Pelagius’ thoughts on Christian virtue


Pelagius was a Welsh monk who lived in the 5th century CE.  He is best known for his opposition to the doctrine of Original Sin.  Because of this, the Church hierarchy accused him accused of heresy.  Of his writings, very few survive.  What follows is part of a letter he wrote to a friend named Demetrius [Letters of Pelagius, trans. Robert van der Weyer, Little Giddings Books, 1995].  Pelagius was clear that Christian are not the only people who lead good lives.  That observation tells us something about the nature of God’s own goodness.  The picture shows the traditional idea that Pelagius was a heretic!

“Many people who follow Christ believe that only Christians are capable of doing good. They assert that Christianity has a monopoly of virtue.  But this assertion is quite contrary to what we can observe.  All of us have met non-Christians who are tolerant, temperate, chaste, generous and kind.  We have met non-Christians who reject the pleasures and honours of this world, choosing instead the way of simplicity and humility.  In short, we have met non-Christians who reflect the virtues of Christ himself. 

“If only Christians were good, then God would not be good.  [He] would have denied the rest of humanity the freedom to choose goodness.  The goodness we see in non-Christians is proof of the goodness of God.  God has granted every person, regardless of race or religion, the freedom to choose good or evil.  The advantage of being a Christian is that through the teaching of Jesus Christ we learn more fully the nature of goodness.  Therefore, Christ’s example inspires us to do good ourselves.”