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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIV:
The Third Ecumenical Council:  The Council of Ephesus.: Excursus on Pelagianism.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Excursus on Pelagianism.

The only point which is material to the main object of this volume is that Pelagius and his fellow heretic Celestius were condemned by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus for their heresy.  On this point there can be no possible doubt.  And further than this the Seventh Council by ratifying the Canons of Trullo received the Canons of the African Code which include those of the Carthaginian conciliar condemnations of the Pelagian heresy to which the attention of the reader is particularly drawn.  The condemnation of these heretics at Ephesus is said to have been due chiefly to the energy of St. Augustine, assisted very materially by a layman living in Constantinople by the name of Marius Mercator.

Pelagius and his heresy have a sad interest to us as he is said to have been born in Britain.  He was a monk and preached at Rome with great applause in the early years of the fifth century.  But in his extreme horror of Manichæism and Gnosticism he fell into the opposite extreme; and from the hatred of the doctrine of the inherent evilness of humanity he fell into the error of denying the necessity of grace.

Pelagius’s doctrines may be briefly stated thus.  Adam’s sin injured only himself, so that there is no such thing as original sin.  Infants therefore are not born in sin and the children of wrath, but are born innocent, and only need baptism so as to be knit into Christ, not “for the remission of sins” as is declared in the creed.  Further he taught that man could live without committing any sin at all.  And for this there was no need of grace; indeed grace was not possible, according to his teaching.  The only “grace,” which he would admit the existence of, was what we may call external grace, e.g. the example of Christ, the teaching of his ministers, and the like.  Petavius 265 indeed thinks that he allowed the activity of internal grace to illumine the intellect, but this seems quite doubtful.

Pelagius’s writings have come down to us in a more or less—generally the latter—pure form.  There are fourteen books on the Epistles of St. Paul, also a letter to Demetrius and his Libellus fidei ad Innocentium.  In the writings of St. Augustine are found fragments of Pelagius’s writings on free will.

It would be absurd to attempt in the limits possible to this volume to give any, even the most sketchy, treatment of the doctrine involved in the Pelagian controversy:  the reader must be referred to the great theologians for this and to aid him I append a bibliographical table on the subject.

St. Augustine.

St. Jerome.

Marius Mercator, Commonitorium super nomine Cœlestii.

Vossius, G. J., Histor. de controv. quas Pel. ejusque reliquiæ moverunt.

p. 230 Noris.  Historia Pelagiana.

Garnier, J. Dissertat. in Pelag. in Opera Mar. Mercator.

Quesnel, Dissert. de conc. Africanis in Pelag. causa celebratis etc.

Fuchs, G. D., Bibliothek der Kirchenversammlungen.

Horn, De sentent.  Pat. de peccato orig.

Habert, P. L., Theologiæ Græcorum Patrum vindicatæ circa univers. materiam gratiæ.

Petavius, De Pelag. et Semi-Pelag266

The English works on the subject are so well known to the English reader as to need no mention.

As it is impossible to treat the theological question here, so too is it impossible to treat the historical question.  However I may remind the reader that Nestorius and his heresy were defended by Theodore of Mopsuestia, and that he and Celestius were declared by Pope Zosimus to be innocent in the year 417, a decision which was entirely disregarded by the rest of the world, a Carthaginian Synod subsequently anathematizing him.  Finally the Pope retracted his former decision, and in 418 anathematized him and his fellow, and gave notice of this in his “epistola tractoria” to the bishops.  Eighteen Italian bishops, who had followed the Pope in his former decision of a twelve month before, refused to change their minds at his bidding now, and were accordingly deposed, among them Julian of Eclanum.  After this Pelagius and Celestius found a fitting harbour of refuge with Nestorius of Constantinople, and so all three were condemned together by the council of Ephesus, he that denied the incarnation of the Word, and they twain that denied the necessity of that incarnation and of the grace purchased thereby.



Petav. De Pelag. et Semi-Pelag. Hær., Cap. iv.


I am chiefly indebted to Michaud for this list.

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