« Prodicus, a Gnostic teacher Prosper, St., a native of Aquitaine Proterius, St., patriarch of Alexandria »

Prosper, St., a native of Aquitaine

Prosper (4), St., a native of Aquitaine, not certainly known to have been in holy orders; probably born c. 403. About 426–429 he removed to Marseilles, where he lived as a monk until 440. Some time between 420 and 427 John Cassian put forth in his Collationes a doctrine concerning grace and free will contrary to that taught by St. Augustine. This doctrine was taken up warmly by many monks at Marseilles, and both Prosper and Hilary (as to whom see further on), afraid lest a doctrine they believed erroneous should become prevalent among the monks, were thinking of writing to Augustine to request him to explain some of his statements. In the meantime came out Augustine's Correptione et Gratia, by which Prosper hoped all doubts would be settled. But those who thought differently only became more obstinate in their opposition. Although Prosper had never seen Augustine, he had written to him by Leontius, a deacon, and received a reply, but neither letter nor reply has survived. He now wrote again to him in 428, as also did Hilary, and his reply to these letters is contained in the consecutive treatises de Praedestinatione Sanctorum and de Dono Perseverantiae, written either in 428 or 429 (see Aug. Epp. 225, 226; and Opp. vol. x. pp. 947–1034, ed. Migne). [AUGUSTINE.] Augustine died a.d. 430, and the opponents of his doctrine in Gaul professing willingness to abide by the decision of the Roman pontiff, Hilary and Prosper went to Rome and brought back a letter from Celestine I. to the Gallic bishops, Venerius of Marseilles, Marinus, Leontius of Fréjus, Auxentius of Nice, Auxonius of Viviers, and Arcadius of Venice. In this he speaks of Hilary and Prosper as men "quorum circa Deum nostrum solicitudo laudanda est," and reproved, but without effect, the indiscretion and ill-informed zeal of their opponents (Coelest. Ep. xxi. 1, 2). To this letter are subjoined in some editions a series of so-called decisions of the apostolic see concerning grace and free will, which, however, cannot be regarded as authentic. When Leo I. returned from his mission into Gaul, a.d. 440, to be made pope, he persuaded Prosper to accompany him to Rome, and employed him as his secretary (notarius). Photius says that he confuted the Pelagians at Rome in the time of Leo, and a MS. of the monastery of Corbey adds, but without mention of authority, that he was sent by him on a similar errand into Campania to oppose Julian of Eclanum. Gennadius says that he was the real author of the epistle of Leo against Eutyches concerning the incarnation of Christ. The chronicle of Marcellinus shews him alive in 463. Fulgentius (ad. Mon. i. c. 30) speaks of him as "eruditus et Sanctus"; Photius (Biblioth. 54) as one who was truly a man of God, but with no other title than Πρόσπειρός τις, who confuted the Pelagians in the time of Leo. Gennadius, no friend to him, speaks of him (de Scr. Ecc. 84) as "sermone scholasticus et assertionibus nervosus" (Butler, Lives of Saints, June 25; Ceillier, vol. x. p. 278). The letter of Prosper to Augustine describes the view taken at Marseilles and elsewhere concerning predestination. Those who adopted it, he says, believe that mankind has sinned in Adam, and that without God's grace there can be no salvation for any one. God offers salvation to all, so that they who attain faith and receive baptism are in the way of being saved. But before the creation of the world God foreknew who would believe and be saved, and predestined them to His kingdom, being called by grace and worthy of being chosen and of going out of life sound in faith. No man, therefore, need despair of salvation, but this selection on God's part makes human exertion needless either for recovery from sin or for progress in holiness. Thus a doctrine of fatal necessity is introduced. They also think that men can by their own merit, by praying, beseeching, knocking, attain that state of grace in which we are born anew unto Christ. Infants dying without baptism will be saved or not according as God foreknows what their conduct would have been if they had grown up. Christ died for the whole race of mankind, but some miss this salvation because they are known beforehand to have no inclination to receive it. They also deny that the merits of saints proceed from divine grace, and that the number of the elect can be either increased or diminished, and they assert that the only way in which a man is called either to repentance or to progress in holiness is by the exercise of his own free will. They thus place obedience before grace, and the first step towards salvation in him who is to be saved, not in Him Who saves. Great difficulties arise, Prosper says, in his attempts to convince the holders of these opinions of their errors, from his own want of ability and from the great and acknowledged sanctity of their lives, a remark which he probably intends especially of Cassian; and also from the elevation of some of them to the highest office in the church. He therefore begs Augustine to explain (a) how Christian faith can escape division through these disputes; (b) how free will can be independent of prevenient grace; (c) whether God's foreknowledge is absolute and complete; (d) whether foreknowledge depends in any way on human purpose, and whether there can be any good which does not proceed from God; (e) how those who despair of their own election can escape carelessness of life. He asks him to explain all this in a way consistent with God's previous ordinance of vessels of honour and dishonour. One of these men, Hilary, bp. of Arles, is known to Augustine as an admirer of his doctrine and as wishing to compare his own view with his 865by writing to him, but whether he will do so or not Prosper does not know (Aug. Ep. 225).

The letter of Prosper was accompanied or very soon followed by one on the same subject by Hilary, concerning whom three opinions have been held: (1) That he was the bp. of Arles mentioned by Prosper; (2) that he was a lay monk of Gaul; (3) that he was the Hilary who wrote to Augustine from Syracuse, a.d. 414. That he was a lay monk appears tolerably clear. Augustine replied in the de Praed. and de Don. Persev., which are really consecutive volumes of one work.

About the same time Prosper wrote an answer on the same subject to a friend named Ruffinus or Rufinus, about whom nothing is known except that Prosper addresses him as Sanctitas tua, perhaps implying a member of a religious community. He wrote partly to vindicate himself from unfavourable reports as to his doctrine, partly to direct his attention to the writings of Augustine and clear them from the accusation of denying free will and setting up Manichean doctrine. The line of argument against Pelagian or semi-Pelagian views is much the same as in the letter to Augustine, but he also mentions the cases of Cornelius and Lydia as instances of persons who had been led by God's grace into the way of eternal life, and as not by any means favouring the Pelagian theory. Why all men are not saved is a mystery of God's, not explicable by, human understanding, and of which we may be thankful to be ignorant (Ep. ad Rufin.; for a long account of which see Ceillier, vol. x. 279–284).

Prosper also wrote or compiled several works in prose and verse.

I. VERSE.—The longest is the poem de Ingratis, a term by which he describes those who teach erroneous doctrine about grace, viz. the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians. It is explained clearly in v. 685:

"Vos soli Ingrati, quos urit gratia, cujus

Omne opus arbitrio vultis consistere vestro."

It consists of 1002 lines with a short elegiac preface, and is divided into four parts. A theological treatise in verse rather than a poem, it describes accurately the history of the Pelagian doctrine, whose author it calls "coluber Britannus," and mentions the treatment his opinions met at Rome, in the Eastern church and in Africa through the influence mainly of Augustine, "the light of the age." The manner in which the Roman church is spoken of is worthy of notice, v. 40:

" . . . pestem subeuntum prima recidit

Sedes Roma Petri, quae pastoralis honoris

Facta caput mundo, quidquid non possidet armis

Religione tenet.'

Though without any claim to high rank as poetry, and exhibiting, though in a less degree than does Paulinus, the degenerate standard of its age in language and versification, it treats its subject with well-sustained vigour and generally with clearness, and now and then expresses theological truths, though perhaps with severity, yet with remarkable force and terseness. Ampère condemns what he considers its violence, its hard, melancholy, and desponding tone, amounting sometimes "to a pale reflection of hell." He also points out a similarity in its sentiment to some works of Pascal and the Port-Royalists, which he contrasts unfavourably with the tone of Bossuet in his essay on the fear of God (Hist. litt. de France, vol. ii. c. 16, pp. 38–58).

There are other poems of an epigrammatic kind, generally regarded as genuine works of Prosper, though doubted by some editors. Two of them, doubted by Garnier, are addressed to a maligner (obtrectatorem) of St. Augustine. Another, entitled Conjugis ad Uxorem, is in some edd. of Paulinus's works, but is quoted by Bede in his treatise de Arte Metrica as the work of Prosper Tiro. It consists of 16 lines of Anacreontic metre, followed by 98 elegiac lines, describing the glory of the Christian life and having some passages of considerable force and beauty both of thought and expression. It was evidently composed during the confusion and disaster caused by the barbarian invasions, hence c. 407, but there is no evidence to shew that Prosper of Aquitaine was ever married, and if not besides the improbability arising from its date, the poem is not likely to be his composition.

II. PROSE.—(1) Responsiones pro Augustino ad Capitula Gallorum. A statement under 15 heads of the objections of the Gallic bishops to the doctrines of St. Augustine on Predestination, with answers to each. (2) Responsiones ad Capitula Objectionum Vincentianarum. A similar work in 16 chapters. The objections express, in a manner harsh, revolting, and unfair, the possible results of predestinarian doctrine carried to its extreme point. (3) Responsiones ad Excerpta Genuensium.—Some clergymen of Genoa had misunderstood various passages from the two treatises of St. Augustine, de Praedestinatione Sanctorum, and de Dono Perseverantiae, and to them Prosper addresses a courteous explanation, quoting passages cited by them and adding his own replies, gathered in some cases from the words of Augustine, and in one case pointing out an egregious blunder made by them in quoting as his opinion words intended to express an opponent's objection. (4) Contra Collatorem. John Cassian had written a book entitled Spiritual Conferences (Collationes), 17 in number, in the 13th of which, entitled de Protectione Dei, he condemned severely Augustine's doctrine on predestination. This is defended by Prosper partly by arguments drawn from Scripture and the nature of the case, and partly by the authority of the churches of Rome, the East, and Africa. He warns his adversary of his near approach to the precipices of Pelagianism, and expresses the hope that his doctrine may be condemned by the present pontiff Sixtus (432–440), as it had been by those before him. The book must have been published between those dates. (5) An Exposition of Pss. c. to cl., (omitting cvii. [cviii.]), taken substantially and often verbally, though much abridged, from St. Augustine's Enarrationes in Psalmos; not a mere servile curtailment, but a fair and judicious representation, executed with great skill, of the Augustinian work, together with some additions of Prospers own, probably published c. 435. (6) Book of Sentences taken from the Works of St. Augustine, 392 in number, put together, probably, originally as a manual 866for his own use. They are very short, and are a sort of compendious index to the opinions of St. Augustine. Other works are assigned to Prosper, but on insufficient authority.

(6 a) The Chronicle, probably the best known of the works of Prosper, is attributed to him without hesitation by Cassiodorus, Gennadius of Marseilles, Victorius, and Isidore, though Pithou and Garnier doubted it. It extends from the earliest age to the capture of Rome by the Vandals, a.d. 455, and consists of three parts: (1) To a.d. 326, founded, as it states, on that of Eusebius, and though much abridged, treating the subject with some independence. (2) From 326 to 378, which uses similarly Jerome's continuation of Eusebius, with both additions and omissions. (3) From 378 to 455. As might be expected, predominance is given to ecclesiastical events, especially such as concern the rise and fall of heretical doctrines. The Chronicle arose out of an endeavour to fix the date of Easter, for which purpose Prosper constructed a Paschal cycle now lost.

(b) Chronicle of Tiro Prosper. Besides the Chronicle just described, another much shorter and relating to the latest period only, bearing the name of Prosper, was edited by Pierre Pithou in 1588 from MSS. in the library of the monastery of St. Victor at Paris. It is difficult to believe that the two Chronicles could be by the same writer, or if they were, to understand why he published both, as must have been the case, about the same timer It is much more probable that Prosper of Aquitaine and Tiro Prosper, despite an apparently mistaken statement of Bede, were different persons.

The best ed. of Prosper's collected works, by Desprez and Desessarts (Paris, 1711), contains all the works rightly attributed to Prosper, together with others not belonging to him, and various pieces relating to the semi-Pelagian controversy. It is revised and reprinted in Migne's Patr. Lat. vol. li. See L. Valentin, St. Prosper d’Aquitaine (Paris, 1900).

[H.W.P.]

« Prodicus, a Gnostic teacher Prosper, St., a native of Aquitaine Proterius, St., patriarch of Alexandria »





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