Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rehabilitating Pelagius

Apparently, the Episcopal (Anglican) Diocese of Atlanta wants to rehabilitate the standing of 5th century arch-heretic, Pelagius. Here's a synopsis of what the Diocesan Convention will be asked to do:

The Diocese of Atlanta has been asked to rehabilitate Pelagius.

Delegates to the diocesan convention will be asked to reverse the condemnation of the Council of Carthage upon Pelagius, and to explore whether the Fifth century heretic may inform the theology of the Episcopal Church.

Resolution R11-7 before the convention states in part:

"Whereas the historical record of Pelagius's contribution to our theological tradition is shrouded in the political ambition of his theological antagonists who sought to discredit what they felt was a threat to the empire, and their ecclesiastical dominance, and whereas an understanding of his life and writings might bring more to bear on his good standing in our tradition;"

"And whereas his restitution as a viable theological voice within our tradition might encourage a deeper understanding of sin, grace, free will, and the goodness of God's creation, and whereas in as much as the history of Pelagius represents to some the struggle for theological exploration that is our birthright as Anglicans, Be it resolved, that this 105th Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta appoint a committee of discernment overseen by our Bishop, to consider these matters as a means to honor the contributions of Pelagius and reclaim his voice in our tradition."

Now, the Episcopalians have had a great track record in recent years of abandoning basic church teaching and substituting it for what they want, yet still claiming it's all guided by the Holy Spirit. So this should come as no surprise. A couple of years ago, I saw a satirical add promoting the Episcopal Church which claims: "Don't believe in that crap (i.e. traditional Christianity)? Neither do we."

I read about this happening here and I decided to add my own two cents. Here is my reply:

There is a great tendency in modern theological circles to elevate the arch-heretics of the ancient church to the status of Fathers of the Church, though their views were repudiated by the Fathers of the Church. So, if the Episcopal Diocese of Atalanta has their way, not only Pelagius, but Origen, Severus of Antioch, Theodore of Mopsuetia, Arius, Apollinarius, Sabellius, etc. will now be added to the list of church fathers and maybe venerated as saints.

There is no doubt that many of these heretics were pious men. But before the church could effectively speak on the objective matters of the faith, they first had to turn to the subject matters of faith (e.g. grace vs. works, nature of the Godhead, how many natures Christ had) which required no wiggle room.

Dennis asks if God wants empty vessels returning to God? That’s not what Augustine had in mind. First of all, we must remember that Christ (from st. Paul’s letter to the Philippians) emptied himself of His divinity in his assumption of humanity. But in His humanity, Christ revealed His Divinity at various points in his ministry, notably Theophany and the Transfiguration. For the Christian, he must empty himself of the passions that Christ may live in him. Such cannot be attained rigid asceticism; it must be cooperative. Such synergy is what typifies the orthodox understanding of grace vs. free works. Pelagius said God’s grace was wholly unnecessary; Augustine took a 180 degree turn and insisted it was entirely grace (a thought he later clarified and retracted in this Retractations written at the end of his life in 430 A.D.). Both Pelagius and Augustine (at the time) were monoergistic. Neither system was synergistic. It is only in cooperation with God that we empty ourselves and thus become filled with the Spirit. It’s paradox, like many orthodox Christian teachings.

The Blessed Augustine erred in his insistence on grace and denying of free will. But that does not prove that Pelagius and his followers, like Julianus, were right. It is also important to note that though the eastern churches couldn’t figure out what the problem with Pelagius was, Pelagius and Julianus were still condemned by the Synod of Jerusalem in 416 (if memory serves). Pelagius was not a saint and should not be elevated to that rank nor should he be ranked as a church father. He was just as wrong (if not more so) than Augustine.

One more thing. Augustine should not condemned just because the radical reformers and Lutherans appealed to him alone as their church father, par excellence. Augustine would have been astonished to learn of what they took from his writings to be the basis for their teachings.

Now, I may be wrong with a few dates and spellings of a few names, but I'm pretty sure this is the Orthodox and orthodox view of Pelagius. Augustine, as many know, is a bogeyman for a lot of Orthodox Christians, especially those influenced by the late Fr. John Romanides and Rev. Dr. Michael Azkoul, both of whom were vehemently anti-Augustinian though, as I have said before, I don't think they ever have read Augustine. Augustine is particularly beloved of many Greek Old Calendarists.

I'm going to keep tabs on this story and see what the result is. Of course, no matter how it turns out, I sincerely doubt that any of the Orthodox churches, Oriental Orthodox churches or even the Roman Catholic Church will follow suit. The Episcopalians revel so much in making waves so let them.