By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul - Celtic Christian Wisdom & Spirituality for the Here and Now – Part 4
In the rising of the sun and its setting, in the whiteness of the moon and its seasons,
in the infinity of space and its shining stars you are God and we bless you.
May we know the harmony of heaven in the relationships of earth
And may we know the expanse of its mystery within us.
Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul – Brief Summary of Introductory Thoughts
Celtic scholar John Philip Newell writes that “we know things in the core of our being that we have not necessarily been taught, and some of the deep knowing may actually be at odds with what our society or religion has tried to teach us. [Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul] is about reawakening to what we know in the depths of our being, that earth is sacred and that this sacredness is at the heart of every human being and life-form. To awaken again to this deep knowing is to be transformed in the ways we choose to live and act.”
Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul – Pelagius (cont’d)
“In Celtic wisdom we remember that our soul, the very heart of our being, is sacred. What is deepest in us is of God. Every child, every woman, every man, and every life-form are in essence divine. This is the truth that Pelagius invites us to remember.”
“The first writer and teacher of significance in Celtic Britain was a monk from Wales named Pelagius (ca. 360-430). He is perhaps the most misrepresented Christian teacher of all time, a misrepresentation that continues today. Most theological students in the Western world are required at some stage in their training to write an essay on the controversy between Pelagius and St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), and it is assumed in advance who the hero will be and who the villain!”
“This misrepresentation is threefold. First, it is usually taught that there are no writings available from the hand of Pelagius, which means that all that can be learned about his teachings comes through the mouth of his theological opponent, Augustine. We now know that there are plenty of writings available from Pelagius, which gives us a fuller picture of what he actually taught.” “The second misrepresentation is that there is usually no indication of where Pelagius came from or what his nationality was. Most theological students have graduated from seminary thinking that Pelagius was a one-off heretic who could have come from anywhere on earth. What we now know is that he was a Celt from Wales and that what he was teaching was not the idiosyncrasy of one particular teacher, but rather the vision at the heart of the Celtic mission.”
“The third and most widespread misrepresentation of all is the assumption that Pelagius believed we do not need grace, that humanity has capacity to somehow save itself. What we now know from his writings is that he clearly taught the need for both grace and nature. But by grace he meant something very different from Augustine’s conception of it. The latter believed that grace was given to save us from our nature, which was sinful. Pelagius, on the other hand, taught that grace was given to reconnect us to our nature, which was sacred and made of God. Divine grace is given not to make us something other than or more than natural. It is given to make us truly natural, to restore us to the sacred essence of our being.”
“Pelagius arrived in Rome early in the 380’s. He became a teacher of note and a spiritual advisor to some of the leading families of the church in Rome. But almost immediately, controversy engulfed Pelagius. The church father Jerome and other teachers relentlessly criticized him, casting aspersions on his character as well as his teachings. Jerome, for instance, said that Pelagius was stupid from eating too much ‘Scottish porridge.’”
“Devotion to Christ among the Celts did not mean abandoning the spiritual wisdom they had inherited from pre-Christian tradition, which celebrated the sacredness of the earth, the harmony of the spheres, and the wisdom of the human soul. Christ, they said, was their Druid (spiritual teacher), and the teachings and myths that had come down from their past was like an ‘Old Testament’ that preceded Christ, not a contradiction to Christ. This conflicted with the belief system of the leaders of imperial Christianity because for them anything pre-Christian was to be abandoned or eradicated but certainly not honored.”
[One of the primary criticisms] “of Pelagius focused on his belief that when we look into the face of a newborn, we are looking into the face of God freshly born among us. Pelagius was not speaking merely of the newborn child. He was speaking also of what is deepest in every human being. He was enunciating the ‘dignity’ of our human nature, as he put it, not the ‘defilement’ of our nature. He was emphasizing our sacredness over our sinfulness. This, as we shall see, did not mean that Pelagius was naïve about humanity’s capacity for falseness. Rather, he was teaching that what is deepest in us is of God, not opposed to God. It is this, he said, that we can clearly see in the face of a newborn child.”
“As early as 413 in northern Africa, Augustine was preaching against Pelagius, who by now was in Palestine, having fled to the Middle East as a refugee after the sack of Rome in 410. Augustine was preparing the ground for imperial Christianity’s doctrine of original sin, the belief that at birth we are essentially bereft of God rather than born of God – corrupted not sacred. Once again, the religion of the empire was about to formalize a teaching that was convenient for imperial power, enabling empire to relativize people’s worth rather than reverence their dignity.”
“Denied the support of the bishop of Rome, Zosimus, Augustine now went directly to the emperor, and in the spring of 418 Pelagius was banned from the empire on a charge of disturbing the peace. A few months later, imperial religion did what it was created to do, serve the empire. In the meantime, Zosimus had died and another pope was in place, so Pelagius was excommunicated.”
“In Pelagius’ teachings we can identify a fivefold focus: the sacredness of the human soul, the sacredness of nature, the sacredness of spiritual practice, the sacredness of wisdom, and the sacredness of compassion.”
Words of Awareness and Wisdom
John Philip Newell writes, “we can apply this way of seeing to the most pressing issues of humanity and the earth today – [to the here and now].”
In what way or ways can we each apply this way of seeing to our own lives?
(Reflect for a brief time on the ways this wisdom applies to your life.)
Source: John Philip Newell, Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul, Introduction and Chapter One.
An invitation to our virtual participants: Discussion and comments are very much encouraged and welcomed. Online discussions can be held in the comments section on Facebook for this week’s Deacon’s Reflection which is part of adult formation at St. Francis Episcopal Church.
Awake, O my soul, and know the Sacred dignity of your being. Awake to it in every living soul this day.
Honor it, defend it, in heart and mind, in word and deed.
Awake O my soul, and know the sacred dignity of your being.
May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul. May the flame of Christ kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight, and forever. Amen.
“Sacred Earth; Sacred Soul”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2022.
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