The Wisdom of Pelagius
Celtic Christian Palagius was a prominent theologian in the early fourth century and some of his teachings have been controversial and significantly misrepresented over the centuries. One of Palagius’ letters that has received criticism follows:
“There are some who call themselves Christian, and who attend worship regularly, yet perform no Christian actions in their daily lives. There are others who do not call themselves Christian, and who never attend worship, yet perform many Christian actions in their daily lives. Which of these two groups are the better disciples of Christ? Some would say that believing in Christ and worshipping him is what matters for salvation. But this is not what Jesus himself said. His teaching was almost entirely concerned with action, and with the motives which inspire action. He affirmed goodness of behavior in whoever he found, whether the person was Jew or Roman, male or female. And he condemned those who kept all the religious requirements, yet were greedy and cruel. Jesus does not invite people to become his disciples for his own benefit, but to teach and guide them in the ways of goodness. And if a person can walk along that way without ever knowing the earthly Jesus, then we may say that he is following the spirit of Christ in his heart.” [The Letters of Palagius, 62]
In “Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality”, author J. Philip Newell helps us refresh our faith by reminding us of the Celtic spiritual roots found in the New Testament. The analogy in the letter quoted above is similar to this parable found in Matthew 21:28-32:
“What do you think? A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him; and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for us to minimize the importance of worship, and I am not suggesting that it is not important to know the earthly Jesus.
In Pelagius’ spiritual teachings, he advises that we should listen within ourselves and then compare what we hear with Jesus. “If you have formulated principles which are contrary to his teaching, then you have misheard your conscience, and you must listen anew.” If, on the other hand, what we hear conforms to Jesus’ teaching, then we can be satisfied that we have heard correctly.
I think we can learn a thing or two from Palagius……AND from Jesus!
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