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. And fits right in with the Feast of St Augustine, 28 August, who was a pagan professor in 380 and about to be named Bishop of Hippo in the new state church in 394.
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?
About the River and Why the Battle.
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, required 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, and declared 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.
That's 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 Renowned Professor Get Caught Up In This.
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. Diocletian, the last
emperor of an undivided Roman Empire, had made Milan, then called
Mediolanum, the Western capitol in 293 and Nicomedia, now Izmit
Turkey, the Eastern capitol in 286, and called his new provincial
units diocese, after himself. Constantine moved the Eastern capitol
to Byzantium, renamed it Constantinople, which is now Istanbul
The Roman Senate, still in Rome, was not shall we
say comfortable with this new state religion in the two new capitols
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 capitol 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 gets passed
off as merely lustful and the son as "illegitimate".
Take, Read -- This Christian Bestseller!
No wonder the dude was confused! His whole world
is swirling in unsettled controversy and mom is 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.
It's a Life of St Anthony of the Desert, written by St Athanasius
about 360 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.
The Famous Professor Converts.
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, a Frank named
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.
A Digression, but a Damned Important One.
What's a Frank? Not a hot dog, that comes from
Frankfurter, and originally meant Frankfurter Würstchen, which means
"little sausages from Frankfurt" served on a bun. They originated in
the 13th Century and became the peoples' food for coronations of the
Holy Roman Emperor starting with Maximilian II, a Habsburg and nephew
of Emperor Karl V, he to whom the Augsburg Confession was presented, on
25 July 1564. About 1800 or so, a butcher named Johann Georg Lahner
from Coburg, Bavaria, introduced the Frankfurter Würstchen to Vienna.
Now Vienna had its own sausages, which were a mixture of pork and beef
called Wiener, from Wien, which is "Vienna" in German. Lahner modified
his product by mixing the original pork with beef like the Viennese
and calling the result simply a Frankfurter. German immigrants brought
the product to the US at Coney Island, and at St Louis where the
German American owner, Chris von der Ahe, of the St Louis Brown
Stockings, now the Cardinals, started selling them at baseball games
and also at a stand in what is now Paul T McCain's back yard. OK just
jacking around on that last bit --the inter-relation of hot dogs,
Lutheranism, St Louis and the Cards is clear enough without it. There,
toldya it was important! The name got shortened to "Frank", they're
hot, and the "dog" thing came from rumours that the makers actually
used dog meat. Myself, I like kosher beef hot dogs, not at all the
Oh yeah, the Franks -- comes from the Roman name gens
Francorum for these Germanic barbarians who threw their axes (the
franks), whose own ethnic history says they were Trojans under Priam
who ended up on the Rhein, oh sorry, Rhine, after the fall of Troy in
Back To the Story.
On 22 August 392, Arbogastes, who being a Frank and
not Roman could not be Emperor, names a Roman Christian named
Eugenius the Western Emperor. Eugenius though Christian was
sympathetic to traditional Roman religion and started replacing Western
officials sympathetic to the Eastern Empire. 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, on a real roll -- having destroyed the Temple of Apollo
at the Oracle of Delphi in 390, the Serapeum and Great Library in
Alexandria in 391, the year Augustine was ordained a priest in the
official church, 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
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.
It All Comes To-gether, It All Falls Apart.
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. So Augustine, by then 56
and still Bishop of Hippo, writes 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",
Rome, first sacked 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 Rome would be sacked 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.
Still, warts and all, Augustine at least did not hold a
six 24 hour day creation to be the "literal" understanding of Genesis
without which the rest of revelation falls apart.
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 it's De civitate Dei contra
Paganos, I translated). Pagan is another term reinvented by the new
church. It 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, pagan came to mean
someone adhering to the old religion which hung on more in the
That Platonic idealism guided and fuelled the West
as it struggled through centuries of chaos and tried to reinvent its
former glory with the Holy Roman Empire, which, as has been famously
remarked, was not holy, not Roman, and not much of an empire. Hell, it
was Frankish, the new Romans! Old Arbogastes would have liked that!
And it by God had the Roman 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
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 Augustine's Platonic idealism
turned into Christian monastic asceticism, 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. Which is bad
enough, but equally false but opposite reactions to the Babylonian
Captivity arose and continue in later Reformation churches. The
guideline of the Lutheran reformation was, if it contradicts Scripture
it must go but what doesn't is retained, since the power of the Gospel
and Word and Sacrament is such that not even the Roman Empire could
entirely keep it out. But with these guys the guideline became, if it
ain't in Scripture it goes -- depending on whose version of what is in
Scripture one buys -- thus 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 original state, seem intoxicated with a
Rousseau-like Romantic fiction, which is 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, a noble church, of Rousseau's "noble savage". And it must
be said some of these anachronisms have the word "Lutheran" in their
names. Thus the equal but opposite errors of the old state church
and the later Reformers, 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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