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AUGUSTINE 354 - 430 A.D.

Augustine is the most important figure in Church History since the apostle Paul. No other writer in the early centuries made such a deep impression upon Christian thought. He was born in Numidia; his father was a coarse pagan, but his mother, Monica, was noted for her saintly life and character.

The story of his early life is told in his "Confessions"; already wayward as a boy, he grew worse in his youth and indulged freely in the sensuality practised by the students at Carthage. Then for nine years (373 - 382) he was a Manichaean, much to the grief of his mother who prayed earnestly for him.

He then left the Manichaean sect and went to Rome as a teacher of rhetoric. From Rome he went on to Milan, where he came under the influence of Ambrose. There was a great conflict between his own self-will and the call of God.

Finally, as he was standing under a fig-tree in a garden in Milan, he seemed to hear a voice saying "Tolle, lege" (take up read); he did so and found in Romans 13:13 & 14 the words,"not in rioting and drunkenness....but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ." These words led to his conversion in 386. In 387 he was baptised by Ambrose at Eastertime; a few weeks after, his mother died. He then returned to Africa and in 395 he became Bishop of Hippo.

Augustine's conversion, following upon his dissolute early life, deeply inflienced his subsequent thinking and study of the Scriptures. He became preeminently the theologian of the grace of God. Augustine's doctrine of grace brought him into sharp conflict with Pelagius.

Bound up with Augustine's doctrine of grace is his doctrine of original sin. Augustine taught that by the fall of Adam the whole human race became infected; each soul is under the curse of original sin; the human race became a "mass of perdition". Man in himself has no strength for salvation, it can only come from God.

Here is the essential meaning of the grace of God. The whole initiative in man's salvation comes from God. But Augustine took his doctrine of the divine initiative so far that he argued that it is not a case of God offering salvation and man either accepting in faith or rejecting by free will, for this would make all depend in the last resort on man himself and not on grace.

The whole adoption of salvation is effected by the grace of God. The grace of God comes first (prevenient grace). After conversion grace continues to operate to motivate as well as to enable the will of the believer to overcome temptation. The operation of the grace of God is so comprehensive as to eliminate human merit and to rob the concepts of moral choice and responsibility of real meaning; grace is "irresistible".

But it is only in those who from all eternity are predestinated to salvation that "irresistible grace" operates right on to the end. Augustine further taught that a fixed number of souls is predestined to be saved and that their predestination is based, not on foreknowledge, but upon an unfathomable decree.

Augustine's doctrine, derived from the Epistle to the Romans, is based on the overriding principle that we owe God everything; "What have I, that I have not received?" Nevertheless, the action of God's grace in man does not by-pass or abolish the will, but really liberates it; it works through the will, which becomes free in so far as it is linked with God. Thus we owe it to God alone if the will is enabled to act.

In contrast to Augustine, Pelagius, a monk from Britain and a man of high character, denied the doctrine of original sin, emphasised man's freedom of will and said that divine grace was not necessary to enable man to do the will of God.

Associated with Pelagius was his friend Celestius, The controversy came to a head in 412, when a ,Council of Carthage condemned Celestius. He was accused of holding that:-

  1. Adam was created mortal: he would have died if he had not sinned. 
  2. The sin of Adam affected only himself, not the whole human race.
  3. Infants at birth are as Adam was before the fall.
  4. The Law introduces men into the Kingdom in the same way as the Gospel.

The teachings of Agustine profoundly influenced both Luther and Calvin and made a deep impression on Christian thought in general. He was the last bishop of Hippo. For 43 years he lived in the spirit of continual penitence: his experience is summed up in one of the opening sentences in the Confessions, "Thou has made us for Thyself, and our heart is disquieted until it find rest in Thee."

His death in 430, when the Vandals were besieging his city of Hippo, closes the great chapter of the North African Church. The fifth century brought further controversy concerning the Incarnation, the union of the divine and human natures in the one Personality of the Lord.


Nestorius, Bishop of Constantinople, represented a rather extreme form of a line of teaching taught at Antioch. This laid particular emphasis on the manhood of Christ. Nestorius drew such a distinction between His manhood and His deity that he taught as if there were two personalities, a divine and a human, in some way united in one person.

The error in this teaching thus lies in destroying the unity of the Person of the Lord; He is One Personality, the Eternal Word; if He had associated a human personality with Himself, there would have been two Christs. Nestorius also objected to a term which had gained wide usage at the time, "Theotokos", popularly translated "Mother of God"; he wished to substitute the word "Christotokos", "Mother of Christ", Nestorius was opposed by Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, an able theologian and a commanding personality.


The Nestorian controversy was settled at the Council of Ephesus in 431, the third great ecumenical Counci. Nestorius was condemned and banished to Upper Egypt, where he died in 439. Nestorius had many supporters in Syria and Persia and they formed a Nestorian Church. This church established itself strongly in Persia and Armenia and then extended its missionary activity eastwards until by 625 it had reached China.


The reaction against Nestorianism led some people into error by going too far in the opposite direction. The leading figure in this movement was Eutyches, a monk of Constantinople. The error of Eutyches was to merge the manhood of the Lord into His Deity so completely as to eliminate His human nature altogether.

So Eutyches, who had opposed Nestorius in the Council of Ephesus, found himself accused of being a heretic. Eutyches was defended by Dioscorus, the successor of Cyril at Alexandria, who had another council called at Ephesus in 449. Eutyches was acquitted, but the council was a very turbulent one, the proceedings were regarded as unfair, and it gained the name of the "Robber Council". The controversy raged for two more years, and a fourth great ecumenical council was called.


This council declared the proceedings of the "Robber Council" null and void and drew up a full statement of the orthodox position in regard to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. This finally defined the belief of the Church and has remained without appreciable change to the present time.

LEO THE  GREAT 390 - 461 A.D.

The period of Leo marks an important stage in the advance of the Pope to supremacy in the Church. From very early in Church History the Bishop of Rome had tended to command a great respect from the bishops of western churches, though, strangely enough, only one bishop before Leo could be regarded as a really outstanding man; this was Hippolytus, who was the bishop of a dissident sect in opposition to the official Bishop of Rome.

It had long been customary to appeal to the Bishop of Rome for advice on questions and difficulties which arose in other churches. Replies to such appeals were called "decretals" and were usually followed although they were in no way binding on other churches. But when Leo became Bishop of Rome in 440, he set himself with all his energy to establish the supremacy of the "see" of Rome and to obtain official recognition of it.

Leo was a commanding personality and a man of very strong character with great gifts for leadership and organisation. He was conscious of a mission to secure the primacy of the Roman Church and was uncompromising in his purpose. Leo based his claim for Rome on his interpretation of St. Matthew 16:18; he claimed that Peter was the founder of the Roman Church and that the Bishop of Rome inherited his authority and the right of using the keys of the Kingdom.

As Peter was over all the Apostles, he said, so was the Bishop of Rome over all other bishops. Consequently, he assumed a tone of authority in all his correspondence with other churches. Leo's claims were supported by the Emperor Valentinian III, who made it an offence against the State to resist the orders of the Pope of Rome.

It was also agreed at the Council of Chalcedon (451) that the term "pope" should be reserved exclusively for him and his successors. But his request to be recognised as Universal Bishop was rejected and he was never able to command the same authority over the church in the Eastern empire as he was over that in the West. It was also evident from the canons of Chalcedon that the Emperor claimed the right to act without regard to the wishes of the Pope.

Leo also made a name for himself in the sphere of theology. He sent to Flavian of Constantinople a letter or thesis, known as "the Tome", on the subject of the Person of Christ. This was an exposition of what the Scriptures and the Creed of the Church teach, making clear the errors of both Nestorius and Eutyches and setting forth the vital principles of the Deity and Manhood of the Lord and their union in one Person.

The Tome was accepted by the Council of Chalcedon and declared to be the faith of the Fathers. Leo thus strictly adhered to the Scriptures, and the church at Rome in his time retained much of the simplicity of the church of early times.


The first Christian monk is said to have been Antony, a native of Upper Egypt, who, about 268, at the age of eighteen, decided to obey the Lord's word to the rich young ruler, "Go, sell all that thou hast," to distribute his property among the poor and lead an ascetic life. Later on he withdrew to the western desert to lead a solitary life.

His example was followed by a number of others, and in course of time the deserts of Egypt became peopled with colonies of hermits. This led on to a new development when it was felt that even in solitude certain social duties were incumbent on those who had gone to live in colonies of hermits.

Monastic leaders accordingly began to organise communities of monks with definite regulations to order their lives. The first to do this was Pachomius, who established a monastery at Tabennisi on the Nile. But the greatest of early organisers of monasteries was Basil, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia.

Under him the monks were strictly disciplined and kept constantly at work and prayer. He encouraged useful work such as agriculture and nursing, and he utilised the services of his monks in staffing the hospital he built around his cathedral in Caesarea. His monastic and ecclesiastical foundations became so great that Gregory of Nazianzus compared them to a second city of Caesarea.

Basil's monastic order set the type for eastern monasticism in general. In the West, the outstanding name associated with the monastic movement was Martin of Tours. He first founded a monastery near Poitiers about 360 and later on he established another at Tours. His fame spread throughout western Europe and he may be regarded as the real founder of western monasticism.

By the end of the fourth century monasteries were to be found everywhere, from remote Britain to lands beyond the eastern frontier of the empire. Founded with the idea of withdrawing men from the world, monasteries became the means of qualifying them for serving the world as missionaries, teachers and leaders in the Church.

The Changing World of the Fifth Century.

After the death of Theodosius in 395, the Roman Empire was again divided, the two sons of Theodosius, Arcadius and Honorius, taking over the eastern and western empires respectively. From this time on, the two parts tended to become independent of each other and to form separate empires.

In the east, after the battle of Adrianople in 378, there was a long period of peace; but the separation of the eastern empire from Italy caused it to lose its Roman character, and to develop as a Hellenistic (Greek) kingdom, with a Christian Church and Roman laws.

In the West, German invasions hastened the break-up of an empire which was already weakening. In 408 the Gothic chieftain Alaric broke into central Italy and in 410 he sacked the city of Rome. Between 409 and 419 northern Gaul was conquered by the Franks and Spain by the Vandals. In 429 the Vandals passed over into North Africa and established pirate bases.

The last notable Roman victory was won in 451 when the general Aetius repulsed the Hun chieftain Attila in central France. In 455 the Vandal chief, Genseric, attacked from the sea and plundered Rome. Finally, in 476, a German general named Odoacer deposed the last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, and reigned as king in Italy, thus bringing the history of the western empire to an end.

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