I think sometimes, especially in popular discussion, the debate over Pelagianism is seen as the "faith versus works" debate. But that is incorrect. These are two separate, and almost orthogonal debates. The question of Pelagianism is whether
- one can be saved by one's own efforts without grace
- grace is necessary for salvation.
- love or morally good actions.
There are four polar views possible:
|(3)||salvation is based on faith, and one can get attain this faith by one's own efforts without grace||salvation is based on faith, and faith requires grace|
|(4)||salvation is based on love or morally good actions, and one can attain this love or do these actions by one's own efforts without grace||salvation is based on love or morally good actions, and one needs grace to have love or do the actions|
But note that it is quite possible to be a Pelagian and believe in sola fide: this is the upper left corner in the table. For instance, one might think that faith is an intellectual assent, and believe that one can come to this assent on the basis of apologetic arguments. Likewise, someone can believe that salvation is solely by works, and yet be in no way Pelagian, if she believes that these works are of such a nature that they cannot be done save by grace: this is the lower right corner.
Why is there an idea that there is a link between the two questions? Well, one line of thought takes "works" in a very thin sense, as bodily movements (placing a sandwich before a homeless person, etc.), without considering intentions and motivations. If so, then it seems quite likely that we could, by our own efforts, do whatever "works" would be specified as needed for salvation. But that is a magical view of salvation, and not really held by any serious thinker. Even those Catholic and Orthodox theologians who lay a greater emphasis on works than on faith understand the works in the light of intentions and motivations. But once one understands that a part of doing the right works is having the right intentions and motivations, the inference from salvation by works to Pelagianism fails—for it may well require grace to do have the right intentions and motivations.
The relative independence of the two questions should, I think, help to clarify our thinking on the issues.
I think the really interesting theological and philosophical questions here is to figure out (a) how faith and love are interconnected so that (3) and (4) are both true, and (b) see how there is a deeper form of (2) that ties together grace and our own efforts.