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You keep using that word…..I don’t think it means what you think it means June 27, 2013

Posted by Tantumblogo in Basics, catachesis, disconcerting, error, General Catholic, Papa, persecution, Tradition.

Pelagianism has been a much used word in Catholic circles of late.  Which is surprising, because as a formal heresy, it was fairly well stamped out  1500 years ago or so. Arianism actually persisted longer than Pelagianism.

Certainly, the Holy Father seems much enamored of the word.  He used it a couple of weeks ago to describe traditionalists to some visitors from S. America. He just used it again yesterday, when he went a bit further:

Pope Francis drew a sharp contrast between “Christians of words” and “Christians of action” during his homily at a weekday Mass on June 27.

Commenting on the Gospel image of a house built on rock, the Pope said that true Christian faith is built on Jesus Christ. However, he said, “There has always been the temptation to live our Christianity not on the rock that is Christ.” This temptation toward “a Christianity without Jesus” is doomed to failure, the Holy Father remarked, because only Jesus gives the faithful the right to address God as Father.

Pope Francis said that the “Christians of words” fall into two categories: the gnostics, who “lives floating on the surface of the Christian life;” and the pelagians, who whose rigid approach puts them “in perpetual mourning.”   

Both gnostics and pelagians “masquerade as Christians,” the Pope said, insofar as they do not base their faith on Jesus Christ. “The Holy Spirit has no place in their lives,” he added.

That’s a rather damning indictment from the Holy Father. Given that he just made rather plain two weeks ago that he sees this “pelagian” current in those traditionalists who gave him a spiritual bouquet, these latest remarks seem rather shocking.

But, be that as it may, I think from the Pope’s two statements we can begin to piece together how Pope Francis defines “pelagians.” He apparently feels they are rigorists who are joyless and think this life must be one of constant prayer and penance in order to have a chance of salvation. There is more than a slight implication that they don’t cooperate with Grace.  Given that most all of the practices traditionalists adopt are simply those used by faithful Catholics for centuries, it’s fair to ask what esteem Pope Francis holds the centuries long Tradition of the Church.

I also have to quibble more than a bit with the definition of pelagianism used by Pope Francis. In the words of Inigo Montoya, “you keep using that word…….I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

For those who don’t know, Pelagius was a 4th/5th century priest or religious type from what is now Britain who taught a rather complex heresy.  St. Augustine spent many years combatting this heresy.  I could attempt to define Pelagianism, but I think Marius Mercator, close friend and colleague of St. Augustine, does better.  Mercator spent years fighting this heresy, as well, and wrote a compendium of errors held by Pelagians. This from p. 185 of Jurgen’s Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3:

[Pelagians hold errors such as these (every single statement is an error):]….Adam was created mortal and he would have died whether he had sinned or not. The sin of Adam injured himself alone and not the whole human race.  When infants are born they are in the state in which Adam was before the Fall. Since not everyone belonging to the human race dies through Adam’s death, neither does everyone belonging to the human race rise up through Christ’s Resurrection. Infants have eternal life even if they are not baptized. These five headings are productive of one most impious and abominable opinion [or, here is what Pelagians believed in a nutshell]: he adds, moreover, that a man is able to be without sin, and can easily keep the commandments of God…….

That last bit really defines the core of Pelagianism – that man can pretty easily keep the commandments and achieve eternal life.  Which is pretty much the opposite, I think, of what the Pope is accusing his “pelagians” of believing: he sees rigid souls who think we have to just suffer and work ourselves to death to have a faint hope of achieving salvation.  Which also doesn’t exactly make them “Christians of words,” they’re simply Christians of a type of action the Pope does not find to his liking.  St. Augustine, of course, defined Pelagianism similarly to Marius Mercator above.  I will say, in the Holy Father’s defense, that there are some modern sources that define Pelagianism down to being a philosophy of “working one’s way to Heaven,” but that’s really not an accurate definition, although Pelagians did, sort of, believe that.

What the Pope is really repeating is the protestant critique of traditional (pre-conciliar) Catholicism, that Catholics have this belief we could work our way to Heaven independent of Grace. First of all, the protestants were wrong, the Church has never believed that. Secondly, that’s not the heresy he keeps bringing up.

I won’t say much else, because I don’t want to belabor the point. But I will say this: I think the Church has really gotten into a great deal of trouble over the past several decades for operating in an either/or mentality – some emphasize Scripture, others Tradition, some emphasize the active life, some the contemplative, some are involved in catachesis, others take a missionary approach which forbids catachesis, etc.  My view is that the Church is the Body of the great “both-and:” we reverence Scripture AND Tradition, the active AND the contemplative, etc. On more than a couple occasions, the Holy Father has indicated, in pretty marked terms, that he holds the more cerebral, contemplative side of the Church in something approaching a low regard.  For instance, he told that same group of S. American religious above that one should be a priest or a college professor, but not both.  Which, the previous Pope was both!

Yes, it’s a very Jesuit point of view. That’s all I’ll say about that.


1. Elizabeth Fitzmaurice - June 27, 2013

My meager understanding had been that pelagians believed that we can attain sanctity, holiness, without graces from God. That we can do it on our own. Is that way off?

2. Miami Heat - June 28, 2013

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3. Jane Ryan - June 28, 2013

yes bishop bergoglio of Rome is totally wrong on this. both in how he defines Pelagianism, and in his critique of “Christians of words.” he subscribes to the “heresy of action” roundly condemned by his predecessor Pius XII, i.e., the only Christians are those feeding the poor or perhaps aiding rebels in latin american countries with communist sympathies.

I am so turned off by this papacy at this point that I’m close to tuning him out. he sounds like he wants us all to stop praying the rosary and start food banks before we consider ourselves christians. it’s very sad. contempt for prayer and the contemplative life which has marked the Church and Christians for thousands of years.

lisag - June 28, 2013

He does not want us to stop praying the rosary, he wants us to stop counting and keeping track of how many prayers we say. He wants prayer to come from a joyful, loving heart. That joyful loving heart would do anything for Jesus. It would give up all for Him. Aren’t most of us too attached to our things (time, family, possessions, experiences) and not showing the results of a Christian heart by our actions toward others.

Tom Lewis - June 28, 2013

So the eight beatitudes count for nothing with this pope.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

tantamergo - June 28, 2013

I’m not saying that. I’m just saying I think the definition of Pelagianism being tossed around is a bit skewed. Pelagians did sort of have this idea of being able to work one’s way to Heaven by natural means, but that was because they thought getting to Heaven very easy, whereas most traditional-type Catholics I know tend to think it is the other way around.

Folks, don’t take my post farther than it went. I was really just arguing a point of theological detail, regarding the definition of Pelagianism.

4. Jane Ryan - June 28, 2013

first of all, he needs to apologize for the rosary bouquet crack, or deny that he said it. silence to date. your comment just perpetuates the insult that a spiritual bouquet is some kind of demented exercise in counting prayers; very few normal Catholics would view one that way; in fact before the comment he reportedly made, I had never heard it before.

and if he’s saying that the “pelagians” in the Church are not joyful, it’s another area in which he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. i’ve never met any catholic with a devotion to the rosary or anything else who is glum and miserable – – other than the fact that no fallen human beings go around perfectly happy all the time, including him.

Tom Lewis - June 28, 2013

I understand it now, pope Francis knows the faith of Jesus Christ, must more better than Jesus Christ. Jesus is just full of that old time religion and needs to be updated with liberation theology and the social work of feeding the poor. Going to heaven – that’s just a secondary by-product of being a happy catholic here on earth – which says that if you follow the actions of this pope, you can speak ambiguously confusing the whole world with you concepts and still promote the faith. Dry Martyrdom who needs it, Church laws – too stuffy, black robes – too glum, High Mass – too long, Catholic tradition – too old. Its time to wake up to the Protestant revisionist version of Catholicism.

5. Joe Potillor, Jr. (@japotillorjr) - June 28, 2013

I agree with this! I guess more reason to pray for Pope Francis…

6. Dismas - June 28, 2013

Is it not a lot like simply calling social conservatives “McCarthyites” just to impugn their veracity?

With the exception, of course, that McCarthy was spot on and the Pelagians were heretics.

7. ProLIFEmommy - June 28, 2013

This Pope is causing WAAAYY too much confusion… and we all know confusion is NOT of God… I wonder if Pope Benedict knows what is going on and, if so, regrets his decision to resign? So far, I do not have an ounce of affection for this Pope & that breaks my heart.

tantamergo - June 28, 2013

Our priest gave a good sermon sort of on this subject today. Even though I cannot say I have the warmth in my heart for this Pope that I had for Pope Benedict XVI, I do love him, or strive to do so, and respect him. We really have to have great deference for our Pope, and love him even if humanly we do not wish to do so, because he is our spiritual father for good or ill. We don’t have to agree with everything he says or every action he takes, but we always have to have great respect for him and strive to be deferential/obedient. But if in conscience there is something he does or says that we think is problematic, we can, very respectfully, point that out.

I hope people don’t take this post as being snarky. That was not my intent. I was sort of embarrassed writing it, but I have tired of hearing “pelagianism” abused as a term. I put the video in and made the joke to try to make the post feel light. Maybe I did not succeed.

Let us strive to love our Sovereign Pontiff, he is still Christ’s Vicar on earth!

8. ProLIFEmommy - June 28, 2013

P.S. I LOVE THIS BLOG, btw!! God Bless you!!!

tantamergo - June 28, 2013

Thank you so much for your kind words. I pray the things I write are the fruit of the Spirit.

9. Tom Lewis - June 28, 2013

Please to do confuse fruit to suggest it is not truth, and as the opposite is also true. Praying for someone who you love does not mean that they are not in error. You may love Adolph Hitler, but it doesn’t mean you can’t comment on what he is doing wrong.

Please understand, throwing the money changers out of the temple indicated that Jesus saw these money people as showing no respect to God’s Temple. Sometimes you must do things that may not be considered kind in order to honor God.

The question is, does this pope show respect for Gods church by saying things that are (a) untrue, (b) unclear, or (c) not at all Catholic? And if a anyone of these is a true representation of his behavior and speeches, then should be listen to him anymore?

10. james jordan - July 1, 2013

“Pelagianism has been a much used word in Catholic circles of late. Which is surprising,…”

Its CALVINIST influence on Catholicism. Rome is Calvinizing.

11. james jordan - July 1, 2013

To explain what I mean when I say “Rome is Calvinizing.” The Calvinists are obsessed with “Pelagians” — everyone who is not a Calvinist is accused of being a “Pelagian.” Even other Protestants who solidly believe in justification by faith alone are accused of being “Pelagian” if they don’t accept that faith is based on arbitrary predestination. If they believe in justification by faith alone yet believe that freewill is at all involved in coming to faith, then the Calvinist says they’re a “Pelagian.” We clearly, however, are not talking about people who are trying to save themselves by works! So when I see the pope claiming that traditionalists are “Pelagians” I instantly think, “Oh, the new Pope is a Calvinist.”

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