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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 284: Pelagian Requests for an Ecumenical Council



Pelagian Requests for an Ecumenical Council

The Pelagian bishops appealed for an ecumenical council. In effect they addressed Honorius and requested ecclesiastical judges to examine their case.1 They claimed their condemnation had taken them by surprise and they were punished without being informed of their guilt. Count Valerius opposed their requests. Augustine apparently learned of this appeal toward the middle of 418.2 The Pelagians had asked for an ecumenical council after they had been condemned by both Honorius and Zosimus.

Evidently Zosimus had indicated the request of the Pelagian bishops to Honorius in a letter of October 3, 418.3 He advised the priests and deacons he had sent to Ravenna to see the emperor to look for those whom the Apostolic See had anathematized. They should be careful not to allow them to trouble the Church by their audacity. “As for those united with them, after your return we shall see how they should be treated.” The remainder of the letter concerns Roman priests who had risen up against the pope.4 The dissident Romans had solicited the imperial court against him by a damaging letter. Apparently they had been received badly at the court. The pope sent a decree to his legates and declared these priests excommunicated. The legates reported this excommunication to them. According to Baronius, these priests were Pelagians.5

Valerius’ reputation and reasoning triumphed over Pelagian importunity.6 He prevented the emperor from assigning a time and place for...

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