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Pelagianism

Updated: Mar 3

February 4, 2024


This week we will finish up with the heresy of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Now the main defenders of Orthodoxy against Pelagianism were St. Augustine – who has been given the title “Doctor of Grace” – and St. Jerome, the greatest Biblical scholar to ever have lived. The insistence by both of these Church Fathers was that first and foremost, God’s grace is necessary to do any good and that Christ did not come to just give us an example, but also redemption, forgiveness of sins and the ability to receive and gain more graces. That man is born with original sin and because of this, human nature is damaged. This damage is remedied by the sacraments, in particular Baptism, and through the other sacraments and opportunities God offers us to gain graces and thus grow in virtue and perfection. Our cooperation is necessary in order for the grace of God to achieve its fullest expression in our lives while at the same time all the good works we are able to accomplish are accomplished through the beginning presence of grace and then our cooperation with that grace. To put it simply: Grace leads to works which leads to more grace. Augustine, who declared Pelagius "the enemy of the grace of God" boiled down Pelagianism into three heretical tenets: "to think that God redeems according to some scale of human merit; to imagine that some human beings are actually capable of a sinless life; to suppose that the descendants of the first human beings to sin are themselves born innocent".


As the heresy of Pelagius was condemned at the Council of Carthage in 418, there had already begun the laying of the groundwork for the next heresy which was Semi- Pelagianism. The basic ideas of Semi-Pelagianism are a “toned down” version of the original heresy. Some of the main points of the new heresy were that original sin is a damaging reality and the necessity of baptism and that while we need God’s grace, we can take the first step toward Him on our own, without His grace. the beginning of faith (though not faith itself or its increase) could be accomplished by the human will alone, unaided by grace) and that once a man has been justified, he does not need additional grace from God in order to persevere until the end of life. The main point still being that the human will is capable of reaching certain perfection on its own, without God’s grace.


While this is less extreme than the Pelagian view of not really needing grace from God at all, there are still more red flags here than a communist parade. In the end it circles back around to the reliance on human ability to achieve perfection that was a major part of the Pelagian heresy to begin with. This heresy was condemned at the second Council of Orange in the year 529 and again by the Council of Trent in 1546 in response to the heresy of Martin Luther and John Calvin.


In these heresies we have the aftereffects of the Stoic philosophy of the Greeks that relied on the ability of the man to ascend to higher levels on his own. The rebirth of this is seen in the radical humanism which has infected our Church and our world at large, in the philosophy that every- one is capable of being “good” by their own merits or ability and dragging everything down to the level of being measured by “us” on the horizontal plane where we determine what is “good” regardless of God’s laws, rather than “us and God” on a vertical plane. My “goodness” or lack thereof, is always directly correlated to my closeness to or distance from God in my mind, heart, soul, and daily decisions. Look at all the ways evil and erroneous ideologies are pushed in our world. It is always done with the measuring stick of myself and other human beings, the subjective ra- ther than the objective. That course of action results in the most terrifying prison one can be locked into - the prison of the purely material, purely human - all while there is the deep desire to know real transcendental truth. The truth of who I am in relationship with the eternal God, and what the goal of my life is. This is why Christ came down here. Not to help us stay in the self-absorbed prison of self and radical humanism - but to give us the ability to ascend, move up- wards towards God, who is the source and summit of all good. As He tells us in Luke chapter 4, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the op- pressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”


God love you,

Fr. Anthony

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