Vol.XI No.X Pg.6
December 1974

Can Man Believe- - Come?

Robert F. Turner

Pity Pelagius! Augustinian and Calvinistic doctrine have so defamed him that even the Encyclopaedia Britannica sees him as negating Christianity. Read carefully this quote from Encycl. Brit., 1953; Vol. 17, pp.447-448, and do some thinking for yourself.


Pelagius (c. 360 - c. 420), early British theologian.... Coming to Rome in the beginning of the 5th. century he found a scandalously low tone of morality prevalent. But his remonstrances were met by the plea of human weakness. To remove this plea by exhibiting the actual powers of human nature became his first object. It seemed to him that the Augustinian doctrine of total depravity and of the consequent bondage of the will both cut the sinew of all human effort and threw upon God the blame which really belonged to man. His favorite maxim was, If l ought, I can. Judging from the general style of his writings, his religious development had been equable and peaceful, not marked by the prolonged mental conflict, or the abrupt transition which characterized the experience of his great opponent. (Augustine, rt) With no great penetration he saw very clearly the thing before him, and many of his practical counsels are marked by sagacity, and are expressed with the succinctness of a proverb

The first principle of Pelagianism is a theory which affirms the freedom of the will, in the sense that in each volition and at each moment of life, no matter what the previous career of the individual has been, the will is in equipoise, able to choose good or evil. We are born characterless, and with no bias towards good or evil. It follows that we are uninjured by the sin of Adam, save in so far as the evil example of our predecessors misleads and influences us. There is, in fact, no such thing as original sin, sin being a thing of will and not of nature; for if it could be of nature our sin would be chargeable on God the Creator. This will, being the natural endowment of man, is found in the heathen as well as in the Christian, and the heathen may therefore perfectly keep such law as they know.

But, if all men have this natural ability to do and to be all that required for perfect righteousness what becomes of grace, of the aid of, the Holy Spirit, and, in a word, of Christianity? Pelagius appears to have confused the denial of original sin (in the sense of inherited guilt with the denial of inherited nature or disposition of any kind. Hence he vacillates considerably in his use of the word grace. In his most careful statements he appears to allow to grace everything but the initial determining movement towards salvation. He ascribed to the unassisted human will, power to accept and use the proffered salvation of Christ. It was at this point his departure from the Catholic creed could be made apparent: Pelagius maintains, expressly and by implication, that it is the human will which takes the initiative; while the Church maintains that it is the divine will that takes the initiative by renewing and enabling the human will to accept and use the aid of grace offered.