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Pelagius Revision Notes

History Notes > Augustine and the Last Days of Rome: 370-450 Notes

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Pelagius Revision Notes Pelagius, Letter to Demetrias, tr. B.R. Rees (Woodbridge, 1991), pp. 29-70 Introductory context to the letter?????

Juliana (widower married now to the Anician dynasty) accompanied by Anicia Faltonia Proba (widower of Sextus Petronius Probus) and her daughter, Demetrias are fleeing from Rome after Alaric the Goth's attack (410). They go to North Africa, and are in touch with Augustine and Alypius both interested in Demetrias' education Fiance found for Demetrias Demetrias, however, takes up the vow of virginity o Not sure if she did this on her own. Proba and Juliana o Thrilled at the news
? They consult eminent theologians
? Pelagius
? Augustine o Writes On the Good of Widowhood
? Incenses Juliana on the basis that the Anicii could not be heretics
? Augustine can't afford to lose wealthy patrons. 417 o Augustine says he found ' a certain book'
? The book had dangerous doctrine in it.
? The writer was Pelagius Juliana o Returns to Rome
? Distances herself from our man Pelagius Augustine o Writes a new letter directing Demetrias in more sober terms urging her to dedicate herself to scriptural prayer, fasting and good works with special emphasis on the need to use her great riches wisely to help the poor and distressed. Pelagius' Letter o Contains a moral theology.
? Views on
? Good of nature
? Natural sanctity
? Their relation to man's capacity to make a free choice between good and evil and thereby win merit in the eyes of God. o Authentic Christianity o Rhetoric
? Far more elegant Latin than other Pelagian works ? he is in competition with distinguished men like Augustine. Style of letter o Like a friendly, father figure
? None of the showing off of a Jerome, or the weary detachment of Augustine.

The Text itself??????

1.1 Flattery first off Writes the point is to guide the "remainder of her life"1

2. 2.1 First, Pelagius writes, o It is his practice to 'demonstrate the power and quality of human nature"2 and "to show what it is capable of achieving"3 o Only then can one consider other types of virtue
? 'the virgin must recognise her own strengths'4

2. 2 How to measure human nature?
o By reference to God
? God fashioned man to be like him: man is most powerful
? Strong animals are still subject to man
? God gave man reason and wisdom. o Has God given us a choice?
? 'Hence we read in the Book of Deuteronomy also: I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you may live'5
? God has set before us two choices, he has given us the chance to choose.

3.1 "It is on this choice between two ways, on this freedom to choose either alternative, that the glory of the rational mind is based, it is in this that the whole honour of our nature consists"6 o Precisely because humans have freedom of choice is their status higher than other creatures
? Our ability to use (divinely gifted) reason to choose the right path makes us virtuous
? There is no virtue in the man who does good, if he did not have the freedom to choose evil.

3.2 God wanted to give us the gift of doing good work of our own free will by giving us the opportunity of choosing either alternative. o God wished us to choose either good or evil but commanded us to choose good.

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He only presents us with the option of evil so we could do his will by exercising our own Doing evil
? Is good - because it is voluntaryo????3.3 Those who disagree are disagreeing with the Lord. o They say:
? Man ought to be made so he can do no evil. "Goodness of nature" argument o Good of nature means non-Christians can show virtue too.
? Pagan philosophers
? They too can be 'chaste, tolerant, temperate, generous, abstinent and kindly...lovers of justice...of knowledge'
? "Whence I ask you, do these qualities pleasing to God come to men who are strangers to him?"
? Pelagius answers simply: the good of nature. o If pagans can act so well, think what Christians, 'who are assisted by the aid of divine grace as well' can do.

4.1 On natural good o "Why is it we blush at every sin we commit?" o Then equally o "Why...are we happy, resolute, bold after every good deed...and wish it be seen in broad daylight?"7 o Answer:
? Nature is its own witness and discloses its own good by the very fact of its disapproval of evil'8
? Thus a murderer, whose name is concealed, still feels the guilt of what he's done ? natural good.

4.2 On natural sanctity o Presides in our mind's citadel
? Rests equally on evil and good
? Favours honourable action
? Condemns wrong deeds
? Distinguishes one from the other by a kind of inner law

5.1 Natural Sanctity o An inner faculty existing firmly in the biblical tradition.
? Abel
? Followed natural sanctity that was gratefully received by God.
? Enoch
? Followed natural sanctity and was taken from the earth such was his perfection.
? Noah

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A righteous man in a morally declining world; 'nor did he seek a model of holiness form another but supplied it himself'.

5.2 More examples

5.3 More examples

5.4 Pelagius begs Demetrias to look at Joseph's mind. o A "lover of God", he is chaste and resists the advances of the wife of his master, Potiphar.

5.5 o How was he able to?
? He 'repaid good with evil': proof he was still subject only to the law of nature.

6.1 On Job. o Another "true worshipper of God, keeping himself away from all evil"9

6.2 6.3 Job o The point is he "by opening up the hidden wealth of nature and bringing it out into the open"10he revealed what we are all capable of. 7 Thus is it nature's fault that some are unrighteous?
o No
? "It is not the force of nature but the freedom of the will that is then understood to be at work."11

8.1 But, good of nature can do evil too o It's just we shouldn't see ourselves doing evil through fault of our nature, when really it's our will at fault o In fact,
? "we do neither good nor evil without the exercise of our will"12
? My understanding was, having this choice was something God gave us? Not a 'natural grace' that gives man the capacity to choose freely between good and evil.

8.2 Natural Law o Earliest men were not rebuked
? Because at the time, natural law was fresh and vigorous
? People didn't sin

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Only now, within a world of vice, does God feel the need to reapply law, so "it was enabled to recover its former brilliance"13

8.3 On good o No reason why we can't do it; it's just we've got used to doing wrong form childhood and are corrupted by it.

8.4 On good of nature o "It was something which we had to provide in order to pave your way to perfect righteousness and make it more level and easier for you to run along in the knowledge that there is nothing uneven or unapproachable confronting you."

9.1 On perfect virginity o How to attain this
? Seek out the Lord and find out what pleases and displeases him
? i.e. render to God, 'spiritual obedience'. o "it is impossible for anyone to please someone, if he does not know what it is that pleases him"14

9.2 On Scripture o This alone is how you'll understand the complete will of God. Righteousness o Enjoined "one everyone without exception"15 Two classes o One acceptable, one advised. o One
? Marriage (acceptable)
? Allowed "so is the use of meat and wine, but abstinence from all three is advised by more perfect counsel"16 o Two
? Abstinence (advised)
? i.e. virginity, fasting and rejecting alcohol o are advised. o God has given us the choice to enjoy what's allowed or wait for 'a greater reward'17
? i.e. the reward of virginity.

9.3 On Demetrias' virginity o You are on the path to 'greater reward'

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Particularly virtuous because it is not commanded that you have to be a virgin.
? Instead, you have translated apostle's advice and made it law. o Well done Demerias!
Scripture compels us all to chaste life.

10.1 Difference between counsel and command. o Counsel
? Makes an exception for some; offers a reward; invites you to do something. o Command
? Embraces everyone without exception; offers punishment; threatens you if you fail to do it.

10.2 Demetrias o Be clear you have offered to God:
? A) virginity
? B) Righteousness o In short,
? Just because you've now taken virginity (not commanded) doesn't mean you can get lax on righteousness.
? This is a command.

10.3 10.4 On possessions. o If you liked worldly stuff, you would want to be unsurpassed in riches o So equally
? 'take care that no one surpasses you in the good life, no one excels you in moral purity, no one wins a place above you in the pursuit of virtue'18 o Worldly possessions
? Not in our grasp
? Surpassing others in material possessions (riches, bodily adornments etc) are not in your control 'since they are sought from outside'. o Spiritual possessions
? These are in your control:
? They are produced in the heart itself. o Everyone who seeks will find these good possessions (unlike material ones that can be lost or down to chance),
? "For the only good possessions are those which we neither find nor lose at any time save by the exercise of our own free choice."19

11.1 Demetrias o You have possessions entitling you above others
? Not your wealth and physical beauty.

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