Was King Arthur really a Pelagian?
Director Antoine Fuqua's 2004 movie King Arthur may be "demystified," as it claims, but that doesn't mean it's historical. The film's Lucius Artorius Castus is a half-Roman/half-Celtic soldier on the verge of retirement, but assigned by a bishop named Germanius to rescue a Roman family north of Hadrian's Wall from the dreaded Saxons. It's a kind of suicide mission, but of course Arthur pulls it off, meeting and marrying Guinevere, Pictish warrior princess, in the process.
History-minded critics have savaged the film, noting, for example, that the Britons and Saxons didn't fight as far north as Hadrian's Wall. But students of church history will find an interesting assertion here: Arthur was a Pelagian Christian.
If Arthur really existed, and if the earliest references to him can be trusted, then it does appear that he was a Christian. The 10th-century Annals of Wales claim that at the battle of Badon in A.D. 516, "Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights on his shoulders, and the Britons were victorious."
By the 11th century, Arthur is a recurring character in hagiographies. He's a scoundrel in the lives of St. Cadoc and St. Padarn, a king seeking a dragonslaying saint in the Life of St. Carannog, and "the king of the whole of Great Britain" by Caradoc's 12th-century Life of St. Gildas. Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (c. 1136) adds many of the now familiar details of Guinevere, Mordred, and the magician Merlin. But none of the Arthurian texts suggest that Arthur was a follower of the 4th-century heretic Pelagius. This was the British monk who taught that humans could morally perfect themselves—making him persona non grata to the likes of Jerome and Augustine ...