NEW

Anglican Futures: Anglican Alphabet Spaghetti

Anglican Futures Anglican Alphabetti Spaghetti A dummies guide to the plethora of organisations and acronyms linked to faithful Anglicans in the UK and Europe. I once spent some time around military personel.  Everything had its own TLA (Three Letter Acronym) right...

Canterbury Tales: Favourite Bible Stories Retold by Archbishop Justin Welby

Canterbury Tales Favourite Bible stories retold by Archbishop Justin Welby The Good Samaritan A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead, halfway...

Anglican Mission in England Elects Two Suffragan Bishops

Anglican Mission in England Elects Two Suffragan Bishops The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) met in Synod on 18 June.  While there, they elected two suffragan bishops to aid Bishop Andy Lines in providing episcopal oversight for the overall work.  Bishop Lines also...

Pride Flags Causing Conflict at Christian School

Pride Flags Cause Conflict at Christian School Conflict has broken out in a Christian school in Oxfordshire over the display of “Pride” flags. The institution in question is Kingham Hill School.  The same Trust (Kingham Hill Trust) oversees Oak Hill College, an...

Prayer Book Society Raising Funds to Put BCPs in the Hands of Choristers

Prayer Book Society Raising Funds to Put BCPs in the Hands of Choristers The Prayer Book Society, which will soon celebrate its 50th Anniversary, is raising funds to put a special edition BCP into the hands of junior choristers around the nation.   The idea came to...

Book Review: Reimagining Britain by Justin Welby

Reimagining Britain Foundations for Hope Justin Welby Bloomsbury, 2018, new edn. 2021 (ISBN: 978-1-4729-8497-5, 322pp, £12.99) The Archbishop of Canterbury has made several notable political interventions recently, including over ‘partygate’ and the Rwanda deportation...

Birthday of Anglicanism in America

Birthday of Anglicanism in America By the Revd Canon Chuck Collins June 16, 1607 was the birthday of Anglicanism in America. On this day Captain John Smith and 104 others celebrated the Lord’s Supper when they arrived safely in Jamestown, Virginia. Jamestown was the...

Barnabas Fund Report: Two ChiBok Girls Found

Barnabas Fund Reports Two Chibok Girls Found After 8 Years 24 June 2022 Two women, who were among hundreds of schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from the Nigerian town of Chibok eight years ago, have been found. Hauwa Joseph was discovered among a group of other...

New Bishop-elect for the Diocese of Cashel, Ferns & Ossory

Church of Ireland News New Bishop Elected for Cashel, Ferns & Ossory The Church of Ireland diocese of Cashel, Ferns, and Ossory now has a bishop-elect.  The Venerable Adrian Wilkinson, Archdeacon of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross was elected to succeed the Rt Revd Michael...

Editorial: Lessons to be Learned from the American Pro-Life Movement

Editorial Lessons to be Learned from American Pro-Life Movement Friday, 24 June 2022, the Feast of St John the Baptist, will be a date which will live in infamy amongst the supporters of abortion.  On that date, the US Supreme Court, overturned the precedent set by...

Pelagius: My Favourite Heretic, by the Revd Canon Chuck Collins

Pelagius is My Favourite Heretic

By Revd Canon Chuck Collins

Pelagius is my favourite heretic. I know that the Thirty-nine Articles addresses this (Article 9), but I am deeply afflicted by “the Pelagian default” that Fleming Rutledge talks about. In a hundred different ways I have reduced Christianity to my own will-power in ways that makes me an active participant in my own redemption – “I have decided to follow Jesus,” working the spiritual disciplines, focused on my performance and moral improvement. On this anniversary of the excommunication of Pelagius by Pope Innocent (January 27, 417), I am again confronted with the cruelty of my heresy: thinking that righteousness is within my grasp if I just try hard enough. And it doesn’t help one bit for my recovery that most of the good folks sitting next to me in church are flaming heretics too!

In a famous fifth century fight, Pelagius and Augustine argued about what the Bible says about human nature. Pelagius was convinced that individuals have a powerful capacity for achievement, even to achieve their own salvation. He felt that men and women are born morally neutral with an equal capacity for good or evil – that Adam’s disobedience adversely affected humankind, but only by setting a bad example. Everyone has the responsibility and potential to be righteous; such is God’s command and he would not command the impossible.

Augustine, on the other hand, was sure that our human wills are governed by what we love, and that apart from the Holy Spirit we choose to love sin. He believed that our love for sin is a consequence of Adam and Eve’s original disobedience (the Fall) and that the end result is that all people are spiritually infected, dead in their trespasses and sins and “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2). Saint Augustine saw that we sin because we are sinners (original sin). Much later Martin Luther would talk about this in a similar way, as people being turned/curved in on ourselves rather than towards God and others (incurvatus in se). It takes the Spirit to work in us to give us a new object worthy of love, and so to free our wills to love God and others.

“In Pelagius’s view it was possible (though very unlikely) that a new-born baby would never sin. Perhaps it would gasp once and die, before it had a chance to look upon forbidden fruit. But for Augustine it was already too late for such hopes. The new-born child belonged to a race that lives under the effects of Adam’s sin.”

— Oliver O’Donovan

Semi-pelagianism, a term coined in the 17th century, was invented to be a compromise between Pelagianism and the teaching of the church fathers (Saint Augustine). Semi-pelagians teach that salvation is won by a cooperative (synergistic) effort between God and his people (God, with a little help from my friends!). Semi-pelagianists distinguish between the beginning of faith and the increase of faith – the beginning of faith is an act of free will (we seek God/truth and find him) and this then ignites grace in us for Christian living and growth. Augustinians, conversely, credit God completely for resurrecting the spiritually dead, people who are unable in themselves to choose God apart from the prior work of God’s grace moving us in the right direction.

How is it that Reformation Anglicans remember Pelagianism in their confession a thousand years after Pelagius? In the context of their protest against Medieval Catholicism? How is it that this heresy is the only one specifically named the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion? It is because pride and works-righteousness is the default heresy of all humans until God steps in to turn our wills and affections aright towards God. Anglicans are clearly Augustinian in our anthropology. We believe that men and women, apart from grace, are incapable of doing anything but continue to sin. Article 9 speaks of “the fault and corruption of the nature with which all descendants of Adam are born. It is due to original sin that we are departed very far from the original righteousness in which we were created, and are naturally inclined to evil. . . accordingly, in every person born into this world, original sin is deserving of God’s wrath and condemnation” (Philip Edgcumbe Hughes paraphrase). And the article continues to drill this in, that “this infection of our nature remains even in those who in Christ are reborn” (Hughes). Article 10 says this even more succinctly: “Since the fall of Adam man’s state is such that he is unable, by his own natural strength to believe and call upon God” (Hughes). The second Anglican homily, “The Misery of All Mankind,” is completely devoted to this theme: “For of ourselves we are crabtrees that can bring forth no apples. We are of ourselves of such earth as can bring forth only weeds, nettles, brambles, briers, corncockle, and darnel” (Lee Gatiss edition).

Christians love semi-pelagianism because we don’t want to admit that the corpse on the couch is actually dead, but only faint and needing some fresh air. In truth, we don’t want a Savior who died to destroy death, but instead prefer a coach that shouts encouragements from the sidelines. We desperately want to believe that in some small way we can contribute to our salvation by “do more” and “try harder” religion, even if it’s doing more prayer, Bible reading, and serving to get God’s approval. Our motto is so good that it comes close to sounding biblical: God helps those who help themselves. But as Steven Paulson states, “Lazarus did not come out of the grave because he got his free will in motion to choose resurrection; it was because he received an external command from Gods word, which does what it says.”

The Revd Canon Chuck Collins is the Director of the Center for Reformation Anglicanism.

(www.anglicanism.info)

Previous

Next