Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta Wants to Reinstate Pelagius

Saturday, 22 Oct 2011

Mollie Hemingway, a writer for The Wall Street Journal (and, we might add, Modern Reformation) reported recently on the latest political machinations of the U.S. Episcopal Church leadership.

And who said liberals were inclusive? Well, they are in one sense—of Gnosticism, Arianism, and Pelagianism, for example. In fact, the Diocese of Atlanta has just passed a resolution seeking to give Pelagius a place of honor in the church. The resolution reads:

R11-7 Contributions of Pelagius

Whereas the historical record of Pelagius’s contribution to our theological tradition is shrouded in the political ambition of his theological antagonists who sought to discredit what they felt was a threat to the empire, and their ecclesiastical dominance, and whereas an understanding of his life and writings might bring more to bear on his good standing in our tradition, and whereas his restitution as a viable theological voice within our tradition might encourage a deeper understanding of sin, grace, free will, and the goodness of God’s creation, and whereas in as much as the history of Pelagius represents to some the struggle for theological exploration that is our birthright as Anglicans, Be it resolved, that this 105th Annual Council of the Diocese of Atlanta appoint a committee of discernment overseen by our Bishop, to consider these matters as a means to honor the contributions of Pelagius and reclaim his voice in our tradition And be it further resolved that this committee will report their conclusions at the next Annual Council.

On hearing the news, retired South Carolina Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison expressed disdain. Bishop Allison has written about the practical Pelagianism in our day, including a few articles in Modern Reformation over the years (see his articles). In his book, The Cruelty of Heresy, Allison writes, “The broad stream of Western thought since the 17th Century has been characterized by a confidence more congenial to Pelagianism than at any time in history. And Pelagianism is the banana peel on the cliff of Unitarianism.” In response to the decision, Allison lamented, “As one considers the theologically inept accommodation to the secular world, there should be no surprise that Pelagian doctrine of the will’s freedom without grace would be dug up again. A world losing its trust in God will compulsively trust in the human will to obey if it is sufficiently rebuked, exhorted, threatened and scolded. No wonder Richard Hooker and St. Augustine called it a ‘cruel doctrine.'”


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