In St. John Cassian's work "On the Incarnation: Against Nestorius" he claims that Pelagius believed

that Jesus Christ had lived as a mere man without any stain of sin, they actually went so far as to declare that men could also be without sin if they liked. ... They added as well that our Lord and Saviour became the Christ after His Baptism, and God after His Resurrection."

On the Incarnation of the Lord Book I Chapter III. Page 552 or 553 of the second series of Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers.

The author of this answer (https://christianity.stackexchange.com/a/52958/27623) takes issue with that claim. Is this actually what Pelagius himself, or Pelagians in general believed?

It seems logical that the patristic teaching of the incarnation implicitly teaches an indwelling of grace in mankind brought about by the union of God and Man within the person of Jesus Christ and therefore this is something that the Pelagians want to deny, so they explain that Jesus Christ was simply a man that through his own will and efforts obtained the indwelling of God (sort of like a Christian version of Nietzsche's super-man) and is gracious to us by giving an example.

  • That quote from Cassian does not describe the Nestorian position.
    – bradimus
    Jun 20, 2017 at 17:37
  • @bradimus - The whole chapter has a more thorough explanation linking Nestorianism and Pelagianism. This is an explanation of Pelagianism. The core error that was shared, as he saw it, was that the divine nature did not reside in the person of Jesus Christ originally, but came later. Nestorius taught that Jesus was not born God (therefore the Virgin was not the "Theotokos") but became God later, or had God dwell in him. My question is about Pelagian Christology and if it shared this feature with Nestorian Christology.
    – Ian
    Jun 20, 2017 at 17:49
  • "How therefore do I call Christ any other than God the Word, him who was born of the Father? I have said that he passed through even the blessed Mary, because he derived not the origin of birth from her as the bodily frame which was born of her. For this reason I have said that he who is God the Word has surely passed through but was surely not born, because he derived not his origin from her. But there both exists and is named one Christ, the two of them being united, he who was born of the Father in the divinity, of the holy virgin in the humanity, for there was a union of the two natures."
    – bradimus
    Jun 20, 2017 at 18:43
  • Those are Nestorius's own words. God the Word passed through the Blessed Mary united to the flesh born of Mary. Read 'The Bazaar of Heracleides' before declaring what Nestorius believed. Nestorius was no adoptionist.
    – bradimus
    Jun 20, 2017 at 18:53
  • @bradimus - It seems your issue is with the title more than the content of the question. I've changed it so folks don't conflate Nestorian Christology with Pelagian Christology. But although I haven't read deeply into Nestorianism I am aware that there are differing opinions about the quote you give as that work was written at the end of his life, perhaps as a modification of his previous beliefs.
    – Ian
    Jun 20, 2017 at 19:24

1 Answer 1


After a careful re-reading and actually looking at the footnotes of the work I found the answer myself. St John combated a developed form of Pelagianism put forth by Leporius in his own area:

Leporius was apparently a native of Treves who propagated Pelagian views in Gaul, ascribing his virtues to his own free will and his own strength; and going to far greater lengths than his master in that he connected this doctrine of human sufficiency with heretical views on the Incarnation; thus combining Pelagianism with what was practically Nestorianism, teaching that Jesus was a mere man who had used His free will so well as to have lived without sin, and had only been made Christ in virtue of His Baptism.

This footnote is on pg 552 of the second series of the Nicene-Post Nicene Fathers (same reference as the question).

So Pelagius himself did not ascribe to these views, but the brand of Pelagianism that St. John dealt with seems to have taught this. St. John goes on in the same chapter to mention how Nestorius's own writings betray a sympathy for the views of Pelagius.

It seems to be for this reason that St. John views the Pelagian and Nestorian heresies as linked, where one will naturally lead into the other after a period of time, because if you isolate the human from the divine you inevitably start postulating that man can operate by his own power alone to attain godliness.

It is worthwhile to note that Leporius's letter of repentance and rejection of Pelagianism is included in part on the next page in which Leporius makes no mention of free-will or God's sovereignty, but only talks about the Incarnation:

Therefore the God-man, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is truly born for us of the Holy Ghost and the ever-virgin Mary. And so in the two natures the Word and Flesh become one, so that while each substance continues naturally perfect in itself, what is Divine imparteth without suffering any loss, to the humanity, and what is human participates in the Divine"

I think that perhaps this view was what St. John viewed as foundational to our understanding of salvation from which implicit rebukes of Pelagianism, Nestorianism, and I would think also Augustine's more extreme views can be drawn.

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