The Pelagian Controversy: An Economic Analysis

16 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2007


In recent years economic theory has been used to analyze the introduction of new religious doctrines as innovations that further the objectives of religious organizations and their leaders. The present study analyzes the decision of church authorities in the early fifth century to reject the doctrine advanced by Pelagius in favor of the position taken by Augustine. Accounts of the controversy reveal two self-interested motives for the church hierarchy to reject the Pelagian doctrine: (1) the Pelagian view would have undermined the authority of the church hierarchy; and (2) by making greater demands for moral conduct, it would have raised the "cost" of being a Christian and thereby discouraged growth in church membership, particularly among the Roman upper class.

Suggested Citation

Beck, John H., The Pelagian Controversy: An Economic Analysis. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 66, No. 4, pp. 681-696, October 2007. Available at SSRN: or

John H. Beck (Contact Author)

Gonzaga University ( email )

Spokane, WA 99258
United States

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