The Life of Augustine of Hippo

Part Three: The Pelagian Crisis (411–430)

by Frederick Van Fleteren (Volume editor)
©2016 Monographs XXV, 528 Pages


The seventeenth century was the century of Saint Augustine. In 1695, Louis Sébastien, Le Nain de Tillemont, finished volume 13 of his Mémoires ecclésiastique, entitled La vie de saint Augustin. The volume consisted of approximately 1200 pages wherein Louis Sébastien gathered from the works of Augustine and elsewhere all extant passages relevant to the biography of Augustine of Hippo. Completed in 1695, the biography was published posthumously in 1700. The work lies in the tradition of Jansenism from Port-Royal and the Leuven. Though an ascetic recluse on the family estate for the last twenty years of his life, he was in touch with important French scholars and the ecclesiastical movements of his time. Louis’ work is the first modern biography of Augustine and the most comprehensive of all Augustinian biographies, even today. Modern authors consult him and frequently adopt his theories without citation. His method exercises influence on contemporary Parisian scholarship on Augustine. This English translation has been divided into three volumes covering three time periods: part 1: birth to episcopal consecration (354–396); part 2: the Donatist controversy (396–411); part 3: the Pelagian controversy (411–430).

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • Advance praise for The Life of Augustine of Hippo
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Articles
  • Article 212: Pelagius (1)
  • Article 213: Pelagius (2)
  • Article 214: Pelagius (3)
  • Article 215: Spread of Pelagianism
  • Article 216: Caelestius
  • Article 217: Anti-Pelagian Sermons
  • Article 218: De peccatorum meritis et remissione
  • Article 219: De baptismo parvulorum; De spiritu et littera; Quaestiones ad Honoratum
  • Article 220: Aftermath of the Imperial Condemnation of Donatism
  • Article 221: Donatist Reactions
  • Article 222: Use of Capital Punishment
  • Article 223: Prevention of Violence in Numidia
  • Article 224: Volusianus
  • Article 225: Council of Zerte
  • Article 226: Donatus of Mutugenne
  • Article 227: De fide et operibus; Letter 147 (De uidendo Deo)
  • Article 228: Vision of God
  • Article 229: Anti-Pelagian Sermons (Carthage)
  • Article 230: Urban; Paulinus
  • Article 231: De ciuitate dei
  • Article 232: Arrest of Marcellinus
  • Article 233: Execution of Marcellinus
  • Article 234: Letter to Caecilianus
  • Article 235: Proba Faltonia; Juliana
  • Article 236: Proba in Africa
  • Article 237: Demetriada and Augustine
  • Article 238: Demetriada
  • Article 239: Jerome, Pelagius, and Demetriada
  • Article 240: Reaction to Pelagius’ Letter to Demetriada
  • Article 241: Laws against Donatists
  • Article 242: Macedonius
  • Article 243: Letter 157
  • Article 244: Enarrationes in Psalmos
  • Article 245: Orosius (1)
  • Article 246: Orosius, Priscillianism, and Origenism
  • Article 247: Response to Orosius
  • Article 248: Timasius and James
  • Article 249: De natura et gratia
  • Article 250: Evodius
  • Article 251: Apparitions of the Dead
  • Article 252: Evodius’ Questions
  • Article 253: De perfectione iustitiae
  • Article 254: Conference of Jerusalem
  • Article 255: Closing of the Conference
  • Article 256: Orosius’ Apologia
  • Article 257: Pope Zosimus and the Gallic Bishops
  • Article 258: Heros and Lazarus
  • Article 259: Council of Diospolis
  • Article 260: Absolution of Pelagius; Condemnation of Pelagianism
  • Article 261: Pelagius’ Works
  • Article 262: Various Letters
  • Article 263: Council of Carthage (416)
  • Article 264: Council of Mileve (416)
  • Article 265: Five African Bishops Write to Innocent
  • Article 266: Orosius (2)
  • Article 267: Pope Innocent
  • Article 268: Augustine and the Council Diospolis
  • Article 269: Letter to Paulinus
  • Article 270: In Ioannis euangelium tractatus; In Ioannis epistolam ad Parthos
  • Article 271: Count Boniface (1)
  • Article 272: Boniface as African General
  • Article 273: Caelestius in Rome
  • Article 274: Zosimus
  • Article 275: Pelagius, Innocent, and Zosimus
  • Article 276: Zosimus and the African Bishops
  • Article 277: African Response
  • Article 278: Council of Africa (417)
  • Article 279: Various Provincial Councils
  • Article 280: Council of Carthage (418)
  • Article 281: Honorius’ Law
  • Article 282: Final Condemnation of Pelagianism
  • Article 283: Orthodoxy and Pelagianism
  • Article 284: Pelagian Requests for an Ecumenical Council
  • Article 285: Pelagius’ Condemnation and Exile
  • Article 286: Jerome and Augustine
  • Article 287: De peccato originali and De gratia Christi
  • Article 288: Emeritus (1)
  • Article 289: Emeritus (2)
  • Article 290: Optatus and Mercator
  • Article 291: Celestine, Sixtus, and Arians
  • Article 292: Apiarius
  • Article 293: Council of Carthage (419) 1
  • Article 294: Council of Carthage (419) 2
  • Article 295: Pardon of Apiarius
  • Article 296: Collectio Carthaginensis
  • Article 297: Hesechius and the Last Judgment
  • Article 298: De nuptiis et concupiscentia (I)
  • Article 299: Quaestiones Heptateuchi; Locutiones Heptateuchi
  • Article 300: Vincentius Victor
  • Article 301: De anima et eius origine (1)
  • Article 302: De anima et eius origine (2)
  • Article 303: De adulterinis coniugiis
  • Article 304: Contra Gaudentium
  • Article 305: Gaudentius and Dulcitius
  • Article 306: Priscillianism
  • Article 307: Julian of Eclanum (1)
  • Article 308: Julian of Eclanum (2)
  • Article 309: Julian of Eclanum (3)
  • Article 310: De nuptiis et concupiscentia II; Contra duas epistolas Pelagianorum
  • Article 311: Contra Iulianum
  • Article 312: Carthaginian Manicheans
  • Article 313: Enchiridion
  • Article 314: De cura pro mortuis gerenda
  • Article 315: Anthony, Bishop of Fussale
  • Article 316: Papal Authority in Anthony’s Case
  • Article 317: Quaestiones ad Dulcitium
  • Article 318: Clerical Poverty (1)
  • Article 319: Clerical Poverty (2)
  • Article 320: Barnabas and Patrick
  • Article 321: Cure of Two Children (1)
  • Article 322: Cure of Two Children (2)
  • Article 323: Apiarius
  • Article 324: Appeals to Rome
  • Article 325: Heraclius (1)
  • Article 326: Heraclius (2)
  • Article 327: Monks of Hadrumetum
  • Article 328: De gratia et libero arbitrio; De correptione et gratia
  • Article 329: Leporius (1)
  • Article 330: Leporius (2)
  • Article 331: Leporius (3)
  • Article 332: Count Boniface (2)
  • Article 333: Count Boniface (3)
  • Article 334: Count Boniface (4)
  • Article 335: Retractationes
  • Article 336: Speculum
  • Article 337: Vandal Invasions
  • Article 338: Vandals
  • Article 339: Quoduultdeus; Honoratus
  • Article 340: Contra Iulianum opus imperfectum
  • Article 341: Augustine and an Arian Bishop
  • Article 342: Maximus, Elpidius, and Felicianus
  • Article 343: Hilary and Prosper
  • Article 344: De praedestinatione sanctorum; De dono perseuerantiae
  • Article 345: De haeresibus
  • Article 346: Dioscorus
  • Article 347: Boniface and Darius
  • Article 348: Fides rerum quae non uidentur
  • Article 349: Sermons during the Vandal Invasion
  • Article 350: Various Sermons
  • Article 351: Vandal Invasion
  • Article 352: Augustine’s Death
  • Article 353: Transfer of Augustine’s Body
  • Article 354: Post Mortem Miscellanea
  • Notes
  • Note 50: Council of Carthage against Caelestius
  • Note 51: Letter 148
  • Note 52: De ciuitate dei (1)
  • Note 53: De ciuitate dei (2)
  • Note 54: Letter 151 (1)
  • Note 55: Letter 151 (2)
  • Note 56: Demetriada
  • Note 57: Bishops Paul and Eutropius
  • Note 58: Dog of the Alps
  • Note 59: Orosius’ Apologia
  • Note 60: Heros and Lazarus
  • Note 61: Pro libero arbitrio
  • Note 62: Orosius’ Historia
  • Note 63: Letters of Pope Innocent
  • Note 64: Roman Condemnation of the Pelagians
  • Note 65: African Bishops and Zosimus
  • Note 66: Eusebius’ Letter to Cyril of Alexandria
  • Note 67: Inauthentic Correspondence with Boniface
  • Note 68: Pelagius’ Confession
  • Note 69: Zosimus’ Letter
  • Note 70: Paulinus of Africa and Zosimus
  • Note 71: African Canons on Grace
  • Note 72: Canons of the Council of Mileve (416)
  • Note 73: Zosimus’ Condemnation of Pelagianism
  • Note 74: Council of Syria
  • Note 75: Quaestiones ad Dulcitium
  • Note 76: Council of Carthage (418)
  • Note 77: Cyril’s Letter
  • Note 78: Collectio Carthaginensis
  • Note 79: Emilius, Bishop of Beneventus
  • Note 80: Julian of Eclanum
  • Note 81: Quaestiones ad Dulcitium
  • Note 82: Sermo 355 and Sermo 356
  • Note 83: Letters to Celestine
  • Note 84: African Appeals to Rome
  • Note 85: Leporius (1)
  • Note 86: Leporius (2)
  • Note 87: Maximinus and Sigisvultus
  • Note 88: Retractationes
  • Note 89: Contra Iulianum opus imperfectum
  • Note 90: Felicianus
  • Note 91: Hilary of Arles
  • Note 92: Letter 227
  • Note 93: Sermo 345
  • Note 94: Sermo 298 (Appendix)
  • Note 95: Transfer of Augustine’s Body
  • Tillemont’s Bibliography
  • Contemporary Select Bibliography
  • Name Index
  • Citation Index


At the end of this work of more than twenty years, it is my pleasure and duty to thank so many who have had a hand in this work. The prefaces to the first two volumes of this study contain the names of those who helped in bringing those volumes to the light of day. I refer the readers to those prefaces.

In the preparation of this volume, special mention should be made of many others. Thomas Keagy, Ph.D., dean of Arts and Sciences at LaSalle University, was instrumental in obtaining a research semester for me in autumn of 2012. The permanent members, colleagues, and staff at Clare Hall, Cambridge University where I have been appointed life member were most helpful. The scholarly atmosphere of that institution in particular and Cambridge University in general is non pareil. Particular thanks is due Prof. Karla Pollmann, renowned scholar of Augustine, for her kind invitation to me as visiting scholar in residence at St. Andrews University in Scotland in 2012 and her provision of living quarters in the town of St. Andrews during 2012–2013. Thanks are also due Prof. Katherine Hawley, Head of School (in philosophy), Prof. John Haldane, internationally acclaimed Catholic philosopher, and Mark Elliot, Head of school (in theology) for looking to the provision of the academic position of visiting scholar to St. Andrews University in 2013. The welcome of the Scots and the British, especially Thomas Duncan retired scholar of medieval lyric at St. Andrews University and choir director at Holy Trinity Church, has been remarkable.

My colleagues in the philosophy and other departments at LaSalle University have been supportive. In particular John Hymers, associate professor of philosophy, has read and corrected the text and offered pertinent suggestions. His work and friendship amid his many personal and professional duties are most appreciated. Daniel Touey, adjunct professor in philosophy at LaSalle University, has been helpful in electronic searches of various texts. Rosemary Convery, retired secretary of the philosophy department, aided me in matters both professional and personal. Heidi Burns and staff at Peter Lang Publishing have seen the text through to the completion.

Special mention should be made of the recently deceased Joseph Schnaubelt to whom the first volume of this trilogy was dedicated. His loyal, competent, and trustworthy companionship, both personal and professional, was literally irreplaceable. The Augustinian friars at the Villanova monastery have been a model of dedication to me. Likewise the Christian Brothers of ← xiii | xiv → LaSalle University provide the atmosphere in which works such as these may flourish.

To the many more who remain unnamed whose only reward is seeing the completion of the project my thanks are also extended. The errors, many that there be, are my responsibility.


Augustine is both a man of his times and an universal genius. He is a self-acknowledged Roman and prominent African of the fourth and fifth century, but a man for all epochs and seasons. His works are occasional, but his themes far-reaching. He is responsible for halting the expansion of Manicheanism in the West, the spread of Donatism in the North Africa, and the proliferation of Pelagianism in the Church universal. In fact, and contrary to popular opinion, he is more responsible for halting the spread of Platonism, at least in its more extreme forms, in the West than diffusing it.

At the risk of over-simplification and for the sake of convenience, Augustine’s literary career may be divided, with some overlap, into three periods: anti-Manicheanism (386–400); anti–Donatism (400–411); anti-Pelagianism (411–430). In the first phase, his fundamental themes are the relation between faith and reason, the problem of free will and evil, and the relation between the Old and New Testaments. These themes bring him far beyond his own age into the ultimate character of Christian thinking, notions of being, and the nature of scriptural hermeneutics. During this period, seminal semiotics are to be found in his works. In the second phase, his principal themes are the nature, unity, and universality of the Church, the efficacy of the sacraments, and the relation of Church and state. Again these themes reach far beyond his own age to the very essence of the Church, the social and anti-social nature of the human being, and the use of secular regimes for ecclesiastical ends. In the third phase, his major themes are salvation through the gratuitous grace of Jesus Christ, original sin, and the relation of free will to grace. Treatment of these themes bring him to the nature of divine intervention in human redemption, the partially fallen nature of the human being, and human freedom in light of divine assistance. Near the end of his life, divine predestination becomes explicit. The first two phases have been treated in the previous volumes of this work. The last phase forms the subject of the present one.

Since the donation of Constantine, Christianity had become the official religion of the empire. However, only in the last decade of fourth-century Rome had Christianity gradually begun to settle into its central place in Roman society. Such a position generated numerous advantages, but brought attendant difficulties. The Roman Empire began to be ruled by orthodox Christian emperors. Roman government took an interest in Christian doctrine and discipline. Ecclesiastical institutions and organization developed. At the same ← xv | xvi → time, conversions to Christianity could be insincere. Such conversion at times had no influence over personal moral conduct. As occurred not infrequently in subsequent epochs, membership in the Church might bring personal advantage. Into this atmosphere came the British monk Pelagius. Little is known of his early life, but in the last decade of the fourth century in Rome and in the first of the fifth century in several other regions his ascetic lifestyle, later to be abandoned, became renowned among aristocratic Christians. Clergy and laity alike followed a relatively strong voluntaristic Christianity: Man could be virtuous by his own effort, a kind of self-help Christianity. In these early days Pelagius spoke, but wrote little—thus his doctrine was more atmospheric than systematic. Some of his disciples however had studied rhetoric as preparation for the bar. Aristotelian logic was part and parcel of this education. In this manner a more systematic Pelagianism gradually arose.

Augustine’s campaign against Pelagius and his disciples may be divided into four phases: (1) against Caelestius and his supporters; (2) against Pelagius himself; (3) against Julian of Eclanum; (4) clarification to the monks at Hadremetum and the Christians of southern France.


Caelestius initiated the spread of Pelagianism beyond Rome. He had studied rhetoric in pursuit of a career at the bar but soon became a monastic. The precise relationship between what Caelestius taught systematically and what Pelagius preached existentially is difficult to ascertain. Caelestius may have been merely a propagandist for Pelagius or he may have been a quasi-independent thinker. At the Council of Diospolis (415) Pelagius denied some of what Caelestius had propagated—Augustine thought this a ploy. The first places where Pelagianism is known to have spread are Carthage and Syracuse. In late 411 after the conference with the Donatists the African bishops held a general council. The purpose was to condemn Caelestius’ teaching. His principal opponent was Paul, the deacon of Carthage. Six propositions were condemned: (1) Adam’s sin had damaged only himself (and not other human beings); (2) children at birth were in the same state as Adam prior to his fall; (3) Adam was created mortal and would have suffered death irrespective of his sin; (4) the law led human beings to the kingdom of heaven in the same respect as does the gospel; (5) before the coming of Christ there were a few sinless men; (6) it was false that all men died in Adam and rose in Christ.

Prior to this council of Carthage nothing concerning these matters had been strictly defined. Apparently no acts of this conference were sent to Rome. The councils of Carthage and Mileve in 416 treat the matter of this ← xvi | xvii → condemnation and send the papacy the acts of the council of 411 without mention of any previous correspondence with Rome. Pope Zosimus is unaware of the African condemnation.

Due to responsibilities in the aftermath of the conference with the Donatists, Augustine did not attend this council. Later while at Carthage he read the acts. In 412 Augustine received a letter from Marcellinus, the Roman tribune who had received the imperial appointment to preside over the conference of Carthage against the Donatists. In this letter Marcellinus asks Augustine concerning infant baptism. According to some, Marcellinus writes, baptism remitted only the actual sins of infants, not any inherited sin. Others were re-interpreting Romans 5:12 that through Adam sin had entered into the world. At Marcelllinus’ suggestion Augustine writes his first anti-Pelagian work in the three books, De peccatorum meritis et remissione et de baptismo parvulorum—in 408 Augustine had heard of Pelagius. In the first book, the entry of death into human history through Adam’s sin to all human beings is established. In the second, personal human sin as part of the human condition is determined; only Christ is without sin. No human being, save for Christ himself, is without personal sin. If such a man were to exist, his sinlessness could only occur through the grace of Christ. In the appended third book—in actuality a later letter to Marcellinus—the necessity of baptism for both infants and adults is defended as the tradition of the Church. Pelagius is mentioned In the third book, but otherwise Augustine does not cite him by name until 418.

In a non-extant letter Marcellinus objects to Augustine’s opinion that there could be a human being without sin even if no historical example save Christ could be given. In answer Augustine writes De spiritu et littera in which he shows that because no man has existed without sin does not mean that it is not possible (according to the medieval dictum ab non esse ad non posse non ualet illatio). Augustine’s principal teaching is that without grace (gratia praeueniens) man can not but sin. Augustine reserves judgment on the question of a possibility of any actually existing sinless human being in this life until the definition of the Council of Carthage (418) against it.

By 414 Caelestius’ influence had spread to Sicily. Hilary, a layman later to re-appear in the semi-Pelagian dispute, wrote Augustine concerning several doctrinal points. Could man be sinless? Can he easily fulfill divine commands? Do infants dying without baptism perish although they have no personal sin? Must the wealthy sell their possessions to attain the kingdom of God? Is the Church without blemish or spot in this world (Eph 5:27)? From this time forward these questions become continually involved in the Pelagian dispute. In Letter 157 Augustine replies by citing 1 Jn 1:8 that no man is without sin ← xvii | xviii → and the Lord’s prayer of Mtt 6:12 that men must request forgiveness, to prove the universality of sin. Both texts become central in Augustine’s anti-Pelagian campaign. With regard to wealth, Augustine is moderate: wealth has its perils, but of itself does not exclude salvation. The danger is rather attachment to riches. Similarly to Pelagius, Augustine advises selling one’s goods and giving the proceeds to the poor, but unlike Pelagius as a counsel, not a requirement (see Mt 19:21; 1 Tm 6:17–19; 1 Cor 7:30f; 2 Cor 6:10).

During the same period Timasius and James arrived in Hippo. As disciples of Pelagius they had professed the monastic life. Through Augustine’s instruction they abandoned Pelagius while still remaining respectful of him. They brought with them Pelagius’ dialogue De natura and asked for Augustine’s response. Later Pelagius disavowed this work. Augustine’s first direct acquaintance with Pelagius’ thought came through this work—formerly he had known it only through report and rumor. Augustine had already begun De natura et gratia prior to their coming. Nevertheless this work constitutes an answer to their request. God created human nature good, but it has been vitiated by sin. Salvation comes only through Christ’s gratuitous and unmerited grace. In this work the dictum gratia supponit naturam originated. In this book Augustine’s notorious indecision on Mary’s preservation from sin first appears (XXXVI,42).

Circa the same time Augustine addresses De perfectione iustitiae to bishops Paul and Eutropius who had placed in his hands Definitiones, ut dicitur, Caelestii. This booklet (chartula) had been brought from Sicily by certain Catholics and contained short arguments (ratiocinationes) and witnesses (testimonia) on Scripture. The former tended to prove the strength of human nature to achieve perfection in this life. The latter alleged apparent contradictions on this subject in Scripture. Augustine responds to the ratiocinationes one by one and shows human nature is of itself without divine aid powerless to remain sinless. To the apparent contradictions of Scripture concerning the same topic, Augustine responds respectively.


During 414–415, Pelagianism was expanding eastward. At the request of the priests of the diocese of Jerusalem, John, in his role as local bishop, convened a synod to examine Pelagius. John became a central and ambivalent figure in the Pelagian controversy. At this local council John questioned both Orosius, Augustine’s disciple temporarily resident in Bethlehem with Jerome, and Pelagius. As the Council of Carthage (411) had done to Caelestius, Orosius ← xviii | xix → accused Pelagius of maintaining the possibility of human sinlessness by man’s own free will in this life. Pelagius concurred. Language became the chief obstacle in this meeting: John spoke Greek and Orosius spoke Latin. The council was disbanded with a promise to keep silence and send the entire matter to Pope Innocent.

Two controversial Gallic bishops, Heros and Lazarus, appeared on the scene accusing Pelagius. On December 20, 415 the Council of Diospolis (Lydda is its scriptural name) of fourteen bishops was convened. A memorandum of Heros and Lazarus taken partially from extracts of the works of Pelagius and Caelestius, the articles for which Caelestius been condemned by the Council of Carthage (411), and the letter from Hilary to Augustine from Sicily were read aloud. Pelagius apparently anathematized the contents of the memorandum, according to Augustine by artifice and deception. The council pronounced thus: “Since the monk Pelagius here present has satisfied us by his responses, since he has remained in accord with true teaching, and since he rejects and anathematizes what is contrary to the faith of the Church we recognize him to be within the communion of Catholic Church.” Augustine interprets this statement as an absolution of Pelagius but a condemnation of Pelagianism. What we know of this council comes only from Augustine who eventually possessed the acts.

Subsequent to the council Pelagius wrote and circulated an abridgement of the acts. Together with his disciple Annianus he wrote Pro libero arbitrio. After Augustine had received the acts of the council in 416 he wrote De gestis Pelagii. There he noted in detail the principal accusations against Pelagius and Pelagius’ responses. Earlier in 416 a provincial council of Carthage of sixty-eight bishops had condemned Pelagius. In the hope Pope Innocent would join his authority to theirs, the conciliar fathers sent their decrees against the Pelagians composed by Augustine to Rome together with Heros’ and Lazarus’ letter and the acts of the Council of Carthage (411) which had condemned Caelestius. Later In the same year a provincial council of Numidia was convened in Mileve. This council likewise sent a letter to Innocent. In it the council indicated the danger of Pelagianism and requested condemnation of Pelagius and Caelestius to protect the salvation of their flocks. In addition Aurelius, Alypius, Augustine, Evodius, and Possidius wrote a letter to Innocent indicating he should order Pelagius to Rome for a careful examination of his recognition of Christ’s grace. Innocent did not order Pelagius to Rome, but in return letters he declared Pelagius and Caelestius excommunicated, unworthy of communion with the sacred body of the Church, and undeserving of life and commerce among men.

This period (417–418) was crucial in the Church’s final condemnation of Caelestius, Pelagius, and Pelagianism. In a letter to Paulinus Augustine thoroughly responded to various Pelagian tenets essentially from the Epistle to ← xix | xx → the Romans. The essence of his teaching is redemption of sinful mankind through the gratuitous grace of Christ. Innocent died on March 12, 417 and was soon replaced by Zosimus. In his first year he was interested in both Church unity and doctrinal cohesion. Caelestius came to Rome and presented a confession of faith. In September Zosimus wrote to the African bishops requesting them to re-consider Caelestius’ excommunication. The letter however arrived in Africa only in early November. During the same period Pelagius wrote to Rome to justify himself by a profession of faith. On September 21–22, 417 Zosimus sent two rather harsh letters to the African bishops exonerating Caelestius and Pelagius. He gave the African bishops two months to reconsider their opinion. Since much of the correspondence between Rome and Africa and vice versa has been largely lost, events must to some extent be reconstructed. The African bishops sent a letter to the pope acknowledging receipt of his letter and apprising him of their intention to deal with the matter. They thought Caelestius’ confession heretical and Pelagius’ equivocal. In November, 417 and May, 418 the African bishops met in council, condemned Pelagianism, and concluded Caelestius and Pelagius must embrace Innocent’s condemnation and acknowledge the decrees of the Council of Carthage (411) against Caelestius. These decrees were sent to Rome. In accord with them Emperor Honorius and after some hesitation Pope Zosimus condemned Pelagianism. The emperor exiled Pelagians from Rome. Zosimus sent a circular letter to the entire Church which he demanded all the bishops and, at least in the case of Rome, the laity to sign. This letter is not extant, but we may presume Zosimus closely followed the condemnation of the various African councils. In 418 Augustine writes De gratia Christi and De peccato originali to Melania and Pinianus. In these works he, following the Council of Carthage (418), finally and conclusively maintains that no human being can be without personal sin in this life. There the controversy with Caelestius and Pelagius effectively ends. Augustine’s hand is apparent in the ecclesial dealings with Pelagius and Caelestius.

Julian of Eclanum

The third stage of Augustine’s eleven-year campaign against Pelagianism is the doctrine as it is maintained by Julian, the son of his friend Bishop Memorius. This stage begins in 419 and Augustine will be occupied with Julian until his death in 430. Unlike the monks Caelestius and Pelagius, Julian was a married man and bishop. As a result the goodness and nature of marriage become front and center in the Pelagian controversy. Julian’s see was Eclanum (no longer in existence) Campania, south-central Italy, perhaps near present day ← xx | xxi → Avellino. Julian became involved in Pelagianism as a relatively young man and may have been in the circle around Paulinus of Nola dabbling in Pelagianism. He was of some intellectual ability and was well read in Scripture. He knew Greek and Latin and was liberally educated. Though trained in rhetoric, his writing style was verbose. Through rhetorical schooling he was trained in Aristotelian logic. Because of his education and inclination, Augustine thought he should be a teacher. After his deposition as bishop by Pope Zosimus in 418, he found protection in Silicia at the home of Theodore, the Nestorian bishop of Mopsuestia. Due to his continued avowal of Pelagianism he was forced for many decades to seek refuge, wandering about Europe. He finally landed in Sicily where he taught rhetoric and literature to Pelagians. He died and was laid to rest in Sicily circa 455.

In 418 Julian wrote a letter to Rome complaining of the process of judgment against Caelestius and Pelagius. Eighteen bishops led by Julian had refused to sign Zosimus’ circular letter. Under the Julian’s leadership these eighteen Pelagian bishops sent a letter to Rufus, bishop of Thessaloniki, attempting to enlist him and the Eastern Church in the Pelagian cause. Julian and the Pelagian bishops requested an ecumenical council to reconsider the entire question. This appeal was effectively aborted in the imperial court by Count Valerius on the grounds that the matter had already been sufficiently considered by several popes and the emperor. Augustine counters these Pelagian letters in Contra duas epistolas Pelagianorum to Pope Boniface.

In 419 in response to a Pelagian writing addressed to the same Valerius, Augustine wrote De nuptiis et concupiscentia I. He defends the goodness of marriage, but condemns concupiscence as an evil. In marriage the evil of concupiscence is well used for the good of procreation. Julian writes four books against Augustine’s position. A précis of these books was sent to Count Valerius and he passed it on to Augustine. In 420 Augustine rejoins with De nuptiis et conscupiscentia II. Because of the tenet of original sin Julian often refers to Augustine (and Catholics in general) as Manicheans, an erroneous epithet which had dogged Augustine from the time of his consecration as bishop and to the present day.

Soon thereafter, without requesting them, Augustine received from a Bishop Claudius Julian’s four books against De nuptiis et concupiscentia II. In comparing Julian’s original with the précis from Valerius, Augustine recognized that the author of the précis had falsified, perhaps unintentionally, some of Julian’s teaching. In late 421 Augustine wrote a more meticulous refutation in Contra Iulianum. In the same year or perhaps somewhat later, before seeing Augustine‘s refutation, Julian wrote eight further books against De nuptiis et ← xxi | xxii → concupiscentia II. Augustine did not receive these books until much later. In 429 Alypius traveled once more to Rome where he discovered Julian’s eight book response. He was in the process of having them copied when a favorable opportunity presented itself to send Augustine the first five. Later Augustine received the final three and began to address Julian’s work. He places Julian’s text and then replies to it. He proceeds in this laborious and wearisome manner—we may suspect—due to Julian’s oft repeated grievance that he had been misunderstood or his texts had been altered. Because of his death, Augustine’s work remains unfinished.

Hadremetum and Marseilles

Augustine’s doctrine on grace evoked one response from African monks in Byzacena and another from French clergy and laity in Marseilles and Lerins. On a trip to Uzale, a monk from the abbey in Hadremetum had come into possession of Augustine’s Letter 194 to the Roman priest (and later pope) Sixtus. A copy was brought to the monastery and circulated among the monks. A discussion creating disharmony ensued concerning free will, grace, and divine judgment. Bishop Evodius of Uzale tried, but was unable, to quell the disturbance. Monastic discipline set aside, a few monks traveled to Hippo seeking Augustine’s personal clarification. In Letter 214 and Letter 215 to Valentinus, the abbot at Hadremetum, and De gratia et libero arbitrio to the entire community, Augustine explains his teaching on grace and free will: from Scripture he defends simultaneously both grace and free will. He realizes the difficulty in reconciling the two and requests the monks pray that they might understand it. Some monks opined that superiors should not punish those acting against monastic discipline, but should rejoice that some are given God’s grace of compliance. In De correptione et gratia Augustine shows that human admonitions are not fruitless; rather God often works through human activity to grant his grace. Prayer for others to receive such gifts is encouraged. Augustine’s doctrine of admonitio present since his earliest works serves a basis for the medieval teaching of gratia supponit naturam.

Nearly concurrently, monks at Marseilles and Lerins and a few bishops in southern France were raising further difficulties against Augustine’s orthodox argumentation against Pelagianism. John Cassian and his disciples were spreading a teaching that, though Christ’s grace was necessary for good works, the initial faith from which all good things flow was derived from human power alone. Further they rejected Augustinian predestination. Even if predestination were true, such a teaching should not be taught and preached ← xxii | xxiii → as it would lead to a kind of passive quietism. They could not abide Augustine’s distinction between the grace given Adam without which he could not do the good (posse non peccare) and the grace of Christ given us which causes our good acts (non posse peccare). Two adherents to Augustine’s views, Prosper and Hilary, wrote him for clarification and support. They occasioned Augustine’s last two works, de bono perseuerantiae and de praedestinatione sanctorum. In them he views divine assistance at the end of life as the same gratuitous gift which man receives throughout his life. “What do [we] have that [we] have not received?”

Augustine’s Testament

Not to demean the importance of Augustine stemming the tide of Manicheanism in the West and Donatism in Africa, his greatest achievement is undoubtedly his development and elucidation for the Church universal of the presence of divine grace in human life and its necessity for human salvation. In his writing against Manicheanism he evolved a theory of free will and evil in the world. In his activity against Donatism the unity and universality of the Church and the beginnings of ecclesiology and sacramental theology emerge. However, it is in his teaching on grace that the Church has endowed him with singular honor.

Grace was incipiently present in his works from Cassiciacum to his consecration as bishop. However, a decisive shift comes in the commentary on Romans 9:9–29, between the responses to first and second questions in Ad Simplicianum. For the first time Augustine claims the absolute primacy of divine grace in every aspect of the Christian life without previous human merits. His Confessiones are a statement of this primacy. The theme of Confessiones, among many others, is the miseria of man and misericordia of divine grace in Augustine’s own his life and the life of everyman. From the inception of life to its perfection in the vision of God, divine grace is the continuous foundation. Augustine perceived the teaching of Pelagius as endangering the very ground of his life work, universal salvation by the grace of Christ.

In a certain sense, Pelagius acknowledged the presence of divine grace in human life. Creation is grace, a gratuitous gift. Free will is a gift. However, in the final analysis nature is grace. Pelagius also acknowledged divine help in doing good works. By it the human being could do good works more easily. What Pelagius seemingly denied was the absolute necessity of God’s grace through Jesus Christ for human salvation. For denial of this core tenet of orthodox ← xxiii | xxiv → Christianity, he was anathematized by Pope Zosimus. The over-riding influence of Augustine on the Roman condemnation is apparent at every phase.

In the course of his apologetic against Pelagianism, Augustine developed an anthropology of divine grace. Constantly with an eye toward Paul and especially the Epistle to the Romans, Augustine sees the beginnings, progress, and end of the Christian life as gifts of divine grace, initium fidei, gratia praeueniens, donum perseuerantiae respectively. Even the process of knowledge is a gift of God’s divine grace (gratia illuminans). What is true of the individual is true of mankind. From the fall from paradise through wanderings of the Old Testament and the revelation of the New Testament to the climax in the vision of God, Yahweh has been continuously with his human creation. The ancient Greeks and Romans were likewise searching for ultimate happiness. Grace through the incarnation of Christ is the universal way of salvation.

What is studied as soteriology, Christology, and theodicy, to mention but a few branches of later Christian philosophy and theology, is in essence further systematic explication of Augustine. A good creation was tainted but not completely destroyed by an original sin of disobedience, caused by pride. The results of this original fault have been passed on to the human family in the form of unruliness of the flesh, ignorance in the intellect and difficulty in the human will, and physical and spiritual death. God-become-man was the only means of recovery. Baptism was necessary for salvation. Augustine lies in the Ambrosian felix culpa tradition. Indeed the end which could only be imagined by the ancient philosophers became the denouement for the drama of the human race.

Augustine’s explication of grace and free will has been alive and well, if sometimes misunderstood, in every age. It remains an object of study in the present. Augustine was firmly convinced that every aspect of the Christian life from its inception to its conclusion was a divine gift. According to Paul, human beings were predestined, called, saved, and glorified by divine intervention. Augustine is dealing with the incomprehensible mystery of human salvation. He remained convinced of both human free will and divine grace. Grace so informs the will that the good becomes delightful (delectatio uictrix). That good is then chosen unfailingly, but not necessarily. Without grace the human will does not choose the good. But with grace the human being freely does so.

Grace is God’s gratuitous gift—he gives it to some and denies it to others. Augustine exegizes 1 Tm. 2:4, that God will’s the salvation of all men in several ways, but never in its obvious sense. That all will rise in Christ means not that all will rise, but all who rise will do so in Christ. Likewise, all who are saved are saved in Christ. Why a good and merciful God gives his grace to ← xxiv | xxv → some and not to others is incomprehensible to the human intellect. God’s ways are inscrutable to man.

Augustine’s teaching is suffused by Paul. He may have interpreted Paul’s Epistle to the Romans erroneously; who precisely has interpreted it correctly? Augustine’s teaching on grace is another example of his apophatic theology. This apophatic approach is widely acclaimed in his denial of any but the remotest knowledge of the divine nature in this life; but the self-same approach in his doctrine on grace is vilified by the same scholars. Why?

The tragedy of contemporary critique of Augustine is to expect an universal genius in most things to be a comprehensive virtuoso in all things. Augustine‘s contribution, as magnificent and germane as it is, is circumscribed by time and place. How could Augustine possibly have anticipated Darwin, Mendel, or Jung? How could he possibly have foreseen contemporary methods of exploration and means of war? How could he possibly have had any foreknowledge of the multi-faceted advances in empirical sciences? Contemporary biology and genetics have produced theories of the human being which, while still unfathomably incomplete, have put questions Augustine could not have possibly imagined. Modern nuclear war has passed far beyond the travails of antique man. Knowledge of the historical background and the literary genres of revelation has increased human ability to analyze biblical wisdom. However, current knowledge also has its limitations and prejudices, often unacknowledged. Augustine has made contributions in each category. He realized that the issues and their answers lie deep in the heart of man. He analyzed the history of the human condition from its inception in the garden to its conclusion in the vision of God as a historical process of the human free will under the providence of God. Peace, achievable only by divine gift, is the ultimate end for man. Augustine clearly saw his limitations, perhaps more accurately than we do. Picayune pejorative comments do little to advance our appreciation of his enterprise or to continue his search in the justified hope we shall find. Augustine’s legacy lies in the hope of finding eternal truth and the inevitability of fractional failure. ← xxv | xxvi → ← xxvi | xxvii →


← xxvii | xxviii → ← xxviii | 1 →


Pelagius (1)

After the Church had in principle defeated Donatism in the conference of Carthage, a new opponent arose. The latter did not attack the body of the Church as the prior one had, but rather the heart and soul of the Christian religion. It attempted to destroy the Savior’s grace which constitutes Christians. Our objective here is not to undertake a doctrinal discussion, which has already been done with more clarity and precision than we could ever hope to attain Rather our purpose is to portray the course of its origin, development, and demise, as it is found in the original authors.

Pelagius, whose name has been given to this heresy, was surnamed the Brit, apparently to distinguish him from Pelagius of Tarentus who lived concurrently.1 Prosper at times described Pelagius as “the Brit”;2 elsewhere Prosper calls him the serpent of Great Britain.3 In speaking of one of his disciples Prosper says he was engrained with the British demeanor. Noris speaks of an infestation of England by Pelagians,4 as if England was the country of their origin. Orosius calls Pelagius “the black Brit.”5

Jerome may be referring to Pelagius when he writes “he was excreting the fat meats of Scotland,”6 and thus Scotland could be his birth place. Apparently Jerome refers to Pelagius when he says he had a Scottish or Irish manner about him since he possessed the vices of both lands. Jerome’s reference may also indicate a birthplace in nearby England. Pelagius is described by others as hulking, strong, and powerful.7

Pelagius was already an old man when he wrote Expositiones tredecim epistularum Pauli apostoli, prior to 408.8 According to Orosius Pelagius was an one-eyed eunuch, and there is no reason to disbelieve him.9 Orosius also ← 1 | 2 → indicates his birthplace was not conducive to education in the liberal arts and aristocratic writing.10 However Pelagius spoke Greek at the Council of Diospolis (415).11

Jerome has little regard for the style and genius of either Pelagius or Caelestius, Pelagius’ principal disciple.12 Orosius mentions Caelestius as his holy companion. He thought Pelagius’ Epistulam ad Demetriadam had been dictated by someone else13 and Garnier concurs. Garnier also believes Pelagius possessed a lively and ardent genius, but easily carried to extremes. According to Garnier, Pelagius’ failure was not so much in thought as in expression. Thus he borrowed the pen of friends such as Annianus and Julian.14 In support of that opinion, Garnier alleges the great difference between Epistulam ad Demetriadam and Expositiones tredecim epistularum Pauli apostoli. Assuredly no other explanation exists to harmonize what Jerome and Orosius say of his style with the elegance and beauty of this letter, apparently worthy of attribution to Augustine, Ambrose, and even Jerome.15

Augustine is known for his discerning and candid judgment of the goodness even in the most evil. As for Pelagius’ genius, Augustine speaks of him differently than does Jerome. He says of both Pelagius and Caelestius, though corrupted by error, they were of estimable mind and genius.16 Of Pelagius in particular Augustine says he was intellectually subtle and penetrating, lively and strong, capable of supporting his opinions, and ardent in exhortation.17 According to du Pin Pelagius’ style is dry, sterile, and mean. He possessed little knowledge, but was sufficient in good sense.18 What remains of Pelagius’ writings apparently confirms Augustine’s judgment. According to Augustine, the difference between Pelagius and Caelestius was this: Caelestius was more open in preaching his heresy, Pelagius more hidden; Caelestius more stubborn, Pelagius more deceitful and bourgeios; Caelestius more uninhibited, Pelagius more skillful and adroit.19 ← 2 | 3 →

1     Letter 186.


XXV, 528
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (December)
Capital Zerte god Religion Pelagius Donatist
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XXV, 528 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Frederick Van Fleteren (Volume editor)

Frederick Van Fleteren is Professor of Philosophy at LaSalle University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Internationally respected for his scholarship on Augustine of Hippo, he is the general editor of the series Collectanea Augustiniana. Professor Van Fleteren has edited three volumes of Anselm Studies and has contributed to several other volumes in that series. He has is co-editor of Columbus and the New World and a biography of Prince Demetrius Gallitzin. For many years he has served as associate editor of Augustinian Studies and is co-editor of the critically acclaimed Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, which has been translated into Italian, French, and Spanish. He is the author of an ethics text, Fundamental Principles of a Natural Law Ethic. He has contributed countless articles to philosophical and theological journals in several languages and has served as a publisher and journal reviewer on Augustine of Hippo and Anselm of Canterbury. He is a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge and has three times been a visiting fellow at Fundazione Bruno Kessler in Trento, Italy. A much sought-after speaker internationally, he has lectured at several universities and conferences in North America, Europe, and Asia.


Title: The Life of Augustine of Hippo
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