I’ve been watching another terrific series on The Great Courses. After the last one on quantum mechanics, I started watching Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity.
I love studying the Late Empire. It’s a time of great change and conflict, both political and cultural. The 5th century AD in particular saw the development of the most enduring heresy in the church, Pelagianism.
I’ll sum it up by pointing out that two lines of thought arose in the ancient church and continue to this day. Many Christians believe if we do good things, if we live our lives as the Bible and Church tell us to, we’ll be rewarded with heaven.
If you believe this, you are a heretic.
“We must be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect” was Pelagius’s belief. Augustin told us differently, and the Church agreed with him. We absolutely can’t be perfect, no matter how hard we try. Any good we do is not our own effort. When we do happen to do something good, it is due to the leveling effect of Grace — granting us the possibility of doing good which we don’t innately possess — not the result of our own effort.
Augustin would like you to know that you do not have a contractual relationship with God. There is nothing owed, nothing earned, nothing deserved. Which makes the prideful and self-satisfied finger-pointing of so many Christians amusing to me. (It’s a little unfair to leave this all on Pelagius, since it was his disciple Celestine who denied Grace entirely.)
Augustin is one of my heroes. What a long and complicated life he lived. What a rigorous thinker. Great pride. Great humility. And passion. I named one of my sons after him.
He’s also a character in my book, Stilicho’s Son. The book is based on historic figures and events from 408. I’ve been at the editing stage for quite awhile, another of the projects that I have to finish.
The Late Empire is not what most of us think of when we picture “Rome.” Rome was a very different place by the fifth century. See my page on Stilicho’s Son for excerpts.