AUGUSTINE AND PELAGIUS AS A CAMEO OF THE DILEMMA BETWEEN ORIGINAL SIN AND FREE WILL
AbstractAccording to St. Augustine’s (354-430) literal reading of the myth of Adam’s “fall”, sin is transmitted to all humanity and leaves an uncontrollable inclination to sin. Salvation from this “original sin” can be achieved only by the grace of God, but the grace of God was mediated exclusively by the orthodox Roman church through the administration of the sacraments. One of the so-called “heretics” who was prepared to speak out against this authoritarian form of church “orthodoxy” was the Celtic monk Pelagius (360-c.420). He denied that sin is transmitted at birth. He claimed that sin was the result of an act of the will, choosing evil over good – and that divine grace cannot perfect humankind’s sanctity without the exercise of one’s own free will. Even though science and biblical textual criticism have prompted a new search for coherence between modernity and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, some, or other form of the doctrine of original sin is still being propounded in most Christian denominations today. In view of the tragic baggage that Christianity must bear, the question is raised regarding whether Pelagius’s insistence on the choice to exercise free will for good through a Christ-like life would not have led to a more psychologically healthy and effective Christianity? This article employs a History-of-Religion’s methodology to probe the politico-cultural historical context during St. Augustine’s lifetime to understand how it came about that the doctrine of original sin was established. This article hypothesises that the possibility (as claimed by Rowan Williams). of a “normative” Christianity containing “an interwoven plurality of perspectives on what was transacted in Jerusalem” is only achievable if the pre-Darwinian doctrine of inborn sin is relinquished in favour of Pelagius’s insistence on accountability through an effort of will for good sustained by the grace of God.
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