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Theology

In Defence of Pelagius
John Ferguson Theology 1980 83: 114 DOI: 10.1177/0040571X8008300206 The online version of this article can be found at: http://tjx.sagepub.com/content/83/692/114.citation

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the saints of old, and the biblical writers in particular, was not perfect; it often incorporated an unacceptable account of the process of inspiration as Professor Mitchell himself acknowledges. But that does not mean that it was totally wrong. For what they were apprehending was (in many cases at least) what was true about God-his creation, his purposes, his love-, and their apprehension of it was not something entirely at their command, a matter simply of effort and achievement, any more than poetic insight is. And it is because I want to stress this element of receptivity in religious insight, receptivity of what is true about God and about what God is up to in creation, that I might myself want to continue to use the word 'revelation' in relation to my own position. But I am not unduly worried about the word, and in the sense that we have defined it for this discussion I do question both its reality and its necessity for Christian faith. A final word. One of the odd things to be noted about this discussion is that the two positions on revelation do not necessarily coincide with a more and a less conservative handling of the biblical tradition. Since Professor Mitchell allows the need for some re-interpretation (despite his understanding of it as embodying special communication from God) and I believe the biblical writers to convey important truth about the way of God (although not postulating any such special communication), it is open to him, should he so wish, to move just as far (or even further) from the original understanding of the faith than me. I am not suggesting that he does so, though I suspect our differences there are rather less than our differences of theory might suggest, but that it is logically possible for him to do so. There is a real difference of conceptuality. I think he introduces an inadequately-warranted epistemological principle; he thinks I hold inadequately-warranted beliefs. The differences are real, but their practical implications are probably less than might at first sight appear.

Basil Mitchell is Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, Maurice Wiles, Regius Professor of Divinity, in the University of Oxford.

In Defence of Pelagius
JOHN FERGUSON Michael Jackson in his entertaining and attractive 'Home Cooking' (Theology July 1979, pp. 244 ff.) writes with some sympathy but ultimately negatively of Pelagius. In the controversy with Augustine I should be inclined rather to look with sympathy but ultimately negatively at

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Augustine's views, and with no sympathy at all at his policies. Let us look at the evidence. Of Pelagius's younger days we know for certain only that he came from Britain. He is called either British or a Scot (which readers of 1066 and All That know means 'Irish' and may be merely a term of abuse). The name Pelagius might, but need not, be a translation of Marigena, a Latinization of Morgan, and he is associated in a late tradition with the celebrated monastery of Bangor Yscoed near Caerleon. Perhaps. Polydorus Virgil plants his birth firmly in the south-eastern half of Britain. He had some knowledge of classical Greek philosophy, and was well acquainted with pagan Latin literature. He knew his Bible well, and read the Fathers in both Greek and Latin. He had some legal knowledge but does not seem to have practised as a lawyer; he had some familiarity with medicine, and his father could have been a doctor. He himself felt a religious calling, but although he is called a monk at times this probably refers to his general asceticism; the evidence of Zosimus is decisive that he was a layman. In mature life he was of formidable build, bull-necked, broad shouldered like a wrestler, not unlike a mountain dog. He was full of face, stern browed, and disliked head-coverings. Later he put on weight and became slow of step, but this was due, not to luxurious living, but to an unbalanced diet of coarse cereals. His opponents, Jerome and Orosius, descend to cheap abuse of his character. Augustine, a greater man altogether, never does this. Pelagius was a man of warm personality, who retained the love of his friends even when they came to reject his views. He was pure of life, self-disciplined, and ascetic, ardent in his zeal for God. The only charges against his character which are worth a moment's second thought are those of tergiversation and of pride. The first arose out of his willingness to make concessions to his critics without yielding the main point, and can hardly be sustained. The second is a charge easily levelled against those who hold to the truth as they see it against numbers or authority. Pelagius assertedand Augustine agreed-that loyalty to the truth is a form of humility. But his repeated assertion that pride is the gravest sin smacks of a man aware of his own gravest temptation. Pelagius came to Rome in about 382, and was shocked by the moral laxity he found around him. During the next twenty years he wrote a magisterial treatise on the Trinity, a monumental commentary on Paul's letters, at once scholarly and practical, and a collection of scriptural passages concerning Christian living. He was seeking to recall his readers to the Christian gospel. In 405 he heard a bishop quoting with approval the prayer from Augustine's Confessions (10.29): 'Grant what you command, and command what you will.' To Pelagius this turned man into a mere marionette, a robot. This, in the end, was the issue. Pelagius did not say

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that we could be saved by our own efforts. He did insist that we have still freely to turn to the saving grace of God. The detailed events of the controversy are of historical rather than theological importance. Pelagius was backed by a lawyer named Caelestius, a man of prodigious ability, with a keen analytic mind, but too slickly brilliant in making points, lacking Pelagius's moral integrity. In 409 with Alaric at the gates they left Rome and moved first to Sicily and then to Carthage. Augustine was occupied with the Donatists, and was disappointed not to meet Pelagius, and Pelagius left for Palestine without a personal encounter. Caelestius was left behind, and he, not Pelagius, was charged with denying the need for infant baptism in order to remove the taint of inherited sin. Caelestius answered that he accepted the practice of the Church, and thought that Christians might legitimately be divided on the theory. When pressed he declared that the purpose of baptism was to enable the infant to share in the common redemption of mankind. But on an inherited taint he was agnostic; he could not say yes and would not say no. He was excommunicated and left for Ephesus. Augustine continued to preach against the heresy, but was warm in personal correspondence with Pelagius, calling him 'my dearest master', 'my beloved brother' and the like. A noblewoman named Demetrias had resolved on a life of virginity. The waspish Jerome, sniffing suspiciously for traces of Origen or Rufinus under every bush, wrote her a letter of good advice. So did Pelagius. But in writing to her he said that God gives us our spiritual nature so that we may fulfil His just ways freely not by constraint. He gives us the power to act rightly or wrongly, so that our fulfilment of His will may come from our free choice. Augustine read this and did not like it: he wrote to Demetrias's mother that the postulant's virtues did not come from her strength at all but were the gift of God. Meantime there was trouble in Sicily. A document was circulating, no doubt by Caelestius, incorporating a number of shrewd and sharp dilemmas, such as 'If a sin comes from necessity, it is not sin; if from free will, it can be avoided', 'An ought implies a can. A man ought to live without sin: therefore he can', 'God made man good and commanded him to be good. It is blasphemous to say that man is evil and incapable of good'. Alongside these formulations are scriptural texts to back them and answers from scripture to those scriptural texts which were quoted to the contrary. Augustine replied in a treatise On the Perfection of Justice in Man. He does not answer Caelestius's central assertion, that the very concept of sin implies moral responsibility. He reiterates time and again that freedom from sin is possible only by the grace of God mediated through Jesus Christ our Lord. There was a further occasion for controversy over two young upper-class men, Timasius and James, whom Pelagius had moved to renounce secular

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ambition for the spiritual life. They sent Augustine Pelagius On Nature and invited his reply On Nature and Grace. Pelagius's argument was that we are responsible for our sins, guilty of them, and that implies choice. At one point he wrote 'Even if we wanted to be unable not to sin, we are still unable to be unable not to sin.' Augustine saw humanity as 'a sinful mass'. He knew himself to be totally dependent on Christ. Pelagius was saying 'My sin is, God help me, freely committed', Augustine 'My salvation, God be thanked, comes from Christ alone.' Pelagius was in Palestine. Here he was under fire from Jerome and Orosius. Pelagius was charged with saying 'A man can, if he will, live without sin, and easily keep God's commandments.' This sounds 'Pelagian', but Pelagius explicitly stated 'I did not mean that human nature has a natural endowment of sinlessness'; freedom from sin is possible only by the grace of God. The synod at Jerusalem acquitted him. Jerome, an inveterate trouble-stirrer, stirred up more trouble, unsuccessfully, and there were further proceedings at Diospolis. There Pelagius showed a clearly genuine concern for orthodoxy. Further, he never attacked his opponents. Augustine in particular laid himself wide open to charges against his own orthodoxy. Julian of Eclanum later seized this opportunity; Pelagius did not. All Pelagius wanted was some moral earnestness within the Church, and he could not instil that without offering some alternative to Augustine's predestinarian views. The political pressure-groups within the 'orthodox' party now got busy on the bishop of Rome. Innocent condemned Pelagius and Caelestius, but died a month later. His successor Zosimus reversed the judgement. The African churches stood by the condemnation, and applied to the secular authority, as Augustine had previously done over the Donatists. A weak emperor, Honorius, succumbed to the pressures, and banished Pelagius, Caelestius and their followers. There had been trouble in the streets between the factions, but no-one supposes that Pelagius had anything to do with it. It is an unsavoury episode. More, it pushed a weak and wavering Pope to change yet again and condemn Pelagius. Pelagius had not been present at any of the Councils which condemned him and that through no fault of his. He protested to Augustine that he did believe in the grace of God, active not merely hour by hour or minute by minute, but in our every action. He retired to Egypt, and wrote a commentary on Job, a treatise On the Virtue of Constancy and above all his commentary on The Song of Songs. He fades from our sight, rising above the abuse of his enemies, with a panegyric of true love. The Pelagian controversy has obscured some of Pelagius's other contributions to Christian thought. Pelagius for example is an important thinker about the place of laity in the church and that in a period when the clergy were growing in power. He does not denigrate the calling of the clergy, but insists equally on the vocation of the laity, that teaching within

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the church is not necessarily a sacerdotal function and that there should be no moral distinction between clergy and laity. Ambrose had spoken of 'soldiers of Christ' and 'servants of God' who might not use military weapons. He was speaking of the clergy. Pelagius insisted that the laity were equally soldiers of Christ and servants of God, and subject to the same moral challenges. Pelagius is emphatic about the renunciation of riches, and he is so in a particularly sane way. There are three states of man, wealth, poverty and sufficiency. 'Remove a millionaire and you won't find a pauper.' 'If no one has more than he needs, everyone will have as much as he needs.' Jesus did not condemn possessions out of hand. He condemned domination by possessions; he condemned great possessions as almost always corrupting; he condemned a selfish attitude to possessions. This is Pelagius's view. And Pelagius believed in levelling-up. Further he saw that what applies to possessions applies to power. Plato kept his Guardians free from wealth, but did not see the corrupting effect of power itself. Pelagius, like Acton later, did. Pelagius was concerned about quality of life. He analysed the Christian way into three factors: knowledge, faith and obedience. Knowledge is the movement of the intellect, faith the movement of the , spirit, obedience the movement of the whole person animated by the will. Love is the centre of the moral" life. As to the great controversy it is important to see that Pelagius began not from abstract considerations about the freedom of the will, but from the fact of the sinfulness of man. He knows himself a sinner, and he confesses that it is by his own fault, his own most grievous fault. F. R. Tennant defined sin as 'moral imperfection for which an agent is, in God's sight, accountable'. So said Pelagius. N either Augustine nor Pelagius denied the possibility of acting without sin. Augustine said that it is possible only after the mediation of God's grace, through the sacrament of baptism ex opere opera to. Pelagius said that the same alternatives of action are available before and after baptism. The right course is there to take, and it is our own fault that we do not take it. Pelagius is not more optimistic about human nature than his opponents; he is more pessimistic. To say that there is a right way to choose and we do not choose it is 'a really harsh and bitter word for sinners'. Pelagius said that in any action there are three elements: posse, velle, esse, possibility, will, actuality. God gives the totality. He gives the possibility. He renounces his absolute power to allow the freedom of our response, though even there he meets us (as the Father met the prodigal), he sanctifies, restrains, invites, illuminates, but he does not override so that we become automata. Pelagius believed in endowing grace and co-operating grace. But we still have to say 'Speak for your servant hears,' 'Here am I;

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send me.' In The Light of the World Holman Hunt put no handle on the door; the door of human heart opens from the inside only. There was thus a difference of emphasis between Augustine and Pelagius. Augustine stressed the divine initiative, Pelagius the human response (which he felt Augustine's theology omitted). Augustine won because the Church rightly felt that the divine initiative is greater and prior. But Augustine's full theology left no place at all for the human response. Pelagius never denied the divine initiative. Augustine would have condemned the formulations of Orange or Trent as firmly as he condemned Pelagius. His full answer involved doctrines of total depravity, arbitrary election, predestination, the physical inheritance of the original taint through man's sexual nature, and the damnation of the unbaptized. Perhaps it is right to say a word in defence of Pelagius, who had a different view of the love of God.

John Ferguson is President of the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham.

Islam and the West


ROBERT MILLER Some years ago, when futurology was fashionable, a prestigious American institute suggested as a slight possibility that before the turn of the century Africa or Asia might be convulsed by a messianic religion. The recent events in Iran and indeed all over the Moslem world confirm the standard rule of thumb that if any event is judged unlikely or impossible by a forecasting institute it will almost certainly take place. The revival of Islam should not have been such a surprise as revivals have been regularly predicted every twenty years or so since the First World War, John Buchan's novel Greenmantle describes how Richard Hannay frustrated the combination of the central powers with a resurgent Islam in the First World War and Hilaire Belloc in the 1930s even went so far as to predict a renewal of warfare between Islam and the Christian West. The revival of Islam has taken an anti-western aspect which is not an extraneous addition but is intrinsic to the Moslem religion, and has been so since its foundation. The fact that western civilization is now predominantly secular should not lead us to think that our differences with Islam are anything but religious. Western liberalism which is the part of the West with which the Moslem is confronted derives directly from Christianity. Indeed it can be argued that western secular civilization could only develop from a religion such as Christianity; liberalism and the toleration of a

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