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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 343: Hilary and Prosper



Hilary and Prosper

At the time Augustine was writing in behalf the divinity of the Word, he did not forget that the Christ’s divine nature involved a defense of grace. He continued to combat Pelagianism against Julian of Eclanum and was obliged to maintain predestination. This doctrine forms a necessary conclusion from what Pelagius was constrained to recognize in the Council of Diospolis, that grace is not given according to merit.

In Marseilles and southern Gaul, various men imagined what Augustine had said in his books against the Pelagians concerning the call of the elect according to God’s good pleasure was contrary to the faith of the fathers and the thinking of the Church.2 Predestination could lead both saints and sinners to tepidity: In waiting for the infallible divine election, they would not work for their own salvation. Even if predestination were true, it should not be taught publicly since it led to dangerous consequences and rendered preaching and exhortation useless.

Aversion to this teaching on grace and its possible consequences involved the celebrated errors of semi-Pelagianism.3 Like the Pelagians the semi-Pelagians wished salvation to be in our hands. Human beings could confess and glorify themselves on their own account although the necessity of grace for good works was not denied. This doctrine of the necessity of grace for good works distinguishes them from Pelagians. However, they denied the necessity of God’s grace for the beginning of faith (initium fidei)...

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