Semi-pelagianism

The designation since the seventeenth century of a largely monastic reaction against Augustine's* developed anti-Pelagianism, better called “Semi- Augustinianism.” In 426/7 monks at Hadrumetum in Byzacena (Susa in Tunisia) were alarmed that Augustine's Ep. 194 on predestination apparently undermined free will and hence monastic and missionary endeavor. After disappointing inquiries, a deputation visited Augustine, who produced Grace and Free Will and, when this seemed to invalidate moral correction, Rebuke and Grace (427). To Vitalis,* a Carthaginian monk who c.427 affirmed that the unaided will performed the initial act of faith, Augustine's Ep. 217 stressed the necessary preparation of the will by prevenient grace.

Widespread anxieties arose in S Gaul in the monasteries of Lérins (founded c.410 by Honoratus) and Marseilles. John Cassian's Conferences (428/9) argue implicitly against Augustine's works for Hadrumetum, that the beginning of the good will is man's doing, but grace supervenes immediately thereafter. Such criticism, shared by others like Helladius (Euladius?), bishop of Arles, were reported to Augustine by two lay Marseilles monks, Hilary and Prosper of Aquitaine* (429). Augustine's response was Predestination of the Saints and The Gift of Perseverance (ET by M.A. Lesousky, 1956).

After Augustine's death Prosper became his stalwart champion, replying seriatim to questions or objections raised by two Genoese presbyters, anonymous Gallic critics and probably Vincent of Lérins* (cf. too his Commonitory). Prosper sought Roman backing, but Pope Celestine I* generally praised Augustine and condemned sophistic innovations, and Sixtus III and Leo I* were no more explicit. In Rome Prosper concentrated more on opposing Semi-Pelagianism than defending Augustinianism (attacked there c.450 by Arnobius Junior,* an African monk).

Semi-Pelagian beliefs remained dominant in Gaul. Faustus of Riez,* formerly abbot of Lérins, forced his priest Lucidus to retract apparently Augustinian views condemned by councils at Arles (472/3) and Lyons (474), and wrote The Grace of God and Free Will (473/5), which verged at points on Neo-Pelagianism. Gelasius I* criticized bishops who tolerated attacks on Jerome* and Augustine, and called for a confession of faith from Gennadius and Honoratus of Marseilles (496). The writings of Julianus Pomerius, an African presbyter of Arles, reveal continuing agitation.

At Constantinople in 519, Scythian monks led by John Maxentius inquired through Possessor, an African bishop then in Constantinople, about the orthodoxy of Faustus of Riez. Pope Hormisdas's* reply referred them to the Scriptures, councils, and Fathers, notably the later Augustine. The Scythians consulted refugee African bishops in Sardinia, where a synod condemned Faustus (523); and Fulgentius* of Ruspe wrote a lost refutation, which influenced Caesarius of Arles, trained at Lérins but suspected in Gaul for his Augustinian convictions. Under him the Second Council of Orange* (529) condemned Pelagian and Semi- Pelagian opinions and endorsed a moderate Augustinianism, in terms drawn largely from Prosper's extracts from Augustine submitted earlier to Pope Felix IV (probably from a preliminary synod at Valence) and amended by him. Confirmation by Pope Boniface II (531) made Orange the basis of medieval teaching on grace.

L. Loofs in Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche (3rd ed.), 18 (1906), pp.192-203; E. Amann in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique 14 (1941), cols. 1796-1850; G. de Plinval in Histoire de l'église (ed. A. Fliche and V. Martin), 4 (1948); pp. 397-419; J. Chéné in Recherches de Science Religieuse 35 (1948), pp.566-88, and 43 (1955), pp.321-41, and L'Année Théologique August 13 (1953), pp.56-109; N.K. Chadwick, Poetry and Letters in Early Christian Gaul (1955); on Prosper's Augustinianism, R. Lorenz in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte 73 (1962), pp.217-52, and his authorship of the Pseudo-Augustine's Hypomnesticon Against the Pelagians and Celestians (ed. of J.E. Chisholm, vol. I, 1967).