This is the big thing. Pelagianism claimed that Jesus was a good example, but that He wasn’t necessary for our salvation. It claimed that we could save ourselves, through our own works. That was the biggest problem with his teaching, and it’s the one that Augustine homed in on and pounded away at, with his insistence of the doctrine of original sin and its effects.
On the other side, Calvin claimed that Adam’s sin made our nature totally evil, right? And not only that but he taught that God actively caused Adam to sin, and that God hated some of his human creatures of His Own Will, from all eternity.
Offhand, I couldn’t tell you – I don’t consider myself well-versed enough in Calvinistic theology to make claims about what he was teaching.
Meanwhile the Church teaches that even those without grace can do things that are morally good–such as feeding the poor–but that these acts cannot in any way merit eternal life. Is that right?
There’s a little bit more to it than that, I think, if you’re getting at what I think you’re trying to get at…!
The Catholic Church teaches that we are justified through baptism, which is given to us as a completely gratuitous, unmerited gift of God’s grace. Through the graces of baptism, we are made able to act in cooperation with that grace and do acts of supernatural virtue. (That speaks both to the act and to the motivation for the act. You and I both can do good deeds, but if you’re doing them out of love of God and humanity, and I’m doing them out of a desire to make money by starting a non-profit to feed the poor or to kickstart my political career… well, you can see how one is an act of supernatural virtue and the other is just a self-serving act – even though the actions might resemble each other!)
So, these ‘acts of supernatural virtue’ are ones that we do, but only through our cooperation with God’s grace in our hearts. Therefore, the merit of these actions applies primarily to God – after all, it’s His grace in us that catalyzes us to act! However, we can say that there is a kind of ‘secondary merit’ that can be imputed to us: after all, there is a response to that grace that was necessary in order for the virtuous act to be done, right? I mean, it’s not like God’s grace turns us into good-deed-doing zombies, right? So, the Church teaches that there is something in these acts that reflects positively on us. It’s not like we can say, “see! I gave $1000 to feed the poor in India! I rock! I’m going to heaven 'cause I’m such a great guy!”.
Is that what you were getting at?