chapter sixteen

The Fourth Century: 350-400 The Arian Threat in the West: The Augustinian Era

    Continuing to cover the Doctors of the Church during this time period, we expand into the 5th Century to treat one of the greatest and most influential Doctors in Church History, Saint Augustine. For more on this saint we refer you to the Liturgy of Saints in this issue since we celebrate his feast on August 28. Here we will deal with his adult life and the heresies he fought plus his influence on Holy Mother Church.

    As we saw in the last installment, the Ambrosian influence had the greatest impact on Augustine. Born Aurelius Augustinus, he had spent years searching. Always a man of great intelligence with a deep love for learning, Augustine completed his studies at the University of Carthage. There he had led a raucous life sowing his oats, so to speak with no thought of morality despite his mother Saint Monica's prayers and counsel to obey God's laws. But Augustine was swept into the liberal collegiate vortex which contributed to his problems for he realized in his heart the life he was leading was leading nowhere. In his search for the truth he took a detour by embracing the fallacies of Manichaeism, which taught that there were two first principles, one good, the other bad; that each man had a good and a bad soul. This philosophy forbade marriage, denied human liberty, original sin, the necessity of Baptism or faith, and the authority of the Old Testament. Though it originated with a Persian named Mani around 242, it gave root to other such heresies as Albigensianism and Catharism. Also, though it didn't come to the surface until the mid 3rd Century, Saint Paul warned of this in 1 Timothy 4: 1-10, specifically "Now the Spirit expressly says that in after times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of devils, speaking lies hypocritically, and having their conscience branded. They will forbid marriage, and will enjoin abstinence from foods, which God has created to be partaken of with thanksgiving by the faithful and by those who know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected that is accepted with thanksgiving. For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer."

    Augustine's teaching style was laced with the philosophy of Manichaeism and left its mark on numerous students, first in his own home town of Tagaste in what is today Algeria, then while teaching law at Carthage, and following that in Rome and finally at the University in Milan. It was there he became disenchanted with Manichaeism, realizing it didn't work, there was something missing. This led to even greater skepticism on his part and he delved deeper into his everending search for the truth which took him down the road of philosophy of Plato. This in turn brought him closer to Christianity. It was his meeting with Saint Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan who drew humongous crowds to his sermons, that triggered something in the brilliant mind of Augustine and he started studying the New Testament with a fine-tooth comb, specifically the Epistles of St. Paul. Slowly he realized this was the road to travel and so applied as a catechumen. So excited he was over his "discovery", that he wrote his mother in Tagaste to join him in Milan. Overjoyed that her prayers had finally been answered, Monica journeyed across the Mediterranean up the coast to the northern city where she joined her son at his Baptism by Bishop Ambrose. Afterwards, he decided to head back to northern Africa to right the wrongs he had wrought. Accompanied by his mother they began their trek by traveling to Rome. There in Ostia, while waiting for their ship, God called Monica home.

    Realizing she was in Heaven, Augustine rejoiced at her good fortune but, berating himself for wasting so much time away from the Church, resolved to make up for lost time. He gathered friends and formed a religious community in Tagaste. A few years later on a visit to the city of Hippo, the Bishop there strongly suggested Augustine become a priest, even promising him a plot of land on which to build a monastery. Augustine could see that this was truly God's will and followed through on his late vocation. Shortly after his ordination the Bishop of Hippo died and Augustine was chosen to succeed the man who had encouraged him. Because Hippo was a little diocese, Augustine gathered all the priests and ministered to them regularly, which was made easier since he invited all to live in community with him where the spirit of simplicity and poverty ruled amidst great spirituality.

    This atmosphere also enabled Augustine to return to what he loved best - writing. Because he knew the intracies and pitfalls of Manichaeism, he realized God had chosen him to rebuke this heresy by revealing its fallacies to all. He wrote incessantly and the more he wrote, the more he realized there were other heresies that needed to be unmasked such as Pelagianism which evolved shortly after 400 AD by a British monk Pelagius. Pelagianism held that Adam was created to die, whether he had sinned or not; that his sin injured only himself; that infants are born without original sin which consequently makes baptism unnecessary. It also taught that concupiscence was not evil nor were ignorance or forgetfulness sins, and that death and the miseries of life were not the punishment of sin. This heresy further asserted that those who die without baptism enjoy eternal life, but not in Heaven which was a contradiction of their claim baptism wasn't needed; also that man's liberty is as strong now as before the fall and if he wished, man could have it in his own power to control all passions since virtue was not the gift of God. Augustine, along with Saint Germanus, were the staunchest defenders of the faith against Pelagianism. Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre was hand-picked by Pope Innocent I to stifle this heresy in England while Augustine concentrated on northern Africa and the Holy Lands. In 412 at the Council of Carthage Pelagianism was officially condemned and again in Diospolis in 415 and finally in 417 in a strong papal bull by Innocent I. It was written into canon law at the Council of Ephesus in 431, a year after the death of Augustine.

    After writing his own autobiography entitled "Confessions", in which Augustine beautifully detailed his early life and struggles to find God and true grace which has become one of the great spiritual readings of all times, he wrote the thought-provoking and enthralling "The City of God" which treats the conflict between the Kingdom of God and satan's hold and how, in the end, the Church would triumph by bringing both spiritual salvation and temporal happiness to those who keep the faith. Augustine wrote several other essays and works as he fought such other heresies as Nestorianism and Semipelagianism. The former preached that there were two persons in Jesus Christ; that the Son of God was not Son of Man, so that Jesus Christ was the Son of God only by adoption. The heretic Nestorius held that the Blessed Virgin Mary was not the Mother of God, as her Son was not in His Own Person, God. The latter heresy - Semipelagianism - proposed that man, by his own power, could merit the first grace necessary for salvation, when God decided to call Augustine home to be reunited with his saintly mother Monica. While refuting these heresies by asserting that the Church holds that grace must come from God and that Jesus Christ was indeed both God and man,

    Augustine died after 35 years of defending the true faith as Bishop of Hippo. One of the greatest Doctors and Fathers of the Church, Augustine's works have weathered the test of time and become ever more popular and theologically sound today as in his day.

    During the Augustinian Era there were seven popes. We've already treated those at the end of the 4th Century. Now we will discuss the four pontiffs of the early 5th Century beginning with Pope Saint Innocent I who was born in Albano near Rome, becoming the 40th in the line of Peter on December 22, 401. During his pontificate the Goths, led by Alaric sacked Rome. Innocent also ended the link between old Rome and the new Rome by convincing the Emperor Honorius to prohibit gladiatorial contests in the arena. On the liturgical side, he established the observance of the Roman rite throughout the western Church.

    He died on March 12, 417 and was succeed by Pope Saint Zosimas less than a week later on March 18, 417. The rule of this 41st successor of Peter was just under two years as he succumbed on December 26, 418. His short pontificate was marked by very strict morals and an insistence of Church rights over foreign interests. He ordained that illegitimate children could not be raised to the priesthood and was a strong endorser of the missions, sending apostolic representatives to the Franks.

    Pope Saint Boniface I followed Zosimas on December 28, 418. Yet his consecration was delayed for several months because of the opposition mounted by the antipope Eulalius. The ruler Charles of Ravenna threw even another monkey wrench in the works by questioning the whole process. This, sadly, was the beginning of secular power interference in the election of popes. Boniface died on September 4, 422.

    He was followed by Pope Saint Celestine I who was elected on September 10, 422. He called the Third Ecumenical Council which condemned the followers of Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople. It was during his papacy the "pastoral staff" came into vogue and it was Celestine who commissioned Saint Patrick to go to Ireland. Pope Celestine died two years after Augustine on July 27, 432 and with him the era of the great Doctors of the Church. A new spirit of evangelism had taken shape in the 5th Century as we shall see next issue when we continue with the 5th Century, dealing with more heresies and the barbaric invasions and how Pope Saint Leo the Great stopped the Attila the Hun at the gates of Rome.