Monday, 2 February 2015

‘A Song for Simeon’ … a Candlemas
sermon in a poem by TS Eliot

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Andrea Mantegna, 1460, Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Patrick Comerford

This evening, at this celebration of the Feast of the Presentation, or Candlemas, instead of a sermon, let me read TS Eliot’s poem, A Song for Simeon, based on the canticle Nunc Dimittis, and one of two poems written at the time of his conversion in 1927.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of TS Eliot, on 4 January 1965. Eliot titles his poem A Song for Simeon rather than A Song of Simeon, the English sub-title of the canticle in The Book of Common Prayer, and it is one of four poems Eliot published between 1927 and 1930 known as the Ariel Poems.

In Journey of The Magi and A Song for Simeon, Eliot shows how he persisted on his spiritual pilgrimage. He was baptised and confirmed in the Church of England on 29 June 1927. Journey of the Magi was published two months later, and a few months later Faber published A Song for Simeon in August 1927.

Both Journey of The Magi and A Song for Simeon draw on the journeys of Biblical characters concerned with the arrival of the Christ-child. Both poems deal with the past, with a significant epiphany event, with the future – as seen from the time of that event, and with a time beyond time – death.

The narrator in Journey of the Magi is an old man, and in that poem, Eliot draws on a sermon from Christmas 1622 preached by the Caroline Divine, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626). A Song for Simeon is also put in the mouth of an old man, the prophet Simeon in the Temple in Jerusalem. Here too, Eliot draws on a Christmas sermon by Andrewes.

In both poems, Eliot uses significant images to explore the Christian faith, images that are also prophetic, telling of things to happen to the Christ Child in the future. In both of these poems, he focuses on an event that brings about the end of an old order and the beginning of a new one.

A Song for Simeon (TS Eliot)

Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season had made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.

Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.
There went never any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.

Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.

According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This address was delivered at the Candlemas Eucharist on 2 February 2015. A podcast of this address is available here.

Hymns and readings for the Feast of
the Presentation and Candlemas

‘Candlemas 2012’ (York Minster) by Susan Hufton … from the exhibition ‘Holy Writ’ at Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014) … the cover illustration on this evening’s brochure

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas, and this evening [2 February 2015], I am presiding at the Candlemas Procession and Eucharist in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute at 5 p.m.

In the ‘Introduction and welcome’ in this evening’s brochure, I write:

This evening we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known popularly as Candlemas. This feast falls forty days after Christmas when, according to traditional religious law, the Virgin Mary, the mother of the Christ-Child, presents her first-born to the priest in the Temple in Jerusalem. Because the Holy Family was poor, they offered a turtle dove and two pigeons as a submission and a sacrifice.

This is a feast rich in meaning, with several related themes running through it – presentation, purification, meeting, and light for the world. The several names by which this day has been known throughout Christian history illustrate just how much this feast has to teach and to celebrate. These names include the Presentation, and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, although today we talk more commonly of the Feast of Candlemas.

The true meaning of Candlemas is found in its “bitter-sweet” nature. It is a feast day, and the revelation of the Christ Child in the Temple, greeted by Simeon and Anna, calls for rejoicing. Nevertheless, the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of the falling and rising of many and the sword that will piece Mary’s heart, lead on to the Passion and Easter, as the Gospel according to Saint Luke makes clear:

“… This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Candlemas is the climax of the Christmas and Epiphany season, the last great festival of the Christmas cycle. As we bring our Christmas celebrations to a close, this day is a real pivotal point in the Christian year. We now shift from the cradle to the cross, from Christmas to Passiontide – Ash Wednesday and Lent are only 16 days away. In this shift of mood, devotion and liturgy, we take with us the light of Christ – and so the ceremony of light and the blessing of candles. This is a sure promise that Christ is the eternal light and salvation of all humanity, throughout all ages.

May you know the peace and light of Christ always.

– Patrick Comerford

The readings this evening are: Malachi 3: 1-5; Psalm 24: 1-10; Hebrews 2: 14-18; Luke 2: 22-40.

Clifton Campville and Comberford ... two neighbouring parishes named on a hassock in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

We begin our celebration this evening singing as the Processional Hymn ‘In his temple now behold him’ (Irish Church Hymnal 193). This hymn was written by Canon Henry John Pye (1827-1903), Rector of Clifton-Campville, Staffordshire, where he was also Lord of the Manor, and a canon of Lichfield Cathedral. Born in Chacombe Banbury Priory, Northamptonshire, on 31 January 1827, he was a grandson of Henry James Pye (1745-1813), Poet Laureate (1790-1813), and son-in-law of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.

He was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge (BA, 1848; MA 1852), and was ordained deacon in 1850, and priest in 1851. He first served as Curate of Cuddesdon, outside Oxford (1850-1851), where Bishop Wilbeforce lived. On 21 October 1851, he married Emily Charlotte Wilberforce. From 1851-1868, he was Rector of Clifton Campville in the Diocese of Lichfield and Prebendary of Handsacre (1865-1868) in Lichfield Cathedral. While he was Rector of Clifton Campville, he commissioned George Edmund Street, the Gothic Revival architect, to restore Saint Andrew’s, the parish church. Streeet, who is known in Ireland for the restoration of Christ Church Cathedral and in England for the Law Courts in London, had designed Wilbeforce's new theological college in Cuddesdon.


In 1868, Henry, his wife Emily, and his brother and sister, joined the Roman Catholic Church. Pye later turned to the law: he was admitted at the Inner Temple in 1873 and was called to the bar in 1876. He died in Tamworth on 3 January 1903, and the Clifton Campville manor and hall were sold in 1906.

The tune for this hymn, Alleluia, Dulce Carmen, was arranged by Samuel Webbe, and is often associated with the hymn Tantum Ergo by Saint Thomas Aquinas.

The Words of welcome this evening are:

“Dear friends: forty days ago we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we recall the day on which he was presented in the Temple, when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people.

“As a sign of his coming among us, his mother was purified, as we now come to him for cleansing. In their old age, Simeon and Anna recognised him as their Lord, as we today sing of his glory. In this Eucharist, we celebrate both the joy of his coming and his searching judgment, looking back to the day of his birth and forward to the coming days of his passion.”

We sing the canticle Gloria in Excelsis as the hymn ‘Glory in the highest to the God of heaven!’ (Hymn 693), was written in 1976 by the Revd Christopher Idle. The tune ‘Cuddesdon,’ by the Revd William H Ferguson, is named after the theological college outside Oxford which was founded by Canon Pye’s father-in-law, Bishop Wilberforce.

The Gradual is Hymn 195, ‘Lord, the light of your love is shining,’ is by Graham Kendrick.

The Offertory Hymn, ‘Of the Father’s heart begotten’ (Hymn 175), is the oldest hymn in the Irish Church Hymnal, written by Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius in the fourth or fifth century as a riposte to the Arian heresy. This translation is by the Revd John Mason Neale and the Revd Sir Henry Williams Baker, while the tune is based on an arrangement by the Revd Thomas Helmore, a former minor canon of Lichfield Cathedral and curate of Saint Michael’s, Lichfield, who also helped Neale to write ‘Good King Wenceslas.’

As we go in procession to the door of the church, we sing the canticle Nunc Dimittis as Hymn 691, ‘Faithful vigil ended.’ This hymn-canticle was written by Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith while he was on holiday in 1967 to complement his paraphrase of the canticle Magnificat, ‘Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord’ (Hymn 712).

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ was presented in the Temple
and acclaimed the glory of Israel
and the light of the nations:
grant that in him we may be presented to you
and in the world may reflect his glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God, the springing source of everlasting light,
pour into the hearts of your faithful people
the brilliance of your eternal splendour,
that we, who by these kindling flames
light up this temple to your glory,
may have the darkness of our souls dispelled,
and so be counted worthy to stand before you
in that eternal temple where you live and reign,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

‘Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace’ – A window in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford) … a photograph in this evening’s brochure

Patristics (2015): 4, The Latin Fathers

Seven Fathers of the Church carved above the south door of Lichfield Cathedral (from left): Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, Saint Ambrose, Saint Gregory, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Athanasius and Saint Basil (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Introduction to Patristics,

Brown Room,

Mondays, 10.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

Outline of Module:

1,
10.30 a.m., 26 January 2015: Introducing Patristics

2, 11.30 a.m., 26 January 2015: The Apostolic Fathers

3, 10.30 a.m., 2 February 2015: The Greek Fathers

4, 11.30 a.m., 2 February 2015: The Latin Fathers

5, 10.30 a.m., 9 February 2015: The Desert Fathers

6, 11.30 a.m., 9 February 2015: The Legacy, especially for Anglicans

Monday, 2 February 2015:

4,
11.30 a.m., 2 February 2015: The Latin Fathers

Introduction:

We have been looking at the Greek Fathers, especially their role in defining the canon of scripture, the creeds of faith, and in combatting early heresies.

We know turn West to the Latin Fathers of the Church were Saint Cyprian of Carthage, Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Saint Ambrose of Milan, Saint Jerome, Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Vincent of Lérins and Saint Gregory the Great.

The setting: The Apologists

The Apologists are those early Christian writers who wrote between 120 and 220, addressing the task of a finding a reasoned defence of the faith against outside critics. They include Aristides, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Tatian, Theophilus and Tertullian.

Saint Justin Martyr (ca 100-ca 165):

Saint Justin Martyr … argued that Christianity was a true philosophy

Saint Justin Martyr was born to pagan parents and converted to Christianity ca 130. He taught first at Ephesus and later in Rome. When he refused to offer sacrifices to the emperor, he was beheaded.

In his First Apology and Second Apology, Justin Martyr argued that Christianity was a true philosophy. He developed the concept of the “generative” or “germinative” Word, who had sown the seed of truth in all humanity and had become incarnate as Christ. He used the doctrine of the Logos to explain why Christians, while remaining monotheists, worshipped Jesus Christ, regarding him as the incarnation of the Logos, “in second place” to God.

Tertullian (ca 160-ca 225)

Tertullian … introduced the term Trinity as the Latin Trinitas to the Christian vocabulary

Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florente Tertullianus) (ca 160-ca 225) was a prolific author in Early Christianity and a notable early Christian apologist. He was the son of a Roman centurion, was raised in Carthage as a pagan, and at first practised as a lawyer in Rome during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. He was converted to Christianity ca 197.

Although Tertullian wrote three books in Greek, he was the first great writer of Latin Christianity, and so is sometimes known as the “Father of the Latin Church.” He was a notable lawyer.

In his early work, De Praescriptione Hareticorum, he attacked all heresies in principle, arguing that the one true Church possesses the authentic tradition and that it alone has the authority to interpret Scripture.

In Against Marcion, he defended the identity of the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New Testament, and the Messiah of prophecy with Jesus Christ.

In Against Praxeas, he exposed the unscriptural and unhistorical teachings of Modalism, and formulated a positive doctrine of the Trinity. Tertullian introduced the term Trinity as the Latin Trinitas to the Christian vocabulary, the formula “three Persons, one Substance” as the Latin “tres personae, una substantia” (from the Koine Greek, treis hypostases, homoousios), and the terms vetus testamentum (Old Testament) and novum testamentum (New Testament).

In his Apologeticus, Tertullian is the first Latin author to speak of Christianity as the vera religio, and he systematically relegated the classical religion of the empire and other accepted cults to the position of mere superstitions.

His De Animae prefigures Augustine’s concepts of original sin.

Although in all these works Tertullian devoted himself to denouncing heretical teachings, Tertullian later joined the Montanists, an apocalyptic and heretical sect that appealed to his rigour and asceticism.

Saint Cyprian of Carthage (ca 200-258):

Saint Cyprian of Carthage … argued that the sacraments are only valid within the Church

Saint Cyprian was consecrated Bishop of Carthage in 248, was banished in 257 and was later beheaded. He argued that the sacraments are only valid within the Church, and identified the Christian ministry with the priestly and sacrificial functions in the Old Testament. He was the author of the dictum: “Habere non potest Deum patrem qui ecclesiam non habet matrem” (“he cannot have God as his father who does not have the Church as his mother”).

In his account of the Last Supper, Saint Cyprian only quotes part of a Gospel narrative. He uses “blessed” (the word used by Matthew for the bread) rather than “give thanks” (used by both Matthew and Mark) for the cup. He also uses the future tense “will be poured out” rather than the present.

Cyprian, in his Letter of Cyprian to a Certain Magnus (ca 255), wrote: “Finally, the sacrifices of the Lord proclaim the unity of Christians, bound together by the bond of a firm and inviolable charity. For when the Lord, in speaking of bread which is produced by the compacting of many grains of wheat, refers to it as his body, He is describing our people whose unity He has sustained, and when He refers to wine pressed from many grapes and berries, as his blood, He is speaking of our flock, formed by the fusing of many united together.”

In Ephesians (ca 258 AD), he wrote: “The priest who imitates that which Christ did, truly takes the place of Christ, and offers there in the Church a true and perfect sacrifice to God the Father.”

The Lord’s Prayer, Chapter 18 (252 AD):

As the prayer proceeds, we ask and say: ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ This can be understood both spiritually and simply, because either understanding is of profit in divine usefulness for salvation. For Christ is the bread of life and the bread here is of all, but is ours. And as we say ‘Our Father,’ because He is the Father of those who understand and believe, so too we say ‘our Bread’' because Christ is the bread of those of us who attain to His body.

Moreover, we ask that this bread be given daily, lest we, who are in Christ and receive the Eucharist daily as food of salvation, with the intervention of some more grievous sin, while we are shut off and as non-communicants are kept from the heavenly bread, be separated from the body of Christ as He Himself declares, saying: ‘I am the bread of life which came down from heaven. If any man eat of my bread he shall live forever. Moreover, the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.’

Since then He says that, if anyone eats of His bread, he lives forever, as it is manifest that they live who attain to His body and receive the Eucharist by right of communion, so on the other hand we must fear and pray lest anyone, while he is cut off and separated from the body of Christ, remain apart from salvation, as He Himself threatens, saying: ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.' And so we petition that our bread, that is Christ, be given us daily, so that we, who abide and live in Christ, may not withdraw from His sanctification and body.

Letter of Cyprian to a Certain Magnus, 6 (76), 5 (255 AD):

Finally, the sacrifices of the Lord proclaim the unity of Christians, bound together by the bond of a firm and inviolable charity. For when the Lord, in speaking of bread which is produced by the compacting of many grains of wheat, refers to it as His Body, He is describing our people whose unity He has sustained, and when He refers to wine pressed from many grapes and berries, as His Blood, He is speaking of our flock, formed by the fusing of many united together.

Saint Hilary of Poitiers (ca 300-ca 368):

Saint Hilary of Poitiers … the ‘Athanasius of the West’

Saint Hilary (Hilarius) of Poitiers (ca 300-ca 368) was Bishop of Poitiers and is a Doctor of the Church. He was sometimes referred to as the “Hammer of the Arians” (Malleus Arianorum) and the “Athanasius of the West.” His name comes from the Latin word for happy or cheerful.

Hilary was born at Poitiers at the end of the third or beginning of the fourth century. His education included some knowledge of Greek, and he later studied Old and New Testament writings, so that he abandoned his Neo-Platonism for Christianity, and with his wife and his daughter was baptised and received into the Church.

He was unanimously elected Bishop of Poitiers ca 350/353. At that time, Arianism was a major threat to the Western Church. Hilary secured the excommunication of Saturninus, the Arian Bishop of Arles, and of Ursacius and Valens, two of his prominent supporters.

He wrote to Emperor Constantius II described the persecutions the Arians used to try to crush their opponents (Ad Constantium Augustum liber primus, ca 355), but he was banished, along with Rhodanus of Toulouse, to Phrygia, where he spent four years in exile, traditionally for refusing to subscribe to the condemnation of Athanasius and the Nicene faith.

From Phrygia, he continued to govern his diocese, and wrote two of the most important of his contributions to dogmatic and polemical theology. His De synodis or De fide Orientalium (358), addressed to the Semi-Arian bishops in Gaul, Germany and Britain, supported the teachings of the Eastern bishops on the Nicene controversy. His De trinitate libri XII (359/360), is the first successful Latin expression in Latin of the decisions in Greek by the Council of Nicaea.

Hilary also attended several synods he was in exile, and attacked the Emperor Constantius as Antichrist and persecutor of orthodox Christians. Eventually, he returned to Poitiers in 361, shortly after the accession of Emperor Julian.

Back in his diocese in 361, Hilary spent most of the first two or three years trying to persuade the local clergy to abandon Arian subordinationism.

According to Saint Jerome, Saint Hilary died in Poitiers in 367.

His work shows many traces of vigorous independent thought. He wrote the first Latin commentary on Saint Matthew’s Gospel to survive in its entirety. This was strongly influenced by Tertullian and Cyprian, and made use of several classical writers. He also wrote an early commentary on the Psalms.

His major theological work was his 12 books now known as De Trinitate, written largely during his exile and completed after his return to Gaul.

Some consider Saint Hilary as the first Latin Christian hymn writer, because Saint Jerome says he produced a liber hymnorum, and three hymns are attributed to him. He is the pre-eminent Latin writer of the fourth century (before Ambrose). Saint Augustine calls him “the illustrious doctor of the churches.” For English and Irish educational and legal institutions, Saint Hilary’s festival lies at the start of the Hilary Term which begins in January.

Saint Eusebius of Vercelli (ca 283-371):

‘Martyrium, Heiligen, Eusebius, Vercelli’ by Gaetano Gandolfi (1784)

Eusebius of Vercelli (ca 283-371) was a bishop in Italy. Along with Athanasius, he affirmed the divinity of Christ against Arianism.

Born in Sardinia, he became the first bishop in Vercelli in northern Italy, probably sometime in the mid-340s. At some point he led his clergy to form a monastic community modelled on that of the Eastern cenobites.

In 354, Pope Liberius asked Eusebius to bring a request to the Emperor Constantius II at Milan, pleading for him to call a council to end the dissentions over the status of Athanasius of Alexandria and the debate about Arianism. The synod was held in Milan in 355. When Eusebius refused to condemn Athanasius he was exiled, first to Scythopolis in Syria, where his jailer was of the Arian bishop Patrophilus, then to Cappadocia, and lastly to the Thebaid, in Upper Egypt.

On the accession of Julian, he was free to return to his see in 362. On his way back, Eusebius visited Alexandria, where he attended Athanasius’s synod of 362 which confirmed the divinity of the Holy Spirit and the orthodox doctrine concerning the Incarnation.

He took the synod’s decisions to Antioch, where the Church was divided by schism.

Back in Vercelli in 363, he continued to be a leader with Hilary of Poitiers in defeating Arianism in the Western Church, and was one of the chief opponents of the Arian Bishop Auxentius of Milan. He died in 370/371. Later legends of his martyrdom have no historical basis.

Saint Ambrose of Milan (ca 340-397):

Saint Ambrose of Milan … the reluctant bishop

Aurelius Ambrosius, or Saint Ambrose (ca 34-397), was Archbishop of Milan and one of the most influential church figures in the fourth century. He is one of the four original doctors of the Church, and is notable for his influence on Saint Augustine.

Ambrose was born into a Roman Christian family ca 340 and was raised in Trier. His father was the praetorian prefect of Gaul, and his mother was a woman of intellect and piety.

After the early death of his father, Ambrose followed his father’s career in law and public administration. He was the Governor of Aemilia-Liguria in northern Italy in 374 when he was elected the Bishop of Milan.

In the late fourth century there was a deep conflict in the Diocese of Milan between the Orthodox Christians and the Arians. The Arian Bishop of Milan, Auxentius, died in 374, and the Arians challenged the succession. Ambrose went to the church where the election was to take place, to prevent an uproar, but his address was interrupted by a call: “Ambrose, bishop!” – a cry that was taken up by the whole assembly.

At first he refused, for he was neither baptised nor theologically educated. He tried to hide in a colleague’s house seeking to hide, but his host gave him up and within a week Ambrose was baptised, ordained and consecrated Bishop of Milan.

As bishop, he immediately adopted an ascetic lifestyle, gave his money to the poor, and gave away his lands.

According to tradition, Ambrose immediately and forcefully stopped Arianism in Milan. He studied theology, Greek, the Old Testament and Greek authors like Philo, Origen, Athanasius, and Basil of Caesarea, with whom he exchanged letters.

His rhetorical abilities impressed Augustine of Hippo, who hitherto had thought poorly of Christian preachers.

Two Arian leaders, Bishop Palladius of Ratiaria and Bishop Secundianus of Singidunum, tried to persuade the Emperor Gratian to call a general council. Instead, however, he called a council of the Western bishops, and a synod of 32 bishops met at Aquileia in 381. Ambrose was elected president and Palladius and Secundianus were deposed. But in 385/386 the Emperor and his mother Justina, along with many clergy and laity, especially military, professed Arianism. Ambrose refused the Arian demand for two churches in Milan for the Arians, despite the imperial position.

Bishop Ambrose declared: “If you demand my person, I am ready to submit: carry me to prison or to death, I will not resist; but I will never betray the church of Christ. I will not call upon the people to succour me; I will die at the foot of the altar rather than desert it. The tumult of the people I will not encourage: but God alone can appease it.”

Two incidents give rise to accusations against Ambrose of anti-semitism. In a sermon, he warned young Christians against intermarriage with Jews. Then in 388, the Bishop of Callinicum in Mesopotamia and many monks led a mob that attacked and razed the local synagogue. When the Emperor Theodosius the Great ordered the synagogue rebuilt the at the expense of the rioters, including the bishop, Ambrose protested to the Emperor:

“Shall the bishop be compelled to re-erect a synagogue? Can he religiously do this thing? If he obey the emperor, he will become a traitor to his faith; if he disobey him, a martyr. What real wrong is there, after all, in destroying a synagogue, a ‘home of perfidy, a home of impiety’' in which Christ is daily blasphemed? Indeed, he must consider himself no less guilty than this poor bishop; at least to the extent that he made no concealment of his wish that all synagogues should be destroyed, that no such places of blasphemy be further allowed to exist.”

In 390, Ambrose excommunicated the Emperor Theodosius for the massacre of 7,000 people in Thessaloniki in 390, and readmitted the emperor to the Eucharist only after several months of penance. Theodosius died in Milan in 395, and two years later, on 4 April 397, Ambrose also died.

Ambrose ranks with Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great, as one of the Latin Doctors of the Church. He is compared with Hilary of Poitiers, who falls short of Ambrose’s administrative excellence but demonstrated greater theological ability.

Ambrose also displayed a kind of liturgical flexibility that kept in mind that liturgy was a tool to serve people in worshiping God, and ought not to become a rigid entity that is invariable from place to place. His advice to Augustine of Hippo on this point was to follow local liturgical custom. “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the church where you are.”

He refused to be drawn into a false conflict over which particular local church had the “right” liturgical form where there was no substantial problem. His advice remains: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

His spiritual successor, Augustine, whose conversion was helped by Ambrose’s sermons, owes more to him than to any writer except the Apostle Paul.

Sayings of Saint Ambrose:

“There is no time of life past learning something.”

“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks. Neither angel, nor archangel, not yet even the Lord himself (who alone can say ‘I am with you’), can, when we have sinned, release us, unless we bring repentance with us.”

“The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved. The Church’s foundation is unshakable and firm against assaults of the raging sea. Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it. Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbour of salvation for all in distress. There is a stream which flows down on God’s saints like a torrent. There is also a rushing river giving joy to the heart that is at peace and makes for peace.”

“I can revel in none of my deeds, I have nothing to boast about; therefore, I will glory in Christ. I will not glory because I am just, but I will glory because I have been redeemed. I will not glory because I am exempt from sins, but I will glory because my sins have been forgiven. I will not glory because I have been a help nor because someone has helped me, but because Christ is my advocate with the Father, and Christ’s blood was poured out on me. My sin has become for me the price of the Redemption through which Christ came to me. For my sake, Christ tasted death. Sin is more profitable than innocence. Innocence had made me arrogant, sin made me humble.”

Saint Maximus of Turin (ca 380-ca 465):

Saint Maximus of Turin … author of numerous discourses

Saint Maximus of Turin is the first known Bishop of Turin. He was probably born in Rhaetia in the Alps ca 380, and died shortly after 465. We know only two reliable dates in his life. In 451, he was at the synod of Milan where the bishops of Northern Italy accepted Pope Leo I’s celebrated letter (Epistola Dogmatica) setting forth the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation against the Nestorians and the Eutychians. The second date is 465, when he was at the Synod of Rome.

He is the author of numerous discourses, including 118 homilies, 116 sermons, and six treatises or tracts.

Among the many topics discussed in his discourses are: abstinence during Lent; no fasting or kneeling at prayers during Paschal time; fasting on the Vigil of Pentecost; the impending Barbarian invasion and the Barbarian destruction of the Church of Milan; pagan superstitions; and the supremacy of Saint Peter.

Saint Jerome (ca 347-420):

Saint Jerome removes a thorn from a lion’s paw … a painting by Niccolò Antonio Colantonio

Saint Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, Εὐσέβιος Σωφρόνιος Ἱερώνυμος) is a theologian and historian, and one of the four Latin Doctors of the Church, along with Augustine of Hippo, Ambrose, and Pope Gregory I. He is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate), and his commentaries on books of the Bible. After Saint Augustine, Jerome is the second most voluminous writer in ancient Latin Christianity. He is the he only Latin Father named in the 39 Articles (see Article 6).

Saint Jerome was born at Stridon ca 347, on the borders of Dalmatia and Pannonia. He was not baptised until ca 360-366, after he went to Rome to study rhetoric and philosophy. There he learned Latin and some Greek.

On Sundays the sepulchres of the Apostles and martyrs in the catacombs, an experience that reminded him of the terrors of hell: “The black night closed around and there came to my mind the line of Vergil, Horror ubique animos, simul ipsa silentia terrent (‘On all sides round horror spread wide; the very silence breathed a terror on my soul’).”

After several years in Rome, he travelled to Gaul, settled in Trier where he studied theology and copied works by Hilary of Poitiers, including his commentary on the Psalms and the treatise De synodis. He then moved to Aquileia before setting out in 373 on a journey through Thrace and Asia Minor into northern Syria.

In Antioch, he had a vision that led him to lay aside his secular studies and devote his life to God. He spent time in the desert of Chalcis, south-west of Antioch, and made his first attempt to learn Hebrew.

Back in Antioch in 378/379, he was ordained by Bishop Paulinus. He then went to Constantinople to study Scripture under Saint Gregory Nazianzus. He was in Rome for the synod of 382, called to end the schism in Antioch. He remained in Rome to revise of the Latin Bible, basing his work on the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. He also updated the Psalter based on the Septuagint. This marks the beginning of his work on what became the Latin Vulgate Bible, his most important achievement.

In 385, he left Rome and returned to Antioch with several friends, and later that winter they visited Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the holy places of Galilee, and then Egypt, including the Catechetical School of Alexandria.

He returned to Palestine in 388, and spent the rest of his life in a hermit’s cell near Bethlehem. There he worked on his most important works: his translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew text, his scriptural commentaries, his catalogue of Christian authors, his dialogue against the Pelagians, his treatises against Origenism.

By 390, he turned to translating the Old Testament from Hebrew, having previously translated portions from the Septuagint from Alexandria. He believed that the Council of Jamnia, or mainstream rabbinical Judaism, had rejected the Septuagint as valid Jewish scriptural texts because of what were ascertained as mistranslations along with Hellenistic heretical elements. He completed this work by 405. He died near Bethlehem on 30 September 420.

Prior to Jerome’s Vulgate, all Latin translations of the Old Testament were based on the Septuagint not the Hebrew. Jerome’s decision to use a Hebrew text instead of the Septuagint went against the advice of most other Christians, including Augustine, who thought the Septuagint inspired.

Modern scholarship questions the actual quality of Jerome’s knowledge of Hebrew, and many scholars believe the Greek Hexapla is the main source for his iuxta Hebraeos translation of the Old Testament.

Unlike his contemporaries, he emphasises the difference between the Hebrew Bible Apocrypha and the Hebraica veritas of the proto-canonical books. We can see evidence of this in his introductions to the Solomonic writings, the Book of Tobit and the Book of Judith.

Saint Chromatius of Aquileia (d. ca 406/407):

Saint Chromatius of Aquileia ... opposed Arianism zealously

Saint Chromatius, Bishop of Aquileia, grew up in Aquileia, and was ordained priest there ca 387 or 388. He was one of the most celebrated bishops of his time and was in correspondence with his contemporaries such as Saint Ambrose and Saint Jerome. At his encouragement, Rufinus translated the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius into Latin.

In the bitter quarrel between Saint Jerome and Rufinus concerning Origenism, Chromatius, while rejecting the false teachings of Origen of Alexandria, attempted to make peace between the disputants.

Chromatius opposed Arianism zealously and rooted it out of his diocese. He gave loyal support to Saint John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, during his trials.

Quotation from Saint Chromatius of Aquileia:

“The Lord has shown that we cannot have the good work of perfect love if we only love those from whom in turn we know the return of mutual love will be paid in kind. Hence the Lord wishes us to overcome the common law of human love by the law of Gospel love, so that we may show the affection of our love not only toward those who love us but even toward our enemies.”

Saint Paulinus of Nola (ca 354-431):

A Gothic revival stained glass window in Linz Cathedral, Austria, showing Saint Paulinus of Nola (Photograph: Wolfgang Sauber/Wikipedia)

Saint Paulinus of Nola (Pontius Meropius Anicius Paulinus), who was born in Bordeaux, was a Latin poet and letter-writer, and a convert to Christianity faith. His renunciation of wealth and a political career in favour of an ascetic life was held up as an example by many of his contemporaries, including Augustine, Jerome, Martin of Tours and Ambrose.

After his marriage to Therasia, he converted to Christianity and was baptised ca 389. After the death of their infant child, the couple decided to live a secluded religious life, and he was ordained a priest on Christmas Day 393/394.

In 395, they moved from Spain to Nola, near Naples, where she died ca 408. Soon after her death he was ordained Bishop of Nola, perhaps in 410. He died in Nola on 22 June 431.

In later life, Paulinus took part in many church synods investigating various controversies of the time, including Pelagianism, and he may have been indirectly responsible for Augustine’s Confessions.

Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430):

The Vision of Saint Augustine, or Saint Augustine in His Study, by Vittore Carpaccio (1502)

Many of us are familiar with Augustine’s famous prayer: “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” But one of my favourite quotes from him is: “The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

Augustine was Bishop of Hippo Regius, present-day Annaba in Algeria, in the Roman province of Africa in the mid-fourth century. His writings influenced the development of Western Christianity, and his thoughts profoundly influenced the mediaeval worldview.

The American writer Thomas Cahill considers Augustine the first mediaeval man and the last classical man. Many Protestants, especially Calvinists, consider him to be one of the theological fathers of the Reformation because of his teachings on salvation and divine grace.

The Old Court in Corpus Christi College ... part of Corpus Christi College stands on the site of the Augustinian foundation in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Augustine’s early life

In his early years, Augustine was heavily influenced by Manichaeism and later by the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus. After his conversion to Christianity and his baptism in the year 387, he developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and perspectives. He believed grace is indispensable to human freedom, and he framed the concepts of ‘Original Sin and the ‘Just War.’

As the Roman Empire fell apart in the West, Augustine developed his concept of the Church as a spiritual City of God, in his book of the same name, distinct from the material earthly, secular city.

Augustine was born in 354 in Thagaste (now Souk Ahras in Algeria) in Roman Africa. His father, Patricius, was a pagan, and his mother, Monica, was a Christian. His ancestors may have included Berbers, Latins and Phoenicians, and his mother, Monica, was probably of Berber descent.

At the age of 11, Augustine was sent to school at Madaurus (now M’Daourouch), a small Numidian city about 19 miles south of Thagaste. There he became familiar with Latin literature, as well as pagan beliefs and practices. At home in 369 and 370, he read Cicero’s lost dialogue, Hortensius, which left a lasting impression on him and sparked his interests in philosophy. At 17, he went to Carthage – now a suburb of Tunis, the capital of Tunisia – to continue his education in rhetoric.

Hedonist and Manichaean conflicts

Monica raised Augustine as a Christian, but much to her despair he left the Church to follow the dualist cult of Manichaeism, a synthesis of Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. Manichaean ways of thinking later influenced the development of some of his ideas, including the nature of good and evil, the idea of hell, the separation of groups into elect, hearers, and sinners, and his hostility to the flesh and sexual activity.

Meanwhile, Augustine was living a hedonistic lifestyle, and during this period he uttered his famous prayer: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet” (da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo). In Carthage, he began an affair with a young woman who remained his lover for over 13 years and together they had a son Adeodatus.

After teaching grammar in Thagaste and rhetoric in Carthage, he moved to Rome in 383 to establish a school of rhetoric. From Rome, he moved to Milan in 384 to teach rhetoric at the imperial court.

Conversion, baptism, ordination

In Milan, his life changed and he had begun to drift away from Manichaeism, partly because of a disappointing meeting with the Manichean bishop, Faustus of Mileve. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, then came to have great influence on Augustine. Ambrose was a master of rhetoric like Augustine, but older and more experienced.

Monica followed her son to Milan, where she arranged a marriage for him. He abandoned the woman he had loved and lived with for so long, and later, in his Confessions, described how he was hurt by this, although claiming that over time the experience decreased his sensitivity to pain.

Yet, while waiting for his 11-year-old fiancée to come of age, he found another lover. Eventually, he broke off his engagement, never renewed his relationship with the woman he had lived with for so many years, and then abandoned his second lover too. He later said that he could not live a life in the love of wisdom if he married.

In 386, inspired by the Desert life of Saint Antony, Augustine had a deep personal crisis. He converted to Christianity, abandoned his teaching career in Milan, gave up any ideas of marriage, and decided to devote himself entirely to God, to the priesthood, and to celibacy. He said his conversion was prompted by a child-like voice telling him: “tolle, lege” (“take up and read”).

Ambrose baptised Augustine, along with his son, Adeodatus, at the Easter Vigil in Milan in 387. A year later, in 388, he returned to Africa. On the journey back, Monica died, and Adeodatus died soon after. Back in Africa, Augustine completed his apology, On the Holiness of the Catholic Church, sold property he had inherited and gave the money to the poor. He kept only the family house, but turned this into a monastic foundation for himself and a group of friends.

In 391, he was ordained priest in Hippo Regius (now Annaba in Algeria). There he became a famous preacher – more than 350 of his sermons may have survived – and he was noted for combating the Manichaean religion, to which he had once adhered.

Siege and death

In 396, he was made coadjutor bishop of Hippo, and became the diocesan bishop soon after, remaining there until he died in 430. Much of his later life was recorded by his friend Possidius, Bishop of Calama (present-day Guelma, Algeria). Possidius admired Augustine for his intellect and his gifts as an orator. He describes a man who ate sparingly, worked tirelessly, despised gossip, shunned the temptations of the flesh, and exercised prudence in the financial stewardship of his diocese.

Shortly before Augustine’s death, Roman North Africa was invaded by the Vandals, who had converted to Arianism. They besieged Hippo in the spring of 430, while Augustine was on his sick bed.

He died on 28 August 430, while Hippo was still under siege. He spent his last days in prayer and repentance, with the penitential Psalms hung on his walls so he could read them. Shortly after his death, the Vandals lifted the siege of Hippo, but they returned later and burned the city.

Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, stands on the site of an earlier Augustinian foundation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A prolific writer

Augustine was a prolific author, and the list of his surviving works consists of more than 100 separate titles, including apologetic works against the heresies of the Arians, Donatists, Manichaeans and Pelagians, texts on doctrine, Biblical commentaries, sermons and letters.

He is probably best known for his Confessions (13 books), an account of his earlier life, and Of the City of God (22 books), written to restore the confidence of Christians badly shaken by the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in 410. In his On the Trinity, he developed his ‘psychological analogy’ of the Trinity; this is seen by many as one of the greatest theological works of all time. He also wrote On free choice of the Will, considering why God gives humans free will that can be used for evil.

Augustine as philosopher:

In his philosophical and theological reasoning, he was greatly influenced by Stoicism, Platonism and Neo-Platonism, particularly the work of Plotinus. In addition, he was influenced by the works of Virgil, Cicero and Aristotle. Although he later abandoned Neo-Platonism, some ideas can still be found in his early writings. His generally favourable view of Neo-Platonic thought contributed to the acceptance of Greek thought among Christians and later in the European intellectual tradition.

Saint Thomas Aquinas took much of Augustine’s ideas while creating his own unique synthesis of Greek and Christian thought after the rediscovery of the work of Aristotle. Augustine’s thinking influenced Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and Reformation theologians such as Martin Luther and John Calvin were inspired by him later.

Augustine’s early writings on the human will also inspired or challenged many philosophers, from Kierkegaard to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

An interesting example of Augustine’s advanced philosophical thinking is found in his writings on the concept of time. Augustine believed that everything in the universe was created simultaneously by God, and not in six calendar days, as a literal interpretation of Genesis might require. He argued that the six-day structure of creation presented in Genesis represents a logical framework, rather than the passage of time in a physical way – it was a spiritual, rather than physical, meaning. One reason for this interpretation is a passage in Sirach 18: 1: “He created all things at once.” He took this as proof that the days in Genesis had to be taken non-literally.

In the City of God, Augustine rejected the immortality of the human race proposed by pagans. He does not envision original sin as the origin of structural changes in the universe, and even suggests that Adam and Eve were already created mortal before the Fall. Augustine recognises that the interpretation of the creation story is difficult, and suggests we should be willing to change our minds about it as new information comes up.

The latter part of his Confessions consists of an extended meditation on the nature of time. Bertrand Russell said it is “a very admirable relativistic theory of time ... It contains a better and clearer statement than Kant’s of the subjective theory of time – a theory which, since Kant, has been widely accepted among philosophers.”

Augustine believed God exists outside of time in the “eternal present.” He said time only exists within the created universe because only in space is time discernible through motion and change.

His meditations on the nature of time are closely linked to his consideration of the human ability of memory. His descriptive approach to intentionality, memory, and language as these phenomena are experienced within consciousness and time has both anticipated and inspired the insights of modern phenomenology and hermeneutics.

Augustine’s theology of lust, sex, war and the Church

As a theologian, Augustine’s most controversial thoughts are in the areas of free-will, ‘Original Sin’ and pre-destination; his views on sex and lust; his ecclesiology or theology of the Church; and his foundational thinking on the ‘Just War’ theory.

Augustine, free will, lust and ‘Original Sin’:

Augustine’s concept of ‘Original Sin’ was developed in his works against the Pelagians.

Augustine taught that Adam’s guilt, which was transmitted to his descendants, much enfeebles their freedom of will, but does not destroy it. For Augustine, the ‘Original Sin’ of Adam and Eve was either an act of foolishness followed by pride and disobedience to God or the opposite: pride came first. The first couple disobeyed God, who had told them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2: 17). The tree was a symbol of the order of creation. Self-centeredness made Adam and Eve eat of it, and so they failed to acknowledge and respect the world as it was created by God, with its hierarchy of beings and values. They would not have fallen into pride and lack of wisdom if Satan had not sown into their senses “the root of evil” (radix mali). Their nature was wounded by concupiscence or libido, which affected human intelligence and will, as well as affections and desires, including sexual desire.

Augustine’s understandings of the consequences of original sin and of the necessity of redeeming grace was developed in the struggle against Pelagius – who may have been of Irish birth – and his disciples, the Pelagians. They did not agree that libido wounded human will and mind, insisting that human nature was given the power to act, to speak, and to think when God created it. Human nature cannot lose its moral capacity to do good.

The Pelagians insisted that human affections and desires were not touched by the fall either, and that immorality, including fornication, is exclusively a matter of will. But Augustine argued that the apparent disobedience of the flesh to the spirit is one of the results of original sin, and the punishment of Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience to God. (see Against Two Letters of the Pelagians 1.31-32.)

By malum (evil), he was referring primarily to concupiscence, which he regarded as a dominant vice that causes moral disorder in men and women.

So, were Augustine’s beliefs in this area rooted in his long involvement with the Manicheans, who taught that the original sin was carnal knowledge?

Or was he influenced more by the neo-Platonist Plotinus, who taught that only through disdain for the desires of the flesh could one reach the highest state of humanity?

Or, as some writers suggest, was Augustine’s attitude to expressions of human sexuality and sex shaped by his need to reject his own highly sensual nature?

Augustine teaches that human sexuality has been wounded, together with the whole of human nature, and requires redemption. That healing is a process realised in conjugal acts. The virtue of continence is achieved through the grace of the sacrament of Christian marriage, which becomes therefore remedium concupiscentiae – a remedy for concupiscence. But, he says, the redemption of human sexuality is fully realised only in the resurrection of the body.

Augustine believed the sin of Adam is inherited by all humans and that ‘Original Sin’ is transmitted by concupiscence, which he regarded as the passion of both soul and body, making humanity massa damnata (a mass of perdition or condemned crowd). Because of ‘Original Sin’, he said, humanity’s free will was much enfeebled, though not destroyed.

For Augustine, the evil was not in the sexual act itself, but in the emotions that accompany it. He contrasts love and lust: “By love I mean the impulse of one’s mind to enjoy God on his own account and to enjoy oneself and one’s neighbour on account of God, and by lust I mean the impulse of one’s mind to enjoy oneself and one’s neighbour and any corporeal thing not on account of God.” (See Confessions 3.37).

Proper love, he says, exercises a denial of selfish pleasure and subjugates bodily desire to God. Chastity, he says, is “a virtue of the mind, and is not lost by rape, but is lost by the intention of sin, even if unperformed.” His life experience led him to consider lust to be one of the most grievous sins, and a serious obstacle to the virtuous life.

He speaks of members of the Church being divided into “the roses of martyrs,” “the lilies of virgins,” “the ivy of married people,” and the “violets of widows.” (see Sermon 304.2). This reflects Augustine’s Platonic approach to hierarchies in creation and in life. But it sounds ugly to my ears to speak of married people as weeds and martyrs, virgins and widows as flowers.

Augustine saw the human being as a perfect unity of two substances: soul and body. In his late treatise On Care be Had for the Dead (section 5, 420 AD), he said the body should be respected because it belonged to the very nature of the human person: “In no wise are the bodies to be spurned … for these pertain not to ornament or aid which is applied from without, but to the very nature of man.”

Augustine’s favourite image to describe body-soul unity is marriage: caro tua, coniunx tua – your body is your wife. Initially, the two elements were in perfect harmony. Since the Fall, though, they are now experiencing dramatic combat between one another.

He said the body is a three-dimensional object composed of the four elements, whereas the soul has no spatial dimensions. Augustine did not go into detail to explain the metaphysics of the soul-body union. They are metaphysically distinct, but to be human is to be a composite of soul and body, and the soul is superior to the body. This is grounded in his hierarchical classification of things into those that merely exist, those that exist and live, and those that exist, live, and have intelligence or reason.

Augustine’s doctrine about liberum arbitrium or the free will and its inability to respond to the will of God without divine grace is interpreted in terms of Predestination: grace is irresistible, results in conversion, and leads to perseverance.

Augustine taught that the eternal fate of the soul is determined at death, and that purgatorial fires of the intermediate state purify only those who die in communion with the Church.

Thomas Aquinas offered a more optimistic view of humanity than that of Augustine and his ideas about original sin leave the reason, will, and passions of fallen humanity with their natural powers even after the Fall. However, Luther and Calvin argued that ‘Original Sin’ completely destroys liberty.

Both Lutherans and Calvinists claim that, according to Augustine, human beings are utterly depraved in nature. According to them, humans are spoiled by the original sin to the extent that the very presence of concupiscence (fomes peccati, incendiary of sin) is already a personal sin.

The Calvinist view of Augustine’s teachings rests on the assertion that God has fore-ordained, from eternity, those who will be saved. The number of the elect is fixed. God has chosen the elect certainly and gratuitously, without any previous merit on their part.

Baptism and ‘Original Sin’:

The concept of ‘Original Sin’ as put forward by Augustine would turn the Sacrament of Baptism into a necessity and a rite for washing the soul free of sin, rather than it being the Sacrament of regeneration and of incorporation into the Body of Christ. It became a ‘pass card’ to heaven, rather than entrance to membership of the Church.

Arguing against the Pelagians, Augustine stressed the importance of infant baptism. However, when it comes to the question of whether baptism is an absolute necessity for salvation, Augustine refined his beliefs during his lifetime, confusing later theologians about his position.

In one sermon, he said: “God does not remit sins but to the baptised” (A Sermon to the Catechumens on the Creed, par 16.) But in his City of God, he indicates he believes in an exception for children born to Christian parents, arguing that in the final days or at the Apocalypse there could not be a scenario where some Christian children have not yet been baptised and whose parents could not “find some way of bringing them to the laver of regeneration.” (see City of God, 20.8.)

Augustine, the Church and Sacraments:

Augustine followed Cyprian in teaching that the bishops of the church are the successors of the apostles. Augustine developed his doctrine of the Church principally as his response to the Donatist schismatics. He taught a distinction between the “church visible” and “church invisible.” The former is the institutional body on earth which proclaims salvation and administers the sacraments; the latter is the invisible body of the elect, made up of genuine believers from all ages, and who are known only to God.

Augustine says the visible church will be made up of “wheat” and “tares,” or good and wicked people (see Matthew 13: 30), until the end of time. This concept countered the Donatists’ claim that they were the only “true” or “pure” Church on earth.

In his City of God, he speaks of the Church as a heavenly city or kingdom, ruled by love, which finally triumphs.

Reacting against the Donatists, Augustine developed a distinction between the “regularity” and the “validity” of a sacrament. Regular sacraments are performed by the bishops and priest of the Church, while sacraments performed by schismatics are considered irregular. In this, Augustine differs from Cyprian, who taught that converts from schismatic movements must be re-baptised.

For Augustine, the validity of the sacraments does not depend on the holiness of the priests who perform them (ex opera operato). He accepts that irregular sacraments are still valid, provided they are done in the name of Christ and in the manner prescribed by the Church.

Augustine’s thinking is reflected later in the 39 Articles, which say that the worthiness of the minister does not affect the validity of the sacrament:

“Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.” (Article 26)

Augustine was convinced of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist: “Christ was carried in his own hands when, referring to his own body, he said, ‘This is my body’ [Matthew 26: 26]. For he carried that body in his hands.”

Augustine explicitly describes the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ: “That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ.

“What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction.”

Augustine and the ‘Just War’ theory:

Augustine agreed strongly with the conventional wisdom of the time that Christians should be pacifists in their personal lives. But he argued that this did not apply to the defence of innocents. In essence, the pursuit of peace must include the option of fighting to preserve peace in the long-term. Such a war could not be pre-emptive, but defensive, to restore peace.

Later, Thomas Aquinas developed Augustine’s thinking to define the conditions under which a war could be deemed to be just:

1, War must be for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power.

2, War must be waged by a properly constituted authority such as the state.

3, Peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.

Augustine and education:

Augustine is an influential figure in the theory of education. Teachers should respond positively to questions from students, no matter how much they interrupt teachers. He identified three categories of students, and thought teachers should adapt their teaching styles to each student’s learning style.

The three types of students are: those who have been well-educated by knowledgeable teachers; those who have had no education; and those who have a poor education but believe themselves to be well-educated.

Augustine stressed the importance of showing the third type of student the difference between having words and having understanding, and of helping the student to remain humble with his acquisition of knowledge.

Was Augustine a heretic?

The shrine of Saint Gregory Palamas in Thessaloniki ... some Orthodox theologians argue that Augustine was in error, if not a heretic (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Augustine was canonised by popular acclaim, and was later recognised in the West as a Doctor of the Church in 1298 by Pope Boniface VIII. But most of his works were not translated into Greek until around 1360 by Demetrios Cydones.

Generally, Orthodox theologians see Augustine as a saint whose doctrines have been deformed or distorted by the West and that he erred on certain teachings. Many Orthodox Christians identify errors in his theology – especially his thinking that gave rise to the addition of the filioque in the Nicene Creed – and regard him as one of the major factors in the Great Schism. Although there has never been any conciliar condemnation of Augustine nor of his writings, some Orthodox theologians regard him as a heretic and have excluded him from the list of saints.

The most important doctrinal controversy surrounding his name is the filioque. Other doctrines that are not acceptable in the Orthodox Church are his views on original sin, on the doctrine of grace, and on predestination.

A major Orthodox theologian, Saint Photios, also argues that Augustine erred, but goes on to say that a saint who erred on a doctrine that was instituted after his death is not guilty of heresy and that the holiness of the person was not lessened. He says that while Augustine, Ambrose and Jerome use the filioque, they did not intend to include it in the Creed.

During the debates on Hesychasm in the 14th century, Augustinian theology was condemned as presented by Barlaam, a Calabrian monk who caused the controversy. This resulted in the ultimate condemnation in the councils of the 14th century of western Augustinianism as it was put forward by Barlaam.

Saint Gregory Palamas, who was the principal figure in this debate, maintained that God’s essence is totally transcendent, and he emphasised that we cannot know or comprehend God’s essence. He rejected the Augustinian view of revelation by created symbols and illumined vision, and Augustine’s view that the vision of God is an intellectual experience.

Because of Barlaam’s arguments, the East rejected Augustinian theology, seeing Augustine as accepting the Neo-Platonist presupposition that a saint is able to have a vision of the divine essence as the archetype of all beings. Saint Gregory Palamas calls this the Greek pagan error and maintains that humans attain theosis through participation in the divine energies.

At the Council of Ferrara-Florence in 1438, bringing together theologians of the Latin West and the Greek East, the authority of Augustine was debated. There, Saint Gennadios Scholarios claimed: “We [the Orthodox] believe in the Church; they [the Latins] in Augustine and Jerome.” He argued that no-one is a “saint” in isolation; if that were the case, the Church would be subservient to the teachers and change according to the whims of strong personalities.

Stating that even saints may err, Scholarios argued against those who based false doctrines on the validity and holiness of Augustine.

Scholarios traces Augustine’s philosophical approach to revelation to the Manichean phase in his life. His pagan and Manichean training remained with him all his life, so that Scholarios says: “Lord deliver us from the Augustinian dialectic.” Scholarios is critical of Augustine’s theology because he feels that he has not discarded the influence of his pagan Greek philosophical training before his conversion to Christianity.

The 18h century Orthodox theologian, Nikodemos the Hagiorite, included the name of Saint Augustine in the synaxaristes or the book of the saints on 15 June. But some Orthodox theologians have condemned Augustine recently as an innovator of heretical teachings. Those who are extremely critical include Father John Romanides and Father Michael Azkoul.

In his doctoral dissertation at the University of Athens, Father Romanides dismissed Augustine as the source of all the western heresies and deformation of dogma. In his Franks, Romans, Feudalism and Doctrine, Father Romanides severely attacks Augustine as heretical. He points to the thrust of Augustine’s theological errors on the filioique, and says his basic mistake lies in his rejection of the “distinction between what persons are and what they have (even though this is a biblical distinction) and identified what God is with what He has.”

Father Romanides says Augustine “never understood the distinction between 1, the common essence and energies of the Holy Trinity; and 2, the incommunicable individualities of the divine hypostases.” He criticises Augustine for speculating on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and claims he confuses “generation” and “procession,” and identifies them with the divine energies.

He says Augustine ignores the Patristic tradition, making presuppositions based on philosophical hermenuetics and not on the Church Fathers. He says Augustine completely misinterprets the Scriptures because he identifies the Divine Essence with the Divine Energies.

Father Michael Azkoul, a conservative, old-calendarist theologian, also attacks Augustine’s theology and his works as heretical. He points out that Augustine was not known in the East and had not, until recently, been listed in the list of saints. He states: “His writings lie at the basis of every heresy which now afflicts the religion of the West.”

Father Azkoul argues that Augustine fell into several heresies and became the source for the heretical West. So he blames Augustine for the deformation of the theology of the West.

Saint Vincent of Lerins (d. 445):

Saint Vincent of Lerins: ubique, semper, ab omnibus

Saint Vincent of Lérins (Vincentius), a Gallic author of early Christian writings, was born in Toulouse. He entered the monastery of Lérins (Isle St Honorat), where under the pseudonym of Peregrinus he wrote his Commonitorium (434), in which he refers to the Council of Ephesus (431). He defends calling the Virgin Mary Theotokos, in opposition to the teachings of Nestorius which were condemned at the Ephesus.

Vincent’s object in his Commonitorium is to provide himself with a general rule to distinguish Christian truth from heresy. He commits what he has learnt to writing so he have it for reference as a Commonitory, or Remembrancer, to refresh his memory.

The Commonitorium emphasises the primacy of scripture as the ground of truth He offers three tests of accurate scripture interpretation: universality, antiquity, and consent.

Vincent has been charged with semipelagianism, but it is not clear whether he actually held those views, and he never expresses in the Commonitorium. It is possible that he held to a position closer to the Eastern Orthodox position of today.

He certainly seems to have objected to much of what Augustine wrote as “new” theology, he shared Saint John Cassian’s reservations about Augustine’s views on the role of grace, and omits Augustine’s name from his list of theologians and teachers who made significant contributions to the defence and spread of the Gospel.

The famous threefold test of orthodoxy expressed by Saint Vincent of Lérins is: “Care must especially be had that that be held which was believed everywhere [ubique], always [semper], and by all [ab omnibus].” By this triple norm of diffusion, endurance, and universality, a Christian can distinguish religious truth from error.

Quotation from Saint Vincent of Lérins:

“If one yields ground on any single point of Catholic doctrine, one will later have to yield later in another, and again in another, and so on until such surrenders come to be something normal and acceptable. And when one gets used to rejecting dogma bit by bit, the final result will be the repudiation of it altogether.”

Pope Gregory I (ca 540-604):

Saint Gregory the Great ... his papacy marks the recovery of the Latin Church

Only two Popes, Leo I and Gregory I, have been given the popular title of “the Great.” Both served in the difficult times of the Barbarian invasions of Italy.

Saint Gregory the Great (ca 540-604), who was Pope from 590 until he died in 604, is a Doctor of the Church and one of the Latin Fathers. He is revered as a saint in many parts of the Church, including among the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches.

His life story bridges the gap between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the end of the dark ages, between the Patristic period and the mediaeval church. His great concerns included reform and innovation in monasticism, pastoral care, ecclesial structures, liturgy and church music.

Saint Gregory was born into a patrician family about 540, and became Prefect of Rome in 573. Shortly afterwards he retired to a monastic life in a community he founded in his ancestral home on the Coelian Hill.

Pope Pelagius II appointed him as his apocrisiarius or Ambassador to Constantinople in 579. Not long after his return home, Pope Pelagius died of the plague, and in 590 Gregory was elected as his successor. He was the first of the popes to come from monastic background, and his life was a true witness to the title he assumed for his office: “Servant of the servants of God.”

Saint Gregory’s pontificate was one of strenuous activity. He organised the defence of Rome against the attacks of the Lombards, and fed the people from papal granaries in Sicily. He administered “the patrimony of Saint Peter” with energy and efficiency.

Following the Barbarian invasions and the fall of Rome, the recovery of the Latin Church only truly begins with the papacy of Gregory I. His ordering of the Church’s liturgy and chant has moulded the spirituality of the Western Church until the present day. He is respected for his prolific writings, and for his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman liturgy of his day.

Saint Gregory the Great is credited with re-energising the Church’s missionary work in northern Europe. In 596, he sent Saint Augustine on a mission to England. Saint Augustine is counted as the first Archbishop of Canterbury, while the historian the Venerable Bede has called Gregory the Apostle of the English.

He promoted monasticism, made important changes in the liturgy and fostered the development of liturgical music. He gave the Roman Schola Cantorum its definite form. The mainstream form of Western plainchant, standardised in the late eighth century, was attributed to Pope Gregory I and so became known as Gregorian chant.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Saint Gregory is credited with compiling the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts, which is celebrated on Wednesdays, Fridays, and certain other weekdays during Great Lent.

Saint Gregory the Great died on 12 March 604, and was buried in Saint Peter’s Basilica. Immediately after his death, he was canonised by popular acclaim.

Saint Gregory is a Doctor of the Church and one of the Latin Fathers. He is well known for his writings, which were more prolific than those of any of his predecessors as pope. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition he is known as Saint Gregory the Dialogist because of his Dialogues. For this reason, English translations of Orthodox texts sometimes name him as Gregory Dialogus.

Throughout the Middle Ages, he was known as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his exceptional efforts in revising the Roman worship of his day.

The Reformer John Calvin admired Gregory the Great and declared in his Institutes that Gregory was the last good Pope.

Some aphorisms and quotations attributed to Saint Gregory the Great:

Non Angli, sed angeli – “They are not Angles, but angels.” These words are said to have been spoken by Saint Gregory when he first encountered pale-skinned English boys being sold in the slave market in Rome. The Venerable Bede says this also inspired his decision to send Saint Augustine of Canterbury to England.

Ecce locusta – “Look at the locust.” Saint Gregory wanted to go to England as a missionary and started. After setting out, his group stopped on the fourth day to eat lunch. A locust landed on the edge of the Bible he was reading and he exclaimed: “Ecce locusta, look at the locust.” However, reflecting on it he saw it as a sign, as loco sta means “stay in place.” Within the hour, an emissary from the Pope arrived to call him back to Rome.

“I beg that you will not take the present amiss. For anything, however trifling, which is offered from the prosperity of Saint Peter should be regarded as a great blessing, seeing that he will have power both to bestow on you greater things, and to hold out to you eternal benefits with Almighty God.”

Pro cuius amore in eius eloquio nec mihi parco – “For the love of whom (God) I do not spare myself from His Word.” The sense is that since the creator of the human race and redeemer of him unworthy gave him the power of the tongue so that he could witness, what kind of a witness would he be if he did not use it but preferred to speak infirmly.”

Next:

5, 10.30 a.m., 9 February 2015: The Desert Fathers

6, 11.30 a.m., 9 February 2015: The Legacy, especially for Anglicans

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This lecture on 2 February 2015 was part of the Year I MTh module, Introduction to Patristics.

Patristics (2015): 3, The Greek Fathers

An icon of the Council of Nicaea, with the Emperor Constantine and the bishops holding a scroll with the words of the Nicene Creed

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Introduction to Patristics,

Brown Room,

Mondays, 10.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m.

Outline of Module:

1,
10.30 a.m., 26 January 2015: Introducing Patristics

2, 11.30 a.m., 26 January 2015: The Apostolic Fathers

3, 10.30 a.m., 2 February 2015: The Greek Fathers

4, 11.30 a.m., 2 February 2015: The Latin Fathers

5, 10.30 a.m., 9 February 2015: The Desert Fathers

6, 11.30 a.m., 9 February 2015: The Legacy, especially for Anglicans

Monday, 2 February 2015:

3,
10.30 a.m., 2 February 2015: The Greek Fathers

Introduction:

This week, I want us to look first at the Greek Fathers and then at the Latin Fathers, and to provide a brief introduction to them within the context of the heresies at the time, the development of the Creeds, and the conflicts that were decided on the first Councils of the Church.

Although the Orthodox tradition tends to put no closing date on the Patristic Age, it is generally accepted that this period came to a close in the West at the death of Saint Isidore of Seville in 636 and in the East with the death of Saint John of Damascus ca 750.

The works of Early Fathers, who wrote before the Council of Nicaea, were translated into English in a 19th century collection, the Ante-Nicene Fathers. Those who wrote after the First Council of Nicaea are collected in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers.

The Apostolic Fathers were followed by the Greek Fathers, so first of all this morning we are travelling through the East Mediterranean, from Alexandria to Caesarea, from Constantinople to Jerusalem, back to Alexandria again and from there on to Damascus.

In these places, we meet the great Greek Fathers from the fourth to eighth centuries, hear the voice of the great Fathers of the Christological debates; we listen to Saint Athanasius; to Saint Basil, one of the greatest of that younger generation of bishops who carried on the fight that Athanasius had fought and finally defeated the Arian heresy; to Saint Basil and his dear friend, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, the patron saint of people who do not want to be bishops; and to Saint John Chrysostom, the great model and patron of preachers.

There too we also meet two Saints Cyrils: Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, who spent 16 of his 35 years as a bishop in banishment; and Saint Cyril of Alexandria, the champion of the Mother of God against the Nestorian heresy.

And if we stay long enough we finally meet Saint John of Damascus in the eighth century, the first of the Christian Aristotelians who lived his entire life under Muslim rule.

These Greek Father offer us the opportunity to do theology by reliving the gritty events in which it was originally hammered out. We see its champions suffer and at times take questionable paths. Yet we also witness their fortitude and perseverance, and we glimpse in their struggles a tangible sanctity.

The first of these Greek Fathers is Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (ca 130-ca 200), but the most important Greek Fathers lived between the years 293 to 754, most of them living in the 200-400s.

When we are looking at the writings of the Fathers, it is helpful to understand the historical background to their writings. During the period between the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451 and the death of Saint John of Damascus ca 750, the relationships between Empire and Church were so close that they seemed seem almost one, with the Emperor in the East often playing a prominent role in religious matters, while in the West the Papacy assumed increasing secular authority.

The domination of the East – reflected in the triumph of Greek over Latin as the language of administration – meant that Rome and the Western provinces were seen as rather provincial. On the other hand, the Church in the East faced challenges from a range of theological ideas. Nestorian and Monophysite doctrines were not suppressed by the Council of Chalcedon, new disputes arose, and there were strong differences over icons or images. Islam became a major threat to the Empire from the 7th century on, and Islamic ideas also carried weight in religious matters.

The Greek Fathers include:

● Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (ca 293-373).

● The Cappdocian Fathers, including:

● Saint Basil the Great, of Caesarea (330-379).

● Saint Gregory Nazianzus (330-390).

● Saint Gregory of Nyssa (ca 330-ca 395).

● Saint John Chrysostom (344-407).

● Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386).

● Saint Cyril of Alexandria (died 444).

● Saint Maximus the Confessor (ca 580-662).

● Saint John of Damascus (died 754).

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons (ca 130-ca 200):

Saint Ignatius of Antioch ... writes against the Docetics

Saint Irenaeus (ca 130-ca 200), Bishop of Lyons, was a disciple of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna and became Bishop of Lugdunum (present-day Lyons) in Gaul (France) – so, he bridges the gap between the Apostolic Fathers and the Greek Fathers, and the gap between East and West.

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons was a notable early apologist, his writings were formative in the early development of theology, and so he is often seen as the first great theologian. He was born, perhaps in Smyrna, some time in the 2nd century and died at the end of the 2nd or beginning of the 3rd century. Saint Irenaeus was a disciple of Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, one of the Apostolic Fathers, who in turn was said to be a disciple of Saint John the Divine. He became Bishop of Lugundum in Gaul, which is now Lyons in France.

His writings were formative in the early development of theology. His best-known book, Adversus Omnes Haereses (Against Heresies) (ca 180), is a detailed attack on heresies, particularly Gnosticism, which threatened the Church at the time. A second work, The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, was found in recent decades in Armenian collections.

Saint Irenaeus opposed Gnosticism, not by setting out a rival Christian gnosis, but by emphasising the traditional elements in the Church, especially the episcopacy, Scripture and the religious and theological tradition.

One of the first heresies was Docetism. The word Docetic comes from the Greek word meaning “to appear.” This heresy held that Christ really did not have a physical body, but only appeared to have one, that he was truly a spiritual being, and as such, could not have had a true body.

Some scholars believe Saint John’s Gospel contains some anti-Docetic texts. For example, in Chapter 21 Christ eats fish with his disciples (see John 21: 9-14). It seems I John was also written to combat this heresy: “... every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (I John 4: 2).

Saint Ignatius of Antioch is clearly writing against Docetics when he says: “He was then truly born, truly grew up, truly ate and drank, was truly crucified, and died, and rose again” (Philippians 3).

Saint Irenaeus wrote that the only way for Christians to retain unity was to humbly accept one doctrinal authority – episcopal councils.

He is also the first patristic writer to propose that the four Gospels according to Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke and Saint John, should be accepted as canonical Gospels. He also cites passages from almost every other New Testament book.

He developed a doctrine of the ‘recapitulation’ or summary of human evolution in the Incarnate Christ, thereby giving a positive value of its own to Christ’s humanity.

Saint Irenaeus gives us many details about his time, recounting the succession of bishops in Rome from Saint Peter and Saint Paul to his day, and gives us the basis for a creed recited during his times.

Saint Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-ca 215):

Saint Clement of Alexandria … the most influential of the apologists

Saint Clement of Alexandria (Κλήμης ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς or Titus Flavius Clemens, ca 150-ca 215) was perhaps the most influential of the apologists and represents a period when the Church in Egypt was recovering from a 50-60 year period when Gnosticism was the dominant force.

He was one of the most distinguished teachers in the Church of Alexandria, the first member of the Church of Alexandria to be more than a name. He was born about the middle of the 2nd century, and he died ca 215. He was trained in Alexandria’s Catechetical School, where he was a pupil of Pantaenus in Alexandria, and assumed the role of teacher ca 190. However, he was forced to flee Alexandria during a persecution ca 202.

Saint Clement unites Greek philosophical traditions with Christian doctrine and valued gnosis that with communion for all people could be held by common Christians. He developed a Christian Platonism. Like Origen, he arose from the Catechetical School of Alexandria and was well versed in pagan literature.

His surviving writings include: the Protrepticus, or an “Exhortation to the Greeks”; the Paedagogus, on Christian life and manners; and eight books of Stromateis, or “Miscellanies,” although the last of these books is probably a misplaced fragment on logic.

Saint Clement’s work represents an attempt to counter the charge that Christianity is a religion for the ignorant. He presents Christianity as the fulfilment of the Old Testament of Greek philosophy, uniting Greek philosophical traditions with Christian doctrine.

Saint Clement depicts the Logos as exposing the error and immorality of Greek religion and leading people, through Baptism, to the true religion of Christianity. He applies the term “Gnostic” to the Christian who has attained a deeper understanding of the Logos.

Saint Clement presents the ultimate goal of the Christian life as “deification.

Origen of Alexandria (ca 185–ca 254):

Origen Teaching the Saints … an icon of the Theologian Origen of Alexandria (Eileen McGuckin)

Although he cannot be not regarded as one of the Fathers, Origen, or Origen Adamantius (ca185–ca 254) is important as a Biblical critic, theologian and spiritual writer.

According to tradition, he was an Egyptian who was brought up as a Christian and taught in Alexandria, reviving the Catechetical School where Clement had been a teacher. At first, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Demetrius, supported Origen.

When trouble broke out in Alexandria in the year 215, Origen fled to Palestine. But his preaching there was regarded as a breach of the church discipline in Alexandria, and Patriarch Demetrius called him back.

Origen went to Palestine again in the year 230, and there he was ordained priest by the bishop who had invited him to preach on his previous visit. As a consequence, Demetrius deprived Origen of his teaching position in Alexandria and deposed him from the priesthood for being ordained without the patriarch’s permission.

In 231, he relocated to Caesarea Maritima, where he established another school that became a famous. During the Decian persecution, Origen was imprisoned and tortured. He died ca 254 after being tortured during a persecution.

Origen wrote much, but many of his works have perished and most of the others survive only in fragments or in Latin translations. His main work on Biblical criticism was his Hexapla, his unique, corrected Septuagint in parallel columns, using his knowledge of Hebrew.

He wrote commentaries on all the books of the Bible. His principal theological work is his Peri Archon (First Principles), in which he articulated the first philosophical exposition of a wide range of Christian doctrines. His two ascetical works, Exhortation to Martyrdom and On Praying, were well read in the past. He also wrote an apologetic work against Celsus.

He interpreted scripture allegorically and showed himself to be a stoic, a Neo-Pythagorean, and a Platonist. Like Plotinus, he wrote that the soul passes through successive stages before incarnation as a human and after death, eventually reaching God. He imagined even demons being reunited with God.

For Origen, God was not Yahweh but the First Principle, and Christ, the Logos, was subordinate to him. His views of a hierarchical structure in the Trinity, the temporality of matter, “the fabulous pre-existence of souls,” and “the monstrous restoration which follows from it” were declared anathema in the 6th century.

As a Biblical scholar, Origen recognised a triple sense – literal, moral and allegorical – of which he favoured the allegorical. The point of departure of his doctrinal teaching was faith in the unity of God. This unity, in its fullest sense, is understood of God the Father, and for Origen the Son is divine only in a lesser sense than the Father.

In his philosophical speculations, he affirmed that creation is eternal, that all spirits are created equal, but that through the exercise of their free will they have developed in hierarchical order and that some have fallen into sin, so becoming demons or souls imprisoned in bodies. Origen held that death does not finally decide the fate of the soul, which may turn into an angel or a demon. He believed that this ascent and descent goes on until the final Apocatastasis, when all creatures – even the Devil – will be saved.

Because of his heretical views, Origen is technically not a Church Father by many definitions of that term but still needs to be considered as an ecclesiastical writer. Origen’s teaching on the pre-existence of souls and his denial of identity of the mortal and resurrection bodies was rejected by the Church, as well as his Trinitarian teachings in Peri Archon.

His teachings were attacked by Saint Jerome, Saint Methodius of Olympus, Bishop in Lycia, and by Saint Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus.

In his treatise on the Resurrection, Methodius took issue with Origen and upheld the identity of the resurrection body with the physical body of this life.

In an attempt to vindicate Origen’s orthodoxy, Rufinus issued a Latin translation of Peri Archon in the year 398. However, a Council of Alexandria in 400 condemned Origen’s teachings. The controversy over Origen’s teachings re-emerged in the 6th century, but they were condemned finally in 553 at the Second Council of Constantinople.

His writings remain important as early serious intellectual attempts to describe Christianity. His teachings were not merely theoretical, but were imbued too with intense ethical power, and he has left mediating images and symbols, as well as the final goal of attainment.

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria (ca 296-373):

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria … remembered for his role in the conflict with Arianism and for his affirmation of the Trinity

Athanasius I of Alexandria (ca 296-373), Patriarch of Alexandria, Saint Athanasius the Great or Saint Athanasius the Apostolic, was a theologian, Church Father and a noted Church leader of the 4th century. He is best remembered for his consistent role opposing Arius and Arian party in Alexandria.

In his De Incarnatione, written perhaps ca 318, Saint Athanasius expounds how God the Word, the Logos, by his union with humanity, restored to fallen humanity the image of God, and by his death and resurrection overcame death.

At the first Council of Nicaea (325), Saint Athanasius argued against Arius and his teaching that Christ is of a distinct substance from the Father. Three years later, he succeeded as Bishop of Alexandria, but his continuing conflicts with the Arians led to his forced exile on a number of occasions between 336 and 366.

Between 339 and 359, he wrote a series of works defending the true divinity of the Son. From about 361, he worked on reconciling the semi-Arian party to the Nicene term ὁμοούσιος (homoousios, “of one substance”). In his Epistles to Serapion, he argued for the divinity of the Holy Spirit.

He should also be remembered as the friend and biographer of the Desert Father, Saint Antony, and as a bishop who encouraged the early ascetic movement. He is credited with introducing knowledge of monasticism to the Western Church.

The Cappadocian Fathers:

Saint Basil of Caesarea; Saint Gregory of Nyssa; and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Patriarch of Constantinople ... the Cappadocian Fathers made important contributions our understanding of the Trinity, as settled in the Nicene Creed

The Cappadocian Fathers set out to demonstrate that Christians could hold their own in conversations with learned Greek-speaking intellectuals. They argued that Christian faith, while it was against many of the ideas of Plato and Aristotle (and other Greek Philosophers), it was an almost scientific and distinctive movement with the healing of the souls of humans and their union with God at its centre.

They made major contributions to the definition of the Trinity, finalised at the First Council of Constantinople (381) and the final version of the Nicene Creed.

The Cappadocians were a fourth-century monastic family, led by Saint Macrina the Younger (324–379), who provided a central place for her brothers to study and meditate, and provided a peaceful shelter for their mother. They are:

Saint Basil the Great (ca 330–379), who was the second oldest of Saint Macrina’s brothers, became Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa (ca 335-post 394), his brother, who was the Bishop of Nyssa.

Saint Gregory Nazianzus (ca 329/330-ca389/390), a close friend of this family, became Patriarch of Constantinople.

They are closely associated with Saint Peter of Sebaste (ca 340-391), who was a brother of Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and their eldest brother was the Christian jurist Naucratius.

The Cappadocian Fathers set out to show that Christians could hold their own in conversations with learned Greek-speaking intellectuals and that the Christian faith, while it was against many of the ideas of Plato, Aristotle and other Greek philosophers, was an almost scientific and distinctive movement with the healing of the soul of a person and his union with God at its centre.

They made major contributions to the definition of the Trinity finally accepted at the First Council of Constantinople in 381, and to what we now accept as the final version of the Nicene Creed.

Despite the First Council of Nicaea, Arianism did not simply disappear. The semi-Arians taught that the Son is “like in substance” to the Father (homoiousios) as against the outright Arians who taught that the Son was like the Father (homoean). So the Son was held to be like the Father but not of the same essence as the Father.

The Cappadocians worked to bring these semi-Arians back to the Orthodox cause. In their writings, they made extensive use of the now orthodox formula “three substances (hypostases) in one essence (ousia).” In this way, they explicitly acknowledged a distinction between the Father and the Son – a distinction that Nicaea had been accused of blurring – but at the same time insisting on their essential unity.

Saint Basil the Great (ca 330-379) was a hermit near Neocaesarea when he was called on by his bishop to defend orthodoxy against the Arianism of the Emperor Valens. He became Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia in 380, and as bishop was involved in disputes with the extreme Arian party, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. He tried to reconcile the semi-Arians and tried to show that their term ὁμοιούσιος (homoiousios, “of similar substance”) had the same implications as the term ὁμοούσιος (homoousios, “of one substance”) in the Nicene Creed.

Due primarily to Saint Basil’s exertions, the controversy over Arianism came to an end at First Council of Constantinople in 381.

Saint Basil also had great organisational talents, and provided Eastern monasticism with the structure and ethos it has to this day.

Saint Gregory of Nyssa (ca 330-ca 395) was a brother of Saint Basil the Great. He was a monk before becoming Bishop of Nyssa in Cappadocia ca 371. He was deposed as bishop in 376, but regained his see in 378. In his defence of doctrinal orthodoxy and the doctrine of the Trinity in the Nicene Creed, Gregory distinguished carefully between the generation of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit.

This Saint Gregory is remembered for his sermons, his exegeses, his polemical treatises against heretics, his defences of doctrinal orthodoxy, and his spiritual guide for monks, De Instituto Christiano.

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (ca 329/330-ca389/390) was the son of a Bishop of Nazianzus in Cappadocia and was educated in Athens before becoming a monk. Around 372, he was consecrated Bishop of Sasima in Cappadocia, and assisted his father as a suffragan bishop. He was brought to Constantinople in 379, when his preaching helped to restore the Nicene faith. In 381, Gregory was appointed Patriarch of Constantinople, but he retired later that year.

His Five Theological Orations include an elaborate treatment of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Together, Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory Nazianzus compiled a major part of the Philokalia, an important anthology and source of Patristic writings.

A prayer of Saint Gregory of Nazianzus:

Merciful Father, take pity on me.
Have mercy on your servant who implores your grace.
Stretch forth your hand, and cleanse my inmost thoughts,
and snatch me from the jaws of death.
Never deprive me of your Holy Spirit.
So pour your courage and your strength into this soul of mine
that I may ever hymn you with all my heart and voice.


Saint John Chrysostom (ca 347-ca 407):

Saint John Chrysostom … the ‘golden-mouthed’ Patriarch of Constantinople

Saint John Chrysostom (ca 347-ca 407), Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος, Patriarch of Constantinople, is known as an eloquent preacher and public speaker – the name Chrysostom means “golden-mouthed.” John Chrysostom is known chiefly as a preacher, theologian and liturgist, particularly in the Eastern Orthodox Church. But he is also known for his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, for his for ascetic sensibilities, and for his sermons and writings that make him the most prolific of the Eastern Fathers.

He was a hermit before being ordained deacon and priest, and his sermons began to receive acclaim from 386 on. His famous sermons “On the Statues” were preached in 387 after a series of riots in Antioch when the imperial statues were torn down. His sermons on the books of the Bible brought him the reputation as the greatest Christian expositor.

Saint John Chrysostom wrote: “Where the Church is, there is the treasure of the unutterable Mysteries.” (Homily XIV on I Corinthians).

His works combine a great ability to see an author’s spiritual meaning with an equal ability to provide the immediate, practical application. He opposed the allegorical exegesis of scripture, instead stressing the literal meaning.

In 398, he became Patriarch of Constantinople, but he was deposed in 403 after he opposed those in Alexandria who continued to follow Origen’s teachings.

After his death ca 407 – or, according to some sources, during his life – he was given the Greek epithet chrysostomos, meaning “golden mouthed,” rendered in English as Chrysostom.

He has given his name to the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, the normal liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and to the Prayer of Saint Chrysostom, which Thomas Cranmer introduced from that liturgy to Evening Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer.

Saint John Chrysostom is known chiefly as a preacher and theologian, particularly in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He is the patron saint of orators in the Roman Catholic Church.

However, eight of his sermons play a considerable role in the history of Christian anti-semitism, and they were extensively cited by the Nazis in their ideological campaign against the Jews.

A mosaic of Saint John Chrysostom in the Aghia Sophia in Constantinople

Prayers of Saint John Chrysostom:

1. O Lord, deprive me not of your heavenly blessings.
2. O Lord, deliver me from eternal torment.
3. O Lord, if I have sinned in my mind or thought, in word or deed, forgive me.
4. O Lord, deliver me from every ignorance and heedlessness, from pettiness of the soul and stony hardness of heart.
5. O Lord, deliver me from every temptation.
6. O Lord, enlighten my heart darkened by evil desires.
7. O Lord, I, being a human being, have sinned; I ask you, being God, to forgive me in your loving kindness, for you know the weakness of my soul.
8. O Lord, send down your grace to help me, that I may glorify your holy Name.
9. O Lord Jesus Christ, inscribe me, your servant, in the Book of Life, and grant me a blessed end.
10. O Lord my God, even if I have done nothing good in your sight, yet grant me, according to your grace, that I may make a start in doing good.
11. O Lord, sprinkle on my heart the dew of your grace.
12. O Lord of heaven and earth, remember me, your sinful servant, cold of heart and impure, in your Kingdom.
13. O Lord, receive me in repentance.
14. O Lord, leave me not.
15. O Lord, save me from temptation.
16. O Lord, grant me pure thoughts.
17. O Lord, grant me tears of repentance, remembrance of death, and the sense of peace.
18. O Lord, grant me mindfulness to confess my sins.
19. O Lord, grant me humility, charity, and obedience.
20. O Lord, grant me tolerance, magnanimity, and gentleness.
21. O Lord, implant in me the root of all blessings: the fear of you in my heart.
22. O Lord, grant that I may love you with all my heart and soul, and that in all things I may obey your will.
23. O Lord, shield me from evil persons and devils and passions and all other lawless matters.
24. O Lord, who knows your creation and what you have willed for it; may your will also be fulfilled in me, a sinner, for you art blessed for evermore. Amen.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria (ca 376–444):

Saint Cyril of Alexandria … known as the ‘Pillar of Faith’ and ‘Seal of all the Fathers’

Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Κύριλλος Ἀλεξανδρείας (ca 376–444) was the Patriarch of Alexandria when the city was at its height of influence and power within the Roman Empire. Cyril wrote extensively and was a leading protagonist in the Christological controversies of the late 4th and early 5th centuries.

He was a central figure in the First Council of Ephesus in 431, which led to the deposition of Nestorius as Patriarch of Constantinople. Cyril’s reputation within the Christian world has resulted in his titles “Pillar of Faith” and “Seal of all the Fathers.”

Saint Cyril regarded the embodiment of God in the person of Jesus Christ to be so mystically powerful that it spread out from the body of the God-man into the rest of humanity, to reconstitute human nature into a graced and deified condition of the saints, one that promised immortality and transfiguration to believers.

There are negative accounts too of Saint Cyril. He excluded Patriarch John of Antioch, a supporter of Arius, from the Council of Ephesus for arriving late. He is also known for his involvement in the expulsion of Novatians and Jews from Alexandria and the murder of the Hellenistic philosopher Hypatia by Egyptian monks. However, historians disagree on the extent of his responsibility for these events.

Saint Maximus the Confessor (ca 580-662):

Saint Maximus the Confessor and His Miracles … a 17th-century icon from Solvychegodsk

Saint Maximus the Confessor (also known as Maximus the Theologian and Maximus of Constantinople) (ca 580–662) was a monk, theologian, and scholar. In his early life, he was a civil servant and an aide to the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. However, he gave up this life in the political sphere to enter into the monastic life.

After moving to Carthage, Saint Maximus studied several Neo-Platonist writers and became a prominent author. When one of his friends began espousing the Christological position known as Monothelitism, Saint Maximus was drawn into the controversy, in which he supported the Chalcedonian position that Christ had both a human and a divine will.

His Christological positions eventually resulted in his torture and exile, soon after which he died. However, his theology was vindicated by the Third Council of Constantinople, and he was venerated as a saint soon after his death on 13 August 662. His feast day is celebrated twice during the year: on 21 January and on 13 August. His title of Confessor means that he suffered for the faith, but not to the point of death, and thus is distinguished from a martyr. His Life of the Virgin is thought to be the earliest complete biography of Mary, the mother of Christ.

Evagrios Pontikos (349-399)

Evagrios Pontikos, Εὐάγριος ὁ Ποντικός (349-399), was a contemporary of many of these Eastern Fathers. He was a noted preacher in Constantinople, but in 382 he withdrew to the Desert, where he spent the rest of his life in prayer.

Evagrios Pontikos was born in 345 or 346, probably at Ibora in Pontus, and is considered one of the major founding fathers of Christian spiritual writing. A disciple of the Cappodocian Fathers, he was ordained a reader by Saint Basil the Great and he accompanied Saint Gregory the Theologian to the Council of Constantinople in 381. He draws upon the living experience of the Desert Fathers of Egypt, among whom he spent the last years of his life.

Identifying and editing the works of Evagrios works is a continuing process. After his posthumous condemnation, his writings often survived in anthologies; in Syriac, Armenian, or Latin translations; or in pseudonymous collections ascribed to other more acceptable figures, such as Saint Basil or Saint Nilus.

Evgarios was one of the great teachers of prayer, and many of the later writers on prayer acknowledge their indebtedness to him. There is a dictum in the Philokalia attributed to Evagrios, in which he says: “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” [Treatise on Prayer, 61.]

He greatly influenced Saint John Cassian who introduced Evgarios’s thinking to western monasticism, and his ideas are reflected in the writings of Saint John Klimakos, especially The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

Some thoughts from Evagrios:

“You must choose a way of life that suits your lesser abilities. Travel your road and you will find life there, for your Lord is merciful, and he will find you acceptable not because of your achievements, but because of your heart’s intention, just as he received the poor widow’s gift.”

“When you are praying, do not shape within yourself any image of the Deity, and do not let your intellect be stamped with the impress of any form; but approach the Immaterial in an immaterial manner, and then you will understand.”

“Allow the Spirit of God to dwell within you. Then, in his love, he will come and make a habitation with you.”

“God’s angels are standing around you, do not be afraid. The hosts of demons are watching opposite you, do not grow careless.”

His main works include:

Praktikos, Λόγος πράκτικος (Practicus et epistula ad Anatolium): The first of three works (along with Gnostikos and the Kephalaia Gnostica) considered one of his more important works. This treatise comprises 100 chapters discussing praktika – the preliminary disciplines of the ascetic life, dealing with the passions of the body.

Gnostikos, Γνωστικὸς ἢ Πρὸς τὸν καταξιωθέντα γνώσεως (Gnosticus): The second part of the trilogy, comprising 50 chapters. This treatise discusses gnostika – the mental or spiritual front of the ascetic life.

Kephalaia Gnostica, Ἑξακόσια προγνωστικὰ προβλήματα (Kephalaia gnostica): The third part of the trilogy in 540 chapters or 90 chapters in each of six “centuries,” discussing gnostika further.

Skemmataor Reflections, Σκέμματα (Capita cognoscitiua): These 65 sentences fall into three sections: 39 from the Gnostic Chapters, 23 from On Thoughts, and three unparalleled, and so termed a supplement. The number 65 is derived from textual criticism. This text, according to Mar Babai (569-628), who wrote an extensive commentary on the Kephalaia gnostica, was a supplement to the 540 chapters of the 600 promised in the Kephalaia gnostica (Mar Babai’s version of Reflections contained only 60 chapters).

Antirrheticos, Ἀντιῤῥητικός (Antirrheticus): Comprises lists of Scriptures that are effective in combating the eight passions. The text is organised according to the eight passions with scriptures listed according to their biblical order.

Sentences to the Monks, Πρὸς τοὺς ἐν κοινοβίοις ἢ συνοδίαις μοναχούς (Sententiae ad monachos): 137 chapters on the monastic life, written in distychs, in imitation of the Proverbs, directed probably to a monastic community in Jerusalem associated with Melania and Rufinus. Evagrios discusses matters foundational to the coenobitic monastic life, so the material resembles, in some ways, a rule. This work is often associated with the next work under the title The Mirrors.

Sentences to a Virgin, Παραίνεσις πρὸς παρθένον (Sententia ad Virginem): 56 sentences of spiritual instruction addressed to a virgin. She is unnamed, but probably was an associate of Melania and Rufinus. This work is written in distychs in imitation of the Proverbs. Evagrios discusses matters foundational to the coenobitic monastic life for women, so the material resembles, in some ways, a rule. It is often associated with the previous work under the title The Mirrors.

62 Letters (Epistula LXII): 62 letters of various lengths, all letters of spiritual counsel to various figures such as Rufinus, Saint Melania the Elder, Saint Gregory Nazianzus and Bishop John of Jerusalem.

Letter to Melania (Epistula ad Melaniam): This may be his last and longest extant letter. It deals extensively with Christology and the ministry of letter writing, as well as the apokatastasis. The recipient may have been Melania the Elder, or Rufinus.

Dogmatic Letter (Sermo sive dogmatica epistula de sanctissima trinitate): His first extant letter, dealing with Trinitarian doctrine and his flight from Pontus, among other things. It was written around 380, when Evagrios was with Saint Gregory of Nazianzus during his stormy time in Constantinople. The letter was included in the first printed editions of Saint Basil’s letters, despite the mixed attributions in manuscripts.

On Prayer, Περὶ προσευχῆς ἢ Λόγος εἰς ρνγʹ κεφαλαῖα διειλημμένος (De oration): This treatise, a prologue and 153 chapters on prayer, was shown in the 1930s to be by Evagrios, despite its attribution in the Greek manuscript tradition to Saint Nilus.

Saint John of Damascus (ca 676-749):

Saint John of Damascus ... ‘the last of the Fathers’

Saint John of Damascus (Ἰωάννης Δαμασκηνός, Iôannês Damaskênos), also known as John Damascene, Χρυσορρόας/Chrysorrhoas, “streaming with gold” — i.e., “the golden speaker”) (ca 676-749) was a Syrian monk and priest. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, he is regarded as the “last of the Fathers.”

He was born in Damascus ca 676 and raised there. A polymath whose fields of interest and contribution included law, theology, philosophy, and music, before being ordained, he served as a chief administrator to the Muslim caliph of Damascus, wrote works expounding the Christian faith, and composed hymns which are still in use in Eastern Christian monasteries.

He wrote in the First Homily in Defence of the Holy Icons:

In times past, God, without body and form, could in no way be represented. But now, since God has appeared in the flesh and lived among men, I can depict that which is visible of God ... [for Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1: 15).] I do not venerate the matter but I venerate the Creator of matter, who became matter for me, who condescended to live in matter, and who, through matter accomplished my salvation; I do not cease to respect the matter through which my salvation is accomplished.

However, his most important work is his three-part Fount of Knowledge, which includes his comprehensive defence of the Orthodox Faith. This is one of the most important single works produced in the Greek Patristic period, offering an extensive and lucid synthesis of the Greek theological science of the period. It is the first great Summa of theology to appear in either the East or the West.

He composed hymns that are still used liturgically in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Two of his hymns are included in the Church Hymnal of the Church of Ireland: ‘Come, ye faithful, raise the strain’ (No 262) and ‘The Day of Resurrection’ (No 283).

His writings include treatises defending Orthodox Christianity against many of the heresies of the day, including the Jabobites, Nestorians, Monophysites and Monthelites. He was fluent in Arabic and well-read in the Quran, and in one of the first Christian refutations of Islam, he describes Islam as the “Heresy of the Ishmaelites,” and compares it with Arianism.

He died at his monastery, Mar Saba, near Jerusalem, on 4 December 749. Long after his death, his writings made an important contribution to the debates at the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. The council was called by the Empress Irene to settle the Iconoclastic Conflict, and its decision is celebrated in the Orthodox Church as “The Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

Three prayers of Saint John of Damascus:

Hold dominion over my heart, O Lord: keep it as your inheritance. Make your dwelling in me, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Widen in me the cords of your tabernacle, even the operations of your Most Holy Spirit. For you are my God and I will praise you, together with the Eternal Father and your quickening Spirit, now, henceforth and forever. Amen.

O Lord and Master Jesus Christ, our God, who alone has power to forgive the sins of humanity, I pray to you, O Good One who loves humanity, forgive all the sins that I have committed in knowledge or in ignorance, and make me worthy to receive without condemnation your divine, glorious, immaculate and life-giving Mysteries; not unto punishment or unto increase of sin; but unto purification, and sanctification and a promise of your Kingdom and the Life to come; as a protection and a help to overthrow the adversaries, and to blot out my many sins. For you are a God of Mercy and compassion and love towards humanity, and unto you we ascribe glory together with the Father and the Holy Spirit; now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

I stand before the gates of your Temple, and yet I refrain not from my evil thoughts. But, O Christ my God, who justified the publican, and had mercy on the Canaanite woman, and opened the gates of Paradise to the thief; I pray you to open unto me the compassion of your love towards humanity, and to receive me as I approach and touch you, like the sinful woman and the woman with the issue of blood; for the one, by embracing your feet received the forgiveness of her sins, and the other by but touching the hem of your garment was healed. And I, most sinful, dare to partake of your whole Body. Let me not be consumed but receive me as you received them, and enlighten the perceptions of my soul, consuming the accusations of my sins; through the intercessions of her that without stain gave birth to you, and of the heavenly Powers; for you are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

The New Testament Canon:

The Book of Kells … how did we agree on the canon of Scripture?

As we saw, Marcion had his own canon that included Saint Luke’s Gospel and an edited form of most of the Pauline letters in edited form. His list is the first known listing of what is called a New Testament canon.

Justin Martyr gives several New Testament citations although he cites no New Testament writings by name.

Later, ca 170-175, Tatian produced a harmony of the four Gospels known as the Diatessaron, which reveals that the church recognised four Gospels.

The four Gospels are confirmed ca 175 by Irenaeus of Lyons in Against the Heresies. He also refers almost all the documents that become part of the New Testament, including most of the Pauline letters and, all three Pastoral letters, but not Philemon, II Peter, III John, and Jude, yet including I Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas.

Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian cite hundreds of references from almost every New Testament document, apart from four or five small epistles. From then on, the writings of an increasing number of Fathers are filled with biblical references.

The Muratorian Canon represents the oldest known list or canon of the New Testament, although the beginning and end of the manuscript are missing. The document, from ca 170 AD, was discovered in a library in Italy by Ludovico Antonio Muratori, and it lists:

● [Matthew and Mark are apparently in the missing fragment at the beginning]
● Luke and John
● The Acts of the Apostles
● All 13 Pauline letters
● I and II John ( the writer refers to two letters of John)
● Jude
● the Revelation of John

What is missing? This list omits Hebrews, I Peter, II Peter, and III John. But it also names some books documents not later accepted as canonical.

By the middle of the second century most of the 27 documents in the canonical New Testament have gained wide acceptance, especially the four gospels. Many Gnostic texts and many orthodox texts were not accepted as canonical.

By the third century there is a noticeable increase in citations from the “inspired” writings that become the New Testament, from writers such as Tertullian, Hippolytus of Rome, Origen of Alexandria and Cyprian of Carthage.

By the fourth century, there is a degree of consensus among writers about the content of the New Testament. These writers include Lactantius, Eusebius of Caesarea, Athanasius of Alexandria, the Cappadocian Fathers (Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory Nazianzus), John Chrysostom, Jerome, Rufinus, and Augustine of Hippo.

The first historical reference listing the 27 canonical writings in the New Testament is in the Easter Letter of Athanasius in 367, when he states that these are the only recognised writings to be read in church.

The first church council to rule on the list was the Synod of Hippo in 393. But we only know of this decision because it was referred to at the third Synod of Carthage in 397. Even Canon 24 of Carthage does not list every single book, and there is no comment about why or how this list was agreed upon.

The New Testament developed, or evolved, over the course of the first 250 or 300 years of Church history, and no one person, no one council, made the decision.

The debate about the Trinity:

Trinitarian symbolism in the clerestory lights in Lichfield Cathedral … how did the doctrine of the Holy Trinity develop? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Belief in the Trinity begins at an early stage, but there is no significant theological writing about the Trinity outside the New Testament until the first part of the third century in the works of Origen of Alexandria.

Around 220, Sabellius, a Libyan Church leader, rejected the concept of three personalities, and sought to hold tightly to a monotheistic position. Sabellius taught a type of modalism, in which each part of the Trinity was revealed through energies but did not have a separate personality.

This theological discussion was taken up by the Bishop of Rome, Dionysius, and the Bishop of Alexandria, also named Dionysius and a student of Origen. Dionysius of Rome understood the Greek word ὑπόστᾰσις (hypostasis) to mean “substance,” while Dionysius of Alexandria was actually talking about “personality.” This linguistic struggle only made a delicate and technical discussion more difficult.

In addition, the Greek word ὁμοούσιος (homoousios), “same substance,” was introduced to the discussion to talk about whether the Father and the Son were of the “same substance.” Dionysius of Alexandria used the term “same substance,” but refused to rely on it theologically because the word was not used in any biblical text. However, Dionysius of Rome was fully prepared to accept this usage.

In the end this discussion showed the willingness of regional bishops to work together for a common faith, but it also opened the door for the future problems. The concept of ὁμοούσιος would resurface and the bishops at Nicaea would act in a definitive fashion.

Paul of Samosata

Paul of Samosata became the Bishop of Antioch ca 260, when the differences between Antioch and Alexandria come to the surface. Paul of Samosata held that Jesus had not been eternally united with the Logos, but had been infused with Logos at his baptism. Dionysius of Alexandria called a council and at a council ca 265 the Alexandrian bishops affirmed the pre-existence of Christ. Another council in 268 called on Paul of Samosata to recant. When he refused, he was condemned.

These struggles foreshadowed the principal controversy of the fourth century. The Arian controversy, in part, lead to the first major Church Council, the Council of Nicaea in 325, when the bishops were summoned by the Emperor Constantine.

Donatus and Donatism:

The Emperor Constantine in a mosaic in the great basilica of Aghia Sophia

A dispute arose in Carthage about Bishop Caecilian who was consecrated by a traditor (“betrayer”). At the same time, Donatus was active around the region of Numidia rebaptising priests who had lapsed and giving them a commission to preach and administer the Eucharist again. It had been greed earlier that it was not necessary to rebaptise people, even if they had been baptised into a less than orthodox sect. But Donatus was doing this within the region of an accepted bishop, and without his authority.

The Donatists refused to accept the sacraments from someone who had lapsed during persecution. The Numidian bishops called a council in 312 and deposed Caecilian, but shortly afterwards Constantine ruled in favour of Caecilian and those he had appointed. The Donatists appealed to the emperor for another council and asking for bishops from Gaul.

Constantine agreed to call a council headed by Miltiades, the Bishop of Rome. When that council ruled in favour of Caecilian, the Donatists appealed again on the grounds that Miltiades had been appointed by Marcellinus, who had also lapsed during persecution. Constantine called a larger council at Arles. In all, 33 bishops, including three from Britain, attended and approved a number of canons on the date of Easter and regulations on clergy moving from one region to another. They also decided that churches would not rebaptise the lapsed or those who came from heretical sects.

In the end, Donatus and his churches continued, and the Donatist movement continued into the fifth century.

Arius and the Arian Controversy:

Arius … radical or conservative?

The story of Arius also begins during the period of persecutions. During the Diocletian persecution, bishops in Egypt were divided on how strictly to treat lapsed Christians. In prison in Alexandria, Peter, the more lax-minded Bishop of Alexandria, and Meletius, a much stricter bishop from Upper Egypt, disagreed so sharply that they hung a curtain to separate themselves in their shared prison cell to separate themselves from each other.

The dispute continued after they were released from prison. Arius was initially among the people loyal to Bishop Meletius. Meanwhile, Bishop Peter rearrested and martyred. When Arius was ordained a priest by Bishop Peter’s successor, the Meletians treated him as a traditor.

Another controversy revolved around some of the writings of Origen of Alexandria, and became the first major theological struggle over the definition of the Trinity and the main reason for Constantine calling the Council of Nicaea in 325.

After Origen’s death, Arius held that the only “unbegotten” being was the Father, and that no other was like him. Jesus, the Son, was begotten, so Arius maintained that the Son was created. If he was created, then “there was a time when he was not.”

The Meletians demanded that Arius be disciplined. At a council called in 318, 100 bishops condemned Arius to exile. His continuing influence, though, brought Constantine to call the Council of Nicaea in 325.

At first, Constantine sent Hosius, a bishop from Spain, to seek to reconcile Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, and Arius. Constantine also sent envoys across the empire, inviting bishops to a council at his summer retreat in Nicaea. Around 220 bishops attended, mostly from the eastern churches, although there were eight representatives from western churches – Rome sent only two priests.

During the debates, Constantine chided Bishop Acesius for his rigid stance, saying: “Place a ladder, Acesius, and climb alone into heaven.”

Constantine was more interested in attaining peace and unity in the Church than he was with theology or doctrine. Three men who had been excommunicated at a previous, smaller council, including Eusebius of Caesarea, were readmitted. But the principal debate was about the views of Arius.

As Arius defended his position on the nature of Jesus, some of the bishops refused to listen. Arius was condemned in a unanimous vote, with two bishops abstaining. But this vote was not a vote on the divinity of Jesus, or on the Trinity, but specifically on the views of Arius and whether or not he should be allowed to stay in his position.

Constantine insisted on the use of the term ὁμοούσιος in a creedal formula from the council, but it was not a new term, and had been used 70 years earlier by Dionysius of Alexandria.

In the end, the teachings of Arius were condemned, a creed was drafted, and 20 canons were passed, including one on the date of Easter and others regulating how bishoprics were to operate. For example:

Canon 4: a bishop should be appointed by all the bishops of that province...at least three bishops should meet to make this decision.

Canon 5: provinces should honour excommunications pronounced by other bishops in other provinces.

Canon 6: The Bishop of Alexandria has authority over bishops in Libya and other African provinces.

Canon 10: No lapsed believer should be ordained.

Canon 15: Priests and bishops shall not move from city to city on their own accord.

The Council of Nicaea closed on 25 July 325.

The Nicene Creed:

One of the most important achievements of the Council of Nicaea was the adoption of a creedal form that defined much of our theology, Christology, and the Trinity.

However, within a short f time the creed was under attack, and eventually it was rewritten at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

The Original Creed of 325 AD:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God], Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;

By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth];

Who for us, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was born in human flesh;

He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;

From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

And in the Holy Spirit.


At the end of the original creed, a clause directed against Arius was added:

But those who say: “There was a time when he was not;” and “He was not before he was made;” and “He was made out of nothing,” or “He is of another substance” or “essence,” or “The Son of God is created,” or “changeable,” or “alterable – they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.

The Ecumenical Creeds:

The ecumenical creeds as we understand them within the Anglican tradition are three in number: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

These three Creeds have long been accepted as an integral part of Anglicanism. For example, Article 8 of the 39 Articles states: “The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’ Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture” (The Book of Common Prayer 2004, p. 780).

The common focus in Anglican theology is based on an appeal to scripture, tradition, and reason. But this was expanded in that dictum by Lancelot Andrewes.

In effect, Lancelot Andrewes is saying the tradition of the Church in Anglicanism finds its foundations in the three creeds – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed – the decisions of the first four General Councils of the Church:

● Nicaea (325)

● Constantinople (381)

● Ephesus (431)

● Chalcedon (451)

and in the first five centuries of the history of the Church, and the corpus of Patristic writings.

The three ‘ecumenical’ Creeds

1, The Apostles’ Creed:

The Twelve Apostles ... but did they write the Apostles’ Creed?

The Apostles’ Creed is used by Anglicans traditionally in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, and for most Anglicans this is the Creed first memorised, as part of the preparation for Confirmation. Although we call it one of the “ecumenical” creeds, it is only used in the Western Church and it is not found in the Eastern or Orthodox Churches.

This creed is first referred to as the Apostles’ Creed in a letter written by Saint Ambrose ca 390. By that time, there was a legend that it was written by the 12 Apostles, each writing a separate clause or phrase. It was first used as a baptismal creed in the West, and was introduced into the daily offices some time between the eighth and ninth century.

2, The Nicene Creed:

The Church of Aghia Sophia in Nicaea

Although we know the creed used at the Holy Communion or the Eucharist as the Nicene Creed, this is not what it actually is.

The Creed, which was approved at the Council of Nicaea in 325, was drawn up to defend the orthodox faith against Arianism, and includes the term ὁμοούσιον homoousion (consubstantial, of one substance with) to express the relationship of the Father and the Son in the Godhead. Four anti-Arian anathemas were appended to the original Nicene Creed and came to be regarded as an integral part of the text.

But what we know and use as the Nicene Creed is a longer formula, used in the Eucharist in both the East and West. This is more accurately known as the “Niceno-Contstantinopolitan Creed.” It is said to have been adapted at the Council of Constantinople in the year 381, although it may have been endorsed rather than drafted at that council, using the baptismal creed then in use in the Byzantine capital.

From the time of the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451, this Creed has been the defining creed of the church.

3, The Athanasian Creed:

Saint Athanasius … but did he write the Athanasian Creed?

The third of the so-called ecumenical creeds – the so-called Athanasian Creed or Quicunque Vult – is still included in The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland (see pp 771-773) but has been omitted, for example, from Common Worship and New Patterns for Worship.

This creedal statement was traditionally ascribed to Saint Athanasius (ca 296-373), who succeeded Alexander as Patriarch of Alexandria. But it is a Western document, probably written around the year 428, and is used only in Western Christianity.

It sets out the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, adding a list of the most important events in Christ’s life. It also includes anathemas against those who do not subscribe to its creedal statements and definitions.

How do we know it was not written by Saint Athanasius?

It contains a number of doctrinal expressions that arose as a consequence of debates long after the time Saint Athansius, who died in Alexandria in 373. And its statements on the procession of the Holy Spirit from both the Father and the Son could not be accepted in any Orthodox tradition.

The Book of Common Prayer includes the Athanasian Creed (see pp 771-773), after the Catechism of 1878 and before the Preamble and the 39 Articles. But there are no rubrics about when and how it should be used. Can you imagine situations or occasions on which you would use it? Can you ever remember it being used?

And so, although we call three creeds “ecumenical,” in reality there is only one ecumenical creed, the Nicene Creed.

The Nicene Creed and the Four Ecumenical Councils:

Like most doctrinal statements, however, the Nicene Creed was not written in one sitting, nor was it written in a vacuum. This creed was developed, worded, phrased and edited at the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), and the version we have in The Book of Common Prayer (2004) is not the only and only, definitive, ecumenical version.

The First Ecumenical Council, Nicaea (325):

An icon of the Council of Nicaea, with the Emperor Constantine and the bishops holding a scroll with the words of the Nicene Creed

At the first draft of the Nicene Creed in 325, the principal problem to wrestle with was the heresy of the presbyter Arius of Alexandria, who taught, among other peculiar beliefs, that Jesus Christ, “The Son,” was a creation of the “The Father.”

A popular way of expressing this belief for those who agreed with Arius was: “There was a time when he [The Son] was not.” Arius taught that the Father, in the beginning, created (or begot) the Son, who then, with the Father, created the world. For Arius, then, Christ was a created being; his “god-ness” was removed.

Alexander, the Patriarch of Alexandria, summoned Arius for questioning, and Arius was subsequently excommunicated by a council of Egyptian bishops. In exile in Nicomedia, Arius wrote in defence of his beliefs. His following and influence grew to the point that the Emperor Constantine called a council of bishops in Nicaea (Νίκαια, present day İznik), where the first draft of what we now call the Nicene Creed was promulgated by a decided majority as a creedal statement of faith – and a firm rejection of Arius’ teaching that Christ was the “begotten” son of an “unbegotten” Father.

The principal argument for the full deity of Christ was made by Athanasius, a deacon in Alexandria who later succeeded Alexander as Patriarch. The Creed the bishops assented to in 325 is, for the most part, contained in the Nicene Creed as it appears in The Book of Common Prayer (2004), beginning with “We believe in one God . . .” and ending immediately after “in the Holy Spirit” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 205).

The purpose was clear: to refute the teachings of Arius and to affirm the orthodox doctrine of One God in Three Persons with specific attention to the Christology of the Son.

The Second Ecumenical Council, Constantinople (381):

The interior of the former Church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople, once the largest church in Christendom for centuries

However, the Council of Nicaea did not end the Arian controversy. By 327, the Emperor Constantine had begun to regret the decisions of 325. He granted an amnesty to the Arian leaders and sent into exile Athanasius, by now Patriarch of Alexandria, who continued to defend Nicene Christianity.

An additional heretical teaching by Macedonius – who was twice Bishop of Constantinople (342-346, 351-360) – denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The followers of Macedonius were referred to as pneumatomachians or “fighters of the spirit.” These pneumatomachians also believed that God the Son was a similar essence of substance as the Father, but not the same substance.

Macedonianism taught that the Holy Spirit was not a person – or hypostasis – but merely a power of God. The Spirit, then, was inferior to the Father and the Son.

Yet another group, led by Bishop Apollinarius who opposed the teaching of Arius, argued that Jesus did not have a human soul and was not fully human.

In 381, the Emperor Flavius Theodosius convoked the First Council of Constantinople, the second meeting of bishops (also known as the Second Ecumenical Council). Among the influential theologians at the time were Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Patriarch of Constantinople, who presided at the Second Ecumenical Council, and Saint Gregory of Nyssa, two of the Cappadocian Fathers – the third being Saint Basil the Great.

The Cappadocian Fathers, Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nazianus and Saint Gregory of Nyssa

At that council, the bishops reaffirmed and expanded the Nicene Creed of 325 to address further questions about Christ’s divinity and humanity. They added five articles to the Creed concerning the Holy Spirit: the Lord, the giver of life; who proceeds from the Father (see John 15: 26): who is worshiped and glorified with the Father and the Son; and who has spoken through the prophets.

This expanded and modified Creed became the definitive document on the doctrine of the Trinity: one God in three persons or hypostases. Although more Councils and heresies followed, the Creed was essentially codified in 381 and received in 431 when the Council convened to discuss the Nestorian controversy.

However, a heavily disputed clause was added in 589 by the Third Council of Toledo primarily to counter Arianism among the Germanic peoples. Where the original Creed reads “We believe in the Holy Spirit . . . who proceeds from the Father,” the amended creed reads “. . . from the Father and the Son.”

Pope Leo III forbade the addition of the filioque clause (the words “and the Son”) and ordered the original Nicene Creed to be engraved on silver plates so that his conclusion would not be overturned in the future.

The filioque clause was one of the causes that eventually contributed to the Great Schism between East and West in 1054. The phrase “and the Son” still appears in the 2004 Book of Common Prayer, although a resolution of the 1988 Lambeth Conference called for its removal.

The Third Ecumenical Council, Ephesus (431):

Saint Mary’s Basilica … the Double Church where the Council of Ephesus met in 431 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Emperor Theodosius II called the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 to address the Nestorian controversy. Saint Cyril of Alexandria was a central figure in the Third Ecumenical Council as its spokesperson and president.

Nestorius, who was Patriarch of Constantinople, objected to the popular practice of calling the Virgin Mary the “Mother of God” or Theotokos. Nestorius taught that the Virgin Mary gave birth to a man, Jesus Christ, not God the Logos.

Nestorianism taught the Logos only dwelt in Christ, whose physical body provided a kind of temple for the Logos. Nestorius promoted the term Christotokos for Mary: the Mother of Christ.

Having summoned Nestorius three times to no avail, the Council condemned his teaching as erroneous and stripped him of his bishopric. The council declared Christ to be both a complete man and a complete God, and upheld the Virgin Mary as Theotokos because she gave birth not just to a man. The Council declared the text of the Creed, in its present form of 325 and 381, as complete and forbade any changes.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council, Chalcedon (451):

The Fourth Ecumenical Council met at Chalcedon in 451

Flavius Marcianus, Emperor of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire (450-457), called the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon (Χαλκηδών, present-day Kadıköy), across the Bosporus from Constantinople and now a suburb on the Anatolian side of Istanbul.

Once again, this council was concerned with the nature of Jesus Christ. Monophysitism, from the Greek mono (one or alone) and physis (nature) argued the Christological position that Christ had only one nature, which was Divine. While Christ was human, they believed, his less-perfect human nature was dissolved into his more perfect divine nature.

The council condemned Monophysitism and reaffirmed that Christ has two and complete natures as defined by previous councils. These two natures, the Council argued, operate harmoniously and without confusion. They are not divided or separate, as the Nestorians argued; nor did they undergo any change, as the Monophysites contended.

The Council gave a clear and full statement of orthodox Christology in a document defining the union of the divine and human natures of Christ. This document, which concentrates specifically on the nature of Christ, reflects a very clear, final statement on the orthodox theology that Christ is at once man and God.

The statement declares that is the unanimous teaching of the Church that Christ is perfect in humanity and in divinity; truly God (an Alexandrian notion) and truly man (an Antiochian notion); consubstantial with God and with humanity. It established the absolute limits of theological speculation using words like “unconfusedly,” “unchangeably,” “indivisibly” and “inseparably.”

The 1888 Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral does not list the Chalcedonian Creed among the fundamental doctrines for Communion based on scriptures, creeds, sacraments and the historic episcopate.

The Chalcedonian Creed does not appear to contain any doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit, nor does it use the word Trinity. This is a single paragraph lifted from a larger document that speaks about the decisions reached at Nicaea in 325 by the “318 Fathers” in attendance and at Constantinople in 381 by the “150 Fathers” in attendance.

Selected reading:

The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland (Dublin: Columba Press, 2004).

Alison, CF, The Cruelty of Heresy (London: SPCK, 1994).
Ayers, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy (Oxford: OUP, 2004).
Bettenson, H., and Maunder, C. (eds), Documents of the Christian Church (Oxford, OUP, 3rd ed, 1999).
Geitz, ER, Gender and the Nicene Creed (New York: Church Publishing, 1995).
Gregorios, Paulos, Lazareth, WH, and Nissiotis, NA (eds), Does Chalcedon divide or unite? (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1981).
Micks, MH, Loving the Questions: an exploration of the Nicene Creed (New York: Seabury, 2005).
Stevenson, J, and Frend, WHC, Creeds, Council and Controversies (London: SPCK, revised ed, 1989).
William, Rowan, Arius: Heresy and Tradition (Eerdmans, revised ed, 2002)
Young, Frances, The Making of the Creeds (London: SCM Press, 1991/2002).

Next:

4, 11.30 a.m., 2 February 2015: The Latin Fathers

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. This lecture on 2 February 2015 was part of the Year I MTh module, Introduction to Patristics.