NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 23.4
Judging by the comments one reads on modern internet discussion boards it might be claimed that the controversy surrounding Original Sin and the doubts of Pelagius have never finally been resolved. Continuing on from his commentary of the previous two weeks, Tom Lee concludes the discussion on the conflict between Augustine and Pelagius where all this started in today's extract from his manuscript. The chapter then ends with a look at the contemporary events in the Roman Empire and the "silliness" that erupted amongst some ascetics in the 5th Century.
Barbarians at the Gate, Predestination & Erotic Penitence. Part 23.4
The continuing controversy surrounding Pelagius...
Soon after the sack of Rome Pelagius and Caelestius left Rome for Carthage, where Augustine's influence was dominant. Controversy was inevitable. Caelestius was condemned for heretical teaching at a Council in Carthage (411). But Pelagius and Caelestius obtained credence in the East and settled in Palestine. Accused of heresy there by two visiting western bishops a council was held at Dioscopolis and they were acquitted (415).
Letters from the two accusers aroused the anxiety of Augustine and the African Church. Further councils were held at Carthage and Milevum and the earlier decision against Caelestius was confirmed and a letter sent to Pope Innocent I announced their firm decision and requested his support. He agreed with the African view. But the matter was far from finished.
Zozimus, a Greek recommended to Pope Innocent I by John Chrysostom, succeeded Innocent at Rome (417). He befriended Pelagius and Caelestius and declared them of unimpeachable doctrine, declaring he was shocked that it was possible for such orthodox men to be defamed. He declared they were condemned by false judges, and denounced their accusers as slanderers of the innocent. The African bishops were severely lectured for paying heed to such ridiculous slanders and "trifling whisperings". They were reminded that false witnesses rose up against Christ.
The African Church, when the Pope's letters came, hastily held a council at the end of 417. The attending bishops maintained their former position on Pelagianism and informed the Pope that he was in error. The following spring a great synod assembled at Carthage. Two hundred and fourteen bishops, including some from Spain, issued several canons, drawn up by Augustine, cursing the errors of Pelagianism.
Pope Zozimus and the Church of Africa were involved in another dispute at the same time. A priest of Sicca, named Apiarus, having been deposed by his bishop, went to Rome and applied to Zozimus for reinstatement. The Bishops of Rome were accustomed to welcome such irregular appeals as assisting their encroachments on the authority of national churches. It was this appeal that made the African Church assert its independent jurisdiction by a canon passed at the Synod of Carthage.
"If priests, deacons and inferior clerics complain of a sentence by their bishop, they shall, with the consent of their bishop, have recourse to the neighboring bishops, who shall settle the dispute. If they desire to make a further appeal, it must only be to their primates or to African Councils. But whoever appeals to a court on the other side of the sea may not again be received into communion by any one in Africa."
Pope Zozimus took extraordinary steps to impose his will on the Africans. He sent three legates, a bishop, Faustinus, and two priests with his commands. They were received by Archbishop Aurelius of Carthage at a small synod in 418. The Pope, in support of his demand for a right of appeal to Rome, declared that the Nicene Council had so legislated. The canons he cited were not Nicene but those of the Council of Sardica. The African bishops were puzzled.
The Africans reported the Pope's error concerning Pelagius to the emperor Honorius who issued a decree, promulgated throughout the empire, condemning the "noxious contagion" and banishing Caelestius and Pelagius. Pope Zozimus ignominiously retreated. He condemned Pelagius and Caelestius in a document called his Tractoria to which he required all bishops to agree. Julian of Eclanum and eighteen other Italian bishops refused and appealed to a General Council.
Other opposition to Augustine...
The condemnation of Pelagianism did not lead to the adoption of Augustinianism. Even the Council of Carthage did not commit itself to all that Augustine taught. Most theologians of the day feared one aspect or another of Augustine's system. Their controlling interest continued to be ethical which made them very suspicious of predestination. Pelagius' ideas might well have been approved had it not been for the fact that his idea of grace tended to make the sacraments appear unnecessary, and might have made the church suffer materially if such principles were adopted. The sacraments had become a proprietary interest as well as a spiritual one.
Opposition to parts of Augustine's teaching was particularly strong in Gaul. There the leading theologians rejected the doctrine that some men cannot co-operate with God in their own salvation, while others are predestined to salvation and cannot resist his grace. The protesting movement was called Massilianism, because the chief center was Marseilles. It is better known now as Semi-Pelagianism, a misleading name, as it suggests a connection with Pelagius. It was indeed the general belief of the West, earlier than Augustine or Pelagius, and in opposition to both at one point or another. Its great leaders were John Cassian and Vincent of Lerins.
Massilianism was brought to Augustine's attention and he attempted to answer it in some of his later writings. The Massilians agreed with him that all men are sinners because of Adam's fall, and cannot be saved without the aid of divine grace; but they affirmed against him that salvation is offered to all men and all have power to accept or reject it, the exercise of faith being one's own act. They declared also that God foreknows, but does not predestine who shall be saved. Augustine's teaching, they felt, was something new and something that made the Church's work ineffective.
Pope Zozimus died in December 418, and personal animosities once more disrupted the Roman election process. Archdeacon Eulalius was elected by one party and Pope Boniface by a larger faction. The last great pagan Prefect of the city, Symmachus, took grim delight in quelling the attendant disturbances and ejecting Eulalius and his supporters from the city, following four months of brawls.
Another large African synod convened in May 419 with the papal legates in attendance. The copy of the Nicene canons was read and the unauthentic papal ones. Bishop Alypius, Augustine's friend, rather tongue-in-cheekly remarked of the papal canons: "When we inspected the Greek copies of the Nycene Synod, somehow or other, I know not why, we utterly failed to find them there". It was resolved to send to Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch for valid copies of the Nicene Council's decrees.
In a conciliatory gesture to the new Pope, Augustine proposed, that for the present, the disputed canons be accepted. A letter was sent to Pope Boniface informing him what had been decided and stating that Apiarus, the rebel priest from Sicca, after asking pardon for his faults, had been allowed to exercise his priesthood elsewhere than at Sicca. The arrogant conduct of the papal legate, Faustinus, who disregarded the proceedings that led to Apiarus condemnation, was castigated.
So matters remained for some years. Then the question was revived. Apiarus, being again found guilty of evil conduct was excommunicated. Again he went to Rome where Celestine had succeeded Boniface. Oddly, the new pope took up his case, restored him to communion, and sent him back to Africa accompanied by Faustinus. A plenary council was held at Carthage in 424 at which Faustinus was as haughty as before. But after three days of grueling questioning Apiarus broke down and made a full confession of his crimes, convicting himself of "every kind of incredible infamy".
The African bishops then sent Celestine a synodical letter rebutting papal claims. It goes on to expose the palming-off on them of the pretended canons of Nicaea. They moderately write that nothing of the kind is to be found in the authentic proceedings of that Council which they have received from Bishops Cyril of Jerusalem and Atticus of Constantinople. They conclude:
"...now that the miserable Apiarus has been removed out of the Church of Christ for his horrible crimes, we feel confident respecting our brother Faustinus that through the uprightness and moderation of your holiness, our brotherly charity not being violated, Africa will by no means any longer be forced to endure him."
In the west, after the death of Emperor Constantius, his widow Placidia quarreled with the emperor Honorius and fled with her four-year-old son Valentinian (III) to Constantinople. But when Honorius died of dropsy in 423, she wrested Italy from a usurper, with the aid of an eastern army, and her child became emperor in the west (425-55).
Meanwhile the Roman Empire continues its collapse...
For many years she was an effective autocratic regent. Challenged by the strength of warrior chieftains, Aetius, a Danubian, and Boniface — a strangely saintly commanding general in North Africa, she pitted them against each other. Boniface was wounded and died and Aetius asserted his strength. But even with the aid of an eastern imperial army he could not defeat Vandal invaders of North Africa under their leader Gaiseric.
About twenty-eight when he became king, the Vandal leader was lame from a fall off a horse and small of stature but, as one chronicle put it, he was "deep in his designs, taciturn, averse to pleasure, subject to transports of fury, greedy of conquest, and cunning in sowing the seeds of discord among nations, and exciting them against each other".
A year after his accession, in 429, he shipped his army — according to one account about eighty thousand men — from Spain to Morocco. The Moors were in open revolt against Roman rule and the Vandal landing was totally unopposed. Spain was already lost and now Italy's most important source of grain was being overrun by locust-like invaders. In 430 they swept into Numidia, defeated a Roman defensive army and knew that the whole of the open countryside was at their mercy.
Only a few of the ancient walled cities, Carthage and Hippo among them, were left in the hands of the Romans. Gaiseric and his Vandals besieged the city of Hippo as Bishop Augustine lay dying. He prayed that God would help his Church, but grant himself a release from the miseries of this mortal life.
A peace treaty ceded the Vandals federate status in Mauretania on the Atlantic coast and Numidia (Morocco and western Algeria), but Gaiseric only paid it lip-service. He was the effective sole ruler of Spain and North Africa. The defensive walls of all the captured cities, except for Carthage, which he made his capital, were demolished.
Anything you can do I can do sillier...
Despite numerous injunctions by sensible bishops against extraordinary and undisciplined austerities, desert hermits entered a period of "anything you can do I can do sillier". Sensationalism was all the go, hysteria the passport to paradise. Competitive spiritual emulation presented a problem. How could anyone deny them special sanctity, much less excommunicate them, when all the world was lost in admiration of their egocentric sacrifices? Bondage was the rage. Some donned iron shackles, chains, barbed girdles and spiked collars, hair shirts, or like the Sadhus of India, went about in all weathers without any clothes at all. Some flogged themselves insensible or had themselves tied up in seemingly impossible positions, permanently fouled with their own excrement. Some cultivated acolytes who beat them with thorn-bush or whips. The tradition of asceticism had become malformed — the worship of the gargoyle rather than the saint.
In 423, at the age of thirty-three, Simeon Stylites, stinking of uncleanliness and incense, climbed onto a pillar east of Antioch and became the first to achieve solitary confinement in public. The pillar was built low at first, but he had it gradually increased to a height of sixty feet. He lived exposed to the elements for thirty-six years, contorting himself into semi-yogic poses and dispensing instruction and advice every afternoon, while feeding maggots on his self-inflicted wounds that he kept open for that purpose.
Some of his imitators were ordained to the priesthood and celebrated mass on their noisome perches. Most never washed at all. Yet, despite their incredible austerities, according to the chroniclers, they remained plagued with lust. Rarely in the most pagan of societies had eroticism flourished so feverishly. Try as they might the would-be puritans could think of little else. Even on their deathbeds and often in extreme old age, crusted with the grime of years, they confessed to being plagued not with intellectual doubts but with erotic fantasies. Latter-day psychiatrists are not surprised.
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