The Pelagian Controversy: An Introduction to the Enemies of Grace and the Conspiracy of Lost Souls

The Pelagian Controversy (411–431) was one of the most important theological controversies in the history of Christianity. It was a bitter and messy affair in the evening of the Roman Empire that addressed some of the most important questions that we ask about ourselves: Who are we? What does it mean to be a human being? Are we good, or are we evil? Are we burdened by an uncontrollable impulse to sin? Do we have free will? It was comprised by a group of men who were some of the greatest thinkers of Late Antiquity, such as Augustine, Jerome, John Cassian, Pelagius, Caelestius, and Julian of Eclanum. These men were deeply immersed in the rich Roman literary and intellectual traditions of that time, and they, along with many other great minds of this period, tried to create equally rich Christian literary and intellectual traditions. This controversy—which is usually of interest only to historians and theologians of Christianity—should be appreciated by a wide audience because it was the primary event that shaped the way Christians came to understand the human person for the next 1,600 years. It is still relevant today because anthropological questions continue to haunt our public discourse.

Endorsements & Reviews:
“Too often we pick winners and losers from the history of Christianity and want the past to resemble our blinders in the present. Stuart Squires has transcended the label of patrologist, while still marshalling the historical evidence evenhandedly and with mastery. His scholarly efforts will aid us in grasping one of Christianity’s greatest battles with insight and fresh new eyes. The Pelagian Controversy allows its protagonists to come to life in a concise and crisp narrative. The last chapter is an ecumenical tour de force, for the story winds its way from the revival of the Augustinian position in the Protestant Reformation up to the recent condemnations of ‘neopelagianism’ by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Pope Francis. Every class in the history of Christian doctrine should assign this remarkable text.”

—Peter Casarella, Duke University

“The fifth-century controversy about sin, grace, free will, and salvation was a complicated affair. The Pelagian Controversy helpfully introduces students to the important people involved and explains the key ideas. Squires has provided an important and readable piece that links new ideas and old!”

—Thomas Humphries, Saint Leo University

“Squires offers an interesting survey of the Pelagian controversy and its agonists. He does so in a clear and entertaining style, presenting different and even opposed positions in such a way that the reader becomes aware of the complexity of the dossier under consideration, and of our poor knowledge of several elements in these dossiers, which is due to a lack of sources. The reader will appreciate Squires’s attempts to offer background information when needed.”

Mathijs Lamberigts, KU Leuven

 “Overall, Squires’s book offers a fine and thought-provoking introduction to the Pelagian controversy … Squires’s task in this book was no easy one, given the complexities of the history of the controversy, the nuanced theological views espoused by its various participants, and the extensive body of secondary literature devoted to the topic. In that sense, Squires should be commended for offering a well-written and engaging introduction to the controversy—one that I think will be appreciated most by upper-level undergraduates, but also by more advanced students and scholars seeking to gain a foothold in some of the debates and literature related to the controversy. The Pelagian controversy was one of the most important theological disputes of early Christianity. Squires’s book will no doubt help to keep the thorny debates of this fifth-century controversy relevant for students today.”

—Andrew Chronister, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary

“Il libro che qui si presenta è un’importante monografia che di certo sarà molto utile per chi intende accostarsi ai non facili temi della controversia pelagiana … un buon contributo per la comprensione del punto focale di una tematica, quella del reciproco rapporto tra l’iniziativa di Dio e quella dell’uomo, che occupa un posto centrale nella riflessione teologica cristiana.”

Giuseppe Caruso, Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum

“In conclusione, il tentativo di Squires di introdurre la controversia pelagiana a un ampio pubblico di lettori è stato raggiunto con successo. L’ opera si presenta di facile accesso, ma al contempo, il suo autore non ha rinunciato alla complessità che ogni evento storico-religioso porta con sé. The Pelagian Controversy può, dunque, essere raccomandato sia come accesso privilegiato alla controversia pelagiana sia come utile punto di riferimento per l’ attuale status quaestionis.

Giulio Malavasi, Università di Padova

Copies of my book may be found on

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