From Justin to Cyprian

To complete this account of elements from pre-Constantinian times that retain their importance for those who appreciate Catholic Christianity, we wish to retrieve some items from the witness of five writers. We begin with Justin. Among the distinctive features of his writings, two have shown their face in twentieth-century Catholicism. First of all, his Dialogue with Trypho illustrated how Catholic thinking should flow naturally towards Judaism. Justin shared the Hebrew scriptures with the Jew Trypho, and never belittled the faith of his debating partner. For several centuries dialogue with Jews and a mission to the Jews were to enjoy a high priority among Christians, not least because Jews remained a significant source of Christian converts.14 In the third century Origen, one of the greatest Christian scholars of all time, engaged in theological debate with Jews. A section of the De Incarnatione Verbi (7. 33-40) by St Athanasius (c.296-373) shows how such debate with Jews still mattered to a bishop of Alexandria, a city that had enjoyed one of the largest Jewish communities in any of the ancient world. As a hermit in the Syrian desert, St Jerome (c.342-420) learned Hebrew from a Jewish scholar. Hence in producing what came to be called the Vulgate, the most widely used Latin translation of the Bible, he could translate the Hebrew scriptures directly from the original texts. But, sadly, by the fourth century the misinterpretation of the blood curse from Matthew 27: 25, the polemic against 'the Jews' in John's Gospel, some severe language from Paul (e.g. 1 Thess. 2: 14-16), and other texts and factors had encouraged anti-Jewish attitudes among

On the growth of Christianity in the aftermath of the epidemics, see Stark, Rise of Christianity , 73-94. 14 Ibid. 49-71.

Christians. With St John Chrysostom (c.347—407) anti-Jewish polemics firmly set in; and through the centuries Catholics committed terrible crimes against Jews or remained guilty bystanders of such crimes. The Second Vatican Council called for repentance and denounced 'the hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and from any source' (Nostra Aetate, 4). The thought of Justin and some of his successors deserves to be recovered in the cause of healing religious and human relations between Catholics and the Jewish people—as Pope John Paul II (b. 1920) has led the way in doing.

Justin also merits retrieval for a second thrust of his teaching: a sense of the presence of the 'generative' Word's 'seeds' that have been 'dropped' everywhere. In one way or another, all human beings share in the Word (or Logos) of God. Christians have received the full knowledge of Christ, but others enjoy the presence of the Logos at least in fragmentary ways. Thus Justin interprets Greek history as a prelude and preliminary to Christ and Christianity:

Plato's teachings are not contrary to Christ's but they are not in all respects identical with them. This is the case with the doctrines of others: the Stoics, the poets, and the prose authors. For each, through his share in the divine generative Logos, spoke well, seeing what was suited to his capacity...Whatever has been spoken aright by anyone belongs to us Christians; for we worship and love, next to God, the Logos, who is from the unbegotten and ineffable God. All those writers were able, through the seed of the Logos implanted in them, to see reality [at least] darkly. For it is one thing to have the seed of a thing and to imitate it up to one's capacity; far different is the thing itself, shared and imitated in virtue of its own grace. (Second Apology, 13)

Several decades later Origen was to say something similar, as was Athanasius in the fourth century.15 Justin's theme of the seeds of the Word returned in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (the decree Ad Gentes., 11), in a 1975 apostolic exhortation from Pope Paul VI (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 53), and in further texts and documents from Catholic leaders and theologians as they struggled with the issue of the Church's mission to and dialogue with the members of other religions. It is this context which has configured Jacques Dupuis's reflections on the universal and powerful presence of the Word of God.16

15 See G. O'Collins, The Tripersonal God (Mahwah,NJ: Paulist Press, 1999), 93.

16 See J. Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997), 57—60, 70—7; id., Christianity and the Religions (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002), 147-56.

Early intimations of themes that have remained dear to Catholics thread through the work of Irenaeus, who preached and expounded his faith in a largely hostile environment. He lived through cauldron years as the second century went to its close. He took over the diocese of Lyons which had suffered from its bishop and others being killed in a Roman persecution of 177. As well as being threatened by external forces, the Church was menaced from within by such Christian heretics as Marcion and the Gnostics. Let us pick out six themes from Irenaeus that Catholics have cherished and developed through the centuries. First of all, he proudly proclaimed the worldwide unity of the one Catholic faith. 'Although scattered throughout the whole world even to the ends of the earth', the Church maintained the essential teaching received from the apostles. 'Although there are many different languages in the world', Irenaeus announced, there were 'no different beliefs or traditions in the churches established in Germany, or in Spain, or among the Celts, or in the East, or in Egypt or Libya, or among those established in the centre of the earth' (i.e. either Italy or Palestine) (Adversus Haereses, 1. 10. 1-2).

Second, he set his face against the aberrations of Marcion, who rejected the Creator God of the OT as a cruel deity, not to be identified with the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Marcion excluded the Jewish scriptures and accepted only an emended version of Luke's Gospel and ten Pauline letters. In effect, Marcion stripped the Christian scriptures of those books (for instance, Matthew's Gospel) that were particularly concerned to justify Christian faith in the light of the OT history and scriptures. Against such errors Irenaeus championed not merely the four Gospels but also the enduring authority of the Jewish scriptures and, in particular, their doctrine of God. There is only one God, who created the material world and human beings made in the divine image and likeness (Gen. 1: 27). In excluding the Jewish God and the value of Jewish history, Marcion opened the door to anti-Semitism; Irenaeus strenuously resisted any such belittling of the history of salvation and creation that reached back through Abraham to the beginning of the human story.

Third, through their sin human beings lost the divine likeness but remained in the image of God, even if this was not yet properly manifested until the divine Word came among us. St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and the Council of Trent (1545-63) were to take further the doctrine of 'original sin' or the loss of grace and wounding of nature suffered by our 'first parents', which affected all later generations of men and women. At times original sin turned into a compromised concept, especially among those who overstressed its evil effects and even maintained the thesis of total depravity, according to which human beings were radically corrupted by the fall into sin. Irenaeus has always remained a secure guide: the loss of the divine likeness by Adam and Eve was passed on to their descendants but their sin did not destroy the divine image. God's loving pedagogy was to bring our restoration through Christ.

Fourth, Irenaeus developed Ephesians 1: 9 and called this restoration 'recapitulation'. In the guise of the New Adam, the Son of God more than restored what human beings had lost. He reunited all men and women when he crowned and consummated the loving divine plan for all creatures. In this unified version of creation and redemption Irenaeus saw everything as one great drama of God's self-communicating goodness, a vision that in part anticipated the theology of St Maximus the Confessor (¿-.580—662), Blessed John Duns Scotus (¿".1266—1308) and the optimistic, evolutionary perspective of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881—1955). Even more than Irenaeus' unitary view of creation and redemption, his image of Christ as Last/New/Second Adam has prospered in Catholic Christianity. It was adopted by John Henry Newman (1801-90) in The Dream of Gerontius, entered into the last and longest document from the Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes, 22), and surfaced in the teaching of Pope John Paul II (e.g. in his 1979 encyclical Redemptor Hominis, 8). Catholic liturgy and art has repeatedly developed the same theme. By referring twice to Adam, the Exultet or Easter Proclamation, which has been sung for well over a thousand years at the Easter Vigil, implies Christ's role as Last Adam. Icons used by the official liturgy of the Eastern Christian tradition, both Catholic and Orthodox, picture Adam, Eve, and their descendants being released from a long bondage to sin and death when the New Adam comes to rescue them.

Fifth, Irenaeus went beyond Paul's teaching about the 'Last Adam' (Rom. 5: 12-21; 1 Cor. 15: 21-2, 45-9) and acknowledged the role of the obedience of Mary, the Second Eve, in the story of human salvation. Irenaeus' interest in Mary made him one of the first Christians to elaborate the idea of the Word's double generation: the eternal generation from the Father and the generation in time from the Virgin Mary. Already present in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (AD 381), this theme of the divine and human generation of God's Son was to be taken up very clearly by the teaching of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). That council echoed Irenaeus' language about the Word of God being 'one and the same' as the earthly Jesus. The Chalcedonian language of one 'person' or 'subsistence' was not yet available to Irenaeus, but in his simpler way he upheld the personal unity of the incarnate Son of God, a unity that supports the Marian title of 'Mother of God (Theotokos)'. We return to this point later in this chapter.

Sixth, where Marcion drastically reduced the authoritative scriptures, the Gnostics added new texts, allegedly the fruit of further divine revelation, in support of their 'spiritualized' version of Christianity. Gnosticism took human redemption to mean the spirit escaping from the body and from the evil, material world. Against such aberrations Irenaeus refused to downplay matter. He insisted on the goodness of the created world in general, and of the human body in particular. Not only its origin (in God's creation) and its destiny (in the resurrection to come) but also (and even more) the incarnation of the Son of God conferred an essential dignity on human bodiliness. Predictably the affirmation of John 1: 14 ('the Word became flesh') assumed a central position for Irenaeus. By assuming 'flesh' (the complete human condition of body and spirit), the Son of God ratified the value of men and women created in God's image and likeness. When they are baptized into Christ and receive him in the Eucharist, their intimate contact with the incarnate and risen Lord will bring them to their own resurrection. One can trace a clear trajectory from Irenaeus' championing of the 'enfleshment' of God's Son and the dignity of our bodily humanity down through the centuries, not least down to Christmas cribs in Italy and elsewhere and Italian art's portrayal of the child Jesus at Mary's breast—both forceful ways of bringing out the true (bodily and spiritual) humanity of the incarnate Word of God.

The brilliant, lapidary expressions of Irenaeus' younger contemporary, Tertullian (c.160—c.225), have become commonplaces in the talk of Catholics and other Christians.17 'The blood of martyrs', he wrote, 'is the seed of Christians' ('Apologeticus,, 50). He spoke of 'the flesh' as 'the hinge of salvation' (De Resurrectione Carnis, 8. 2): 'caro cardo salutis'. The memorable statement with which he began this last work characterized the deepest concerns of believers then and later: 'Fiducia Christianorum resurrectio mortuorum, illam credentes hoc sumus (The resurrection of

Sadly, later in his life Tertullian joined the Montanists, a Spirit-inspired, anti-institutional movement that encouraged a very ascetic life in expectation of the imminent end of history.

the dead constitutes the confidence of Christians. By believing it, we are what we claim to be).' For decades after Tertullian, Christian tombs used such figures as the three young men surviving their stint in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3: 1—30), Daniel rescued from the lions' den (Dan. 6: 1—28), Susanna saved from a death plotted by two lustful elders, Jonah emerging from the great fish, and Lazarus resurrected by Jesus, to express a hope for a glorious salvation in the risen life to come. Tertullian's statement and ancient Christian sepulchral art anticipated the resurrection hope that Catholics and other Christians would continue to express in later centuries—in particular, through signs and symbols in cemeteries around the world.

To Tertullian we owe the language of God as 'Trinity and that of 'three persons and one divine substance' or nature. Along with the theological clarity of his language went a certain disparaging of philosophy as productive of heresies. In what was to become a classic formulation, he denounced Greek philosophers and the heirs of Plato's Academy: 'What has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What has the Academy to do with the Church? What have heretics to do with Christians?' (De Praescriptione Hereticorum, 7). Fortunately, down through the ages Catholic thinkers have followed the lead of St Basil of Caesarea (c.330-79) in his Address to Young Men on Reading Greek Literature, and respected the contributions of high culture. They have supported St Thomas Aquinas (c.1225—74) in letting philosophy live together with theology. The relationship between living faith and cultivated reason need not turn sour, as the 1998 encyclical letter of John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, argued vigorously. Some people regrettably continue to assume that faith is against reason, or at least that faith should, schizophrenically, be separated from reason. They should read Dante Alighieri and other outstanding witnesses from the Catholic tradition, whether ancient, medieval, or modern, who espouse faith and reason. Divine revelation should be embraced in faith, together with the best that human learning offers.

Our next pre-Constantinian writer, Origen (c.185—c.254), by his constant attention to the scriptures underwrote their indispensable role for Catholic and all Christian life and thought. The Second Vatican Council drew on Jerome for the concise statement: 'Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ' (Dei Verbum, 25). Origen had already endorsed this sentiment, and would reproach any Catholics who drift away from letting the scriptures constantly illumine their existence. His interest in prayer and the spiritual life went hand in hand with his biblical scholarship. His commentary on the Song of Solomon initiated a lasting Catholic interest in that anthology of love poems as an allegory of God's relationship with the Church and individual believers. St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090—1153) dedicated eighty-six homilies to the Song of Solomon, and later Catholic mystics also drew from this book when articulating their profound experiences of God.

In our résumé of pre-Constantinian figures, the final one to be retrieved for his continuing Catholic relevance is St Cyprian, who received baptism in 246, was elected bishop of Carthage two years later, and suffered martyrdom in 258. He wrote his famous treatise on Church unity (De Catholicae Ecclesiae Unitate), when faced with the issue of Christians who denied their faith under the pressure of persecution and then wished to be reconciled. Some rigorists such as Novatian, a rival bishop of Rome at the time of St Cornelius (pope 251—3), imposed lifelong excommunication or even rebaptism on such apostates. Against such rigorous schismatics Cyprian insisted on divine grace being mediated through the Church: 'You cannot have God for your Father, if you do not have the Church for your mother' (De Catholicae Ecclesiae Unitate, 6). The one Church communicated salvation, and the unity of the worldwide Church, founded on and symbolized by Peter, was incompatible with competitive bishops. Apparently Cyprian himself left two versions of a key passage in ch. 4 of his treatise on unity. The shorter, first version ran as follows: 'If someone deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, has he still confidence that he is in the Church?' The longer, second version was apparently written not so much to challenge the rigorists as to sound less 'papalist' when Cyprian was in dispute with St Stephen I (pope 254—7): 'If someone does not hold fast to this oneness of the Church, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he resists and withstands the Church, has he still confidence that he is in the Church?'

These questions could be applied to inflexible movements that have recurrently emerged down to the late twentieth century. In Cyprian's own case, an ironical aspect of his work on Church unity emerged in his controversy with Pope Stephen I over baptism administered 'outside the Church'. Like other African and some oriental bishops, Cyprian argued that such baptism had no value. The Church of Rome held, however, that both schismatics and heretics could validly administer baptism. Persecution cut short the controversy and Cyprian died a martyr in 258. In a later chapter on the sacraments we return to this issue.

These last few pages have been dedicated to Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and Cyprian. Many Christians, and not just Catholics, retrieve with gratitude numerous ways in which they articulated their inherited faith. But certainly Catholics find much to claim and reclaim in their writings and lives. It is no accident that the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes from or refers to them frequently.

So far in this chapter we have dealt with the emergence of the worldwide Church, its early life and leadership, and five pre-Constantinian figures who shaped the faith and practice of Catholic Christianity in times of persecution. We turn now to Emperor Constantine (d. 337) and the radical change he brought.

THE ROAD TO CHALCEDON

Constantine's decisive victory of 28 October 312 on the outskirts of Rome, either at the Milvian Bridge or further up the River Tiber at Saxa Rubra (now a centre for RAI or the Italian national television and radio authority), made Constantine the emperor of the Western Empire. Before engaging the forces of Maxentius, his rival for power, Constantine reputedly saw in a dream or a vision Christ's cross and the words: 'In this sign you will conquer (in hoc signo vinces). With the sign of the cross on his own helmet and his soldiers' shields, he believed that the one, all-powerful God guaranteed the military triumph. The 313 Edict of Milan, a verbal agreement reached between Constantine and Licinius, the emperor of the Eastern Empire, pledged religious freedom for Christian believers and the restitution of goods confiscated from them during the severe persecution that had been decreed by Emperor Diocletian in February 303 and continued until 310.18

Christians experienced a startling reversal of fortune when Constantine initiated a long series of legislative acts that they supported. On 13 May 315, for example, he decreed financial help for poor people so as to check the practice of abandoning newborn children to death. That same day he proclaimed that Catholic churches would be supported by imperial funds. On 23 June 319 he ordered that decisions taken by the courts of bishops were to enjoy a civil effect. On 3 March 321 he decreed Sunday to be a day

For ways in which art reflected the Constantinian change, see J. R. Elsner, Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph. The Art of the Roman Empire AD 100—450 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

of rest, and a few months later ordered courts to remain closed on Sundays. A decree of 18 April 321 made the emancipation of slaves easier—by means of a Church procedure. In 324 public money became available for the construction of churches, and in 326 Constantine, encouraged by his elderly mother, St Helena (¿".255—£.330), began building the central shrine of Christendom, the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. The Emperor had already started building St Peter's Basilica in Rome, sited on the place of the apostle's martyrdom and burial, and completed in 328. A decree of 14 June 326 forbade married men to keep a concubine at home. In late 330 bishops and priests, along with Jewish clergy, were exempted from a range of public duties.

How deeply Christian was Constantine's faith? To what extent did he prove himself a political opportunist, who—in the spirit of 'if you can't beat them, join them'—made an ally out of the Church, which by his time had become a large state within the state? The very titles of books, such as Paul Keresztes's Constantine: A Great Monarch and Apostle (Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben 1981) and Alastair Kee's Constantine versus Christ: The Triumph of Ideology (London: SCM, 1982), reflect the sharply divergent answers scholars have given to the question of Constantine and Christianity. What cannot be reasonably doubted is the depth of the basic religiosity, which, together with much immoral behaviour, characterized his life. Eventually he received baptism shortly before he died in 337.19 In the meantime that 'Father of Church History', Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea (c.260—c.340), who attended the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem, had been busy encouraging the notion of the Emperor as the providential instrument of divine salvation and even as vicar of God the Father on earth. Whatever else it did, Constantine's toleration of Christianity brought no separation of Church and state. This first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire convened, funded, and (at least initially) presided at the first General Council, that of Nicaea I in 325; he legislated for orthodox faith, outlawed heresy, and preached weekly sermons to his courtiers. Church leaders frequently agreed with him and with other civil authorities that heretics could be punished by fines, confiscation of property, torture, and even death.

See H. A. Drake, Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000); S. N. C. Lieu and D. Montserrat (eds.), Constantine: History, Historiography and Legend (London: Routledge, 1998).

Henceforth Christianity and, in particular, Catholic Christianity would continue to struggle with Church—state relations—under monarchies, dictatorships, oligarchies, democracies, and all manner of variants in these systems of government. Eusebians of all centuries have expected the state and the Church to work closely together for the glory of God. Despite the changes, 'the state' could also work against 'the Church': e.g. St Athanasius of Alexandria had to go into exile five times and St John Chrysostom (d. 407) was twice deposed from his see (Constantinople) by the imperial court. Others have stressed the relative independence of civil and religious spheres. Until 313 numerous writers such as Tertullian had expressed the sense of Christians being citizens of heaven and hence strangers on earth. They obeyed the state where essential civil duties were involved, but preferred to distance themselves from Caesar and his concerns. Now the situation was changed forever. The relations between St Ambrose of Milan (c.339—97) and Emperor Theodosius I (c.346—95) exemplify the new complexity.20

In 388, after a mob encouraged by their bishop had burned down a synagogue at Callinicum on the Euphrates river, Theodosius ordered the bishop to pay for the rebuilding of the synagogue. Ambrose protested to the Emperor: a Christian could not do such a 'favour' to some Jews (Epistola, 9). Theodosius insisted that the synagogue should be rebuilt but did not insist on the guilty bishop receiving the bill: the state would pay for the reconstruction. At a Mass celebrated in the Emperor's presence Ambrose challenged Theodosius to cancel the order for the rebuilding of the synagogue and used his popularity to extract this volte-face from the reluctant Emperor. In 390, after Theodosius had permitted (or even ordered) a massacre in Thessalonica to avenge the killing of one of his generals, Ambrose refused him communion until he had done public penance. The Emperor did so, and was publicly reconciled at Christmas 390.

While Ambrose could bring such effective influence to bear on Theodosius, he could not always do so with Magnus Maximus, the emperor who from 383 until 388 controlled Britain, Gaul, and Spain. Maximus persecuted Priscillian (a one-time bishop of Avila) and his followers. Their dualistic heresy was borrowed from Gnosticism and followed Sabellian

On Ambrose and his times see J. Moorhead, Ambrose: Church and Society in the Late Roman World (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1999).

tendencies by interpreting 'Father', 'Son', and 'Holy Spirit' as merely three modes or facets of the one, mono-personal God. (A shadowy third-century figure, Sabellius had apparently explained trinitarian language in terms of three kinds of divine actions and denied any personal distinctions within the divinity.) Priscillian's false ideas included a moral rigorism which went as far as to condemn marriage. Despite the protests of Ambrose and St Martin of Tours (d. 397), the imperial authorities, encouraged by some Gallic bishops, executed Priscillian at Trier in 388. Ambrose reacted by excommunicating Maximus and the bishops who had supported the prosecution and execution of Priscillian and his friends.

As the fourth century went on, Christians—but not necessarily all their leaders—had become more privileged and less tolerant. Towards 400 their faith had become a qualification for public office, and Christianity the state religion. Increasingly restrictions were placed on pagan worship. In 415 a Christian mob in Alexandria lynched the outstanding Neoplatonist philosopher, Hypatia. Their archbishop, known to history as St Cyril, was suspected of being party to her killing, but this was never proved. Certainly he encouraged the destruction of synagogues. As we shall see, his intolerance could also be aimed at Christian bishops like Nestorius of Constantinople.

When Constantine's victory sealed public freedom for Christians, the Roman Empire, despite recurrent crises, still looked uniquely stable. Yet from 400 its frontiers began collapsing in an alarming fashion. In 410 a shock ran through the Empire when the Visigoth leader Alaric, an Arian Christian, captured Rome. St Jerome wrote from Bethlehem: 'Rome, capturer of the world, fell captive' (Epistola, 127. 12). The Vandals, led by Gaiseric, also an Arian Christian, had overrun North Africa by 429. In 442 the Roman legions abandoned Britain. Between 410 and 463, invading forces had put Rome itself under siege eight times, occupied the city six times, and sacked it twice (in 410 and 455). It was Pope Leo I, and not a Roman emperor, who persuaded Attila, king of the Huns (known as 'the Scourge of God'), not to sack Rome in 452, the year after Leo's teaching on Christ had been solemnly endorsed at the Council of Chalcedon. Let us now pull together some of the major achievements for Catholic Christianity from Constantine in 313 to Leo in 451. We do so under the headings of 'Councils and Controversies' and 'Lights and Shadows'.

0 0

Post a comment