While David Lovejoy’s latest book, Heresy, is fiction, it is based in a pivotal moment in Christian history when the influence of Augustine of Hippo usurped a more compassionate approach to morality by his contemporary, the British scholar Pelagius. It is Saint Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin – not to mention the notion of a ‘just war’ – which is entrenched in the Church rather than Pelagius’s belief in free will and the power to choose either good or evil. Sadly for a more ‘free-spirited’ Christianity, the Catholic Church denounced Pelagius’s ideas and declared him a heretic at Augustine’s urging.
Lovejoy tells the story of this fourth century moral struggle through the eyes of Arwel, Pelagius’s servant. He acts in a sense like Sherlock Holmes’s Dr Watson, unravelling spiritual mysteries rather than crimes – though a few crimes explode into action on the way. The novel follows the young Arwel’s escape from servitude in Britain, his meeting with Pelagius, their travels to Rome and the subsequent confrontation with Augustine in Palestine.
Though little is known of Pelagius’s life, David Lovejoy manages to flesh out a credible narrative from the few facts available. There’s tyranny, sex and violence – as well as metaphysical musings – as you would expect from a full life in troubled times when the Roman Empire was doomed to fall.
Lovejoy also explores the dark side of fanatical belief when one of the great minds of the age, the female mathematician and philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria, runs foul of the Christian mob.
For the author, ‘The defeat of Pelagian ideals marks the beginning of the dark ages in Europe.’ In many ways it is a dark age which has continued to this day, with Church ‘fathers’ battling with a sense of sin rather than exploring the uplifting messages of their original leader.
What Lovejoy makes clear, as a timely reminder to the present age, is that, other than Jesus’s alleged teachings, there is no immutable truth produced by the Church itself. Its doctrine has been formed out of the arguments of men, and some of them without the welfare of the faithful in mind.
– Dr Victor Marsh, author of Mr Isherwood Changes Trains and Speak Now: Australian Perspectives on Same-Sex Marriage, will launch David’s book at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival on Friday August 3 at 3pm in the Lakehouse. David is also the author of the memoir Between Dark and Dark and the historical novel Moral Victories. See more at www.pelagius.com.au.