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The Gospel According to Pelagius

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Pelagius was a monk of British origin who was teaching in Rome at the beginning of the fifth century. When Rome came under barbarian attack in 410, he fled to North Africa, and from there made his way to the East, where his views stirred up controversy in Palestine. He eventually found refuge in Constantinople, though his ultimate fate is unknown. He was condemned at the first council of Ephesus in 431, but it is not certain that he was still alive at that time. Long before that, however, Augustine (354-430) had become aware of Pelagius's teaching and the unsettling effect that it was having in North Africa. He wrote no fewer than fifteen treatises against it, and was a prominent voice in the condemnation of Pelagius's views at Carthage in 418. Unfortunately, virtually all we know about the debates between Pelagius and Augustine comes from these treatises, and we are forced to infer Pelagius's position from what Augustine says about it. On the other hand, much of the debate between the two men was conducted on a courteous level (particularly during the early stages of the controversy), and there is no reason to suppose that Augustine deliberately misquoted his opponent. Pelagius comes across as a forceful speaker with a great ability to sway his audience, but Augustine scores more highly on substance. It seems most likely that many people were led astray by Pelagius's oratorical gifts, and that it was only later, when some of his hearers began to reflect more deeply on his teachings, that disquiet arose.


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Issue: "Good News: The Gospel for Christians" May/June 2003 Vol. 12 No. 3 Page number(s): 32-33

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