Resurrecting an old heresy: Does Pope Francis know what the word “pelagian” actually means?

The doing of “charitable deeds” for the Pope remain the only path to God, even if “in the history of the Church there have been many mistakes along the way” on the one hand the error of those who have relied on meditation to “go higher” – “How many lose themselves along the way and never arrive”, said Francesco; on the other hand there are those who believe that to arrive to God one must be “humble, austere”, choosing the path of “penitence” and  “fasting” only.  They are the pelagians, who believe that with their strength they will get there”.  – Pope Francis


Editor’s note from the Catholic Enclopedia:

Pursuant to the papal command, there was held on 1 May, 418, in the presence of 200 bishops, the famous Council of Carthage, which again branded Pelagianism as a heresy in eight (or nine) canons (Denzinger, “Enchir.”, 10th ed., 1908, 101-8). Owing to their importance they may be summarized:

Death did not come to Adam from a physical necessity, but through sin.

New-born children must be baptized on account of original sin.

Justifying grace not only avails for the forgiveness of past sins, but also gives assistance for the avoidance of future sins.

The grace of Christ not only discloses the knowledge of God’s commandments, but also imparts strength to will and execute them.

Without God’s grace it is not merely more difficult, but absolutely impossible to perform good works.

Not out of humility, but in truth must we confess ourselves to be sinners.

The saints refer the petition of the Our Father, “Forgive us our trespasses”, not only to others, but also to themselves.

The saints pronounce the same supplication not from mere humility, but from truthfulness.

Some codices containing a ninth canon (Denzinger, loc. cit., note 3): Children dying without baptism do not go to a “middle place” (medius locus), since the non reception of baptism excludes both from the “kingdom of heaven” and from “eternal life”.

These clearly worded canons, which (except the last-named) afterwards came to be articles of faith binding on the universal Church, gave the death blow to Pelagianism; sooner or later it would bleed to death.

Saint Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:4-12: Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit. (5) And there are diversities of ministries. but the same Lord. (6) And there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all. (7) And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit. (8) To one indeed, by the Spirit, is given the word of wisdom: and to another, the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit: (9) To another, faith in the same spirit: to another, the grace of healing in one Spirit: (10) To another the working of miracles: to another, prophecy: to another, the discerning of spirits: to another, diverse kinds of tongues: to another, interpretation of speeches. (11) But all these things, one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will. (12) For as the body is one and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body: So also is Christ.


  1. He’s denounced anyone who is “joyless” or thinks religion should be “serious” as Pelagians. But I think Pelagians tend to have more joy because they aren’t sitting around worrying hoping that some miserly god will give them that elusive grace he seems to always be with-holding. They know that God helps those who help themselves, and so they always have the assurance that they already have God’s grace, as much of it as they need. Pelagians take it seriously when Paul says “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” while Augustinians lie around begging “Oh God! Please just give me a little more grace! Just a little more please please please! Why won’t you give it to me you #$%$%#$? Just give me one more scrap! Por favor!!!”


  2. Historically-defined Pelagianism seems all but irrelevant in the context of Francis’ issue with “joyless” traditionalist Catholics. So let’s home in on the word “joyless.”

    One of the most revered prayers in Catholic tradition (small “t”) is the Memorare. Although it is meant to invoke and inspire confidence in the Blessed Mother’s aid and intercession, it characterizes supplicants “mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.” In other words, the worldly plane in which all must spend up to 10 or more decades working out their salvation is, in sum, an utterly joyless place.

    This is just one example among many that I could cite to make the same point about the Catholic world view that was prevalent well into the previous century. Rather than truthfully address, and seek balance and perspective for this gloomy outlook, Vatican II promoted an indiscriminant embrace by the Church of the “world”: warts, evils and all. (And then the Council beheld what it had done, and pronounced it “good”. Over and over again.)

    As a result, the Catholic divide of modern times seems to be between the clueless children of the council, who look at the world and yet miss most of what it means, and the sede-traddie-types: who see the world as one big, oppressive house arrest for guilty probationers seeking forgiveness and redemption, and believe that any who don’t see the world that way and don’t follow their path through it will be denied eternal parole. (Misery really does love company, and resents all who reject its invitation.)

    This is not to say I have any affinity for Francis’ critique. I dismiss it, along with most of what he has thus far said as pontiff, as largely lacking in substance and import.

    But consider this: Sacred Scripture—divinely-inspired and -directed—reports that “Jesus wept.” No scripture states: “Jesus laughed.”

    A reader might by now suspect that, in my seventh decade of trying to figure these things out, I am more conflicted and confused than ever. Any such reader would be correct in his suspicion.


    • “But consider this: Sacred Scripture—divinely-inspired and -directed—reports that ‘Jesus wept.’ No scripture states: ‘Jesus laughed.’

      Oh no! I wonder if Francis will denounce him as a Pelagian heretic next. Jesus also it says concerning the Pharisees “looked on them with anger.” I’m sure Francis could write him up on heresy charges for that.

      “A reader might by now suspect that, in my seventh decade of trying to figure these things out, I am more conflicted and confused than ever. Any such reader would be correct in his suspicion.”

      I say Paul confused everything. Christianity would have made so much more sense without him. Its only my third decade though, so I’ve got plenty of time left to get even more conflicted and confused.


      • “I say Paul confused everything. Christianity would have made so much more sense without him.”

        Boldly spoken, James, and bound to elicit vigorous response (which I will leave to others).

        Welcome to the forum!


  3. I’m pretty sure Francis’ quote was “these are the Pharisees.” Bad enough to spit on 2,000 years of monastics, victim souls and the unknown humble soldiers of Christ, but what is the source of your translation?


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