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Mark 15:22-32 (NRSV)

Mark’s stark version of the crucifixion is the lesson at Evensong today. There’s a lot of controversy about what Atonement means -nothing at all new there – but if it means nothing much than an ethical program, we don’t seem to offer much in Christ to the proposing young terrorist, to whom life-giving in the context of killing others, is the gateway to heaven and the services of heavenly prostitutes.

If we, in a fit of enormous charity, suggest that in all important matters, all religions say the same thing, are we selling short our own Gospel and its power to transform whole individuals? If we merely suggest an ethical program of self-denial, and suggest parallels in other Sacred Writings, are we not merely tarted up Pelagians? Mind you Pelagius was a severe old Brit, so perhaps we aren’t even Pelagians.

Does not the Gospel propose to those whose behaviors threaten themselves and worst still others “the power of God unto salvation,” a restorative and forgiving process achieved by a daily application of infused love by the merits and death of Jesus? Jesus really said nothing new. What he did was new and because it was to most people obscene, a scandal, it remains an enormous and staggering proposal. It is obscene to willingly die for others when one has the power to save oneself, even to propose another less painful and ethical way pehaps to save others. After all what of Jesus’ responsibility to his mother, brethren and friends? What of leaving a new Movement in the hands of incompetants -thus apostolic succession! Yet he surrenders to corrupt clergy and politicians and dies, wherefore He is now highly exalted, to whom every knee shall bow.

Moral and ethical proposals are vital, but to offer them as a substitute for wrong-headed self-sacrifice seems daft. The terrorist has a supporting community and believes he or she has God’s blessing and so sets a bomb off in a market. Because Jesus died and rose again, we have a supporting community, living and dead, the Church and are assured of daily Grace and Forgiveness because Jesus allowed himself to be killed on a hill far away. That’s the Gospel. To give one’s life to such a saviour is perhaps still an extraordinary proposal particularly if by so doing we may also “save” others in the market place.

One Response

  1. Hi, Fr. Tony,

    I am a defender of Pelagius. Not the Pelagius who is caricatured in so much popular writing on his theology, but the Pelagius who actually wrote on the whole question of sin and salvation. Let me summarize the argument that Robert Evans makes in his book _Pelagius: Inquiries and Reappraisals__ (1968). However, I do not rely on Evans alone for as a medievalist who has spent some time with patristic writers many years ago, I have read some of Pelagius’ own writings (some in Latin, not to brag).

    Pelagius is so often depicted as not having a doctrine of grace, or as holding that one could achieve perfection on one’s own, or that own can earn one’s own salvation–you know the story. But the Pelagius of his _Commentary on the Letters of Paul_ and other (fragmentary) writings shows a different face to history. He was a thoroughly trinitarian and incarnational Christian. and he held the following views, as much as one can piece together from writings that have survived.

    For Pelagius, divine grace can be distinguished as follows: (1) the original gift (grace) of a free and rational will; (2) the Law of Moses; (3) the forgiveness of sins by virtue of the redemptive death of Christ (justification is by faith alone, “sola fide,” he wrote; (4) the example of Christ; and (5) the teaching of Christ. The last two are to be understood as _effectual_ in leading the beliver who works to incorporate them toward the goal of perfection that was a theme of the writings especially of the Greek fathers. What he obviously rejected was any notion of an infused grace such as Augustine promulgated. Whether he had developed a doctrine of atonement I don’t remember well enough to say, as it was not a topic I concentrated on, but he certainly understood Christ’s death as redemptive.

    I’m glad you mentioned Pelagius as it gave me this chance to comment. I enjoyed the rest of your piece. Anglican Centrist led me to your blog, and I have been glad to read your reflections.

    Bob from Boone

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