Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Augustine, Mani and Pelagius

Ironically, one of the most pernicious effects of blaming an oppressive Western hegemony for all the troubles of the world is that it stifles our imaginations and blinds us to how cosmpolitan thought and culture has been in the past.

Here's a quick example that has struck me lately. It's probably an illustration of how lazy we have become if it seems surprising.

St Augustine of Hippo was an African who lived from 354 until 430. Catholics consider him the most significant Doctor of the Church, while Protestants claim him as a major influence on the Reformation.

In his life, he battled two great heresies; Manichaeism and Pelagianism. The heresies themselves are outside the scope of the point I want to make, but briefly Manichaeism was a dualistic religion founded in the second half of the third century by the Persian Mani who claimed he was the Paraclete promised by Jesus, and Pelagius was a British born monk who denied the doctrine of Original Sin.

So, to summarise, in the Fourth century, a great African theologian clarified much Christian thinking in conflict with the teaching of two men who we would probably identify today as an Iraqi and an Englishman.

Culture has long been bigger and the world smaller than we flatter ourselves to think today.

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