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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 262: Various Letters

Extract

ARTICLE 262

Various Letters

Apparently the news from the Council of Diospolis became widespread in the West. In a sermon extant in a fragment, Augustine says no one should imagine Pelagius had been absolved by the bishops—indeed they had not approved his thinking. Rather they had approved the orthodox doctrine he caused to make evident. “Perhaps Pelagius had embraced the truth sincerely, corrected his error, and returned to the grace of the true faith.”1 Augustine had evidently not seen Pro libero arbitrio; Zosimus had not yet written in favor of Pelagius; Innocent had not yet written on this matter at all. Augustine mentions the Pelagians as already forming a party.

Augustine indicates Urban, apparently a priest in Hippo, had been consecrated bishop of Sicca. Urban went to Rome and conferred with a certain Pelagian there. He pressed him concerning the meaning of the Lord’s prayer: Can man reasonably ask God not to expose us to temptation if we have the power not to sin; can man surmount temptation solely by the force of his will? The Pelagian responded it is not from these sorts of temptations we pray to God for deliverance. Rather we pray to be spared the evils not in our power, such as falling from a horse, breaking a foot, being killed by thieves, and so forth. Augustine confessed his fear of this response. The people who had heard Pelagius attested to it.

In 415 Augustine had...

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