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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 255: Closing of the Conference

Extract

ARTICLE 255

Closing of the Conference

In the Council of Diospolis of December, 415, John of Jerusalem was asked what had occurred in the conference of Jerusalem in July. Inter alia he reported Pelagius was forcefully pressed to ascertain whether his doctrine was heterodox.1 He said man by his own free will could be sinless in this life.

When he [Pelagius] was questioned on that statement he responded he had not said man could naturally be sinless. Rather if one wished to work toward his own salvation, to combat and avoid sin, and to walk in God’s commandments, this power comes from God. Then as some murmured among themselves and said Pelagius claimed this sinless state could occur without God’s grace Pelagius continued: “I denied this idea and alleged various scriptural passages to show it was necessary to relate our good deeds to God’s grace not our own powers.” As these passages did not satisfy them and the rumors continued, Pelagius said: “This is what I believe: Anathema on whoever says that without God’s help man can advance or render himself perfect in virtue.”2

Orosius recognized Pelagius had said it is not without divine help that man can be sinless.3 John had added: if he had said sinlessness could occur without God’s help, it would definitely have been heterodox and would have caused his condemnation. Had Augustine been at this assembly, he would have pressed Pelagius to explain what he understood...

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