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The Life of Augustine of Hippo

Part Three: The Pelagian Crisis (411–430)

Edited By 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 consecration (354–396); part 2: the Donatist controversy (396–411); part 3: the Pelagian controversy (411–430).
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Article 219: De baptismo parvulorum; De spiritu et littera; Quaestiones ad Honoratum

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ARTICLE 219

De baptismo parvulorum; De spiritu et littera; Quaestiones ad Honoratum

A few days after finishing these two books on infant baptism, Augustine encountered Pelagius’ notes on the Pauline Epistles.1 He read them and found his reasoning against original sin. Augustine had not refuted this reasoning in his work as he had no idea anyone would employ it. Since these two books were already sufficiently long, he decided not to add anything. He preferred to write Marcellinus a detailed letter which he added to his work as a third book.2 He cites it in this manner3 and today it is extant as the third book of this work.4 Marcellinus was then at Carthage.

In his commentary Pelagius does not write in his own person against the Church, but as reporting others’ objections. However these opinions were the same as those he later obstinately defended.5 At Rome where Pelagius was well known it was apparent these opinions were his, explained under disguise. Augustine still believed it appropriate to care for his spiritual well-being. He used a long path in excusing him while at the same time refuting him.6 As Pelagius had a reputation for good morals Augustine did not fear to praise him by name.7

Doubtless he had begun this letter to Marcelllinus on his trip from Carthage.8 He joined it to his first work which he had not finished when he wrote Letter 139. Jerome cites two of Augustine’s books to...

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