Nah, 6 September is not the birthday of the Catholic Church. 27 February 380 is. It just took 14 years for resistance in the Western Empire to be crushed militarily, which happened 6 September 394, so it's kind of like a birthday for the Western Roman Imperial Church.
On 6 September 394 the Eastern Emperor Theodosius I defeated the Western Emperor Eugenius at the conclusion of the two-day Battle of The Frigidus.
Judas H Priest, never heard of it and why should I have heard of it, and where and what in the hell is the Frigidus?
OK about the river. The Frigidus is a river, the Latin name means "cold" as its English descendant "frigid" suggests. It is in northeastern Italy and Slovenia and is now called the Vipacco in Italian and the Vipava in Slovene, and of course I gotta tell ya it is called the Wipbach in modern German, or, as b and p get sort of interchangeable in German sometimes, the Wippach.
So why was there a battle there and why should I care to know? Goes like this. On 27 February 380, the Eastern Emperor Theodosius, in concert with his Western co-Emperor counterparts Gratian and Valentinian II, issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which made Nicene Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire overall, that all subjects of the Empire must hold this faith as delivered to Rome and preserved by then current Pope Damasus I and then current Bishop of Alexandria Peter, that these alone shall be called "Catholic Christians", the universal faith of the Empire, and all others are heretics and not even churches, subject to such punishment as the Empire should choose to visit upon them.
So, 27 February 380 is the birthday of the "Catholic Church", as distinct from the catholic church. The then new Imperial state church is still around, and still reflects the divisions between the Eastern and Western Roman Empire as Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. The Eastern version took hold earlier but it was a little more unsettled in the Western Empire, which is why, though both have the same birthday, 6 September 394 is a sort of Western birthday, since that is when resistance to it in the Western Empire was crushed by military power from the Eastern Empire, no co-incidence at all that this was at the hands of Theodosius, who would be the last Emperor both East and West.
A Roman citizen, from what are now called Berbers, named Augustine is teaching in Carthage in 380, seven years away from being baptised by the state bishop, Ambrose, of the state church in the state's Western capital by then, Milan. Emperor Diocletian, the last of an undivided Roman Empire, had made Milan, then called Mediolanum, the Western capital in 293 and Nicomedia, now Izmit Turkey, the Eastern capital in 286, and called his new provincial units diocese, after himself. Constantine moved the Eastern capital to Byzantium, renamed it Constantinople, which is now Istanbul Turkey.
The Roman Senate, still in Rome, was not shall we say comfortable with this new state religion in the two capitals of the Empire, and lots of academic disputes and apologetics on both sides went back and forth, but no violence. During this unsettled time Augustine gets appointed to the most prestigious professorship in his world, at the Western capital Milan in 384, and is all caught up in the swirling controversy between the old religion and classic philosophy and the new state church.
He also gets caught up in his mother Monica's designs for his career. Now with a prestigious academic position, his longstanding relationship with a woman he never names but called "the one", of some 14 years complete with son, called Adeodatus, meaning "given by God", hasta go according to mom. So he caves and sends her away, she saying she will never be with another man, he finding a new concubine to tide him over until the proper social marriage his mom, "Saint" Monica, arranges with a then 11 year old girl can happen.
And about concubines. Ain't what you think. A concubine in ancient Rome was simply a wife that Roman law forbade you to marry due to your or her social class. These marriages denied legality by Imperial law were rather common, and the church didn't come down on them since it wasn't the couple's fault they weren't legally married. Something to keep in mind when "the one" gets called concubine in the modern sense, their relationship passed off as merely lustful, and the son as "illegitimate".
No wonder the dude was confused! His whole world swirling in unsettled controversy and mom running his life like a beauty pageant mom. And then, as he's all upset about his life, he has this really weird experience where he hears a kid's voice saying "Take, read" (the famous tolle, lege). Now what he was told to take and read you won't likely find in your local Christian bookstore, but was among the most widely read books, first in the Imperial Christian state church and then through the Middle Ages, being a Life of St Anthony of the Desert, written by St Athanasius about 360, original in Greek but best known in a Latin translation made about ten or so years later.
Hoo-boy, old Tony. He was a wealthy Egyptian who became Christian at about age 34, so far so good, sold everything and took up with a local hermit. Tony in NO way was the "Founder of Monasticism", as religious hermits of various religions were common on the outskirts of cities; Philo the Jewish-Egyptian writer mentions them all, sharing the Platonic idea of having to get out of the world to get into an ideal. Pure Platonist Idealism. Sure glad Jesus didn't do that or let his Apostles do it either when they wanted to, but went back to Jerusalem where real life had things for them to do.
But old Tony went the other direction, and left even the outskirts for the desert itself to get away from it all to get into it all. But the crowds followed -- everybody loves an exotic "holy man" -- and Tony took on the more advanced cases of this mania and left the rest to his associates, a Christian Oracle of Delphi, which "guidance" was later variously collected as the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, or Apophthegmata, if you want a word to impress somebody in a combox or something.
Anyhoo, Gus reads this in 386, and on the Easter Vigil of 387, Ambrose baptises Gus and his son. The next year, 388, he determines to return home to North Africa. Which he did, but along the way both his mother and his son died, so he arrives alone in the world, and understandably unsure of himself once again. Next he sells the family stuff and gives the money away, except the house which he turns into a sort of lay monastery. I guess that's what you do when you read about dudes in the desert, rather than go through the grief and live on in the world of people. Then he gets ordained presbyter or priest in 391 in Hippo, now Annaba, Algeria.
This mostly academic and political controversy, in which Gus' unsettled life had its context and of which it is typical, changed when Western Emperor Valentinian II was found hanged in his home on 16 May 392. His half brother and co-Emperor Gratian was already dead, killed 25 August 383 in Lyon France by forces of Roman generals who thought he was losing his grip. The official word was Valentinian was a suicide, but his wife and others though he was done in by his military power behind the throne, the Frank Arbogastes, and the Imperial Milan court church's bishop, Ambrose, left the question open, suicide being a no-no for a Christian Emperor held up as a hero.
On 22 August 392, Arbogastes, who being a Frank and not Roman could not be Emperor, names a Roman Christian named Eugenius Western Emperor, who though Christian was sympathetic to traditional Roman religion and started replacing Eastern Empire sympathetic officials in the West. The Eastern Empire put off recognition of the new Western regime, and finally in January of 392 Theodosius declared his two-year-old son Honorius as Western Emperor and begins preparing an invasion of the Western Empire, which began in May 394 and concluded in the victory at The Frigidus 6 September 394. Arbogastes commits suicide and Eugenius is beheaded by the Catholic forces of Theodosius.
Later in the same year, 394, the Imperial state Catholic Church, having destroyed the Temple of Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi in 390 and the Serapeum and Great Library in Alexandria in 391, the year Augustine was ordained a priest in the official church, and having ended the two great rituals of ancient Greece, the Eleusinian Mysteries in 392 and the Olympic Games after the ones in 393, puts out the fire considered essential to Rome's survival at the Temple of Vesta, and disbands the women who were personally selected by the pontifex maximus, when that meant the head of the traditional Roman religion rather than the head of the new state Catholic religion.
The next year, 395, Augustine becomes religious head, which is called bishop, of the Roman Imperial administrative unit called a diocese, in Hippo. Guess Gus knew on which side his bread is buttered.
The Battle of The Frigidus effectively ended any Western resistance to the new state church. But those old Roman families knew a thing or two about survival and before long they were papal families, eventually supplying Pope Gregory, made Pope 3 September 590, who ruled the state church like a real Roman indeed. This enormous civil war though left the Western Empire greatly weakened, and it collapsed a thousand years before the Eastern Empire did, with the Visigoths sacking Rome in 410 and Augustine, by then 56 and still Bishop of Hippo, then writing more Platonism to assure the shocked Romans that though the joint was a mess, the real and ideal City of God was the real winner.
Yeah right. Back here in reality the "City of God", sacked first by the Gauls in 387 BC, after the 410 sack by the Visigoths, got sacked again by the Vandals in 455, but Gus died at 75 on 28 August 430 so he missed it, and again by the Ostrogoths in 546, and again by the Arabs in 846, and again by the Normans in 1084, and last by soldiers of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, but not on his orders, in 1527.
Anyway, that's the famous book The City of God, which is actually only the first part of its title, which is On The City Of God Against The Pagans (OK De civitate Dei contra Paganos, I translated). Pagan is another term reinvented by the new church; once meant someone from the country, or a civilian, but with the Imperial Catholic Church firmly in the cities, and their faithful thinking they were a church militant, soldiers of Christ, which the state military having kicked the crap out of the former religion for the state church I guess kind of fits, came to mean someone adhering to the old religion which hung on more in the countryside.
Which Platonic idealism guided and fuelled the West as it struggled through centuries of chaos and tried to reinvent its former glory in the Holy Roman Empire, which, as has been famously remarked, was not holy, not Roman, and not much of an empire. But it by God had a state Catholic Church with popes and bishops and diocese and all the Platonism reinvented as Christianity you can shake a stick at, complete with justification as the City of God.
Which wholesale hijacking of the catholic church as the Catholic Church, one might say its Babylonian Captivity, lasted for a thousand years. Then a poor guy in a screwed up world with a screwed up life, and a barbarian to boot, a German named Martin Luther from outside the old Roman boundaries, seeks solace in a religious order modelling itself after the Platonic idealism turned into Christian monastic asceticism of Augustine, and discovers none of this crap is gonna save you but simply faith in the Son sent by God to be the sacrifice which takes away our sins, just like Scripture, which is supposed to be the church's book, says.
And so begins the disentanglement of the catholic church from the Catholic Church of the Roman and Holy Roman Empires. They tried like hell to make the catholic church, the pillar and ground of truth, the bride of Christ, into the Whore of Babylon. The vestiges of Theodosius' state Imperial Catholic Church continue in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, plus the equally false but opposite reactions to the Babylonian Captivity continue in later Reformation churches, who went beyond the guideline of what contradicts Scripture must go but retaining what doesn't, since the power of the Gospel and Word and Sacrament is such that not even the Roman Empire could entirely keep it out, to if it ain't in Scripture it goes, depending on whose version of what is in Scripture one buys, losing his Divine Service of his body and blood for our salvation, and in some cases even Baptism as well.
And lately all of these anachronisms, state churches that survived their states, seem intoxicated with a Rousseau-like Romantic fiction, some sort of resurrection of an imagined pure church of the Apostles and Church Fathers, rediscovered by their scholarship of course, a sort of ecclesiastical version of Rousseau's "noble savage". And it must be said some of these anachronisms have the word "Lutheran" in their names. And the equal but opposite errors equally condemned in the Lutheran Confessions continue as well.
But while all of this rages about us, and even infects the Lutheran Reformation, thanks be to God for the Lutheran Reformation and its confession of the true teaching of Scripture, the book that is the church's own measure and norm, while yet retaining what does not contradict it.
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