Session 5: Ministry and Expansion of the Early Church
Session 5 Ministry and Expansion of the Early Church
This lesson reviews the development of church offices, and the roles of pastors and priests in the first centuries of the church. We will also see how monasticism began, reasons for it, and its early development. The church expanded in Western Europe prior to A.D.600 through such people as Martin of Tours and Patrick of Ireland.
At the end of this lesson, participants should
• understand the opinions and insights of key early theologians regarding the ministry
• compare and contrast the ministry in their own places and time to those of
the Early Church
• show the numerous factors that led to the formation of the monastic way of
• understand and appreciate monasticism as a search for the holy life
• identify the types of monasticism in this time period and know the
advantages and disadvantages of each
• give an overview of monasticism from Anthony to Benedict
• understand monasticism as a response to culture and social pressures
• understand some of the methods and strategies, as well as some of the key
figures, used to expand the church in Western Europe
Prepare Before Class
A. Read: Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, chapters 12 and 16
Write a Big Idea paragraph from your reading.
B. Read the following articles and give a one paragraph answer to the question asked.
1 Ministry in the Early Church
How does ministry today compare with ministry in the Early Church?
2.Monasticism in the Early Church
What is the ideal of holiness expressed through monasticism?
3. The Expansion of the Church in Western Europe
What methods or strategies were used to expand the Church is Western Europe?
C. Write in your journal. Reflect on and respond to the following:
AUGUSTINE’S CONFESSIONS, READING 5
Ministry in the Early Church
The Ministry in the Ante-Nicene Church (to 315)
Refer to Resource 5-1 in the Student Guide.
The apostles themselves were the first leaders of the primitive church. They had been called to their work by Christ Jesus himself. The term meant “ones sent out” as authorized messengers. If they were like Paul, who recognized himself as one of the apostles, having the highest authority and responsibility for a certain segment of the church (Gal 1—2), they too were itinerant evangelists. As an apostle, Paul preached the gospel; established, visited, and supervised churches; and exhorted believers. He carried the burden for the work. He sent others, such as Timothy and Titus, as his emissaries, and appointed them as pastors. He wrote letters that gave his opinions about moral questions. He warded off schisms, corrected disorder sin worship, clarified Christian teachings and doctrines, and smoothed relationships. He raised money for others and supported himself by his own work. Apparently, Paul had no wife. At the same time, he recognized that the church was greater than himself. It is apparent that others in the primitive church were acting similarly to Paul, if in lesser spheres of influence.
Paul himself listed various types of offices in the church: apostles, prophets, those who served others, teachers, those who encouraged others, those who contributed to the needs of others, those who gave generously, those who worked miracles, those with gifts of healing, those able to help others, those gifted in leadership and administration, those able to show mercy, and those able to speak in different languages (1 Cor 12:28 and Rom 12:6-8). These offices were related to the various spiritual gifts of individuals. The church had to assume full responsibility for new converts, many of whom were cut off from their family and community, and to provide for their needs.
From other sources we know that articular leaders became responsible for various duties. Some ordered the services, some entertained visitors, some settled disputes between members, some visited the sick, and others attended to the needs of the poor, orphaned, or widowed. It was clear that none had all of these roles in the church.
There was no distinction in the Early Church between “charismatic” and “institutional” ministries. Women shared in the work. In Ignatius’s time, in the early second century, the ministry roles of the deacon, presbyter, and bishop—along with the elder, apostle, prophet, and priest—were often fluid and sometimes interchangeable. All ministers were both recipients of and agents of the same Spirit. All were to be doulos, slaves or servants of Christ.
Refer to Resource 5-2 in the Student Guide.
Though there were no superior or inferior functions in the church, of primary rank were prophets and teachers (1 Cor 14:1 and Acts 13: 1-3). • Prophets proclaimed the good news of God’s redemption through Christ. To believers, they communicated the meaning of new life in Christ. • Teachers instructed others, setting forth the gospel in systematic form. They transmitted the tradition or teaching (didache) of the apostles. In the early second century writers such as Justin Martyr considered there to be a succession of faith passed on from one generation of teachers to the next. Both prophets and teachers centered their work in the cities and worked by extension from there.
The word for ministry, diakonia, meant, in common usage, “waiter.” Deacons, who included women, were the church’s primary helpers. The church instituted the position of deacon when it appointed and ordained, by praying and the laying on of hands, Stephen and six others to serve the neglected Greek widows (Acts 6:1- 6). They were ministers who served under bishops and presbyters (Phil 1:1 and 1 Tim 3:8).
As the church developed, the tasks of deacons varied from place to place, and included reading the Scripture at the Lord’s Supper, receiving the offerings, directing the prayers of the people, and collecting and distributing charitable gifts. In large cities, an “archdeacon” became the bishops’ principal administrative officer.
Presbyters made up the council of elders, governing local congregations and serving as “shepherds” to the people (Acts 11:30 and 15:22, and 1 Pet 5:1-3). The church borrowed this practice from the Jewish synagogues, which were governed by sanhedrins, or councils of elders. Originally, the presbyter was synonymous with the overseer or episcopos (Acts 20: 17, Phil 1:1, Titus 1:5-7).
Clement of Rome drew the analogy between the Old Testament priesthood and the ministry of the leaders of churches. As the church grew, and bishops served as administrators over several local churches, presbyters pastored local congregations and had the privilege of serving the Lord’s Supper. As this became a central part of Christian worship, the presbyters were looked upon as representatives of the new priesthood of Christ. The presbyters became “priests.” Along with this analogy to Old Testament rites, by A.D. 190 the communion table was being called an “altar.”
There were a variety of ministries but a need also for leaders. Very early in the church’s history James had functioned as the leader of the church in Jerusalem. The office of the bishop emerged in the second century as the president or presider over the church’s council of elders or presbyters. At Rome, in A.D. 150, the leader of the church was called the “president”—the one who presides over the church and the Lord’s Supper.
Gradually, as the number of churches grew in a locality, the bishops had more of a supervisory role over several local churches. Ignatius, for instance, was an early bishop of Antioch, Onesimus of Ephesus, and Polycarp of Smyrna. Having one bishop presiding over a geographical area was widespread by A.D. 200. Their geographical area of responsibility or diocese usually encompassed a city.
Although the presbyters administered the Lord’s Supper, bishops baptized all persons in their diocese. They performed a necessary leadership role for the unity and efficiency of the church, guarded the traditions, and spoke for the apostles. It became crucial, as the church faced heresies and schisms, that these bishops could trace their authority to the apostles themselves in an historical succession. By 200, the ordination of both bishops and priests was done by bishops laying hands on the ones being ordained. This act symbolized the succession of spiritual authority being passed on from the apostles in the church.
Refer to Resource 5-3 in the Student Guide.
Justin Martyr provided a glimpse of worship in Rome in the second century:
The memoirs of the apostles or the writing of the prophets are read as long as time permits. When the lector has finished, the president in a discourse invites us to the imitation of these noble things. Then we all stand up together and offer prayers. And bread is brought, and wine and water, and the president similarly sends up prayers and thanksgiving and the congregation assents, saying the Amen; the distribution and reception of the consecrated elements by each one takes place and they are sent to the absent by the deacons. This food we call Eucharist, for we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink, but as flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus. Those who prosper, and who so wish, contribute, each one as much as he chooses to. What is collected is deposited with the president, and he takes care of orphans and widows, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers who are sojourners among us.
The Early Church had high expectations for holy living among its members. Baptism was supposed to signal the end of sinning. For this reason, many postponed baptism until shortly before death. But as the church increasingly practiced the baptism of the children of Christians, the expectation for sinlessness following baptism was not met.
The church established certain procedures to deal with those who sinned. Repentance demanded restitution. Some areas of the church were more rigorous than others in the requirements for restitution. Penitential discipline, as it developed, made provision for the restoration of those who had sinned.
Two concepts guiding discipline were metanoia, or repentance, and exomologesis, confession. Sometimes repentance became indistinguishable from “fruits meet for repentance.” By 150 confession had become a common part of the Sunday services. Confession was done publicly, and was intentionally aimed to bring public humiliation upon the sinner.
Tertullian stressed that a Christian was given only one repentance, no more. This was the only way, he thought, to keep the church away from a too-easy disregard for the moral law. For Tertullian, confession was a discipline of “prostration and humiliation.” The penitent one wore sackcloth and ashes, wept, moaned, and kneeled at the presbyter’s feet to show his or her deep contrition.
Repentance is a discipline which leads a man to prostrate and humble himself. It prescribes a way of life that, even in the matter of food and clothing, appeals to pity. It bids him to lie in sackcloth and ashes, to cover his body with filthy rags, to plunge his soul into sorrow, to exchange sin for suffering. Moreover, it demands that you know only such food and drink as is plain; this means it is taken for the sake of your soul, not your belly. It requires that you habitually nourish prayer by fasting, that you sigh and weep and groan day and night to the Lord your God, that you prostrate yourself at the feet of the priests and kneel before the beloved of God, making all the brethren commissioned ambassadors of your prayer for pardon.
Tertullian would not accept repentance from anyone for the capital sins of fornication, apostasy, or homicide. But others, including the bishop of Rome, Callistus, allowed repentance even for capital offenses. Tertullian criticized Callistus for his seeming laxity on sexual offenses. Nonetheless, as late as the 500s the general rule was “one baptism, one penance” over major issues.
Refer to Resource 5-4 in the Student Guide.
The third-century church developed a plan of advancement for the penitent through stages. They began as weepers and advanced to kneelers, standers—without taking communion, to “saints” allowed full participation in the Lord’s Supper. These procedures were given sanction at the Nicean Council in 325. Some churches used “discipliners,” special presbyters, to guide the penitent through these stages.
At the same time, priests and deacons consoled those going through persecution and calamity. Sometimes utilizing Stoic ideas about accepting fate, pastors gave comfort to those who faced death and promised reunion with family members in heaven.
By the early third century in Rome, the role of the bishop was to baptize, to administer the Lord’s Supper, to preside over love feasts, and to ordain presbyters by the laying on of hands. By 250 the bishop was becoming a “majestic figure” claiming authority to “bind and loose on earth with heavenly power.” He was thought to be a judge, an interpreter of the Law, and the “vice regent” of God.
The presbyters headed local assemblies, administered the Lord’s Supper, and served as confessors. “Presbyters prior” served larger congregations. Still, bishops rather than presbyters baptized. Deacons received ordination from bishops only but were not considered an order of clergy. “Widows” had no liturgical duties but were set apart for prayers and ministry to women. “Teachers” could be clergy or laypersons. In addition, the Roman church employed lectors and acolytes (altar attendants), and exorcists— charged with caring for the mentally ill.
Practices varied outside of Rome. In North Africa presbyters were bowed to at a rite of repentance. Some gifted women regularly prophesied. In Alexandria, in the third century, “bishop” and “presbyter” were still used interchangeably. Teachers in Alexandria were called “doctor ecclesiae” and were autonomous. Origen, for instance, was encouraged “by God’s grace to bring forth new truth.”
In rural areas, the church was less structured. Rural bishops, called chorepiskopoi, in comparison to city bishops, possessed limited powers. They could ordain presbyters only for their own dioceses. The deacons, meanwhile, often went unsupervised to rural areas.
Cyprian, who was bishop of Carthage from 249 to 253, found it necessary to call upon apostolic succession to assert his authority. Yet, Cyprian affirmed, each bishop was supreme in his own diocese.
Cyprian was faced with the problem of the restoration of the lapsed after the persecution of Decius after A.D. 250. The lapsed could be redeemed and taken back into the church, which was, after all, he said, the only “ark of salvation.” There was no salvation outside of the church. The restoration of the lapsed who were genuinely troubled in conscience over their actions should be done, Cyprian believed, with discipline and order, under a bishop’s guidance.
Cyprian devised works of penance the lapsed might do—some for the rest of their lives. In no case would a lapsed priest or bishop be readmitted to the clergy. However, those who had remained true during the persecution opposed these attempts of Cyprian to bring the lapsed back into communion with the church. Cyprian called these opponents schismatics and ordered their excommunication. For centuries thereafter two churches existed in North Africa: one that opposed reacceptance of the lapsed and one that found ways to welcome them back.
A subsequent question arose. Should a person’s baptism in a schismatic church be considered a real baptism? Cyprian favored rebaptizing those baptized at the hands of schismatics. A Council of Carthage affirmed this decision. Rome, on the other hand, facing a similar situation, decided otherwise—to accept the baptism of those baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Cyprian’s certainty about his position on rebaptism led him to oppose the bishop of Rome and to revise his thinking on the sovereignty of Rome over all churches. Cyprian believed differing customs should be tolerated in difference dioceses, and that all churches need not follow the practices of Rome. Cyprian himself underwent imprisonment and execution under the emperor in 258.
Various types of preaching could be found in the church during this period. Prophets undertook “revelatory” preaching, evangelists “missionary” preaching. “Testamentary” preaching echoed of the farewell discourses of the martyrs, or Christ himself. “Cultic” preaching was directed to those entering the church or to new believers or to the faithful. It included eulogies about Christ and His passion, or the martyrs, homilies, or expository discourses, and talks on a variety of themes.
By the time of official toleration under Constantine, it may be concluded, the bishops and the presbyters—or priests—constituted the hierarchy of the church. There was already a movement toward the collective authority of bishops, and emphasis upon the strategic role of the bishops who presided over capital cities in the empire.
The Ministry in the Later Patristic Period, 314-451
Refer to Resource 5-5 in the Student Guide.
The role of the clergy changed with Constantine’s Edict of Toleration. With their new duties and obligations came new temptations. The job functions of the ministers became more distinct. By this time the presbyters, who had become “priests,” and the bishops together formed the sacerdotium or priesthood. With the deacons, who also were ordained, these three orders—and lesser orders sometimes—formed the “clergy.”
Ordination itself now implied a blotting out of all carnal sin, making the clergy a higher state of Christian life. As such, celibacy was more and more a way of life for clergy, though it was imposed more strictly in certain geographic regions than in others during this time. Celibacy was endorsed at the Synod of Elvira (305) and at the Council of Carthage (390).
The bishops were the chief judges of the church. As an office, the “episcopacy,” composed of the bishops, was officially established at the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon. After this, bishops were chosen by a synod of bishops, not by the people. There was a widening gulf between the bishops and the people, and even between the bishops and the presbyters.
After 343 the rural office of chorepiskopoi ended. Church laws were increasingly codified, and the bishops served as the authoritative interpreters of law as well as dogma. Since the bishops were given civil judicial duties, the emperor became involved in their appointment. The symbols of the position of bishop became analogous to secular positions. The bishops began wearing distinctive insignia and rings, and sat on thrones imitative of the emperor’s. In the West, especially, this model of ministry was patterned after the Papacy itself.
The deacons were assistants to the priests and were the clergy most in close contact with the people and new converts. Deaconesses, who were ordained by bishops after reaching the age of 40, were commonly from the higher classes. Sometimes they presided over the mass.
Lesser orders of ministry included the subdeacons, lectors, doorkeepers, gravediggers, exorcists, altar attendants, singers, interpreters, visitors of the sick, and servants of the parish house. Indeed the households of bishops grew into sorts of cathedral monasteries.
Refer to Resource 5-6 in the Student Guide.
By the fourth century there were various conceptions of the pastoral office. Ambrose (339-397), bishop of Milan from 374, taught that ministers should be the most exemplary embodiment of Christian ethics. The bishop was to be both a priest and a prophet in the Old Testament sense, healing and rebuking. Ambrose believed the bishop’s authority rested on the apostles, and ultimately on Christ.
Yet Ambrose did not think of Peter as the chief apostle, but only as the representative one. Ambrose spoke of the priest at the altar during the Lord’s Supper calling down the Holy Spirit from heaven. Ambrose also argued for the independence of the church from civil control. Ambrose was known as an able preacher and theologian. He encouraged monasticism in northern Italy. As a pastor, Ambrose extolled the Latin virtues of wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance.
Another particularly influential voice on the ministry was that of Chrysostom (345-407). He was educated in the law at Antioch, then he shifted to theology and felt called to monastic life. He became a hermit for eight years, 373-381. He became a deacon in 381 and a priest in Antioch in 386. He became known for his preaching, which was directed to the people of what was now only a nominally Christian city.
To them, Chrysostom stressed that “grace does not come to us randomly. It comes only to those who want it and struggle for it. In fact, it is precisely within the power of those who want it and struggle for it to become children. Unless they first yearn for it, the gift does not come, nor does it do anything in them.” He further warned: “Beloved, let us not then think that faith suffices for our salvation if we do not give evidence of purity of life.” In 387, when the populace in Antioch rioted against the emperor’s taxes, Chrysostom both scolded them and calmed them with his oratory.
Chrysostom opposed the allegorical exegesis then popular among those influenced by Alexandria. Chrysostom, and those from Antioch in general, preferred literal interpretations of Scripture
Chrysostom became bishop or patriarch of Constantinople in 398. Preferring the contemplative life of a monk, he believed a bishop should be willing to perish for his “sheep” and sensed the awesome power of a bishop to loose and to unloose people from their sins. Seeing himself as a prophet, something like John the Baptist, he attempted to reform the imperial city, beginning with the rulers themselves.
Chrysostom’s perceived “tactlessness” angered the Empress Eudoxia. In the meantime, Chrysostom also had won the ire of Theophilus, the patriarch of Alexandria, who charged Chrysostom with heresy and secured his condemnation at a synod in 403. Chrysostom was briefly restored to the patriarchy, only to continue his controversy with the empress. In spite of support from Pope Innocent I, Chrysostom was deposed in 404 and exiled to Antioch.
One of Chrysostom’s most significant writings was On the Priesthood, written in 386, when he was just beginning his own ministry as a priest. It described the responsibilities of the pastor. Chrysostom believed penance should suit the person and the person’s offense. The priest, as a “curer of souls,” dispenses spiritual medicine. The priest has the power to regenerate souls through baptism, which enables persons to escape from damnation.
Like Ambrose, Chyrsostom spoke of the priestly act at the Lord’s Supper as one comparable to Elijah at Mount Carmel. The priest brings down not fire but the Holy Spirit from heaven. This should fill the priest with “awesome dread,” to the extent that the priest must be pure—as if he were standing in heaven itself. The priest, Chyrsostom wrote, ministers salvation and has the power to loose from sin or, by means of penance, to bind.
“For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit,” wrote Chrysostom, “and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink his blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?”
By the fifth century private confession had replaced public confession in most areas of the church. This was made explicit by Pope Leo the Great (440-461), who condemned the practice of compelling the penitents to read detailed confessions publicly. The priest, hearing private confessions, developed skills as a spiritual counselor or “physician” of the soul. Pastors used various types of discipline, admonition, and consolation, and “tended,” writes John McNeill, “to rely rather upon the enlistment of the human will than upon the life-giving experience of which the early Christians were aware.” Holiness became an ascetic discipline, viewed as constant combat with besetting sins. The authority of the pastor was enhanced in the process, but the liberating power of the gospel was lessened.
Monasticism in the Early Church
Beginnings of Monasticism
Refer to Resource 5-8 in the Student Guide.
The early Christian example of persecution set an example for holiness. Just as Christianity was gaining toleration, it was losing, in some people’s minds, its call to sacrifice and piety. Monasticism was an attempt to find the Spirit by escaping from the world, especially from the city.
One approach to spiritual formation is anchorite monasticism. Here the image is of the hermit or desert monk. John the Baptist was the prototype. Christ is perceived as in radical contrast to culture. It meant escape and withdrawal, a lonely flight from the world. Yet it was self-exalting for its time in the sense of being marked by a strong individualism.
Anthony (250-356) was the most famous hermit monk. He had been born rich and had distributed his possessions to the poor. At age 35 Anthony moved to a desert across the Nile, going back occasionally to assist others in their monastic callings. In the desert Anthony battled and overcame demons, and performed miracles in the name of Christ, until his death past 100 years of age.
Anthony represented a movement of protest against the accommodation of the church to the world. In a sense he fled from the church as much as from the world. The world and all it contained seemed under the power of the Evil One. Anthony saw the utter fallenness of God’s creation—humanity. Human beings possessed only the ability to descend. If “man” alone was immoral, “men” in community compounded the evil. So it was better to stand alone. Sincere Christians wanted solitude their increasingly urban life could not provide, and heard the call: “Come ye apart,” and “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you” (2 Cor 6:17).
Athanasius’s Life of Anthony, written about 357, publicized this type of monasticism. The book became prominent partly because of Athanasius’s standing in the church. Athanasius himself withdrew to the desert (356-362) in order to escape arrest at the hands of the emperor over a theological controversy. In the book, Athanasius admonished persons to love and trust the Lord, avoid bad habits and fleshly pleasures, disdain a full stomach, be humble, pray continually, sing psalms, memorize the commands of Scripture, remember the saints, avoid anger, and undergo frequent self-examination.
The anchoritic is a “true solitary” who withdraws from the world and lives in great simplicity in order to banish anything that might prevent union with God. The anchoritic renounces all, does penance for sin, and strictly disciplines the body. The anchoritic is the rugged individual, living either physically apart or emotionally and spiritually apart from the rest of humanity. He or she stands apart, thinks apart, prays apart, exists apart.
In a life of seclusion individuals must take upon themselves the heavy task of working out their own salvation by self-discipline, self-purification, study, thought, meditation, and concentration. Anchorite monasticism represented a kind of spiritual idea that was individualistic and world-rejecting. As Thomas Gannon and George Traub summarize regarding monasticism in general, anchoritism preserved two great truths: without discipline there can be no holiness, and discipline that costs nothing that is not renunciation in some form or other is valueless.
Soon there developed three identifiable types of monasticism:
• Eremetical or anchorite—like Anthony, centering on
an individual alone
• Laural, which was a small group of monks
• Cenobitic, which was influenced by Pachomius (290-346), an Egyptian monk who
drew a number of disciples. They followed a communal life, and Pachomius organized a monastery. Pachomius’s monasticism stressed fellowship, worship, and work. Few of his monks were educated. They surrendered their wills to that of the monastery leader.
Further Development of Monasticism
Refer to Resource 5-9 in the Student Guide.
During these centuries, the monks assumed pastoral roles whether or not they were ordained. They had the power to forgive sins, and in the eyes of the people, were esteemed more and more as they separated themselves from some of the formalities of the church and spent their lives ministering to the lowly. Likewise, they were independent of the state control that was encroaching upon the church. They were known for their purity. They even showed pastoral love toward schismatics and shepherdless groups. They did many of the evangelizing and missionary tasks of the church, both in the cities and in the countryside.
The monks represented an ideal for ministry, including celibacy, that some priests were falling short of. As such, monasticism represented a reform movement. Homilies springing from the monastics, like those of Macarius the Egyptian (300-390), set high goals for Christian holiness and spiritual purity. In the eastern wing of the church especially, the higher clergy—such as Basil (330-379), who became bishop of Caesarea, and Chrysostom, who became bishop of Constantinople—were recruited from among the monks. However, as the monastic movement grew, their leaders, called abbots, began to assume immense power.
Unlike the earlier Egyptian hermits, Basil (330-379) was well-educated in pagan traditions in Caesarea, Constantinople, and Athens. One of the Cappadocian Fathers, and brother of Gregory of Nyssa, Basil left the world, so to speak, in 357 to find spiritual direction. He toured Palestine and Egypt. He was most impressed with the Pachomian communities he encountered.
As a result, in 358, he entered monastic life. At first he lived as a hermit; then he concluded that communal life was a better way, and founded a community at Caesarea. This monastic community became the model for other monasteries in the Eastern Church.
During this time Basil developed a “Rule” to organize monastic life. His rule was written in the form of questions and answers. To Basil, monasticism was a means of service to God and was achieved in community under obedience. The Rule stipulated hours of liturgical prayer, manual labor, and other work. It imposed both poverty and chastity. Monks trained children and tested whether some might be called to monastic life. Monks cared for the poor.
Basil believed the monks living together formed a spiritual family, based on the social nature of human beings. Whereas the solitary life benefited one individual, communal life reflected love and charity for others. Solitary or eremitical monastic life offered no opportunity to reflect Christian virtues. “If you live alone,” Basil asked, “whose feet will you wash?” Members of a monastic community must respect its head, Basil taught. Each monk surrendered his will and became fully obedient, just as even Christ was obedient to the Father. Basil expected no fanatical ascetical practices, but he stressed the virtue of work within the monastery. Monks were taught trades, if they did not already have one, and the monastery used these skills, whether shoemaking, weaving, or farming, for the relief of the poor. In comparison to others, Basil’s teachings on monasticism were moderate and rational, reflecting his broad education.
In 364, Basil was called upon by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea to defend orthodoxy against Arianism. Six years later Basil himself became bishop of Caesarea, where he remained in the thick of church battles and debates. He defended homoousiuos, tried to convince the homoiousios party that the two were the same, stressed the unity of the Person of Christ, and helped bring an end to the Arian controversy. As bishop he was a talented organizer, and he carefully planned for relief efforts among the poor in Caesarea. He encouraged monasticism, and helped to bring it under the church’s hierarchy.
Basil’s Rules influenced much of later monasticism, including the monasteries formed under the inspiration of Benedict of Nursia (480-550), known as the father of Western monasticism. Communal life was the essential way of holiness, these leaders demonstrated, but there must be rules for life together, including obedience to the abbot, liturgical prayers, manual labor, and quietness. The aim was obedience to a perfect following of Christ. Private prayer, spiritual reading, and work filled the day. The monastery becomes a home, Benedict said, the abbot—who was elected by the monks—the father, and fellow monks brothers. Benedict’s communalism was essentially contemplative, but, unlike purely ascetic forms of monasticism, was called also to be apostolic. Various monastic groups used his Rules and gradually the Benedictine Order grew out of this movement.
The Expansion of the Church in Western Europe
Martin of Tours and the Evangelization of Gaul
in the Fourth Century
For centuries before Christianity, Gaul had its “water sanctuaries” devoted to healing and cures. The waters or baths made a cure in a traditional and ritual sense of the curative powers of water. To the pagans who used them, the curative properties of water were strictly a matter of faith on the part of the patients, physicians, and priests. Some undoubtedly were cured at these water sanctuaries.
When they journeyed to these water sanctuaries, the sick made carvings of the part of their body that was ailing. These carvings might be of deformed or ulcerated hands, arms, legs, or lungs. Other seekers were blind. Water, in pagan lore, was particularly related to sight. Some had lesions. A few were paralyzed. These were diseases that affected the mental state of both the patient and his or her family.
Before a journey was made to a water sanctuary, the ill person consulted a local healer. For many other types of ailments, water sanctuaries were not necessary. There were folk remedies made of wine or herbs. The water sanctuary cure was something of a last resort, when the condition was desperate, though not usually fatal. Therapy at the water sanctuary involved both medication and prayer.
Physicians in Gaul practiced several types of cures common at the time:
• purging—pharmaceutical remedies, which wereapplied either orally or externally
Even nervous disorders were subject to bleedings and purging under the care of a physician. Anxiety-related illnesses were common in Gaul, given that the people lived in constant threat that Rome would increase its taxation upon them. A fourth-century Christian medical writer, Marcellus, compiled a popular handbook of cures—a “pharmacopeia” of ingredients taken from animals and plants in Gaul. He advised that cures be prescribed when the stars were in certain alignments
This shows that physicians generally mixed popular beliefs with cures in the administering of medicines. In Gaul, in particular, a dominant pagan religion was Druidism, which was devoted to the veneration of plants and trees. A physician might fashion an object or an animal to be worn on the neck, wrist, or finger of the patient. The prayers and incantations indicated that the people believed evil powers from outside were causing an illness, and these powers could be made to depart through treatment, if so allowed by divine will.
The physician asked the patients themselves to pray. The cure was placed in their own hands, but the patient was not deemed responsible for the illness. The patient was “a plaything of unknown powers.” Through the mediation of a physician the patients became engaged in a divine healing of themselves in body and soul. The waters were supernaturally purifying, the people believed. All this was rational in the pagan world of Gaul in the fourth century.
Refer to Resource 5-10 in the Student Guide.
Into this cultural setting stepped Martin (d. 397), who effected many conversions through his healing powers. Son of a pagan, he served in the Roman army as a medic and learned the medical practices of the time. After being discharged from the army in 360 he joined the ministry of Hilary (317-367), the bishop of Poitiers and a leading Latin theologian and defender of orthodoxy against the Arians. Hilary believed Christian words could drive out demons. Martin became an exorcist, working mostly among the unbaptized. Martin helped establish a monastery in Liguge, the first one in Gaul. Martin established another monastery in Tours, and evangelized in the vicinity.
Knowing exorcist formulas as well as medicinal cures, Martin wielded strong charismatic powers. He used the cross as a sign to ward off danger. He related dreams to make points against the devil or to relate some Christian truth. His dreams equated the pantheon of gods, Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, or Minerva, gods commonly appealed to by the local people, with the devil. Whenever he drove out demons and asked their names, they gave their names as “Jupiter,” or “Mercury”—one of the most prominent gods of the water sanctuaries—or one of the other pagan gods.
In doing so, Martin put in sharp contrast the God he was serving and the ineffective and malevolent pagan gods the people had been serving. The implication was that these gods had been the cause of the people’s illness. Paganism accounted for their maladies, including their subservience to Rome, said Martin. He destroyed sacred pagan shrines, and wherever he did so, built a Christian church or monastery on the site.
The people successfully clamored to make Martin a bishop, and so he became in 370. He was unlike other bishops of his time, who tended to be better educated and attached to the nobility classes. One story is that one day, entering a city on a winter day, a beggar stopped Martin. He had no money to give the beggar, but he saw this man shivering, and so took off his own shabby cloak, divided it into two and gave half to the beggar. That night, Martin had a dream. He saw Jesus wearing a torn, shabby cloak. An angel asked him, “Master, why are you wearing that old cloak?” Jesus answered, “My servant Martin gave it to me.”
There were two broad classes of miracles attributed to Martin. The first were those done on the basis of Martin’s charismatic powers. For instance, like the prophets Elijah and Elisha, Martin, lay upon a body that had been presumed dead for three days, and brought the person back to life. Even animals seemed to obey him, as did the sea, hail, and fire.
The second class was those miracles done through medicine. Martin used the skill he had learned as an army medic. Martin cured paralysis and various eye diseases. But even here “his achievements were attributed to the God who brought about the cure thanks to Martin’s prayers.” Martin made use of classical cures, but in associating them with the powers of Christ over evil, he added new definitions.
Martin used all of his powers with missionary zeal to convert the people. His accomplishments convinced all that he was working for God. His miracles were for those who would have tried the water sanctuaries. Men and women appealed to Martin, as they had gone to the water sanctuaries, when all other channels for healing had failed.
Conversions occurred mostly through the healing, rather than through preaching. Healing converted households. Sometimes whole crowds called upon Martin to demonstrate his power. In all cases, the people believed Martin was a man possessed by God. They saw virtue in his power. A curing relation was established between a people accustomed to inanimate water sanctuaries, and a person. It almost seemed the common people had more faith in Martin than faith in Christ or God. At least, Martin was deemed a powerful intermediary between them and God. People dreamed of Martin and his powers. In order for them to remain well, they needed to remain dependent upon God.
It seemed that all that he touched possessed healing powers. Oil that Martin had blessed was curative. The cult that developed around Martin was an indication of ways the people were making “saints” of those associated with miracles, and deemed holy. Even after he died, for several centuries his tomb seemed to permeate grace, and oil placed near his tomb was thought to possess healing powers. His tomb became in every way a substitute for the water sanctuary
Patrick and the Evangelization of Ireland
Refer to Resource 5-11 in the Student Guide.
Patrick evangelized Ireland in the 400s (about 390- 446). By 460 Ireland was largely Christianized. Irish or “Celtic” Christianity became known for its evangelistic monasticism.
Patrick was born in Britain, the son of a deacon. Though he was brought up as a Christian, he had no deep piety. At the age of 16 he was captured by Irish pirates and spent 6 years as a herder. As a slave, he not only mastered the Irish language but turned to God. Believing it was God’s will, he escaped to the southeast coast of Ireland and persuaded sailors to return him to Britain. They did so, and eventually Patrick returned to his relatives. He felt God leading him to evangelize Ireland. He felt called, as few had before in Christian history, to be “a slave of Christ to a foreign people.” He prepared for Christian ministry. He gained knowledge of the Latin Bible. During this time he probably made a visit to Gaul.
He spent the rest of his life planting Christianity firmly in Ireland—evangelizing, establishing monasteries, educating sons of chieftains, and ordaining clergy. He prayed that God would “never allow me to be separated from his people whom he has won in the ends of the earth.”
Patrick’s Confession canvasses his life. It is the story of a man deeply immersed in both the Bible and the call of God to missions. Patrick recorded that “many people through me were reborn to God, and afterward confirmed and brought to perfection. And so then a clergy was ordained to care for them everywhere, to care for this people freshly brought alive in their faith. They are those whom the Lord has chosen ‘from the ends of the earth”.’
Patrick was able to see that whereas the people of Ireland formerly had worshiped idols and “impure things,” they were “suddenly made the people of the Lord, so that they are now called children of God.” He continued: “So many sons and daughters of the kings of the Irish are now proud to be counted monks and virgins of Christ.”
By the time of his death, Ireland was largely a Christian country. Unlike other Christian countries, however, the monastery was more central in the life of the Irish church than the cathedral. With the exaltation of monasticism came a deep acceptance of sacrifice and mission—set by Patrick’s example. A poem and prayer attributed to Patrick, though perhaps written later, has come through the history of the church:
Refer to Resource 5-12 in the Student Guide.
I arise today in a mighty strength, calling upon the
Trinity, believing in the Three Persons saying they
are One, thanking my Creator.
I arise today strengthened by Christ’s own baptism,
made strong by his crucifixion and his burial, made
strong by his resurrection and his ascension, made
strong by his descent to meet me on the day of
I arise today strengthened by cherubims’ love of
God, by obedience of all angels, by service of
archangels, by hope in reward of my resurrection,
by prayers of the fathers, by predictions of
prophets, by preachings of apostles, by the faith of
confessors, by shyness of holy virgins, by deeds of
I arise today through strength in the sky: light of
sun, moon’s reflection, dazzle of fire, speed of
lightning, wild wind, deep sea, firm earth, hard
I arise today with God’s strength to pilot me; God’s
might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look ahead for me, God’s ear to hear
for me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to
defend me, God’s way to lie before me, God’s shield
to protect me, God’s host to safeguard me: against
devil’s traps, against attraction of sin, against pull
of nature, against all who wish me ill near and far,
alone and in a crowd.
I summon all these powers to protect me—against
every cruel and wicked power that stands against
me, body and soul, against false prophets’ wild
words, against dark ways of heathen, against false
laws of heretics, against magic and idolatry, against
spells of smiths, witches, and wizards, against
every false lore that snares body and soul.
Christ protect me today against poison, against
burning, against drowning, against wounding so
that I may come to enjoy your rich reward.
Christ ever with me, Christ before me, Christ
behind me, Christ within me, Christ beneath me,
Christ above me, Christ to my right side, Christ to
my left, Christ in his breadth, Christ in his length,
Christ in depth, Christ in the heart of every man
who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man
who speaks to me, Christ in every eye that sees
me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today in mighty strength making in my
mouth the Trinity, believing in mind Three Persons,
confessing in heart they are One, thanking my
Salvation is from the Lord. Salvation is from the
Lord. Salvation is from Christ. May your salvation,
three Lords, be always with us.
AUGUSTINE’S CONFESSIONS, READING 5 BOOK FOUR
This is the story of his years among the Manicheans. It includes the account of his teaching at Tagaste, his taking a mistress, the attractions of astrology, the poignant loss of a friend that leads to a searching analysis of grief and transience. He reports on his first book, De pulchro et apto, and his introduction to Aristotle’s Categories and other books of philosophy and theology, which he mastered with great ease and little profit.
1. During this period of nine years, from my nineteenth year to my twenty-eighth, I went astray and led others astray. I was deceived and deceived others, in varied lustful projects—sometimes publicly, by the teaching of what men and women style “the liberal arts”; sometimes secretly, under the false guise of religion. In the one, I was proud of myself; in the other, superstitious; in all, vain! In my public life I was striving after the emptiness of popular fame, going so far as to seek theatrical applause, entering poetic contests, striving for the straw garlands and the vanity of theatricals and intemperate desires. In my private life I was seeking to be purged from these corruptions of ours by carrying food to those who were called “elect” and “holy,” which, in the laboratory of their stomachs, they should make into angels and gods for us, and by them we might be set free. These projects I followed out and practiced with my friends, who were both deceived with me and by me. Let the proud laugh at me, and those who have not yet been savingly cast down and stricken by you, O my God. Nevertheless, I would confess to you my shame to your glory. Bear with me, I beseech you, and give me the grace to retrace in my present memory the devious ways of my past errors and thus be able to “offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving.” For what am I to myself without you but a guide to my own downfall? Or what am I, even at the best, but one suckled on your milk and feeding on you, O Food that never perishes? What indeed is any man, seeing that he is but a man? Therefore, let the strong and the mighty laugh at us, but let us who are “poor and needy” confess to you.
Preparation for Session 6
Email your paragraph responses to email@example.com the Sunday before class session.
A. Read: Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, chapters 13, 14 and 15
Write a Big Idea paragraph from your reading.
B. Read the following articles and give a one paragraph answer to the question asked.
What are the differences between Augustine and Pelagius views concerning
2. The Rise of the Papacy
What is the danger in the Church having civil power?
3.The Rise of Eastern Christianity
What was the Eastern Church’s understanding of holiness, i.e. Christian
C. Write in your journal. Reflect on and respond to the following:
AUGUSTINE’S CONFESSIONS, READING 5