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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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Note 71: African Canons on Grace


NOTE 711

African Canons on Grace

According to a knowledgeable author, the decrees of the two-hundred and fourteen bishops (according to Prosper in the Council of Carthage of 417) are the eight or nine celebrated canons of the African Church attributed to the Council of Carthage May 1, 418.2 The canons would then have been addressed in the council in 417 and sent to the pope and the emperor. They were later signed and made public on May 1, 418. The African Church authored the decrees on grace then in 417. It is easy to see the canons of 417 have a strong relation to the canons of 418 and the former served as matter for the latter. However, this scholar is not correct in assuming they are the same. What Prosper reports in the letter of the two hundred and fourteen bishops does not appear in the canons of 418.3 The letter is not in the form of a canon but is rather an explanation of the Church’s teaching, which Pelagius and Caelestius must avow clearly if they wish to avoid excommunication.

The other decrees of this council of 418 are of the same kind. The author of whom we speak believes there are several such canons.4 Since these decrees are not in the form of canons, that they are not found among the canons of the Church and are not extant should come as no surprise. The same is true for the...

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