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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 260: Absolution of Pelagius; Condemnation of Pelagianism

Extract

ARTICLE 260

Absolution of Pelagius; Condemnation of Pelagianism

At the diocesan council of 415 Pelagius was supported by John of Jerusalem without adversaries. Pelagius had defended himself by claiming he was united in friendship with a large number of believers.1 He produced numerous letters of praise from various bishops,2 among them a letter from Augustine.3 The council read parts of these letters. Augustine’s letter serves to show one could be friendly with Pelagius and write him civilly without approving his opinions.4 Others may have known Pelagius only by the good they saw in him and not by knowledge of his heresy.

The memorandum of Heros and Lazarus was read.5 The doctrinal propositions of which Pelagius was accused were found there. Pelagius confessed some were his but his accusers had misinterpreted them; he claimed to have understood them in an orthodox sense. Others he disavowed, rejected as folly, and even anathematized those holding them. Caelestius’ teaching, alleged and condemned by the Council of Carthage (411) and by Augustine, was not his concern.6 He anathematized those maintaining it now or who had held it in the past. Pelagius either disavowed his own belief by perjury or reserved explanation through devious and shameless means unworthy of Christian sincerity.7

Pelagius freed himself from some objections by silence, others by multifarious obfuscation, and still others by apparent sophisms which blinded rather than clarified.8 He disavowed some propositions and changed a number of others as it pleased...

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