Free Will, Pelagius, and the East

Frank Turk, cf this post, is down on wiggly ecumenism. And in this he is right. But it also seems out that he’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater. For there’s an important, and very difficult, first step toward ecumenism that he is not doing very well, especially regarding the East. Different traditions, as part of their growing apart, develop their own terminology. Even where they use the same words, they don’t often have the same meaning. Thus the first step of any ecumenical discussion is to find a common language for communication. This is one thing that one would hope a platform like Evangel and god-blogging in general can accomplish.

For an example of this ignorance of terminology, Mr Turk is on the face of it a confirmed Calvinist hewing as close to the Solas-ish and TULIPy terms and thinking as he might. Now for myself I don’t exactly know how all these notions work out precisely. For example, Sola Fide, on the face of it would instruct that you are saved by faith alone. Which in turn would imply that faith is sufficient for salvation, i.e., all who believe are saved. Yet, the devils believe and yet are not saved. Now, clearly this is not a notion coming out of the woodwork for which Calvin and Calvinists do not have a ready answer. Yet for an outsider to the tradition, not knowing their language and pathways of thought … this notion Sola Fide, on the face of it seems inconsistent. I don’t know the answer. For this term is a little foreign to me.


Mr Turk offers in the above noted essay/interview merely one quick digression on the East and their theology. He is responding in part to an original post of mine which expressed by dismay that Mr Turk would roundly condemn the East as in some ways “worse” than the Roman Catholic church regarding their theological and ecclessial righteousness while at the same time displaying what seemed like a sound lack of any background from which to make those claims, that is to say he seemed quite ignorant of Eastern theology and praxis but was highly critical at the same time. In this last piece he offers a small tidbit to which I will attempt to take that first ecumenical step and respond.

I leave it to TUAD to prove that Mark Olson is a person who denies the doctrine of original sin (that is, the inherent depravity of man’s nature as we are here after the fall), is totally sold on the concept of Theosis, and would demand that salvation is entirely a cooperative effort between God and man and not a monergistic work.

My opinion is that Olson would never do such a thing. He would label my understanding of EO as completely baseless and then explain how EO isn’t essentially pelagian, doesn’t teach that people are “deified” (cf. Maximus the Confessor), and doesn’t extoll the partnership view that man saves himself with God’s help.

I could be wrong: I welcome his correction and would apologize if his view of the Gospel is pelagian, synergistic and, well, can explain and embrace any very-astonishing explanation of holiness found in the doctrines of theosis. But a pelagian, synergistic view is somewhat excluded from what Jesus was talking about in Mat 16.

There are a few things here. Original sin, Theosis linked to by Mr Turk primarily with Maximus the Confessor, and a partnership view that man saves himself (which connects back to Pelagius), and then finally monergism. Pelagius was a monastic, possibly hailing from the British Isles, who with Magnus Donatus were the two figures with whom St. Augustine primarily contended theologically.

Original Sin and Pelagius? So, first then … am I specifically or more generally do I see the East as Pelagian? From Wiki, Pelagius denied these doctrines:

  1. Death came from sin, not man’s physical nature.
  2. Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.
  3. Justifying grace covers past sins and helps avoid future sins.
  4. The grace of Christ imparts strength and will to act out God’s commandments.
  5. No good works can come without God’s grace.
  6. We confess we are sinners because it is true, not from humility.
  7. The saints ask for forgiveness for their own sins.
  8. The saints also confess to be sinners because they are.
  9. Children dying without baptism are excluded from both the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life.

The only point here that I might contend with is possibly 5 and 9, for I refuse to make any judgements of who or what might be saved and didn’t Paul talk about those who don’t know the Law doing good works in Romans? But this isn’t really what Mr Turk is talking about. I suspect that Pelagius here is standing as a proxy for free will. Calvinsts contend against Rome and Arminians that man has any free will. If man having free will means I am Pelagian … then I am Pelagian. Perhaps I might contend that Mr Turk, in denying free will, is affirming an Islamic conception of God and man?

I fail to see how any man (or being) can posses creativity and show genius without possessing free will. To put it very briefly, if a entity is free (unconstrained), rational (the Turing test?) or at the very least scaling the semiotic ladder and attaching real internal meaning to things observed, and demonstrates creativity then logically speaking it seems impossible for me to understand how that entity therefore does not also have free will. The SR-71, Beethoven’s 9th, Gauge theory, and Brahm’s Requim are just a few of the numerous examples of man’s genius. This genius was/is an ontological character of these men, and we too are men. Therefore we have free will. Distinct from the Calvinists, I would hold that I while cannot be saved by anything other than the Grace and Action of Christ through the Spirit, but just like the devils noted above, I can turn away and refuse Him. There is as is noted in Scripture no forgiveness for blaspheming the Holy Spirit … and refusing His love is that blasphemy.

There is indeed a difference theologically speaking, in my understanding between East and West regarding the fall. The West would have it that we inherit not just Adam fallen nature, i.e., we all sin, but his guilt. That is that Adam’s transgression and his penal sentence is passed on to us. The East, more or less, denies this. We (mostly) don’t inherit his punishment, we inherit Adam’s exile. Adam was exiled from paradise. We share that exile and dwell in a sin filled world and consequently are too filled throughout with sin. This difference does have consequences, the West in its focus on inheritance of Adam’s guilt and punishments focuses on Christ’s crucifixion, justification, and penal atonement for our guilt. The East on the other hand, which focuses on the exile primarily focuses on Christ’s Resurrection as a demonstration that through that He has shown us that through him we too will be returned from exile. These categories aren’t absolute of course, the West does indeed notice that Christ’s Resurrection was important but theologically speaking this gets a lot less mileage than his suffering and death. Likewise the East doesn’t exclude penal aspects to the fall, it’s just that they are less emphasized. It might also be added, that while theologically speaking Western writing focuses on justification and atonement their practice does not. Easter morning is a far bigger liturgical event than Good Friday. The  theology and liturgy in the West are badly out of synch in that manner. For the East, beginning with the pre-Lenten liturgy and the following through the entire Lenten fast is aimed at the Paschal feast.

Theosis, which at the very least is connected with St. Athanasius famous remark contra Arius that “God became man that man might become God” is a strong early Alexandrian statement about Theosis. I’m a little confused over whether Mr Turk would affirm or deny that after Jesus judges us, those who are found righteous are in the New renewed creation will be eternal and in communion with Him. If he affirms that, as I suspect he should, uhm, what is not god-like about that? Given that as the finish line, shouldn’t we be preparing and working toward that end right now?

4 responses to “Free Will, Pelagius, and the East

  1. Pingback: Mark Olson on Pelagius and Eastern Orthodox Theology

  2. Yo!

    You, sir, are awesome. As a free-will guy, the ‘Pelagian!’ thing has bugged me for quite some time now, so this was refreshing, and it was cool for me to learn more about the EO doctrine of Theosis. Anyway, for various reasons, this post made me really happy.

  3. Pingback: Mark Olson on Pelagius and Eastern Orthodox Theology « Participatory Bible Study Blog

  4. Rt. Rev. Kenneth Huffman

    The Ancient and Orthodox Faith has always viewed Adam and Eve’s Sin the cause of Human Mortality and Excommunication from God, from fellow humans and from creation….a complete fall from the mark God had set for Adam and all his children. That fall from the Mark is ancestral exile into the kingdom of darkness and chronic spiritual disease. Christ, his advent, life, death and resurrection are the medicine remedy for the human state in Adam. The Holy Spirit, His Graces, Gifts and Sacramental Mysteries are the continual activations of this remedy process which unites us to God, each other and to creation in Christ unto Salvation at the resurrection…..to be as Christ is while ever being creatures. Theosis….sharing completely in the Divine Essence incorruptable as sons of the resurrection in Christ our Lord, God and Savior.
    God has willed no one to miss the mark, nor has He ever desired the destruction of those fallen into sin. God is the Father who awaits all of his prodigal children, running to them even before they see him on their freely chosen return to his Household. Tertullianus and Augustine introduced a Latin judicial soterology into Western christendom which is the seed of Western Churchianity’s divisions. Morgan of Britian (i.e. Pelegius Britto) was officially found “orthodox” in 2 Eastern Synods, as were his two aids…which became priests in the East. Augustine was not warring against Pelegius, but Orthodoxy, as his views are heretical and novel….as are much Latin ideas, doctrines and Dogmas. Armenius was just rediscovering Ancient Christian Orthodoxy when the TULIP flowered from Augustine’s seed and Rome’s layers of fertililizer.

    Orthodox Old Catholic Cleric.

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