The Jesus Seminar and the Future of Scholarship in ChristianChurches

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 26 March 2008 0 Comments
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Would you please comment on the controversy
between Pelagius and Augustine?


I have not been asked to comment on Pelagius in years.
He was part of a fourth-century debate in the Christian Church.
Thank you for your question.

Like most thinkers whose point of view did not win in
ecclesiastical battles, Pelagius has been given a bad name in
Christian history. Defined as a heretic, Pelagius was
marginalized while Augustine, who defended "orthodoxy" against
Pelagius, has been revered and honored. My sense is that this
judgment is in the process of being reversed.

The battle between Augustine and Pelagius was
really a battle over anthropology and the question: What does it
mean to be human? Augustine was deeply affected by his view of
human depravity stemming from original sin and what he called
"the fall." Pelagius had a different view of human life and saw
human beings as capable of making choices that enhanced their

If we would put their debate into modern
categories, Augustine would be a pre-Darwinian who saw human life
as fallen from the perfection which God had intended in creation.
Human life, said Augustine, was made a little lower than the
angels, but was now helpless unless rescued or saved by divine

Pelagius would be post-Darwinian. He saw life not
as fallen but as evolving. He understood that we were now a
little higher than the apes and had great potential which he
encouraged us to utilize.

I am much more closely drawn to Pelagius today
that I am to Augustine and I see contemporary theology moving in
that direction.

I hope this helps.

John Shelby Spong




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