glyph 265: philosophy, theology ... optimism, pessimism ... fall of rome ... Pelagius, Augustine ... human potential ... Christianity as a positive moral force ... offshore islanders, Pelagians ... anglosphere


Pelagius or Augustine?

a difference that persists

Paul Johnson, in his A History of Christianity, writes of Pelagius, born c. 354 probably somewhere in Britain:

Basically, Pelagius was a reformer. Against the prevailing trend of his age, he looked back to Origen and the idea of Christiantiy as a great moral force changing and improving society, helping men to become more worthy, more socially useful and responsible. He thought the constricting force of the pagan social habits of the past could be removed. Christianity would become an active, ameliorative element not only among imperial citizens, but among the barbarians without, and the semi-barbarians within, its frontiers. ... The Fall of Rome, from which he fled, first to Africa, then to the more liberal East, had not dismayed him. It confirmed the need for reform, to create new structures. What mattered was the potentiality of man, his freedom to chose good, and the marvelous virtues with which God had endowed him, sometimes buried deep but waiting to be unearthed. Pelagius had a classical sense of the resources and authority of the human mind. Being a Latinized colonial, he had perhaps more faith in the qualities that had made the empire than its frightened fifth-century ruling class. ...


... Augustine saw the human race as helpless children. He constantly used the image of the suckling baby. Humanity was utterly dependent on God. The race was prostrate, and there was no possibility that it might raise itself by its own merits. That was the sin of pride — Satan's sin. Mankind's posture must be that of total humility. ...

Augustine thus bridges the gap between humanistic optimism of the classical world and the despondent passivity of the Middle Ages. The mentality he expressed was to become the dominant outlook of Christianity, and so encompass the whole of European society for many centuries. The defeat of the Pelagians was to be an important landmark in this process. ...

 —Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, Simon & Schuster, 1976, Touchstone edition, pp. 118-122.
entered before July 9, 2006

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