Sketch of the principal men who appeared in the Pelagian Controversy, Augustine on the one side, and Pelagius, Caelestius and Julian on the other.

To spread the proper light over this controversy, it will be necessary first to become acquainted with the persons who acted the most important parts in it. Among them all, Augustine stands as chief. We therefore begin with him. Here we cannot undertake to give all the particular circumstances in the lives of Augustine and of the other personages involved in these disputes, and consequently their complete biographies. A separate book would be required for this purpose. Only the most interesting external and internal facts in their lives, so far as the sources allow, must here be selected, and consequently that which is best fitted to sketch before the reader the image of what was personal in these men. Much in this controversy will thus be better understood and more correctly appreciated.


There are two principal sources from which to draw the needful data for a sketch of Augustine. One is the biography left us by Possidius, bishop of Calama in Numidia, not far from Hippo Regius, who was his disciple and friend, and who, according to his own declaration, had lived nearly forty years in the most familiar intercourse with him. It is printed in the tenth volume of Augustine's works, the Benedictine edition published at Venice, which, as may here be observed, is the edition we shall uniformly follow in our citations. He wrote it, about the year 432; and therefore not long after the death of Augustine. Possidius, however, has confined himself to merely the external facts in Augustine's life; and even these he has not fully given. Thus he passes over whatever, in his opinion, can cast a shade upon the life of his hero. A richer fountain is that which flows from Auqustine's Confessions, written by himself about the year 400. With an amiable frankness and, impartiality, he confesses all the errors and missteps of his youth. We look deep into his inmost soul, without being disturbed, as in the case of Rousseau, by proud self-praises and sophistical reasoning. These confessions, written in thirteen books and containing indeed much foreign matter, extend from his early youth to his baptism and the death of his mother which soon ensued. They are found in the first part of Augustine's works in the edition above-mentioned. The later events of his life must be supplied from Possidius's biography; though in part they may also be learned from his own later writings, which I have diligently used for this purpose, and from contemporary writers.

Aurelius Augustine was born Nov. 13, 354, at Tagaste, a municipal town in the northern part of Numidia in Africa, and distinguished only as his birth place. His father, Patricius, was a magistrate of that town. Patricius was not born a Christian, but came over to the Christian faith, towards the end of his life, and was a catechumen when Augustine was in his sixteenth year. He possessed no property, but was a man of a naturally frank and liberal cast of mind. The defective part of his character was impetuosity and passion. Augustine rarely mentions his father; but much more frequently his mother, Monica, who was born a Christian and who bore with meekness the rough exterior of her husband. He dwells on her piety, her prayers, her tears, her sighs for the conversion of her son. The latter he regarded as the result of the tears of faith which she daily shed. She endeavored to form the mind of the boy, from early youth, to Christian piety and virtue. But she found great impediments in his violent temper, on which the disposition of his father and the hot climate of Africa might have an effect. Even in the first years of childhood, he was admitted into the class of catechumens, by the sign of the cross and sacrament of salt, i.e: mystical or consecrated salt. In a severe cholic, which came upon him while yet a boy, he earnestly requested baptism. His mother, however, deferred it, because, according to what Augustine himself declares as then a very common way of thinking (Conff. I. 11), she feared he might afterwards have still greater need of this cleansing rite, and his sins after baptism might produce a greater disadvantage to his future salvation.

The boy was early instructed in what was then regarded as a liberal education; but, though naturally of good parts, he showed no interest in elementary instruction. The sports of youth, in which he ambitiously strove to surpass his schoolmates, possessed a greater charm for his jovial spirit, and on this account he had often to suffer corporal punishment. He betook himself to God in earnest prayer, of whose help and aid he had heard from other people besides his mother, and entreated him to preserve him from being beaten in school. It is worthy of remark and important in respect to the formation of his system, and consequently also in respect to the state of our present system of doctrine, that he early conceived an aversion to the Greek language, which himself explains from the difficulty he found in learning a foreign language. Still Augustine was not in the sequel so utterly unskilled in Greek as some represent him. His writings prove this. Thus he quotes, for instance (Contra Jul. 1. 5), a couple of passages translated by him from the discourses of Basil. In quoting proof texts from the Bible, he indeed commonly confined himself to the Vulgate; still he sometimes argues from the original of the New Testament, and quotes variations of the Greek manuscripts. It is, however, certain, that he never went far in the Greek language. Latin, which was his mother tongue, he learned naturally and without difficulty by the practice of daily life, "amid the blandishments of nurses and the jestings of the pleasant and the mirth of the sportive," as himself says in his Confessions, 1. 14. On this account the grammatical learning of it must have cost him little trouble. But the reading of the Latin poets, particularly Virgil, was peculiarly alluring to his youthful spirit, and put his lively imagination in great activity. By reciting passages from these poets, he gained an applause beyond the rest of his schoolfellows of equal age, and was pronounced a boy of good promise. Hebrew he never learned. "I am ignorant of the Hebrew language," said he in a letter to bishop Memorius. Opp. T. II. p. 272.

At Madura, a town likewise in Numidia, he was for a long time instructed in rhetoric and literature. But in this neighboring town, enough could not be done for the formation of the young Augustine as a rhetorician, for which the ambition of his father designed him. A high school was then flourishing in the more distant city of Carthage. Thither he was sent, in his seventeenth year, although the requisite expense surpassed the limited means of his father. Between leaving Madaura and his journey to Carthage, he spent a year, his sixteenth, in his father's house. Here he allowed his studies to rest, and gave himself up to wantonness and extravagance. Impetuous sensuality took the most powerful possession of him. The admonitions of his mother, who would withdraw him from this slippery path, he regarded as womanish. Her prayer, her entreaty could not guard him against it; nay, he even sought a preeminence by boasting, before the striplings of his own age, of excesses which he had not in fact committed. Yet he never indulged a hard, unfriendly word against his mother.

Augustine had not been long at Carthage, when his father died. The activity of his mother, however, succeeded in preventing any interruption of his studies in consequence of his father's death. By the aid of his countryman, Romanianus, to whom he ever cherished a lively gratitude, provision was made, not only for his inevitable wants, but even for all that embellishes and renders life agreeable. In other respects his residence at Carthage was not fitted to bring him back to the path of chastity and sobriety, from which he had so sadly swerved in the paternal mansion. Allured by the charms of the city and the bad example of his schoolmates, he now abandoned himself entirely to the sensual propensity of his nature. Love and public shows compassed him with the net of their enticing charms. Even during divine service in the church, so himself tells us, a fleshly passion seized him. He implored God to give him chastity; but not immediately. For he wished his sensual desire to be first satisfied, and not immediately extirpated. He had not yet reached his eighteenth year, when his concubine bore him a son, named Adeodatus.

In respect to science, his inclination was chiefly to forensic eloquence, in which he distinguished himself. Hence pride and arrogance filled his heart. He had no taste for the pugnacious manners of his schoolfellows, who were hence called eversores; but he was foolishly enough ashamed of being more mannerly than they. During his residence at Carthage, taken with the reading of Cicero's Hortensius, he was suddenly so incited to the study of philosophy as immediately to lay aside his rhetorical exercises and to throw from him whatever was not connected with the study. But the early impressions of his mother's Christian training, still rang in his soul, and he was a long time undecided where to seek the wisdom for which he thirsted, whether in our holy scriptures or in the schools of the Greek and Roman philosophers. But suddenly an irresistible antipathy seized him against the plain, unadorned style of the scriptures, which seemed to form too glaring a contrast with the luxurious fullness of the Ciceronian eloquence which he wished to adopt for himself. Now his resolution was fully taken to devote himself to philosophy. He entered on this course without employing a teacher, and read by himself the Categories of Aristotle and other writings of the ancients. But when he found himself not satisfied by all the wisdom of the philosophers he read, when Aristotle as little, as any of the others, could appease the thirst of his spirit for wisdom and knowledge and the longing of his heart for the supply of its wants, he turned to a sect which was then extensively spread. This sect had concealed itself under the veil of secrecy, and seemed to form a kind of secret community. And for this reason, it must have excited his curiosity in a high degree. Its members called themselves Manichaeans. Secret wisdom was promised to the novices, which could only be imparted to them after passing through several degrees and stages. Animated by the hope of here finding new explanations of the mysterious, he joined this sect, to the great grief of his mother who shed scalding tears over her lost son, calling him the son of tears. For nine years, from the nineteenth to the twenty-eighth of his life, he remained their scholar, in hope of finally being admitted to the mysteries. Augustine also ensnared his friends, and Romanianus and Alypius among the rest, in the Manichaean errors into which himself had fallen. Although he now at last saw the vanity and baselessness of their opinions, and became perhaps tired of the years of probation imposed on him before reaching a higher grade, yet their doctrine seemed, unconsciously to himself, to have become very firmly interwoven with his mode of thinking, and to have left echoes that were afterwards heard in several of the external parts of his system as presented in opposition to the Pelagians. His opponents therefore were probably not in the wrong, when they subsequently believed they found traces of the Manichaean doctrine of the evil nature of matter and of substantial original sin, in his doctrine of the total corruption of man in his natural state and the want of all freedom to good, which he set up against Pelagius, and which to be sure, in several essential points, was different from Manichaeism. For, in a certain respect, as will subsequently appear, Augustine's doctrine of original sin might be called a more refined Manichaeism, though we should not, with Herder (Ideen der Philosophie der Gerchichte der Menschheit, Th. IV. S. 145), so denominate Augustinism as a whole.

During this period, Augustine first went to his native town, Tagaste, where he taught grammar, and from which, smitten with sore grief for the death of a friend, and allured by the hope of finding a more splendid theatre for his vocation, he returned to Carthage. There he taught rhetoric, and strove in literary contests for the applause of the multitude. While he despised the haruspices, he yet sought counsel of the astrologers, who were then called mathematicians, and procured the future to be foretold him by them. Judicious people, among the rest Vindicianus, a physician, endeavored, but in vain, to withdraw him from this folly; and he was not till afterwards cured of this disease. He also, like his mother, placed great value upon revelations and dreams. Here, in his twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh years, he wrote his first work, De Apto et Pulchro, but which was no longer extant when he composed his Confessions.

It was also at Carthage, in his twenty-ninth year, that he withdrew from the sect of the Manichaeans, to whom he had been lukewarm for some time, and the groundlessness of whose doctrine he exposed. Still he did not yet entirely abandon it, but chose to enjoy it till he should find something better.

Rome then promised a greater sphere of action for a public teacher, more honor and profit. Hence, Augustine was easily persuaded by some of his friends to go to Rome, and secretly withdrew from the embraces of his mother, in 383. Scarcely had he arrived in Rome, when he was seized with a severe sickness that brought him near the grave. But he recovered; and being in the house of a Manichaean, he was again brought into nearer intimacy with these heretics. He now immediately opened his lectures on rhetoric. He was, however, but little satisfied with the conduct of his hearers, and therefore not unwillingly embraced a prospect that was opened to him, and went to Milan, where he was established as a public teacher of rhetoric, in the year 384.

His residence in this place was fraught with the most important consequences to him. Here lived the pious Ambrose, who received him kindly, Augustine became fond of him, and took delight in the eloquence of the man. After hearing one passage after another of scripture explained and applied by him, he perceived that the catholic system of doctrine could be defended against the Manichaeans. Now he abandoned this sect entirely. But as he still doubted of all, he determined to remain a catechumen till something certain should be manifest to him. About this time his mother, who could not console herself for the absence of her son, came to Milan. Great was her joy on finding the change in her son's mind. Still Augustine was now as little of a catholic as a Manichaean, which he himself declared to his mother. The eloquent discourses of Ambrose, however, cleared up to him more and more the doctrine of the church, and he perceived the necessity of faith and of the authority of holy writ.

Thus was Augustine now gained indeed to Christianity; but doubts still weighed on his soul. He had not a full conviction of what he should adopt as true; and above all, speculation on the origin of evil gave him great uneasiness. His heart was also still encompassed by the allurements of honor, of gain, and of sensual love. He provided another concubine, after the first had returned to Africa. But he was recalled from the abyss of sensual delights, by the fear of death and the future judgment--a fear which, though through various opinions, never left him. He intended to live in common with his friends; but soon renounced this purpose. By studying the Platonists, with which he was then much occupied and which he read in a Latin translation, he came, as he thought, upon the track of truth. But while he had perhaps become the better instructed, he had also become more inflated by the study. In his younger years, the philosophy of the Platonists generally afforded him much satisfaction; and in his earlier writings, there are not wanting views and ideas which he had borrowed from new-platonism. But in his later years, when he thought less liberally of heathen philosophy, he recalled the praise he had bestowed on Plato and the Platonists. Retract. I. 1. When he had finished reading the Platonists, he went to the scriptures. It may be regarded as rather an indication and a consequence of his former mode of theological speculation, that he made Paul's epistles the object of his study. He now came to see indeed, as he assures us in his Confessions (VII. 21.), the harmony of Paul's doctrines with each other and with the teaching of the prophets and of the law, which he had before misapprehended. Yet the obscure language of these epistles and the apparently hard doctrines of election and reprobation in the epistle to the Romans, must naturally have only increased the doubt and disquietude of heart in one who was seeking consolation and rest in Christianity. Worldly concerns, it is true, had no longer any charm for him; but love still held his heart a captive. In this disquietude, and impelled by his longing for a better mode of life, he went to Simplicianus, formerly a rhetorician and a zealous Christian, and who afterwards succeeded Ambrose in the episcopal chair at Milan. With some emotion, he heard from him the account of the conversion of Victorious. Soon after this, a certain Pontitianus described to him the life of St. Anthony and the conversion of two high-commissaries (agentes in rebus). This made the most lively impression on his heart. He betook himself to a garden, where his friend Alypius followed him, who had been present at the conversation. A violent contest arose between his sensual and his spiritual nature. He knew the better; and yet sensuality and the power of habit, held him a prisoner in their chains. He fell into a violent passion. He tore his hair; smote his forehead; grasped his knees. He then withdrew a little from Alypius and cast himself under a fig tree. A flood of tears broke forth; and he implored the divine mercy for grace. Augustine believed he heard a divine voice, calling to him in the words, Tolle, lege; Tolle, lege (Take up, read; take up, read). He dried his tears; rose up; went forth where Alypius sat, and where he had been reading the book of the Apostle. He seized and opened it; and the first words on which his eyes fell, were Rom. 13:13, "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof." Now his heart was completely changed and converted to God. He went with Alypius to his mother. With joy she learned the change which had taken place in her son. Now Augustine was at rest. External things no longer troubled his heart, and he began quietly to meditate on the manner in which he should direct his future life.

The first result of these meditations, was the resolution to renounce all earthly cares. He gave up the plan of marrying, which he had cherished. A repugnance to literary fame, took possession of him. Henceforth, he sought no wealth, no worldly honor. In the vintage vacation that soon followed in 386, he gave up the office of teacher; and thus freed, from the chains of his profession and his lusts, he retired, with some of his relatives and friends, to the rural solitude of the villa of Cassiciacum, which belonged to his friend Verecundus. Here he spent his pious and learned leisure in prayers and sighs for the pardon of his sins, in familiar conversations with his mother and friends on religious and also on philosophical subjects, for the last of which he still ever cherished a fondness and for which his mother had also a relish, in zealous study, and partly also in the instruction of two youths from his native town. His books against the academies, his book on holy living, his soliloquies, and other works, were the fruits of this leisure. At this time, as well as afterwards, he expected through the efficacy of prayer, to experience effects resembling the miraculous. As yet, Augustine had not been fully introduced into the Christian church by baptism. Leaving therefore his rural seclusion, he went to Milan to be baptized by Ambrose. This took place at the vigils of Easter, the night preceding April 25, 387. Augustine now felt spiritual joy; and the anguish for the life he had previously led, vanished.

A short time after, he formed the resolution of returning to Africa, in company with his mother, his friends Alypius and Evodius, his brother Navigius, and his son Adeodatus, where he wished to live with his beloved mother and his friends in the mutual practice of devotion. But on the way, he met a heavy blow. His mother was suddenly seized with a disease, of which she died on the ninth day, and in the fifty-sixth year of her age. How deep an impression this loss made upon him, he tells us in the ninth book of his Confessions, c. 12. He speaks of his mother with much filial affection; recounts her great deserts in regard to himself; and concludes with a hearty prayer for her, c. 13.

Being now deprived of this gentle companion of his journey, he put off his return to Africa, and went to Rome. Here he again met his old friends the Manichaeans, who sought to renew the intercourse which had been interrupted by his absence. But Augustine avoided them, and earnestly reproached them for their errors and their bad lives. This gave occasion to many a dispute. Finally it came to open war, which Augustine carried on against them both orally and by writing, with the greatest vehemence, to the end of his life. He composed several pieces against them during his present residence at Rome, which gained him great repute in the catholic church. Here he also wrote the first book on freewill, a work which he afterwards completed while a presbyter at Hippo, and in which he endeavored to refute the theory of the Manichaeans on the origin of evil. The Manichaeans derived evil from a distinct nature which was co-eternal with God; Augustine, from the freewill of man. Had he written this work during his disputes with the Pelagians, it would certainly have received a different shape. The Pelagians were disposed to find in it their own doctrine of freewill, and the natural competency of man to good; and it was difficult for Augustine, nay impossible, to harmonize his subsequent doctrine of the entire competency of man to the practice of good and the theory of grace grounded upon it, with those earlier opinions which he had presented here and in other writings against the Manichaeans, and to turn from himself the reproach of inconsistency and contradiction. And subsequently the semi-pelagians, so called, believed, and not without reason, that Augustine's opinion of predestination might be refuted from this work.

In the autumn of 388, Augustine left Rome, and landed in Africa near the close of the winter. He went by Carthage to Tagaste, his birthplace, to his house and the lands inherited from his father. These he sold and gave the money to the poor, but he still lived upon them after they were sold, and, as he expresses himself in a letter to Albina (Opp. 11. 370), consecrated himself to the free service of God (ad Dei liberam servitutem), i.e., he became a monk. Here he spent three years, remote from all worldly occupations, with some friends, in monastic seclusion, in prayers, fastings, pious meditation and conversation. The place where they lived together, he called a monastery. In the mean time, however, his fame was increased both by the mode of life he led and by the writings he put forth at this time. Whether it was through fear of being made a bishop against his will, as Possidius seems to have heard from him (c. 4), that he avoided all places where a bishopric was vacant, must remain undecided. Enough, that he came to Hippo Regius, towards the end of the year 391, with the pious design, as Possidius relates (c. 3), of converting a high commissary. He attended on the preaching of Valerius, the bishop of the place; and here, amid a tumult, and in spite of all his resistance, he was drawn to the presbytery, and brought to the bishop for ordination.

He actually entered on his office about the time of Easter, 392, after making preparation for it for some time. On becoming a presbyter, he erected a monastery within the precincts of the church and lived there, as Possidius says, with the servants of God (the monks) according to the mode and rule established under the apostles, as had before been done at Tagaste. No one was allowed to possess anything as his own, but they had all things common. But he was by no means the founder of a new order of monks, as later ages have made him. This monastery became a seminary for supplying the church. He also instituted a nunnery at Hippo, over which his sister presided for several years. Nor did he now cease to increase his fame by his writings. Publicly and in his own house he taught and preached, even in the presence of the bishop, (which, as Possidius relates, the custom of the African church did not formerly allow), against the Donatists, Manichaeans, and heathen, with great success and much applause, and enjoyed great respect even among all the bishops. A distinguished proof of this was afforded by their giving him the honorable appointment, at the general synod of Africa, of preaching in their assembly on the public confession of faith. In the sequel, Valerius wished for him as a colleague and fellow bishop. After many objections on the part of Augustine, he finally yielded, and was ordained near the close of the year 395 or in the beginning of the next. In this elevation, he acquired the highest authority by his shining talents, in so much that the whole occidental church regarded his decisions as oracles of orthodoxy and cheerfully submitted to them.

In this sphere, Augustine was uncommonly active. He preached with zeal and touching eloquence --he wrote--he exhorted to genuine piety, the empty semblance of which he abhorred--he decided cases in law, as was the custom of the age--he attended councils, at which he took the chief part--he defended what he regarded as the orthodox doctrines against the heretics--and discharged the other duties which his episcopal office required of him. The number of his works, which indeed are not free from repetition and prolixity, is great. Even in the episcopal house, which he now occupied, he instituted a monastery with his clergy; and with them he lived in common, and maintained a rigid discipline. Women were excluded from the episcopal residence--even his beloved sister. He contended against himself and with the sensual passions which often grew up again in him, and sought in devout prayer the means of resisting the temptations to sensuality, and was thus led to the more hearty love of God. He experienced a lively joy in the increase and wider spread of the faith which he held as orthodox; while on the other hand, the errors of the brethren and the transgressions of the vicious caused him much affliction. He was fired with zeal and wrote against the Manichaeans, and entreated the emperor to let the laws take their course against them in their former power. He had to sustain a hard and bitter contest with the Donatists, whom he at length completely conquered in the famous conference at Carthage, in 411, by which he restored again the unity of the catholic church. In this contest Augustine, alas, showed himself very passionate. He provoked the Donatist clergy by incessant challenges to disputation, in which he was conscious of his superiority. He endeavored, by various insinuations, to degrade them in the estimation of their people. And, although at first he was for milder measures, he afterwards persuaded the emperor Honorius to cruel and persecuting laws. A spirit of inquisition may not indeed have been the moving cause with Augustine, but, (as he himself gives us to understand in the letter to Vincentius just quoted), a zeal for their conversion, which rested on the view, that the virtue and salvation of men depend on a connection with the true church, and the adoption of her faith. But this zeal for making converts, was not of the right kind. He now calmly beheld how many thousands of these unhappy people, persecuted by the severity of the laws and destitute of shelter and the means of sustaining their wretched existence, destroyed their own lives from mere despair. We ought not, however, to overlook the spirit of the Donatists with which they also persecuted the catholics, and the truly jacobinic principles and disposition of the Circumcelliones who were connected with them or rather came forth from the midst of them.

About this time the great contest began with Pelagius, which in the sequel is to be minutely presented in respect to both history and doctrine.

Augustine died at Hippo, August 28, 430, in the seventy-sixth year of his age--with deep repentance of the faults he had committed and amid the reading of David's penitential Psalms--when Hippo was besieged by the Vandals, and when he had not yet finished his great work against Julian. He left to the church a more than adequate clergy and full convents both male and female.

This summary account of his life is sufficient for a preliminary sketch of what was personal in a man whose entire character is seldom understood. Still the following features of his life, taken chiefly from Possidius, may serve to fill out and more accurately define the picture.

In his exterior, he was as far removed from pomp as from cynic negligence. By nature he was, indeed, fond of enjoying many dishes, and therefore strove against the propensity and labored to be temperate. He did not frequent feasts; yet he practised hospitality himself towards strangers, and loved scientific conversation at meals. He could not endure that evil should be said of the absent, and therefore, as Possidius relates (c. 22), he once very severely reproved some of his intimate fellow bishops who had transgressed this rule. On his table might be read the words, "Whoever loves to assail the life of the absent, may know this table to be unfit for him." (l.c.). He had formed many rules of life for himself, by which he was benefitted, and which proved him a correct judge. To the poor, he gave freely of his property and the revenues of the church, which, however, he did not manage himself, as he wished to keep his mind free from worldly cares. He caused a xenodochium to be erected at the expense of the church who had appointed a special collection for the purpose. With the remainder of the money he caused a basilica to be built. A great inclination to melancholy remained with him through life, which in his last years must have been aggravated by his horror at the devastations which the Vandals were spreading in Africa. Nor did Augustine keep himself free from the superstitious mode of thinking that belonged to his age, of which his writings afford sufficient proofs. He had, from his youth up, a certain tenderness of feeling; and in the sequel, through his habit of praying for others, he was not lightly troublesome to any one.

From all this, the following characteristic of Augustine is manifest. The most distinctive and the most interesting thing, and that by which his individuality is the most strikingly indicated, is the union of mysticism with scholasticism, i.e., the endeavor by feeling to reach the Infinite, with the endeavor to reduce the Infinite to our comprehension. In this respect, Augustine is altogether remarkable, a peculiar phenomenon, one might say, of Christian antiquity. Certainly we find no father in whom we meet with just as many proofs of a mystic way of thinking as of the prevalence of intellect. How can any one express himself in a more mystical way than to speak of the embraces of God, and of sucking his milk. And how clearly do we hear the mere mental philosopher, when he disputes with the Donatists, and still more when he seeks to prove "the servile will" in opposition to the Pelagians. The ecstasies also, of which the vestiges are found in his Confessions, and which put him in the condition of those who have prophetic visions, show what a dominion fancy, the mother of mysticism, had over him. It might indeed be objected that we ought to consider the age of Augustine. But even in his later age, during his contests with the Pelagians, striking traces are seen of the mystic mode of thinking, particularly in his assertions respecting the grace of God. Fancy, therefore, and sagacity were combined in him in a manner wholly peculiar, without our being able to say that either preponderated over the other. This peculiar combination by which he was at once a mystic and a scholastic, is the greatest singularity in Augustine. In full accordance with this peculiarity, or sufficiently explained by it, are both his earnest effort for truth and his devout disposition, his deep religious feeling, which speaks forth in so lovely a manner, particularly where he is not acting the polemic, e.g., in the Confessions, and which must have made him abhor that pride of human virtue which ascribes a merit to its own works.

Augustine had by nature an excessive propensity to the pleasures of sense, of which he often complains himself, and which was also confirmed by the early errors of his youth. This propensity must in due time have led him to mysticism. For when it afterwards became more intellectual, his fancy must needs have revelled in a world above sense; and this readily affords a psychological explanation of the fact, that his love to God was never entirely free from a tinge of sensuous love. As a necessary consequence, the new platonic philosophy which, from its mystic tendency, was well adapted to his mind, confirmed him still more in this mode of thinking.

From what has been said, we may readily infer, that Augustine possessed much natural kindness and a delicate susceptibility for friendship. But the acuteness of his understanding inclined him freely to admit consequences from principles once established, even when repugnant to his moral feeling. Hence was he so formidable a disputant. The study of Aristotle's works had certainly a very salutary influence on his consecutive mode of thinking. Against the justness of his conclusions, no objection can easily be made, if we only admit the principles.

A high degree of self-importance, however, belonged to the compound of Augustine's character. Hence the arrogance with which he treated his opponents, the ambition and the intolerance which often cast so deep a shade on his life. For though he sometimes speaks very modestly of himself and the value of his works, as when he says, in his book on the gift of Perseverance (c. 21), that he would have us adopt his opinion only when we perceive that he has not erred, and though he greatly censures in others the want of moderation towards opponents, yet his contests, particularly with the Pelagians, prove how little himself could endure contradiction, especially in his later years, and that behind those assertions of modesty and humility there lay concealed a hidden pride. In his Retractations, indeed, as well as in his book On the Predestination of the Saints, he takes back many of his earlier opinions. These, however, at least in part, were opinions which could not be reconciled with his later system which he set up against Pelagius and his adherents. That self-love, pride, and vanity belonged to him by nature, himself acknowledges with great ingenuousness in many parts of his writings. This too-exalted self-esteem made him intolerant; and it explains how, with so much natural kindness and so much philanthropy, he could yet so severely persecute those who differed from him in opinion. For not only did he strive with all his power to effect the destruction of the still remaining vestiges of heathenism in Africa and to induce the emperor Honorius to severe laws for this purpose, but he also directed his persecuting zeal against the Christian heretics. We ought not indeed here to forget, that an over-strained zeal for what he regarded as truth and for the welfare of the catholic church, from which he was anxious to remove every heresy, had a great share in this matter; and that he regarded precisely his own as the only Christian opinions and sought to give them authority--the ground of which, however, lay always in a great excess of self-esteem, though he may himself have attained no clear consciousness of it.

If we contemplate Augustine as a scholar, our judgment of him will vary according to the different demands we make of a theologian. If we compare the famous bishop with learned theologians of the present time, he can scarcely deserve the name of such an one. For we shall not readily reckon among learned theologians any one who knows nothing at all of Hebrew and but little of Greek. But if we estimate Augustine according to his own period, as it is proper we should, he was by all means a learned man, and was surpassed by but few, and among the Latin fathers perhaps only by Jerome, though by him in a high degree. Thus much, however, is certain, Augustine had more genius than learning, more wit and penetration than fundamental science. Augustine's was a philosophical and especially logical mind. His works sufficiently prove his talent or system-making and a logical development of ideas. We also find in them much philosophical speculation peculiar to himself. But the value of those speculations is not to be highly rated, since he was far from being so much of a metaphysician in general as he was of a logician. Nor was he wanting in a knowledge of philosophical systems and the speculations of others. His weakest point as a scholar, was in a knowledge of languages. In this he was surpassed even by Pelagius, who was only a layman. For although, as before remarked, he was not entirely ignorant of Greek, his knowledge of it was very limited, and we meet with a multitude of oversights on this account. Hence he generally used only the Latin translation of the Bible, which is so often faulty, and even in the New Testament, he recurs but seldom to the original text. His ignorance and incapacity in expounding the scriptures, at least of the Old Testament, he himself acknowledges, Retract. 1. 18. Hence he very often founds his arguments from the sacred books on erroneous interpretations. He also employed philosophical reasons to support his positive doctrines and strove, to unite the rational with the revealed belief, as Christian theologians had already attempted to do from the time of Justin. His supernatural system he defended not only with exegetical but also with philosophical weapons. His knowledge of the opinions of the earlier fathers often failed him. In a letter to Jerome, (Ep. 67, in the Vallarsic edition of Jerome's works,) he frankly confesses, that he knows not the errors charged upon Origen, and begs Jerome to point them out to him. His taste was not sufficiently formed by the study of the classics. Hence his style, (though we find some good remarks of his on grammar and his ability for eloquence, is sufficiently manifest in particular passages), was on the whole defective in purity and elegance, as could not but he expected in an age when the study of Cicero already began to be regarded as a sin. He also believed that rhetorical euphony was rather hurtful than beneficial to the presentation of Christian truths, as they thus lose their dignity. In other respects, he did not despise the liberal arts, but believed they could be profitably used only when those who practise them are inspired by the Christian spirit. Ep. 101 to Memorius.


After Augustine, Pelagius is the most powerful in the Pelagian controversies. The sources from which biographical notices of him are to be drawn, are confined to occasional declarations of Augustine and of some contemporary writers. With these may likewise be connected the few biographical accounts which remain of the life of Caelestius, who is the third man in importance in this contest.

Of the early circumstances of the life of Pelagius, we know just nothing at all. Even his native land is uncertain. Generally he is regarded as a Briton, to which Mercator's declaration leads, who calls him "a Briton by nation," in his Commonitorium, appendix to part tenth of Augustine's works, ed. Ben. p. 63. According to Augustine, he had the surname of Brito. But he was then not a Briton but an inhabitant of Little Britain or Britany. At least this is the common import of the word Brito. He is also called Brito in Prosper's Chronicon, Jerome's Works, VIII. 835. By Brito, however, Prosper might understand only a Briton, since he derives the Pelagian heresy from Britain, in other passages, e.g., Contra Collatorem, c. 21. Vossius endeavored to prove him a Scotchman. So much is certain, that Pelagius was a monk; and therefore a layman, as all monks still were at that time. But he belonged to no monastic community, nor was he an eremite. Augustine derived the Pelagian heresy from some who were a kind of monks, (a quibusdam veluti monachis). De Gest. Pel. c. 35. Perhaps Augustine intended that neither Pelagius nor Caelestius belonged to any particular monastic community, and had not bound themselves to a definite residence in any cloister.

In his exterior, Pelagius cannot have been repulsive. This is apparent even from the unfriendly description of his opponent Orosius, in his Apologeticus. He was of an imposing figure. He bore himself erect, and did not neglect his dress.

About the commencement of the fifth century, he came to Rome, where he long remained. There he lived in intercourse with very upright people, and there as well as abroad was much esteemed for the integrity of his character and the purity of his morals. "That you regard Pelagius as a beloved servant of God, I know," writes Augustine to his friend Paulinus, bishop of Nola, in the middle of the year 417. And several years earlier, (about the year 405), Chrysostom thus expressed himself, in his fourth letter to Olympias: "I have been sorely troubled respecting the monk Pelagius. Think how many crowns they deserve who bravely stand the conflict, when men who have lived so long in the practice of piety and continence, allow themselves, as we see, to be seduced." These words cannot well refer to the Pelagian heresy, as that was not as yet the subject of discourse, but they properly refer to the fact that Pelagius had abandoned the party that defended the innocence or Chrysostom, and this was probably the cause why he bemoaned his fall. That these words refer to some other Pelagius, I cannot, with Walch and others, consider as so clearly proved. From the very epistle of Chrysostom here cited, which he wrote during his exile in Armenia, it is not improbable that Pelagius had lived in the East before his residence at Rome.

It was the most anxious care of Pelagius to rouse to virtue; and this he did with a zeal peculiar to himself. Two youths of noble extraction, Timasius and James, were moved by his exhortations to renounce worldly cares and devote themselves and their property to God, as we read in a letter of Augustine and three other bishops to pope Innocent I. Ep. 177. in Opp. II. 624. At Rome, Pelagius found all, even the clergy, extremely corrupt. Pure Christianity had most shamefully degenerated. It had become partly a superstitious round of ceremonies, and partly an object of speculation and controversy to the learned, and had no influence on the formation and improvement of the heart. Pelagius, (who had to do, not with theoretical opinions, but with a practical Christianity, and to whom, as well as to his disciples, even their antagonist Augustine not only everywhere does justice in respect to their talents, but also always speaks with respect of their moral character, at least in his earlier writings against them), sought to employ his stay at Rome in elevating and improving his neighbors. He also found in his own situation a more urgent demand for this. Pelagius made the correct remark--a proof of his knowledge of man and his psychological ken--that we must quicken in men the consciousness of freedom, or no one will have the resolution to tread the path of virtue if he does not entertain the hope that he can. In the first chapter of his letter to Demetrias, he expresses himself on this point in a remarkable manner. "As often," he there says, "as I have to speak of the commencement of morality and the conduct of a holy life, it is my custom first to set forth the power and quality of human nature and to show what it can effect; and then to incite the mind of the hearer to the kinds of virtue, lest it should be of no use for one to be exhorted to those things which he may perhaps have supposed impossible for him. For never can we enter the path of virtue unless we are led by hope as a companion; since all effort of seeking perishes through despair of attaining." That God's grace and its salutary influence on the heart of man are not hereby excluded, is plain, and will appear still more manifest from the ensuing presentation of the Pelagian system. But Pelagius did not thereupon proceed to making proselytes or to instituting a school, just as he universally did nothing by which the peace and happiness of the church could be disturbed. He conversed with his friends or with the people on virtue and a holy life as opportunity presented itself unsought. This, among the Latins, was altogether a new method. In this spirit also were several works composed by him, e.g., the Libri Exhortatorii or Consolatorii to a widow.

Perhaps it cannot be certainly decided whether or how far Pelagius was first led to his opinions by Rufinus--by whom some understand the famous presbyter of Aquileia who lived with him on the most friendly terms, and others, in consequence of Mercator's assertion (Com. Ap. p. 63), a Syrian of this name. All or at least the greater part of the fathers of the Greek church, before Augustine, denied any real original sin; and hence it may well be, that the same presbyter Rufinus, who came from the East to Rome, towards the close of the fourth century, (and who may have introduced into Stepsis, in respect to many doctrines, the freer spirit of Origen, whom he greatly admired), brought Pelagius to his view of the moral state of man, or confirmed him in it. This seems also to be confirmed by what Caelestius afterwards said in his own defence at the synod of Carthage in 412, that he had heard Rufinus maintain, that there is no propagation of sin by generation. Aug. de Pec. Orig. 3. Besides, Mercator might call the presbyter Rufinus a Syrian, because the latter had lived thirty years in Syria and the East.

Pelagius made the first manifestation against Augustine at Rome, when a bishop had quoted from Augustine's Confessions the following words addressed to God: "Give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt." Pelagius said he could not endure this. And as he protested with some vehemence, he came very near having a contest with the bishop. Aug. de Dono Perseverantiae, c. 20.

It was also at Rome, and when, by his own assertion in the preface, age was approaching and consequently his powers sinking, that he wrote his Expositions of Paul's Epistles, a work so famous in the Pelagian disputes. In this work, however, he did not bring forward his doubts of original sin as being his own doubts, but as objections of the opposers of the doctrine.

Here he connected himself with the future monk Caelestius, whom some consider as a Campanian; others, as a Scotchman or an Irishman; and others still, as an African. According to Mercator (Com. p. 64), Caelestius was of illustrious birth, and, what is not here unimportant to remark, was in the practice of the law when he united with Pelagius. He was auditorialis scholasticus.

Caelestius, who was different from Pelagius in age, was no less so in character. Younger in years, he was far more passionate than the grave Pelagius, now approaching to old age. The latter hated all strife; never put forth theoretical propositions for disputation; and would not have the authority of a teacher. The latter contended with zeal for the practical doctrines of Pelagius, and in his own feeling of their truth would fain have them acknowledged as true by others, in which he also succeeded with many. Hence Jerome said of him, in a letter to Ctesiphon, in 415, "Although a scholar of Pelagius, he is yet the master and leader of the whole host." Also, according to the account of the author of the Praedestinatus (in the above mentioned appendix to the works of Augustine, p. 65), Caelestius was the first who came out as a writer against the propagation of sin by generation, and published a book Contra Traducem Peccati, even before the appearance of Pelagius' exposition of Romans, and therefore probably soon after the year 400. Caelestius took up the doctrines of Pelagius rather in their theoretical than their practical aspect, in which alone Pelagius would have them considered; and it seemed to him that there was more to be done for the dialectical defence of their theoretical accuracy than for their practical application. By this difference of character in the two men, the judgment may be sufficiently explained which Augustine passes upon them, in which he is probably not altogether unjust towards Pelagius. "What is the difference," says he in his work on Original Sin, c. 12, "between Pelagius and Caelestius, but that the latter was the more open, the former the more concealed, this the more wilful, that the more deceitful, or at least this the more frank, that the more cunning?" For it cannot be denied, as is clear from the narrative of the controversy, that Pelagius was not always sufficiently sincere. He did not express is opinions without ambiguity. Nay, he sometimes condemned opinions at the synods, which were manifestly his own; all which, indeed, his love of peace and the small value be placed on theoretical opinions, might have much to do. Prosper, also, in his poem on the despisers of grace, calls him "the British serpent" (coluber Britannus). De Ingratis, Ap. p. 67.

Augustine does not exclude Caelestius from the good testimony which he bears to the Pelagians in respect to external morality. He also gives him the praise of an acute mind. He calls him "a man of the most penetrating genius, who, if he should be put right, would certainly be of the greatest service." Contra Duas Epistolas Pelagianorum, II. 3. But he also calls him "a man whom the wind of false doctrine has inflated." De Pec. Orig. c. 7. Marius Mercator, in a passage before cited, ascribes to him "incredible loquacity." But thus much is manifest from the whole, that Caelestius had also much zeal for a pure biblical Christianity and for a practical system of morals, though he was not so anxious as Pelagius for its application. The connection between Pelagius and Caelestius was afterwards interrupted by their separation, and we do not find that after this separation, which will be noticed in connection with the breaking out of the Pelagian affair in Africa, they ever again met each other, or had any further intercourse.

In the years 409 and 410, multitudes of all classes and conditions left Rome, from the consternation, which the third approach of Alaric, King of the Goths, had spread there. The greater part fled to Sicily. It may be that Pelagius now came here with his friend. In this way we may easily account for the commotions which arose soon after in Sicily, on account of some teachers whose affinity to the Pelagians is clear enough, and concerning which Augustine, the oracle of orthodoxy, was consulted by a certain Hilary. See the letter of Hilary to Augustine, 156, in the second part of Augustine's works. The 157th contains Augustine's answer and refutation of the alleged errors spread in Sicily. Both were probably written about the year 414. Still it may very well be that Caelestius, on his journey from Carthage to Ephesus, in 412, passed through Sicily, and there spread more widely his opinions, and with so much the greater zeal, as he had already become a martyr to them. From the residence of Caelestius in Sicily, it is also manifest, how the "Definitions," ascribed to him came from this place into the hands of the Gallic bishops Eutropius and Paul, who sent them to Augustine for refutation. De Perf. Just. Hom. I.

In 411, Pelagius and Caelestius came to Africa. But the history of the Pelagian controversies, which begin with their arrival in Africa, will hereafter be fully related.

Pelagius, who was already advanced in age, soon disappears from the history. The last fact, which Mercator briefly states, is, that he was driven from Jerusalem. Ap. p. 72. When this happened, whether in 417, as some would have it, or in 421, as others believe, cannot be determined. Of the time or place of his death, no vestige is found in the old writers. He cannot, however, have left the stage when Augustine wrote his second book against Julian, about the year 421. For in it (c. 10), he blames the arrogance of Julian who boasted of defending forsaken truth, thereby putting himself above Pelagius and Caelestius, her only other teachers, just as though they were already gone, and he was left alone to defend truth which he considered forsaken.

The latter part of the life of Caelestius is involved in the same uncertainty, though his history is continued to a latter time. About the year 429, he was banished from Constantinople by order of the emperor. To this refers the confidential letter written to Caclestius about the end of the year 430, by Nestorius, who seems to have stood in a peculiar relation to Caelestius, and who had doubtless applied to him for the purpose of obtaining the protection of the emperor. This letter has been preserved in a Latin translation by Marius Mercator and may be found in his works. Ed. Garnier, I. 71. In it he mentions an "occidental council," which, as Walch in his History of Heresies (V. 439), justly supposes, was no other than the council which the Romish bishop Caelestius held against Nestorius in 430.

How dissimilar Augustine and Pelagius were, is sufficiently apparent from what has already been said. Their characters were diametrically opposite. Pelagius was a quiet man, as free from mysticism as from aspiring ambition; and in this respect, his mode of thought and of action must have been wholly different from that of Augustine. But Pelagius must also have surpassed Augustine in liberal education, which appears in the greater elegance and purity of his style. He was, as will hereafter be shown, a better expositor and a more sober philosopher. Both therefore thought differently, according to their totally different spiritual physiognomy; and both, moreover, must have come into conflict just as soon as an external occasion should be presented. Whether truth or error triumphed in the contest of these men, the sequel will show.


As it concerns the sources for literary notices of his life, these again are confined to occasional declarations in the works of Augustine and of some other writers of the same or a little later period. They have been diligently collected by the Benedictines in their preface to Augustine's Unfinished Work, by Vossius, Walch, Schönemann, and others, on this well known work.

Julian, one of the most famous disciples of Pelagius and the keenest opponent of Augustine, who in dialectic skill even surpassed Caelestius, was a son of the subsequent bishop Memor and Juliana, both of whom stood in high repute for piety. Even Augustine held a friendly connection with Memor, and was thus also favorably inclined towards his son, whom he had besides learned to prize on account of his distinguished talents. "I," says Augustine with an untranslatable play upon words, "am certainly not unmindful of your father Memor of blessed memory (certe beatae memoriae Memoris patris tui non immemor), who formed no small friendship with me by epistolary correspondence and caused you yourself to be very dear to me." Contra Jul. 1. 4. Comp. Ep. 101, to Memor. Julian married early. He had, however, before entered the priesthood and attained the office of reader. From this he soon rose to that of deacon. It appears from a passage in Augustine, that now, being received among the higher clergy, he practised continence. C. Jul. III. 2 1. Julian finally reached the episcopal dignity, and that at Eclanum, which was formerly attached to Apulia but afterwards to Campania.

Julian perhaps became acquainted with Caelestius and his opinions at Rome, where he resided for the first time when Zosimus was bishop there. Mercator Com. Ap. 115. He remained, according to Mercator, (p. 71), in the orthodox church and in communion with the Romish bishop, till the death of Innocent who had ordained him; though, from a passage in Augustine (C. Jul. 1. 4), it may almost be presumed that he was already inclined to Pelagianism during the life of Innocent. But we first find him a decided Pelagian in the year 418, when he refused to subscribe the famous tractoria of Zosimus which contained the condemnation of the Pelagian doctrine and, with it, of Pelagius and Caelestius.

Julian, as well as all who had the like boldness, was deposed and banished from Italy. With them he left the west and repaired directly to Constantinople. But here too he had no good fortune. The bishop Atticus banished him and his companions from the city. Julian now turned to Cilicia, to his friend Theodore, bishop of Mopseusta. Many of the bishops exiled with him, when they saw the affair took an unfavorable turn, abandoned him, fled to the apostolic chair for grace, and were reinstated. But Julian was of too exalted a character to deny his convictions for the sake of temporal advantage.

He was now greatly enraged at Augustine, who led at his will the emperor Honorius and the bishop of Rome, and gave laws to the church. Unmindful of the old friendship, he not only assailed him, about 419, in four books which he wrote against Augustine's first book On Marriage and Concupiscence, but he also wrote, in Cilicia, about 421 or a little later, his great work against him in eight books. Scarcely had he left Cilicia, however, when Theodore, according to Mercator's account (Coin. 116), pronounced condemnation upon him at a Cilician provincial synod. In 428, when Nestorius had become bishop of Constantinople, or 429, he returned to this city, in hope of obtaining from the emperor, by the application of the new bishop, what he had lost in the west. At least the letters of Nestorius to the Romish bishop Caelestine, of which we shall speak in the sequel, are proofs of the abundant complaints which Julian and the other deposed bishops of the west, presented to Theodosius II, and the Constantinopolitan bishop. In the mean time the busy Marius Mercator--one knows not whether of his own accord or induced by Augustine, whose zealous armor-bearer he was, and who might be apprehensive that Julian's heresies would take root in Constantinople--hastened to this metropolis and presented, in 429, to Theodosius and the Constantinopolitan church, a commonitorium [admonitory letter] composed by himself, and thus caused as well Julian and his companions as also Caelestius soon after to be banished from the city by an imperial decree. Thereupon, at the third ecumenic council at Ephesus, 431, where Mercator was also present, Julian, together with Caelestius and the rest of the Pelagians, was condemned. From this time forth, the name of Julian gradually vanishes from the history, and we know nothing of his subsequent condition in life or the time of his death. Only thus much does Prosper furthermore relate, that Julian made a fresh attempt, in 439, under pretence of repentance, to be restored to communion and to regain his lost bishopric; but that pope, Sixtus III, opposed his efforts. According to Gennadius (De Viris Illustribus c. 45), he died under the reign of Valentinian III, the son of Constantius, and therefore previous to the year 455.

Julian was an acute, philosophic genius, an adroit dialectician, and therefore by far the most formidable antagonist of Augustine. In the knowledge of languages and in classical cultivation, he far surpassed the bishop of Hippo. Besides this he was not destitute of eloquence, but was also just as often a sophist. Of his arrogance he gives proofs enough and we can therefore readily trust Augustine's assurance, who calls him "a most confident youth." C. Jul. II. 8. But with still greater insolence, does Julian treat the consecrated bishop, calling him, among other things, "the most senseless and stupid of all men," (hominum omnium amentissimum et bardissimum, Op. Imp. II. 29. III. 145), and "a worshipper of the devil," (diaboli cultorem, C. Jul. III. 18), and passes the most unfavorable judgment upon his writings. Op. Imp. I. 8. He may nevertheless have possessed a kind of natural generosity. In a time of famine, as Gennadius says in the same work, he gave all that he had to the poor.

Thus much however is certain, that the practical importance of Pelagianism did not escape even Julian. He speaks out plainly on this point, in a passage thus presented by Augustine. "As if agreeing with the holy scriptures and the soundest reason, and for the purpose of inciting men to zeal in virtue, you maintain," says Augustine, "that there is no evil in the nature of man, inculcating that there is no summit of virtue so lofty that, by God's aid, a believing mind may not reach it: and you say that there is no necessity of evil in the flesh in order that every one being commendably constituted (laudibiliter conditus) may blush to live basely, and so shame may oppose improper conduct by reminding man of the nobility of his nature." C. Jul. III. 26.


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