10 March 2014

Anglican Studies (2014) 7.2:
theologies of reconciliation

“When you are offering your gift at the altar ... first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” The Cross of Nails on the altar in the ruins at Coventry symbolises the Ministry of Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

MTh Year II

EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Mondays: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., The Hartin Room.

Monday, 10 March 2014, 3 p.m.:

Anglican Studies (7.2):
An introduction to three theologians and reconciliation: Miroslav Volf, Robert Schreiter and John de Gruchy

1, Miroslav Volf: Exclusion and Embrace

Professor Miroslav Volf … making connections between Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Justice

Professor Miroslav Volf, who now lives in Guilford, Connecticut, is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale University Divinity School, Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, which focuses on work-place spirituality, and a former professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena, California.

Dr Miroslav Volf has been a member in both the Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Evangelical Church in Croatia. He is widely known for his works on systematic theology, ethics, conflict resolution and peace-making. Recently he contributed the essay, “Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Justice,” to a new text on the atonement, Stricken by God? Nonviolent Identification and the Victory of Christ.

Miroslav Volf was born in Zagreb in Croatia in 1956, and studied at Evangelical-Theological Faculty, Zagreb (BA), Fuller Theological Seminary (MA), and the University of Tubingen (Dr Theol, Dr Theol habil), where he studied under Jürgen Moltmann.

His book Exclusion and Embrace (1996) was selected as one the 100 “Books of the [20th] Century” by Christianity Today.

In Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (2005) – which was nominated as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book in 2006 – Miroslav Volf explores how we can be transformed by the God who gives abundantly and who forgives unconditionally.

We are at our human best when we give and forgive, he says. But we live in a world in which it makes little sense to do either one.

In our increasingly graceless culture, he asks, where can we find the motivation to give? And how do we learn to forgive when forgiving seems counter-intuitive or even futile?

Free of Charge explores these questions – and the further questions to which they give rise – in the light of God’s generosity and Christ’s sacrifice for us.

Miroslav Volf draws from popular culture as well as from a wealth of literary and theological sources, weaving his rich reflections around the sturdy frame of Saint Paul’s vision of God’s grace and Luther’s interpretation of that vision. Blending the best of theology and spirituality, he encourages us to echo in our own lives God’s generous giving and forgiving.

A fresh examination of two practices at the heart of the Christian faith – giving and forgiving – this book is at the same time an introduction to Christianity. Even more, it is a compelling invitation to Christian faith as a way of life.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has said of him: “Miroslav Volf, one of the most celebrated theologians of our day, offers us a unique interweaving of intense reflection, vivid and painfully personal stories and sheer celebration of the giving God ... I cannot remember having read a better account of what it means to say that Jesus suffered for us in our place.”

Two quotes from Miroslav Volf:

“Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communio. One cannot, however, have a self-enclosed communion with the Triune God – a ‘foursome,’ as it were – for the Christian God is not a private deity. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God. Hence one and the same act of faith places a person into a new relationship both with God and with all others who stand in communion with God.” (After our Likeness – the Church as the Image of the Trinity)

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and myself from the community of sinners.”

Some books by Miroslav Volf:

The Sun Is Not Afraid of the Darkness (Theological Meditations on the Poetry of Aleksa Santic) (1986).
Work in the Spirit. Toward a Theology of Work (1991).
The Future of Theology. Essays in Honour of Jürgen Moltmann (ed. with T. Kucharz and C. Krieg) (1996)
Exclusion and Embrace. A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (1996).
A Spacious Heart. Essays on Identity and Belonging (with Judith M. Gundry-Volf) (1997).
A Passion for God’s Reign. Theology, Christian Learning, and the Christian Self (ed.) (1998).
After Our Likeness: The Church As The Image Of The Trinity (1998).
Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (2005) – the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2006.
The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (2006).
Against the Tide: Love in a Time of Petty Dreams and Persisting Enmities (2009).
Captive to the Word of God: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection (2010).
Allah: A Christian Response (2011).
A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good (2011).

2, Robert Schreiter: beginning with the questions people ask

Professor Robert Schreiter … reminds us that we are “always born in some cultural context”

Professor Robert Schreiter is Professor of Theology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. For 12 years he served as theological consultant to Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organisation for 162 relief and development agencies in the Roman Catholic Church, for its programmes in reconciliation and peace-building. He has worked with groups in many countries on these topics.

In Robert Schreiter’s view, contemporary pluralism presents a “multiplicity of new pastoral and theological problems unprecedented in Christian history.” In Constructing Local Theologies, he discusses some of the unique challenges that arise in a variety of forms, such as asking new questions in differing cultural contexts, questions that have an impact on even the most routine issues of church life that we often taken for granted in the West:

“Indeed, so many new questions were emerging that the credibility of existing forms of theology was weakened. For example, questions about the eucharistic elements: How was one to celebrate the Eucharist in countries that were Muslim theocracies and forbade the production of importation of fermented beverages? What was one to do in those cultures where bread products such as bread were not known, in which the unconsecrated bread itself became a magical object because of its foreignness? Or how was one to celebrate baptism among the Masai in East Africa, where to pour water on the head of a woman was to curse her with infertility? How was one to understand Vatican Council II's opening to non-Christian religions in countries in southern Asia where Christianity seemed destined to remain a minority religion?”

In order to address these questions in ways that are theologically and culturally responsible, Dr Schreiter suggests that we need to develop local theologies. He defines this as a form of theology that “begins with the needs of a people in a concrete place, and from there moves to the traditions of faith,” and that involves a “dynamic interaction among Gospel, Church, and culture.”

Dr Schreiter sees this starting place with culture as a strength, as it begins “with the questions that the people themselves have” rather than the concerns of the church that often result in a theology and ecclesiology disconnected from local cultures.

As Dr Schreiter develops his thesis he not only defines local theology, but also includes a discussion of mapping local theologies, the need to understand local cultures (where he includes an emphasis on listening), as well as a consideration of the context of theology as church tradition interacts with local theological perspectives.

In discussing this last topic, he includes a helpful reminder that our perspectives for understanding are strongly influenced by culture, including church tradition in its forms and formulations. He reminds us that in spite of our assumptions they are not supra-cultural and are “always born in some cultural context.”

With this insight we are reminded that “the great theologies of East and West have drawn upon philosophical systems elaborated in their respective cultures to frame their questions and their answers.”

Robert Schreiter’s books include:

Constructing Local Theologies (1985).
Reconciliation: Mission and Ministry in a Changing Social Order (1992).
The Ministry of Reconciliation: Spirituality and Strategies (1998).

3, John de Gruchy: Transforming Traditions

Professor John de Gruchy … what does it mean to be a believer, to practice Christian faith, now?

Professor John de Gruchy is Emeritus Robert Selby Taylor Professor of Christian Studies at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and heads the Research Institute on Christianity in South Africa.

For many years, he has been at the forefront as a religious leader and theologian in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He is also an ordained minister of the United Congregational Church of South Africa, and the author of numerous books, including: Reconciliation: Restoring Justice; Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ and his most recent book, Confessions of a Christian Humanist.

John de Gruchy has also been the co-founder of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town, the founding editor of the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, and he is an internationally respected Bonhoeffer scholar.

He is currently leading a research project, “Transforming Traditions,” which situates moments in the history of Christianity within the debates on social transformation in South Africa.

As a young student, he was influenced by the biography of Albert Luthuli, Let my people go, the work of Dr Beyers Naudé of the Christian Institute, and the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Tradition, John de Gruchy says, is both outside us and given to us. Tradition shapes our Christian identity. But tradition is also dynamic and is constantly rediscovering itself. The new always grows out of the old. Tradition constantly seeks after new wineskins. This is an outworking of the Johannine idea that the Spirit is the guide into truth.

Tradition – and traditions – grow organically in continuity with the past. But they are also contested in the present, and especially contested within the Church. Traditions as “continuities of conflict,” and Christians are participants in historic debates.

But, he says, we also negotiate the boundaries of tradition by engaging with those outside the broad Christian tradition as conversation partners. These might include academic critics of Christianity, but theology is not simply a dialogue within the academy, nor is it a conversation about written texts alone. The locus for theological reflection and Christian conversation is the contemporary world.

For John de Gruchy, theology is faith in action. South African theology has a catholic, or universal scope, but also speaks from a particular context. So it attends to the word, “today.”

What does it mean to be a believer, to practice Christian faith, now?

The two major theological statements produced by South African theologians during the anti-apartheid struggle were the Belhar Confession and the Kairos Document.

The Kairos Document led in 1989 to The Road to Damascus, a call for repentance from theologians in the global South to Christians in the wealthy North.

These documents signalled a contextual theology that reflected on Christian faith by social location (black, feminist, African) as well as by received tradition (Catholic, Reformed, Pentecostal). South African feminist, black and African theologies are now part of the great stream of Christian tradition.

They are now also part of the contestation of tradition, and are subject to the dangers of conservatism. So the theological task is to discern what de Gruchy calls their “transforming trajectories” for the present situation.

When Christians think of change, we usually understand it as metanoia, of becoming something other, but also becoming closer to God. But change itself is not, of itself, good. Change can be both good and bad.

As Bonhoeffer wrote from prison to his friend, Eberhard Bethge, metanoia means “sharing God’s sufferings in the world. Thus one becomes a human being, a Christian.”

John de Gruchy lists six affirmations towards a new, Christian humanism:

1, Christian humanism is inclusive. “Being human” names our primary identity.
2, Christian humanism affirms dignity and responsibility.
3, Christian humanism is open to insights into our common human condition wherever it is to be found.
4, Christian humanism claims that the love of God is inseparable from the love of others.
5, Christian humanism heralds a justice that transcends material and sectional well-being.
6, Christian humanism insists that goodness, truth and beauty are inseparable.

John de Gruchy’s books include:

The Church struggle in South Africa (1979/1986).
Apartheid is a Heresy (ed, with Charles Villa-Vicencio) (1983).
Bonhoeffer and South African Theology in Dialogue (1984).
Cry Justice (1985).
Theology and Ministry in Context and Crisis: a South African Perspective (1987)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Witness to Jesus Christ (1987/1988)
Liberating Reformed Theology (1991)
Christianity, Art and Transformation
Christianity and Democracy: Theology for a Just World Order (1995).
Reconciliation: Restoring Justice (2002).
Confessions of a Christian Humanist (2006).
On Being Human (Fortress, 2007).
Christianity and the Modernisation of South Africa (2009).

Monday, 24 March 2014:

8.1: The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the emergence of an Anglican Covenant.

8.2: Anglican responses to the Missio Dei: Scripture, Worship and Communion as defining themes in contemporary Anglican self-understanding.

Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These three profiles were prepared as introductory notes for a seminar in the MTh course on Monday 10 March 2014.

Anglican Studies (2014) 7.1: Partition, conflict and peace:
the Church of Ireland in the 20th and 21st centuries

“I can never forget the summer night just after the decision when I reeled out into the cool air almost hearing the crash of a great building” ... a cartoon image of Archbishop William Alexander (1824-1911) in Vanity Fair, 1891

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

MTh Year II

EM8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Mondays: 2 p.m. to 4.30 p.m., The Hartin Room.

Monday, 10 March 2014, 2 p.m.:

Anglican Studies (7.1):

Partition, conflict and peace: the Church of Ireland in the 20th and 21st centuries.


The pressures for further reforms of the Church of Ireland continued. Eventually, in 1869, Gladstone introduced the legislation that brought about the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871.

Archbishop William Alexander – then Bishop of Derry and the last Church of Ireland bishop to sit in the House of Lords – later recalled leaving the House of Lords after the late night vote that passed the second stage of the legislation enacting disestablishment: “I can never forget the summer night just after the decision when I reeled out into the cool air almost hearing the crash of a great building.”

The Church of Ireland would no longer be a state church, bishops would no longer sit in the House of Lords, and the Church of Ireland, once again, was separated from the Church of England.

But the church moved hastily to reorganise itself. The archbishops called provincial synods, each of which agreed to meet with the other “in a general synod or council,” which agreed that “the synod is now not called upon to originate a constitution for a new communion but to repair a sudden breach in one of the most ancient churches in Christendom.”

The general convention met in 1870, approved a new constitution, set up a system of ecclesiastical courts, and arranged for the formation of a representative body, the Representative Church Body (RCB) to hold and manage the church’s property.

The constitution established government at every level of the church, from select vestries at parochial level, to diocesan synods, to general synod.

By 1880, £5.5 million of funds from the Church of Ireland had been redistributed for educational purposes, including endowments to Maynooth and to the Presbyterians for training in ministry.

Disestablishment created a number of crises for the newly independent and self-governing Church of Ireland. There was a loss of income, there was a loss of some buildings, and the Church needed to find its own system of appointing bishops and of church government. Many of the leading evangelicals of the day wanted a complete overhaul that would have provided a Presbyterian-style of government for the Church of Ireland.

All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman … an important centre for the High Church tradition in Dublin at the time of disestablishment (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

These controversies did not mean the Church was completely dominated by evangelicals. In Dublin, for example, new churches in the High Church tradition had been built in Ballsbridge and Sandymount, enhancing a tradition that had already found expression at All Saints’ in Grangegorman.

The Church also debated whether it needed to revise The Book of Common Prayer. The debates on liturgical reform also included the form of absolution used in visiting the sick, and there were other rows about the use of the Athanasian Creed.

The debate on the form of absolution to be used in the visitation of the sick focused on words that seemed to suggest that that the priest by virtue of his priestly authority had the power to forgive sins. Eventually, a compromise was reached by substituting the form of absolution already used at the Holy Communion.

When it came to the Athanasian Creed, Trench opposed any efforts to rephrase or edit the damnatory clauses, declaring “the creed, lopped at the beginning, lopped at the end, lopped at the middle,” reminded him of “unhappy victims of oriental cruelty.”

The differences over the Athanasian Creed were resolved by omitting the rubric regarding its use.

There were debates too about the Baptismal service, and the ordination service, although major alterations were rejected.

Two new services were also added: one of the consecration of a church, the other an order for Harvest Thanksgiving.

The West Door of Saint John’s Church, Sandymount … one of the churches that was the focus of liturgical controversies (Photographs, Patrick Comerford)

The debates also resulted in new canons, including Canon 36 prohibiting placing a cross on the altar – a moved directed pointedly against three Tractarian churches in Dublin: Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge; Saint John’s Church, Sandymount; and All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman.

The compromises that were accepted are summarised in that beautiful statement that concludes the 1878 preface to the revised Book of Common Prayer:

“And now, if some shall complain that these changes are not enough, and that we should have taken this opportunity of making this Book as perfect in all respects as they think it might be made, of if others shall say that these changes have been unnecessary or excessive, and that what was already excellent has been impaired by doing that which, in their opinion, night well have been left undone, let them, on the one side and the other, consider that men’s judgements of perfection are very various, and that what is imperfect, with peace, is often better than what is otherwise more excellent, without it.”

Eventually, the changes guaranteed the survival of the Church of Ireland in the form we find it today, and the Church of Ireland soon entered on a long period of internal peace and institutional stability.

The post-disestablishment Church

The bridge linking Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and the former Synod Hall, which was the venue for the General Synod for decades (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

So, was disestablishment a good or bad thing for the Church of Ireland?

Most of us would agree today that disestablishment was, by-and-large, good for the Church of Ireland.


● set the Church of Ireland on a sound, independent financial footing;
● resulted in the reform of the liturgy;
● saw an overhaul of church structures with the introduction of synods at national (General Synod) and local (diocesan synod) level;
● was followed by an upsurge of lay initiative and of giving;
● freed the church of time-serving, careerists from England.

The mediaeval Romanesque doorway in the north wall of Saint Fethlimidh’s Cathedral, Kilmore, Co Cavan … the later Bedell Memorial Church was one of the new cathedrals completed after Disestablishment (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork … a triumph by William Burges, one of the greatest of the Victorian architects, and one of the new cathedrals completed after Disestablishment (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Disestablishment also led to new buildings, including:

● Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork
● Kilmore Cathedral, Co Cavan
● the rebuilding of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
● the rebuilding of Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare
● Saint Luke’s Church, Cork (1873)
● Bangor Abbey, Co Down (1880)
● Saint Kevin’s Church, Dublin (1888);
● Saint Saviour’s Church, Arklow (1899).
● Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast (foundation stone, 1899, consecrated 1904).

Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast … a post-disestablishment cathedral for one city and two dioceses (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

In addition, in the immediate aftermath of Disestablishment:

● A new teacher training college was established in Kildare Place in 1884 (now the Church of Ireland College of Education, Rathmines).
● Two new vibrant mission agencies were founded in Trinity College Dublin in the 1880s and 1890s – the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission and the Dublin University Mission to Chota Nagpur.
● New mission links were established with emerging churches in Spain and Portugal.
● The Church of Ireland made immeasurable contributions to the growth of Anglicanism, particularly in Canada, Australia, Kenya, Uganda and Southern Africa.

Holy Trinity Cathedral, Shanghai, where three Irish missionaries were bishops … the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission was a sign of the vibrant new missionary life of a disestablished church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of Ireland in the 20th century

Saint Kevin’s Church, built in 1888 on the site of the former Royal Portobello Gardens, closed after less than a century in 1983 ... what caused a decline in membership of the Church of Ireland over the space of a century? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

If the Church of Ireland could bounce back like that at the end of the 19th century, what happened that caused a decline in numbers at the beginning of the 20th century?

Some of the factors were political. For example, after the initial phases of the Industrial Revolution, which saw imported labour, many of the skilled labourers were replaced by Irish-born Roman Catholics when they acquired those skills from the mid-19th century on. Then the Wyndham Act and the expropriation of landlords led to the decline of many of the big estates. The effects of the land acts on church finances was, in part, mitigated by the launching of the Auxiliary Fund in 1909, which raised about £250,000 for clergy stipends.

The Ne Temere decree of 1908 also took its toll on the renewal of the membership of Church of Ireland through marriage and birth, as we have already seen in previous weeks.

World War I saw not only large number of men enlist, but many of them who survived stayed away. With a declining population, there was a pressing need to reduce the number of rural incumbencies, but this was coupled with the Minimum Stipend Act (1920), which fixed stipends at £400 for an incumbent and £200 for a curate.

The War of Independence saw the move of many Protestant civil servants from the state.

The bishops of the Church of Ireland were not above politics, so that in 1912 every single one of northern bishops subscribed to the Ulster Covenant, the Solemn League and Covenant, opposing Home Rule.

And yes, we have to say that there was some “ethnic cleansing” in some areas too. The Bishop of Killaloe reported this at the time of the War of Independence and the Civil War in North Co Tipperary, the Sunday Independent journalist, Eoghan Harris, has written about this in Co Cork, and recently memories have been evoked of the horrific attack on an orphanage in Galway.

But, members of the Church of Ireland were also involved in the political and cultural expressions of the movement for independence.

● Maud Gonne and Constance Gore-Booth (Countess Markievicz) were born members of the Church of Ireland.
● Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League and the first President of Ireland, was a rector’s son.
● So too were the poet WB Yeats and the playwright Sean O’Casey.
● The Irish Citizens’ Army is said to have agreed on its name at a meeting in the rooms of the Revd RM Gwynn in Trinity College Dublin – he was a regular communicant in Saint Bartholomew’s, Church, Ballsbridge, intensely involved in the Irish Labour Movement, and for many years he chaired the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission (DUFEM).

Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge … the Revd RM Gwynn of the Irish Labour Movement and the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission was a regular communicant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is often forgotten in GAA circles that members of the Church of Ireland continue to be honoured in the names of the Semple Stadium and the Sam Maguire Cup.

Primate and President … Archbishop John Gregg and Eamon de Valera

In 1920, the Church of Ireland agreed to allow women to be members of select vestries. Archbishop Gregg supported this initiative, although his successor, Archbishop Bernard, was opposed. Bernard was content to see the “great lady of the parish” on the select vestry … but not “the gardener’s wife.” He said: “Parochial squabbles would be trebled if they admitted women.”

In 1932, while the Roman Catholic population was celebrating the Eucharistic Congress, the Church of Ireland was vigorously celebrating what was proclaimed to be the 1,500th anniversary of Saint Patrick’s arrival in Ireland.

By and large, things were settling down, and Archbishop Gregg, who was assured by the new government of the place of Protestants in a new state, advised Eamon de Valera on the wording of the 1937 Constitution regarding Church of Ireland. Curiously, though, the Church in this jurisdiction retained the king’s name in the liturgy until the final declaration of a republic in 1949.

Continuing reforms

The Church of Ireland continued to reform itself, despite initial reluctance to concede structural reform.

Changes were made in the ways bishops were elected, in 1939 and again in 1945.

There were changes in mapping diocesan organisation along the way too:

● The Diocese of Clogher, which was united to Armagh from 1850, became a separate diocese once again in 1886.
● The Dioceses of Down, Connor and Dromore, which had been united since 1842, were separated into the Diocese of Connor and the Diocese of Down and Dromore in 1945.

Eventually, a new way of electing bishops through electoral colleges was adopted in 1959, replacing the previous system by election by diocesan synods.

However, in 1967 proposals for further reforms were rejected. These included:

● reducing the size of general synod from 648 members to 501
● the creation of a new diocese centred on Belfast
● leaving each diocese with just one cathedral and one chapter
● amalgamating diocesan synods, councils and offices
and – perhaps most significantly –
● providing for team ministries and a greater potential for mobility among the clergy.

The Dioceses of the Church of Ireland today

The only reform accepted was a reduction in the number of dioceses from 14 to 12. As a consequence:

● The Diocese of Kildare was separated from Dublin and Glendalough in 1976, and united to Meath.
● The Dioceses of Killaloe, Kilfenora, Clonfert and Kilmacduagh were united to Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe in 1976.
● The Diocese of Emly, united to Cashel since 1569, was transferred to Limerick in 1976.
● The Diocese of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin were united to Cashel, Waterford and Lismore in 1977.

However, legislation at this time to unite Tuam and Kilmore was rescinded – and we have been reminded of the consequences of this over the past year. In more recent years too, proposals to reform the numbers, structures and method of working of general synod have continued to meet strong resistance.

The continuing failure to face the need for reform also turned to heartbreak when it came to closing many rural churches in the second half of the 20th century, because closure was often seen as cost-saving rather than part of a process of reform and change.

On the other hand, an openness to the insights of the liturgical movement in the 1930s and 1940s, and especially in the 1950s and 1960s, led to new baptismal and Eucharistic rites, and eventually to a modern-language Alternative Prayer Book in 1984, supplemented by the Alternative Occasional Services in 1993.

By the 1990s, The Irish Times had ceased to be seen as the voice of the Church of Ireland population (Photograph: Jan Butter/ACO)

By then, The Irish Times had ceased to be seen as the voice of the Church of Ireland population.

Meanwhile, in 1978-1980, the long, formal links with TCD were broken, the Faculty of Theology became non-denominational, three divinity chairs fell vacant, the old course of training for clergy was abolished, and the Divinity Hostel was eventually transformed into the Church of Ireland Theological College – now the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

Changes in patterns of ministry were introduced with the introduction of Non-Stipendiary Ministers (NSMs) or auxiliary ministers – the first NSM in Dublin was the Revd Michael Heaney who was ordained deacon in 1976 and priest in 1977 – and the ordination of women was approved in 1990.

The legislation in 1990 provided for the ordination of women as priests and bishops, but it was not until last year (2013), more than 20 years later, that a woman was consecrated as a bishop in the Church of Ireland, when the Most Revd Pat Storey became Bishop of Meath and Kildare.

A new Church Hymnal was published in 2000, and the new Book of Common Prayer was published in 2004.

Ecumenical encounters

Where was the Church of Ireland ecumenically as we moved through the 20th century?

Talks with the Presbyterian Church were initiated in 1931. They agreed to recognise each other’s ordinations and sacraments as a way to move towards unity. But these proposals were rejected by the House of Bishops, and the talks have never progressed.

Indeed, Archbishop Gregg openly referred to non-episcopal churches as “the deprived children of Christendom,” and he boasted that he had never appeared on a public platform with what he called a “non-conformist” minister.

The formation of the Church of South India in 1948 caused some curious and interesting problems. Indeed, an Irish Presbyterian, Donald Kennedy, and an Irish Anglican, Anthony Hanson, were among the new bishops of the new Church, and an Irish Methodist minister, Ernest Gallagher, was ordained in that church too, so that, technically, his orders were valid in the Church of Ireland when he returned to Ireland, although he returned to work in the Methodist Church.

Relations with the Methodists flowered in a more favourable climate, and we now have a covenant that pledges the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland to work together and to seek unity.

Archbishop Michael Ramsey meets Pope Paul VI

When it comes to Roman Catholics, the climate changed with visits to the Vatican by two Archbishops of Canterbury, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher to Pope John XXIII (1960), the first meeting between an Archbishop of Canterbury and a Pope since the Anglican Reformation, and Archbishop Michael Ramsey to Pope Paul VI, at the time of the reforms introduced by Vatican II.

The new opportunities that this created were ably seized by the late George Simms, successively Archbishop of Dublin and Archbishop of Armagh. He is credited with creating the climate that emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s, so that today it is accepted in many communities that no happening actually happens unless the rector has also been invited.

During his visit to Ireland in 1979, Pope John Paul II also met the bishops of the Church of Ireland.

Archbishop Henry McAdoo … co-chaired the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) (Photograph of portrait in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Patrick Comerford)

The late Archbishop Henry McAdoo, first as Bishop of Ossory and then as Archbishop of Dublin, co-chaired the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), and his expertise on and love for the insights of Jeremy Taylor and the Caroline Divines and their sacramental theology helped to bring about agreed statements on the Eucharist.

It is often forgotten that those agreements were accepted by the Church of Ireland, but have remained in cold storage in the Vatican. Archbishop McAdoo’s vision of full and visible unity in 1970 was that it would happen by the end of the century: 30 years then appeared a long stretch, but full and visible church unity now seems further away than ever.

In 1996, the Porvoo Communion was formed, linking the four Anglican churches on these islands with the Episcopal Lutheran churches of Northern Europe and the Baltic countries.

In retrospect

At the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland loomed in 1868, Archbishop Trench expressed the fear that a disestablished Church would inevitably “cease to exist after a few years.” He said he preferred “instant death” at the hands of Gladstone to the “gradual starvation” by Disraeli.

George Salmon, Regius Professor in Trinity College Dublin, expressed the fear that the Church of Ireland might find itself reduced to “a local sect.”

Richard Travers Smith, one of the outspoken High Church figures of the day, expressed his fears that the Church of Ireland might become “a church of half assertions and diluted doctrines.”

But Trench’s fears of “instant death,” Salmon’s fears of becoming “a local sect,” Travers Smith’s fear of doctrinal dilution, and Alexander’s premonition of the crash of this great building were never realised. The Church of Ireland survived, and in the 140 years since disestablishment, the church has not broken intro schismatic factions, as many feared, nor have we broken communion with the Church of England or other parts of the Anglican Communion.

The future

● What does the future hold for the Church of Ireland?
● What do you think are the major issues facing the Church of Ireland in the future
● The election and consecration of more women bishops?
● The unity of the churches on these islands?
● The unity of the Anglican Communion?
● The debate within Anglicanism on sexuality?
● The integration of immigrants and their families?
● The future of the covenant with the Methodist Church
● Secularism?
● Economic and financial collapse?
● Emigration and immigration?
● The environment?


7.2: Theologies of reconciliation and the challenges of divided societies (M Volf, R Schreiter, J de Gruchy).

Monday 24 March:

8.1: The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and the emergence of an Anglican Covenant.

8.2: Anglican responses to the Missio Dei: Scripture, Worship and Communion as defining themes in contemporary Anglican self-understanding.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Dublin (TCD). This essay is based on notes prepared for a lecture on the MTh course on Monday 10 March 2014.

Patristics (2014): 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:

10.30 a.m., 3 March 2014: Introducing Patristics

2, 11.30 a.m., 3 March 2014: The Apostolic Fathers

3, 10.30 a.m., 10 March 2014: The Greek Fathers

4, 11.30 a.m., 10 March 2014: The Latin Fathers

5, 10.30 a.m., 24 March 2014: The Desert Fathers

6, 11.30 a.m., 24 March 2014: The Legacy, especially for Anglicans

Monday, 10 March 2014:

11.30 a.m., 10 March 2014: The Latin Fathers


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.”


5, 10.30 a.m., 24 March 2014: The Desert Fathers

6, 11.30 a.m., 24 March 2014: The Legacy, especially for Anglicans

Canon 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 10 March 2014 was part of the Year I MTh module, Introduction to Patristics.