Wednesday, March 07, 2007
"Narrow Shafts of Divine Light"
Well, it must REALLY be a slow news week!
Susan Russell posted a quote from me over at her blog and the "Alphabet Soup Evangelicals" who form splinter groups like AAC, CANA, FiFNA, and AMiA have been jumping up and down like badly behaved kids at Starbucks.
My quote was: "It occurs to me that this is deja vu all over again. History is repeating itself. We are in the midst of the Pelagian Controversy - the Celtic Catholic monk who had a high doctrine of human nature and the fiery North African Bishop who saw the world through the lens of 'original sin'.
Except, this time, the North Americans in general and LGBT people in particular are being used as the wedge between the two countries.
The old African saying is: When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
We are the grass here, folks.
We need to let these two elephants duke it out someplace else, so we can get on with the work of being the Body of Christ in the world - however and wherever it is we see Jesus."
Well, Brad Drell, who recently posted a long lament about how he's thinking about joining the Baptist church, wrote me and said, "Well, Elizabeth, you are complaining about being called a heretic and then you bring up Pelagius. The man who denied that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was necessary to cleanse us from our sins, because, get this, we aren't sinful."
See? That's the problem with history - even the history of the church. It's written by the victor and so must always be understood from that perspective.
Here's what those who didn't win say about one of their own:
"Celtic Daily Prayer:
Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community."
Pelagius (c. 350 – 418): August 28, 2006
We have chosen to mark Pelagius’ memory on the feast day normally assigned to Augustine of Hippo, who did so much to malign Pelagius and who is the source of many erroneous teachings and emphases that still dog Christian thinking today.
Pelagius was a British theologian, teacher, writer and soul-friend who settled in Rome. He was highly spoken of at first – even by Augustine. He taught about the value of soul-friendship. He celebrated the fact that the goodness of God cries out through all of creation, for ‘narrow shafts of divine light pierce the veil that separates heaven from earth.’
But soon he was criticized for teaching women to read Scripture, and for believing that the image of God is present in every new-born child, and that sex is a God-given aspect of our essential creation. He did not deny the reality of evil or its assault on the human soul, or the habitual nature of sin.
Augustine’s own peculiar ideas were in stark contrast, seeing humanity as essentially evil, and polluted by the sexual activity which causes conception to occur.
Augustine tried twice in 415 to have him convicted of heresy – on both occasions Pelagius was exonerated in Palestine. In 416 Augustine and the African bishops convened two diocesan councils to condemn him and Celestius, another Celt. In 417 the Bishop of Rome called a synod to consider the conflict, and declared Pelagius’ teaching entirely true, and urged the African bishops to love peace, prize love, and seek after harmony.
They ignored this, and in 418 they persuaded the State to intervene and banish Pelagius from Rome for disturbing the peace. The Church then was obliged to uphold the Emperor’s judgment, and excommunicated and banished him, though no reasons were made clear. He returned to Wales, probably to the monastery of Bangor.
Two centuries later all the same ideas were still to be found in Celtic Christianity. History is written by the victors, so most reports of what Pelagius said are given from Augustine’s viewpoint, not in his own balanced and sensible words. He was also criticized for being a big, enthusiastic man, stupid from eating porridge and over-confident in his own strength, and for wearing his hair in an inappropriate style!