2. Pagitt and Pelagius On Human Nature
3. Pagitt and Pelagius On Sin
4. Interlude on Sin
5. Pagitt and Pelagius On Salvation
6. Pagitt and Pelagius On Discipleship and Judgment
8. (Final Thoughts)
PAGITT AND PELAGIUS ON HUMAN NATURE
It is apparent from the outset, that Pagitt has severely reacted to Augustinian theology, especially in regards to human nature. For Pagitt, Augustine’s doctrine of depravity was based on cultural readings and understandings of certain biblical passages; the doctrine of original sin isn’t biblical, it is cultural. ((Pagitt, Christianity, 127.)) In fact, after citing sections from the Westminster Confession of Faith, Augsburg Confession, and Book of Common Prayer on Original Sin, Pagitt asserts that these “versions” are “extreme theology” that do not fit the Christian story. ((Pagitt, Christianity, 123-124.)) The starting point for these confessions and explanations of human nature flow from a source (Augustinian theology) that started with a view of humanity born out of a Greco-Roman world that centered on dualism and separation from God.
According to Pagitt, this theology could not reconcile its assumptions of human frailty and limitations with the story from the Scriptures that said humans were created in the image of God. “So the theology of depravity made sense to people who held a view of humans as being something less than God had intended.” ((Pagitt, Christianity, 128.)) For Pagitt, original sin was a cultural response to a wrongly held assumption that the current condition of humanity was less than the condition at which they were originally created. This false assumption about the starting place of human nature led to a “false doctrine” on how human nature is now, later resulting in distortions of the doctrine of salvation and judgment. Pagitt believes “the rationale for this view of humanity has expired, and so ought the theology that grew out of it.” ((Pagitt, Christianity, 128.)) Because Augustinian theology begins with the false assumption that humans are now, post-Fall, different than they were intended at Creation, the Church should abandon it.
Pagitt insists we need to tell a better story, a story (read: theology) that explains we are still created in the unbroken Image of God as partners and collaborators with Him who are still His people; this story never loses “sight of what it means to be created in the Image of God.” ((Pagitt, Christianity, 129-130.)) The Imago Dei plays a central role in Pagitt’s theology of human nature. He insists that the Story of God says the Imago Dei is the same as it ever was. While we were created to partner with God as Images of God, we are still that unbroken Image; the Image of God has not changed. Most Christians who hold to the historic belief of the doctrine of the Imago Dei believe that image is cracked, broken, and tainted at some level. Pagitt, however, believes nothing has inherently changed about that Image—about human nature—from the very beginning of Creation.
Referencing the Genesis 3 narrative of Adam and Eve, Pagitt says, “Their state of being did not change, their DNA didn’t change…This story never suggests that the sin of Adam and Eve sends them into a state of depravity.” ((Pagitt, Christianity, 135, 136. Incidentally, this mirrors exactly the point Jones made on his blog, cited earlier.)) In fact, “we are still capable of living as children of God” because we can still regard human nature as being “inherently godly.” ((Pagitt, Christianity, 136, 137.)) This strong belief in the original Imago Dei plays strongly into Pagitt’s belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity and capacity to choose good over evil.
Taking his cues from Celtic Christians, Pagitt believes that all humans “posses the light of God within them. That light might brighten or dim as a person lives well with God or moves away from God, but the light is never extinguished.” ((Pagitt, Christianity, 141, 142.)) The chief end of humanity isn’t to simply glorify God, as the Westminster Confession suggests, but to “live like God,” ((Pagitt, Christianity, 143. (Emphasis mine.))) a capacity Pagitt believes is inherent within our nature. It is clear that for Pagitt, we are still good and can still choose to live godly. Nothing changed within human nature because of Adam, we are still the way we intended, though “we are invited to live free from sin and destruction, to seek lives lived in harmony with God.” ((Pagitt, Christianity, 160.))
Like Pagitt, Pelagius begins with anthropology. His view of human nature can be summarized by a section from his letter On Chastity:
Reflect carefully then, I beg you, on the good which is yours if you always remain such as God created man from the beginning and as he sent him forth thereafter, when he had brought him into the world. Observe what a blessing it is to be always in the state in which you were created and to preserve the features of your first birth. For no one is born corrupt nor is anyone stained by corruption before the lapse of an appointed period of time. Every man is seen to posses among his initial attributes what was there at the beginning, so that he has no excuse thereafter if he loses through his own negligence what he possessed by nature. ((Pelagius. “On Chastity” from The Letters of Pelagius and His Followers, ed. by B. R. Rees. (Suffolk, England: The Boydell Press, 1991), 259. (Emphasis mine).))
For Pelagius, the original Imago Dei has not changed; God created humans good and uncorrupt, and they still exist in this good, uncorrupted state. We are to remain and live out of the originally created good nature by pursuing the virtues of God. Like Pagitt, Pelagius places great emphasis on the original Image of God after which humans were (and still are) fashioned together. We are still to measure the good of human nature by reference to its Creator, supposing He has made people exceedingly good. ((Pelagius. “To Demetrias,” from The Letters of Pelagius and His Followers. Ed. by B. R. Rees (Suffolk, England: The Boydell Press, 1991), 37.)) Pelagius (like Pagitt) reacted to any notion that humanity was corrupt and incapable of choosing to follow the commands of God.
Pelagius believed that God bestowed on His rational human creatures the gift of “doing good out of (the creature’s) own free will and capacity to exercise free choice.” ((Pelagius, “To Demetrias,” 38.)) God the Creator gave humans the inner capacity to do good or evil. Even now we can choose to do either out of our natural capacity and ability. Embedded within us is a “natural sanctity in our minds which administers justice equally on the evil and the good and…distinguishes the one side from the other by a kind of inner law.” ((Pelagius, “To Demetrias,” 40.)) Using this inner capacity, natural sanctity, and inner law, humans are naturally capable of living, in the words of Pagitt, “in sync with God” or “out of sync with God,” to choose honorable and upright actions or wrong deeds. The reason people can live in or out of sync with God is because nature does not determine their ability to do so. Instead, this “living” is a product of choice. Pelagius explains, “When will a man guilty of any crime or sin accept with a tranquil mind that his wickedness is a product of his own will, not of necessity, and allow what he now strives to attribute to nature to be ascribed to his own free choice?” ((Pelagius. “On The Possibility of Not Sinning,” from The Letters of Pelagius and His Followers, ed. by B. R. Rees. (Suffolk, England: The Boydell Press, 1991), 167-168.))
In fact, it is God himself who presupposes our unfettered inner ability to choose good or evil. According to Pelagius’ logic, if God has commanded us to love God and love people—if God has commanded us not to sin—then we must by nature have the capacity to choose good. “No one knows better the true measure of our strength than He who has given it to us nor does anyone understand better how much we are able to do than He who has given us this very capacity of ours to be able; nor has He who is just wished to command anything impossible or He who is good intended to condemn a man for doing what he could not avoid.” ((Pelagius, “To Demetrias,” 53-54.)) In typical Pelagian form, he insists that if humans are naturally incapable of being without sin, then there would be no command to be holy. Consequently, if God commanded us to be good, then we must be able to choose good; if we are able to choose good, then we must able to do good. Because God created us good we are good and are capable of doing good.
In summation, neither Pagitt nor Pelagius believe anyone is born corrupt or stained by corruption; human nature is not sinful. They both appeal to the original Imago Dei and the Creator as a defense for this belief. They believe God made us as good Image Bearers and our sin doesn’t change this good nature. Both insist that our inner nature (and according to Pagitt, our DNA) did not change after the Fall; we still posses God’s spark of godliness within us. Instead of the necessity of nature forcing us to sin, Pelagius and Pagitt insist that we sin when we follow the example of Adam and others into living lives of disintegration from God. The next post, we will further develop Pelagius’ and Pagitt’s understanding of sin.
A few parting thoughts and questions:
1) Every part of Christianity believes in original sin and the event of rebellion (aka The Fall). While the West has a strong view, thanks to Augustine, the East also believes in original sin, though a milder form. ((See Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2002, 167), the twentieth century’s leading Orthodox theologian.)) Both traditions, East and West, presuppose an event, which occurred in space and time. Contrary to what Pelagius and Pagitt believe, human nature is fallen and by-nature rebellious because of Adam.
2) Both Pagitt and Pelagius do not believe humanity is not as God intended them to be. Pagitt asserts the idea that we are “less than God intended” is a view of humanity that has “expired.” (p. 128). For Doug, just like Pelagius, human nature is still as God intended it at the beginning of Creation. Can anyone tell me why this is devastating for salvation? For the need for salvation?
3) Question for Doug: What do you do with Romans 5:12-19, especially verse 12?
Here Paul describes the conditions of the justified and reconciled by comparing it with the status of humanity before Christ: sinful, condemned, dead. Paul explicitly says that Adam absolutely affected and determined the history of the Human Race. Something happened, shifted, ruptured. This is clear in verse 12: “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and through sin death, and so death spread to all human beings, with the result that all sinned.” ((Translation Joseph Fitzmyer, Romans (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 405.)) Watch the progression in Paul’s argument: The world ruptured because of Adam. Death entered the world through Adam. All die because of Adam. All sin because of Adam.
In short: Since Adam is the head of Humanity, all die “in him ” and all have sinned “in him.”
Verses 17 and 19 also make clear, in dramatic terms, the absolute enslavement of humanity to death and sin because of the “trespass” of the one man, Adam. ((Fitzmyer, Romans, 407.)) Adam is humanity’s first parent in the same way that Christ is New Humanity’s parent. Just as Paul universalizes the life of Christ to those who are rescued in Him, he universalizes sin and death of Adam to all humanity.
According to Paul, original sin is not a cultural construct, but an existential reality. Human nature is not untainted, the Image of God of which Adam is the head is not in its original form. Human nature is sinful, because Adam sinned.
Because 5:12 was the Scriptural fulcrum upon which the Church rejected Pelagius view of untainted human nature, an unbroken Image of God. Pagitt needs to explain how his view of human nature gels with Paul’s explanation in Romans 5. So far he has not.
4) Question for Doug: what do you do with 2 Corinthians 5:20? “So if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old creature has passed away; see a new one has been created.”
Flowing from Paul’s discussion in Romans 5, he asserts that those who are “in Christ” undergo an experience comparable to the initial creation itself: a new creature has been created. “There is a new creation” presupposes an old creation, an old nature. The Event of Christ alters the very nature of a person to such an extent that they are made new; that the old creation/nature is removed, is identified with the very death of Christ (Rom. 6). Likewise, the new nature/creature is united in his resurrection, brought to life “in Christ.” (Rom. 6)
Paul presents a picture of an old creation/nature and a new creation/nature, a characterization that is consistent with Romans 5 in which there are two epochs: the Adamic epoch in which sin and death reign in the world and individuals; and the Christ epoch in which righteousness and life reign. Pagitt needs to explain how “a new creature has been created” if the old one was not damaged in the first place.
5) Believing in the fallenness of human nature matters to God’s Story of Rescue because it acknowledges the need for a Rescuer, someone to do something for us that we cannot do ourselves. That was Pelagius’ problem: he thought we existed in the untainted, unbroken original Imago Dei and could, by our own gumption and ingenuity, get back to God, apart from His grace. The same is true of Pagitt.
The problem is we can’t, because we are not the way we were supposed to be; we have changed. God’s Story insists that there is something wrong with us, that we need to be put back together again because of who we are, not what we do. This will become much more clear when we let Pagitt and Pelagius answer the question “why do you sin?” and also look at their views of salvation.
Inevitably, a proper view of human nature dictates our understanding of the nature of salvation, the nature of rescue. Unfortunately for Doug, rescue/salvation is pointless because we can live like God…all on our own.