Pelagius, The Heresiarch

, was born in Great Britain in the fourth century, and is said to have been abbot of the monastery uf Banger. His real name is said to be | Morgan, which signifying in the Celtic languages sea born, from A/or, sea, and gan born, was translated into risXayw;, in Latin I’elagius. For the greater part of his life, he Whs distinguished among his brethren both for piety and learning, but towards the close of his life, he went to Rome, and began to teach certain doctrines in that city about the year 400, which occasioned no small disturbance in the church He absolutely denied all original sin, which he held to be the mere invention of St. Augustine and taught that men are entire masters of their actions, and perfectly free creatures; in opposition to all predestination, reprobation, election, &c. He owned, indeed, that the natural power of man needed to be assisted by the grace of God, to enable him to work out his own salvation; but, by this grace, he only meant outward assistance, viz. the doctrines of the law, and of the gospel. Though, when pressed by those words of St. Paul, “Deus est enim, qui operatur in nobis,” &c. he owned that it is God, in effect, that makes us will what is good, when he warns and excites us by the greatness of the glory we are to obtain, and by the promises of rewards; when he makes us love him by revealing his wisdom, &c. These are Pelagius’ s own words, as cited by St. Augustine; who confutes him, and shews, that, besides these exterior graces, there are required other real and interior ones. He owned, that the will of man is indeed aided by a real grace; but he added, that this grace is not absolutely necessary in order to live well; but that it only helps us to do well with the more ease. Julian, one of his adherents, went farther yet; and owned that the assistance of grace was absolutely necessary to enable us to do perfect works. In effect, the grand doctrine of the Pelagians was, that a man might accomplish all the commands of God by the mere power of nature; and that the gifts of grace were only necessary to enable him to act well more easily, and more perfectly.

As the morals of Pelagius had long been irreproachable, he found it easy to gain a crowd of followers; and the heresy spread so much, that it became necessary for him to quit Rome, in the year 409, going to Sicily, and accompanied by Crlestius, his chief disciple and fellow-labourer, and, as is said, his countryman. They continued in Sicily, till the re-port of a conference, held at Carthage between the orthodox and the donatists, induced them to go to Africa: but Pelagius did not stay long there; and, after | fris departure, Celestius being accused of denying orio-inal sin by Paulinus, was condemned by a council held at Carthage in the year 412, under Aurelius, primate of Africa. Upon this, he repaired to his friend Pelagius, who had retired to Palestine.

Here they were well received by John bishop of Jerusalem, the enemy of St. Jerom, and well looked on by the better sort of people. Count Marcellinus, being desirous to know in what their doctrine, which was much talked of, consisted, applied to St. Augustin, bishop of Hippo, for information; and Pelagius, fearing to engage with so formidable an antagonist, wrote the bishop a letter full of protestations of the purity of his faith, and St. Augustin seems always unwilling to believe that Pelagius had fallen into error until the year 414, when Pelagius resolved to undertake his treatise of the natural strength of man, in. support of his doctrine of free-will; which, however, he still expressed in ambiguous terms, but not so as to deceive either Augustine or Jerome, who wrote against him. In Palestine, his doctrine was approved in a council held at Diospolis in the year 415, consisting of fourteen bishops. Theodore of Mopsuestia was one of Pelagius’ s most powerful friends in the east, a man of profound erudition and great reputation; who, though he wrote zealously against all heresies, fell into that of Pelagius, as also of Nestorius. On the other hand, the African bishops held a council, according to custom, in the year 416, at Carthage, and decided that Pelagius and Celestius ought to be anathematized, and communicated their judgment to the pope Innocent I. in order to join the authority of the see of Rome to their own, and, prompted by St. Augustine, refute in a summary way the chief errors imputed to Pelagius, and conclude thus: “Though Pelagius and Celestius disown this doctrine, and the writings produced against them, without its being possible to convict them of falsehood; nevertheless, we must anathematize in general whoever teacheth that human nature is capable of avoiding sin, and of fulfilling the commands of God; as he shews himself an enemy to his grace.” About the same time a council was held at Milevtim, composed of sixtyone bishops; who, after the example of that of Carthage, wrote to pope Innocent, desiring him to condemn this heresy, which took away the benefit of prayer from adults, and baptism from infants. Besides these two synodicai | letters, another was written by St. Augustin, ju the name of himself and four more bishops; in which he explained the whole matter more at large, and desired the pope to order Pelagius to Rome, to examine him more minutely, and know what kind of grace it was that he acknowledged; or else to treat with him on that subject by letters, to the end that, if he acknowledged the grace which the church teachetb, he might be absolved without difficulty.

These letters were answered by Innocent in the year 417, who coincided in sentiment with his correspondents, and anathematized all who said that the grace of God is. not necessary to good works; and judged them unworthy qf the communion of the church. In answer to the five African bishops, who had written to him on his being suspected of favouring Pelagianisui, he says, “He can neither affirm nor deny, that there are Pelagians in Rome; because, if there are any, they take care to conceal themselves, and are not discovered in so great a multitude of people.” He adds, speaking of Pelagius, “We cannot believe he has been justified, notwithstanding that some laymen have brought to us acts by which he pretends to have been absolved. But we doubt the authenticity of these acts, because they have not been sent us by the council, and we have not received any letters from those who assisted at it. For if Pelagius could have relied on his justification, he could not have failed to have obliged his judges to acquaint us with it; and even in these acts he has not justified himself clearly, but has only sought to evade and perplex matters. We can neither approve, nor blame this decision. If Pelagius pretends he has nothing to fear, it is not our business to send for him, but rather his to make haste to come and get himself absolved. For if he still continues to entertain the same sentiments, whatever letters he may receive, he will never venture to expose himself to our sentence. If he is to be summoned, that ought rather to be done by those who are nearest to him. We have perused the book said to be written by him, which you sent us. We have found in it many propositions against the grace of God, many blasphemies, nothing that pleased us, and hardly any thing but what displeased us, and ought to be rejected by all the world.

Celestius, upon his condemnation at Cartilage in the year 412, had indeed appealed to this pope but, instead of pursuing his appeal, he retired into Palestine. Pek | gius, however, who had more art, did not despair of bringing Rome over to his interest, by flattering the bishop of that city, and accordingly drew up a confession of faith, and sent it to pope Innocent with a letter, which is now lost. Innocent was dead; and Zosimus had succeeded him, when this apology of Pelagius was brought to Rome. On the first notice of ttiis change, Celestius, who had been driven from Constantinople, hastened to the west, in hopes of securing the new pope’s favour, by making him his judge, and Zosimus, pleased to be appealed to in a cause that had been adjudged elsewhere, readily admitted Celestius to justify himself at Rome. He assembled his clergy in St. Clement’s church, where Celestius presented him a confession of faith; in which, having gone through all the articles of the Creed, from the Trinity to the resurfection of the dead, he said, “If any dispute has arisen on questions that do not concern the faith, I have not pretended to decide them, as the author of a new doctrine; but I offer to your examination, what I have from the source of the prophets and apostles; to the end that, if I have mistaken through ignorance, your judgment may correct and set me right.” On the subject of original sin, he continued, “We acknowledge that children ougtr to be baptized for the remission of sins, agreeably to the rule of the universal church, and the authority of the gospel; because the Lord hath declared, that the kingdom of heaven can be given to those only who have been baptized. But we do not pretend thence to establish the transmission of sin from parents to their children: that opinion is widely different from the catholic doctrines. For sin is not born with man; it is man who commits it after he is born: it does not proceed from nature, but from will. We therefore acknowledge the first, in order not to admit of several baptisms; and take this precaution, that we may not derogate from the Creator.” Celestius having confirmed by word of mouth, and several repeated declarations, what was contained in this writing, the pope asked him, whether he condemned all the errors that had been published under his name? Celestius answered, that he did condemn them in conformity with the sentence of pope Innocent, and promised to condemn whatever should be condemned by the holy see. On this Zosimus did not hesitate to condemn Heros and Lazarus, who had taken upon them, to be the chief prosecutors of the Pelagian doctrine. He | deposed them from the episcopal office, and excommunicated them; after which he wrote to Aurelius, and the other bishops of Africa, acquainting them with what he had done, and at the same time sending them the acts of his synod.

Soon after this, Zosimus received a letter from Praylus, bishop of Jerusalem, successor to John, recommending to him Pelagius’s affair in affectionate terms. This letter was accompanied by another from Pelagius himself, together with the confession of faith before mentioned. In this letter Pelagius said, that his enemies wanted to asperse his character in two points: first, that he refused to baptize infants, and promised them the kingdom of heaven, without the redemption of Jesus Christ; secondly, that he reposed so much confidence in free-will, as to refuse the assistance of grace. He rejected the first of these errors, as manifestly contrary to the gospel; and upon the article of grace he said, “We have our free-will either to sin or not to sin, and in all good works it is ever aided by the divine assistance. We say, that all men have free-will, as well Christians as Jews and Gentiles: all of them have it by nature, but it is assisted by grace in none but Christians. In others this blessing of the creation is naked and unassisted. They shall be judged and condemned; because having free-will, by which they might arrive at faith, and merit the grace of God, they make an ill use of this liberty. The Christians will be rewarded; because they, by making a good use of their free-will, merit the grace of the Lord, and observe his commandments.” His confession of faith was like that of Celestius, On baptism he said, “We hold one single baptism, and we assert that it ought to be administered to children in the same form of words as to adults,” Touching grace he said, “We confess a freewill: at the same time holding, that we stand continually in need of God’s assistance; and that those are as well mistaken, who say with the Manichees, that man cannot avoid sinning, as those who say with Jovinian, that man cannot sin.” He concluded with these words: “Such, blessed pope, is the faith which we have learned in the catholic church, the faith which we have always held, and still continue in. If any thing contained therein shall not Jiave been explained clearly enough, or not with sufficient caution, we desire that you would correct it; you who )iold the faith, and the see of Peter. If you approve of | my confession of faith, whoever pretends to attack it, will shew either his ignorance or his malice, or that he is not orthodox; but he will not prove me an heretic.

For some time this defence answered its purpose, and Zosimus wrote a second letter to Aurelius, and to all the bishops of Africa, informing them that he was now satisfied with Pelagius and Celestius’ s confession of faith, and persuaded of their sincerity. Aurelius, however, and his brethren, were more surprised than daunted at this letter, and firmly maintained the judgment they had given, and which had been confirmed by Innocent I. At the head of their decrees they addressed a second letter to pope Zosimus, in these terms: “We have ordained, that the sentence given by the venerable bishop Innocent shall subsist, until they shall confess without equivocation, that the grace of Jesus Christ does assist us, not only to know, but also to do justice in every action; insomuch, that without it we can neither think, say, or do any thing whatever, that belongs to true piety.” They added, “That Celestius’ s having said in general terms, that he agreed with Innocent’s letters, was not satisfactory in regard to persons of inferior understandings; but that he ought to anathematize in clear terms all that was bad in his writings, lest many should believe that the apostolical see had approved his errors, rather than be persuaded that he had reformed them.” The bishop of Africa likewise reminded pope Zosimus oi his predecessor’s decision, relating to the council of Diospolis; shewed him the artifice made use of in the confession of faith which Pelagius had sent to Rome; and refuted after their manner the cavils of the heretics: and, as Zosimus had reprimanded them for having too easily given credit to the accusers of Celestius, they justified themselves at his expenee; by shewing, that he himself had been too precipitate io this affair. They also declared plainly, that this cause arising in Africa, and having been judged there, Celestius could have no right to appeal from thence, nor the pope to take cognizance of it: to which they added a protest, to prevent Zosimus from attempting to pronounce any sentence by default, in favour of Celestius and Pelagius.

Zosimus, either through a persuasion that these heretics had dealt insincerely with him, or finding it prudent to yield to the necessity of the occasion, upon the receipt of this letter, issued out a formal condemnation of the | Pelagians, and applied also to Honorius, requesting him to cause all heretics to be driven out of Rome; in compliance with which, the emperor gave a rescript at Ravenna, April 418, directd to the pretorian prefect of Italy, who, in consequence, issued his ordinance jointly with the pretorian prefect of the east, and the prefect of Gaul, purporting, that all such as should be convicted of this error should suffer perpetual banishment, and that all their possessions should be confiscated. The pope also vigorously prosecuting hs design to extirpate the friends 01 Pelagius, caused all the bishops to be deposed who would not subscribe the condemnation of the new heresy, and drove them out of Italy by virtue of the laws of the empire. Atticus, bishop of Constantinople, likewise rejected their deputies. They were driven from Ephesus and Theodotus bishop of Antioch condemned them, and drove Pelagius thence, who was lately returned from Palestine, where he had taken refuge from the emperor’s rescript. We have no certain account of him after this; but there is reason to believe, that he returned to England, and spread his doctrine there; which induced the bishop of Gaul to send thither St. Germain of Auxerre, in order to refute it. However that be, it is certain that Pelagian heresy, as it is called, spread itself both in the east and west, and took so deep root, that it subsists to this day in different sects, who all go by the general name of Pelagians, except a more moderate part who are called Semi-Pelagians.

This Heresiareh wrote several things, among which are, <e A Treatise upon the Trinity;“A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistles,“which oddly enough has been annexed to those of St. Jerom, and was long thought to be written by him, although a decided Anti-Pelagian;A Book of Eclogues, or Spiritual Maxims;“several letters, among which is one addressed to a virgin, named Demetrias, which is printed in the works of St. Jerom; several pieces in his own defence and a treatise on free-will. The History of Pelagianism by Jansenius, in his treatise called <fc Augustine,” is thought the best. 1

1 Dupin. Care, vol. I. —Mosheim and Milnor’s Cb. Hist.