Pelagianism

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Pelagianism is a theological theory named after Pelagius (AD 354 – AD 420/440), although he denied, at least at some point in his life, many of the doctrines associated with his name. It is the belief that original sin did not taint Human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special Divine aid. Thus, Adam's sin was "to set a bad example" for his progeny, but his actions did not have the other consequences imputed to Original Sin. Pelagianism views the role of Jesus as "setting a good example" for the rest of humanity (thus counteracting Adam's bad example) as well as providing an atonement for our sins. In short, humanity has full control, and thus full responsibility, for obeying the Gospel in addition to full responsibility for every sin (the latter insisted upon by both proponents and opponents of Pelagianism). According to Pelagian doctrine, because humans are sinners by choice, they are therefore criminals who need the atonement of Jesus Christ. Sinners are not victims, they are criminals who need pardon.

Pelagianism stands in contrast to two other prominent theological theories: Semipelagianism and Total Depravity.

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History

Pelagius was opposed by Saint Augustine, one of the most influential early Church Fathers. When Pelagius taught that moral perfection was attainable in this life without the assistance of divine grace through human free will, Saint Augustine contradicted this by saying that perfection was impossible without grace because we are born sinners with a sinful heart and will. The Pelagians charged Augustine on the grounds that the doctrine of original sin amounted to Manichaeism: the Manichaeans taught that the flesh was in itself sinful (and they denied that Jesus came in the flesh) – and this charge would have carried added weight since contemporaries knew that Augustine himself had been a Manichaean layman before his conversion to Christianity. Augustine also taught that a person's salvation comes solely through an irresistible free gift, the efficacious grace of God, but that this was a gift that one had a free choice to accept or refuse[1].

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