Life and Teachings
Morgan of Wales
by + Taoiseach
Early Life and Education
St. Morgan of Wales is more commonly known by his Latin name Pelagius
Britto -- indicating his association with the sea and Celtic British
origins. He was born around 360 A.D. in South Wales in Bangor-is-y-coed
or Caerlleon-ar-wsyg near the Severn estuary. He came from a Christian
romanized Celtic background, the son of a decurion.
Morgan received a Latin education and was taught Holy Scriptures,
inheriting the Celtic tradition which had links with the Church
of Gaul and the Eastern Church. An emphasis was placed on faith
and good works, on the holiness of all life, and on the oneness-of-all.
In 380 Morgan went to Rome to study law but soon abandoned his
law career for the Church, becoming a monk. In doing so, he was
to become the firstknown major Celtic writer and theologian.
Morgan was a big, enthusiastic man -- strong, broad-shouldered
and stout. His physical stature was compared to that of Milo the
wrestler. He had a ram-like jutting forehead and a preference
for going bareheaded. He walked with a slow, plodding gait, "at
the pace of a turtle." While his opponents portrayed him
in uncomplimentary language their descriptions reveal a man of
deliberateness, confidence, and keen mind.
It was Morgan's habit of strolling from crossroads to street corners
in public squares throughout Rome, talking to people and exhorting
them to follow better ways. With an astute knowledge of Holy Scriptures
he would discuss theology, ethics, and doctrine with everyone
he encountered -- from the lowliest of work-women to the most
educated men. He openly proclaimed that women should be taught
Morgan became the spiritual advisor to many and moved about successfully
in Roman Christian circles, emerging as a theologian of note and
as a man of personal sanctity, moral fervour, and charisma. He
became a major religious and intellectual force of his time, pointedly
showing that his ideas had solid foundation in the Holy Scriptures
and in the writings of the Church Fathers.
with the Roman Church
It would be naive to believe that great theological debates are
not influenced by events at a more personal level. Such events
erupted into a great controversy in the Roman Church beginning
around 410. Morgan faced the opposition of major leaders of the
Latin Church and the civil authority of the Roman Empire.
causes of this opposition are rooted in Morgan's role as a Christian
ethicist and moral theologian. Morgan was appalled by the laxity
of Christian discipline among religious and secular leaders in
Rome. He chastised the wealthy and powerful, including Emperor
Honorius, for their abuses of property and privilege, exhorting
them to the Christian virtues of mercy and charity.
He also came in conflict with the two major personalities of the
Latin Church - - Augustine of Hippo and Jerome of Dalmatia. Augustine
was considered the preeminent of the Latin Church theologians.
A former Manichaean, he had converted to Christianity in 387.
As a Christian theologian he promulgated the doctrines of original
sin as a congenital disease passed on at birth and of predestination
and election. Morgan believed such doctrines were un- Scriptural
and were not supported by the writings of the
Early Church Fathers. He speculated that Augustine's theology
was laced with his previous Manichaeism -- which taught a radical
dualism between spirit and matter, and a hierarchical division
between the elect and the unsaved.
Morgan believed that these teachings had crept into Augustine's
work and were responsible for the perpetuation of abuses in Rome.
Morgan was of the opinion that Augustine's concepts of original
sin and election contributed to a Christian fatalism which denied
human responsibility for sin and granted divine sanction to a
Jerome was considered the greatest of Latin Church grammarians
and linguists. He was responsible for the translation of the Latin
Vulgate Bible and he wrote several important commentaries on Scriptures.
Although ordained a priest he never said Mass. Despite his many
achievements, Jerome was known to be sarcastic, impatient, arrogant,
and aggressive. He was abrasive and egotistical in dealing with
other Christians. The virulence of his criticism was evidenced
in his attack on a certain priest named Jovinian. Many, including
Morgan, reacted negatively to Jerome's personal abuse and libel
of Jovinian. Later Morgan and Jerome conflicted in advice given
to a young woman with which both men had been acquainted.
Jerome told her not to worry herself with theological problems
while Morgan stressed the importance of study. Jerome's best method
of defense was attack and he accused Morgan of heresy.
Morgan had placed himself at personal odds with Augustine of Hippo
and Jerome of Dalmatia. Augustine had previously referred to Morgan
in favorable terms with praise for Morgan, calling him "a
man of high reknown, a great orator, and most excellent Christian."
However, in 413 he openly attacked Morgan in two sermons. Jerome's
conflict with Morgan also came to a head in 413 and both were
aligned against him. The Roman Emperor Honorius would soon join
When Rome fell to Alaric in 410 Morgan and Celestius (one of his
followers) departed with numerous other refugees for Carthage
in North Africa. Morgan and Celestius soon parted company with
Morgan moving on to Palestine while Celestius stayed in Carthage
-- the center of Augustinian theology. In 411-412 the African
Church condemned Celestius as a heretic but not charges were brought
against Morgan. In 415 Augustine sent Orosius to Jerome in Palestine
with the mission of convicting Morgan of heresy. Augustine was
of the opinion that the root cause of Celestius' heresy was in
the teachings of Morgan.
In June 415, a Synod was convened in Jerusalem with Orosius accusing
Morgan of heresy. Morgan was present to defend himself and was
acquitted. A second council was called in December at Diospolis
(Lydda) with two previously deposed Gallic Bishops bringing charges
against Morgan. Again, he was present to defend himself and, again,
he was acquitted.
In dissatisfied reaction the Augustinians convened two of their
own councils in 416 -- at Carthage and Milevum where they condemned
both Morgan and Celestius. Morgan was not present to defend himself.
The Augustinians also appealed to Pope Innocent I who claimed
universal authority for the Bishop of Rome by declaring that nothing
done in the provinces could be regarded as finished until it had
come to his knowledge. Innocent I, often referred to as "the
first Pope", declared that the Pope's decisions affected
"all the churches of the world" and reflects his attempt
to exert control over the East as well as the West. The Augustinians
successfully persuaded him to issue a conditional condemnation
of Morgan and Celestius on January 27, 417 which would be effective
only if they did not return to orthodoxy.
However, Innocent I died on March 12 and was replaced by Pope
Zosimus I on March 18. Zosimus was an Eastern Christian who decided
to re-examine the case, calling for a Synod at the Basilica of
St. Clement in Rome. Morgan was unable to attend but sent a Confession
of Faith which was intended for Innocent I (Morgan being unawares
of the previous Pope's death). Zosimus was favorably impressed
with Morgan's defense and proclaimed that Morgan was totally orthodox
and catholic and that he was a man of unconditional faith. Zosimus
went on to say that Morgan had for many years been outstanding
in good works and in service to God; he was theologically sound
and never left the catholic faith. The conditional condemnation
was effectively overturned. Zosimus proceeded to condemn and excommunicate
Morgan's accusers (Heros and Lazarus) and sent several letters
to Carthage including one summoning Paulinus (another accuser)
to Rome to account for his charges. Paulinus rudely refused. On
September 21, 417 Zosimus advised the African Church: "Love
peace, prize love, strive after harmony. For it is written: Love
thy neighbor as thyself." He upbraided them for their discord
in the Church and ordered them to cease their disruptions.
It would have appeared that the Augustinians had been thoroughly
defeated. They had been unable to successfully condemn Morgan
whenever he was present or when allowed to present his defense
in writing. Three councils had declared him innocent of heresy.
All they had to show for their efforts were Morgan's condemnation
by their own courts and their own chastisement by the Bishop of
Rome. Undaunted and disobedient, they appealed to the Roman Emperor
Honorius. Emperor Honorius, a target of Morgan's exhortations
against the abuses of wealth and power, willingly came to the
assistance of the Augustinians. On April 30, 418 he invoked the
power of the state and issued an Imperial Rescript -- a civil
document -- ordering action against Morgan on the charge that
public meetings and credulous adolescents affect the peace of
Rome. An ecclesiastical document written by Pope Zosimus followed.
It condemned Morgan as a heretic and banned him from Rome. The
exact reasons why Zosimus reversed his position after the Imperial
Rescript are unknown but it was done only after pressure from
the Emperor. The text of Zosimus' condemnation is lost and the
formal grounds for the condemnation are purely a matter of speculation.
Immediately upon Zosimus' death in 418 two different Bishops were
consecrated Pope - Eulalius and Boniface I. Eulalius, like Zosimus,
was a Greek. At the Synod of Gangra (Armenia) in 381, Eulalius
was among the Bishops who passed Synodical canons in support of
the equality of marriage and celibacy and condemned those who
denied the legitimacy of the married priesthood. Both positions
were in opposition to the views of the Augustinians. In 419 Eulalius
was replaced with the pro-Augustinian Boniface only through the
intervention of the Emperor.
Within the context of personalities and politics (ecclesiastical
and secular) it appears that the Augustinian campaign against
Morgan was only part of a developing conflict between the West
and the East over the primacy of Rome and the dominance of Latin
theology over the whole Church. Not so curiously, St. Morgan was
ondemned by Western, pro-Augustinian Synods and the Roman Emperor
while exonerated by Eastern, non-Augustinian Synods and a Pope
of Eastern origin. It has been frequently commented that if Morgan
had been born in the East there never would have been a controversy.
Even after death, Morgan would be ensconced in controversy. The
Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 was called to combat the
Nestorian heresy. Among those accused of Nestorianism was Celestius
(one of Morgan's followers). In a closing letter written by the
Bishops of the great Council there is a brief mention of Morgan
by his Latin name, Pelagius, which lists him among those who have
been deposed. The letter is unfortunate and the inclusion of his
name is probably an Augustinian interpolation for the Council
was not called to debate Morgan's teachings. Nowhere in the proceedings
of the Council does his name or reference to his teachings appear.
And no Canon of any Ecumenical Council of the undivided
Church ever condemned Morgan of heresy.
Teachings of Morgan
It is difficult to glean from history the teachings of Morgan
for little remains of his writings. We must rely on the polemics
of his Augustinian opponents who have displayed less than honorable
intentions when dealing with Morgan and who have often confused
his teachings with that of the condemned Celestianism. Nontheless,
we have a fairly good idea of the thrust of his teaching.
Morgan was not a systematic theologian like Augustine or Aquinas.
He was, primarily, a Christian ethicist and moralist who sought
practical applications of the Christian virtues to daily life.
His theological concepts are grounded in attempting to balance
faith and works in that way which is reflected in the Epistle
of St. James and epitomized and by the life of Christ. For Morgan,
Christianity was not an abstract system of thought but a concrete
way of life.
Unlike Augustinianism with its grounding in neo-Platonic philosophy
and Manichean religion, Morgan's theology is grounded in the Holy
Scriptures and the Early Church Fathers. Morgan believed that
man's salvation was a cooperative effort between God and man.
Man's power to save himself was predicated on man freely choosing
to accept the saving grace of Christ through baptism. Through
the exercise of his free will man can choose to receive that grace
from God by which man can live a perfect life.
Morgan's central message was that the Church was to be a perfect
religious institution consisting of Christians wholly dedicated
to the observance of a code of behavior enjoined by Jesus Christ
and followed by His Apostles. Morgan insisted that God wanted
His people to be holy and that He had given His people the means
to accomplish perfection. A person's baptism has presented him
with the unique opportunity to become a Christian, abandoning
old pagan ways and leading a new life. We squander this opportunity
when we lapse into old, comfortable habits of self-indulgence
and careless pursuit of worldly things. To Morgan, the established
leaders in the Church are to blame for general lapses in behavior
when they mislead their flock by encouraging them to accept standards
of Christian behavior which are below that enjoined by Christ.
Morgan's view of God's grace was broader than that of his opponents.
He wrote, "This grace we do not allow to consist only in
the law but also in the help of God. God helps us through His
teaching and revelation by opening the eyes of our heart, by pointing
out to us the future so that we may not be preoccupied with the
present, by uncovering the snares of the devil, by enlightening
us with the manifold and ineffable gift of heavenly grace."
Morgan asserted that with God's grace Christians could more easily
do that which He had commanded them to do by their free will.
He wrote, "God works in us to will what is good, to will
what is holy, when He rouses us from devotion to earthly desires
and our love of the present only after the manner of dumb animals,
by the magnitude of our future glory and the promise of its rewards,
when, by revealing wisdom to us, He awakens our sluggish will
to longing for Him, when He urges upon us all that is good."
Morgan believed that man began to sin from that moment when he
became consciously able as a child to imitate the sins of others,
not because of some flawed nature forcing him to do so but because
he was ignorant of his true essence and potential. His will had
been corrupted by Adam's example of sin and the fallen world's
habit of sin. To enable man to correct this flaw God first provided
the Law. Although the Law failed it allowed man to recognise the
error of his ways and to become conscious of his sins. Man was
still in possession of the capacity to live without sin but was
prevented by the inability to draw "upon the treasure of
his soul" -- the free will with which God had endowed him
To help man make the right choices God has endowed him with three
faculties or capacities -- posse (natural ability or potential),
velle (will), and esse (action). Posse is the capacity to be righteous
and not to sin. It is a part of man's nature which God gave him
at creation. It can never be taken away from him and he never
loses the ability to do good. But if he is to exercise it properly
he must employ velle and esse, will and action. Velle is man's
capacity to make his own free choice of right action. Esse is
man's ability to translate that choice into right action and to
live according to the nature given to him by God, that is, without
sin. The capacity to make choices and to translate them into right
action are both under man's control and produce righteousness.
But since Adam's sin and the Fall, man's capacity to be righteous,
despite being reinforced by the Law, has atrophied because of
man's failure to make the right use of his capacity to make choices.
In order to restore the divinely-endowed faculties of man, God
has offered the opportunity of redemption by the saving death
of Jesus Christ, who forgives our sins, restores our will, and
sustains it by His own teaching and example.
Morgan's doctrine provides for a grace of creation, a grace of
revelation, and a grace of redemption. It is God who, in the first
place, has given man the possibility of doing good as his original
endowment of grace and has confirmed and strengthened it by revelation
and redemption through Jesus Christ.
St. Morgan and St. John Chrysostom
It is an irony of history that at almost the same time St. Morgan
of Wales was facing charges of heresy in Rome for having upbraided
the wealthy and powerful of that city St. John Chrysostom was
facing the same dilemma in the East. John interpreted the Scriptures
literally and sought to show how they applied practically to contemporary
life. As Patriarch of Constantinople he sought to reform the Eastern
Church of his day. His primary concern was the misuse of wealth
by the rich. In his reforms he made huge personal donations to
the poor, cutting back on clerical pomp and extravagance. He was
also outspoken in his condemnation of secular extravagance, and
although beloved by many he made many influential enemies. Among
those was the Eastern Empress Eudoxia (condemned by John for her
vanity and lack of charity) and many prominent churchmen, including
Theophilus of Alexandria (John's previously thwarted rival for
the title of Patriarch of Constantinople).
The Synod of Oak in 403, under the leadership of Theophilus, condemned
John on 29 charges, including an
unsupported accusation of heresy and the charge of having personally
attacked the Empress in a sermon. John was banished twice but
continued his outspoken preaching. He died of exhaustion in Pontus.
His body was returned to Constantinople 31 years later and was
buried in the Church of the Apostles. Today he is venerated as
one of the Greek Doctors of the Church in the West and one of
the Three Holy Hierarchs and Universal Teachers in the East.
Those who unequivocally stand for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and
proclaim it without respect for whom it convicts inevitably face
the wrath of the wealthy and powerful. Both St. John Chrysostom
and St. Morgan of Wales did so with eloquence and suffered charges
of heresy and banishment by rigged courts.
St. John Chrysostom eventually restored to his rightful place
as a teacher of the faith. Those of Celtic spiritual heritage
equally venerate St. Morgan of Wales -- preacher of the Gospel
and martyr of the intellect, the patron saint of the misunderstood.
Theological Influence of St. Morgan
St. John Cassian (4th-5th Centuries)
St. Vincent of Lerins (5th Century)
St. John Scotus Eriugena (9th Century)
Peter Abelard (12th Century)
St. Thomas Aquinas (13th Century)
John Duns Scotus (13th-14th Centuries)
William of Ockham (14th Century)
Philip Melancthon (16th Century)
Jacobus Arminius (16th-17th Centuries)
Jeremy Taylor (17th Century)
John Wesley (18th Century)
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (20th Century)
Evans, R. F.; Four Letters of Pelagius, London, 1968
Evans, R. F.; Pelagius: Inquiries and Reappraisals, London, 1968
Ferguson, J.; Pelagius: A Historical and Theological Study, Cambridge,
Nicholson, M. Forthomme; "Celtic Theology: Pelagius",
An Introduction to Celtic Christianity, edited by James P. Mackey,
Rees, B. R.; Pelagius: A Reluctant Heretic, Suffolk, 1988
copyright © 2008-2014,
+Taoiseach Thomas Faulkenbury
All rights reserved.
August 7, 2014