Creation vs. Redemption/ Pelagius vs. Augustine
One of the classic theological questions debated throughout Christian history has to do with human nature. In the late 4th and early 5th Century C.E, this debate was joined by the Celtic Christian Pelagius and the Roman African Christian Augustine of Hippo. Pelagius articulated a belief in the essential goodness of humanity whereas Augustine warned of a fallen humanity born into “original sin.” In simple terms, this debate can be summed up as either an emphasis on Creation or on Redemption.
How we learn of and experience God? Is God present in all of life (Creationist) or is God understood only through distinctly Christian teaching (Redemptionist)? How do we think about salvation? Is our redemption to be found as a kind of setting free, a release of what we essentially are (Creationist), or is our salvation to be experienced as a death to self, a repentance/forgiveness of our sinful nature and rebirth into a new self (Redemptionist)? How do we talk about infant baptism? Is the baby to be celebrated as a fresh expression of God’s image (Creationist), or is the baby born already in need of God’s cleansing waters of grace and forgiveness (Redemptionist)?
Like me, you might believe that these questions are best answered by an equivocal “Yes,” finding both answers to be true.
Unfortunately, our Christian forebearers excommunicated Pelagius and chased him back to Wales. (This was done more for political than for theological reasons; Pelagius insisted on teaching women to read and interpret scripture.) By casting out Pelagius, these 5th Century Church leaders put a finger on the scales of Christian theology and threw it out of balance in favor of a Redemptionist theology.
In our worship liturgy and hymnody this year, you may notice that we are paying special attention to re-balancing our church’s theological understanding and expression by including more sources of Creation theology. Look for a new baptismal hymn and an increased use of Celtic litanies. Let us ask ourselves how, in our worship, how our church is answering the age-old theological questions about human nature, experiencing God, and salvation?
Your friend and fellow minister,
Rev. Steve Savides