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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 243: Letter 157



Letter 157

Augustine probably wrote Letter 157 to Hilary in 414.1 In 415 Jerome writes Augustine had long before written three books to Marcellinus and shortly thereafter a letter to Hilary.2 Orosius says the same.3 Certainly Augustine had already written various works on grace. The Pelagian heresy as it existed in Syracuse, the capitol of Sicily, occasioned this letter.4 Circa 416 as Jerome informs us, Pelagianism was spreading in the West and the East and on Sicily, Rhodes and various other islands.5 It was infecting many and was gaining ground because it was taught secretly while being repudiated publicly. No indication of what was happening in Rhodes appears aside from Caelestius sojourning there on his flight from Carthage to Ephesus.6 As for Sicily Augustine witnesses many believers were seduced and were seducing others there.7 A book of Caelestius was discovered in Sicily and Augustine was obliged to refute it.

The doctrines condemned in Carthage were being taught in Syracuse.8 These teachings derived from Caelestius. Other doctrines apparently unrelated to Pelagianism were spreading. All of these tenets came from the same fund of pride. Outwardly the Pelagians appeared pious; inwardly they despoiled the foundation of piety by a lack of humility. Pelagians were claiming the wealthy could not enter the kingdom of heaven unless they sold all their goods. They forbad taking oaths.

Several citizens of Hippo visiting Syracuse were about to return home. Hilary took the occasion to send a...

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