As I sit in the evening sun this bright St. Patrick’s day, I think it most fitting to give some thought to Pelagius, who was after all the target of Patrick’s assault on Ireland (no, it certainly was not the snakes, unless, as one might consider Patrick thought, Pelagius was the snakes.)
There is a dispute as to whether Patrick’s mission involved pushing Church orthodoxy (some arguing that Palladius, first Bishop of Ireland, was sent “ad Scotus” for that purpose, and not Patrick, the latter little more than a devout simpleton sent to Erin to bring the Celtic pagans to Christianity), as orthodoxy was a critical concern of Constantine’s Church, and the proclivity to identify heresies where ever it looked continued to be a hallmark of the Church in the 5th century. What could Pelagius have written that would have the Church so wound up? If we turn to the Catholic Encyclopedia we find that Pelagius and his noble buddy lawyer, Caelestius, had the effrontery to suggest that:
- Even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died.
- Adam’s sin harmed only himself, not the human race.
- Children just born are in the same state as Adam before his fall.
- The whole human race neither dies through Adam’s sin or death, nor rises again through the resurrection of Christ.
- The (Mosaic Law) is as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel.
- Even before the advent of Christ there were men who were without sin.
And what, you might ask, does that mean? Well, it means that Pelagius rejected a good deal of the nonsense that Augustine, and Paul before him, invented. Original sin (the bit that suggests that we are all tainted with Adam’s sin, even new born babes)? In the trash. Mosaic Law? More than adequate; NT NOT obligatory. Redemption from sin only through Jesus? Not likely. And the final coup? You didn’t need the Church as a middle man….. OH MY!!!! Pelagius felt that one could find one’s way to heaven without the benefit of clergy. His heresy, in retrospect, is likely closer to the historical Jewish Jesus than much the world has seen since, and Mother Church was hearing none of it.
In Patrick the Church continued to take hard right turns, rejecting the very message that supposedly gave rise to the Church in the first place, but cementing its authority, which arguably was Constantine’s intent, those many decades earlier. For the 21st Century, we find ourselves celebrating Patrick’s feast day while complaining about the lack of social and economic justice, about the crisis of inequality, about rampant capitalism that invariably leads to wage enslavement. Instead, we should all be hoisting a pint to dear old Pelagius,
In addition to the Catholic Encyclopedia you might find the following interesting on whether Pelagius was, well, right: