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A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography
Pelagianism and Pelagius
Pelagianism and Pelagius (2) . The details of the early career of Pelagius, whose name is identified with the prominent subject of theological controversy of Latin Christendom in the 5th cent., are very imperfectly known from contemporary history. He is said by Augustine, Prosper, Gennadius, Orosius, and Mercator to have been a Briton. Jerome's words ("habet progeniem Scoticae gentis de Britannorum vicinia," Pref. lib. 3 in Hieron.) may imply that he was an Irishman, the Scoti being then settled in Ireland. His name undoubtedly looks like a Grecized version of some earlier name; but the tradition that the original name of the heresiarch was Morgan (Marigena, Πελάγιος and that he came from Bangor in N. Wales, rests on late and untrustworthy authority. His birth probably occurred c. 370. Both Orosius and pope Zosimus speak of him as a layman. He came to Rome very early in the 5th cent. If Mercator's statement is accepted, that he imbibed his opinions from Rufinus the Syrian in the episcopate of Anastasius, we must fix his arrival in Rome not later than 401. His personal character at this period is spoken of with the utmost respect by his contemporaries. His great opponent St. Augustine describes him as being generally held to be a good and holy man, and of no mean proficiency as a Christian ( de Pecc. Mer. iii. 1). Paulinus, bp. of Nola, who was much attached to him, esteemed him a special servant of God. Pelagius was actuated at Rome by a strong moral purpose, enforcing the necessity of a strict Christian morality as against a laxity of life content with external religious observances. To this period must be assigned his earliest 3 works: the first, in 3 books, on the Trinity; the second a collection of passages from Scripture, all bearing on Christian practice, called by Gennadius Eulogiarum Liber , by Augustine and Orosius Testimoniorum Liber; the third an exposition of the Epp. of St. Paul.
At Rome Pelagius became acquainted with Coelestius, whose name was so intimately associated with his in the subsequent controversy. Coelestius, originally an advocate, was led by Pelagius to a strict religious life, and very soon became an ardent disciple and a propagandist of his master's views. Despite the imputations of later opponents, it is evident that during his long residence at Rome Pelagius was animated by a sincere desire to be a moral reformer. The consciousness of the need of a pure and self-denying morality as an element in religion led him to lay exaggerated stress upon the native capacity of the free will of man, to form a wrong estimate of the actual moral condition of human nature, and to overlook or fatally undervalue the necessity of divine aid in effecting the restoration of man to righteousness. The first signs of his antagonism to the Augustinian theories, which were then developing and obtaining general acceptance in the Western church, are exhibited in an anecdote related by St. Augustine himself (de Dono Persev. c. 53). Pelagius was violently indignant on hearing a bishop quote with approbation the famous passage in the Confessions of St. Augustine , where he prays, "Give what Thou dost command, and command what Thou wilt." This language appeared to Pelagius to make man a mere puppet in the hands of his Creator. About the same time, apparently (a.d. 405), Pelagius wrote to Paulinus (Aug. de Grat. Christi , 38). The letter is not extant, but St. Augustine, who had read it, declared that it dwelt almost entirely upon the power and capacity of nature, only referring most cursorily to divine grace, and leaving it doubtful whether by grace Pelagius meant only the forgiveness of sins and the teaching and example of Christ, or that influence of the Spirit of God which corresponds to grace proper and is an inward inspiration. Pelagius remained at Rome till c. 409, when, as Alaric's invasion threatened the city, he withdrew with Coelestius to Sicily, and shortly after to Africa. He visited Hippo Regius, from which Augustine was then absent, and seems to have remained quiet at Hippo, but shortly afterwards repaired to Carthage, where he saw Augustine once or twice. Augustine was then deeply involved in the Donatist controversy, but learned that Pelagius and his friends had begun to advocate the opinion that infants were not baptized for the remission of sins, but for the sake of obtaining a higher sanctification through union with Christ. This novel doctrine appeared to Augustine to deny the teaching of the church, as it virtually involved the denial of any guilt of original sin which needed forgiveness. Augustine, pre-occupied with the Donatist errors and not ascribing much weight to the chief upholders of the new heresy, did not then write in defence of the doctrine assailed. Pelagius, after a short interval, sailed for Palestine, leaving Coelestius at Carthage. In Palestine he was introduced to Jerome in his monastery at Bethlehem. Coelestius at Carthage openly disseminated Pelagius's views, and on seeking ordination as a presbyter was accused of heresy before bp. Aurelius. A council was summoned at Carthage in 412. Augustine not being present, the accusation was conducted by Paulinus the deacon and biographer of Ambrose. The charges against Coelestius were that he taught that: (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 the 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, i.e. men as a matter of fact without sin. (7) Infants, even though not baptized, have eternal life.
Coelestius endeavoured to explain away some of his assertions; but his explanations were judged evasive and his doctrines condemned as unscriptural and contrary to the Catholic faith. A sentence of excommunication was passed upon him and his followers. He shortly afterwards sailed to Ephesus. The prevalence of these opinions and the efforts made to diffuse them led Augustine to denounce them. In three or four sermons delivered at this time (170, 174, 175) he devoted himself to refuting the innovating doctrines, though he does not mention their chief upholders by name. His first written treatise on the controversy was called forth by a letter from his friend Marcellinus, who was troubled by daily assaults of Pelagian disputations. The work originally consisted of two books. The first established the positions that death in man was the penalty of sin, and not a mere condition of his natural constitution; that the whole offspring of Adam was affected by his sin, and that baptism of infants was for the remission of original sin, the guilt of which they bear from their birth. In the second book Augustine argued that the first man might have lived without sin by the grace of God and his own free will; that as a matter of fact no living man is wholly free from sin, for no man wills all that he ought, to do, owing to his ignorance of what is right or his want of delight in doing it; that the only man absolutely without sin is Christ, the God-man and Mediator. Augustine added to this treatise as a third book a letter he wrote to Marcellinus when, a very few days after the compilation of the two books, he became acquainted with some fresh arguments against original sin advanced in the exposition of the Epistles of St. Paul by Pelagius, who, however, put the arguments in the mouth of another and did not avowedly express them as his own. In bks. i. and ii. Augustine never, mentions Pelagius or Coelestius by name, possible hoping they might yet be won back to orthodoxy; in bk. iii., while arguing strongly against the views of the nature of original sin propounded by Pelagius, he speaks of Pelagius with marked respect, calling him a signally Christian man, a highly advanced Christian ("vir ille tam egregie Christianus," de Pecc. Mer. iii. 6; "non parvo provectu Christianus," ib. iii. 1).
Pelagianism continued to propagate and assert itself and found many upholders in Carthage. It claimed the authority of the Eastern churches whose tendency had always been to lay stress on the power of the human will and boldly retorting the accusation of innovation it declared that the views of Augustine and the dominant party in Africa were a departure from the old orthodoxy. This roused the indignation of Augustine. In a sermon preached June 27 413 he dealt with infant baptism and refuted some new phases of Pelagian opinion. From it we learn that the Pelagians now taught that infants were baptized not because they needed any remission of the guilt of original or actual sin from which they were wholly free but that they might enter the kingdom of God and thereby obtain salvation and eternal life. The critical passage in Rom_5:12 "By one man sin entered into the world," they interpreted to mean that Adam sinned by an act of free choice and so caused all his descendants to sin by the imitation of his example. If they scoffingly asked men are born sinners from a sinful parent why are not men born righteous from believing parents who have been justified by baptism? If Adam's sin hurt those who had not sinned why by parity of consequence should not the death of Christ profit those who have not believed on Him? Towards the close of his sermon Augustine read to the congregation from the epistle of their martyred bishop St. Cyprian written a.d. 255 a passage in which the judgment of the church of his day was emphatically pronounced that baptism was administered to infants for the remission of sin which they had contracted through their birth and ended by making an earnest appeal to his opponents not to continue to maintain opinions which being hostile to such a fundamental point of church doctrine and practice as infant baptism must be disowned by the church as heretical. He entreated them as friends to see the error into which they were drifting and not to provoke a formal sentence of condemnation. About the same time he received a letter from Pelagius who was still in Palestine and replied in friendly and affectionate terms. This letter is preserved in Augustine's treatise de Gestis Pelagii (c. 52) where Augustine points out the unfair use which Pelagius endeavoured to make of it at the synod of Diospolis.
The condemnation of Pelagianism by the synod of Carthage deterred its more prominent upholders from the continued open assertion of its doctrines, but a quiet and secret circulation of them continued. Adherents increased so greatly that Augustine professed alarm as to where the evil might break out afresh (Ep. 157). Tidings of such a fresh outbreak came in 414 from Sicily, where one Hilary wrote to him that some Christians at Syracuse were asserting that man can be without sin and easily keep the commandments of God, if he will; that an unbaptized infant overtaken by death cannot possibly perish deservedly, as he is born without sin. Other opinions mentioned by Hilary as held by these Syracusans exhibit a fresh development of Pelagian thought, if they really originated from the same source. These were that a rich man cannot enter the kingdom of God unless he sell all he has, arid that it cannot avail him to keep the commandments of God if he still retains and uses his riches. Such an assertion of the need of renouncing private property as a condition of religious life was probably an exaggeration of the real teaching of the monks, Pelagius, and Coelestius. Augustine elaborately replied to Hilary, repeating many of the arguments he had before employed. About the same time he learnt that two young men of good birth and liberal education, Timasius and James, had been induced by Pelagius to renounce the world and adopt the monastic life and had adopted many of the peculiar opinions of their master. They had, however, been powerfully impressed by the arguments of Augustine on the nature of Christian grace, and forwarded him a book of Pelagius, to which they requested a detailed answer. This Augustine gave in his treatise de NaturÃ¢ et GratiÃ¢ . The book of Pelagius, if we may rely upon the fairness of Augustine's quotations, which there is no reason to distrust, advocated in the interests of morality the adequacy of human nature for good action. It affirmed it possible to live without sin by the grace or help of God. But the grace thus recognized was the natural endowment of free will, itself the gift of God, though sometimes the conception of it was enlarged so as to include the knowledge of right conveyed by the Law. Sin was pronounced avoidable if men were to be truly accounted responsible moral agents, and sin being rather a negation than a positive entity could not vitiate human nature. When man has actually sinned, he needs forgiveness. Nature was magnified, as if the admission of a subsequent corruption was derogatory to the goodness of the original creation. All the O.T. worthies who are described as having lived righteously were quoted as proofs of the possibility of living without sin. The continuance of controversy was obviously leading Pelagius to a more formal and systematic development of his theory.
The same tendency to systematization is seen in a document of definitions or arguments attributed to Coelestius, which was communicated to Augustine by two bishops, Eutropius and Paul, as having been circulated in the Sicilian church. A series of 16, or as some condense them 14, questions is designed to point out the difficulties of the Augustinian theory and to establish the contrary theory by one ever-recurring dilemma, that either man can live entirely free from sin, or the freedom of the human will and its consequent moral responsibility must be denied. Augustine replied to this early in 415, in his treatise de Perfectione Justitiae Hominis , addressed to Eutropius and Paul.
The scene of the controversy now changed from Africa to Palestine, where Pelagius had been resident for some years. In the beginning of 415 Paulus OROSIUS, a presbyter from Tarragona in Spain, came to Africa to consult Augustine as to certain questions, connected with Origenism and Priscillianism, which were rife in his native land. He had conceived an intense admiration for Augustine and became one of his most devoted disciples. Augustine describes him as quick in understanding, fluent in speech, and fervent in zeal. After giving him the instruction he required, he sent him to Jerome at Bethlehem, ostensibly to obtain further instruction, but really to watch the proceedings of Pelagius, and announce to the church in Palestine the steps taken in the African church to suppress the rising heresy. Orosius reached Palestine in June and spent a few weeks with Jerome, who was then writing his Dialogue against the Pelagians. He was invited to a synod at Jerusalem on July 28, and was asked what he could tell as to Pelagius and Coelestius. He gave an account of the formal condemnation of Coelestius by the council of Carthage in 412, and mentioned that Augustine was writing a treatise in answer to a work of Pelagius, and read a copy of the letter from Augustine to Hilary. Thereupon bp. John desired Pelagius himself to be sent for to have an opportunity of defending himself from any charges of unsound doctrine alleged. Pelagius was asked by the presbyters whether he had really taught the doctrines against which Augustine protested. He bluntly replied, "And who is Augustine to me?" This bold and contemptuous rejection of the name and authority of the great bishop whose influence was paramount in the West owing to his signal services in the Donatist controversy, roused the indignation of the presbyters, but, to the amazement of Orosius, the presiding bishop admitted Pelagius, layman and alleged heretic as he was, to a seat among the presbyters, and exclaimed, "I am Augustine here." He proceeded to hear charges against Pelagius. Orosius said that Pelagius, according to his own confession, had taught that man can be without sin and can easily keep the commandments of God, if he will. Pelagius acknowledged that he had used such language. Orosius claimed that such doctrine should be at once denounced as untenable on the authority of the recent council at Carthage, and of the writings of Augustine, and the judgment of their own venerated neighbour Jerome recently expressed in a letter to Ctesiphon. The bishop quoted the scriptural instances of Abraham, who was bidden "to walk before God and be perfect," and of Zacharias and Elizabeth, who were described as "walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the law blameless," as affording a primÃ¢ facie justification of Pelagius, and argued, If Pelagius said that man could fulfil the commands of God without the aid of God, his doctrine would be wicked and worthy of condemnation, but as he maintained that man could be free from sin not without the aid of God, to deny this position would be to deny the efficacy of divine grace. Orosius proceeded to anathematize the notion of such a denial of grace, and, seeing that John was unwilling to admit a charge of heresy against Pelagius, appealed to another tribunal. Declaring the heresy to be of Latin origin and most formidable in the Latin churches, he demanded that the whole question should be referred to pope Innocent, as the chief bishop of Latin Christianity. This compromise was accepted. The whole account of the proceedings of this synod at Jerusalem is derived from the Apology of Orosius, and must be received with some deductions, having regard to the fiery and intemperate invective which the impassioned Spaniard lavishes upon Pelagius and all his followers.
A renewed effort to quell Pelagianism the result Pelagius says of the influence of Jerome and a small knot of ardent sympathizers at Bethlehem was made towards the end of 415 when two deposed Western bishops Heros of Arles and Lazarus of Aix laid a formal accusation against Pelagius before a synod at Diospolis (the ancient Lydda) at which Eulogius bp. of Caesarea and metropolitan presided. Fourteen bishops attended itâ€”Eulogius John Ammonianus Eutonius two Porphyrys Fidus Zomnus Zoboennus Nymphidius Chromatius Jovinus Eleutherius and Clematius. The two accusers were absent from the hearing owing to the illness of one of them but a document (libellus) was handed in containing the principal charges. Some of the propositions it attributed to Pelagius were capable of being explained in an orthodox sense and he did so explain them. It was objected to him that he had said that no one could be without sin unless he had the knowledge of the law. He acknowledged that he had said this but not in the sense his opponents attached to it; he intended by it that man is helped by the knowledge of the law to keep free from sin. The synod admitted that such teaching was not contrary to the mind of the church. It was charged again that he had affirmed that all men are governed by their own will. He explained that he intended by this to assert the responsibility of man's free will which God aids in its choice of good; the man who sins is himself in fault as transgressing of his own free will. This too was pronounced in agreement with church teaching for how could any one condemn the recognition of free will or deny its existence when the possibility of God's aid to it was acknowledged? It was alleged that Pelagius had declared that in the day of judgment the wicked and sinners would not be spared and it was inferred that he had intended thereby to imply that all sinners would meet eternal punishment even those who had substantially belonged to Christâ€”it was probably implied that such teaching was a denial of the temporary purgatorial fire which was to purify the imperfectly righteous. Pelagius replied by quoting our Lord's words (Mat_25:46) and declared that whoever believed otherwise was an Origenist. This satisfied the synod. It was alleged that he wrote that evil did not even enter the thought of the good Christian. He defended himself by saying that what he had actually said was that the Christian ought to study not even to think evil. The synod naturally saw no objection to this. It was alleged that he had disparaged the grace of N.T. by saying that the kingdom of heaven is promised even in O.T. It was supposed that by this he had proclaimed a doctrine that salvation could be obtained by the observance of the works of the Law. He explained it as a vindication of the divine authority of the O.T. dispensation and its prophetic character. It was alleged that he had said that man can if he will be without sin and that in writing a letter of commendation to a widow who had assumed the ascetic life he used fulsome and adulatory language which glorified her unexampled piety as superlatively meritorious. He explained that though he might have admitted the abstract possibility of sinlessness in man yet he had never maintained that there had existed any man who had remained sinless from infancy to old age but that a man on his conversion might continue without sin by his own efforts and the grace of God though still liable to temptation and those who held an opposite opinion he begged leave to anathematize not as heretics but as fools. The bishops were satisfied with this acknowledgment that man by the help of God and by grace can be with. out sin. Other propositions alleged against him such as those condemned by the synod of Carthage in 412 he declared were not his own but made by Coelestius and others; yet he was willing freely to disavow them. It is hard to believe that in so doing Pelagius was not pronouncing condemnation on views he had himself on other occasions maintained. Finally Pelagius professed his belief in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and in all the teaching of the holy Catholic church and the synod acknowledged him as a Catholic and in full communion with the church. Party feeling evidently ran very high. Jerome was regarded as a chief mover in the prosecution of Pelagius and apparently by way of vengeance a violent and outrageous assault was made upon his monastery at Bethlehem which was ascribed to some of the Pelagian party with what justice it is not easy to ascertain. As Neander remarks it is not likely that Pelagius had any share in the tumultuous proceedings as in that case evidence of the outrage would doubtless have been laid before the Roman bp. Innocent in the subsequent proceedings. Jerome suspecting the orthodoxy of many of its members spoke of the synod of Diospolis as a "miserable synod." Augustine in his treatise de Gestis Pelagii written after he had received a full official record of the synod argued that Pelagius had only escaped by a legal acquittal of little moral worth obtained by evasive explanations and by his condemning the very dogmas he had before professed.
The controversy once more returned to the West. A synod of more than 69 bishops assembled at Carthage towards the close of 416. Orosius produced the accusations which had been presented against Pelagius by Heros and Lazarus. They recognized in them the same heretical opinions previously condemned at Carthage in 412, and determined to appeal to Innocent, bp. of Rome, on the great questions at issue. Granting that the synods of Jerusalem and Diospolis might have been justified in the acquittal of Pelagius on the ground of his explanations, evasions, and disclaimers of responsibility for some of the positions alleged, they called attention to the continued prevalence of doctrines which affirmed the sufficiency of nature for the avoidance of sin and fulfilment of the commandments of God (thus virtually superseding the need of divine grace), and which denied the necessity of baptism in the case of infants, as the way of obtaining deliverance from. guilt and eternal salvation. A synod at Mileum in Numidia in 416, attended by 61 bishops, wrote a letter to Innocent to the same effect, and with these two synodical letters was sent a letter from Augustine and four brother-bishops, Aurelius, Alypius, Evodius, and Possidius, in which they sought to discount the acquittal of Pelagius in the East at Diospolis by saying that the result had only been obtained by the accused concealing his real sentiments and acknowledging the orthodox faith in ambiguous language, calculated to deceive the Eastern prelates, ignorant as they were of the full force of Latin words, and at the mercy of an interpreter. They demanded that Pelagius should be summoned to Rome and examined afresh, to see whether he acknowledged grace in the full scriptural sense. To enable the Roman bishop to judge dispassionately of the case they forwarded the book of Pelagius, on which Timasius and James had sought the judgment of Augustine, and the book (de NaturÃ¢ et GratiÃ¢ ) which Augustine had written in reply. They specially marked some passages in Pelagius, from which they thought Innocent must inevitably conclude that Pelagius allowed no other grace than the nature with which God had originally endowed man. Innocent answered this threefold appeal in three letters written Jan. 27, 417. He began each with a strong assertion of the supreme authority of his see and many expressions of satisfaction that the controversy had been referred to him for final decision. He expressed doubt whether the record of the proceedings at Diospolis he had received was authentic. The book of Pelagius he unhesitatingly pronounced blasphemous and dangerous, and gave his judgment that Pelagius, Coelestius, and all abettors of their views ought to be excommunicated.
Innocent died Mar 12, 417, and was succeeded by Zosimus, whose name seems to indicate his Eastern origin. Coelestius left Ephesus, whither he had gone on his expulsion from Africa and obtained ordination as presbyter, and proceeded to Constantinople, whence, as he began disseminating his peculiar opinions, he was driven by its bishop, Atticus. He went at once to Rome to clear himself of the suspicions and charges urged against him. He laid before Zosimus a confession of his faith, which, after a minute and elaborate exposition of the chief articles of the Catholic faith, dealt with the controverted doctrines of grace. Treating them as really lying outside the articles of faith, he submitted himself to the judgment of the apostolic see, if in any way he had gone astray from scriptural truth. He professed his belief that infants ought to be baptized for the remission of sins in accordance with church practice, as the Lord had appointed that the kingdom of heaven could not be bestowed save upon the baptized. But he did not admit that infants derived sin by propagation; sin is not born with man, but is his own act of choice. To impute evil to human nature antecedently to any exercise of the will he held injurious to the Creator, as making Him the author of evil. Zosimus held a synod in the basilica of St. Clement. He asked Coelestius whether he condemned all the errors ascribed to him. Coelestius answered that he condemned all that Innocent had condemned, and was ready to condemn all that the apostolic see deemed heretical. Zosimus declined to pronounce a definitive sentence, but deprived and excommunicated the bps. Heros and Lazarus, who had not appeared to substantiate the charges made against the Pelagians, and after an interval of two months wrote to Aurelius and other African bishops, censuring them for the premature condemnation of Coelestius. He refused to decide upon the merits of the case until the accusers appeared before him, whilst he informed the African bishops that he had admonished Coelestius and his followers to abstain from these nice and curious questions which did not tend to edification. After the despatch of this letter Zosimus received one from Praylius, the new bp. of Jerusalem, speaking favourably of Pelagius, and with it a letter from Pelagius and a confession of faith, which he had drawn up for Innocent, but which, reaching Rome after Innocent's death, were now delivered to his successor. This letter of Pelagius is lost, and known only by quotations in Augustine. The confession of faith is extant. Like that of Coelestius, it recapitulates the great articles of the Christian faith. In it he declared that he recognized free will in such a way as that man always needs the aid of God, and charged with error both those who say with the Manicheans that man cannot avoid sin, and those who assert with Jovinian that man cannot sin. He was willing to amend his statements if he had spoken incautiously, and to conform them to the judgment of the prelate "who held the faith and see of Peter." Zosimus had the letter and creed read in public assembly, and pronounced them thoroughly Catholic and free from ambiguity. He even spoke of the Pelagians as men of unimpeachable faith ("absolutae fidei") who had been wrongly defamed. He wrote afresh to Aurelius and the African bishops, upbraiding them vehemently for their readiness to condemn men without a proper opportunity of defence, strongly denouncing the personal character of Heros and Lazarus as rendering them untrustworthy witnesses, and gratefully acknowledging that Pelagius and his followers had never really been estranged from Catholic truthâ€”a conclusion strikingly different from that of his immediate predecessor. Augustine generally passes over in silence this action of Zosimus, speaking of it as an instance of gentle dealing with the accused, and rather implying that Zosimus, with an amiable simplicity, had allowed himself to be deceived by the specious and subtle admissions of the heretics. The African bishops were not willing to accept without remonstrance this judgment in favour of opinions which long study had taught them to regard as inimical to the faith and destructive of all true spiritual life. Meeting at Carthage, they drew up a long letter to Zosimus, defending themselves from the charges of hastiness and uncharitableness, justifying the condemnation of Pelagianism pronounced by Innocent, and entreating Zosimus to inquire afresh into the doctrines of Coelestius. The subdeacon Marcellinus was the bearer of this letter. Zosimus replied in a letter, Mar 21, 418, extolling extravagantly the dignity of his own position as the supreme judge of religious appeals, but declaring that he had not taken any further steps, hinting also at a possible reconsideration. On May 1, 418, a full council of the African church, composed of 214 (others say 224) bishops, held in the basilica of Faustus at Carthage, Aurelius presiding, was unwilling to wait for a theological determination from the see of Rome, but asserted its own independence and formulated nine canons anathematizing the principal Pelagian dogmas, some of them probably being a republication of canons passed at former minor councils. Anathemas were pronounced on the doctrine that infants derive no original sin from Adam which needs expiation in baptism, and that there is some middle place of happiness in the kingdom of heaven for infants who die unbaptized. A strong protest was made against the views that the grace of God by which we are justified through Jesus Christ avails only for the forgiveness of past sin and not for aid against the commission of sin, or that grace is only the revelation of the will of God and not an inspiring principle of righteousness, or that grace only enables us to do more easily what God commands. The two concluding canons point to a peculiar application of Pelagian doctrine, which was a curious anticipation of the teaching of some modern sectaries. They reject the idea that the petition in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our sins," is inappropriate for Christian men and can only be regarded as a prayer for others, and that it can only be used as a fictitious expression of humility, not as a true confession of guilt.
Appeal was now made to the civil power. The emperors Honorius and Theodosius issued a decree banishing Pelagius and Coelestius from Rome, and pronouncing confiscation and banishment against all their followers. An imperial letter communicated this decree to the African bishops. Zosimus, whether in vacillation or in alarm at the strong force of dominant Catholic opinion now supported by the state, proceeded to investigate the subject afresh, and summoned Coelestius for fuller examination. Coelestius, seeing the inevitable result, withdrew from Rome. Zosimus thereupon issued a circular letter (epistola tractoria ) confirming the decisions of the N. African church. He censured as contrary to the Catholic faith the tenets of Pelagius and Coelestius, particularly selecting for reprobation certain passages from Pelagius's Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul, which since his former consideration of the case had been laid before him, and ordered all bishops acknowledging his authority to subscribe to the terms of his letter on pain of deprivation. This subscription was enforced through N. Africa under the protection of the imperial edict by Aurelius the bishop and president of the council at Carthage, and in Italy under the authority of the prefect. In Italy 18 bishops refused, and were immediately deprived. The ablest and most celebrated was Julian, bp. of Eclanum in Apulia, who entered into controversy with Augustine with much learning, critical power, and well-controlled temper. He complained, not without some justice, that the anti-Pelagian party sought to suppress their opponents by the strong hand of imperial authority rather than convince them by an appeal to reason. He charged the Roman bishop and clergy with a complete departure from their former convictions, and, complaining that subscription to the letter of Zosimus was being enforced on individual bishops in isolation and not at a deliberate synod, demanded further discussion in a fresh council, refusing to acknowledge the dogmatic authority of the N. African church. A letter commonly supposed to be written by him was circulated in Rome, the professed object of which was to shew the mischievous consequences of the dominant anti-Pelagian doctrine; and another letter, written in the name of the 18 deprived bishops of Italy to Rufus, bp. of Thessalonica, and remonstrating against their condemnation, was probably drawn up by Julian. The two letters reached Boniface, who at the end of the year succeeded Zosimus as bp. of Rome, and were communicated by him through Alypius to Augustine, who replied in his treatise contra Duas Epistolas Pelagianorum , addressed to Boniface, and subsequently pursued the argument against Julian, first in a treatise contra Julianum in six books, written in 421, and then in the closing years of his life in a work of which six books only were completed. Julian throughout his writings sought to cast a prejudice upon the Augustinian doctrine by raising forcible objections to its more unguarded assertions and exaggerations. He boldly challenged it as a revived form of Manicheism, implying that the early education of Augustine might still be moulding his doctrine. He objected that the Augustinian system denied the goodness of the original creation of Godâ€”represented marriage, although a divine institution, as necessarily evilâ€”disparaged the righteousness of the O.T. saintsâ€”denied free will and its consequent moral responsibilityâ€”and nullified belief in the forgiveness of all sins at baptism. Augustine shewed that these were unfair deductions from his statements, maintaining that the original goodness of man's nature is not incompatible with the recognition of its corruption after Adam's fall, that the O.T. did not assert the sinlessness or freedom from temptation of the saints; that free will was so vitiated by the fall that it was powerless for righteousness without the prevenient and co-operating grace of God; and that even after the forgiveness conveyed in baptism there remained the sinful element of concupiscence. Augustine could confidently and successfully appeal to the popular consciousness of Christendom, as bearing witness to man's moral impotence and his need of redemption. The experience of the human heart was, after all, a better judge of such spiritual facts than the most subtle arguments of reason and conflicting interpretations of the meaning of N.T.
The tendency of Pelagianism to underrate the necessity of the divine redemption, and to disparage the dignity of the person of the Redeemer by denying His sinless humanity, is manifested in the case of Leporius, a monk and presbyter of S. Gaul who, coming into Africa, had been reclaimed from Pelagian views by Augustine. In recanting he acknowledged that he had taught that Jesus Christ as a mere man was liable to sin and temptation, but by His own efforts and exertions without divine aid had attained to perfect holiness. Jesus had not come into the world to redeem mankind from sin, but to set them an example of holy living (Cassian, de Incarn. i. 234; Gennad. de Script. Eccles. 59). Thus Leporius's peculiar anthropology coloured his theological conception of the God-Man. Annianus, a deacon of Celada, wrote at the same time in defence of Pelagian views, and, at the suggestion of Orontius, one of the deposed bishops, translated the homilies of John Chrysostom on St. Matthew in the interest, he alleged, of a high morality. He claimed Chrysostom as a powerful upholder of evangelical perfection, of the integrity of human nature against any Manichean notions of its essentially evil character, and of the free will which it was the glory of Christianity to recognize in opposition to pagan ideas of fate and necessity; and as giving co-ordinate prominence to grace and free will.
Pelagianism was not wholly extinguished even in Italy by the forcible measures adopted against it both by the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, for pope Leo, writing c. 444, desired the bp. of Aquileia not to receive into communion any in his province suspected of the heresy before they subscribed a formal renunciation. The letters of pope Gelasius also refer to occasional outbreaks of the heresy in Dalmatia and elsewhere towards the end of the 5th cent.
Pelagianism came under the formal condemnation of the Eastern church in an incidental way. Several deposed Pelagian bishops repaired to Constantinople, where they found Coelestius. Atticus, the patriarch, had refused to receive them, but his successor Nestorius gave them a patient hearing. He wrote to Coelestinus, bp. of Rome, for information about the reasons of their condemnation and the nature of their peculiar doctrines, but received no answer. When Nestorius himself fell into disgrace because of his own heresy about the person of Christ, he was disposed to sympathize with Coelestius and his followers as the objects of persecution by a dominant party. The East had apparently not specially discussed the Pelagian controversy; its leading rulers and writers recognized the co-operation of grace and free will without narrowly determining their limits. But the general council at Ephesus in 431 joined, under the influence of Cyril, in one condemnation the tenets of Nestorius and Coelestius, while refraining from specifying them. It pronounced sentence of deposition upon any metropolitan or cleric who had held or should hereafter hold their views.
The personal history of Pelagius after the condemnation of his views by Zosimus is obscure. He is said to have died in some small town in Palestine, being upwards of 70 years old. Coelestius similarly disappears after the council of Ephesus; the time and place of his death are unknown. Julian is said to have died c. 454 in an obscure town of Sicily, where he maintained himself by teaching. There is a story that in a time of famine he relieved the poor by parting with all he had. There is a tradition that in the 9th cent. the inscription was still visible on his tomb: "Here rests in peace Julian, a Catholic bishop."
A modified form of Pelagianism, called by later scholastic writers semi-Pelagianism, arose in the closing years of Augustine's life. Its advocates were spoken of at the time of its introduction as Massilienses, as they were connected with the church of Marseilles. Its originator was John CASSIAN, commonly called a Scythian but probably a native of Gaul. He had been brought up in a monastery at Bethlehem, and after living some time with the monks of Egypt, went to Marseilles, where he founded two monasteries, one for men and one for women. He differed widely from Pelagius, for he acknowledged that the whole human race was involved in the sin of Adam and could not be delivered but by the righteousness of the second Adam; that the wills of men are prevented by the grace of God, and that no man is sufficient of himself to begin or to complete any good work. But though he admitted that the first call to salvation sometimes comes to the unwilling and is the direct result of preventing grace, yet he held that ordinarily grace depends on the working of man's own will. Augustine, at the suggestion of two lay-friends, Prosper and Hilary, in two treatises, one on the predestination of the saints, the other on the gift of perseverance, defended the doctrines of an arbitrary election and of a will determined wholly by grace, but failed to satisfy the objections felt by the church of Marseilles, and the Gallic theologians continued after the death of Augustine to regard his predestinarian views as essentially fatalistic and injurious to moral progress. The monastery of Lerins was a principal centre of opposition to ultra-Augustinian views. At length the controversy was closed in the time of CAESARIUS, bp. of Arles, an ardent admirer of St. Augustine, at a council at Arausio (Orange) in July 529. Of its 25 canons the first two, in opposition to Pelagian doctrine, declare that by the sin of Adam not only his own soul but those of his descendants were injured. The next six expound the functions of grace, affirming that the initial act of faith is not from man but from God's grace, and that we cannot without grace think or choose any good thing pertaining to salvation. Others develop the doctrine on similar lines, but not one touches the disputed question of predestination. An address appended by the prelates to the canons repudiates indignantly the belief that any are predestined to evil and asserts that without any preceding merits God inspires men with faith and love, leads them to baptism, and after baptism helps them by the same grace to fulfil His will. Pope Boniface II., who had succeeded Felix, confirmed the decrees of this Gallican council in a letter written to Caesarius. The moderation and good sense of the fathers of Orange, and their earnest desire to avoid the extravagance either of extreme predestinarianism, which would annihilate the human will, or an arrogant self-trust, which would claim to be independent of divine grace, had their reward. Their decrees met with general acquiescence, and both Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism ceased to be dominant forces in Western Christendom.
Semi-Pelagianism held man in his original state to have had certain physical, intellectual, and moral advantages which he no longer enjoys. In the beginning his body was not subject to death, he had extraordinary knowledge of external nature and apprehension of the moral law, and was sinless. The sin of the first man entailed physical death and a moral corruption which was propagated to his posterity. Freedom of will to do good was not lost, but greatly impaired. The imputation of original sin is removed in baptism, and baptism is essential to salvation. Man needs the aid of divine grace for the performance of good works and the attainment of salvation. The free will of man works in cooperation with divine grace. There is no such thing as an unconditional decree of God, but predestination to salvation or damnation depends upon the use which man makes of his freedom to good. Election is therefore conditional. The merit of man's salvation is, however, to be ascribed to God, because, without God's grace, man's efforts would be unavailing. Wiggers has forcibly observed that Augustinianism represented man as morally dead, semi-Pelagianism as morally sick, Pelagianism as morally sound.
The full theory of Augustinianism in all its strong asseverations of an unconditional election and a total corruption of human nature did not retain its hold on the theology of the Western church during the succeeding centuries, nor was it ever acknowledged in the Eastern church. Men like popes Leo I. and Gregory I., in the 5th and 6th cents., and Bede in the 8th, were Augustinian, but the general tendency of the West turned in another direction, while it sternly rejected Pelagianism proper. The famous history of the monk Gottschalk, in the latter part of the 9th cent., proves how distasteful unqualified predestinarianism had become, but this lies beyond the assigned limits of this Dictionary.
Pelagianism never developed into a schism by setting up any organization external to the Catholic church. It practised no distinctive rites, it accepted all the traditional ecclesiastical discipline. It freely retained the practice of infant baptism, though it formed a different opinion on the moral and spiritual significance of the act. It was a mode of thought which strove to win acceptance within the church, but which was successfully cast out. [AUGUSTINE, Â§ 10.] Cf. Zunnier, Pelagius in Irland (Berlin, 1902).
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Wace, Henry. Entry for 'Pelagianism and Pelagius'. A Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hwd/p/pelagianism-and-pelagius.html. 1911.