By Matt Schwoebel (an amateur historical Arthur scholar/enthusiast)

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Friday, July 16, 2004

9. Pelagianism and Bishop Germanus

It was so nice to see them attempt a real Dark Ages element to the movie.  Bishop Germanus, a former Roman general or legate, was sent to Britannia around 429 A.D. for the first time to contest the Pelegian heresy.  Sadly, like so much in the movie it pre-dated Arthur by a few decades at least.  He went to St. Alban’s (Verulamium) in southeastern Britain not too far from London (nowhere near Hadrian’s Wall).  Germanus won a battle against invaders (Saxons or Picts?) and had some success in the theological debate with Pelagianism supporters.  He wasn’t completely successful, because the bishop returned in the 440’s or 450’s A.D.  Perhaps the movie meant to show this second visit?  The chief opponent to Pelagianism was the renowned theologian Saint Augustine of Hippo.  Pelagianism was denounced as heresy, the movie was correct on this point.  I am not a theologian and cannot accurately describe what Pelagianism was, so the movie might have been at least partially accurate. 

Of course Bishop Germanus was demonized as a scheming Papal pawn.  Aetius, the Roman military leader of Gaul (France), probably sent Germanus as a military advisor on that second visit in 447-449 A.D., not the Pope.  Some Britons had appealed to Aetius for assistance against the Anglo-Saxons (Hengist & his Jutes had just rebelled in Kent), but Aetius was too busy fending off Attila’s Huns.  Again, all of this predates Arthur by a few decades.  Pelagianism was effectively dead by the Arthurian period, although it may have had some limited influence on Celtic Catholicism.

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Blogger Arwystli said...

Pelagius, tho' thought to be born in Britain, died c. 425, thus placing him along with other elements of the movie too early for the story as set in 457. According to my Columbia Desk Encyclopedia, "Pelagius challenged the very function of the church, claiming that the law as well as the gospel can lead one to heaven and that pagans had been able to enter heaven by virtue of their moral actions before the coming of Christ." . . .
"A compromise doctrine, Semi-Pelagianism, became popular in the 5th and 6th cent. in France, Britain, and Ireland." Basically, Pelagianism rejected the concept of original sin and the doctrine of predestination. "By the end of the 6th cent., Pelagianism disappeared as an organized heresy, but the questions of free will, predestination, and grace raised by Pelagianism have been the subject of theological controvery ever since." Pelagius was rather the Unitarian-Universalist of his time.

June 7, 2006 at 11:48 AM  
Anonymous spankman said...

Syncrenetism (such as the "Logos spermaticos" concept) has been known to occur amongst non - pelagasians, too.;) His insistance on personal responsibillity (denying both Origional Sin and Grace) was more unusual; and would propably, if anything, support slavery - after all, Roman slaves could buy their own freedom. It would also be more strict - notice mention of "law". intrestingly, much the same could be said of the later Calvinists, who held the exact opposite ideas on Free Will. Actually seems rather more like what an millitary upper - class Roman would go for...

December 3, 2006 at 12:42 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Hmm, I think when Pelagius says "law" he rather means the golden rule given by Christ to replace the Mosaic law than some kind of limb-cutting middle eastern interpretation of law. From what I've read his opinion is that belief in predestination makes people apathic. They need to be responsible for their own actions to actively strive for salvation, instead of the "either your in or you're out" of the Roman church. I'm no theologian either, but I can seriously not see how anyone can prefer predestination over free will, so that goes to confirm that mankind usually chooses the worst of two options...

July 2, 2008 at 1:02 AM  

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