What’s your righteousness and your responsibility?
Pelagius was a British monk, arrived in Rome running away from Alaric and the Visigoths – who would soon sack Rome. He had a reputation as a moral teacher, an upstanding, ‘clean living’ kind of guy. Pelagius found in Augustine of Hippo his opposite in ideals and personality.
Pelagius never needed a big conversion. He did not have a history of passionate excess in satisfying desires of the flesh, or of exoteric unorthodox beliefs. He was a monk, a righteous guy, who had little empathy for sinners, who could and should do better, and pull themselves up by their moral bootstraps, as he thought he had.
Pelagius’ rhetoric was all about choice: if we are morally responsible, we must not just be puppets for a God who predestines some to heaven and others to hell. Since we can choose better, we should, and bear the blame when we fail. Pelagius was a hardliner about kicking people out of the church for backsliding (remember the old Donatists?)
Denying original sin imputed to babies makes Pelagius seem familiar to our age. But his was not our relentlessly positive opinion of human nature, seeking only self-improvement and self-actualization. Pelagius agreed with Augustine that we are so sinful that we can’t fix ourselves, but only call on and then respond to God’s help, to become righteous and responsible.
Pelagius lost a few rounds to Augustine, but his approach, and versions developed by ‘semi-Pelagians’ after him, has never disappeared. The moral majority, or values voters, who rate individual personal responsibility and choice high, with room for God as a helper rather than a saviour and regenerator or our depraved and degenerate condition, are Pelagian. Many of our ‘conservative’ contemporaries are ‘liberal Pelagians’.
What’s your righteousness or your responsibility?
Where do you come down on political or moral analysis of nature or nurture,
personal choice and socio-economic determination?
Go ahead, admit it, we’re all a bit Pelagian in religious circles!