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 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. His rule 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. 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 and 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 as a new spirit of evangelism took shape in the 5th Century as we shall see next issue.
In the next installment we will continue with the 5th Century, dealing with more heresies and the barbaric invasions and how Leo the Great stopped the Attila at the gates of Rome.
Just as that atrocious act was a dark moment in the on-going peace process which was finally forged on Good Friday this year, so also the sinking of the Titanic will forever be a dark moment for Protestants of Northern Ireland. In fact, the Titanic became forever synonymous with the Protestant "Orangemen" who, after the sinking, became ever more superstitious, carrying symbols of the ship on their banners. Nine years after it sunk, Ireland gained its independence from Britain but the Protestants weren't going to go down without a fight. A Protestant rabble-rouser from Dublin Sir Edward Carson vowed to recruit between 75,000 to 100,000 armed militia to fight to keep Ireland under British control after the declaration of Independence. In fact, nearly half a million Protestants signed a covenant in which they swore to defy the new Irish rule, many signing in blood! Since then there has been much bloodshed over the years as England tried to wash their hands of the situation, but stubborn Northern Ireland Protestants would not let them. Add to this the other extreme - the Irish Republican Army, a radical organization composed mostly of militant Catholic young men who have had, as their main agenda, revenge for what was done to them or their familes and compatriots. Unfortunately both sides are living by the Old Testament creed of an "eye for an eye" rather than what Jesus teaches on love thy neighbor and enemies as well. Both sides are wrong but in the heat of battle and the emotions and losses on both fronts, it's hard to point a finger unless we, too, have walked in their shoes. That's really the hidden agenda of war. Throughout history wars have been fought by innocent people against innocent people, all pawns on the chessboard of greed and power by selfish, guilty rulers who could care less about the welfare of their front line soldiers. This is not the case in Northern Ireland for this has been a guerrilla war on both sides with families feeling the brunt of the pain in losses of innocent children and devoted parents on both sides. After so many decades of senseless suffering in the Belfast regions, finally Irish, British and world concerns forged a peace pact that was accepted by both sides - even the extremist IRA and its leaders were willing to adhere to it, but there still remained a few fractioned factions that would do anything they could to disrupt the proceedings as evident from the Omagh tragedies.
The parallels with Titanic go even deeper, if you'll pardon the metaphor, for the day before the Titanic sailed on its maiden and only voyage, the Home Rule bill that would lead to Ireland's independence was introduced in the House of Parliament in London. It was during serious peace negotiations for Northern Ireland that the film "Titanic" was released this year. The film opened in Belfast earlier this year and, after a long truce, guerrilla attacks resurfaced. There were other omens. Two construction workers died in freak accidents at the shipyards while the Titanic was being built. Their ghosts were said to haunt the rest of the workers for seventeen more died of strange "accidents" before the ocean-liner left the shipyards. Media and shipping magnates downplayed this at the time while touting the invincibility of this master ship that was "unsinkable." When it did sink it shook a world who had been programmed to believe the press clippings that it was invincible, and it caused many to lose faith in technology and challenged their faith in mankind. From the advancements today, we can see that they regained that faith in technology, but we question if they have regained their faith in God. For the faithful saw the sinking of the Titanic as a sign from God. It was His answer to a civilization that had pushed the envelope too far. It was truly a warning from the Almighty that you do not tempt the Creator. Fast forward to today when the story of the Titanic is once again so prominent - this time in the living rooms of so many because of today's technology - a technology that has gone far beyond what the original Titanic promised - a technology that has gone far beyond tempting God for it is a technology that has, for the most part, gutted the soul of mankind and left it vulnerable to satan's whims. The lead star in the movie Leonardo DiCaprio has a famous line as he stands at edge of the bow defying the wind - "I'm king of the world." Those words defy God because being king of the world is what satan promises, but Our Lord says in Mark 8: 36, "For what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?" There is another world we aspire toward and it is not this one but rather the one Christ promises. Many of those who have perished over the years through the violence in Northern Ireland and around the world have realized this, as well as many souls who rest at the bottom of the sea in the rusted hull of the Titanic. Their journey did not bring them glory they might have sought on this earth, and no journey will unless it is anchored to the steady ship of Christ's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as it churns over the rough seas of the late twentieth century with the safe harbor of the Era of Peace in the new millennium ahead, personified in the twin pillars of the Holy Eucharist and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary which signals the much-awaited Triumph of Our Lady's Immaculate Heart. But before we can safely moor to the pillars, we have one final voyage and it promises to be a rough one. In fact, it promises to be even more treacherous than the Titanic ever was. So man the lifeboats of faith and pray. After all, prayer is the greatest eternal life preserver known to man for it's a Titanic truth that without prayer, we haven't got a prayer of staying afloat!