The Flight of the Sorceress

The Flight of the Sorceress
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011


One of the major characters in The Flight of the Sorceress is Pelagius, also called Morcant in the novel. Morcant is an alteration of the name “Morgan the Celt” an a.k.a. for Pelagius. The character in the novel is an actual person. Born around 354 A.D. in South Wales, Pelagius came from a Christian Romanized Celtic background and was the son of a Roman official. As such, he came from a culture that had a history of women in positions of influence and power. His teachings are known in theology as “The Pelagian Heresy” and this “heresy” is reflected in the themes woven into the novel.

Pelagius, aka Morgan (or Morcant) the Celt
“The Pelagian Heresy” was a challenge to the Church’s business model. Let’s say you’re in the business of “saving souls” and you’re selling tickets to heaven. In the mid-to-late fourth century, the Catholic Church was anything but catholic. There were numerous Christian sects and cults. You don’t want just anyone to sell those tickets. And you certainly don’t want people to get in on their own. You want to max out your profits. What do you do?

What you need is a reason for folks to buy “Catholic.” Enter Augustine, with his Original Sin theory.  Everyone born is a sinner. Sinners can’t get into heaven. And God, according to Augustine, is a real stickler on this original sin. Under the Church dogma, to get to heaven you have to be absolved through the receipt of properly administered “sacraments.” So you tell your customer base (which is everybody) that there’s only one place to get a genuine ticket to heaven: from an authorized dealer, a priest duly ordained by the Catholic Church. No other clergy can do it and you can’t do it yourself. God doesn’t care if you’re a newborn or led the life of a saint. All God cares about is whether you got your soul inspected and cleared by one of his authorized franchisees. If you buy at another store, before you know it, you’ll be standing in front of those Pearly Gates and St. Pete will be going “Tsk, Tsk. You bought yourself a counterfeit, sucker. Tough shit. I know you led a good honest life and all that, but you can go the Hell. Oh excuse me a moment. I see Hitler and Stalin waiting in line. They got themselves absolved on their deathbeds. Go right in gentlemen. God’s glad to see you.” That’s the Augustinian business model. Anything else is heresy, punishable ultimately by death.

Well Pelagius was having none of that. A monk, not ordained, and thus technically a layman, Pelagius first got into trouble with the Church when he visited Rome around 380. Appalled by the showy wealth of the Church hierarchy and especially the Papacy, he railed against its profligacy and corruption. He attributed this hedonism to Augustine, who in his Confessions taught that mankind is basically evil, that good works do not count toward salvation and that sexual desire was inherited depravity. He disputed Augustine’s doctrine of original sin arguing that man’s nature was not tainted by the sin of Adam.  He advocated free will and that anyone could get into heaven by being a good person. No one needed the assistance of a Church administered sacrament. Pelagius placed on each individual the burden of and blame for every sin as a fully deliberate act. He held that everyone is born free to make one's choices as one will. A person can be saved if he or she makes up his or her mind to live a correct, moral life, to choose good and reject evil. For Pelagius, Jesus was more model than savior. He contended that the Christianization of the Empire was not making true Christians of people, rather only 'conforming pagans.’ Contrary to Augustine and subsequent Christian theologians who have almost always taken a negative view of sexual pleasure and women in general, Pelagius did not believe sexuality was tainted and argued that it could be enjoyed fully within marriage.  His outspoken opposition to the prudishness, misogyny and opulence of the newly developing Church attracted a following and he soon became a well-known spiritual adviser and influential theologian.

In 415 Pelagius was accused of heresy by Augustine and St. Jerome, the editor of the new Vulgate Latin Bible. He was acquitted twice but his treatise, "On Free Will" got him into trouble again in 417. Finally he was convicted of heresy by a council in Carthage in 418 and was excommunicated by Pope Zosimus. He and his followers were banned from Rome and after they left the city were never seen again.

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