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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 249: De natura et gratia

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ARTICLE 249

De natura et gratia

Up to this point Augustine had known of Pelagius’ teaching only through report and rumor.1 Such knowledge can often be uncertain. After he had read Pelagius De natura however Augustine recognized without further ado how dangerous and opposed to salvation his teaching was.2 Pelagius could no longer say he maintained the necessity of grace in his heart but could not express his opinion properly in writing.3 If it was universally objected to him concerning this article of faith and he was forced to respond, Pelagius would have had to confess his true belief. Augustine was persuaded of his error by this work just as others were persuaded by his discourses.4

Augustine believed himself obliged to respond as he had been requested.5 Toward that purpose he composed a large work against Pelagius’ heresy.6 There Augustine uses the term heresy in regard to Pelagius for the first time. He addressed the work to Timasius and James to remove from their hearts the remnants of Pelagius’ heresy.7 Augustine did not mention Pelagius by name lest by offending him he become intractable.8 He could no longer spare Pelagius’ teaching in his writings but he hoped sparing his name and giving him this mark of friendship would render useful what he had written against his error.9 Augustine was irritated when his wish to avoid causing pain and insult through moderation only served to increase Pelagius’ pride.10 Augustine excused himself to Pelagius by saying...

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