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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

Pelagians

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A sect who appeared about the end of the fourth century. They maintained the following doctrines:

1. That Adam was by nature mortal, and, whether he had sinned or not, would certainly have died.

2. That the consequences of Adam's sin were confined to his own person.

3. That new-born infants are in the same situation with Adam before the fall.

4. That the law qualified men for the kingdom of heaven, and was founded upon equal promises with the Gospel.

5. That the general resurrection of the dead does not follow in virtue of our Saviour's resurrection.

6. That the grace of God is given according to our merits.

7. That this grace is not granted for the performance of every moral act; the liberty of the will and information in points of duty being sufficient. The founder of this sect was Pelagius, a native of Great Britain. He was educated in the monastery of Banchor, in Wales, of which he became a monk, and afterwards an abbot. In the early part of his life he went over to France, and thence to Rome, where he and his friend Celestius propagated their opinions, though in a private manner. Upon the approach of the Goths, A. D. 410, they retired from Rome, and went first into Sicily, and afterwards into Africa, where they published their doctrines with more freedom. From Africa, Pelagius passed into Palestine, while Celestius remained at Carthage, with a view to preferment, desiring to be admitted among the presbyters of that city. But the discovery of his opinions having blasted all his hopes, and his errors being condemned in a council held at Carthage, A. D. 412, he departed from that city, and went into the East. It was from this time, that Augustin, the famous bishop of Hippo, began to attack the tenets of Pelagius and Celestius in his learned and elegant writings; and to him, indeed, is principally due the glory of having suppressed this sect in its very birth.

Things went more smoothly with Pelagius in the East, where he enjoyed the protection and favour of John, bishop of Jerusalem, whose attachment to the sentiments of Origen led him naturally to countenance those of Pelagius, on account of the conformity that there seemed to be between these two systems. Under the shadow of this powerful protection, Pelagius made a public profession of his opinions, and formed disciples in several places. And by Orosius, a Spanish presbyter, whom Augustin had sent into Palestine for that purpose, before an assembly of bishops met at Jerusalem, yet he was dismissed without the least censure; and not only so, but was soon after fully acquitted of all errors by the council of Diospolis. This controversy was brought to Rome, and referred by Celestius and Pelagius to the decision of Zosimus, who was raised to the pontificate, A. D. 417. The new pontiff, gained over by the ambiguous and seemingly orthodox confession of faith that Celestius, who was now at Rome, had artfully drawn up, and also by the letters and protestations of Pelagius, pronounced in favour of the faith, and unjustly persecuted by their adversaries.

The African bishops, with Augustin at their head, little affected with this declaration, continued obstinately to maintain the judgment they had pronounced in this matter, and to strengthen it by their exhortations, their letters and their writings, Zosimus yielded to the perseverance of the Africans, changed his mind, and condemned, with the utmost severity, Pelagius and Celestius, whom he had honoured his protection. This was followed by a train of evils, which pursued these two monks without interruption. They were condemned, says Mosheim, by that same Ephesian council which had launched its thunder at the head of Nestorius. In short, the Gauls, Britons, and Africans, by their councils, and emperors, by their edicts and penal laws, demolished this sect in its infancy, and suppressed it entirely before it had acquired any tolerable degree of vigour or consistence.

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Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Pelagians'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/p/pelagians.html. 1802.

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