Handout on Pelagianism

English 513/622, Dr. Fike


From A Milton Encyclopedia, Vol. 6, page 128:


“PELAGIANISM, an early fifth-century heresy especially combated by St. Augustine, denied that mankind was innately sinful and asserted instead that man has the power within himself apart from divine grace to do good; indeed, unassisted man could lead a sinless life.  Orthodox Christianity ultimately rejected this man-centered system because it provided no significant place for Christ’s atonement or for any divine activity on earth.

“Milton believed with the Arminians that man has freedom to choose between good and bad, and accordingly he has sometimes been classed with the Pelagians.  But he never held that unassisted man could make such choices, and he attacks the Pelagians as heretics in Eikon (5:224) and Animad (3:126).  Rather, he believed that God freely bestows His grace upon everyone; this action permits each recipient to will and do good if he so chooses, but he may resist and so turn to evil ways.  This position, shared with the Remonstrants against the Calvinists, has certain affinities with semi-Pelagianism, an attempt to harmonize the Pelagian and Augustine positions.”


Barbara Lewalski, The Life of John Milton:  A Critical Biography, page 423:


“Milton avoids the Pelagian concept that good works may help to merit salvation by stipulating that it is only God’s grace, won through Christ’s sacrifice and offered at all stages, that makes salvation possible to any.”


From various sources:


Arianism:  “seeing the pre-incarnate Jesus as a divine being but nonetheless created by (and consequently inferior to) the Father at some point, before which the Son did not exist” (Wikipedia).  In Milton’s terms, Father and Son are not of the same “essence.”  From The Columbia Encyclopedia:  Arianism is the idea "that God created, before all things, a Son who was the first creature, but who was neither equal to nor coeternal with the Father. According to Arius, Jesus was a supernatural creature not quite human and not quite divine."


Monism:  The belief that all things are made of the same substance; therefore, the belief that Father and Son are of the same substance.