What Pelagius taught PDF Print E-mail
What Pelagius Taught
“God justifies by faith apart from works of the law. But in this the Apostle is speaking of
circumcision and Jewish ritual, not exempting man from the works of righteousness
whereby his faith is made perfect!” (James2:22-24) (Pelagius Commentary on Romans,
Theodore Debruyn)
"For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed in God. Abraham's faith was [in fact] so
great that his previous sins were forgiven him and righteousness was reckoned as
credit for everyone of them by faith alone, and thereafter he burnt with such love that
hefurnished himself works over and above them all." (Pelagius Commentary on Romans,
Theodore Debruyn)
"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, let us have peace with God through our
Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1) He has discussed the point that none of them is justified by
works, but all by faith, and he proves this with the example of Abraham, of whom the Jews
think they alone are children. He has also explained why neither race nor circumcision
but faith makes people children of Abraham, who was justified initially by faith alone.
Now, having finished this argument, he urges them to be a peace, because none is saved by
his own merit, but all are saved in the same way by God's grace." (Pelagius Commentary on
Romans, Theodore Debruyn)
"For since they did not know of God's righteousness. Because they did not know that God
justifies by faith alone, and because they thought they were righteous by the works of the
law they did not keep, they refused to submit themselves to the forgiveness of sins, to
prevent the appearance of their having been sinners, as it is written: 'But the Pharisees,
rejecting the purpose of God for themselves, refused to be baptized with John's baptism'
(Luke 7:30). (Pelagius Commentary on Romans, Theodore Debruyn)
“Whenever I have to speak on the subject of moral instruction and conduct of a holy life, it is
my practice first to demonstrate the power and quality of human nature and to show what it is
capable of achieving, and then to go on to encourage the mind of my listener to consider the
idea of different kinds of virtues, in case it may be of little or no profit to him to be summoned
to pursue ends which he has perhaps assumed hitherto to be beyond his reach; for we can
never end upon the path of virtue unless we have hope as our guide and
compassion…any good of which human nature is capable has to be revealed, since what is
shown to be practicable must be put into practice.” (The Letters of Pelagius and his Followers
by B. R. Rees, pg 36-37, published by The Boydell Press)
"It was because God wished to bestow on the rational creature the gift of doing good
of his own free will and the capacity to exercise free choice, by implanting in man the
possibility of choosing either alternative...he could do either quite naturally and then bend
his will in the other direction too. He could not claim to possess the good of his own volition,
unless he was the kind of creature that could also have possessed evil. Our most excellent
creature wished us to be able to do either but actually to do only one, that is, good, which he
also commanded, giving us the capacity to do evil only so that we might do His will by
exercising our own. That being so, this very capacity to do evil is also good - good, I say,
because it makes the good part better by making it voluntary and independent, not boud by
necessity but free to decide for itself." (The Letters of Pelagius and his Followers by B. R.
Rees, pg 38, published by The Boydell Press)
"Those who are unwilling to correct their own way of life appear to want to correct nature
itself instead." (The Letters of Pelagius and his Followers by B. R. Rees, pg 39, published by
The Boydell Press)
"And lest, on the other hand, it should be thought to be nature's fault that some have been
unrighteous, I shall use the evidence of the scripture, which everywhere lay upon sinners
the heavy weight of the charge of having used their own will and do not excuse them
for having acted only under constraint of nature." (The Letters of Pelagius and his
Followers by B. R. Rees, pg 43, published by The Boydell Press)
"Yet we do not defend the good of nature to such an extent that we claim that it cannot
do evil, since we undoubtedly declare also that it is capable of good and evil; we
merely try to protect it from an unjust charge, so that we may not seem to be forced to do evil
through a fault of our nature, when, in fact, we do neither good nor evil without the exercise of
our will and always have the freedom to do one of the two, being always able to do either."
(The Letters of Pelagius and his Followers by B. R. Rees, pg 43, published by The Boydell
"Nothing impossible has been commanded by the God of justice and majesty...Why do
we indulge in pointless evasions, advancing the grailty of our own nature as an objectionto
the one who commands us? No one knows better the true measure of our strength than he
who has given it to us nor does anyone understand better how much we are able to do than
he who has given us this very capacity of ours to be able; nor has he who is just wished to
command anything impossible or he who is good intended to condemn a man for doing what
he could not avoid doing." (The Letters of Pelagius and his Followers by B. R. Rees, pg 53-
54, published by The Boydell Press)
"This grace we do not, as you suppose, allow to consist only in the law but also in the help of
God. God helps is by his teaching and revelation, opening the eyes of our heart,
pointing us to the future so that we may not be absorbed in the present, discovering to us the
snares of the devil, enlightening us with manifold and ineffable gift of heavenly grace"
(GC vii. 8 (PL, 44, 364) (CSEL 42, 131).
"Grace indeed freely discharges sins, but with the consent and choice of the believer." (The
Letters of Pelagius and his Followers by B. R. Rees, pg 92, published by The Boydell Press)
"Obedience results from a decision of the mind, not the substance of the body." (The
Letters of Pelagius and his Followers by B. R. Rees, pg 90, published by The Boydell Press)
"Evil is not born with us, and we are procreated without fault" (OS xiii. 14 (PL, 44, 392)
(CSEL 42, 175f.).
"A person is composed of spirit and flesh. When, then, a person performs carnal deeds, the
whole person is called 'flesh'; but, when spiritual deeds, the whole person is called
'spirit..." (Pelagius Commentary on Romans, Theodore Debruyn)
An unknown Pelagian said, "Is it possible then possible for a man not to sin? Such a claim is
indeed a hard one and a bitter pill for sinners to swallow; it pains the ears of all who desire
to live unrighteous. Who will find it easy now to fulfil the demands of righteousness, when
there are some who find it hard even to listen to them?"An unknown Pelagian (The Letters of
Pelagius and his Followers by B. R. Rees, pg 167, published by The Boydell Press)
An unknown Pelagian said, "When will a man guilty of any crime or sin accept with a tranquil
mind that his wickedness is a product of his own will, not of necessity, and allow what
he now strives to attribute to nature to be ascribed to his own free choice? It affords
endless comfort to transgressors of the divine law if they are able to believe that their failure
to do something is due to inability rather than disinclination, since they understand from their
natural wisdom that no one can be judged for failing to do the impossible and that what is
justifiable on grounds of impossibility is either a small sin or none at all." (The Letters of
Pelagius and his Followers by B. R. Rees, pg 167-168, published by The Boydell Press)
An unknown Pelagian said, "Under the plea that it is impossible not to sin, they are given a
false sense of security in sinning...Anyone who hears that it is not possible for him to be
without sin will not even try to be what he judges to be impossible, and the man who does not
try to be without sin must perforce sin all the time, and all the more boldly because he enjoys
the false security of believing that it is impossible for him not to sin...But if he were to
hear that he is able not to sin, then he would have exerted himself to fulfil what he now knows
to be possible when he is striving to fulfil it, to achieve his purpose for the most part, even if
not entirely." (The Letters of Pelagius and his Followers by B. R. Rees, pg 168, published by
The Boydell Press)
An unknown Pelagian said, "Consider first whether that which is such that a man cannot be
without it ought to be described as sin at all; for everything which cannot be avoided is now
put down to nature but it is impious to say that sin is inherent in nature, because in this
way the author of nature is being judged at fault… how can it be proper to call sin by that
name if, like other natural things, it cannot be avoided, since all sin is to be attributed to the
free choice of the will, not to the defects of nature?" (The Letters of Pelagius and his
Followers by B. R. Rees, pg 168-169, published by The Boydell Press)
What the Early Church Taught
Justin Martyr said “In the beginning, He made the human race with the power of thought and
of choosing truth and doing right, so that all men are without excuse before God.” (c.160, A
Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 271, published by Hendrickson
“Every created being is so constituted as to be capable of vice and virtue. For he can
do nothing praiseworthy, if he had not the power of turning either way.” And “unless we
suppose man has the power to choose the good and refuse the evil, no one can be
accountable for any action whatever.” (Doctrine of the Will by Asa Mahan, p. 61, published by
Truth in Heart)
"But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens,
happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain.
We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and
chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man's
actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our
own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the
former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the
power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for
their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly
and stumble, we thus demonstrate. We see the same man making a transition to opposite
things. Now, if it had been fated that he were to be either good or bad, he could never have
been capable of both the opposites, nor of so many transitions. (First Apology, ch. 42, p. 177)
"But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards,
and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as
trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither
would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were
created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of
himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made. (First Apology, ch. 43, p.
"But neither do we affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer,
but that each man by free choice acts rightly or sins; and that it is by the influence of the
wicked demons that earnest men, such as Socrates and the like, suffer persecution and are
in bonds, while Sardanapalus, Epicurus, and the like, seem to be blessed in abundance and
glory. The Stoics, not observing this, maintained that all things take place according to the
necessity of fate. But since God in the beginning made the race of angels and men with
free-will, they will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they
have committed. And this is the nature of all that is made, to be capable of vice and virtue.
For neither would any of them be praiseworthy unless there were power to turn to both [virtue
and vice]. (Second Apology, ch. 7, p. 190)
"Furthermore, I have proved in what has preceded, that those who were foreknown to be
unrighteous, whether men or angels, are not made wicked by God's fault, but each man by
his own fault is what he will appear to be." (Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 139, p. 269)
"But that you may not have a pretext for saying that Christ must have been crucified, and that
those who transgressed must have been among your nation, and that the matter could not
have been otherwise, I said briefly by anticipation, that God, wishing men and angels to
follow His will, resolved to create them free to do righteousness; possessing reason,
that they may know by whom they are created, and through whom they, not existing
formerly, do now exist; and with a law that they should be judged by Him, if they do
anything contrary to right reason: and of ourselves we, men and angels, shall be
convicted of having acted sinfully, unless we repent beforehand. But if the word of God
foretells that some angels and men shall be certainly punished, it did so because it foreknew
that they would be unchangeably [wicked], but not because God had created them so.
(Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 141, p. 269-270)
"Here, then, is a proof of virtue, and of a mind loving prudence, to recur to the communion of
the unity, and to attach one's self to prudence for salvation, and make choice of the better
things according to the free-will placed in man; (On the Sole Government of God, ch. 6, p.
Tertullian of the same century said, “No reward can be justly bestowed, no punishment can
be justly inflicted, upon him who is good or bad by necessity, and not by his own choice.”
(Doctrine of the Will by Asa Mahan, p. 61, published by Truth in Heart)
“I find, then, that man was constituted free by God. He was master of his own will and
power…For a law would not be imposed upon one who did not have it in his power to render
that obedience which is due to law. Nor again, would the penalty of death be threatened
against sin, if a contempt of the law were impossible to man in the liberty of his will…Man is
free, with a will either for obedience or resistance."(c.207, A Dictionary of Early Christian
Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 288, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
Origen said, “The soul does not incline to either part out of necessity, for then neither
vice nor virtue could be ascribed to it; nor would its choice of virtue deserve reward; nor its
declination to vice punishment.” Again, “How could God require that of man which he [man]
had not power to offer Him?” (Doctrine of the Will by Asa Mahan, p. 62, published by Truth in
Ignatius said, "Seeing, then, all things have an end, and there is set before us life upon our
observance [of God’s precepts], but death as the result of disobedience, and every one,
according to the choice he makes, shall go to his own place, let us flee from death, and
make choice of life. For I remark, that two different characters are found among men — the
one true coin, the other spurious. The truly devout man is the right kind of coin, stamped by
God Himself. The ungodly man, again, is false coin, unlawful, spurious, counterfeit, wrought
not by God, but by the devil. I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures,
but that there is one humanity, sometimes belonging to God, and sometimes to the devil. If
any one is truly religious, he is a man of God; but if he is irreligious, he is a man of the
devil, made such, not by nature, but by his own choice. The unbelieving bear the image
of the prince of wickedness. The believing possess the image of their Prince, God the Father,
and Jesus Christ, through whom, if we are not in readiness to die for the truth into His
passion, His life is not in us." (Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians, V)
Clement of Rome said, "On account of his hospitality and godliness, Lot was saved out of
Sodom when all the country round was punished by means of fire and brimstone, the Lord
thus making it manifest that He does not forsake those that hope in Him, but gives up
such as depart from Him to punishment and torture. For Lot’s wife, who went forth with
him, being of a different mind from himself and not continuing in agreement with him [as to
the command which had been given them], was made an example of, so as to be a pillar of
salt unto this day. This was done that all might know that those who are of a double
mind, and who distrust the power of God, bring down judgment on themselves? and
become a sign to all succeeding generations." (Clement, Epistle to the Corinthians, XI)
Barnabas said,"The Lord will judge the world without respect of persons. Each will
receive as he has done: if he is righteous, his righteousness will precede him; if he is
wicked, the reward of wickedness is before him. Take heed, lest resting at our ease, as those
who are the called [of God], we should fall asleep in our sins, and the wicked prince,
acquiring power over us, should thrust us away from the kingdom of the Lord. And all
the more attend to this, my brethren, when ye reflect and behold, that after so great signs and
wonders were wrought in Israel, they were thus [at length] abandoned. Let us beware lest we
be found [fulfilling that saying], as it is written, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (Epistle
of Barnabas, IV)
Clement of Alexandria said, “Neither promises nor apprehensions, rewards, no punishments
are just if the soul has not the power of choosing and abstaining; if evil is involuntary.”
(Doctrine of the Will by Asa Mahan, p. 63, published by Truth in Heart)
“We…have believed and are saved by voluntary choice.” (c.195, A Dictionary of Early
Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 287, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
“Each one of us who sins with his own free will, chooses punishment. So the blame lies
with him who chooses. God is without blame.” (c.195, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs
by David Bercot, p. 287, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
“To obey or not is in our own power, provided we do not have the excuse of ignorance.”
(c.195, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 287, published by
Hendrickson Publishers)
"The Lord clearly shows sins and transgressions to be in our own power." (c.195, A
Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 288, published by Hendrickson
“Woe unto them!” he says, “for they have gone in the way of Cain.” For so also we lie under
Adam’s sin through similarity of sin. (Clement of Alexandria c. 195)
“If thou wilt be perfect.” Consequently he was not yet perfect. For nothing is more perfect
than what is perfect. And divinely the expression “if thou wilt” showed the self-determination
of the soul holding converse with Him. For choice depended on the man as being free; but
the gift on God as the Lord. And He gives to those who are willing and are exceedingly
earnest, and ask, that so their salvation may become their own. For God compels not (for
compulsion is repugnant to God), but supplies to those who seek, and bestows on those
who ask, and opens to those who knock. (Clement of Alexandria c. 195)
Alexander of Alexandria said, "Natural will is the free facutly of ever intelligent nature,
as having nothing involuntary pertaining to its essence". (c.195, A Dictionary of Early Christian
Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 293, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
Tatian said, “We were not created to die. Rather, we die by our own fault. Our free will has
destroyed us. We who were free have become slaves. We have been sold through sin.
Nothing evil has been created by God. We ourselves have manifested wickedness. But
we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it.” (c.160, A Dictionary of Early
Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 286, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
Melito said, “There is, therefore, nothing to hinder you from changing your evil manner to life,
because you are a free man.” (c.170, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot,
p. 286, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
Theophilus said, “If, on the other hand, he would turn to the things of death, disobeying God,
he would himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with
power of himself.” (c.180, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 286,
published by Hendrickson Publishers)
Methodius said, "Man was made with a free will ...[with the] capacity of obeying or
disobeying God. For this was the meaning of the gift of free will."(c.180, A Dictionary of Early
Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 292, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
"Those [pagans] who decide that man does not have free will, but say that he is governed
by the unavoidable necessities of fate, are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making
Him out to be the cause and author of human evils. " (Methodius The Banquet of the Ten
Virgins discourse 8, chap. 16)
"To do good or evil is in our own power". (c.180, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by
David Bercot, p. 292, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
Archelaus said, "All the creatures that God made, He made very good. And He gave to
every individual the sense of free will, by which standard He also instituted the law of
judgment.... And certainly whoever will, may keep the commandments. Whoever despises
them and turns aside to what is contrary to them, shall yet without doubt have to face this law
of judgment.... There can be no doubt that every individual, in using his own proper
power of will, may shape his course in whatever direction he pleases." (Archelaus
Disputation With Manes sees. 32, 33)
Irenaeus said, “But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God,
having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause
that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.” (c.180, A Dictionary of Early
Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 286, published by Hendrickson Publishers)
"’Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds’…And ‘Why call me,
Lord, Lord, and do not do the things that I say?’…All such passages demonstrate the
independent will of man…For it is in man’s power to disobey God and to forfeit what is
good.” (c.180, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 287, published by
Hendrickson Publishers)
Hippolytous said, "For man is able to both will and not will. He is endowed with power to
do both." (c.180, A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs by David Bercot, p. 288, published by
Hendrickson Publishers)
Pelagius was in perfect harmony with the
Early Church on the doctrine of Freewill!
What God's Word Teaches
"If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its
desire is for you, but you should rule over it." (Gen. 4:6-7)
"I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and
death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may
live." (Deut. 30:19)
"And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will
serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or
the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will
serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:15)
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My
eyes. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the
fatherless, Plead for the widow.“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the
LORD,“Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are
red like crimson, They shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the
good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword”; For the
mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Isa. 1:16-20)
"Seek the LORD while He may be found,Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked
forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD,
And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon." (Isa. 55:6-7)
"Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground, For it is
time to seek the LORD, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you." (Hos.10:12)
“Now therefore, speak to the men of Judah and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus
says the LORD: “Behold, I am fashioning a disaster and devising a plan against you. Return
now every one from his evil way, and make your ways and your doings good." (Jer.
“Now you shall say to this people, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I set before you the way
of life and the way of death." (Jer. 21:8)
"Now therefore, amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your
God; then the LORD will relent concerning the doom that He has pronounced against you."
(Jer. 26:13)
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord
GOD. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin.
Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get
yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I
have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and
live." (Ezk. 18:30-32)
"But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one
turn from his evil way andfrom the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will
turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? Then God
saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster
that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it." (Jon. 3:8-10)
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to
her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under
her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matt. 23:37)
"I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." (Lk. 13:3)
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned
already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this
is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather
than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and
does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth
comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in
God.”(Jn. 3:18-21)
"And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this
perverse generation."(Acts 2:40)
"Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But
in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him." (Acts
"Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere
to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in
righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by
raising Him from the dead." (Acts 17:30-31)
"But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that
form of doctrine to which you were delivered." (Rom. 6:17)
"Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of
the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Co. 7:1)
"Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor,
sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work." (2 Tim. 2:21)
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness
the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." (Jas. 1:21)
"Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and
He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you
double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and
your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up." (Jas.
"Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit[a] in sincere
love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart." (1 Pe. 1:22)
"And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him
who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely." (Rv. 22:17)
Any enslavement to sin originates in a choice
which becomes habitual through repetition!
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