Pelagius  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Pelagius (ca. AD 354 – ca. AD 420/440) was an ascetic who denied the doctrine of original sin as developed by Augustine of Hippo, and was declared a heretic by the Council of Carthage. His interpretation of a doctrine of free will became known as Pelagianism. He was well educated, fluent in both Greek and Latin, and learned in theology. He spent time as an ascetic, focusing on practical asceticism, which his teachings clearly reflect. He was certainly well known in Rome, both for the harsh asceticism of his public life as well as the power and persuasiveness of his speech. His reputation in Rome earned him praise early in his career even from such pillars of the Church as Augustine, who referred to him as a "saintly man." However, he was later accused of lying about his own teachings in order to avoid public condemnation. Most of his later life was spent defending his doctrine against theologians teaching the Catholic Faith. They held that Catholicism came from the apostles and that Pelagius was spreading novelties in the Faith unknown to the apostolic tradition.

Pelagius in literature and film

In Hilaire Belloc's The Four Men, the Sailor leads his companions in the "Song of the Pelagian Heresy for the Strengthening of Men's Backs and the very Robust Out-thrusting of Doubtful Doctrine and the Uncertain Intellectual".

The Pelagius Book by Paul Morgan is a historical novel that presents Pelagius as a gentle humanist emphasizing individual responsibility in contrast to Augustine's fierce fatalism.

Pelagius is referred to in Stephen Lawhead's book, The Black Rood, and makes an appearance in Patrick where he has a discussion with the Hiberno-British saint.

Pelagius is frequently referred to in Jack Whyte's series of books known as A Dream of Eagles, where a major character's belief in Pelagius' ideas of Free Will and the laxity of the Roman Catholic Church eventually cause him to come into conflict with Church representatives.

John Cowper Powys' novel Porius (1951) features the conflict between Augustinian/Pelagian beliefs,with the eponymous hero being a follower of Pelagius. Powys referred approvingly to Pelagianism in his non-fiction book Obstinate Cymric (1947).

The Saint Augustine/Pelagius debate is mockingly discussed in the novel by Flann O'Brien titled The Dalkey Archive, wherein Saint Augustine actually makes a ghostly appearance.

The government of the English-Speaking Union (Enspun) in Anthony Burgess' The Wanting Seed is locked in a perpetual cycle, rotating between the 'Pel-Phase', named after Pelagius, and an Augustinian phase. The former is one of police and social services, the latter is characterized by martial law. Burgess took up the Augustine/Pelagius theme again in The Clockwork Testament.

Pelagius features in the movie King Arthur. Although not a major character, he is portrayed as the mentor of young Lucius Artorius Castus, or Arthur. Throughout the film, Artorius/Arthur champions Pelagius' ideas, such as believing that every person is not inherently sinful, and that we are capable of attaining grace through good works. This leads him to oppose the practices of more "mainline" Roman Christian authorities, who believe that the inherent sinfulness of everyone is justification for torturing native Celts into conversion (a practice which Augistine did approve of, to some extent, and which others used his teachings to justify). Upon hearing of Pelagius's excommunication and murder in Rome, Arthur's affection for the monk leads him to realize that the ideal of "Rome" he believed in doesn't exist anymore, break off loyalty with the Roman Empire, and help the Britons fight the Saxon invaders.

Pelagius is the subject of a poem by the Glasgow poet Edwin Morgan ('Cathures', Carcanet 2002) which imagines that Pelagius has returned to his native Glasgow ('Cathures') and that his Celtic name was 'Morgan'.

Stephen Baxter, in his book "Emperor," imagines how time's tapestry would have looked had Pelagius' views and not Augustine's influenced the evolution of Christianity. He also portrays the Emperor Constantine's actions as having had dealt a harsh blow, but not necessarily a mortal one, to Pelagius' teaching that humans are free and sin is not inherent in us.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pelagius" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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