Pelagianism is also known as the Pelagian heresy which aroused in the fifth century. It was preached by Pelagius and his followers and stressed the essential goodness of human nature and the freedom of the human will. Such teaching pitted Pelagius directly against the Christian Church of the time. He was particularly opposed to the doctrine of original sin and the immorality which he saw within the Church of Rome.
The basis of Pelagian was strictly a Storic doctrine of free will and the innate goodness of nature. It stated the belief that the Sin of Adam did not permanently corrupt the nature of man, but only temporarily modified it. Such a modification was keen in the teaching, for it was firmly believed that man with the use of his free will alone could achieve spiritual advancement. This was to say, sin modified human nature, but never was the effect of sin inherited making human nature evil itself, as declared in the doctrine of original sin as put forth by Saint Augustine.
There was no denial of the works of Christ. “And Christ’s works by his example, the sacraments functioning not as power but as teaching.” Men were taught by Christ’s works, but not saved. Pelagianism was a strict teaching of self-reliance. Pelagius phrased it as: homo libero arbitrio emancipatus a deo: “man, created free, is with his whole sphere independent of God and the Church, the Living Body of Christ—though Christ, Church, and sacraments mightily teach and help”
To Pelagius, his teaching was not only combating the doctrine of original sin but Augustine’s older beliefs in Manichaenism as well. Up against these teachings he and his followers framed six doctrines for which they were forcibly condemned:
1. That Adam would have died even if he had not sin;
2. That the sin of Adam injured himself alone, not the human race;
3. That newborn children are in the same condition as Adam was before the Fall; corollary; that infants, though unbaptized, have eternal life;
4. That the whole human race does not die because of Adam’s death or sin, nor will it rise again because of Christ’s resurrection;
5. That the Old Testament Law, as well as the New Testament Gospel, gives entrance to heaven; and
6. That even before the coming of Christ there were men who were entirely without sin.
The controversy between the Church and the followers continued after 418 when Pelagius was excommunicated and there is no further information of him. Julian of Eclanum continued asserting the Pelagian ideals by engaging Augustine in literary polemic until the latter’s death in 430. Eclanum and followers were condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Later the heresy known as Semi-Pelagianism, flourished in southern Gaul until it was condemned by the second Council of Orange in 529. A.G.H.
Sources: 55, 464-466;