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Pelagianism (pəlāˈjənĭzəm), Christian heretical sect that rose in the 5th cent. challenging St. Augustine's conceptions of grace and predestination. The doctrine was advanced by the celebrated monk and theologian Pelagius (c.355–c.425). He was probably born in Britain. After studying Roman law and rhetoric and later theology in England and Rome, he preached in Africa and Palestine, attracting able followers, such as Celestius and Julian of Eclannum. Pelagius thought that St. Augustine was excessively pessimistic in his view that humanity is sinful by nature and must rely totally upon grace for salvation. Instead Pelagius taught that human beings have a natural capacity to reject evil and seek God, that Christ's admonition, “Be ye perfect,” presupposes this capacity, and that grace is the natural ability given by God to seek and to serve God. Pelagius rejected the doctrine of original sin; he taught that children are born innocent of the sin of Adam. Baptism, accordingly, ceased to be interpreted as a regenerative sacrament. Pelagius challenged the very function of the church, claiming that the law as well as the gospel can lead one to heaven and that pagans had been able to enter heaven by virtue of their moral actions before the coming of Christ. The church fought Pelagianism from the time that Celestius was denied ordination in 411. In 415, Augustine warned St. Jerome in Palestine that Pelagius was propagating a dangerous heresy there, and Jerome acted to prevent its spread in the East. Pelagianism was condemned by East and West at the Council of Ephesus (431). A compromise doctrine, Semi-Pelagianism, became popular in the 5th and 6th cent. in France, Britain, and Ireland. Semi-Pelagians taught that although grace was necessary for salvation, men could, apart from grace, desire the gift of salvation, and that they could, of themselves, freely accept and persevere in grace. Semi-Pelagians also rejected the Augustinian doctrine of predestination and held that God willed the salvation of all men equally. At the instance of St. Caesarius of Arles, Semi-Pelagianism was condemned at the Council of Orange (529). By the end of the 6th cent., Pelagianism disappeared as an organized heresy, but the questions of free will, predestination, and grace raised by Pelagianism have been the subject of theological controversy ever since (see Molina, Luis; Arminius, Jacobus). Pelagius' Expositions of Thirteen Epistles of St. Paul was edited in English by Alexander Souter (3 vol., 1922–31).


See J. E. Chisholm, The Pseudo-Augustinian Hypomnesticon against the Pelagians and Celestinans (Vol. I, 1967); J. Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (1971).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the teaching of the Christian monk Pelagius, who was born circa A.D. 360 and died after 418. It spread throughout the countries of the Mediterranean in the early fifth century.

In contrast to Augustine’s conception of grace and predestination, Pelagius stressed man’s free will and his native powers for the attainment of moral perfection and “salvation,” while denying original sin. Pelagianism was condemned as a heresy at the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus in 431.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(113) The critical issue for the godly parish minister in the early seventeenth century was how to turn theology into living faith that could withstand the lures of old pelagianism and new anti-Calvinism.
The same kind of objection is found in the defenders of the via moderna to the charge of extreme Pelagianism. To that charge they argued, "the covenant is not negotiated, but unilaterally imposed by God" (McGrath 1988: 58).
Martin Luther regarded Pelagianism as the one perennial heresy of Christian history, and he was convinced that it had become dominant in his lifetime under the patronage of the Roman church.
The very terms functioned as debating points in nuce--just as had occurred with terms like Pelagianism and antinomianism in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (to restrict my purview to the particular cases that might be generally relevant to the topics of this essay).
Burgess, a self-designated Manichaean, sees people like Alex playing an important role in the dynamic interplay of good and evil, and in a cyclical theory, a constant back and forth movement from Augustinianism to Pelagianism. He associates hollowness with neutrality and gives a fair degree of approval to Alex, certainly no neutral, much in the way that Marlow regards Kurtz as "the nightmare of my choice" in Conrad's Heart of Darkness (Cheswold, Delaware: Prestwick House, 2004: 61).
Regardless of the remarkable consensus described in the Joint Declaration, many Lutherans continue to be nervous about the Roman Catholic position and fear a kind of creeping Pelagianism; many Roman Catholics remain similarly unsettled by the Lutheran position and suspect a hidden denial that God, in fact, creates anew in justification.
If you wanted to get together a discussion group on the Trinity, for example, or Pelagianism, you would rent a classroom.
Clergy will find the book a useful reminder of what we have forgotten, although regretfully there is no mention of the so-called British heresy, Pelagianism. A short glossary and a good index will greatly aid the search for a nugget or two to slip into a sermon.
He regards Buss's Pelagianism as a variant of the philosophy of Gotthold E.
Indeed, by using words such as "eutraphalia" and "Pelagianism" on a daily basis, the school is distinguishing itself from other non-Catholic educational organizations.
Her interest in another heresy of that early Christian world, a quasi-Protestant Pelagianism, was to resurface more than twenty years later in The Court and the Castle, an astonishing book of literary criticism, encompassing Shakespeare, Trollope, Proust, Kafka, and, notably, Henry Fielding, who provided her with an interesting contrast to the present-day view of the criminal as a species of victim.
I would like to suggest that this Adam ideology became for Twain a shorthand metonymy for the dominant religious position of the Gilded Age with regard to the nature of man--a romantic position in its mildest form called Arminianism and in its most extreme form known as Pelagianism. Adam provided Twain with a powerful trope through which he could reinterpret his attitudes toward God, good and evil, belief and skepticism, and indeed the theological nature of humor inherent in the very idea of a fallen world.