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The Life of Augustine of Hippo

Part Three: The Pelagian Crisis (411–430)

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 275: Pelagius, Innocent, and Zosimus



Pelagius, Innocent, and Zosimus

After Zosimus had written his letter to the African bishops in behalf of Caelestius he received a letter from Prayle bishop of Jerusalem heartily endorsing Pelagius’ cause.1 Zosimus also received a letter from Pelagius justifying the heresy of which he was accused.2 The letter contained a profession of faith wherein Pelagius claimed to declare what he sincerely believed and what he condemned. Pelagius addressed his letter and profession of faith to Innocent before he knew of this pope’s death. Since Zosimus found himself in Innocent’s seat, the letter and profession were remanded to him.

Pelagius’ letter is not extant. However through Augustine’s citations it can be seen how Pelagius responded to the pope concerning his enemies’ accusations, in particular of refusing to baptize children and of promising that these children belong to the kingdom of heaven without Christ’s redemption.3 He disavowed teachings which no one had actually alleged. Pelagius added no one would be so impious as to refuse to children the redemption common to the entire human race. No one would refuse those born into an uncertain temporal life rebirth into a certain eternal life. As is evident, these words could harmonize with original sin, but he accommodated them to his heresy.

Further he thought he was falsely accused of denying the help of grace to avoid sin.4 He complained of his accusers and protested he recognized the human being is constantly assisted by God’s...

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