October 26, 2011

Pelagius Redivivus

As hard as I tried, I was unable to resist the temptation to write about this. It would seem that the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta hasn't much important to do given their intent to vote on the reinstatement of the 5th century heretic Pelagius at the upcoming 105th Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta which meets November 4-5, the last such meeting to be presided over by Bishop Neil Alexander.

The move to reinstate Pelagius is being led by the Rev. Benno D. Pattison, rector of the Church of the Epiphany in Atlanta. You can read all about it in this article at Virtue Online, which summarizes Pattison's motivation:
According to Pattison, 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. "An understanding of his life and writings might bring more to bear on his good standing in our tradition."
The article also cites the disdain of retired Bishop C. FitzSimmons Allison:
As one considers the theologically inept accommodation to the secular world there should be no surprise that Pelagian doctrine of the will's freedom without grace would be dug up again. A world losing its trust in God will compulsively trust in the human will to obey if it is sufficiently rebuked, exhorted, threatened and scolded. No wonder Richard Hooker and St. Augustine called it a 'cruel doctrine'.
There are so many things that could and should be said about this. And while I'm tempted to spell out precisely what I think, I suspect you already know. Try to imagine my red-bearded chin dropping with incredulity and then shaking, back and forth, praying this is someone's idea of a little good-hearted ecclesiastial prankish fun. Yes, at any moment someone will pop out from hiding with a camera that has recorded the look of shock still on my face and tell me that this whole thing was cooked up to add a little humor to my day, and then we'll share a hearty laugh and talk about how silly such a proposal would be. I'm waiting.

13 comments:

bossmanham said...

While I am totally against the teachings called Pelagianism, I've heard from a few places that Pelagius may not have taught what has been ascribed to him.

liquidfaith said...

I'm just waiting for the church to bring back indulgences. That would be the next (il)logical step.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Bossman, Thanks for commenting. I've heard that also. It's easy for a person's views to be misrepresented in controversy and for them to be increasingly misrepresented as history unfolds over 1500 years or so. Also, it's not clear to me just how much of Pelagius' writings are available to really evaluate any positive contribution he might have had. The really peculiar thing about this is that the Diocese would make this move certainly knowing it would only bring the disdain of the larger world-wide Church. It's not as if the decision of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta will be recognized by any other group. They are not a world-wide ecumenical council. And whatever they decide will not have any real bearing on Pelagius' status as a heretic. That's why it seems such a waste of time. Nothing will really change.

ἐκκλησία said...

In [Matt 12:36] Jesus said "I tell you, on the day of judgement people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."

Pelagius will be judged according to his words, and so will each one us!

Paul quotes [Psa 51:4], in [Romans 3:4] saying "By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, 'That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.'"

Every man is false in their doctrine. That men with imperfect doctrine judged another man's doctrine imperfect, has nothing to do with us. Pelagius was opposed by his peers because his influence threatened the establishment of ecclesiastical orthodoxy. Because we are all guilty of possessing doctrinal errors of our own, in belief, we are ALSO called to judge doctrine for ourselves against the scriptures [Acts 17:11]

Our job is not to exonerate him, nor to vilify him. Let Pelagius and his theology rest; or at least, let us read him and judge his words against the bible for ourselves. God alone is the final arbiter of pure doctrine, and as far as I know, only the bible contains it.

If our job is to judge his words against the bible for ourselves, how can we do that if we simply allow others do that for us?

BTW, the large "THEOLOGY FAIL" banner posted in the image smacks of pride, more than humility. Given that you're not a Calvinist I was surprised you went with it. However, you should be commended for posting about this, and so should the Council of the Diocese of Atlanta for their courage in being able to think for themselves.

Shamby said...

Thanks for this info Matt. I did not know about these goings on...as always, a pleasure to read your blog.

I am miffed about the modern Augustine vs. Pelagius heresy-mongering...but this seems to be just another extension of it from the liberalist side of things. I think this stuff all too often loses the happy middle, where God's grace cooperates with our works to produce men and women of holiness. How often does this truth get maligned by both sides, bent on setting fire to straw men? All the while, churches peddle something so much less than what Paul practically meant about being "in Christ". But hey, that's my rant. Thanks again.

Ekklesia, from one bro to another, the whole "Theology Fail" issue is just a little nit-picky...hope you take that as a friendly opinion.

Peace all, J

ἐκκλησία said...

Shamby, yes, nit-picky perhaps. Certainly, I accept your opinion as friendly, and appreciate it. (I hope Matt does the same for mine.)

The whole business of declaring something a "FAIL" strikes me as an artefact of my generation. Previously, I'd only seen "FAIL" used theologically in more 'confrontational' sites.

As always, Matt is free to engage or ignore my comments, as he sees fit and according to his own judgement.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Thanks for interacting with the various content of my blog, whether image or word.

The image was chosen because it seemed a bit provacative; evidently, it was.

The real point of the post was not so much about Pelagius. Whether for good or ill, his reputation in history is what it is, and I don't see that being changed any time soon. The point of the post was more to highlight how this Episcopal Diocese in question seems to be unaware of its increasing irrelevance and how the proposed action with regard to Pelagius only seems to reinforce that. It is unlikely to me that this action will be taken seriously by any noteworthy number of people in the larger Church universal. I find it interesting that this news came along within 24 hours of the report that the membership of the Episcopal Church has fallen below 2 million members, a 40% decrease in the last 40 years. It would seem they are blind to their own hemhorraging. It seems to me that their time would be much better spent focusing on mission, vision, and gospel fidelity rather than on the reinstatement of a 1500 year old heretic. But hey; that's just my two cents.

Matt

Matt O'Reilly said...

Here are links to the membership info I mentioned in the last comment:

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/documents/Domestic_FAST_FACTS_Trends_2006-2010.pdf

http://www.theird.org/page.aspx?pid=2115

ἐκκλησία said...

Matt said: "It would seem they are blind to their own hemhorraging."

That is the most worrisome issue here - methinks.

Andrew said...

Perhaps commenters should note that the Diocese hasn't decided anything at all, except to have a process that allows well-intentioned but less well-informed eccentrics to get motions put on the business paper? Wait until it's voted on this weekend before assuming how their free will gets exercized...

Matt O'Reilly said...

Good point, Andrew. Thank you. Perhaps you could let us know how the vote goes once it is done. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Matt

Andrew said...

Matt,

Thank you for a courteous approach to the issue and its debate. In fact the resolution was rejected: see here

I note that of the many places this story was initially carried I have yet to find a blogger who has posted the result. There are I suspect quite a few people who are more interested in conveying and reinforcing a particular view of reality than of listening and interpreting critically. Thank you for being an exception!

Matt O'Reilly said...

Hi Andrew,

Thanks very much for reporting on the result of the vote. I've posted an update with a few comments on that vote. Here's the link:

http://www.mattoreilly.net/2011/11/update-pelagius-redivivus.html

Thanks for reading and for your charitable comments.

Matt