The well-trod Pelagian controversy, turbid from centuries of philosophical churnings, is recast by Brown in terms that practically all of us can understand. We forget that the precipitating event was the sack of Rome, which sent the rich flying to African shores, theological tutors in tow. The star financial moralists of the 4th century, Jerome and Pelagius, played guru to these extremely wealthy ladies, peddling an ascetic extremism mined from their dabblings amongst the monks of mysterious “East” but tempered for the comforts of villa life. Their conscience-panged pupils gazed benevolently toward distant horizons full of do-gooding potential. These super-rich, with their old and timeless money, were used to spreading it as they pleased. And if their high-minded life-coaches assured them that God demanded every last solidus for their salvation, well, why shouldn’t they slough off wealth with aristocratic ease?
So when some mediocre African bishop started pushing back at the likes of Melania the Younger (one of those richest landowners of all time), insisting that getting rid of sin was not so easy, and that wealth had its good uses—alms for the poor, for example—it was every bit as much a class conflict as it was about the human capacity to will the good. Our own self-help literature, inane as much of it is, is geared to the same sort of audience as Pelagius addressed, who had gazed upon the world from a distance and could envision the higher ground of moral simplicity. The notion of insurmountable sin is anathema to this imagined option of personal social mobility.
Andrew L. Wilson, “Follow the Money”

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