NAVIGATION: You are presently looking at Part 24.3
A little bit of a potpourri in the excerpt from Tom Lee's manuscript today. We're still in the fifth Century. He provides a wrap on St Patrick in Ireland and the marauding of Attila the Hun further to the East. In the middle there is the story of Vincent of Lerins — the first person to try and formulate in a written way a process for dealing with heresy. It is a surprisingly modern set of ideas that do not sit well with the heresy-hunters of today.
One Nature or Two — Monks go Beyond the Bounds. Part 24.3
A Wrap on St Patrick...
Coroticus, King of Strathclyde in Scotland, considered himself a Christian; which was why Patrick, Bishop of Ireland, excommunicated him in furious and awkward Latin prose. We do not know if the king took any notice. His men had raided Ireland, slaying large numbers of newly-baptized Christians, and carrying away others to be sold as slaves to Irish pagans but chiefly to the unconverted Picts of northern Scotland — "handing over Christ's members to brothels". wrote Patrick. Anger and grief mingle throughout the letter, not only for the outraged captives and the dead, but also for the hellbound aggressors, the murderers who had regarded neither God nor his bishops.
When Patrick died, Ireland was a predominantly Christian country. He set up the Roman system based elsewhere on an urban episcopate. But Ireland had never been part of the empire and was based upon tribes and the extended family. There were no towns. As a result the Church took on a decidedly Irish character, based on a wildly eclectic and ill-disciplined monastic system, which would in a century or two send its own disruptive missionaries back to the Continent.
These wild, damp monks in sheepskin and leather kept classical learning alive. They did not regard Plato and Aristotle as aspects of the pre-Christian devil as much of the rest of Christendom did. They used them in their own writing. They also developed the idea of private, one-on-one, confession of sins; at first considered heretical by the mainstream church where public confession and repentance for one's misdeeds had been the practice from the beginning.
Despite Patrick's best efforts many pagan customs survived. Until just a few decades ago, the festival of Lughnasa was still celebrated on hilltops and at lakesides throughout Ireland. The name of the festival comes from the Celtic god Lugh Samhioldanach, the MultiTalented, who killed the evil king Balor of the Evil Eye. He promised the people a good harvest and was a powerful figure likened to Mercury/Hermes; he was also thought to be the father of Cuchulainn, the superhuman war hero.
Although Christianity became increasingly powerful it realized that it had to co-opt this popular end-ofsummer tradition in order to ensure its own survival with the Irish people. The Celtic calendar was structured on nature's agricultural cycle and great festivals celebrated the start of each season: Imbolc (spring), Beltaine (summer), Lughnasa (autumn) and Samhaim (winter). All the festivals honored the life-giving sun, but only Lughnasa derived its name from a legendary hero. Lughnasa celebrated the new harvest, a harvest of wheat and, from the sixteenth century, and their arrival from the new world, the harvest of potatoes. The celebration date varied from region to region but generally fell on the last Sunday in July. Bilberries were picked to be made into a special cake or wine associated with courtship and fertility. Many a match was made at Lughnasa, but it was considered unlucky to marry at this time, though sexual dalliance was a normal part of the festivity, until the Church intervened.
Attila the Hun...
In 434, Attila became jointly King of the Huns with his older brother Bleda. Ravishingly predatory, Attila swiftly slaughtered his brother to become sole ruler of all the Scythian Huns. He was tyrannous, rash, brazen, blasphemous — a king molded in the great heroic cast, of ancient lineage and divine descent. Of brief height and robust frame, a jockey with a lightweight boxer's muscles, he lived in a mystical participation with nature, a paradise that all children know, but most adults lose. His followers were not willing to subordinate their libidos to the Christians pie-in-thesky notions about life after death.
Genuinely at home with his adversaries, Attila, following his eight-year sojourn as an imperial hostage, had frequently visited the imperial courts as ambassador for the Huns, negotiating the sort of payments that the Mafia calls protection money. He came to a friendly agreement with Aetius, military commander of the imperial army in the west, to keep the Huns out of the remainder of Gaul, not occupied by the heathen Vandals. Though the Romans did employ many Huns as mercenaries, Attila and his armies freely harried the eastern empire, regularly exacting huge ransoms. On the northeastern front they extended their control as far as the Great Wall of China.
Commonitorium of Vincent of Lerins —
About the same time the Commonitorium of Vincent of Lerins was written. Vincent resided in the island monastery of Lerins, off Cannes — the retreat founded by Honoratus, famous for its illustrious exports such as Patrick, Hilary of Arles, and Benedict Biscop. Vincent's short tractate is one of the most valuable documents of the fifth century. It is written in bright, concise style. Its object is to supply a method for guarding against heresies. He writes:
"I have often enquired most earnestly and attentively from very many experts in sanctity and learning how, and by what definite, and, as it were, universal rule I might distinguish the truth of the Catholic faith from the falsity of heretical perversion."
His direction to any who wishes to detect the frauds of heresies and to remain sound in the faith is to resort to, first, the authority of divine Law, secondly, to the tradition of the Catholic Church. Since men interpret Scripture differently, he enunciates his famous maxim — we are to hold to "that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all" — Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus. In other words, true doctrine has "universality, antiquity, consent".
Vincent goes on to explain the application of the rule in terms that at every stage rule out later papal claims to a supreme right to dictate doctrine. What are Catholic Christians to do if part of the Church goes wrong? They are to prefer the soundness of the whole body to a corrupt member. What if some novel virus affects the whole Church? They are to cling to antiquity. What if some of the ancients erred? Then they must honor the decrees of a General Council. But if some new error springs up which has not been so rejected? They must take pains to find out and compare the opinions of those ancients who remained in the communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, "and whatever you shall find to have been held, written and taught, not by one or two only, but by all equally and with one consent, openly, frequently and persistently, that you must understand is to be believed by yourself also without the slightest hesitation."
The banning of Jews, Samaritans, Pagans and Heretics...
Emperor Theodosius II, probably at the instigation of his sister Pulcheria — the nun whose obsessional interests colored every aspect of her life — in 438 issued an imperial constitution banning Jews, Samaritans, pagans and heretics, whose lack of conformism was the cause of droughts and failures of the harvest. Jews were excluded from public office and were ordered to spend all Jewish and Christian feast days in the presence of local bishops "washed and in a suitable frame of mind," to make sure that none of them practiced any Jewish, or mocked any Christian, observance.
Hilary of Arles was an inmate of Lerins when Vincent and probably Patrick were resident there. He became Bishop of Arles in succession to Honoratus about 429. The very fact of his election is proof of how little the Church was disposed to heed papal protests. Pope Celestine in a letter to the Bishops of Vienne and Narbonne had condemned the choice of a monk from Lerins, Honoratus, to be bishop. He objected to choosing outsiders (peregreni et extranei) and monks as bishops, and enjoined that each man ought to have the fruit of his service in the Church where he had spent his life. The response of the diocese of Arles was to choose another monk of Lerins, Hilary, to succeed Honoratus.
Pope Sixtus III continued to butter-up Emperor Theodosius, as had his predecessor Celestine, in order to keep the province of Illyria, on the Balkan shore of the Adriatic, under Roman ecclesiastical control, thwarting any perceived expansive ambition by the Patriarch of Constantinople. Sixtus also pleased the western emperor by loaning a persuasive deacon to act as imperial envoy to settle a dispute between the military commander Aetius and the civil magistrate of Gaul, Avitus. The deacon's name was Leo, and in September 440 he became the Pope of Rome.
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