Beware of Pelagianism
ANOTHER form of fake holiness mentioned in Pope Francis’ “Gaudete et exsultate” is what is known as Pelagianism that also includes its mitigated but still erroneous idea of holiness that is labeled as semi-Pelagianism. It is a heretical doctrine attributed to a British theologian, Pelagius, who lived circa 360-418 AD.
Pelagianism is the belief that holiness can be achieved mainly if not exclusively through man’s effort alone, with hardly any help of the divine grace. It goes against what St. Paul said clearly that everything, especially sanctity itself, “depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.” (Rom 9,16)
Not that human will and exertion are irrelevant in the pursuit of holiness and everything that is good and proper to us. They are, in fact, indispensable, but only as means, as evidence and consequence of the working of God’s grace and his mercy.
This clarification is crucial especially nowadays when there is a lot of religious indifference, confusion and ignorance. We may, in fact, see a lot of people who are doing a lot of good things, but still missing the real thing. And that’s simply because their idea of anything good is mainly subjective rather than objective. It depends on their own understanding of what is good rather than the good that truly comes from God.
Due to such understanding, the consequent actions would not be truly inspired by the love that comes from God. They would simply come as a result of their own will and effort. And a will and effort exercised in this way, that is, without God’s grace and inspiration, would only be proud and vain.
It is indeed very important that we examine closely the motives of our actions and the source from which they spring as well as the end to which they proceed. That’s because we can do many of what may look like good acts but which are motivated by self-love, by pride and vanity, rather than by the real love that comes from God alone and is lived only with God.
A Pelagian person is actually a very proud and vain person. He is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, faking holiness through his seemingly good works that may include many acts of piety, like praying in a showy way, making a lot of sacrifices, being active in church functions, etc.
He personifies what St. Paul once said about the importance of charity in our lives and about how charity can be distinguished from seemingly good works: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13,2)
A Pelagian person cannot stand the test of true love in spite of the many good things he appears to be doing. This truth was practically established by Christ in that encounter he had with a rich young man. (cfr Mt 19,16-30)
The rich young man appeared to be doing a lot of good, to be following the commandments. But when Christ asked for his whole heart by asking him to sell all he had and to just follow Christ, the rich young man went away sad.
A Pelagian person, in the end, has his own self to love rather than God. He can be exposed to be such when the true and ultimate demands of God’s love are made on him. Before this, he somehow can be known when problems, difficulties, mistakes and failures he can experience in his life would make him angry and frustrated, rather than willing to suffer.
Indeed, it’s time that we examine ourselves closely to see if traces of Pelagianism, so subtle in its ways, are marring our desire and pursuit for holiness.