The Threat of Neo-Pelagianism


Whenever there is division, discord or disaster in the Church, many seem to unwittingly embrace a Pelagian solution which amounts to taking matters into our own hands and righting the situation on our own terms. Pelagius (d. 418) was condemned by the Council of Carthage for his inability to recognize the primacy of God’s grace over human action. It is important to learn from Pelagius’ error, especially in the current ecclesiastical climate.

There is no proper reform or renewal without divine aid. True reform and renewal of the Church will only come about by our deeper and more generous cooperation with God’s grace. This is why merely human attempts at reformation always lead to further disagreement and division. The Church is a mystical reality more than anything else, a community of divine origin. The human dysfunction and institutional corruption to which she has been subject in every age are not of God, but these can never negate her supernatural constitution as the holy and spotless Bride of the Lamb. Concrete steps must be taken, proper reforms must be enacted, but never under the presumption of human infallibility. Humbly recognizing that God’s creative action is the only source of authentic renewal, those entrusted with authority in the Church should turn to God in repentance. Then, they should set about leading their flocks to a deeper recognition of their ultimate reliance on God’s ability to change hearts and minds, to exercise judgement over sin, and to reinvigorate what we cannot.

The last several weeks have seen proposals as divergent as they are facile. Some have said that we can deliver the Church from the present crisis by a return to the traditions and customs of the pre-conciliar Church. Others have said that the present crisis can only be resolved by transcending traditional understandings of realities like the ordained priesthood and sacramental confession. Any Pelagian attempt at remaking the Church through human effort alone or through commitment to human ideology will only further obscure her true nature and mission in the world.