Rorate Caeli

Confused how some Catholics can be labeled "Pelagians"?

Recently, there's been a lot of fingerpointing at traditional Catholics. Some of it is the same old, same old (insert stale Pharisees joke here). Some of it, however, is very new and very confusing. 

Some Catholics have recently been identified -- more than once -- as "Pelagians." 

This will undoubtedly bolster the morale of other Catholics while, yet again, making life next to impossible for the traditional-minded parish priest who is, now more than ever, being accused by his flock of putting himself "above the Church" by his devotion to reverence in the liturgy and traditional Catholic teaching.  

Below, you will find a very interesting retort (notes) from a Catholic priest, who is in full communion:

11th Sunday after Pentecost 
“by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace in me has not been fruitless.”

Recently, there has been some mentioning of the ancient heresy called Pelagianism. I have heard this term used a number of times in recent months and it seems some confusion has surrounded its employment. So, without passing any judgment on those who are using the term, let us take some time this Sunday to look into this ancient heresy. If we do this well, we might be surprised at how relevant this matter really is today.

Pelagianism takes its name from an austere monk, most likely of Irish descent, named Pelagius. He died around 418. He should not be confused with the two Popes who shared this same name.

Pelagianism can simply be thought of as the self-help heresy. It essentially “denies the elevation of man into the supernatural state, and denies original sin. According to Pelagians the sin of Adam affected his descendants by way of bad example only” (Ott, pp. 222-3). This means that Christ’s saving work of redemption consists above all in His teaching and His example of virtue. For Pelagius, Jesus was just a great teacher as was Moses before Him. Furthermore,

“Pelagianism regarded grace as within the natural capacity of man.” According to this view man has a natural capacity to live a sinless and holy life and merit eternal bliss by exercising his free will. The Pelagians believed this natural capacity was aided by external graces given to us by God… things like the Mosaic Law, the Gospel, the example of virtue set by Our Lord and His Mother and others. This means that man can achieve even the remission of his sins by his own power, by the act of turning his will away from sin. This makes Pelagianism pure naturalism.

To re-capitulate, Pelagianism holds “(i) that the sin of our first parents was not transmitted to their posterity; [Adam’s sin harmed only himself, not the human race, and children just born are in the same state as Adam before his fall.] (ii) that Christ came into the world, not to restore anything we had lost, but to set up an ideal of virtue, and so counteract the evil example of Adam; (iii) that we can, of our own natural powers, and without any internal assistance from God, [do good that is pleasing to God and thereby] merit the happiness of the Beatific Vision” (cf. Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, Archbishop Michael Sheehan, p. 456). (iv) the Law of Moses is just as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel. Finally, (v) Pelagians considered death to be natural to man and not a consequence of Adam’s sin. So even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died in any case.

This heretical, erroneous way of thinking and acting was countered heavily by the Doctor of Grace, St. Augustine, as well as many others like St. Jerome and ultimately condemned as heretical by several Popes and Councils, most notably the Papal approved Council of Carthage (418).

This Council taught authoritatively what we still profess today, namely: (i) Death did not come to Adam from a physical necessity, but through sin. (ii) New-born children must be baptized on account of original sin. [Note that the current Code of Canon Law emphasizes this must be done within a couple of weeks of birth]. (iii) Sanctifying grace not only avails for the forgiveness of past sins, but also gives assistance for the avoidance of future sins. (iv) The grace of Christ not only discloses the knowledge of God's commandments, but also imparts strength to will and execute them. (v) Without God's grace it is not merely more difficult, but absolutely impossible to perform good works. (vi) Not out of humility, but in truth must we confess ourselves to be sinners… (cf. Dz. nos. 101-8).

This is all very interesting in light of what has been transpiring over the last half century or so. In fact, having made this little study, it is amazing to see how much Pelagianism has returned in our own day.

First, consider that today infant baptism is very often delayed and put off for months and even years with little or no concern for the infant’s eternal welfare. Many parishes and priests directly violate the Canon Law by making baptisms available to their people only once a month, whereas the Church demands that their baptism not be delayed over a week or two…and if they are in the danger of death, they are to be baptized without delay, even if a priest is not available. Why this nonchalance attitude toward baptizing infants? Because the prevailing thought today is that all children who die in infancy, baptized or not, go to heaven. De facto, they are considered to be like Adam before the fall! This is Pelagianism. No wonder there has been many efforts over the last decades to do away with the traditional teaching of the Limbo of the Infants, that place where unbaptized infants go.

On the other hand, it has been my experience that traditional minded Catholics seek very diligently to have their newborns baptized as soon as possible. Why? Because His Majesty, Our Lord Jesus Christ, taught that we must be born of water to be saved. St. Paul said in Ephesians, “were by nature children of wrath” (2:3). But we are reborn children of adoption by the waters of baptism! It has also been my experience that faithful Catholics always take the Traditional doctrine of the Limbo of the Infants very seriously. No Pelagianism here!

Second, it is bandied about recently that even atheists can do good works. Pelagius would agree because, as we heard, he held that any man, believer or not, baptized or not, can do good. “The root of this possibility of doing good - that we all have - is in creation” (Pope Francis). In other words, all that is needed to be good is found in nature. Of course, Pelagius also added that the good example of Christ, the written law and Gospel help man to this goodness as external aids. It is interesting to note how Pope John XXIII said at the start of the Vatican Council, “Nowadays… the Spouse of Christ… considers that She meets the needs of the present day by more clearly demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnations...” He wanted to see the Magisterium be “predominantly pastoral in character” … “to teach more efficaciously” … “raising the torch of Catholic truth” (cf. The Second Vatican Council: the Unwritten Story, Mattei, pp. 174-5). All that is needed is to teach the truth and people will see the light and do the good. 

Whether intended or not, all this leans toward Pelagianism.

From this it follows that Pelagius would not be very supportive spending much time in prayer. Why pray if we do not need grace to be good!? Surely, Pelagius would not spend much time kneeling down to pray the Rosary to gain a heavenly favor. Why have priests? Who needs the Sacraments? Sadly, over the last century and still continuing on today, we have had a religious and priests who put work ahead of prayer. There was the worker priest movement. We have seen the rise of laicism…where the laity takes over various roles of the priests. We have seen priests and religious became activists, going to many meetings and opening soup kitchens while neglecting the divine office, their holy hours and spiritual reading. Knowing this, few are surprised at the numerous scandals and loss of vocations. All this flows perfectly from Pelagianism.

Yet, St. Paul clearly stated today in the lesson, “by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace in me has not been fruitless.” Any man can do a naturally good action…saying giving a banana to a friend in need.

Yet, only when the action is done with supernatural charity infused in the soul co-operating with an actual grace given by God for that particular action can it be pleasing to God and worthy of Him. St. Paul is crystal clear on this point: “if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profits me nothing” (1Cor 13:3). This is precisely why Traditional minded
Catholics strive to offer everything up… This is precisely why such faithful souls pray the Rosary so often… attend the Holy Mass as much as possible, frequently confess their sins and use Sacramentals. They are beseeching God for grace to grow in holiness. No Pelagianism here. St. Padre Pio prayed multiple Rosaries everyday, even up to 30…pleading for Our Lady’s intercession and aid in the conversion of sinners. Surely, no one would consider this great stigmatic a Pelagian for saying so many Rosaries!

Third, consider how it has been bandied about for some decades now that the Jews do not need to convert, that they have all they require in the Old Law to be saved… as if Our Lord, the Messiah, the very fulfillment of the Old Testament types and prophecies, did not come in the Flesh to establish the New and Everlasting Covenant in His own Blood. Besides most Jews do not follow the Old Law but rather the Talmud. In any case, Pelagius would love this…for, as we heard, he held the Mosaic Law is just as good for going to heaven as the Gospel. Once again, faithful Catholics believe that the Old Law has been fulfilled and completed in the New. That the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the only Sacrifice pleasing to God. No Pelagianism here.

Fourth, consider how Pelagius held that death was natural to man. He would find many in agreement with him today simply because the theory of evolution holds the same. Sad to say, most members in the Church at this time seem to think that evolution is the how things came about. Given that that Pelagius very much agreed with man asserting his will to get things done, I wonder what he would think today about man intervening in nature to force evolution to a new level… as, for example,we are doing in genetically modified foods, environmental controls, and other areas.

The Traditional Catholic, however, is repulsed by evolution, knowing that God did not create death and destruction, but rather death is the wages of sin. Furthermore, the faithful Catholic knows that the Church has given multiple teachings against the pseudo-science of evolution by Her teachings on creation. No Pelagianism here! 

Fifth, the use of confession has greatly diminished over the last 40 years. Fewer and fewer souls consider sin a serious concern or a blockage to heaven. Everyone who dies now, goes to heaven. Sinners often are heard saying: “God will understand” and “I will not do it again…”. Pelagius strikes again. Man can overcome sin by himself. God will understand!

The faithful Catholic, however, knows that sin is deeply offensive to God and can only be erased by the application of the Precious Blood of Christ, most especially available in the Confession, and by making reparation through penance and amendment of life. This is why hundreds of thousands of people went to St. Jean Vianney and St. Padre Pio… so that these gifted saints would look into their souls and make sure there were no more sins that needed removal.

Finally, consider how Pelagius denied that Christ Our Lord came to restore what Adam had lost but rather He came merely to provide a good example. Thus, it seems to me that Pelagius would not be a big supporter of any movement of restoration whereas the faithful Catholic longs to see the whole world come under the social reign of Christ Our Majestic and Glorious King. Thus, they love the phrase given to us by St. Paul: “To restore all things in Christ!”

The only point that coincides between the monk Pelagius and traditional minded Catholics is the matter of discipline and austerity. I wish this were more true. Would that more Traditional Catholics were austere with themselves… and more willing to do penance and acts of reparation. Oh how they would please Our Lady who asked us over and over again for nearly 200 years… Penance! Penance! Penance! For the salvation of souls!

It is clear to me that the modern Church in her membership has become more Pelagian than ever whereas Traditional minded Catholics are seeking to hold the line against this most pestiferous return of heresy… striving not to let the precious grace of God granted them be in vain!