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The Life of Augustine of Hippo

The Donatist Controversy (396 – 411)- Part 2 - Translation, Introduction and Annotation by Frederick Van Fleteren

Frederick van Fleteren

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 consecraton (354−396); part 2: the Donatist controversy (396−411); part 3: the Pelagian controversy (411−430).


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Introduction xv


ii implicitly present in the human responsibility for sin and good works as found in Scripture. Whether an incipient doctrine of free will is present in Plotinus is a quaestio disputata. Whether Augustine read any such texts in Plotinus is doubtful. The Epistle to the Romans, especially Romans 7, is a major influence. Free will is a power of the intellectual, as distinct from the sensitive, soul. Gradually, Augustine develops a doctrine of grace. Based on Paul, this teaching of grace and free will dominate Augustine’s later writ- ings. The Christian tradition until the present struggles with this problem, Augustine responds to Manichean cosmological metaphysics with Plotinian and Porphyrian metaphyics. Since Plato’s Republic evil had been viewed as a deviation from the ideal. Plotinus and Porphyry develop this thinking into a notion of evil as non-being. The extended mythology of fall and return to the ideal enlarges upon this negative metaphysics. Perfect being truly exists. All other beings except the One are composed of being and non-being. Absolute evil would be total non-being. Augustine develops a metaphysics of being (esse) and non-being (non esse) in this tradition. There is no material principle of evil. Thirdly, the Manicheans rejected the Jewish Scripture as incoherent. They accepted a bowdlerized version of the New Testament. Passages in the gospels and epistles in which the Jewish Scripture was cited were excised— under a claim of corruption of the text. Augustine’s responds with a theory of allegorical exegesis, first found in Philo Judaeus, developed by...

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