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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 277: African Response



African Response

The African bishops saw Zosimus endorsing one confession of faith containing manifest heresy, and another equivocal and susceptible of heretical interpretation.2 Doubtless the African bishops were in difficult straits. Much correspondence passed on this subject between Rome and Africa and back.3 Whether Zosimus had written anything on this subject other than the two letters, one in 417 in behalf of Caelestius and the other in condemnation of Pelagius on March 21, 418, is unknown. There may have been another lost letter written after condemnation of the Pelagians. Nothing at all remains of what the African bishops sent to Rome. All testimonies to the vigor with which Christ’s grace and Innocent’s condemnation were defended during this time are lost.4 In this matter Augustine shows his intelligence and prudence.

Augustine notes that neither in the many papal writings nor in the questioning of Caelestius do we find Zosimus saying a single word commanding us to believe children were born without original sin. Absolution of heresiarchs could have prejudiced the faith greatly and caused monumental trouble in the Church. If Africa had resolved to acquiesce in this absolution, Augustine might have declared as in other cases that if this misfortune occurred he would renounce his episcopacy.5 At least there is no better sense to give what Jerome writes in a letter apparently in 418 to congratulate Augustine on his victory over the Pelagians. “You have resisted by the zeal of your faith the...

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