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Augustinian Studies

Volume 52, Issue 1, 2021

Alexander H. PierceOrcid-ID
Pages 19-41

From emergency practice to Christian polemics? Augustine’s invocation of infant baptism in the Pelagian Controversy

In this article, I build upon Jean-Albert Vinel’s account of Augustine’s “liturgical argument” against the Pelagians by exploring how and why Augustine uses both the givenness of the practice of infant baptism and its ritual components as evidence for his theological conclusions in opposition to those of the Pelagians. First, I explore infant baptism in the Roman North African Church before and during Augustine’s ministry. Second, I interpret Augustine’s rhetorical adaptation of the custom in his attempt to delineate the defining characteristics of Catholic Christianity in the early fifth century. I show how Augustine mobilizes his belief in the efficacy of the Church’s practice of infant baptism to make explicit a boundary marker of “Catholic” Christianity, which was long implicit in the practice itself. Perceiving the consequences of Pelagianism, Augustine organizes his anti-Pelagian soteriology around the central node of infant baptism, the most theologically and rhetorically strategic means by which he could refute the Pelagian heresy and underwrite what he understood to be the traditional vision of sin and salvation evident in the baptismal rite.