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Pelagianism

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PELAGIANISM.

The doctrine developed c . a.d. by the British monk called Pelagius concerning the original condition of man, the Fall, and its consequences in the life of Adam’s posterity.

Original Man

According to Pelagius, man was created in a neutral condition, neither sinful nor holy, and with a capacity for either good or evil.  His will was free and entirely undetermined.  He was mortal from the beginning and subject to the law of death.  When he sinned it was not because he chose to do so.  The first man’s fall injured no man who was to follow, but only himself.  It was therefore not transmitted either as a sinful nature or as guilt to his posterity.

Each succeeding man is born in the same condition as Adam before the fall, and is therefore free from guilt or pollution at birth.  Man has no evil tendencies or desires which would inevitably lead to sin.  The difference between those Born after Adam and Adam himself is that they have his evil example before them.  Sin consists, according to Pelagius, not in evil thoughts and desires but in evil actions brought about through separate acts of the will.  No man need therefore sin, since he is endowed with free will, as was Adam.  This is proved, for Pelagius, by the fact that God commands man to do what is good, and he argues that God would not command what is impossible.  Man’s responsibility is governed by the measure of his ability.  If sin is universal, as it appears to be, then this is the result of wrong education, bad example, and a long established habit of sinning.  When man turns from sin it is not because of God’s sovereign grace, for even sin does not produce total depravity, but because of man’s use of his rational endowments.  God’s revelation in the Scriptures, and the example of Christ.

The Errors of the System

These can only be understood when the system is viewed in contrast with the Augustinian view of man, based upon an inductive study of the Scriptures.  Accordingly to the Bible, man was created in a state of holy innocency.  God made man and woman as the crowning act of His creation and they were “very good” (Gen. 1:31).  Man could either develop through a period of probation to that place where his character was itself a holy character, as was the case with the holy angels, or he could choose to rebel against God and sin and fall, as did Satan and the wicked angels.  Man came into the world under a covenant, called by the Reformed theologians the covenant of works.  When man sinned it was not because he had been made prone to sin and to fall, any more than had any of the angels, but that he himself chose to sin in full responsibility.

At the same time Adam was different from his posterity, other than the Lord Jesus Christ, in that he was the head and representative of a race.  When he fell, because he was man’s representative in God’s sight, all mankind fell in him.  As a result all his posterity were born totally depraved, guilty of the sin of Adam, and inheriting a sinful fallen nature.  Therefore no man can turn from his sin and live a righteous life unless he is first brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through God’s sovereign grace, and enabled to fulfill the works of God’s law by the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4; Gal. 2:20; 5:22-23).

Semi Pelagianism

This is a position between the views of Pelagius and those of Augustine, which teaches that man’s will has been weakened and his nature diseased, but that he is not totally depraved as a result of the fall.  Fallen man retains a measure of freedom by virtue of which he can cooperate with God’s grace.  Regeneration when is a product of man’s will and God’s grace, instituted by man and not by God.  This is the view held by Roman Catholicism today.  In a.d. 416 Pelagianism was condemned at the Synods of Milene and Carthage, and finally in 431 at the Council of Ephesus and in 529 at the Council of Orange.  Nevertheless, the church gradually drifted into semi-Pelagianism.

See Arminianism; Calvinism.

Pfeiffer, Charles F., Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press) 1975.

Rod Rilea

Logos Research Systems

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