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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 290: Optatus and Mercator

Extract

ARTICLE 2901

Optatus and Mercator

Augustine rendered another important service to the Church on this trip to Algiers. He tells us in his own words:

I preached to the people of Algiers to turn them away from civil war or more than civil war which they call “the faction.” It was a custom among them, and a quasi-law, that every year at a certain time they divided themselves into two parties, pitting citizen against citizen, relative against relative, brother against brother, and even child against father. They threw rocks at one another for days each one killing whom he could. I did everything possible in my sermon to root out this barbarian and inveterate custom. I used everything in my power for them to envision this horror and prevent it from continuing. They applauded me but I did not believe I had done anything until I saw them turned to tears. Their applause indicated to me only that they listened to me with pleasure. Their tears let me know they were touched. After I had seen them cry, I believed, even before seeing the effect, this detestable ancestral custom through many generations had been abolished. I stopped my exhortation quickly and turned to God to give him thanks and exhorted everyone to do likewise.2

On this trip to Algiers or a little after his return, he wrote Letter 190 to bishop Optatus. Possidius mentions this letter.3 Optatus was apparently a bishop on...

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