” The paganism which so soon began to avenge itself by creeping into the doctrines and practices of the early church has never been altogether
northern Italy and southern France
THE STRUGGLE AGAINST MONASTICISM
Now, not far to the north dwelt Martin, bishop of Tours. Near the banks of the Loire
“Such were the scenes related to Vigilantius bySee footnote
Sulpicius,if not actually witnessed by him; and he could not remain blind to the fact that his patron was neither happier nor better for his visit to the bishop of Tours. After his return home, the image of Martin haunted the sensitive historian: he was pursued by the recollection of the ascetic prelate sleeping on the cold earth, with nothing but ashes strewed beneath him, and covered with sackcloth only; refusing a softer bed, or warmer clothing, even in severe illness;declaring that a Christian ought to die on ashes; feeding on the most unwholesome food, and denying himself every indulgence; praying in the most irksome posture, forcing sleep from his eyes, and
exposing himself to the extremes of heat and cold, hunger and thirst. The imagination of Sulpicius dwelt on what he had seen and heard at
Marmoutier,until he believed that heaven would be closed upon him, unless he should practice the same austerities.”
The love of the marvelous, the habit of dwelling upon tales of wonders and of practicing ascetic austerities, had seized the employer of Vigilantius. On the other hand, Vigilantius saw in the system a form of religion without the simplicity of the gospel of Christ.
“Thus Vigilantius saw on one side vainglorious exaltation, spiritual pride, and pretension to miraculous power; and on the other side, a false humility and prostration of the understanding, both growing out of the same mistaken system of asceticism: a system which undermined the doctrine of Christ’s full and sufficient sacrifice, and assigned an undue value to the inflictions and performances of men like Martin of Tours: and which he probably foresaw would inSee footnote 5
theendelevate them in the minds of weak brethren, to mediatorial thrones, and render them little less than objects of divine worship .we must attribute to impressions first received in the household of Sulpicius, the efforts, which Vigilantiusafterwards made, to expose the errors of asceticism, and to check the progress of hagiolatry.” Consequently
The gulf between Vigilantius and Sulpicius which was formed by their visit to Martin was widened when Sulpicius employed him as the messenger to Paulinus of Nola, Italy. This excellent man had also gone to a retreat where he could give his time
“to those beguiling practices, which after wards became the characteristics of the Latin Church; and proved so fatal in the end to the simplicity of the gospelSee footnote 6
….Religious observances, transferred from pagan altars to Christian shrines, were dignified with the name of honors due to the memory of a departed saint: and as the heroes of old were invoked by the ancestors of Paulinus, so did he himself substitute the name of Felix for that of Hercules or Quirinus, and implore the aid of a dead martyr, when no other name in prayer ought to have been upon his lips, than that of the one Mediator between God and man.”
What must have been the effect upon our simple mountaineer when he beheld in Italy gorgeous shrines erected to commemorate a hermit? Through divine
REVOLT AGAINST ASCETICISM AND MONASTICISM
As if the ransom of the Redeemer was not sufficient without their own sufferings, those who practiced asceticism imposed appalling torments upon themselves. They undermined the doctrine of Christ’s full and sufficient atonement for sin. Processions were formed, relics displayed, and incense burned before the tomb of some exalted ascetic. Monasticism followed on the heels of asceticism. Justin Martyr (A.D. 150) was prominent among the early apostates because of his perverted teachings.8 He was followed by his pupil Tatian, who in turn taught Clement (A.D. 190), a founder of the ecclesiastical school at Alexandria. Clement declared he would hand down the gospel mixed with heathen philosophy. But it remained for Origen, Clement’s pupil, who mutilated himself, to start the glorification of celibacy. Monasticism is not a product of Christianity. It was imported from non-Christian religions. Christianity saw it first introduced from Egypt, evidently coming from Buddhism. There were two classes of monks. The first, the anchorites, sought to live alone in the gloomiest and wildest spots in the wilderness. The second class, monks, evading the solitary life, gathered into communities called monasteries. Refusing obedience to any spiritual superior except the supreme head of the church, they placed at the command of the Papacy a vast mobile army of men not responsible to any congregation. Let it be remembered that the Bible training schools of Celtic and Syrian Christianity were not monasteries of this kind, although there are writers who would have it so. The inmates of the monasteries had a different program from the Bible training schools, whose pupils were there, not for life, but for a period of training, as the youth of today leaves home for four years in college. The monks at certain times had pageantries, prostrations, and genuflexions. All these externals were symptoms of a growing ecclesiastical system, and they helped prepare the way for the union of the papal church with the state. Nevertheless, these and other departures from New Testament Christianity stirred deeply in all lands those who were to become leaders against the new perversions and who would demand a return “to the law and to the testimony.”(Isaiah 8:20.)
THE FORERUNNERS OF VIGILANTIUS
The splendid city of Milan, in northern Italy, was the connecting link between Celtic Christianity in the West and Syrian Christianity in the East.9 The missionaries from the early churches in Judea and Syriasecurely stamped upon the region around Milan the simple and apostolic religion. Milan was the rendezvous of numerous councils of clergy from the
“To this purpose it will be of use to set forth as well the constitution of the church, as the manner in which the diocese of Milan did continue independent until theSee footnote 11
midstof the eleventh century, at which time the Waldenses were obliged more openly to testify their aversion for the Church of Rome as an anti-Christian church. It will be easy enough for me to perform what I have proposed by myself, infollowing the history of the church. Before the Council of Nicaea, we find the diocese of Italy very distinct from that of Rome.”
Dr. Faber presents, in the following words, one way in which this gulf between the churches of the Milan district and Rome originated:
” Now this district, on the eastern side of the Cottian Alps, is the precise country of the Vallenses [Waldenses]. Hither their ancestors retired, during the persecutions of the second and third and fourth centuries: here, providentially secluded from the world, they retained the precise doctrines and practices of the primitive church endeared to them by suffering and exile; while the wealthy inhabitants of cities and fertile plains, corrupted by a now opulent and gorgeous and powerful clergy, were daily sinking deeper and deeper into that apostasy which has been so graphically foretold by the great apostle.”See footnote 12
OPPONENTS OF PAGAN PRACTICES
First among those who protested against heathen practices in the church was Helvidius I (c. A.D. 250-420 [sic]). It is interesting to note that three of the outstanding opponents of the papal innovations in Latin Christianity were from northern Italy. These were Helvidius, Jovinian, and Vigilantius. As for Helvidius, all that was written by him and for him has been destroyed. Though he lived a century and a half after Justin Martyr and more than a century after Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen, and Clement, their writings have been preserved, while
See footnote 13
“Helvidius, a so-called heresiarch of the fourth century, a layman who opposed the growing superstitions of the church… He was a pupil ofAuxentius, bishop of Milan, and the precursor of Jovinian.”
Duchesne points out that Auxentius, for twenty years at the head of the diocese of Milan, was from Asia Minor and impressed on those regions the Syrian leadership in Christianity. Daring in his scholarship, Helvidius accused Jerome, as Jerome himself admits, of using corrupt Greek manuscripts. (14)
“That part of the ecclesiastical system of the fourth century, which was peculiarly ascetic and rigid, found an impersonation in Jerome, who exhibited its worst and most repulsive traits in the whole tenor of his life and conversation. Sourness, bitterness, envy
The second renowned reformer in north Italy and forerunner of
Vigilantiuswas Jovinian (A.D. 330-390). He was so superior in scholarship that the united attempts of such learned advocates of the Papacy as Jerome, Augustine, and Ambrose failed to overthrow his scriptural and historical arguments.16 Of him Albert H. Newman says:
“That the protest of Jovinianus awakened great interest and received influential support is evident from the excited polemics of Jerome, and from the public proceedings that were instituted against him in Rome and MilanSee footnote 17
….The persistence of the influence of Jovinianus is seen in the movement led by Vigilantius. It is not unlikely that followers of Jovinianus took refuge in the Alpine valleys, and there kept alive the evangelical teaching that was to reappear with vigor in the twelfth century.”
Beuzart relates how a learned French historian speaks of the relentless persecution carried on as late as 1215 by monks against so-called heretics named Jovinianists, Patarines, and Albigenses.18Jovinian drew the wrath of Jerome because he taught that the lives of married people, all other things being equal, are
See footnote 20
“When Damasus was elected pope, A.D. 366, the
dissentionsin Rome were so violent that the gates of the basilica, where his rival was consecrated, were broken open, the roof was torn off, the building was set on fire, and one hundred and thirty-seven persons were killed.”
Similar ecclesiastical riots were seen at this time in Palestine. Jerome, in one of his epistles, declares that their private quarrels were as furious as were those of the barbarians.
WHAT CAUSED THE RUPTURE BETWEEN VIGILANTIUS AND ROME?
When Vigilantius returned to Sulpicius, his employer, he stood at
the parting of the ways. On the one
“because it was read publicly in all the churches of Italy, France, Spain, Africa, and Germany, where Latin was understood; and Vetus, on account of its being more ancient than any of the rest.”See footnote 21
To supplant this noble version, Jerome, at the request of the pope and with money furnished by him, brought out anew Latin Bible. He was looked up to by the imperial church as the oracle of his age. Vigilantius having inherited his father’s wealth and desiring to consult Jerome, determined to visit him in his cell at Bethlehem. He went by way of Italy, paying a second visit to
See footnote 22
“Vigilantius, A.D. 396, was the bearer of a letter from Paulinus to Jerome, and this was the introduction which made him personally acquainted with the most extraordinary man of that age. Jerome was the terror of his contemporaries; the man above all others,who, in a mistaken attempt to do his duty to God, failed most signally in his duty towards men, unmindful of the apostle’swords, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar,” etc. The mortification of the flesh had tended to puff up his spirit, and of all the polemical writers of the fourth century, he was the most bitter and severe.”
The first meeting of Vigilantius with Jerome at Bethlehem is described in this language:
” A narrow bypath leading off from the street, at the spot where the tomb of King Archelaus formerly stood, conducted the traveler to the cell of Jerome; here he found the ascetic clad in a vestment so coarse and sordid, that its very vileness bore the stamp ofSee footnote 23
and seemed to say, “Stand off, my wearer is holier than thou.” The face of the monk was pale and haggard. He had been slowly recovering from a severe spiritualpride, illness,and was wasted to a shadow. Frequent tears had plowed his cheeks with deep furrows; his eyes were sunk in their sockets; all the bones of his face were sharp and projecting. Long fasting, habitual mortification, and the chagrin which perpetual disputation occasions, had given an air of gloominess to his countenance, which accorded but ill with his boast, that his cell to him was like an arbor in the Garden of Eden.”
Vigilantius was at first warmly received by Jerome. The scenes at Bethlehem were the same as he had witnessed on the estates of his friends who had been drawn into the tide of asceticism. The sourness of temper and the fierce invectives of the editor of the Vulgate began to raise doubt in the mind of Vigilantius, however, as to the value of the whole system. TheGallic presbyter was especially incensed at Jerome’s criticism of
“I have myself before now seen the monster, and have done my best to bind the maniac with texts of Scripture, as Hippocrates binds his patients with chains; but “he went away, he departed, he escaped, he broke out,” and taking refuge between the Adriatic and the Alps of King Cotius, declaimed in his turn against me.”See footnote 24
In the Cottian Alps, in that region lying between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, Vigilantius first began public efforts to stop the pagan ceremonies that were being baptized into the church. Why did he choose that region? Because there he found himself among people who adhered to the teachings of the Scriptures. They had removed to those valleys to escape the armies of Rome. “Hewas perhaps aware that he would find in the Cottian Alps a race of people, who were opposed to those notions of celibacy and vows of continence, which formed the favorite dogma ofJerome, and were at the bottom of all his ascetic austerities.”25 How fruitful were the endeavors of Vigilantius, may be seen in the following, taken from another letter of Jerome to Reparius: “Shameful to relate, there are bishops who are said to be associated with him in his wickedness — if at least they are to be called bishops — who ordain no deacons but such as have been previously married.” 26 It is not known whether the bishops who were agreeing with Vigilantius in his crusade against the semipagan Christianity of his day were on the Italian or the French side of the Alps. It mattered little as far as Jerome was
THE NEW ORGANIZATION OF FREE CHURCHES
The Alpine churches of France and Italy were not swept into the new hysteria. They welcomed Vigilantius with open arms, and his preaching was powerful. “He makes his raid upon the churches of Gaul,” cried out Jerome. Those in the south of France who desired the new teaching
1. Muir, The Arrested Reformation, p. 13.
2 Faber, The Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses, pp. 275-279.
3 Jerome, Against Vigilantius, found in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2dSeries, vol. 6, p. 418. Jerome here states that
4 Gilly, Vigilantius and His Times, pp. 161, 162.
5 Ibid., pp. 163, 164.
6 Ibid., pp. 169, 170.
7 Gordon, “World Healers, p. 469, note 3.
8 Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 2, 2d Period, par. 173, pp.719-723.
9 Gordon, “World Healers,” pp. 237, 238.
10 Ibid. pp. 210, 211.
11 Allix, The Ancient Churches of Piedmont, p. 109.
12 Faber, The Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses, pp. 293, 294.426
13 M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopedia, art. “Helvidius.” The statement that Helvidius was the pupil of Auxentius opens up wide
14 Jerome, Against Helvidius, found in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2dSeries, vol. 6, p. 338.
15 Gilly, Vigilantius and His Times, p. 246.
16 M’Clintock and Strong, Cyclopedia, art. “Jovinian.”
17 Newman, A Manual of Church History, vol. l, p. 376.
18 Beuzart, Les Heresies, p. 470.
19 Jerome, Against Jovinian, found in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2dSeries, vol. 6, p. 348.
20 Gilly, Vigilantius and His Times, p. 99.
21 Gilly, Vigilantius and His Times, p. 116.
22 Ibid., p. 231. When the writer visited the reputed cell of Jerome at Bethlehem it was thronged with monks who were devoting their
23 Gilly, Vigilantius and His Times, pp. 236, 237.
24 Jerome, Select Works
25 Gilly, Vigilantius and His Times, p. 323.
26 Jerome, Against Vigilantius, Introduction, found in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2d Series, vol. 6, p. 417.
27 Milner, History of the Church of Christ, vol. 1, p. 456, ed. 1835.
28 Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, vol. 23, p.73.
29 Tillemont, le Nain de, Memoires, vol. 10, p. 326.
30 Limborch, The History of the Inquisition, vol. 1, ch. 6, pp. 30-33.
31 Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 2d Period, vol. 2, par. 173, pp.724, 725.
32 Milman, The History of Christianity, vol. 2, pp. 270-275.
33 Ruffini, Religious Liberty, pp. 26, 27.
34 Heylyn who, in 1612, wrote The History of the Sabbath to expose thePuritans’ false claims for Sunday.
35 Heylyn, The History of the Sabbath, in Historical and MiscellaneousTracts, p. 416.
36 Gilly, Vigilantius and His Times, p. 12.
37 Faber, The Ancient Vallenses and Albigenses, pp. 275-279.
38Maxima Bibliotheca Veterum Patrum, vol. 14, pp. 201-216.