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Pelagius

Rod noticed a report that the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta is preparing to re-consider case of Pelagius. What caught my attention wasn’t the theological revisionism at work as much as the tediously reductionist historical interpretation that the resolution uses. It reads in part:

Whereas the historical record of Pelagius’s contribution to our theological tradition is shrouded in the political ambition of his theological antagonists who sought to discredit what they felt was a threat to the empire, and their ecclesiastical dominance [bold mine-DL], and whereas an understanding of his life and writings might bring more to bear on his good standing in our tradition;

What I find tedious about this is the assumption that fifth-century council fathers who condemned Pelagius were not mainly motivated by genuine theological concerns, but that Pelagius represents “the struggle for theological exploration.” In fact, all competing factions in the ancient Church were fully convinced that they were the orthodox party and their rivals were badly wrong about something fundamentally important. If Pelagius’ followers could have prevailed, they would have wanted to set down their teachings as correct doctrine. Obviously, remaining the dominant party in the church was an essential part of prevailing in the controversy. Pelagius’ opponents viewed his teachings as a “threat to the empire” only in the sense that they would have considered the success of his heresy an invitation to divine retribution, but for the most part Pelagius’ opponents rejected his teachings because they believed them to be so far removed from correct doctrine that they endangered the salvation of fellow Christians. Unfortunately, this resolution reads as if it had been drafted after one too many viewings of that dreadful King Arthur film from a few years back.

Matthew Barrett reviews Pelagius’ record, and concludes:

It is important to remember that Pelagius and his views were condemned in 416 at the synods of Carthage and Mileve, and again at Carthage in 418. Even the third ecumenical council in Ephesus in 431 would condemn Pelagius, placing him in the same category as Nestorius. To reinstate or approve of Pelagius and his views is to adopt heresy itself.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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