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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 306: Priscillianism

Extract

ARTICLE 306

Priscillianism

Concurrently with responding to Gaudentius Augustine was working on Contra mendacium addressed to Consentius.1 Consentius was apparently a Spanish Catholic; the Priscillianist heresy was imbedded in Spain. He sent Augustine through Leona a letter containing several items apparently Priscillianist teachings.2 After some research and learning various doctrines from a Fronton Consentius had written a summary.3 These notes are written in an intelligent and pleasant style from considerable knowledge of Scripture.4 Consentius was zealous in pursuit of hidden heretics and the negligence of Catholics in doing so caused him anxiety.

However his knowledge does not match his zeal.5 According to Consentius to discover heretics concealing their doctrine and disavowing it under oath one should be a member of their sect and follow their errors. Augustine disapproved of this dictum.6 Several pressing matters over many months prevented Augustine from responding. A year passed. At the time of Leona’s immanent departure from Hippo Augustine wrote a book entitled Contra mendacium. He openly responded to scriptural passages alleged by some, perhaps even Consentius himself, to justify lying.7 Augustine makes clear even if lying were somehow permissible it would set a dangerous precedent to lie on religious matters.8

Augustine strongly exhorts Consentius to write him concerning the Priscillianists.9 God had given Consentius this ability and his work should be ← 276 | 277 → made public and promulgated through bishops who had pastoral obligations to instruct their own people and others reading his book. Episcopal care could...

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