“The last few minutes of this week’s programme revealed what had been under the surface for much of the time, which was the very opposed views on Augustine held by Martin Palmer and John Milbank. I think John Milbank, who is a very great expert on Augustine, is right in qualifying the brutal headlines of Augustine’s influence. I still think of him as the man who branded Christians with original sin and hobbled them with predestination. Martin Palmer is much more of a Pelagian and, as John said, thinks that Pelagius was an Anglican, ie: tolerant, seeing all sides, and I also believe there is something in this. He inherited a pluralistic tradition and wanted to keep that alive, whereas Augustine was much more in tune with, and perhaps in thrall to, the idea of what had been th centralised Roman Empire, wanting to recreate it in the centralised Roman Church which eventually happened.” from Melvyn Bragg’ latest newsletter.
In this most recent episode of In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Pelagian Controversy.
In the late 4th century a British monk, Pelagius, travelled to Rome, where he became a theologian and teacher, revered for his learning and ascetic lifestyle. But he soon aroused the ire of some of the Church’s leading figures, preaching a Christian doctrine which many regarded as heretical. Pelagius believed that mankind was not inherently depraved, and disputed the necessity of original sin. His opinions were highly controversial and led to fierce division.
Pelagius’s most prominent opponent was the African bishop St Augustine of Hippo. Their dispute resulted in the persecution and eventual condemnation of Pelagius and his followers, and was to be of long-lasting significance to the future of the Church.
Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture
Reader in History at Birkbeck College, University of London
Professor in Religion, Politics and Ethics and the Director of the Centre for Theology and Philosophy at Nottingham University