Chapter 21


The church in the north of Africa has hardly been mentioned since
the time of St. Cyprian (Chapter VIII). But we must now look towards
it again, since in the days of St. Chrysostom it produced a man who
was perhaps the greatest of all the old Christian fathers--St.

Augustine was born at Thagaste, a city of Numidia, in the year 354.
His mother, Monica, was a pious Christian, but his father,
Patricius, was a heathen, and a man of no very good character.
Monica was resolved to bring up her son in the true faith: she
entered him as a catechumen of the Church when a little child, and
carefully taught him as much of religious things as a child could
learn. But he was not then baptized, because (as has been mentioned
already--p 39) people were accustomed in those days to put off
baptism, out of fear lest they should afterwards fall into sin, and
so should lose the blessing of the sacrament. This, as we know, was
a mistake: but it was a very common practice nevertheless.

When Augustine was a boy, he was one day suddenly taken ill, so that
he seemed likely to die. Remembering what his mother had taught
him, he begged that he might be baptized, and preparations were made
for the purpose; but all at once he began to grow better, and the
baptism was put off for the same reason as before.

As he grew up, he gave but little promise of what he was afterwards
to become. Much of his time was spent in idleness; and through
idleness he fell into bad company, and was drawn into sins of many
kinds. When he was about seventeen, his father died. The good Monica
had been much troubled by her husband's heathenism and misconduct,
and had earnestly tried to convert him from his errors. She went
about this wisely, not lecturing him or arguing with him in a way
that might have set him more against the Gospel, but trying rather
to show him the beauty of Christian faith by her own loving, gentle,
and dutiful behaviour. And at length her pains were rewarded by
seeing him before his death profess himself a believer, and receive
Christian baptism.

Monica was left rather badly off at her husband's death. But a rich
neighbour was kind enough to help her in the expense of finishing
her son's education, and the young man himself now began to show
something of the great talents which God had been pleased to bestow
on him. Unhappily, however, he sank deeper and deeper in vice, and
poor Monica was bitterly grieved by his ways. A book which he
happened to read led him to feel something of the shamefulness and
wretchedness of his courses; but, as it was a heathen book (although
written by one of the wisest of the heathens, Cicero), it could not
show him by what means he might be able to reach to a higher life.
He looked into Scripture, in the hope of finding instruction there
but he was now in that state of mind to which, as St. Paul says (1
Cor. i. 23), the preaching of Christ sounds like "foolishness," so
that he fancied himself to be above learning anything from a book so
plain and homely as the Bible then seemed to him, and he set out in
search of some other teaching. And a very strange sort of teaching
he met with.

About a hundred years before this time, a man named Manes appeared
in Persia (AD 270), and preached a religion which he pretended to
have received from Heaven, but which was really made up by himself,
from a mixture of Christian and heathen notions. It was something
like the doctrines which had been before taught by the Gnostics, and
was as wild nonsense as can well be imagined. He taught that there
were two gods--a good god of light, and a bad god of darkness. And
he divided his followers into two classes, the lower of which were
called "hearers," while the higher were called "elect". These elect
were supposed to be very strict in their lives. They were not to eat
flesh at all;--they might not even gather the fruits of the earth,
or pluck a herb with their own hands. They were supported and were
served by the hearers, and they took a very odd way of showing their
gratitude to these; for it is said that when one of the elect ate a
piece of bread, he made this speech to it:--"It was not I who reaped
or ground or baked thee; may they who did so be reaped and ground
and baked in their turn!" And it was believed that the poor
"hearers" would after death become corn, and have to go through the
mill and the oven, until they should have suffered enough to clear
away their offences and make them fit for the blessedness of the

The Manichaeans (as the followers of Manes were called) soon found
their way into Africa, where they gained many converts; and,
although laws were often made against their heresy by the emperors,
it continued to spread secretly; for they used to hide their
opinions, when there was any danger, so that persons who were really
Manichaeans pretended to be Catholic Christians, and there were some
of them even among the monks and clergy of the Church.

In the humour in which Augustine now was, this strange sect took his
fancy; for the Manichaeans pretended to be wiser than any one else,
and laughed at all submission to doctrines which had been settled by
the Church. So Augustine at twenty became a Manichaean, and for nine
years was one of the hearers,--for he never got to be one of the
elect, or to know much about their secrets. But before he had been
very long in the sect, he began to notice some things which shocked
him in the behaviour of the elect, who professed the greatest
strictness. In short, he could not but see that their strictness was
all a pretence, and that they were really a very worthless set of
men. And he found out, too, that, besides bad conduct, there was a
great deal very bad and disgusting in the opinions of the
Manichaeans, which he had not known of at first. After learning all
this, he did not know what to turn to, and he seems for a time to
have believed nothing at all,--which is a wretched state of mind
indeed, and so he found it.


Augustine now set up as a teacher at Carthage, the chief city of
Africa; but among the students there he found a set of wild young
men who called themselves "Eversors"--a name which meant that they
turned everything topsy-turvy; and Augustine was so much troubled by
the behaviour of these unruly lads, that he resolved to leave
Carthage and go to Rome. Monica, as we may easily suppose, had been
much distressed by his wanderings, but she never ceased to pray that
he might be brought round again. One day she went to a learned
bishop, who was much in the habit of arguing with people who were in
error, and begged that he would speak to her son; but the good man
understood Augustine's case, and saw that to talk to him while he
was in such a state of mind would only make him more self-wise than
he was already. "Let him alone awhile," he said, "only pray God for
him, and he will of himself find out by reading how wrong the
Manichaeans are, and how impious their doctrine is." And then he
told her that he had himself been brought up as a Manichaean, but
that his studies had shown him the error of the sect and he had left
it. Monica was not satisfied with this, and went on begging, even
with tears, that the bishop would talk with her son. But he said to
her, "Go thy ways, and may God bless thee, for it is not possible
that the child of so many tears should perish." And Monica took his
words as if they had been a voice from Heaven, and cherished the
hope which they held out to her.

Monica was much against Augustine's plan of removing to Rome; but he
slipped away and went on shipboard while she was praying in a chapel
by the seaside, which was called after the name of St. Cyprian.
Having got to Rome, he opened a school there, as he had done at
Carthage; but he found that the Roman youth, although they were not
so rough as those of Carthage, had another very awkward habit--
namely, that, after having heard a number of his lectures, they
disappeared without paying for them. While he was in distress on
this account, the office of a public teacher at Milan was offered to
him, and he was very glad to take it. While at Rome, he had a bad
illness, but he did not at that time wish or ask for baptism as he
had done when sick in his childhood.

The great St. Ambrose was then Bishop of Milan. Augustine had heard
so much of his fame, that he went often to hear him, out of
curiosity to know whether the bishop were really as fine a preacher
as he was said to be; but by degrees, as he listened, he felt a
greater and greater interest. He found, from what Ambrose said, that
the objections by which the Manichaeans had set him against the
Gospel were all mistaken; and, when Monica joined him, after he had
been some time at Milan, she had the delight of finding that he had
given up the Manichaean sect, and was once more a catechumen of the

Augustine had still to fight his way through many difficulties. He
had learnt that the best and highest wisdom of the heathens could
not satisfy his mind and heart; and he now turned again to St.
Paul's epistles, and found that Scripture was something very
different from what he had supposed it to be in the pride of his
youth. He was filled with grief and shame on account of the vileness
of his past life; and these feelings were made still stronger by the
accounts which a friend gave him of the strict and self-denying
ways of Antony and other monks. One day, as he lay in the garden of
his lodging, with his mind tossed to and fro by anxious thoughts, so
that he even wept in his distress, he heard a voice, like that of a
child, singing over and over, "Take up and read! take up and read!"
At first he fancied that the voice came from some child at play; but
he could not think of any childish game in which such words were
used. And then he remembered how St. Antony had been struck by the
words of the Gospel which he heard in church (p 60); and it seemed
to him that the voice, wherever it might come from, was a call of
the same kind to himself. So he eagerly seized the book of St.
Paul's Epistles, which was lying by him, and, as he opened it, the
first words on which his eyes fell were these, --"Let us walk
honestly, as in the day; 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." (Rom. xiii. 13f) And, as he read, the
words all at once sank deeply into his heart, and from that moment
he felt himself another man. As soon as he could do so without being
particularly noticed, he gave up his office of professor and went
into the country, where he spent some months in the company of his
mother and other friends; and at the following Easter (AD 387), he
was baptized by St. Ambrose. The good Monica had now seen the desire
of her heart fulfilled; and she soon after died in peace, as she was
on her way back to Africa, in company with her son.

Augustine, after her death, spent some time at Rome, where he wrote
a book against the Manichaeans, and then, returning to his native
place Thagaste, he gave himself up for three years to devotion and
study. In those days, it was not uncommon that persons who were
thought likely to be useful to the Church should be seized on and
ordained, whether they liked it or not; and if they were expected
to make very strong objections, their mouths were even stopped by
force. Now Augustine's fame grew so great, that he was afraid lest
something of this kind should be done to him; and he did not venture
to let himself be seen in any town where the bishopric was vacant,
lest he should be obliged to become bishop against his will. He
thought, however, that he was safe in accepting an invitation to
Hippo, because it was provided with a bishop named Valerius. But, as
he was one day listening to the bishop's sermon, Valerius began to
say that his church was in want of another presbyter, whereupon the
people laid hold of Augustine, and presented him to the bishop, who
ordained him without heeding his objections (AD 391). And four years
later (AD 395), he was consecrated a bishop, to assist Valerius, who
died soon after.

Augustine was bishop of Hippo for five-and-thirty years, and,
although there were many other sees of greater importance in Africa,
his uncommon talents, and his high character, made him the foremost
man of the African church. He was a zealous and exemplary bishop,
and he wrote a great number of valuable books of many kinds. But the
most interesting of them all is one which may be read in English,
and is of no great length--namely, the "Confessions", in which he
gives an account of the wanderings through which he had been brought
into the way of truth and peace, and humbly gives thanks to God,
whose gracious providence had guarded and guided him.


Augustine had a great many disputes with heretics and others who
separated from the Church, or tried to corrupt its doctrine. But
only two of his controversies need be mentioned here. One of these
was with the Donatists, and the other was with the Pelagians.

The sect of the Donatists had arisen soon after the end of the last
heathen persecution, and was now nearly a hundred years old. We
have seen that St. Cyprian had a great deal of trouble with people
who fancied that, if a man were put to death, or underwent any other
considerable suffering, for the name of Christ, he deserved to be
held in great honour, and his wishes were to be attended to by other
Christians, whatever his character and motives might have been (p
27). The same spirit which led to this mistake continued in Africa
after St Cyprian's time; and thus, when the persecution began there
under Diocletian and Maximian (AD 303--see Chap. IX), great numbers
rushed into danger, in the hope of being put to death, and of so
obtaining at once the blessedness and the glory of martyrdom. Many
of these people were weary of their lives, or in some other respect
were not of such character that they could be reckoned as true
Christian martyrs. The wise fathers of the Church always disapproved
of such foolhardy doings, and would not allow people who acted in a
way so unlike our Lord and His apostle St. Paul to be considered as
martyrs; and Mensurius, who was the bishop of Carthage, stedfastly
set his face against all such things.

One of the ways by which the persecutors hoped to put down the
Gospel, was to get hold of all the copies of the Scriptures, and to
burn them; and they required the clergy to deliver them up. But most
of the officers who had to execute the orders of the emperors did
not know a Bible from any other book; and it is said that, when some
of them came to Mensurius, and asked him to deliver up his books, he
gave them a quantity of books written by heretics, which he had
collected (perhaps with the intention of burning them himself), and
that all the while he had put the Scriptures safely out of the way,
until the tyranny of the heathens should be overpast. When the
persecution was at an end, some of the party whom he had offended by
setting himself against their wrong notions as to martyrdom, brought
up this matter against the bishop. They said that his account of it
was false, that the books which he had given up were not what he
said, but that he had really given up the Scriptures; and that, even
if his story were true, he had done wrong in using such deceit. They
gave the name of "traditors" (or, as we should say, "traitors," from
a Latin word meaning someone who hands something over) to those who
confessed that they had been frightened into giving up the
Scriptures; and they were for showing no mercy to any traditor,
however much he night repent of his weakness.

This severe party, then, tried to get up an opposition to Mensurius.
They found, however, that they could make nothing of it. But when he
died, and then Caecilian, who had been his archdeacon and his
righthand man, was chosen bishop in his stead, these people made a
great outcry, and set up another bishop of their own against him.
All sorts of people who had taken offence at Caecilian or Mensurius
thought this a fine opportunity for having their revenge; and thus a
strong party was formed. It was greatly helped by the wealth of a
lady named Lucilla, whom Caecilian had reproved for the
superstitious habit of kissing a bone, which she supposed to have
belonged to some martyr, before communicating at the Lord's table.
The first bishop of the party was one Majorinus, who had been a
servant of some sort to Lucilla; and, when Majorinus was dead, they
set up a second bishop, named Donatus, after whom they were called
Donatists. This Donatus was a clever and a learned man, and lived
very strictly; but he was exceedingly proud and ill-tempered, and
used very violent language against all who differed from him, and
his sect copied his pride and bitterness. Many of them, however,
while they professed to be extremely strict, neglected the plainer
and humbler duties of Christian life.

The Donatists said that every member of their sect must be a saint:
whereas our Lord himself had declared that evil members would always
be mixed with the good in His Church on earth, like tares growing in
a field of wheat, or bad fishes mixed with good ones in a net; and
that the separation of the good from the bad would not take place
until the end of the world (St. Matt. xiii 24-30, 36-43, 47-50). And
they said that their own sect was the only true Church of Christ,
although they had no congregations out of Africa, except one which
was set up to please a rich lady in Spain, and another at Rome.
Whenever they made a convert from the Church, they baptized him
afresh, as if his former baptism were good for nothing. They
pretended to work miracles, and to see visions; and they made a very
great deal of Donatus himself, so as even to pay him honours which
ought not to have been given to any child of man; for they sang
hymns to him, and swore by his grey hairs.

Shortly after Constantine got possession of Africa by his victory
over Maxentius, and declared liberty of religion to the Christians
(AD 311-313, p 37), the Donatists applied to him against the
Catholics (p 44),-- and it was curious that they should have been
the first to call in the emperor as judge in such a matter, because
they were afterwards very violent against the notion of an earthly
sovereign's having any right to concern himself with the management
of religious affairs. Constantine tried to settle the question by
desiring some bishops to judge between the parties; and these
bishops gave judgment in favour of the Catholics. The Donatists were
dissatisfied, and asked for a new trial, whereupon Constantine
gathered a council for the purpose at Arles, in France (AD 314).
This was the greatest council that had at that time been seen: there
were about two hundred bishops at it, and among them were some from
Britain. Here again the decision was against the Donatists, and they
thereupon begged the emperor himself to examine their case; which he
did, and once more condemned them (AD 316). Some severe laws were
then made against them; their churches were taken away; many of them
were banished, and were deprived of all that they had; and they
were even threatened with death, although none of them suffered it
during Constantine's reign.

The emperor, after a while, saw that they were growing wilder and
wilder, that punishment had no effect on them, except to make them
more unmanageable, and that they were not to be treated as
reasonable people. He then did away with the laws against them, and
tried to keep them quiet by kindness, and in the last years of his
reign his hands were so full of the Arian quarrels nearer home that
he had little leisure to attend to the affairs of the Donatists.


After the death of Constantius, Africa fell to the share of his
youngest son, Constans, who sent some officers into the country with
orders to make presents to the Donatists, in the hope of thus
bringing them to join the Church. But Donatus flew out into a great
fury when he heard of this--"What has the emperor to do with the
Church?" he asked; and he forbade the members of his sect (which was
what he meant by "the Church") to touch any of the money that was
offered to them.

By this time a stranger set of wild people called "Circumcellions"
had appeared among the Donatists. They got their name trom two Latin
words which mean "around the cottages"; because, instead of
maintaining themselves by honest labour, they used to go about, like
sturdy beggars, to the cottages of the country people, and demand
whatever they wanted. They were of the poorest class, and very
ignorant, but full of zeal for their religion. But, instead of being
"pure and peaceable", (St. James iii. 17), this religion was fierce
and savage and allowed them to go on without any check, in
drunkenness and all sorts of misconduct. Their women, whom they
called "sacred virgins," were as bad as the men, or worse. Bands of
both sexes used to rove about the country, and keep the peaceable
inhabitants in constant fear. As they went along, they sang or
shouted "Praises be to God!" and this song, says St. Augustine, was
heard with greater dread than the roaring of a lion. At first they
thought that they must not use swords, on account of what our Lord
had said to Peter (St. Matt. xxvi. 52.); so they carried heavy
clubs, which they called "Israels", and with these they used to beat
people, and often so severely as to kill them. But afterwards the
Circumcellions got over their scruples, and armed themselves not
only with swords, but with other weapons of steel, such as spears
and hatchets. They attacked and plundered the churches of the
Catholics, and the houses of the clergy; and they handled any
clergyman whom they could get hold of very roughly. Besides this,
they were fond of interfering in all sorts of affairs. People did
not dare to ask for the payment of debts, or to reprove their slaves
for misbehaviour, lest the Circumcellions should be called in upon
them. And things got to such a pass, that the officers of the law
were afraid to do their duty.

But the Circumcellions were as furious against themselves as against
others. They used to court death in all manner of ways. Sometimes
they stopped travellers on the roads, and desired to be killed,
threatening to kill the travellers if they refused. And if they met
a judge going on his rounds, they threatened him with death if he
would not hand them over to his officers for execution. One judge
whom they assailed in this way played them a pleasant trick. He
seemed quite willing to humour them, and told his officers to bind
them as if for execution; and when he had thus made them harmless
and helpless, instead of ordering them to be put to death, he turned
them loose, leaving them to get themselves unbound as best they
could. Many Circumcellions drowned themselves, rushed into fire, or
threw themselves from rocks and were dashed to pieces; but they
would not put an end to themselves by hanging, because that was the
death of the "traditor" (or "traitor") Judas. The Donatists were not
all so mad as these people, and some of their councils condemned the
practice of self-murder. But it went on nevertheless, and those who
made away with themselves, or got others to kill them in such ways
as have been mentioned, were honoured as martyrs by the more violent
part of the sect.

Constans made three attempts to win over the Donatists by presents,
but they held out against all; and when the third attempt was made,
in the year 347, by means of an officer named Macarius, the
Circumcellions broke out into rebellion, and fought a battle with
the emperor's troops. In this battle the Donatists were defeated,
and two of their bishops, who had been busy in stirring up the
rebels, were among the slain. Macarius then required the Donatists
to join the Church, and threatened them with banishment if they
should refuse, but they were still obstinate: and it would seem that
they were treated hardly by the government, although the Catholic
bishops tried to prevent it. Donatus himself and great numbers of
his followers were sent into banishment; and for a time the sect
appeared to have been put down.


Thus they remained until the death of the emperor Constantius (AD
361), and Donatus had died in the mean time. Julian, on succeeding
to the empire, gave leave to all whom Constantius had banished on
account of religion to return to their homes (p 56). But the
Donatists were not the better for this, as they had not been
banished by Constantius, but by Constans, before Constantius got
possession of Africa: so they petitioned the emperor that they might
be recalled from banishment; and in their petition they spoke of
Julian in a way which disagreed strangely with their general
defiance of governments, and which was especially ill-suited for one
who had forsaken the Christian faith and was persecuting it at that
very time. Julian granted their request, and forthwith they returned
home in great triumph, and committed violent outrages against the
Catholics. They took possession of a number of churches, and,
professing to consider everything that had been used by the
Catholics unclean, they washed the pavement, scraped the walls,
burnt the communion tables, melted the plate, and cast the holy
sacrament to the dogs. They soon became strong throughout the whole
north of Africa, and in one part of it, Numidia, they were stronger
than the Catholics. After the death of Julian, laws were made
against them from time to time, but do not seem to have been carried
out. And although the Donatists quarrelled much among themselves,
and split up into a number of parties, they were still very powerful
in Augustine's day. In his own city of Hippo he found that they were
more in number than the Catholics; and such was their bitter and
pharisaical spirit that the bishop of the sect at Hippo would not
let any of his people so much as bake for their Catholic neighbours.

Augustine did all that he could to make something of the Donatists,
but it was mostly in vain. He could not get their bishops or clergy
to argue with him. They pretended to call themselves "the children
of the martyrs" on account of the troubles which their forefathers
had gone through in the reign of Constans, and they said that the
children of the martyrs could not stoop to argue with sinners and
traditors. Although they professed that their sect was made up of
perfect saints, they took in all sorts of worthless converts for the
sake of swelling their numbers, whereas Augustine would not let any
Donatists join the Church without inquiring into their characters,
and, if he found that they had done anything for which they had been
condemned by their sect to do penance, he insisted that they should
go through a penance before being admitted into the Church.

But, notwithstanding the difficulties which he found in dealing with
them, he and others succeeded in drawing over a great number of
Donatists to the Church. And this made the Circumcellions so furious
that they fell on the Catholic clergy whenever they could find them,
and tried to do them all possible mischief. They beat and mangled
some of them cruelly; they put out the eyes of some by throwing a
mixture of lime and vinegar into their faces; and, among other
things, they laid a plan for waylaying Augustine himself, which,
however, he escaped, through the providence of God. Many reports of
these savage doings were carried to the emperor, Honorius, and some
of the sufferers appeared at his court to tell their own tale:
whereupon the old laws against the sect were revived, and severe new
laws were also made. In these even death was threatened against
Donatists who should molest the Catholics; but Augustine begged that
this penalty might be withdrawn, because the Catholic clergy, who
knew more about the sect than any one else, would not give
information against it, if the punishment of the Donatists were to
be so great. And he and his brethren requested that the emperor
would appoint a meeting to be held between the parties, in order
that they might talk over their differences, and, if possible, might
come to some agreement.

The emperor consented to do so; and a meeting took place
accordingly, at Carthage, in 411, in the presence of a commissioner
named Marcellinus. Two hundred and eighty-six Catholic bishops found
their way to the city by degrees. But the Donatists, who were two
hundred and seventy-nine in number, entered it in a body, thinking
to make all the effect that they could by the show of a great
procession. At the conference (or meeting), which lasted three days,
the Donatists behaved with their usual pride and insolence. When
Marcellinus begged them to sit down, they refused, because our Lord
had stood before Pilate. On being again asked to seat themselves,
they quoted a text from the Psalms, "I will not sit with the wicked"
(Ps. xxvi. 5); meaning that the Catholics were the wicked, and that
they themselves were too good to sit in such company. And when
Augustine called them "brethren," they cried out in anger that they
did not own any such brotherhood. They tried to throw difficulties
in the way of arguing the question fairly; but on the third day
their shifts would serve them no longer. Augustine then took the
lead among the Catholics, and showed at great length both how
wrongly the Donatists had behaved in the beginning of their
separation from the Church, and how contrary to Scripture their
principles were.

Marcellinus, who had been sent by the emperor to hear both parties,
gave judgment in favour of the Catholics. Such of the Donatist
bishops and clergy as would join the Church were allowed to keep
possession of their places; but the others were to be banished.
Augustine had at first been against the idea of trying to force
people in matters of religion. But he saw that many were brought by
these laws to join the Church, and after a time he came to think
that such laws were good and useful; nay, he even tried to find a
Scripture warrant for them in the text, "Compel them to come in"
(St. Luke xiv. 23). And thus, unhappily, this great and good man was
led to lend his name to the grievous error of thinking that force,
or even persecution, may be used rightly, and with good effect, in
matters of religion. It was one of the mistakes to which people are
liable when they form their opinions without having the opportunity
of seeing how things work in the long run, and on a large scale. We
must regret that Augustine seemed in any way to countenance such
means; but even although he erred in some measure as to this, we may
be sure that he would have abhorred the cruelties which have since
been done under pretence of maintaining the true religion, and of
bringing people to embrace it.

While some of the Donatists were thus brought over to the Church,
others became more outrageous than ever. Many of them grew
desperate, and made away with themselves. One of their bishops
threatened that, if he were required by force to join the Catholics,
he should shut himself up in a church with his people, and that they
would then set the building on fire and perish in the flames. There
were many among the Donatists who would have been mad enough to do a
thing of this kind; but it would seem that the bishop was not put to
the trial which he expected.

The Donatists dwindled away from this time, and were little heard
of after Augustine's days, although there were still some in Africa
two hundred years later, as we learn from the letters of St Gregory
the Great.


Of all the disputes in which Augustine was engaged, that with the
Pelagians was the most famous. The leader of these people, Pelagius,
was a Briton. His name would mean, either in Latin or in Greek, a
"man of the sea," and it is said that his British name was Morgan--
meaning the same as the Greek or Latin name. Pelagius was the first
native of our own island who gained fame as a writer or as a divine;
but his fame was not of a desirable kind, as it arose from the
errors which he ran into. He was a man of learning, and of strict
life; and at Rome, where he spent many years, he was much respected,
until in his old age he began to set forth opinions which brought
him into the repute of a heretic. At Rome he became acquainted with
a man named Celestius, who is said by some to have been an Italian,
while others suppose him an Irishman. It is not known whether
Celestius learnt his opinions from Pelagius, or whether each of them
had come to think in the same way before they knew one another. But,
however this may be, they became great friends, and joined in
teaching the same errors.

Augustine, as we have seen, had passed through such trials of the
spirit that he thoroughly felt the need of God's gracious help in
order to do, or even to will, any good thing. Pelagius, on the
contrary, seems to have always gone on steadily in the way of his
religion. Now this was really a reason why he should have thanked
that grace and mercy of God which had spared him the dangers and the
terrible sufferings which others have to bear in the course of their
spiritual life. But unhappily Pelagius overlooked the help of grace.
He owned, indeed, that all is from God; but, instead of
understanding that the power of doing any good, or of avoiding any
sin, is the especial gift of the Holy Spirit, he fancied that the
power of living without sin was given to us by God as a part of our
nature. He saw that some people make a wrong use of the doctrine of
our natural corruption. He saw that, instead of throwing the blame
of their sins on their own neglect of the grace which is offered to
us through Christ, they spoke of the weakness and corruption of
their nature as if these were an excuse for their sins. This was,
indeed, a grievous error, and one which Pelagius would have done
well to warn people against. But, in condemning it, he went far
wrong in an opposite way: he said that man's nature is not corrupt;
that it is nothing the worse for the fall of our first parents; that
man can be good by his own natural power, without needing any higher
help; that men might live without sin, and that many have so lived.
These notions of his are mentioned and are condemned in the ninth
Article of our own Church, where it is said that "Original sin
standeth not in the following of Adam, as the Pelagians do vainly
talk" [that is to say, original sin is not merely the actual
imitation of Adam's sin]; "but it is the fault and corruption of the
nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of
Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness"
[that is, he is very far gone from that righteousness which Adam had
at the first]. And then it is said in the next Article--"The
condition of man, after the fall of Adam, is such that he cannot
turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works
to faith and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good
works, pleasing and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by
Christ preventing us [or "going before" us], that we may have a good
will, and working with us when we have that good will." Thus at
every step there is a need of grace from above to help us on the way
of salvation.

After Rome had been taken by the Goths, in the year 410 (p 93),
Pelagius and Celestius passed over into Africa, from which
Pelagius, after a short stay, went into the Holy Land. Celestius
tried to get himself ordained by the African church; but objections
were made to him, and a council was held which condemned and
excommunicated him. Augustine was too busy with the Donatists to
attend this council; but he was very much alarmed by the errors of
the new teachers, and soon took the lead in writing against them,
and in opposing them by other means.

Pelagius was examined by some councils in the Holy Land, and
contrived to persuade them that there was nothing wrong in his
doctrines. He and Celestius even got a bishop of Rome, Zosimus, to
own them as sound in the faith, and to reprove the African bishops
for condemning them. The secret of this was, that Pelagius used
words in a crafty way, which neither the synods in the Holy Land nor
the bishop of Rome suspected. When be was charged with denying the
need of grace, he said that he owned it to be necessary; but,
instead of using the word grace in its right meaning, to signify the
working of the Holy Spirit on the heart, he used it as a name for
other means by which God helps us; such as the power which Pelagius
supposed to be bestowed on us as a part of our nature; the
forgiveness of our sins in baptism; the offer of salvation, the
knowledge and instruction given to us through Holy Scripture, or in
other ways. By such tricks the Pelagians imposed on the bishop of
Rome and others; but the Africans, with Augustine at their head,
stood firm. They steadily maintained that Pelagius and Celestius
were unsound in their opinions; they told Zosimus that he had no
right to meddle with Africa, and that he had been altogether
deceived by the heretics. So, after a while, the bishop of Rome took
quite the opposite line, and condemned Pelagius with his followers;
and they were also condemned in several councils, of which the most
famous was the General Council of Ephesus, held in the year 431.
Augustine did great service in opposing these dangerous doctrines;
but in doing so, he said some things as to God's choosing of his
elect, and predestinating them (or "marking them out beforehand")
to salvation, which are rather startling, and might lead to serious
error. But as to this deep and difficult subject, I shall content
myself with quoting a few words from our Church's seventeenth
Article--"We must receive God's promises in such wise as they be
generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture; and in our doings, that
will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared to
us in the word of God."


Augustine was still busied in the Pelagian controversy when a
fearful calamity burst upon his country. The commander of the troops
in Africa, Boniface, had been an intimate friend of his, and had
been much under his influence. A rival of Boniface, Aetius,
persuaded the empress, Placidia, who governed in the name of her
young son, Valentinian the Third, to recall the general from Africa;
and at the same time he persuaded Boniface to disobey her orders,
telling him that his ruin was intended. Boniface, who was a man of
open and generous mind, did not suspect the villainy of Aetius; and,
as the only means of saving himself, he rebelled against the
emperor, and invited the Vandals from Spain to invade Africa. These
Vandals were a savage nation, which had overrun part of Spain about
twenty years before. They now gladly accepted Boniface's invitation,
and passed in great numbers into Africa, where the Moors joined
them, and the Donatists eagerly seized the opportunity of avenging
themselves on the Catholics, by assisting the invaders. The country
was laid waste, and the Catholic clergy were treated with especial
cruelty, both by the Vandals (who were Arians) and by the Donatists.

Augustine had urged Boniface to return to his duty as a subject of
the empire. Boniface, who was disgusted by the savage doings of the
Vandals, and had discovered the tricks by which Aetius had tempted
him to revolt, begged the Vandal leader Genseric to return to Spain;
but he found that he had rashly raised a power which he could not
manage, and the barbarians laughed at his entreaties. As he could
not prevail with them by words, he fought a battle with them; but he
was defeated, and he then shut himself up in Augustine's city,

During all these troubles Augustine was very active in writing
letters of exhortation to his brethren, and in endeavouring to
support them under their trials. And when Hippo was crowded by a
multitude of all kinds, who had fled to its walls for shelter, he
laboured without ceasing among them. In June, 430, the Vandals laid
siege to the place, and soon after, the bishop fell sick in
consequence of his labours. He felt that his end was near, and he
wished, during his short remaining time, to be free from
interruption in preparing for death. He therefore would not allow
his friends to see him, except at the hours when he took food or
medicine. He desired that the penitential psalms--(the seven Psalms
which are read in church on Ash Wednesday, and which especially
express sorrow for sin)-- should be hung up within his sight, and he
read them over and over, shedding floods of tears as he read. On the
28th of August, 430, he was taken to his rest, and in the following
year Hippo fell into the hands of the Vandals, who thus became
masters of the whole of northern Africa.