The Pelagian Heresy - Sarah Woodbury

The Pelagian Heresy

The Pelagian heresy is an important part of any discussion of religion in Wales during the era formerly known as the Dark Ages.  Pelagius was a British monk, born around 350 AD, who moved to Rome and was a contemporary of St. Augustine.  His crucial fault was that he believed that the notion of original sin–that all men were condemned because of the actions of Adam–was false.   Unfortunately, our primary source of his writings are not the writings themselves, but the reaction to them on the part of his opponents.  He was condemned as a heretic by Augustine, whose teachings became predominant in the church.;

for a list of primary sources:

The two differing paths are:


1.  Death comes from sin, not man’s physical nature;

2. Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin and those who die without baptism cannot reach heaven

3.  Christ’s grace frees us from past and future sins;

4.  Through Christ’s grace we are given strength to act without sin;

5.  A sinless life is impossible without Christ’s grace;

6.  Everyone is a sinner, which we all must confess.


1.  Humans have a ‘natural sanctity’;

2.  Humanity has free will and makes the choice to sin;

3.  There is no original sin, thus infants are not sinful and unbaptized infants are not outside God’s grace;

4.  God’s grace assists right action but isn’t necessary to it;

5.  Humanity has full control, and thus full responsibility for obeying the teachings of Christ “in addition to full responsibility for every sin.”  Thus, men are sinners by choice.  They are not victims but criminals who need pardon and the atonement of Jesus Christ.

Eventally Pelagianism was stamped out everywhere but in Wales and Ireland.  Councils were held, and missionaries sent to those countries during the ‘dark ages’ in an effort to combat what the Roman Church believed to be a dangerous heresy, with eventual success, although the Welsh Church did not truly come under full control of the Roman Church until after 1282.

In modern times, the Catholic Church no longer says that an unbaptized infant who dies is outside God’s grace, but is ‘entrusted to the mercy of God’.


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