.1% of traditionalists believe in the damnation of infants in the sense of infants experiencing the pains of Hell. They would almost certainly believe in Limbo, which is the deprivation of the beatific vision but a state of natural happiness.

It seems that the Council of Carthage was condemning an idea pretty similar to Limbo...
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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2016, 03:49:19 PM »
Heretical enough to know better.
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Offline Minnesotan

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #9 on: March 16, 2016, 04:36:20 PM »
In comparison I doubt even 0.1% of today's Catholics (apart from ultra-traditionalists) still believe in the damnation of infants.

I doubt even 0.1% of traditionalists believe in the damnation of infants in the sense of infants experiencing the pains of Hell. They would almost certainly believe in Limbo, which is the deprivation of the beatific vision but a state of natural happiness.

It seems that the Council of Carthage was condemning an idea pretty similar to Limbo...

Calvinists on the other hand are a different story. Jonathan Edwards taught the damnation of infants, in keeping with his overall tendencies (some think he may have been clinically depressed and his theological views stemmed from that). His gloominess was contagious, with several people committing suicide after hearing him preach.
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Offline Alveus Lacuna

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #10 on: March 16, 2016, 11:11:54 PM »
Calvinists on the other hand are a different story. Jonathan Edwards taught the damnation of infants, in keeping with his overall tendencies (some think he may have been clinically depressed and his theological views stemmed from that). His gloominess was contagious, with several people committing suicide after hearing him preach.

Was 'clinical depression' even a reified condition back then?

Offline Iconodule

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #11 on: March 17, 2016, 09:08:51 AM »
They usually used words like "despondency," "melancholy," etc. Even then folks were making musical careers out of it.
« Last Edit: March 17, 2016, 09:12:03 AM by Iconodule »
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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #12 on: March 17, 2016, 10:20:15 AM »
^You are in pretty good company. Even St. Augustine who is usually blamed for inventing torments of Hell in various conspiracy theories seems not to have believed in eternal punishments.

I didn't know that about St. Augustine. Do you happen to have a source? Thanks.
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Offline Rohzek

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #13 on: March 17, 2016, 01:15:19 PM »
^You are in pretty good company. Even St. Augustine who is usually blamed for inventing torments of Hell in various conspiracy theories seems not to have believed in eternal punishments.

I didn't know that about St. Augustine. Do you happen to have a source? Thanks.

My understanding was the exact opposite. In fact, doesn't he say in either On Christian Doctrine or City of God that some Christians believed that Hell wasn't eternal, but that he personally thought that Hell was?
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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #14 on: March 17, 2016, 05:25:28 PM »
Quote from: City of God, XXI, XII
But eternal punishment seems hard and unjust to human perceptions, because in the weakness of our mortal condition there is wanting that highest and purest wisdom by which it can be perceived how great a wickedness was committed in that first transgression. The more enjoyment man found in God, the greater was his wickedness in abandoning Him; and he who destroyed in himself a good which might have been eternal, became worthy of eternal evil.

Quote from: City of God, XXI, XVII
I must now, I see, enter the lists of amicable controversy with those tender-hearted Christians who decline to believe that any, or that all of those whom the infallibly just Judge may pronounce worthy of the punishment of hell, shall suffer eternally, and who suppose that they shall be delivered after a fixed term of punishment, longer or shorter according to the amount of each man's sin. In respect of this matter, Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, after suffering those more severe and prolonged pains which their sins deserved, should be delivered from their torments, and associated with the holy angels. But the Church, not without reason, condemned him for this and other errors, [...]  Or if any one is bold enough to do so, he does indeed put to shame their charity, but is himself convicted of error that is more unsightly, and a wresting of God's truth that is more perverse, in proportion as his clemency of sentiment seems to be greater.

There is another excerpt where St. Augustine says that some sinners will endure ending punishments in this life, but this doesn't refer to hellfire.

This is what I understood from the text. Alpo can correct me if I'm wrong.
« Last Edit: March 17, 2016, 05:25:56 PM by RaphaCam »
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Offline Alpo

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #15 on: March 18, 2016, 07:14:49 PM »
^You are in pretty good company. Even St. Augustine who is usually blamed for inventing torments of Hell in various conspiracy theories seems not to have believed in eternal punishments.

I didn't know that about St. Augustine. Do you happen to have a source? Thanks.

That is how I read On Faith, Hope and Love XXIX. He didn't believe in Apokatastasis for sure but IMO not the kind of eternal Hell that many Christians seem to be believing in.
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Offline RaphaCam

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #16 on: March 18, 2016, 08:16:31 PM »
Quote from: The Handbook on Faith, Hope and Love, XXIX
And so it pleased God, the Creator and Governor of the universe, that, since the whole body of the angels had not fallen into rebellion, the part of them which had fallen should remain in perdition eternally, and that the other part, which had in the rebellion remained steadfastly loyal, should rejoice in the sure and certain knowledge of their eternal happiness; but that, on the other hand, mankind, who constituted the remainder of the intelligent creation, having perished without exception under sin, both original and actual, and the consequent punishments, should be in part restored, and should fill up the gap which the rebellion and fall of the devils had left in the company of the angels. For this is the promise to the saints, that at the resurrection they shall be equal to the angels of God. And thus the Jerusalem which is above, which is the mother of us all, the city of God, shall not be spoiled of any of the number of her citizens, shall perhaps reign over even a more abundant population. We do not know the number either of the saints or of the devils; but we know that the children of the holy mother who was called barren on earth shall succeed to the place of the fallen angels, and shall dwell for ever in that peaceful abode from which they fell. But the number of the citizens, whether as it now is or as it shall be, is present to the thoughts of the great Creator, who calls those things which are not as though they were, and orders all things in measure, and number, and weight.

He seems to be talking about a partial apokatastasis, as, IIRC, was taught by St. Macarius (i.e. some will wait until the final judgement in Hades but won't experience the fire of Gehenna).
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Offline Alpo

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #17 on: March 19, 2016, 02:46:11 PM »
The text that you quote is certainly interesting but at least CCEL version of On Faith, Hope and Love didn't seem to include that passage. Am I missing something?

Here's to what I was referring:

Quote
But let them suppose, if it pleases them, that, for certain intervals of time, the punishments of the damned are somewhat mitigated. Even so, the wrath of God must be understood as still resting on them. And this is damnation—for this anger, which is not a violent passion in the divine mind, is called "wrath" in God. Yet even in his wrath—his wrath resting on them—he does not "shut up his mercy." This is not to put an end to their eternal afflictions, but rather to apply or interpose some little respite in their torments. For the psalm does not say, "To put an end to his wrath," or, "After his wrath," but, "In his wrath." Now, if this wrath were all there is [in man's damnation], and even if it were present only in the slightest degree conceivable—still, to be lost out of the Kingdom of God, to be an exile from the City of God, to be estranged from the life of God, to suffer loss of the great abundance of God's blessings which he has hidden for those who fear him and prepared for those who hope in him—this would be a punishment so great that, if it be eternal, no torments that we know could be compared to it, no matter how many ages they continued.

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/enchiridion.chapter29.html
« Last Edit: March 19, 2016, 02:57:26 PM by Alpo »
I just need to find out how to say it in Slavonic!

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #18 on: March 19, 2016, 07:20:38 PM »
I read that as God making their suffering a little milder. It's still suffering, though. I don't see anything there about the suffering ever completely stopping.

It reminds me of the story of one of the Desert Father who saw in a vision the soul of his lazy disciple burning in Hell. The Elder prayed for him and the next time he had a vision, he saw the disciple with his head about the flames, not burning as much. When the asked the disciple why this was, the disciple said, "Thanks to your prayers, I am standing on the head of bishop."
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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #19 on: March 19, 2016, 08:14:58 PM »
Oh... it seems the CCEL version uses a different chapter numbering. You see, where you quoted chapter XXIX, you were actually quoting CIX - CXIII in my version. You just quoted the second part of chapter CXII for me, which I really don't think to refer to apokatastasis, but rather to the story Volnutt told us right now, which pretty much horrified me.

St. Macarius prayed for the easening of the suffering of a pagan sorcerer who was in hell, too.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2016, 08:15:32 PM by RaphaCam »
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Offline Alpo

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #20 on: March 20, 2016, 01:47:30 AM »
You just quoted the second part of chapter CXII for me, which I really don't think to refer to apokatastasis,

Didn't think it would either. But AFAIK usual argument goes something like "God is not just since he tortures people forever". Based on above IMO it could be said that actually He doesn't. He just lefts those who are in Hell alone. Which is a severe punishment in dogmatic terminology but not the kind of punishment we usually speak of when we refer to punishments.
« Last Edit: March 20, 2016, 01:51:35 AM by Alpo »
I just need to find out how to say it in Slavonic!

Offline wgw

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #21 on: March 20, 2016, 02:11:59 AM »
Pelagius was as heretical as other Monergists, like Universalists and Calvinists.

The Orthodox belief is that salvation comes from a synergy between God and man, facilitated by the hypostatic union of the human and divine in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

God's grace allows us to respond with faith, and receive additional grace that in turn allows us to continuento cooperate in the economy of salvation; in time, through participation in the sacramental life of the Church, we attain theosis, or deification through cooperation in the uncreated energies of God.

Thus, the possibility of salvation is a free gift of God, but we have to accept it, and work it out through fear and trembling, and we succeed not on our own, but through the grace of the Holy Spirit we receive through baptism and Chrismation, and the spiritual food of the Eucharist, and the medicines of confession and unction.

Pelagians think they can earn their own salvation; Calvinists think God does all the work.  Two sides of the same heretical coin.   Universalists think everyone either gets saved unilaterally by God because they either inherently deserve it, which they do not, or because God doesn't care about their sin (he does).

I should note that, however, according to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, we may hope that all might be saved, but we can't say that all must be saved, that God would monergetically impose salvation on someone who did not want it.
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Offline Rohzek

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Re: How Heretical Was Pelagius?
« Reply #22 on: March 20, 2016, 10:48:30 AM »
Pelagius was as heretical as other Monergists, like Universalists and Calvinists.

The Orthodox belief is that salvation comes from a synergy between God and man, facilitated by the hypostatic union of the human and divine in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

God's grace allows us to respond with faith, and receive additional grace that in turn allows us to continuento cooperate in the economy of salvation; in time, through participation in the sacramental life of the Church, we attain theosis, or deification through cooperation in the uncreated energies of God.

Thus, the possibility of salvation is a free gift of God, but we have to accept it, and work it out through fear and trembling, and we succeed not on our own, but through the grace of the Holy Spirit we receive through baptism and Chrismation, and the spiritual food of the Eucharist, and the medicines of confession and unction.

Pelagians think they can earn their own salvation; Calvinists think God does all the work.  Two sides of the same heretical coin.   Universalists think everyone either gets saved unilaterally by God because they either inherently deserve it, which they do not, or because God doesn't care about their sin (he does).

I should note that, however, according to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, we may hope that all might be saved, but we can't say that all must be saved, that God would monergetically impose salvation on someone who did not want it.

That's not what Pelagius believed or taught. Pelagius explicitly taught that grace saves and that it works via synergy. On what basis do you make these claims about him?
« Last Edit: March 20, 2016, 10:50:02 AM by Rohzek »
"Il ne faut imaginer Dieu ni trop bon, ni méchant. La justice est entre l'excès de la clémence et la cruauté, ainsi que les peines finies sont entre l'impunité et les peines éternelles." - Denise Diderot, Pensées philosophiques 1746