Contrary to the public lynching of Pelagius, he didn’t deny grace at all. He merely disagreed with “St” Augustine as to what does this grace consist in. For Augustine, the grace by which we attain unto righteousness is some mysterious metaphysical substance gooey thingy which God “infuses” into our souls to enable us to believe in God and do good works. Pelagius on the other hand contended that grace didn’t refer to some mysterious metaphysical thing but refers to the purely natural gifts of a good upbringing, education and discipline which teaches us to believe in God and do good works. Justification for Pelagius was forensic, concerned with the pure declaration of forgiveness and our acceptance and reconciliation unto God, the grace of the Gospel therefore consists in the knowledge of this declaration of God’s gracious will towards us which we receive by faith, it is this pure knowledge and truth which alone justifies and saves us. The Holy Spirit therefore works through this knowledge and truth, nothing to do with mysterious metaphysical mumbo jumbo grace substance thingy.
I have to say that whatever my disagreements with Pelagius concerning Original Sin, the corruption of human nature and its weakness, etc, I am in fundamental agreement with Pelagius’s understanding of grace. As Proverbs 30:8-9 puts it extremely succinctly, “…give me neither poverty or riches; feed me with food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” Our righteousness are contingent upon external empirical and material circumstances which are beyond our control. We do not choose the circumstances in which we are born into or raised, the fact that we are born into empirical conditions which enables our righteousness is truly a matter of “grace”, the contingent decision or power of God which arranges the circumstances beyond our power and grant us his gifts of good external circumstances to us to enable us to believe in God and do works of righteousness. As my literature professor once puts it, the lack of money is the root of all evil. This gives a very real and concrete and empirical meaning to God’s grace towards us and what it truly mean to say that our righteousness is of grace. It does not consist in abstract invisible metaphysical claptrap but in real, empirical and concrete gifts and conditions which is beyond our power but subject to the gracious will of God alone who has power over our external circumstance. (And herein can be found the core insight of the Prosperity Gospel which we cannot reject, that God does care about our material wellbeing.)
We can interestingly still see a trace of this thought in the Augsburg Confessions where Melanchthon says concerning “Free Will” that, “Of Free Will they teach that man’s will has some liberty to choose civil righteousness, and to work things subject to reason.” Thus, freewill, by the purely natural and empirical gifts of God, as well as the lights of our natural reason, has the power to perform civil or external righteousness. Although Melanchthon insists that for true spiritual righteousness of the heart is beyond nature and requires the movement of the Holy Ghost in the heart through the preached word, but absent from the entire Lutheran confessions is any trace of the Augustinian metaphysical grace as gooey substance thingy which is infused into the souls of man. In fact, one can go so far as to say that the Protestant revolution consists in this shift in the meaning of grace as some metaphysical substance thingy which one infuses into souls into the subjective favour or decision/will of God to grant us good gifts.
So, unlike most Christians, I feel very sympathetic towards Pelagius. Long before Luther he had already taught forensic justification and imputed righteousness and justification by faith alone, and contrary to the metaphysical mumbo jumbo of Augustine and the detestable Greek infected Church “Fathers”, he comes from a very down to earth and empirical point of view. Interestingly, he’s also a British monk, there is truly has to be something about the curious convergence between empiricism, anti-metaphysical standpoints and Englishness…