Travellers from the regions south of this Blog tell tales of an interesting development in an Episcopal diocese, where a resolution was recently introduced asking the diocese to consider ‘reclaiming’ Pelagius, a British monk who taught in Rome early in the 5th century. The interest lies in the fact that his teachings were condemned by the Council of Carthage in 411, and have been a no-go area in the church ever since.

The resolution, which can be read here, says that Pelagius ‘represents to some the struggle for theological exploration that is our birthright as Anglicans’ and that a re-visiting of his teachings might ‘encourage a deeper understanding of sin, grace, free will, and the goodness of God’s creation’. According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Pelagius emphasised man’s ‘freedom to choose good by virtue of his God-given nature’.

Pelagius’s teachings have been revisited many times since 411, although the result has usually been a deeper understanding that the Council was correct to repudiate his ideas. Apparently the diocese in question felt the same way, because they first amended the motion so as to remove anything that suggested Pelagius’s teachings might in fact be compatible with Christianity, then refused to pass it.

Pelagius is often thought of as denying the doctrine of original sin, but apparently this was a refinement added by those won over by his teaching rather than Pelagius’s own. Ideas of this sort have arisen frequently in the church, and, as the stories confirm, are still doing so. Evangelicals will probably not be disturbed at the suggestion that we look at Pelagius’s teaching again, since the decisions of Councils only have authority if they are supported by Scripture (Article XXI, Book of Common Prayer p 872), and it never hurts to take a second look, just to be sure. But most of us will be pretty sure that those who turned the proposal down did the right thing. The Biblical teaching that human nature since Adam’s disobedience is such that we cannot choose good without God’s help has always been confirmed for me by observation: in every case I have ever seen, by the time someone is old enought to know right from wrong, they have already done wrong.

The sad part is the idea that as Anglicans our birthright is ‘the struggle for theological exploration’. As Christians, the inheritance we look forward to is that of the saints in light, deliverance from the dominion of darkness and a place in the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, and the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 5.5, Colossians 1.12f). I’ll take that over theological exploration any day.

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