A Review of Pelagianism

I’ve been studying a little bit about Pelagius, a 4th century British monk who is known for his views on salvation. He was the doctrinal rival of Augustine, and the historical villain of today’s sola fide Christians. Yet, as I read about his teachings, I frequently thought to myself, “Hey, I believe that too!”. Pelagius of course was not a Mormon, and it isn’t likely that Joseph Smith or any other modern day prophet has ever been influenced by him. Pelagianism and Mormonism do not have perfectly compatible soteriologies, but they do overlap in significant ways. The reader is invited to compare and contrast the two. My sources are “Early Christian Doctrines” by JND Kelly and “The Story of Christian Theology” by Roger Olson.

Pelagius’ doctrine isn’t completely internally consistent, and that may be because we don’t have a full record of it, but for the most part it presents a hopeful picture of man’s ability to follow God. I’ve broken it down into three areas, all of which are interlinked.

1. Unconditional free will and responsibility. Man is fully responsible for the evil things he does, and for the good things he does. There is no predestination of the “elect.”

2. Man has the potential, of his own power, to perfectly obey God all of the time. Theoretically, no man absolutely requires divine assistance for salvation. But, in practice, no man has ever lived perfectly except for Jesus. On the flipside, it is not inevitable that any man will sin. We sin only because we freely choose to sin, and we are fully responsible for it.

3. A rejection of original sin. Man’s will is not intrinsically biased to sin, and man does not inherit the guilt for Adam’s sin. Adam’s sin introduced death and sin into the world, and began a chain of bad examples which we follow, but a disposition for sin is not genetically propogated. A corollary is that infants don’t need baptism.

Contrary to popular opinion, Pelagius believed in grace. He stated that grace is necessary “not only for ever hour and for every moment, but also for every act of our lives…”(Augustine, “On the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin”, Book 1, Ch. 2, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/15061.htm)

Grace as understood by Pelagius

1. Free will is a gift of grace, giving us the possibility of not sinning.

2. Revelation, through reason, of God’s law, instructing us what we should do (I imagine something like the Light of Christ)

3. Law of Moses & Law of Christ (not the same thing as “God’s law” above)

4. Forgiveness of sin when we need it

5. Grace is available to all, not only to the “elect”

So feel free to compare and contrast Pelagianism with your understanding of Mormonism. From my perspective Pelagius was an inspired man who lived in a dark time.

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2 comments on “A Review of Pelagianism

  1. Stormcrow says:

    Interestingly enough, my first encounter with the name “Pelagius” was earlier today, and was in a post in which Pelagius was vilified for his beliefs.

  2. James says:

    Thanks Stormcrow. Do you mind sharing with us where this blog post is?

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