Nah, 6 September is not the birthday of the Catholic Church. On 6 September 394 the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius I defeated the Western Roman 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?
What's a Frigidus and Why the Battle.
OK, 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 Roman Emperor Flavius Theodosius Augustus, and Western Roman Emperor counterparts (the two were senior and junior Augustus, respectively, more or less co-emperors) Flavius Gratianus Augustus (Gratian) and Flavius Valentinianus Augustus (Valentianin II), jointly issued the Edict of Thessalonica. The edict is also known by its Latin name, Cunctos populos, those people (plural accusative case). Latin and other languages typically use the first word or two of a document as its title name.
The edict 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, being truly demented and insane (vero dementes vesanosque, in the words of the edict in case you thought I'm making stuff up) are heretics and not even churches, subject to such punishment as God and the Empire should choose to visit upon them (divina primum vindicta, post etiam motus nostri, quem ex caelesti arbitro sumpserimus, ultione plectendos, in the words of the edict).
This edict did not, contra the usual summary, make Christianity the official religion. Christianity was not, contra another summary often heard, some unified happy whole, not divided as it is now, whose happiness and unity we should recover now. From the start there were many versions of what "Christianity" is, there was no "traditional" Christianity, and the edict made one of the versions the state religion. That's the "Nicene Christianity" mentioned in the above paragraph. It's called that from the Council of Nicaea, called and presided over by Emperor Constantine (the "Great", though he was not Christian at the time!) in 325 AD to define what is now traditional Trinitarian Christianity from the various other contenders for what is Christianity, principally the Arians, but also the Novatians, the Macedonians, the Anomoeans and others.
The council didn't settle things. Constantine himself, not being a member of any version, was tolerant and taken aback by the continuing controversy, wondered if maybe the council got it wrong, and was finally baptised on his deathbed by a "bishop" sympathetic to the Arians (Eusebius of Nicomedia). His son and successor Constantius II was openly sympathetic to the Arians, and his successor Julian wasn't sympathetic to any version of Christianity and wanted to get back to traditional Graeco-Roman religion (for which he's sometimes called "Julian the Apostate"). Julian's successor Jovian only lasted eight months and though Christian didn't push one version of that over another, and his successor, Valens, was an Arian Christian!
Valens died in the disastrous Battle of Adrianople (in modern northwestern Turkey) against the Goths on 9 August 378, which marked the beginning of the end for the Western empire and also of Arian influence in the Eastern empire. So when Gratian (remember him above?) asked Theodosius, who was Trinitarian and from Hispania (modern Spain and Portugal) to take over the army in the East, this effectively made him Eastern emperor succeeding Valens, on 19 January 379, and things were anything but settled, politically or religiously. The year after the edict, 381, Theodosius convenes another council, the First Council of Constantinople, to settle things, at least the religious ones. Notice how it's emperors, not church types, convening church conventions?
So who are Damasus and Peter? We'll meet Damasus in the post later this month on Jerome, but in this context suffice it to know that he was Bishop of Rome from 1 October 366 to 11 December 384. OK, nice to know, but why does it matter? Here's why. In those days, popes were elected locally by the clergy and laity, but now they had to be confirmed by the Emperor. The Emperor Constantius II had sent the previous pope Liberius into exile for not sharing his sympathetic view of the Arians, and when Liberius died 24 September 366, two different popes were elected in two separate elections. The deacons of the church and the plebian class (regular people) elected Liberius' deacon Ursinus, but the patricians, the wealthy upper class, elected Damasus. Mob violence ensued, including deaths and massacres by Damasus' faction of Ursinus' faction, and the city authorities had to restore order. Which they did, on the side of Damasus, since the patricians had bought Imperial support, and he was confirmed pope 1 October 366, and exonerated of charges of murder. And also adultery. His dalliance with wealthy women earned him the nickname auriscalpius matronarum, the ladies' ear scratcher. How's that for "apostolic succession", just what you'd expect from the conservator of the true faith, right?
Peter was Peter II, the 21st patriarch of Alexandria, a student of St Athanasius (we'll meet him again below), a major opponent of Arian Christianity, who had been exiled by the local prefect on orders from Emperor Valens (an Arian) and went to Rome where Damasus supported him until he could return to Alexandria in 373.
Cunctos populos refers to Damasus as pontiff (pontifex) but to Peter as bishop (episcopus). What's a pontiff? Comes from pontifex, which means bridge builder. A pontifex was a high religious official in the Collegium pontificum, which included the Vestal Virgins charged with maintaining the fire in the Temple of Vesta believed to be essential to Rome's survival, and the highest ranking was the pontifex maximus. As the Republic declined this office became more and more political and was held by the Emperor in the Empire. The last to use it was Gratian, one of the signatories to the Edict, and after he renounced it pontifex became associated with Bishop and pontifex maximus with the Bishop of Rome, and still is to-day. The use of pontifex in the Edict only wrt to Damasus and Peter as epicopus, since any episcopus is a pontifex, indicates pontifex maximus is intended.
This part of the story continues, and will below, but we need to stop this part here around 380 to introduce the other part. Before that though, a few ironies that result from this part. 1) The Council of Nicaea and the First Council of Constantinople are often called the first "oecumenical" councils, but the word does not mean what we mean now; it does not mean all the various Christian churches, but rather drawn from all the Roman Empire. 2) The "Nicene Creed" used in most current Christian churches is not the Nicene Creed, as in the creed from that council, but rather the revision and expansion of that creed at the First Council of Constantinople, and more exactly not even that but liturgical versions of it, not the conciliar statement itself. 3) The liturgical versions changed the statement of the assembled councils, "we believe", to "I believe" reflecting its non-conciliar liturgical use as an individual statement of faith, which is why recent attempts to revert litugically to the conciliar use are invalid. 4) We get the word creed from the incipit (first word) of the Latin liturgical version, credo, I believe.
So, 27 February 380 is the birthday of the "Catholic Church", as distinct from the catholic church. The Eastern version took hold earlier but it was a little more unsettled in the Western Empire, but, it took 14 years for resistance to this in the Western Empire to be crushed militarily. That's what happened 6 September 394, so, though both have the same birthday with the issue of Cuntos populos on 27 February 380, 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. And it's no co-incidence at all that this was at the hands of Theodosius, who would be the last Emperor both East and West.
And all this fits right in with St Augustine, whose feast is 28 August, who in 380 was a pagan and a professor in Carthage, and in 394 was about to be named Bishop of Hippo in the new state church.
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 nearby Byzantium, renamed it Constantinople, which is now Istanbul Turkey. You get to name stuff after yourself when you're really powerful.
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 (yeah, really) 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 their son whom they named Gift of God passed off 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, Vita Antonii, made about ten or so years later by Evagrius, who was, or was not, depending on whose side you are, the true "bishop" of Antioch 388-392.
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, sort of 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 the next year 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 thought he was done in by his military power behind the throne, a Frank named Arbogastes. 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, right? 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 original!
Oh yeah, what's a Frank -- 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 Homeric times. Which is exactly the ethnic history Augustus tried to blend into Roman understanding at the beginning of the Empire by having Virgil write the Aeneid!
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.
The new Imperial state Catholic Church was on a real roll. It had 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, then had ended the two great rituals of ancient Greece, the Eleusinian Mysteries in 392 and the Olympic Games after the ones in 393. Then later in the same year, 394, as the Battle of the Frigidus, it 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.
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 it was not the fault of the new state Roman Imperial religion replacing the traditional Roman religion thirty years before and its subsequent eradication of it, the real and ideal City of God was the real winner.
Well, 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. And yes, the ascendancy of the new state religion had a lot to do with the Fall of Rome. The new state religion the Catholic Church was as false to the church of Christ as the Roman Empire had been false to the Roman Republic. The civic side of this is covered in our post for 21 April, the Founding of the City.
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 countryside.
For all his faults and his immersion in social-political turmoil and change of his time, he was aware that six twenty-four hour periods is not even the "literal" reading of Genesis. More on that in a later post this month. Busy month, September.
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 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 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. That's bad enough, but after the Lutheran reformation began, opposite but equally false reactions to the Babylonian Captivity arose, several "second" or "another" reformations, taking the "Reformation" well beyond anything about the Lutheran Reformation, and continue on in later church bodies. 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. The Babylonian Captivity was a captivity, not an extinction. But with these later 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, the state churches that survived their original states, 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 noble church, sort of an ecclesiastical version of Rousseau's "noble savage". It was precisely this against which Pope Pius XII warned in 1947 in Mediator Dei, which he called an exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism and has since been called liturgical archaeology. 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 of 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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