Understanding Augustine, Pelagius, and Semipelagianism

Key Points during this time.

  • Augustine of Hippo came to be one of the most influential thinkers in western Christianity, shaped by a variety of life experiences culminating in his dramatic conversion to Christianity.
  • Augustine left a voluminous quantity of writings that have become classics in western Christianity, addressing theology, ecclesiology, exegesis, and spirituality.
  • In response to Donatism, Augustine formulated influential understandings of the sacraments and the church
  • In response to Pelagianism, Augustine formulated controversial but impactful understandings of divine predestination and election, salvation, and human sexuality
  • Pelagius and Celestius were moralizing reformers whose views on human free will prompted fierce controversy, especially in Rome and North Africa, resulting in their condemnation in multiple councils
  • John Cassian, Vincent of Lerins, and others reacted to Augustine’s extreme views on divine election, holding to a position that allows a greater role for human free will in salvation, a view known as “Semipelagianism”

Due to the personal reflections he composed, we know more about Augustine’s life background and journey to Christian faith than we do most other patristic writers. His voluminous corpus of works illuminates our understanding of his pastoral career as bishop of Hippo and of the critical controversies of his setting. His writings have had a profound effect on western Christianity in most of its facets, covering theology, spirituality, exegesis, and numerous items involving pastoral care.

In response to Donatist emphases on purity, Augustine argued for an objective understanding of the sacraments’ effectiveness. He taught that a sacrament properly done, with the correct words spoken, was fully effective to the activity of God, irrespective of the purity of the administrator or the faithfulness of the church. Originally formulated to address the damaging effects of the Donatist schism, Augustine’s objective view of the sacraments became standard in western Christianity until challenged during the Reformation.

Pelagius was a moralizing reformer from Britain who taught in Rome and Palestine; his follower Celestius was also in Rome, in North Africa, and Sicily. They taught that humans had freedom of will to choose the good, that Adam’s sin laid down a bad example but did not convey actual guilt or weakness to other people, that it is possible for humans to do what is right and that some had in fact lived without sin, even before Jesus Christ. In response, Augustine formulated doctrines of original sin and divine election that came to exercise deep influence throughout the Middle Ages. He taught that Adam’s sin involved the entire human race in a fall, transmitting original sin through sexual activity, so that people are incapable of acting good or even exercising true faith on their own, without the intervening grace of God. In his grace, God elects some for salvation, working in their souls to trigger faith and restore their free will. Augustine points to the church’s tradition of infant baptism as evidence for his doctrine of original sin.

Though Pelagius, Celestius, and other followers of Pelagianism were condemned in multiple councils, not everyone followed Augustine’s extreme understandings of divine election either. Leaders such as John Cassian and Vincent of Lerins represent a “semipelagian” position, which allows a greater role for free will in human salvation. Cassian was also known for formalizing the fourfold method of reading scripture and Vincent for formulating the classic statement of the church’s doctrine on the role of tradition, both of which exercised great influence throughout the Middle Ages.


The Church and the Empire

Key Points During this Time

  • Popular opinion responded negatively to Christian aloofness, the strangeness of their beliefs and practices, and Christians’ unwillingness to worship pagan gods. Imperial authorities were bothered by the apparent obstinacy of Christian subjects unwilling to show political loyalty by worshipping the emperor and the gods of Rome.
  • Roman persecution of the church prior to the mid-3rd century was sporadic and localized, not systematic.
  • Christian apologists of the 2nd century responded to both popular and philosophical accusations against Christianity, employing the philosophy and rhetoric of the day in order to rebut accusations and promote Christian belief and practice.
  • The logos Christology of the 2nd-century apologists supplied Christian intellectuals with a way to address non-Christian concerns about Christian teaching, as well as providing the foundation for later Trinitarian speculation.
  • The surviving literature of 2nd-century martyrdom supplied stories and themes that permanently shaped the self-understanding of the Christian church.
  • A developing theology of martyrdom was expressed through several characteristic motifs, many of which helped connect the martyr’s experience with that of Jesus Christ.


Although persecution of Christians in the second century was sporadic and localized, the threat and occasional reality of its occurrence contributed greatly to the formation of early Christian identity. Popular opinion responded negatively to Christians for a number of reasons, including their aloofness, the strangeness of their beliefs and practices, and especially their refusal to honor the gods of Rome and the surrounding culture. Many non-Christian intellectuals found Christian belief to be ridiculous and criticized the social composition of the church. Imperial authorities were bothered by Christian stubbornness in refusing to demonstrate their allegiance to Rome by the usual means, i.e. worshiping the genius of the emperor and the gods of Rome. The legal basis for Roman persecution expressed Roman sensibilities of justice, but also strict Roman insistence on submission to imperial authority.

Christian apologists sought to respond to the critics of Christianity in a variety of ways, relying mainly on the philosophy of the day as a means by which to explain Christian belief. Some sought to clear up misunderstandings about Christian practice, stressing the virtues by which Christians lived. Others upheld the moral superiority of Christianity in comparison to pagan culture. Justin Martyr laid aside numerous popular charges against Christianity, sought to explain Christianity as the fulfillment of Judaism, and advocated an understanding of Jesus Christ that connected him to the principle of the Logos. This gave non-Christian intellectuals a framework in which to understand the significance of Christ and shaped early Christian belief.

Although martyrdoms were sporadic, their occurrence led to the celebration of their faithful acts, especially in the composition of accounts of their martyrdoms. These circulated throughout the churches, shaping Christian theology and liturgy as the church connected the martyr’s experience with that of Jesus Christ. Martyrs were understood to be faithful witnesses and heroic athletes, and the descriptions of their deeds were tinged with commonly occurring motifs, such as grace, Eucharist, baptism, the Holy Spirit, and eschatological hope. Christian self-understanding came to be pervaded by the ideals conveyed by descriptions of martyrs’ deeds.

The Carolingian Church

After Europe started to decline, the papacy started to become corrupted, the royalty’s standards for life and religion waned and the clergymen’s intellectual and spiritual state deteriorated. In the 8th century the much needed revival was started by the flourishing
Anglo–Saxon missionaries from Frankish Gaul. Also doing missionary work in the 6th century were the Irish missionaries, one of which was Columban, in Gaul and Italy. Although they were many these European missionaries did not consolidate their work resulting in a complete do over by Christianity later in the 7th century. After these men continued in their work a new era resulted in a “new royal house”, the taking of office of Martel’s heirs, who had been raised in the monastery of St Denis near Paris. These men, Carloman and Pepin, were two Frankish rulers that carried out a major restructuring of the Frankish church. These two men created reforms of the clergy and church organization that brought on a rekindling of religious and intellectual life. Religious growth in the East made possible the opportunity for the papacy to break free.
Meanwhile, in the west Pope Gregory II not only rejected the edict banning the use of icons. Later, the pope’s claim to sovereign rule in Italy and independence from the Eastern Roman Empire was backed up what is known as one of the great forgeries of the Middle Ages, The Donation of Constantine. This document supposed that Constantine had bestowed Rome and the western part of the Empire. The Donation was not exposed as a forgery until the fifteenth century.
On Christmas Day 800, Charlemagne, was crowned the next emperor by Pope Leo III. Although this decision revived the Empire in the West, Charlemagne did not delight in the thought of owing his crown to the pope. The new emperor kept educating the new reform in the church as his father, Pepin along with His chief educational adviser Alcuin of York. The empire that Charlemagne started did not last much past his own life it brightened European culture during a hard dark time that came to be in that time. This ‘Carolingian Renaissance’ turned to classical ancient times also turned to early Christianity for its model. The deepness of this new Carolingian Renaissance and the political vitality of it revived the Empire and stimulated new theological activities.
There were many theological disputes during the time of the Carolingian Renaissance. Some of these areas that Alcuin had to fight against were: alleging that Christ in his humanity was only the ‘adopted’ Son of God, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the question of predestination. After Charlemagne died the new Carolingian Empire was destroyed by civil wars. The state of the political and church standings threatened the independence of the bishops. A new system laid down by the now ruling laymen in the church, ‘proprietary’ system, provided the land and erecting of the church building. Although during the tenth and the first half of the eleventh century the popes were many timed corrupt the papal institution continued to function and to be valued throughout the West.

The Celtic Church and the Synod of Whitby

Martin of Tours, who died in 397 inspired monasticism in the West. After living a military life he spent time in a solitary place in France, which also inspired many others to join him till they had a semi-community. Against his will, he was convinced to become the bishop of Tours in 372, and then transferred to living as a hermit in a small room, or cell next to the church. After enduring many criticisms and questions from the people, he moved to Marmoutier and started a monastery to help facilitate evangelism in much of the still–ungodly country France. A popular biography written up about Martin is one of the reasons this way of life was promote, and was later exalted as a Saint of the early church. It was said that, “Martin of Tours set the pattern for the Dark Age ‘holy man’”. Later, Augustine of Hippo, along with Jerome and Rufinus belonged to a similar groups put a new way of thought and living structure to Martin’s hermit-like living; the agreement whereby a grouping of celibate clergy lived together and served a local church.
In Egypt a more organized and armed group of monks took sides in theological battles and took part in a more political fight. In the front of this more active movement was the man, Schnoudi, who later would be destined for heresy at the council of Ephesus in 431. A great writer in the west on monasticism was John Cassian. His writings included much detail in instructing, promoting the monastic movement extensively. He covered not only subjects such as what clothing was to be worn but some of the very practices of Monks. This detailed writer also examined extensively the temptations which a monk had to fight against in living each day. Cassiodorus, another great man in the history of monasticism placed a vast emphasis on the copying of manuscripts and also the study of the ancient writings.
Although the roots of monasticism in Ireland and surrounding area are very vague it was said that Patrick was the founder or starter of this movement. When looking at the severe severity of Irish hermits and the arrangement of living compartments or cells, within an outer boundary wall, it strangely reflects Egyptian influences, brought on by Martin of Tours’ monastic ideals. What provided the ultimate rule for monasteries in the west was a man named Benedict of Nursia. In the late sixth century his system gradually outdated other Western monastic rules. Benedict promoted a rule that is founded on the two activities of prayer and works. In order for a monk to show high moral character, they had to hold strictly to these precepts along with remaining in the same monastery where he had taken his vows. The monasteries’, with their emphasis on worship, and stable, well–ordered communities deeply assisted to keep up spiritual standards during these centuries.

Patrick and the Evangelization of Ireland

Patrick, the great missionary to the Irish, lived around the time 389–461. He was most likely born in Roman Britain but sources are not completely positive. Calpurnius, who was Patrick’s father, was a deacon and magistrate. Although we know of Patrick the details of his life and ministry are widely debated and many myths and legends are passed down from generation to generation. The two sources that tell of accounts about this Irish missionary are, The Confession and A Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. At the young age of sixteen, Patrick was working on his father’s farming property when a group of raiders stole him away to be a slave on the Irish slave market. While being held captive, Patrick’s love and devotion for Christ deepened. Instead of becoming bitter he grew in his heart a vision for evangelizing his dear homeland, Ireland. After six years of shepherding for his captors and masters, he escaped and eventually reached home again. In 432 when Patrick returned home to Ireland, he came as a bishop and spent his next thirty years ministering to the people there. Although he was not a widely educated man he encouraged learning and possibly gained his ideals from the contact with the strict monasteries in Gaul that he came into contact with while in captivity. Later in the Irish church the basic element became the monastery led by the abbot, rather than the bishop’s diocese. He later began to emphasize the ascetic life and monasticism. During the sixth and seventh centuries Patrick was a large encourager of evangelizing of Western Europe.

Leo I

I. Cyril’s early life
a. Obscure to most historians
b. Accepted into Clergy Ranks by Nephew (Theophilus)
c. In 403 accompanied Theophilus to Constantinople
d. In 412 elected to succeed Theophilus as Patriarch of Alexadria
e. In 431 he headed the Council in Ephesus
II. Cyril’s Theological Talent
a. Preserving Christ’s human nature
b. Christ’s two natures evolved into one
1. Result of that: Blamed for reviving Apollinarianism
III. Cyril’s End
a. Showed himself to be a ruthful antagonist
b. Died in 444


In A.D. 331, Jerome was born to a well to do family that lived in Stridon, an Italian town. Since his family was very well off they would send Jerome off to study in Rome to study grammar and rhetoric. After living in Rome for some time he decided to become baptized and started collecting and reading theology books. The ascetic way of life called to him and he soon become part of a group at Aquileia in Italy. Unfortunately for Jerome, he had acquired a sharp tongue, and lacked tact which caused many rifts in the group that would soon lead to its break up. Jerome left and started out for Palestine but stopped at Antioch where he grew in his knowledge of Greek. By orders of a dream he stopped the Christian way of life and went to Syria to become a hermit. The hermit life did not do him well and many inner temptations plagued him during this time, so through a series of events Jerome ended up in Rome from 382 to 385. He was put to a job by the bishop of Damascus that would end up being his main contribution to western civilization, the Latin translation of the gospels, Psalms and eventually a large portion of the Old Testament. Jerome and a widow woman that he had a ministry with settled in Bethlehem where they established separate monasteries for men and women.
While living in Bethlehem, Jerome become more and more convinced that his translations for the Old Testament must be done with Hebrew and not Greek and so became what is known as the Vulgate. Later John Wyclif and Douay’s versions were based off the Vulgate. Jerome’s theory for translation was to “render sense for sense and not word for word”. One of his literary aspirations was to become a Christian Cicero, who would b a teacher and model of Christian culture. These dream roles in life could be what drove him to his insistent work and contradictions in character. Although he struggled with these things he came up with the first Historic Christian Work, “Lives of Illustrious Men”, which was written to prove to the pagans that Christians can produce distinguished literary works.

Jerome’s commentary works were lacking and many times very inconsistent due to working to hasty and relying on his memory for important information. He also found himself in many a controversy over issues and wrote works and responded sarcastically and strongly on the issues. One of the longest and most bitter controversies was a personal one with a friend from his childhood, Rufinus. Jerome had joined in the condemnation of Origen, but Rufinus refused to condemn the one he was so beholden too. Even though Jerome was very controversial in his writings and dealings his great literary works are regarded as great contributions to western Christendom.

Augustine of Hippo

Although his father was not a Christian at all his mother, Monica was a tremendous influence on him for she was a devout follower even in the years he completely turned his back on her religion. During his young adulthood he would go into the city of Carthage and waste no time indulging himself in the sins of this world. He had for himself a concubine and fathered an illegitimate child before he was 20 years old. Soon he become involved in a religious system known as the Manichaeism, which held to the belief that good, and evil, light and dark, were eternal. This way of thought seemed to deal with evil in a more superior way than Christianity and that appealed to Augustine. The fact that it had less moral burden put upon life let him live as he wanted and desired too do. He soon saw that this Manichaeism way of thought was not as it seemed and many times left him searching for more answers. He found those answers in the bishop of Milan , who helped him see that many of Christianities down faults were not because they were true but because they were misconceptions of the truth based upon the faith. For a small while Augustine dabbled in skepticism and following that was the writings of certain “Platonists”. By seeing the inconsistencies in these other religious ways it gave him the foot stones for the path to Christianity. In Augustine’s conversion he claimed to have heard a voice saying to him to go up and read, so he pick up the volume of the Apostle and read verses that spoke of giving up his old life of drunkenness and lustful youth and picking up the sword of the Lord and moving on in faith. So after being baptized he gathered up his son, Adeodatus, and his partner Monica. Later after both his beloved Monica and son died he studied philosophy and theology. He wrote many a short book including the works, “Against the Skeptics”, “On the Happy Life, and “soliloquies”. Soon he would complete what would be his best work yet, “The Confessions” in the year 400. This book provides a look into his life prior to 387 and shows most importantly the moral of his spiritual journey. “The City of God”, was later written in response to the pagan accusations about the Christians. After the Manichaeans had ridiculed faith as an “activity unworthy of any cultured and educated person” Augustine began to write works stating that all knowledge begins in faith and is a fundamental part of any religion. If anyone is going to understand the history of Christianity it is not possible to skip over the life and writings of Augustine of Hippo, for he laid many new foundations for the faith.




Creed of Constantinople

1. the significance of the phrase “the Lord and life-giver”?

Basil the Great was a man on a mission, and that mission was to clean up the church that had broken off, and scattered. It was a tattered church and he was there to repair it. Unfortunately he had very little success in the west and he had to call upon the help of Pope Damascus but to no avail, for Damascus refused to help Basil. As the great divide widened in the theology, Basil and Pope Damascus became more and more detached, which put the peace of the west and the east in jeopardy. Basil, along with his brother Gregory of Nyssa and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus, labored hard over bringing the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to the East. They thought it misleading to encourage the thought of the Father just being equal to the Son, for it made it look like several gods, so they emphasized that the Father and Son must also be recognized as one God. These men’s thoughts on the Trinity were “complex and at points controversial”, and they used examples that were slightly inexact but Basil insisted that Father, Son and Spirit are equal but distinct. The Cappadocians, stated that the three operated inseparably, none ever acting independently of the others. “Every divine action begins from the Father, proceeds through the Son and is completed in the Holy Spirit”. Everything that Father touches the Son touches and inadvertently the Spirit touches.
2. the significance of the clause “who with the Father and the Son is together worshipped and glorified”?
The Holy Spirit in the phrase is shown just as important as the Father and the Son, there is no less and there is no more then to be who is worshiped. All three are of equal importance and all three are in equal state.
3. the contemporary significance of the pneumatological section of this creedal statement?
The contemporary significance of the Holy Spirit is to show that He is no less than the Father and the Son. Understanding this about the Holy Spirit not only leads to the correct view of the triune God, or the speaking through the prophets, and the forgiveness of sins but leads to the correct worship of the trinity. Without a correct view of the trinity leads to an incorrect view of worship.

Basil Against Eunomius

A Outline of the theological and scriptural argument of Basil whereby he concludes that the activity of the Holy Spirit is conjoined with the activity of the Father and the Son.

I. God is the Word
a. Creator of the heavens
b. So the Holy Spirit imparts to the heavenly powers the quality of firmness and stability
II. Job Says
a. Spirit of God which made me
b. Speaking about creation but about fulfillment in respect of human excellence
III. Isaiah Says
a. He speaks in the person of the Lord(in respect to his humanity)
1.”The Lord has sent me, and his Spirit”
IV. The Psalmist Declares
a. The power of the Spirit pervades the whole universe
V. Lord Himself
a. Gave to those who received him the power to become the children of God
b. The Holy Spirit- The Spirit of adoption
c. The Father- distributing the activities among those who are working to receive them
1. Both of the Holy Spirit and Father are conjoined in their activity
2. Showing complete authority

For more information on Basil and his works: http://www.monachos.net/library/Basil_the_Great_of_Caesarea_-_Collection_Area_and_Study_Links

Basil the Great

Basil the Great was a man on a mission, and that mission was to clean up the church that had broken off, and scattered. It was a tattered church and he was there to repair it. Unfortunately he had very little success in the west and he had to call upon the help of Pope Damascus but to no avail, for Damascus refused to help Basil. As the great divide widened in the theology, Basil and Pope Damascus became more and more detached, which put the peace of the west and the east in jeopardy.
Basil, along with his brother Gregory of Nyssa and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus, labored hard over bringing the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to the East. They thought it misleading to encourage the thought of the Father just being equal to the Son, for it made it look like several gods, so they emphasized that the Father and Son must also be recognized as one God. These men’s thoughts on the Trinity were “complex and at points controversial”, and they used examples that were slightly inexact but Basil insisted that Father, Son and Spirit are equal but distinct. The Cappadocians, stated that the three operated inseparably, none ever acting independently of the others. “Every divine action begins from the Father, proceeds through the Son and is completed in the Holy Spirit”. Everything that Father touches the Son touches and inadvertently the Spirit touches.


The Nicene Creed and Christology

How does this creedal statement affirm the full deity of Christ?
It states especially in the part that I have Capitalized, the unity of Christ when it states, “and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only begotten, that is from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, OF ONE SUBSTANCE WITH THE FATHER.” He goes on to tell that Christ came down incarnate, becoming man suffered but then rose as only the Christ full of Deity can do, do the heavens.
Is the Christology of this Creed biblical.

Yes, he is showing here that the son is the father in the sense of the trinity. This view of Christ has to deal with the trinity, and he does a great job the reveling of truth between Jesus the Son, and God the father.

What Happen?: The Council of Nicea

What happened at the council of Nicea was of monumental importance, for in that council the doctrine that was essential to Christianity was formally affirmed for the first time in history, Christ’s Divinity. Alexander of Alexandria began to lecture at a meeting with Presbyters about the Holy Trinity. He had been discussing the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost for quite some time when an interruption from a presbyter called, Arius came from the crowd. What happened is debated but the man called Arius accused Alexander of a heresy that involves a belief in the unity of God at the expense of the reality of the Trinity. What Arius did not realize was that in combating Alexander he himself fell into a heresy of his own. He announced, “If the Father begat the Son, then he who was begotten had a beginning in existence, and from this it follows there was a time when the Son was not.” These words were a direct attack on the eternality of God and unfortunately these words influenced the church for history. Meanwhile, Alexander was appalled at this new heresy and knew that it would take serious actions to combat it. Now that the statement was said he would have to combat the thought that possibly that Son could be infinitely lower than the Father. Alexander and Athanasius stood firmly on the foundation that Christ is absolute God.
When Alexander realized that this heresy was out of his hands, and private meetings and pleadings with Arius were not going to persuade him otherwise then it was time to take action. He drew up a letter that explained the totality of the heresy, unfortunately this was not what the people wanted to hear, and Arius’ catching phrases like, and “there was a time when the Son was not” became popular among the speech of the people. The news of the controversy traveled to the ears of the emperor Constantine, and he became worried about the unity which he regarded as, “the mother of order”, instead of theology. He wrote up a personal letter ordering that this quarrel come to a stop, but the letters orders were to no avail.
Constantine fed up with the bloodshed on this issue decided to call a meeting in the small city of Nicea and called 1,800 bishops and their invited presbyters to come to the meeting. Although the bishops did not make it in the numbers invited, pastors, presbyters, deacons, sub-deacons, and laymen showed up by the numbers! When the actually meeting ensued, Constantine in all his finery gave an opening remark that gave an underlying threat, remove this dissension among you and establish peace. When Arius was given his time to speak, he broke out in his chanting that embodied his beliefs. After the rhymes and song were finished Hosius announced that the best way to reach an agreement was to draw up a creed. They came up with a creed that believed each of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be and to have existed. Although the heresy still existed Constantine was soon won over that this must be stopped. The burning of all Arius’ works took place, but the Arian way of thought thrived in the towns. When the council ended Constantine dismissed the aged and persecuted popes with gentleness.

Athanasius of Alexandria: A Pillar of Orthodoxy

An outline of the theological significance of the life and work of Athanasius of Alexandria.

I. Athanasius’ Works Came Out of Fighting Armenians
A. Scriptural
B. Doctrinally
C. History
II. Athanasius’ Major Theological Statements
A. “Christ ‘was made human that we might be made divine’”.
B. “Only God could restore the human race to communion with himself.”
III. Characteristics of Athanasius
A. He was a passionate speaker
B. Spoke out with fervor and zeal
C. He stood on the foundation of his beliefs
D. Uncompromising and harsh in dealings with theological differences
IV. Athanasius’ Contributions
A. Life of Antony
B. Promoted monasticism
C. Introduce the personal devotional use of the Psalms
D. Defined Doctrine on Trinity

The One Empire of Rome according to Eusebius of Caesarea

All must wonder if they consider and reflect that it was not by mere human accident that the greater part of the nations of the world was never before under the one Empire of Rome, but only from the time of Jesus. For his wonderful sojourn among men synchronized with Rome’s attainment of the acme of power…Since that day the Jewish people have become subject to the Romans, the Syrians likewise, the Cappadocians and the Macedonians, the Bithynians and Greeks, and in a word all other nations who are under Roman rule. And no one could deny that the synchronizing of this with the beginning of the teaching about our Savior is of God’s arrangement, if he considered the difficulty of the disciples’ taking their journey, had the nations been at variance one with another and not mixing together because of varieties of government. But when these were abolished they could accomplish their projects quite fearlessly and safely, since the supreme God had smoothed the way before them and subdued the spirit of the more superstitious citizens under the fear of a strong central government.
One of Eusebius’ works has to do with the “One Empire of Rome” and how it was for a purpose that God ordained that the timing of events with the unity of the empire and the disciples journeys to the people. Without this divine intervention, the running into a one empire the apostles’ travels would not have been as successful and possibly not carried out. God had a hand in Constantine’s work as he did in this event in history to carry out his divine plan.

Constantine and the Christian Empire

How Constantine treated the Christian Church
Constantine was an advocate of Christianity or the idea of Christianity and preserved the church and her followers because of his own “conversion” and success on the battle of the Milvian Bridge. The story is told that after he asked God for help, God gave him a sign and the battle was won. So out or reverence to this Christian God who helped him win, he led the church through a new time where church/state relationships evolved in the Roman Empire and later through the Middle Ages.

The results of Constantine’s attitude to Christianity
A positive outcome that became of his conversion was the lack of persecution of the Christians at this time, whether or not his belief in a god or the God was genuine faith, he kept the people of God safe and harbored in their faith systems.
It was said that possibly Constantine continued to identify the sun with the Christian God in some way and many Christian writers would portray Christ in sun imagery.

The specific instances in which Constantine intervened in the life of the Church.
In reaction to this attitude or ideal, later the church adapted too many pagan ideas and images. From sun–worship, for example, came the celebration of Christ’s birth on the twenty–fifth of December, the birthday of the Sun.
Another problem for the church that was a result of Constantine’s views was that the only Christian example for the role of a so called “Christian emperor” was the Old Testament kings of Israel, who actually had a major role in preserving peace and purity of religion in their kingdoms. In this time of culture, once the doctrine that the Emperor was somehow over the church had been established, it was never completely tested or challenged.
A third impact that Constantine had on the church is shown through this statement, “‘I am going to make plain to them what kind of worship is to be offered to God … What higher duty have I as emperor than to destroy error and repress rash indiscretions, and so cause all to offer to Almighty God true religion, honest concord and due worship?” Although he never went to Africa to relay this message, he ordered the churches under the leadership of the Donatists’ to be confiscated and their leaders banished.

Cyprian’s thoughts about his conversion

Review of Cyrpian, To Donatus 1-8, 14-16 [trans. Roy J. Deferrari, Saint Cyprian: Treatises (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1958), 7-14, 19-21].

Cyprian writes with a love and fervor about His Lord and Savior. He finds talking about such matters a joy and not a waste of time in the least! He describes his state before conversion as a “darkness and in the obscure night”, and mentions that it was not his true life but being tossed upon an endless sea of doubt. He was a stranger to the truth and to the true light of life and found it hard to believe he could receive the mercy that is promised for his salvation. He was encouraged that he can cast off his old garments of sin and receive a new life of saving water that Christ gives to all who receive. He wondered to himself, “how is such a conversion possible, that the innate which has grown hard in the corruption of natural material or when acquired has become inverterate by the affliction o old age should suddenly be put aside?” He recounts that pride does puff up and anger only inflames, covetous disturbs, cruelty stimulates and lust plunges into ruin. He says those things because he knew that in his former life he would indulge himself but now after the cleansing of the Spirit he has been restored to a new man, a new creature. He expresses that his telling of these things cannot be boasting but an expression of gratitude that is given to the God who begins our faith and forgives our sins. The power that he claims is not of him but only that which is given by God, from Him do we have life and prosperity. He tells that when you hold to the way of justice when God is your strength and your whole heart is devoted to him, so much power is given unto you in the way of freedom through grace. From the overflowing grace that we receive it gives us power to, “extinguish the virus of poisons within the marrow of the grieving, to cleanse the stain of foolish souls by restoring health…”. When he speaks of his security he compares it to whirlpools of disturbing world and taking anchor in the harbor or the port of salvation. Cyprian sees that to seek that which is heavenly is what gives blessings and keeps one’s heart tender to the things of God. He cherishes his Savior that radiates like the sun in his life. He sees that it was nothing of his own doing but the grace of God in his life.


Cyprian of Carthage and the North African Church

Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus was born of a rich but pagan family in Carthage in North Africa। He was born in A.D 200 but we know little about him till his conversion in 246 through the influence of presbyter Caecilianus. Cyprian was chosen to be bishop at a very early stage in his conversion and seemed hesitant himself to accept the position. He had a few that opposed him that were led by a man named Novatus. However nervous he seemed d at first he once he accepted the position he threw himself into it with enthusiasm and became the pastor of a waning church. Later in 250 the emperor Decius let out a decree that all were forced to sacrifice to Roman gods and hold a certificate that they had complied. Sadly, many Christians of the churches turned towards the other gods but Cyprian went into hiding and tried to maintain the church he pastured through letters. He received much discouragement from people who saw that the Bishop of Rome had been martyred. When the persecution stopped in 251 many people who had turned to the Roman gods wanted entrance back into the church. Cyprian came out of hiding and had to deal with the many issues that were going on with the Christians. Cyprian became friends with the new bishop of Rome who had joined Cyprian in the middle course with regard to what should be done with the people who had given in to the edict. Novatus, Cyprian’s old nemesis went and joined with Novatian, who had adopted the approach of no mercy for the believers who had given in. in 252 Cyprian gained extensive approval when he rallied the church to help victims of a plague in Carthage. Throughout the coming years he proved himself to be a wise and very able administrator and pastor. New problems arose with the people who wanted to be reinstated into the church and Cyprian and Stephen the new bishop of Rome were at the head of the clash. In Rome the people were receiving membership by the laying of hands upon them, but many in the Eastern churches insisted that baptism was the answer. The bishop threatened to break off communion with them if they did not stop holding to the baptizing of heretics. Immediately Cyprian joined ranks with the North African bishops who also held to his belief. Cyprian based his theology upon a legalistic reading of the Bible, but to a certain degree was charismatic because of his holdings to importance in dreams and revelations. Because of his high view of the church Cyprian held that there could be no sacraments outside the official churches. Cyprian’s views were very influential in future generations and both Augustine and Hippo looked to him as their spiritual father.

Tertullian and Western Theology

An Outline of an Article done by Gerald L. Bray, “Tertullian and Western Theology” in Woodbridge, Great Leaders, 49-54.
I. Background
A. Born in modern Tunis in North Africa
B. Sometime after A.D 150
C. Middle class family
D. Well educated in:
1. Literary
2. Legal
3. Philosophical
4. Greek
E. Died sometime after 212
II. Private Life and Occupation
A. Married
B. Possible that his wife died young
C. Nothing else is known about this area
III. Monasticism
A. He was drawn to this life
B. Selective on the use of their writings
C. Concentrated on the holiness writings
D. He saw this as a movement that advocated his teaching
IV. Tertullian’s Apologetics
A. The Apology – a long treatise in which he dissects pagan religion in order to point out its irrationality
B. Strong insistence on the power of baptism that he refused any remedy for post baptismal sin
C. Opposed infant baptism
D. The Soul- in which he shows himself to be pro-Stoic and anti-Platonsit in his general philosophical outlook.
E. He reached a point that the Eastern Church didn’t get to until the 451’s
V. Pastoral Writings
A. Exhortation to the Martyrs to Stand Fast in the Face of Persecution
1. Constant theme of Tertullian’s life
2. Often appealed to the examples of heroism set by the ancient Romans, rather than Biblical figures
B. Treatises that Deal with Matters of Personal Spirituality

1. Wrote with great sensitivity about suffering, prayer
For more reading on him and also many of Tertullian’s works (this could keep you busy for years) http://www.tertullian.org/


A Review of James D. Smith III, “Montanism: An Early Charismatic Movement?”
He is a professor at Bethel Theoligcail Seminary West, in SanDiego, Califonia where he is an Associate Professor of Church History. His study as been: A.B., San Diego State University; M.Div., Bethel Seminary; Th.M., Harvard Divinity School; Th.D., Harvard University.
A man named Montanus in the year 157 started to prophesy in the name of the Holy Spirit. Later he was joined by two prophetesses by the names of Maximilla and Priscilla. They claimed they were sent to cal all the believers to prepare themselves for a “heavenly descent” to the New Jerusalem. This new movement had spread by the 170’s and the prophets held to the claim that they had direct revelations from God and their utterances were treasured and kept as authoritative teachings. These revelations were held in a trance like state and were exciting, fresh, new and held the hearts and minds of congregations around the area! Not only was this very experiential but these prophets were very emphatic about holding to many practical holiness deeds. These deeds were in the form of fasting, issues of marriage, asceticism, and spiritual healings. In a treatise, Tertullian, a famous convert, says about a new sister that had come amongst them, “she converses with angels and sometimes even with the Lord. She both sees and hears mysterious communications.” This movement was not without opposition however, in 192, Serapion who was the bishop of Antioch said that this was a “lying organization” that was an abomination. Many opposing bishops in this time held to five main objections of this new movement:
1. ”Abnormal Ecstasy”, which is being in a frenzy that is not controlled by the spirit.
2. No controls, in which the new prophets refused to submit to the practice of discernment.
3. Worldliness was played out in the lives of the followers in questionable financial dealings, gambling, makeup and outward adornment.
4. Extra-Scriptural revelation that was held to a higher esteem than the actual Holy Scriptures.
5. False Prophecies that ended up being falsehoods and were not fulfilled.

Although there were many teachers that opposed these teachings many did not outwardly condemn it. Even the great heresy hunter, Epiphanius did not find any major falsities in these people and their teachings. By the 4th Century the enthusiasm once held for this movement had died out and Tertullian who wrote many books on it, became the last major figure. There are debates by historians on the issue of the how the church handled the “twin stewardship of church authority and spiritual power”. Many would argue for the view that the condemnation of the movement kept the people from creating any more dissention. Another way of thinking was that Paul’s warnings about “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Do not treat prophecies with contempt” passage was not adhered to by the people.


Early Monasticism

Asceticism is the practice of rigorous and often added practices then the average Christian. They often find solitude and abstaining or changing from normal practices by Christians. They take the act of marriage to be something to abstain from and add frequent times for prayer and solitude. Some extreme Asceticist’s will keep from eating but two meals a week and when he did it was bread and water, that which is necessary to stay alive.
The New Testament has two views on this subject. There are times in the New Testament, that have been held to encourage asceticism but it was for good reason and is not required of the Christian. In the Scriptures Christ says, “There are some who are eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of God”, but this is specifically for people who can withstand it. On the other hand, the New Testament strongly criticizes some types of asceticism. Paul argued that it wasn’t wrong to marry and consume unclean meat. The Old Testament also has some say on the subject of Asceticism and the Jews had traditions that followed some of those writings.

There is speculation as to where the origins of monasticism began but the first monks were people who withdrew to the desert in Egypt or Syria. Often times these “retreats” were only temporary, and may have been for the purpose of to running from persecution; often they became permanent. The first Hermit-like man recorded was, Antony, who lived form 256–356 who was a Coptic peasant from Egypt. However, in the late fifth century, monasticism seems to have taken root in Ireland in a form which owed much to the Egyptian pattern The extreme inflexibility of Irish hermits, and the arrangement of cells within an outer boundary wall, both reflect Egyptian inspiration.
The routine of the hermits or recluses was to spend long periods in prayer and meditation, enriched by reading of the Scriptures that were many times “mechanical”, or involved short set formulas. Fasting was an important ritual to these devoted men.
Monasticism came out of Eastern Christianity. Then a Communal monasticism began by a man, Pachomius, who would fight extremism. Followers would prove their devotion by standing outside the monastery door for several days and memorizing parts of the Bible. A man that would influence this movement began to incorporate the monastic communities more closely with the church. This man was Basil the Great, and believed the bishop should have ultimate authority over a monastery. Another man that influenced Asceticism was Cassian. This man was the West’s inspirational writer on monasticism. He wrote detailed instructions for monasteries and served to endorse the monastic society widely. His writings were in great detail and covered subjects such as clothing, the form of monastery services, and also explored the temptations that a monk had to fight. He was detailed down the last writing.

For more information on Monasticism i found a good cite: http://www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/monasticism/

The Epistle to Diognetus

At the end of the 2nd century this unknown written does an amazing job of answering 3 questions.
#1 Who is God? Dealing with Theology Proper.
#2 What is the difference of Christianity and Greek and Jewish cultures? Dealing with Ethics.
#3 What is the race of man and the mode of living a Christian life to be in this world? Dealing with History.
You can read this letter which was written to an unbeliever (Diognetus) answering these three questions, describing a beautiful picture of the glory of God.

The Gnostics

A Gnostic is a person who stressed that people could be saved through knowledge or some call it “secret” knowledge. Gnosticism is shown throughout Christian writings of the second century, and some would classify it as perverting the Christian faith. They teach a sharp contrast in God and say that the creation was a direct result from the fall of wisdom, and creation is basically evil.
Since some believed that salvation depended completely on the knowledge of one’s ‘spiritual’ nature, they believed in indulging themselves in lusts of the world. Gnosticism enjoyed great success in history, especially in the reaches of Christianity. Not only was it successful but it offered explanations of the evil and confusion of the world and the human race.
In 1946 a bundle of twelve Coptic codices and fragments was discovered near Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, and these writings have shed new light on the Gnostic belief, and convictions. Some of the important writings include, The letter of Rheginos, which stated that the resurrection was not a physical event; The Gospel according to Thomas, which has sayings attributed to Jesus; The Gospel according to Philip, which includes many sacraments, including baptism, anointing with oil and the ‘wedding chamber’. When talking about Gnostic leaders, one would mention the names, Simon Magus( the magician from Acts 8), and Irenaus, who developed the idea that Christ, fully man as well as fully God, retraced the steps of Adam, with a different result. He stated that because “Christ passed through every age of life, all humanity shares in his sanctifying work”. Although he had some theology pertaining to Mary, he based a lot of his teachings on the Scriptures

For more information: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/gnostics.html and http://www.gnosticteachings.org/

God, Time and History

I have been reading through a book called, Introduction to the History of Christianity, ed. Tim Dowley. I will be liseting several summaries over sections, and chapters dealing with the Acient Chruch History period of 90 A.D – 500 A.D.

Cicero, an early Roman writer said, “not to know what took place before you were born’ was ‘to remain forever a child”. This relates to one’s knowledge in life and knowledge of the spiritual journey. History in essence was one man, that man being God, and His Holy Son, Jesus Christ. Christianity is a religion based upon history; the early Christians bled and died for what we hold so freely, the gospel. The Gospel itself is dependent on history, for it was in the long ago that a Savior was born to alter history for the rest of time. In order to understand this concept it is important to bring to mind the quote by Herbert Luethy, “Consciousness of the past alone can make us understand the present.” In order for us to partake of the richness of this Christian journey we must look back in history to the Cross, and the glorious Resurrection and see what was done for our sinful souls.As mentioned before Christianity is based upon history and the events in history, but a trap that Christians have fallen into is picking and choosing which history had God’s divine fingerprint placed on it. They wonder if a holy and righteous God could be involved in events as ugly as The Holocaust, or the Black Death, but accept his wonderful blessings upon the Great Revival, or people’s lives like Mother Theresa. A holy man in history that knew too well of the good and bad times was Job. He tells his wife in chapter 2 verse 10, “…Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” He knew that looking back on history God was good, all the time. We do not know why God chooses to put certain parts of history in His plan, but many Christians need to come to the realization that we will know someday when we are with Christ. We may not know what God has planned but we do know that the Scriptures coincide with history or “tradition”. The word tradition has become a word with a negative connotation, leading to putting tradition over the Holy Bible. In reality in ancient times this word was, “regarded principally as an interpretation and unraveling of Scripture”. It has come to be that too many Protestants have embraced an unnecessarily negative attitude to tradition, and have failed to implement in their faith a study of the story of the church. It was stated that in one sense church history is the story of the struggle to keep, the Holy Spirit, the people of God and human organization together as one flowing part of history. Christianity does not need to fight against history but embrace the one who holds history in the palm of his hands.