The seventeenth installment of this mega-part series on the History of the Mass and Holy Mother
Church continues in the second half of the fourth century and the early part of the fifth century, dealing with the influence of the great Doctor of the Church Saint Augustine and how, like
Saint Paul, his conversion led to great fruits for Holy Mother Church for all time. We deal with the
heresies Augustine refuted and study the Popes and other Fathers of the Church during the
Augustinian Era from 350-430 when Augustine died after 35 years as Bishop of Hippo, leaving a
legacy of spiritual writings that are as pertinent today as they were in this great Father of the
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." Is this not exactly what has happened today in the twenty-first century where the heresy encompassing all heresies Modernism has raised its ugly head?
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 ever-ending
search for the truth which took him down the road of philosophy of Plato.
Meanwhile in the east a great voice of the Church was going head to head with Arianism. That would be Saint John Chrysostom who was given the title "golden throated one." John was tutored by the great Greek public orator of his day Libanius, but in 374 John gave it all up in search of a higher calling and retreated to the mountains to live the life of a hermit.
Poor health forced him to return to Antioch where he was ordained a priest in 381. Utilizing all he had learned under the Greek master while incorporating the dogma of the true faith his fame soon spread and the faithful flocked to his Masses. This caught the attention of Pope Saint Siricus who appointed him to the influential bishopric as Patriarch of Constantinople. For more on St. John Chrysostom we refer you to our 33 Doctors of the Church section and "The Golden Mouth of Truth".
About the same time St. John was encountering his greatest trials in confronting the Arian heresies and bishops, Augustine was coming closer to Christianity through deduction in eliminating all other possibilities.
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 when Augustine was 33 years-old. 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
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.