So, I do believe that Pelagius is one of my favorite early Christian theologians. Living around the 400s CE, he taught against Augustine's view of original sin and the inherent badness of humanity and nature, believing everything was good. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from a book I borrowed from a fellow Celtic Spirituality bookclub member, entitled The Letters of Pelagius: Celtic Soul Friend:
“Many people out of ignorance claim that man is not truly good because he is capable of doing evil. In saying this they are denying the perfect goodness of God’s creation. In fact man is truly good for the very reason that those people say he is not: that he has freedom to choose good or evil. Within the heart of man there is no overwhelming compulsion to act in one way or the other; whereas animals are compelled to act according to their instinct, human beings have free will, enabling them to control their actions. And within the mind of man there is the capacity of reason: human beings are able to consider rationally the consequences of different courses of action. It is the combination of free will and rationality which makes human beings superior to all other creatures. There would be no virtue in doing good by instinct, without exercising free will and reason. But when people, after due consideration, decide to do good, then they truly share in the goodness of God.
"By granting us the wonderful gift of freedom, God gave us the capacity to do evil as well as do good. Indeed we would not befree unless God had given us this ability: there is no freedom for the person who does good by instinct and not by choice. In this sense the capacity to do evil is itself good; evil actions are themselves signs of the goodness of God. A person might say that the world would be a better place if everyone within it were always good and never evil. But such a world would be flawed because it would lack one essential attribute of goodness, namely freedom. When God created the world he was acting freely; no other force compelled God to create the world. Thus by creating human beings in his image, he had to give them freedom. A person who could only do good and never do evil would be in chains; a person who can choose good or evil shares the freedom of God.
“Come now to the secret places of the soul. Let us each inspect ourselves with care, looking at the emotions which stir our hearts and the thoughts which run through our minds. Let us learn the essential goodness of the heart from the heart itself; let us learn the goodness of the mind from the mind itself. Why do we blush with guilt or tremble with fear whenever we commit a sin? Because our hearts and minds are good, and so recoil from evil. Why do we shine with joy and dance with delight whenever we do good? Because our hearts and minds are good, and so rejoice at every good action. A murderer may try to conceal his identity, but the torments of his conscience are worse than any punishment which the state authorities could inflict. An innocent man who is wrongly accused of some crime may be imprisoned and tortured; but even when his body cries out with pain, there will be peace and serenity within his soul, because his conscience is clear.
“When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge they were exercising their freedom of choice; and as a consequence of the choice they made, they were no longer able to live in the Garden of Eden. When we hear that story we are struck by their disobedience to God; and so we conclude that they were no longer fit to enjoy the perfect happiness of Eden. And we should also be struck by the nature of that tree and its fruit. Before eating the fruit they did not know the difference between good and evil; thus they did not possess the knowledge which enables human beings to exercise freedom of choice. By eating the fruit they acquired this knowledge, and from that moment onwards they were free. Thus the story of their banishment from Eden is in truth the story of how the human race gained its freedom: by eating fruit from the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve became mature human beings, responsible to God for their actions.
“How is it possible, then, for an act of disobedience to God to bring such a blessing? When Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden they were like small children: they simply obeyed God’s instructions without considering the moral reasons for those instructions. To become mature they needed to learn the distinction for themselves between right and wrong, good and evil. And God gave them the opportunity to become mature by putting within the garden the tree of knowledge, by which they could learn this distinction. But if God simply instructed Adam and Eve to eat from the tree, and they had obeyed, they would have been acting like children. So he forbade them from eating the fruit; this meant that they themselves had to make a decision, whether to eat or not to eat. Just as a young person needs to defy his parents in order to grow to maturity, so Adam and Eve needed to defy God in order to share his knowledge of good and evil. By defying God, Adam and Eve grew to maturity in his image.