As I said in my earlier post, Pelagius is my favorite of the great heretics. What I going to do in the next few articles is give you some background on Pelagius as well as taking a close look at the debate, such as it was, between Pelagius and Augustine over the issue of free will. Pelagius lost that debate, was excommunicated, and fled to Antioch or somewhere in that area. Augustine’s notion of free will, which, in my humble opinion, is no free will it all, became the accepted doctrine for Christian orthodoxy. As I hope to show in these articles, Augustine’s notion of free will directly contradicts what both Pelagius and I saw as Christ’s doctrine of free will.
Pelagius was an Irish cleric. Who lived the latter half of the fourth century and the early part of the fifth century. Pelagius was a Celt. That is important because in the fourth and fifth century the Celts practiced their own particular brand of Christianity. I suspect that a lot of Pelagius’ theology came out of his training and upbringing in the Celtic Christian traditions. It was not until later in the fifth century, the time of St. Patrick, that Ireland was converted to Roman Christianity. Although there is no real evidence to support my idea, it would not surprise me that someday we found out that Patrick came to Ireland because of what Pelagius was preaching in Rome in the very early fifth century. Also, although I have not found any hard evidence, it would not surprise me to find out that Pelagius was assassinated in Syria at the orders of the Roman authorities. You must keep in mind that in the fourth and fifth century, the real authority in the Roman Empire was the Catholic Church and especially the Pope. The history of the papacy is one of the more interesting topics in the history of Christianity. The papal struggles for secular authority during the end of the Roman empire and true the dark ages is absolutely fascinating. There are a number of excellent books on the subject if you are interested.
It is sad but there are very little extant writings by Pelagius. Most of what we know about his doctrine of free will comes from Augustine’s writings on the subject. As we all know and as history supports the notion, what someone else says you said is not always what you actually said, and that is especially true if the person saying these things is someone who disagrees with you. So I suggest we take what Augustine says Pelagius said with a small amount of salt.
From what I’ve been able to garner in my research, Pelagius argued that humans are born with free will, that is, the ability to make decisions about what is right what is wrong and to pay the consequences, good or bad, for those decisions. I firmly believe that that is what Christ taught. There are a number of scriptural passages that support this idea, but my favorite is the one about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. As I have argued elsewhere, the accumulation of wealth, which involves the exploitation of other people, is so anathema to what Jesus taught that I consider any Christians practitioners that supports the notion of capitalism total hypocrites. Another scriptural story that supports this idea is the story about Jesus and the money changers in the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus made it very clear that he totally disapproved of the idea of profiting from religion. He actually resorted to the only act of violence ever recounted in Scripture. He knotted a rope and whipped the money changers and the vendors of sacrificial animals. He basically said that God’s house is a house of prayer, not profit. I wonder how old these televangelists with their crystal churches and their constant whining for money from their parishioners, for the lack of a better word, would sit with Jesus. I wonder to what level of violence he might actually resort to punish these hypocrites. In Jesus’ mind, God did not need a fancy building or “expensive” sacrifices” from his worshipers. Jesus reiterates very much the theology of the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament. Jeremiah and Jesus both preach a theology of the heart.
The theology of the heart teaches that God wants human to do good, not because they will be following any kind of law and therefore will be punished, but rather out of love of God and man. Did Jesus not say, “love one another as I have loved you.” He also said that the first commandment is to love God with all your heart. The second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. There has been some argument over who your neighbor really is. If one accepts the admonishment that Jesus gave his disciples before his Ascension into heaven (“go out into the whole world and preach the gospel to all” or something like that), then Jesus offered salvation and freedom to every human being.
What I find particularly amusing in a very ironic manner is that the doctrine of Original Sin teaches that the reason Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden is because they ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge – knowledge of good and evil. Why in the name of all that is sacred would God not want human beings to know the difference between good and evil? Did he intend for us to be nothing more than a herd of sheep being pushed around by a couple of order callings? Or did God intend for us to make our own decisions, to shape our own destiny, and to accept responsibility for our actions? I think you know my personal answer to that question.
We will pick this up here next time. Until then, peace!