Pelagian Heresy; saved by works (not taught by the Catholic Church)

In many discussion between Catholic apologists and Protestant apologists, we seem to notice Protestants accused Catholics that we are saved by works, or by our merits by works.

Nothing is further than the truth. There is an ancient heresy called Pelagian Heresy condemned by the Council of Carthage in 416 and 418.

Pelagians states, that the human will, tempered in good deeds and rigorous asceticism, was sufficient to live a sinless life. He told his followers that right action on the part of human beings was all that was necessary for salvation. To him, the grace of God was only an added advantage; helpful, but in no way essential. Pelagius disbelieved in original sin, but said that Adam had condemned humankind through bad example, and that Christ’s good example offered humanity a path to salvation, not through sacrifice, but through instruction of the will.

Jerome emerged as one of the chief critics of Pelagianism, because, according to Jerome, Pelagius’ view essentially denied the work of the Messiah; he personally preferring ‘teacher’ or ‘master’ to any epithet implying divine power.

The Catholic Church does not practice nor condone this heresy and professes that is the God’s grace that we are saved. If any Protestants says that the Catholic Church teaches we are saved by works, take a look at the ancient heresy. The Catholic Church in 416 and 418 condemned it, and if it ever supported, the Church would err.

No argument, Manny. That’s Christian History & Theology 301, 1st semester seminary class.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just argue actual facts?

But, sadly, there are a large number of people who insists that Catholics teach that we are saved by works. So, this becomes a subject that we have to address over and over again.

Perhaps the problem is that many people act or behave as if that is what they believe.

Some people in their zealousness, do a great deal which might be misunderstood as purchasing their salvation. This is especially true if the person speaks or behaves with a sense of entitlement.

The opposite may be worse, some people believe they are saved and do nothing. They do not act on the Faith, it should (to our way of thinking) result in spontaneous outbursts of activity in the world: acts of charity, fasting and sacrifices, symbolic acts of devotion. But we do not see these things and have to wonder what kind of Faith engenders no response?


Yes, but how many Non-Catholic Christians who do not know about this. I know one former user who just ignore history.

I am aware that there are Protestants here who know history. The purpose of this thread is to clarify that the Catholic Church for 2,000 years have not condone the heresy of Pelagian. John Calvin accused “Papists” that the Church practices this. The Mother Church does not.

I am please that you agree that the CC doesn’t teaches this.

It would be more accurate to say that the Church hasn’t condoned Pelagianism for 1600 years.

However, John Calvin couldn’t possibly have lodged Pelagianism against the Catholic Church - Calvin was basically Augustinian in his soteriology!! Plus, Calvin quotes Augustine extensively in both is Institutes and his Commentaries, more than any other Church Father. Both of them believed in Original Sin, total depravity, the slavery of the human will, and the sovereignty of saving grace.


During a recent visit to, I was spat upon (thankfully, we have a lot of wires between computers) and was told by a person who believes the ‘once saved, always saved’ theory that doing kind things are ‘dirty rags’ to God. That the Lord finds all works offensive. Needless to say, I was unable to break the shell of this very stubborn individual. According to this person, once you accept Jesus as your savior, you pretty much can do anything you want. (Not to mention I was called a Roman, pagan, anti-Christian, etc.) Guess it is a good thing this person is saved!:thumbsup:

Thank you, Manny for this post. It echoes important information that everyone should be aware of, but many do not know.

I think the teaching of Pelagius (the so-called heretic, not the Pope) has been misunderstood. It was probably never just like it is portrayed, (that being) one can earn or buy their way into heavenly bliss or salvation.

The Pelagian teaching/concept as we recall it is rightly condemned, I just don’t think that is what he was teaching (for reasons that are too far afield to be examined here).

The OSAS doctrine of many Protestants is equally horrendous, a very real and widespread heresy that is a serious endangerment to those naive enough to embrace it.

It may just be that this person will be saved because of invincible ignorance!

Anyway, God can see into everyone’s heart, and if the content of that heart is naturally good even a doctrine like OSAS will not permit them to stand idly by when others need help, or to feel free to hurt others, or to refuse to make simple acts of worship in their own sincere way.

God can see whether a stoney heart is using a doctrine like that as an excuse for bad behavior.

There are those who reject the doctrine of OSAS. I also agree with you that OSAS is dangerous and gives one self a false sense of security. One can even justify murder…since he feels that no sin past, present and future can cut him off from God’s saving grace. Most Protestant apologist will tell you that the the individual was never save in the first place. :eek:

I also believe that OSAS also cheapens Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.

I read Catholic Verses by David Armstrong and John Calvin accused "papists of the heresy of Pelagianism.

:cool: There was a medieval heresy known as the Brothers or Brethern of the Free Spirit who had this same point of view.
I have a book on medieval heresies so would have to look up the founder,etc.The Beguines and Beghards,a group of religious men and women,mainly in Holland germany and Belgium were sometimes accused of being members.The Beghard brothers are no more,and there are a few houses of Beguines still left in Holland and Belgium.

I think Manny hit upon one of the top things the Catholic Church is accused of teaching that it does not. Maybe they dont know the name of the heresy to look it up in the CCC or at New Advent to check out if we teach it first before firing off the accusations. I was asked by a Protestant here recently to tell them what the Nestorian heresy was. Rather than summarize and tell her, I asked her to research it for herself, hoping this would lead her to ask herself about the countless other heresies she never knew the names of.
I know there are many knowledgeable Protestant posters here though. And they dont make such accusations.

The charge of Pelagianism is all too often TRUE against members of the catholic church. It is a consequence of poor catechesis and/or lack of interest on the part of the individual.

As usual, Truth in the matter appears to be upon a steep hilltop. Carelessness on the part of the faithful inevitably leads to one falling off the hill into either the valley of Pelagianism or the valley of ‘cheap grace’ (OSAS). Keeping the correct belief requires the same amount of Grace that peforming actual good works does!

Hey! I was recently accused falsely of believing Pelagianism. However, I corrected the person by pointing out what I actually said in my post, then he apologized.

Since the encounter, I did some research on the topic to better understand why he would come to such a conclusion and it appears that John Calvin believed the Catholic Church fell into a semi-Pelagian heresy.

But of course, Catholicism also does not teach semi-Pelagianism. Here’s essentially the key differences between the two:

Pelagianism: Grace not necessary to obtain salvation.

Semi-Pelagianism: The grace of Baptism is necessary, but we much reach out to it without the assitence of Grace to obtain it.

I’m not certain if John Calvin believed the Catholic Church fell into the exact form of the Semi-Pelagian heresy, or a variant of it.

I would like to see the footnotes of his research.

Always consult primary sources, Manny; anybody can say anything about anyone. Calvin lodged such protests against the Charismatics, of that I am sure. My hunch is that Armstrong took some license with the accusation and may have taken Calvin out of context. There is also the variance between Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism.

Have you read any of Calvin’s writings yourself? Just curious.


This is not only bad theology, it’s also bad for families, bad for relationships, bad for drivers, bad for civil society, bad for international relations! I sure hope that not many people truly act on this belief!

I have to admit, I assumed that Calvin taught that Catholics preach Pelagianism but that is because I have read some of James White’s writings on his website. And I assumed that he got his views from Calvin.

There are references. Those are the writings I found by reading Dave Armstrong’s Catholic Verses. If what I have said open your curiousity, I would recommend you read it (The Book).

As far as what I have read any of John Calvin’s material. Only in the Dave Armstrong’s Book. His remarks I said are less Christian (lack of charity; since John Calvin resort to so much name calling calling us “papists” and all… I give James White more credit that John…

Let me see if I understand this correctly; you give James White more credit for quoting John Calvin correctly than you give John Calvin for the words he said himself?

Did I miss a new approach to apologetics?

I never said that John Calvin didn’t use “papist” langauge - many Protestant reformers did, and it was a term of derision; but the charge of Pelagianism from John Calvin to the Catholic Church seems very strange, since he was basically Augustinian in this regard.

Calvin is probably misquoted and misread more than any Reformer or theologian; even John Calvin wasn’t a strict 5-point Calvinist. :slight_smile:

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