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AUGUSTINE (AD 354-430)
The church in the north of Africa has hardly been mentioned since the
time of Cyprian. But we must now look towards it again, since
in the days of Chrysostom it produced a man who was perhaps the greatest of
all the old Christian fathers, Augustine.
Augustine was born at Thagaste, a city of Numidia, in the year 354. His
mother, Monica, was a pious Christian, but his father, Patricius, was a heathen,
and a man of no very good character. Monica was resolved to bring up her son in
the true faith: she entered him as a catechumen of the Church when a little
child, and carefully taught him as much of religious things as a child could
learn. But he was not then baptized, because people were accustomed in those
days to put off baptism, out of fear lest they should afterwards fall into sin,
and so should lose the blessing of the sacrament. This, as we know was a
mistake: but it was a very common practice nevertheless.
When Augustine was a boy, he was one day suddenly taken ill, so that he
seemed likely to die. Remembering what his mother had taught him, he begged that
he might be baptized, and preparations were made for the purpose; but all at
once he began to grow better, and the baptism was put off for the same reason as
As he grew up, he gave but little promise of what he was afterwards to
become. Much of his time was spent in idleness; and through idleness he fell
into bad company, and was drawn into sins of many kinds. When he was about
seventeen, his father died. The good Monica had been much troubled by her
husband's heathenism and misconduct, and had earnestly tried to convert him from
his errors. She went about this wisely, not lecturing him or arguing with him in
a way that might have set him more against the Gospel, but trying rather to show
him the beauty of Christian faith by her own loving, gentle, and dutiful
behavior. And at length her pains were rewarded by seeing him before his death
profess himself a believer, and receive Christian baptism.
Monica was left rather badly after her husband's death. But a rich
neighbor was kind enough to help her in the expense of finishing her son's
education, and the young man himself now began to show something of the great
talents, which God had been pleased to bestow on him. Unhappily, however, he
sank deeper and deeper in vice, and poor Monica was bitterly grieved by his
ways. A book, which he happened to read, led him to feel something of the
shamefulness and wretchedness of his courses; but, as it was a heathen book
(although written by one of the wisest of the heathens, Cicero), it could not
show him by what means he might be able to reach to a higher life.
He looked into Scripture, in the hope of finding instruction there but he
was now in that state of mind to which, as Paul says (1 Cor. 1. 23), the
preaching of Christ sounds like "foolishness," so that he fancied
himself to be above learning anything from a book so plain and homely as the
Bible then seemed to him, and he set out in search of some other teaching. And a
very strange sort of teaching he met with.
About a hundred years before this time, a man named Manes appeared in
Persia (AD 270), and preached a religion which he pretended to have received
from Heaven, but which was really made up by himself, from a mixture of
Christian and heathen notions. It was something like the doctrines which had
been before taught by the Gnostics, and was as wild nonsense as can well be
imagined. He taught that there were two gods-a good god of light, and a bad god
of darkness. And he divided his followers into two classes, the lower of which
were called "hearers," while the higher were called "elect".
These elect were supposed to be very strict in their lives. They were not
to eat flesh at all; -they might not even gather the fruits of the earth, or
pluck an herb with their own hands. They were supported and were served by the
hearers, and they took a very odd way of showing their gratitude to these; for
it is said that when one of the elect ate a piece of bread, he made this speech
to it: -"It was not I who reaped or ground or baked thee; may they who did
so be reaped and ground and baked in their turn!" And it was believed that
the poor "hearers" would after death become corn, and have to go
through the mill and the oven, until they should have suffered enough to clear
away their offences and make them fit for the blessedness of the elect.
The Marichaeans (as the followers of Manes were called) soon found their
way into Africa, where they gained many converts; and, although laws were often
made against their heresy by the emperors, it continued to spread secretly; for
they used to hide their opinions, when there was any danger, so that persons who
were really Manichaeans pretended to be catholic Christians, and there were some
of them even among the monks and clergy of the Church.
In the humor in which Augustine now was, this strange sect took his
fancy; for the Manicheans pretended to be wiser than any one else, and laughed
at all submission to doctrines which had been settled by the Church. So
Augustine at twenty became a Manichaean, and for nine years was one of the
hearers, -for he never got to be one of the elect, or to know much about their
secrets. But before he had been very long in the sect, he began to notice some
things, which shocked him in the behavior of the elect, who professed the
greatest strictness. In short, he could not but see that their strictness was
all pretence, and that they were really a very worthless set of men. And he
found out, too, that, besides bad conduct, there was a great deal very bad and
disgusting in the opinions of the Manichaeans, which he had not known of at
first. After learning all this, he did not know what to turn to, and he seems
for a time to have believed nothing at all, -which is a wretched state of mind
indeed, and so he found it.
Augustine now set up as a teacher at Carthage, the chief city of Africa;
but among the students there he found a set of wild young men who called
themselves "Eversors"-a name which meant that they turned everything
topsy-turvy; and Augustine was so much troubled by the behavior of these unruly
lads, that he resolved to leave Carthage and go to Rome. Monica, as we may
easily suppose, had been much distressed by his wanderings, but she never ceased
to pray that he might be brought around again. One day she went to a learned
bishop, who was much in the habit of arguing with people who were in error, and
begged that he would speak to her son; but the good man understood Augustine's
case, and saw that to talk to him while he was in such a state of mind would
only make him more self-wise than he was already.
"Let him alone awhile," he said, "only pray God for him,
and he will of himself find out by reading how wrong the Manichaeans are, and
how impious their doctrine is." And then he told her that he had himself
been brought up as a Manichaean, but that his studies had shown him the error of
the sect and he had left it. Monica was not satisfied with this, and went on
begging, even with tears, that the bishop would talk with her son. But he said
to her, "Go thy ways, and may God bless thee, for it is not possible that
the child of so many tears should perish." And Monica took his words as if
they had been a voice from Heaven, and cherished the hope, which they held out
Monica was much against Augustine's plan of removing to Rome; but he
slipped away and went on shipboard while she was praying in a chapel by the
seaside, which was called after the name of Cyprian. Having got to Rome, he
opened a school there, as he had done at Carthage; but he found that the Roman
youth, although they were not so rough as those of Carthage, had another very
awkward habit- namely, that, after having heard a number of his lectures, they
disappeared without paying for them. While he was in distress on this account,
the office of a public teacher at Milan was offered to him, and he was very glad
to take it. While at Rome, he had a bad illness, but he did not at that time
wish or ask for baptism as he had done when sick in his childhood.
The great Ambrose was then Bishop of Milan. Augustine had heard so
much of his fame, that he went often to hear him, out of curiosity to know
whether the bishop were really as fine a preacher as he was said to be; but by
degrees, as he listened, he felt a greater and greater interest. He found, from
what Ambrose said, that the objections by which the Manichaeans had set him
against the Gospel were all mistaken; and, when Monica joined him, after he had
been some time at Milan, she had the delight of finding that he had given up the
Manichaean sect, and was once more a catechumen of the Church.
Augustine had still to fight his way through many difficulties. He had
learnt that the best and highest wisdom of the heathens could not satisfy his
mind and heart; and he now turned again to Paul's epistles, and found that
Scripture was something very different from what he had supposed it to be in the
pride of his youth. He was filled with grief and shame on account of the
vileness of his past life; and these feelings were made still stronger by the
accounts, which a friend gave him of the strict and self-denying ways of Antony
and other monks.
One day, as he lay in the garden of his lodging, with his mind tossed to and fro by anxious thoughts, so that he even wept in his distress, he heard a voice, like that of a child, singing over and over, "Take up and read! Take up and read!" At first he fancied that the voice came from some child at play; but he could not think of any childish game in which such words were used. And then he remembered how Antony had been struck by the words of the Gospel which he heard in church; and it seemed to him that the voice, wherever it might come from, was a call of the same kind to himself. So he eagerly seized the book of Paul's Epistles, which was lying by him, and, as he opened it, the first words on which his eyes fell were these, -"Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof."
And as he read, the words all at once sank deeply into his heart, and
from that moment he felt himself another man. As soon as he could do so without
being particularly noticed, he gave up his office of professor and went into the
country, where he spent some months in the company of his mother and other
friends; and at the following
E easter (AD 387), he was baptized by
The good Monica had now seen the desire of her heart fulfilled; and she soon
after died in peace, as she was on her way back to Africa, in company with her
Augustine, after her death, spent some time at Rome, where he wrote a
book against the Manichaeans, and then, returning to his native place Thagaste,
he gave himself up for three years to devotion and study. In those days, it was
not uncommon that persons who were thought likely to be useful to the Church
should be seized on and ordained, whether they liked it or not; and if they were
expected to make very strong objections, their mouths were even stopped by
Now Augustine's fame grew so great, that he was afraid lest something of this kind should be done to him; and he did not venture to let himself be seen in any town where the bishopric was vacant, lest he should be obliged to become bishop against his will. He thought, however, that he was safe in accepting an invitation to Hippo, because it was provided with a bishop named Valerius. But, as he was one day listening to the bishop's sermon, Valerius began to say that his church was in want of another presbyter, whereupon the people laid hold of Augustine, and presented him to the bishop, who ordained him without heeding his objections (AD 391). And four years later (AD 395), he was consecrated a bishop, to assist Valerius, who died soon after.
Augustine was bishop of Hippo for five-and-thirty years, and, although
there were many other sees of greater importance in Africa, his uncommon
talents, and his high character, made him the foremost man of the African
church. He was a zealous and exemplary bishop, and he wrote a great number of
valuable books of many kinds. But the most interesting of them all is one which
may be read in English, and is of no great length-namely, the
"Confessions", in which he gives an account of the wanderings through
which he had been brought into the way of truth and peace, and humbly gives
thanks to God, whose gracious providence had guarded and guided him.
Augustine had a great many disputes with heretics and others who
separated from the Church, or tried to corrupt its doctrine. But only two of his
controversies need be mentioned here. One of these was with the Donatists, and
the other was with the Pelagians.
The sect of the Donatists had arisen soon after the end of the last
heathen persecution, and was now nearly a hundred years old. We have seen that Cyprian had a great deal of trouble with people who fancied that, if a man
were put to death, or underwent any other considerable suffering, for the name
of Christ, he deserved to be held in great honor, and his wishes were to be
attended to by other Christians, whatever his character and motives might have
The same spirit which led to this mistake continued in Africa after Cyprian's time; and thus, when the persecution began there under Diocletian and
Maximian (AD 303, great numbers rushed into danger, in the hope off being put to
death, and of so obtaining at once the blessedness and the glory of martyrdom.
Many of these people were weary of their lives, or in some other respect were
not of such character that they could be reckoned as true Christian martyrs. The
wise fathers of the Church always disapproved of such foolhardy doings, and
would not allow people who acted in a way so unlike our Lord and His apostle Paul to be considered as martyrs; and Mensurius, who was the bishop of Carthage,
steadfastly set his face against all such things.
One of the ways by which the persecutors hoped to put down the Gospel,
was to get hold of all the copies of the Scriptures, and to burn them; and they
required the clergy to deliver them up. But most of the officers who had to
execute the orders of the emperors did not know a Bible from any other book; and
it is said that, when some of them came to Mensurius, and asked him to deliver
up his books, he gave them a quantity of books written by heretics, which he had
collected (perhaps with the intention of burning them himself), and that all the
while he had put the Scriptures safely out of the way, until the tyranny of the
heathens should be past.
When the persecution was at an end, some of the party whom he had
offended by setting himself against their wrong notions as to martyrdom, brought
up this matter against the bishop. They said that his account of it was false,
that the books which he had given up were not what he said, but that he had
really given up the Scriptures; and that, even if his story were true, he had
done wrong in using such deceit. They gave the name of "traitors," (from a Latin word meaning someone who
hands something over) to those who confessed that they had been frightened into
giving up the Scriptures; and they were for showing no mercy to any traitor,
however much he night repent of his weakness.
This severe party, then, tried to get up an opposition to Mensurius. They
found, however, that they could make nothing of it. But when he died, and then
Caecilian, who had been his archdeacon and his right-hand man, was chosen bishop
in his stead, these people made a great outcry, and set up another bishop of
their own against him. All sorts of people who had taken offence at Caecilian or
Mensurius thought this a fine opportunity for having their revenge, and thus a
strong party was formed. 1t was greatly helped by the wealth of a lady named
Lucilla, whom Caecilian had reproved for the superstitious habit of kissing a
bone, which she supposed to have belonged to some martyr, before communicating
at the Lord's table.
The first bishop of the party was one Majorinus, who had been a servant
of some sort to Lucilla; and, when Majorinus was dead, they set up a second
bishop, named Donatus, after whom they were called Donatists. This Donatus was a
clever and a learned man, and lived very strictly; but he was exceedingly proud
and ill tempered, and used very violent language against all who differed from
him, and his sect copied his pride and bitterness. Many of them, however, while
they professed to be extremely strict, neglected the plainer and humbler duties
of Christian life.
The Donatists said that every member of their sect must be a saint:
whereas our Lord himself had declared that evil members would always be mixed
with the good in His Church on earth, like tares growing in a field of wheat, or
bad fishes mixed with good ones in a net; and that the separation of the good
from the bad would not take place until the end of the world (Matt. 13
24-30, 36-43, 47-50). And they said that their own sect was the only true Church
of Christ, although they had no congregations out of Africa, except one which
was set up to please a rich lady in Spain, and another at Rome. Whenever they
made a convert from the Church, they baptized him afresh, as if his former
baptism were good for nothing. They pretended to work miracles, and to see
visions; and they made a very great deal of Donatus himself, so as even to pay
him honors which ought not to have been given to any child of man; for they sang
hymns to him, and swore by his gray hairs.
Shortly after Constantine got possession of Africa by his victory over
Maxentius, and declared liberty of religion to the Christians (AD 311-313), the
Donatists applied to him against the catholics, - and it was curious that they
should have been the first to call in the emperor as judge in such a matter,
because they were afterwards very violent against the notion of an earthly
sovereign's having any right to concern himself with the management of religious
affairs. Constantine tried to settle the question by desiring some bishops to
judge between the parties; and these bishops gave judgment in favor of the
The Donatists were dissatisfied, and asked for a new trial, whereupon
Constantine gathered a council for the purpose at Arles, in France (AD 314).
This was the greatest council that had at that time been seen: there were about
two hundred bishops at it, and among them were some from Britain. Here again the
decision was against the Donatists, and they thereupon begged the emperor
himself to examine their case; which he did, and once more condemned them (AD
316). Some severe laws were then made against them; their churches were taken
away; many of them were banished, and were deprived of all that they had; and
they were even threatened with death, although none of them suffered it during
The emperor, after a while, saw that they were growing wilder and wilder,
that punishment had no effect on them, except to make them more unmanageable,
and that they were not to be treated as reasonable people. He then did away with
the laws against them, and tried to keep than quiet by kindness, and in the last
years of his reign his hands were so full of the Arian quarrels nearer home that
he had little leisure to attend to the affairs of the Donatists.
After the death of Constantius, Africa fell to the share of his youngest
son, Constans, who sent some officers into the country with orders to make
presents to the Donatists, in the hope of thus bringing them to join the Church.
But Donatus flew out into a great fury when he heard of this-"What has the
emperor to do with the Church?" he asked; and he forbade the members of his
sect (which was what he meant by "the Church") to touch any of the
money that was offered to them.
By this time a stranger set of wild people called
"Circumcellions" had appeared among the Donatists. They got their name
from two Latin words which mean "around the cottages"; because,
instead of maintaining themselves by honest labor, they used to go about, like
sturdy beggars, to the cottages of the country people, and demand whatever they
wanted. They were of the poorest class, and very ignorant, but full of zeal for
their religion. But, instead of being "pure and peaceable", (James
3. 17), this religion was fierce and savage and allowed them to go on without
any check, in drunkenness and all sorts of misconduct.
Their women, whom they called "sacred virgins," were as bad as
the men, or worse. Bands of both sexes used to rove about the country, and keep
the peaceable inhabitants in constant fear. As they went along, they sang or
shouted "Praises be to God!" and this song, says Augustine, was
heard with greater dread than the roaring of a lion. At first they thought that
they must not use swords, on account of what our Lord had said to Peter (Matt. 26. 52.); so they carried heavy clubs, which they called
"Israels", and with these they used to beat people, and often so
severely as to kill them.
But afterwards the Circumcellions got over their scruples, and armed
themselves not only with swords, but with other weapons of steel, such as spears
and hatchets. They attacked and plundered the churches of the catholics, and the
houses of the clergy; and they handled any clergyman whom they could get hold of
very roughly. Besides this, they were fond of interfering in all sorts of
affairs. People did not dare to ask for the payment of debts, or to reprove
their slaves for misbehavior, lest the Circumcellions should be called in upon
them. And things got to such a pass, that the officers of the law were afraid to
do their duty.
But the Circumcellions were as furious against themselves as
against others. They used to court death in all manner of ways. Sometimes they
stopped travelers on the roads, and desired to be killed, threatening to kill
the travelers if they refused. And if they met a judge going on his rounds, they
threatened him with death if he would not hand them over to his officers for
execution. One judge whom they assailed in this way played them a pleasant
trick. He seemed quite willing to humor them, and told his officers to bind them
as if for execution; and when he had thus made them harmless and helpless,
instead of ordering them to be put to death, he turned them loose, leaving them
to get themselves unbound as best they could.
Many Circumcellions drowned themselves, rushed into fire, or threw
themselves from rocks and were dashed to pieces; but they would not put an end
to themselves by hanging, because that was the death of the traitor, like Judas.
The Donatists were not all so mad as these people, and some of their councils
condemned the practice of self-murder. But it went on nevertheless, and those
who made away with themselves, or got others to kill them in such ways as have
been mentioned, were honored as martyrs by the more violent part of the sect.
Constans made three attempts to win over the Donatists by presents,
but they held out against all; and when the third attempt was made, in the year
347, by means of an officer named Macarius, the Circumcellions broke out into
rebellion, and fought a battle with the emperor's troops. In this battle the
Donatists were defeated, and two of their bishops, who had been busy in stirring
up the rebels, were among the slain. Macarius then required the Donatists to
join the Church, and threatened them with banishment if they should refuse, but
they were still obstinate: and it would seem that they were treated hardly by
the government, although the catholic bishops tried to prevent it. Donatus
himself and great numbers of his followers were sent into banishment; and for a
time the sect appeared to have been put down.
Thus they remained until the death of the emperor Constantius (AD 361),
and Donatus had died in the mean time. Julian, on succeeding to the empire, gave
leave to all whom Constantius had banished on account of religion to return to
their homes". But the Donatists were not the better for this, as they had
not been banished by Constantius, but by Constans, before Constantius got
possession of Africa: so they petitioned the emperor that they might be recalled
from banishment; and in their petition they spoke of Julian in a way which
disagreed strangely with their general defiance of governments, and which was
especially ill-suited for one who had forsaken the Christian faith and was
persecuting it at that very time.
Julian granted their request, and forthwith they returned home in great
triumph, and committed violent outrages against the catholics. They took
possession of a number of churches, and, professing to consider everything that
had been used by the catholics unclean, they washed the pavement, scraped the
walls, burnt the communion tables, melted the plate, and cast the holy sacrament
to the dogs. They soon became strong throughout the whole north of Africa, and
in one part of it, Numidia, they were stronger than the catholics.
After the death of Julian, laws were made against them from time to time,
but do not seem to have been carried out. And although the Donatists quarreled
much among themselves, and split up into a number of parties, they were still
very powerful in Augustine's day. In his own city of Hippo he found that they
were more in number than the catholics; and such was their bitter and
pharisaical spirit that the bishop of the sect at Hippo would not let any of his
people so much as bake for their catholic neighbors.
Augustine did all that he could to make something of the Donatists, but
it was mostly in vain. He could not get their bishops or clergy to argue with
him. They pretended to call themselves "the children of the martyrs"
on account of the troubles, which their forefathers had gone through in the
reign of Constans, and they said that the children of the martyrs could not
stoop to argue with sinners and traitors. Although they professed that their
sect was made up of perfect saints, they took in all sorts of worthless converts
for the sake of swelling their numbers, whereas Augustine would not let any
Donatists join the Church without inquiring into their characters, and, if he
found that they had done anything for which they had been condemned by their
sect to do penance, he insisted that they should go through a penance before
being admitted into the Church.
But, notwithstanding the difficulties, which he found in dealing with
them, he and others succeeded in drawing over a great number of Donatists to the
Church. And this made the Circumcellions so furious that they fell on the
catholic clergy whenever they could find them, and tried to do them all possible
mischief. They beat and mangled some of them cruelly; they put out the eyes of
some by throwing a mixture of lime and vinegar into their faces; and, among
other things, they laid a plan for waylaying Augustine himself, which, however,
he escaped, through the providence of God.
Many reports of these savage doings were carried to the emperor,
Honorius, and some of the sufferers appeared at his court to tell their own
tale: whereupon the old laws against the sect were revived, and severe new laws
were also made. In these even death was threatened against Donatists who should
molest the catholics; but Augustine begged that this penalty might be withdrawn,
because the catholic clergy, who knew more about the sect than any one else,
would not give information against it, if the punishment of the Donatists were
to be so great. And he and his brethren requested that the emperor would appoint
a meeting to be held between the parties, in order that they might talk over
their differences, and, if possible, might come to some agreement.
The emperor consented to do so; and a meeting took place accordingly, at
Carthage, in 411, in the presence of a commissioner named Marcellinus. Two
hundred and eighty-six catholic bishops found their way to the city by degrees.
But the Donatists, who were two hundred and seventy-nine in number, entered it
in a body, thinking to make all the effect that they could by the show of a
great procession. At the conference (or meeting), which lasted three days, the
Donatists behaved with their usual pride and insolence. When Marcellinus begged
them to sit down, they refused, because our Lord had stood before Pilate.
On being again asked to seat themselves, they quoted a text from the
Psalms, "I will not sit with the wicked" (Ps. 26. 5), meaning that the
catholics were the wicked, and that they themselves were too good to sit in such
company. And when Augustine called them "brethren," they cried out in
anger that they did not own any such brotherhood. They tried to throw
difficulties in the way of arguing the question fairly; but on the third day
their shifts would serve them no longer. Augustine then took the lead among the
catholics, and showed at great length both how wrongly the Donatists had behaved
in the beginning of their separation from the Church, and how contrary to
Scripture their principles were.
Marcellinus, who had been sent by the
emperor to hear both parties, gave judgment in favor of the catholics. Such of
the Donatists bishops and clergy as would join the Church were allowed to keep
possession of their places; but the others were to be banished. Augustine had at
first been against the idea of trying to force people in matters of religion.
But he saw that many were brought by these laws to join the Church, and after a
time he came to think that such laws were good and useful; nay, he even tried to
find a Scripture warrant for them in the text, "Compel them to come
in" (Luke 14. 23).
And thus, unhappily, this great and good man was led to lend his name to
the grievous error of thinking that force, or even persecution, may be used
rightly, and with good effect, in matters of religion. It was one of the
mistakes to which people are liable when they form their opinions without having
the opportunity of seeing how things work in the long run, and on a large scale.
We must regret that Augustine seemed in any way to countenance such means; but
even although he erred in some measure as to this, we may be sure that he would
have abhorred the cruelties which have since been done under presence of
maintaining the true religion, and of bringing people to embrace it.
While some of the Donatists were thus brought over to the Church, others
became more outrageous than ever. Many of them grew desperate, and made away
with themselves. One of their bishops threatened that, if he were required by
force to join the catholics, he should shut himself up in a church with his
people, and that they would then set the building on fire and perish in the
flames. There were many among the Donatists who would have been mad enough to do
a thing of this kind; but it would seem that the bishop was not put to the
trial, which he expected.
The Donatists dwindled away from this time, and were little heard
of after Augustine's days, although there were still some in Africa two hundred
years later, as we learn from the letters of St Gregory the Great.
Of all the disputes in which Augustine was engaged, that with the
Pelagians was the most famous. The leader of these people, Pelagius, was a
Briton. His name would mean, either in Latin or in Greek, a "man of the
sea," and it is said that his British name was Morgan- meaning the same as
the Greek or Latin name. Pelagius was the first native of our own island who
gained fame as a writer or as a divine; but his fame was not of a desirable
kind, as it arose from the errors, which he ran into.
He was a man of learning, and of strict life; and at Rome, where he spent
many years, he was much respected, until in his old age he began to set forth
opinions which brought him into the repute of a heretic. At Rome he became
acquainted with a man named Celestius, who is said by some to have been an
Italian, while others suppose him an Irishman. It is not known whether Celestius
learnt his opinions from Pelagius, or whether each of them had come to think in
the same way before they knew one another. But, however this may be, they became
great friends, and joined in teaching the same errors.
Augustine, as we have seen, had passed through such trials of the spirit
that he thoroughly felt the need of God's gracious help in order to do, or even
to will, any good thing. Pelagius, on the contrary, seems to have always gone on
steadily in the way of his religion. Now this was really a reason why he should
have thanked that grace and mercy of God, which had spared him the dangers and
the terrible sufferings, which others have to bear in the course of their
spiritual life. But unhappily Pelagius overlooked the help of grace. He owned,
indeed, that all is from God; but, instead of understanding that the power of
doing any good, or of avoiding any sin, is the especial gift of the Holy Spirit,
he fancied that the power of living without sin was given to us by God as a part
of our nature.
He saw that some people make a wrong use of the doctrine of our natural
corruption. He saw that, instead of throwing the blame of their sins on their
own neglect of the grace, which is offered, to us through Christ, they spoke of
the weakness and corruption of their nature as if these were an excuse for their
sins. This was, indeed, a grievous error, and one, which Pelagius would have
done well to warn people against. But, in condemning it, he went far wrong in an
opposite way: he said that man's nature is not corrupt; that it is nothing the
worse for the fall of our first parents; that man can be good by his own natural
power, without needing any higher help; that men might live without sin, and
that many have so lived.
These notions of his are mentioned and are condemned in the ninth Article
of our own Church, where it is said that "Original sin stands not in the
following of Adam, as the Pelagians do vainly talk" [that is to say,
original sin is not merely the actual imitation of Adam's sin]; "but it is
the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered
of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original
righteousness" [that is, he is very far gone from that righteousness which
Adam had at the first].
And then it is said in the next Article-"The condition of man, after the fall of Adam, is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works to faith and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works, pleasing and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us [or "going before" us], that we may have a good will, and working with us when we have that good will." Thus at every step there is a need of grace from above to help us on the way of salvation.
After Rome had been taken by the Goths, in the year 410", Pelagius
and Celestius passed over into Africa, from which Pelagius, after a short stay,
went into the Holy Land. Celestius tried to get himself ordained by the African
church; but objections were made to him, and a council was held which condemned
and excommunicated him. Augustine was too busy with the Donatists to attend this
council; but he was very much alarmed by the errors of the new teachers, and
soon took the lead in writing against them, and in opposing them by other means.
Pelagius was examined by some councils in the Holy Land, and contrived to
persuade them that there was nothing wrong in his doctrines. He and Celestius
even got a bishop of Rome, Zosimus, to own them as sound in the faith, and to
reprove the African bishops for condemning them. The secret of this was, that
Pelagius used words in a crafty way, which neither the synods in the Holy Land
nor the bishop of Rome suspected. When he was charged with denying the need of
grace, he said that he owned it to be necessary; but, instead of using the word
grace in its right meaning, to signify the working of the Holy Spirit on the
heart, he used it as a name for other means by which God helps us; such as the
power which Pelagius supposed to be bestowed on us as a part of our nature; the
forgiveness of our sins in baptism; the offer of salvation, the knowledge and
instruction given to us through Holy Scripture, or in other ways.
By such tricks the Pelagians imposed on the bishop of Rome and others;
but the Africans, with Augustine at their head, stood firm. They steadily
maintained that Pelagius and Celestius were unsound in their opinions; they told
Zosimus that he had no right to meddle with Africa, and that he had been
altogether deceived by the heretics. So, after a while, the bishop of Rome took
quite the opposite line, and condemned Pelagius with his followers; and they
were also condemned in several councils, of which the most famous was the
General Council of Ephesus, held in the year 431.
Augustine did great service in opposing these dangerous doctrines; but in doing so, he said some things as to God's choosing of his elect, and predestinating them (or "marking them out beforehand") to salvation, which are rather startling, and might lead to serious error. But as to this deep and difficult subject, I shall content myself with quoting a few words from our Church's seventeenth Article-"We must receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture; and in our doings, that (the) will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared to us in the word of God."
Augustine was still busied in the Pelagian controversy when a fearful
calamity burst upon his country. The commander of the troops in Africa,
Boniface, had been an intimate friend of his, and had been much under his
influence. A rival of Boniface, Aetius, persuaded the empress, Placidia, who
governed in the name of her young son, Valentinian the Third, to recall the
general from Africa; and at the same time he persuaded Boniface to disobey her
orders, telling him that his ruin was intended. Boniface, who was a man of open
and generous mind, did not suspect the villainy of Aetius; and, as the only
means of saving himself, he rebelled against the emperor, and invited the
Vandals from Spain to invade Africa.
These Vandals were a savage nation, which had overrun part of Spain about
twenty years before. They now gladly accepted Boniface's invitation, and passed
in great numbers into Africa, where the Moors joined them, and the Donatists
eagerly seized the opportunity of avenging themselves on the catholics, by
assisting the invaders. The country was laid waste, and the catholic clergy were
treated with especial cruelty, both by the Vandals (who were Arians) and by the
Augustine had urged Boniface to return to his duty as a subject of the
empire. Boniface, who was disgusted by the savage doings of the Vandals, and had
discovered the tricks by which Aetius had tempted him to revolt, begged the
Vandal leader Genseric to return to Spain; but he found that he had rashly
raised a power, which he could not manage, and the barbarians laughed at his
entreaties. As he could not prevail with them by words, he fought a battle with
them; but he was defeated, and he then shut himself up in Augustine's city,
During all these troubles Augustine was very active in writing letters of
exhortation to his brethren, and in endeavoring to support them under their
trials. And when Hippo was crowded by a multitude of all kinds, who had fled to
its walls for shelter, he labored without ceasing among them. In June, 430, the
Vandals laid siege to the place, and soon after, the bishop fell sick in
consequence of his labors. He felt that his end was near, and he wished, during
his short remaining time, to be free from interruption in preparing for death.
He therefore would not allow his friends to see him, except at the hours
when he took food or medicine. He desired that the penitential psalms- (the
seven Psalms which are read in church on ash Wednesday, and which especially
express sorrow for sin), should be hung up within his sight, and he read them
over and over, shedding floods of tears as he read. On the 28th of August, 430,
he was taken to his rest, and in the following year Hippo fell into the hands of
the Vandals, who thus became masters of the whole of northern Africa.
(Leonard: It is a bit late Augustine to shed tears over your sins. You had done better to consider the words of the Lord as He said: "Woe unto them that are settled with their sins", than to call them to recollection. If after 35 years of being a bishop teaching the people, you have not as yet found faith for yourself, - then - upon all your self righteous proclamations, it will be said to you; "Depart from Me you workers of iniquity, I know you not.")
COUNCILS OF EPHESUS AND
CHALCEDON (AD 431-451)
Augustine died just as a great council was about to be held in the East.
In preparing for this council, a compliment was paid to him which was not paid
to any other person; for, whereas it was usual to invite the chief bishop only
of each province to such meetings, and to leave him to choose which of his
brethren should accompany him, a special invitation was sent to Augustine,
although he was not even a metropolitan", but only bishop of a small town.
This shows what fame he had gained, and in what respect his name was held, even
in the Eastern church.
The object of calling the council was to inquire into the opinions of
Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople. It would have been well for it if it had
enjoyed the benefit of the great and good Augustine's presence; for its
proceedings were carried on in such a way that it is not pleasant to read of
them But, whatever may have been the faults of those who were active in the
council it laid down clearly the truth which Nestorius was charged with
denying-that (as is said in the Athanasians creed) our blessed Lord,
"although He be God and man, yet is He not two, but one Christ;" and
this council which was held at Ephesus in the year 431, is reckoned as the third
Some years after it, a disturbance arose
about a monk of Constantinople, named Eutyches, who had been very zealous
against Nestorius, and now ran into errors of an opposite kind. Another council
was held at Ephesus in 449; but Dioscorus, bishop of Alexandria, and a number of
disorderly monks who were favorable to Eutyches, behaved in such a furious
manner at this assembly, that, instead of being considered as a general council,
it is known by the name "Latrocinium," which means a meeting of
But two years later, when a new emperor had succeeded to the government
of the East, another general council was held at Chalcedon, (AD 451); and there the doctrines of Eutyches were condemned, and Dioscotus was
deprived of his bishopric. This council, which was the fourth of the general
councils, was attended by six hundred and thirty bishops. It laid down the
doctrine that our Lord is "One, not by conversion [or turning] of the
Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the manhood into God: One altogether, not
by confusion of substance, but by unity of person; for, as the reasonable soul
and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ."
According, then, to these two councils,
which were held against Nestorius and Eutyches, we are to believe that our
blessed Lord is really God and really man. The Godhead and the manhood are not
mixed together in Him, so as to make something which would be neither the one
nor the other (which is what the creed means by "confusion of
substance"); but they are in Him distinct from each other, just as the soul
and the body are distinct in man, and yet they are not two persons, but are
joined together in one Person, just as the soul and the body are joined in one
All this may perhaps be rather hard for young readers to understand, but
the third and fourth general councils are too important to be passed over, even
in a little book like this; and, even if what has been said here should not be
quite understood, it will at least show that all those distinctions in the
Athanasians creed mean something, and that they were not set forth without some
reason, but in order to meet errors which had actually been taught.
I may mention here two other things which were settled by the Council of Chalcedon-that it gave the bishops of Constantinople authority over Thrace, Asia, and Pontus; and that it raised Jerusalem, which until then had been only an ordinary bishopric, to have authority of the same kind over the Holy Land. These chief bishops are now called "patriarchs", and there were thus five patriarchs-namely, the bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.
(Leonard: In the underlined; The beginning of their crimes against God and man that they practice to this day.)
Having thus mentioned the title of
patriarchs, I may explain here the use of another title, which we hear much
oftener-I mean the title of "pope". The proper meaning of it is
"father"; in short, it is nothing else than the word "papa,"
which children among ourselves use in speaking to their fathers. This title of
pope (or father), then, was at first given to all bishops; but, by degrees, it
came to be confined in its use; so that, in the East, only the bishops of Rome
and Alexandria were called by it, while in the West it was given to the bishop
or patriarch of Rome alone.
(Leonard: Why O you hypocrite did you not rather quote the Lord by Matthew; "And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ" And: "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master" And; "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant"
This however is as far as I am going to enter this man's little book of the history of the church. The rest of it, though it reveals history, is not in regards to the church of Christ Jesus, but to the - as the Lord calls them - temples of the devil.
For if it were not for the inserts (comments) made, so as to teach right from wrong - I would not have endured with these pages. I called to mind, where it is written; "Do not answer a fool to his folly lest you become like unto him", and; "Answer a fool lest he be wise in his own eyes." There then is a line between these two, and perhaps I may have stepped over that line to the first rather than remaining with the second.