Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Pelagius

Dear Parishioners,

One of the heresies of the early church was called Pelagianism.  It was named for Pelagius, who was thought to have been either a British or Irish monk (an aesthetic), living around the late 4th or early 5th century.  His teachings were opposed by St. Augustine and were officially condemned by the Council of Carthage (418-9).   One core error associated with his teaching was the belief that human beings can earn salvation by their own efforts, unaided by God’s grace.  Essentially, the heresy can be remembered this way:  “I can do it all by myself.  I don’t really need God’s help!”

Sometimes people may think similarly about salvation in our contemporary society.  Perhaps there are those who think that if we do enough good deeds, accumulate enough “brownie points” before God, then He has to let us into heaven.  After all, we earned it!  How often have we heard a list of accomplishments—a curriculum vitae—at various occasions indicating how much a person has achieved in his or her life?  Do we really think that we will hand God our resume, show Him our multiple academic degrees or inform Him of our lifelong accomplishments so that we will be let us into Heaven to share eternal life with Him?

The primary focus regarding salvation can never be on us, but has to be on JesusHe suffered and died for our salvation.  His death on the cross is the means by which our sins are forgiven and we are given the glorious possibility of eternal life.  It’s really all about Jesus, and not all about us!  Moreover, every good work of ours has its origin in God’s grace, is sustained by God’s grace and is brought to completion with God’s grace.  Yes, we still retain our free-will—but we never do it all alone, like some rugged individual.

Sadly, a typical situation in which this Pelagian thinking manifests itself is in our funeral rites.  The term used today reveals a lot:  the celebration of life memorials!  The focus here is presumably on what the person has done, and not on what Jesus has done for us.  (I unfortunately anticipate that there is going to be some pushback in this regard!)  During funerals, there necessarily has to be an emphasis on Christian hope—with all its encouragement—given to us who are left behind.  This is because Jesus is the firstborn from the dead (see Col. 1:18 or Rev. 1:5). 

However, we can never become so overly presumptuous as to place a person in Heaven automatically.  Only God Himself reads the heart, knows the person’s motivation and understands the human person so completely as to be the ultimate judge of anyone’s salvation.  Jesus died for us sinners, and we need to ask for His forgiveness and mercy for our deceased.  We should never deprive anyone of our prayers and Masses, offered for their eternal salvation.  The Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory, a period of cleansing or purification before Heaven, can be of great consolation in this matter when it is properly understood.

No, I can’t do it all by myself.  I need Jesus.  I need His grace.  I need His unconditional love, His mercy and His forgiveness—more now than ever!

Fr. Ed Namiotka

St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
"Doctor of Grace"

1 comment:

  1. Keeping Christ's perspective in our lives is essential. :)