Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Prosper of Aquitain, Confessor

Article

A.D. 463.

Saint Prosper is surnamed of Aquitain, to distinguish him from a bishop of Orleans, and others of the same name. His birth is usually placed in the year 403. His works show that in his youth he had happily applied himself to the studies of grammar, and all the branches both of polite and sacred learning. On account of the purity and sanctity of his manners, he is called by those of his age, a holy and venerable man. Having left Aquitain, his native country, he was settled in Provence, and probably at Marseilles, when Saint Austin’s book on Correction and Grace was brought thither. Certain priests and others of that country had been offended at that father’s writings against the Pelagians, pretending that the necessity of divine grace, which he established with the Catholic church, destroyed free-will. They granted it to be clear from faith and holy scriptures, that no good action conducive to eternal life can be done without a co-operating supernatural succour of grace; but they thought it a necessary condition to free-will in man, that the beginning or first desire of faith, or any other supernatural virtues and actions, (which being grounded upon faith, lead to eternal life,) should be the work of free-will, without the aid of grace; using the comparison of a sick man, who first desires a cure himself, by which desire he is moved to call in a physician. This error was called Semipelagianism, and in reality gave the glory of virtue to the creature in its first motion or desire, contrary to the doctrine of the Apostle and of Christ himself. Saint Austin’s book on Correction and Grace, served only to make them louder in their complaints. Hilary, a holy, zealous, and learned layman, an acquaintance of Saint Austin, undertook the defence of his works, and of the faith of the church, and engaged Saint Prosper in the same cause. Our saint does not appear to have been any more than a layman; but his virtue, extraordinary talents, and learning, rendered him a proper person to oppose the progress of heresy. By the advice of Hilary he wrote to Saint Austin, informing him of the errors of these priests of Marseilles; and that holy doctor compiled two books to confute and instruct them; the first, On the Predestination of the Saints; the second, On the Gift of Perseverance. Hilary had also written to him on the same subject. This happened in 428 and 429.

These two books were sufficient to convince the Semipelagians, but did not convert their hearts. They therefore had recourse to calumny, and accused Saint Austin and his friends of teaching a necessitating grace which destroys free-will. One Rufinus, a friend of Saint Prosper, surprised at these reports, desired to be informed by him of the state of the question. The saint answered him by a letter yet extant, in which he explains the holy faith which they defended, and the errors and slanders of their enemies. The Semipelagians declared that they would stand by the decisions of the pope. Prosper and Hilary, out of a motive of zeal, went as far as Rome; and Pope Celestine, upon their information, wrote a dogmatical letter to the bishop of Marseilles and other neighbouring prelates against those enemies of grace, in which he highly commends the doctrine of Saint Austin. This happened after the death of that holy doctor in 431. The troubles were not yet appeased; and our saint saw himself under a necessity of entering the lists with his pen. His poem on the Ungrateful, seems to have appeared about the year 431. By that name he meant the Semipelagians, who were ungrateful to the divine grace, though they were not then cut off from the communion of the church. This work, the masterpiece of our saint, is written in most elegant verse. He says in it, that the see of Saint Peter, fixed at Rome, presides over the whole world, possessing by religion what it had never subdued by arms. He most beautifully demonstrates the necessity of grace, especially for divine love. He has left us several other lesser works.

Saint Leo the Great being chosen pope in 440, invited Saint Prosper to Rome, made him his secretary, and employed him in the most important affairs of the church. Our saint crushed the Pelagian heresy, which began again to raise its head in that capital. Photius ascribes its final overthrow to the zeal, learning, and unwearied endeavours of Saint Prosper. 5 Marcellinus in his chronicle, speaks of him as still living in 463. His name occurs in the Roman Martyrology on this day. A complete edition of his works was procured at Paris by M. Maugeant, in folio, in 1711, with his life translated from the Memoirs of Tillemont. F. John Salinas, a canon regular of the Congregation of Saint John of Lateran, has published in Rome in 1732, a new correct edition of the works of Saint Prosper and of Saint Honoratus of Marseilles, in 8vo. Dr. Peter Francis Foggini having published at Rome in 1754, the treatises of Saint Austin on Grace, in two small volumes, (reprinted at Paris in 1757) to complete this collection in a third volume are added the works of Saint Prosper under this title: S. Prosperi Aquitani, S. Leonis M. Notarii de Gratiâ Dei, Opera Omnia. Editionem Variis Lectionibus, Præcipuè e Cod. MSS. Vaticanis, Adornatam Curavit P. F. F. Romæ, 1758, in 8vo. Le Maître de Sacy has given us Saint Prosper’s Poem on the Ungrateful, in French verse.

Without the succour of divine grace we can do nothing, we cannot so much as form one good thought conducive to eternal life, nor take the least step towards God by supernatural virtue. “As the eye of the body, though perfectly sound, cannot see unless it be assisted by the light, so neither can a man live well but by the eternal light which is derived from God,” as Saint Austin says. God, who desires that all men be saved, offers this treasure to every one, enlightening every man that cometh into this world. If we neglect to pay assiduously for this divine succour, if we are not solicitous faithfully to preserve and improve this most excellent gift of God, we are Pelagians in conduct, though we condemn their erroneous principles; for we ungratefully despise the divine mercy, destroy in our souls the principle of our spiritual life, and of eternal glory, and trample under our feet the price of Christ’s sacred blood. The graces which we reject, are seeds which would fructify to a hundred-fold: they are talents, which if put out to the banker, would be multiplied: faithfully corresponded with, they would make us saints; but the abuse of them will be our greatest crime, and our heaviest condemnation. Woe to thee, Corosain, etc.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint Prosper of Aquitain, Confessor”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 25 June 2013. Web. 25 September 2017. <>