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Burgess, Anthony 1917–

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Born John Anthony Burgess Wilson, Burgess is an English novelist, editor, translator, essayist, composer, and critic. A remarkably prolific writer with a wide range of subjects, he frequently uses his knowledge of music and linguistics in his fiction. Burgess's fascination with languages is evident in many of his novels, most notably A Clockwork Orange. Terming himself a "renegade Catholic," Burgess explores free will versus determinism in his novels. Admittedly influenced by James Joyce, Burgess has endeavored to explicate his genius in Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader. He has also published under the pseudonym of Joseph Kell. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

Geoffrey Aggeler

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In Burgess's view, the liberal's optimism, his belief in the fundamental goodness and perfectability of man, derives from an ancient heresy—the Pelagian denial of Original Sin. And not surprisingly, he feels that the doctrinal bases of much of the pessimism pervading western conservative thinking can be traced to Augustine's well known refutations of Pelagian doctrine. In view of the frequency of clashes between 'Augustinians' and 'Pelagians' in Burgess's fiction, it may be worthwhile to review briefly the seminal debate.

Pelagius, a British monk who resided in Rome, Africa, and Palestine during the early decades of the fourth century, set forth doctrines concerning human potentiality which virtually denied the necessity of Divine Grace and made the Redemption a superfluous gesture. (p. 43)

It is not surprising that Grace, in its most widely accepted orthodox Christian sense, as an infusion of the Holy Spirit, did not occupy a very prominent place in his scheme of salvation. He likened it to a sail attached to a rowboat in which the only essential instruments of locomotion are the oars. The oars he likened to the human will, and while the sail may make rowing easier, the boat could move without it. (p. 44)

In Augustine's view, human nature had been vitiated and corrupted as a result of Adam's sin, and all of Adam's descendants are in a 'penal' condition wherein they are effectively prevented from choosing the path of righteousness by ignorance and the irresistible urgings of the flesh. Men may overcome this condition and lead virtuous lives only if they have been granted God's free gift of grace…. Whereas Pelagius had thought of sin as merely action, which had no permanent effect upon the sinner, Augustine saw sin as 'an abiding condition or state'. All men are spiritually enfeebled by Original Sin, but an actively sinful man increasingly paralyzes his moral nature by his deeds. (p. 45)

When the debate is viewed in broader terms, the nature of man himself emerges as the pivotal issue, and one can see that the diametrically opposed assumptions of Augustine and Pelagius could be taken as premises of diametrically opposed political philosophies as well as attitudes toward social progress as far removed as hope and despair. The Pelagian view of humanity justifies optimism and a Rousseauvian trust in la volonté générale . Indeed, if one could accept Pelagius's sanguine estimates of human potentiality, one might hope to see Heaven on earth. For surely, if men can achieve spiritual perfection and merit eternal salvation solely through the use of their natural gifts, then the solutions to all problems of relations within earthly society must be well within their grasp. They need only to be enlightened properly, and their fundamental goodness will inevitably incline them toward morally desirable social goals. The realization of a universally acceptable utopia would not depend upon the imposition of any particular social structure. Rather, humanity, if properly enlightened, could be trusted to impose upon itself...

(The entire section contains 5560 words.)

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