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   Chapter 11 The Church At The Beginning Of The Permanent Separation Of The Two Parts Of The Roman Empire

A Source Book for Ancient Church History By Joseph Cullen Ayer, Jr., Ph.D. Characters: 17999

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Although Theodosius the Great had been the dominating power in the government of the Empire almost from his accession in 379, he was sole ruler of the united Roman Empire for only a few months before his death in 395. The East and the West became henceforth permanently divided after having been united, since the reorganization of the Empire under Diocletian in 285, for only three periods aggregating twenty-eight years in all. The imperial authority was divided between the sons of Theodosius, Arcadius taking the sovereignty of the East and Honorius that of the West. Stilicho, a Vandal, directed the fortunes of the West until his death in 408, but the Empire of the East soon began to take a leading part, especially after the barbarians commenced to invade the West about 405, and to establish independent kingdoms within the boundaries of the Empire. The German tribes that settled within the Empire were either Arians when they entered or became such almost immediately after; this Arianism had been introduced among the West Goths from Constantinople [pg 421] during the dominance of that creed. The Franks alone of all the Germanic tribes were heathen when they settled within the Empire.

§ 79. The Empire of the Dynasty of Theodosius.

Emperors of the West:

Honorius; born 384, Emperor 395-423.

Valentinian III; born 419, Emperor 425-455; son of Galla Placidia, the daughter of Theodosius the Great, and the Empress of the West 419-450.

Emperors of the East:

Arcadius: born 377, Emperor 395-408.

Theodosius II: born 401, Emperor 408-450.

Marcianus: Emperor 450-457; husband of Pulcheria (born 399, died 453), daughter of Arcadius.

The greatest event in the first half of the fifth century, the period in which the degenerate descendants of Theodosius still retained the imperial title, was the Barbarian Invasion, a truly epoch-making event. In 405 the Vandals, Alans, and Suevi crossed the Rhine, followed later by the Burgundians. August 24, 410, Alarich, the king of the West Goths, captured Rome. In 419 the West Gothic kingdom was established with Toulouse as a capital. In 429 the Vandals began to establish themselves in North Africa, and about 450 the Saxons began to invade Britain, abandoned by the Romans about 409. Although the West was thus falling to pieces, the theory of the unity of the Empire was maintained and is expressed in the provision of the new Theodosian Code of 439 for the uniformity of law throughout the two parts of the Empire. This theory of unity was not lost for centuries and was influential even into the eighth century.

(a) Jerome, Ep. 123, ad Ageruchiam. (MSL, 22:1057.)

[pg 422] The Barbarian Invasions in the opening years of the fifth century.

Jerome's letters are not to be considered a primary source for the barbarian invasion, but they are an admirable source for the way the invasion appeared to a man of culture and some patriotic feeling. With this passage should be compared his Ep. 60, ad Heliodorum, § 16, written in 396, in which he expresses his belief that Rome was falling and describes the barbarian invaders. The following letter was written 409.

§ 16. Innumerable savage tribes have overrun all parts of Gaul. The whole country between the Alps and the Pyrenees, between the Rhine and the ocean, have been laid waste by Quadi, Vandals, Sarmatians, Alans, Gepidi, Herules,160 Saxons, Bergundians, Allemans and, alas for the common weal-even the hordes of the Pannonians. For Asshur is joined with them (Psalm 83:8). The once noble city of Mainz has been captured and destroyed. In its church many thousands have been massacred. The people of Worms have been extirpated after a long siege. The powerful city of Rheims, the Ambiani [a tribe near Amiens], the Altrabt? [a tribe near Arras], the Belgians on the outskirts of the world, Tournay, Speyer, and Strassburg have fallen to Germany. The provinces of Aquitaine and of the Nine Nations, of Lyons and Narbonne, with the exception of a few cities, all have been laid waste. Those whom the sword spares without, famine ravages within. I cannot speak of Toulouse without tears; it has been kept hitherto from falling by the merits of its revered bishop, Exuperius. Even the Spains are about to perish and tremble daily as they recall the invasion of the Cymri; and what others have suffered once they suffer continually in fear.

§ 17. I am silent about other places, that I may not seem to despair of God's mercy. From the Pontic Sea to the Julian Alps, what was once ours is ours no longer. When for thirty years the barrier of the Danube had been broken there was war in the central provinces of the Roman Empire. Long use dried our tears. For all, except a few old people, [pg 423] had been born either in captivity or during a blockade, and they did not long for a liberty which they had never known. Who will believe it? What histories will seriously discuss it, that Rome has to fight within her borders, not for glory but for bare life; and that she does not fight even, but buys the right to exist by giving gold and sacrificing all her substance? This humiliation has been brought upon her, not by the fault of her emperors, both of them most religious men [Arcadius and Honorius], but by the crime of a half-barbarian traitor,161

(b) Jerome, Prefaces to Commentary on Ezekiel. (MSL, 25, 15:75.)

The fall of Rome.

Jerome's account of the capture of Rome by Alarich is greatly exaggerated (see his Ep. 127, ad Principiam). By his very exaggeration, however, one gains some impression of the shock the event must have occasioned in the Roman world.

Preface to Book I. Intelligence has suddenly been brought to me of the death of Pammachus and Marcella, the siege of Rome [A. D. 408], and the falling asleep of many of my brethren and sisters. I was so stupefied and dismayed that day and night I could think of nothing but the welfare of all.… But when the bright light of all the world was put out,162 or, rather, when the Roman Empire was decapitated, and, to speak more correctly, the whole world perished in one city, "I became dumb and humbled myself, and kept silence from good words, but my grief broke out afresh, my heart was hot within me, and while I was musing the fire was kindled" [Psalm 39:3, 4].

Preface to Book III. Who would believe that Rome, built up by the conquest of the whole world, had collapsed; that she had become both the mother of nations and their tomb; that all the shores of the East, of Egypt, of Africa, which had once [pg 424] belonged to the imperial city should be filled with the hosts of her men-servants and maid-servants; that every day holy Bethlehem should be receiving as mendicants men and women who were once noble and abounding in every kind of wealth?

(c) Theodosius II, Novella I, de Theodosiani Codicis Auctoritate; Feb. 15, 439.

The Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian, Augusti, to Florentius, Pr?torian Prefect of the East.

Our clemency has often been at a loss to understand the cause of the fact that, although so many rewards are held out for the maintenance of arts and studies, so few and rare are they who are fully endowed with a knowledge of the civil law, and that although so many have grown pale from late studies, scarcely one or two have gained a sound and complete learning. When we consider the enormous multitude of books, the diversity in the forms of process, and the difficulty of legal cases, and, further, the huge mass of imperial constitutions which, hidden as it were under a veil of gross mist and darkness, precludes man's intellect from gaining a knowledge of them, we have performed a task needful for our age, and, the darkness having been dispelled, we have given light to the laws by a brief compendium. Noble men of approved faithfulness were selected, men of well-known learning, to whom the matter was intrusted. We have published the constitutions of former princes, cleared by interpretation of difficulties so that men may no longer have to wait formidable responses from expert lawyers as from a shrine, since it is quite plain what is the value of a donation, by what action an inheritance is to be sued for, with what words a contract is to be made.… Thus having wiped out the cloud of volumes, on which many wasted their lives and explained nothing in the end, we establish a compendious knowledge of the imperial constitutions since the time of the divine Constantine, and permit no one after the first day of next January to use in courts and daily practice of law the imperial law, or to draw up pleadings [pg 425] except from these books which bear our name and are kept in the sacred archives.…

To this we add that henceforward no constitution can be passed in the West or in any other place by the unconquerable Emperor, the son of our clemency, the everlasting Augustus Valentinian, or possess any legal validity, except the same by a divine pragmatica be communicated to us. The same rule is to be observ

ed in the acts which are promulgated by us in the East; and those are to be condemned as spurious which are not recorded in the Theodosian Code [certain documents excepted which were kept in the registers of bureaux].

§ 80. The Extension of the Church about the Beginning of the Fifth Century

The most important missionary work in the early part of the fifth century was the extension of the work of Ulfilas among the German tribes and the work of the missionaries of the West in Gaul and western Germany. Of the latter the most important was Martin of Tours.

(a) Socrates, Hist. Ec., II, 41. (MSG, 67:349.)


Additional material for the life of Ulfilas may be found in the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, fragments of which, as preserved, may be found appended to the Bohn translation of Sozomen's Ecclesiastical History.

After giving a list of creeds put forth by various councils, from Nic?a down to the Arian creed of Constantinople, 360 (text may be found in Hahn, § 167), Socrates continues:

The last creed was that put forth at Constantinople [A. D. 360], with the appendix. For to this was added the prohibition respecting the mention of substance [ousia], or subsistence [hypostasis], in relation to God. To this creed Ulfilas, bishop of the Goths, then first gave his assent. For before that time he had adhered to the faith of Nic?a; for he was a disciple of Theophilus, bishop of the Goths, who was present at the Nicene Council, and subscribed what was there determined.

[pg 426]

(b) Ulfilas, Confession of Faith. Hahn, § 198.

This confession of faith, which Ulfilas describes as his testament, is found at the conclusion of a letter of Auxentius, his pupil, an Arian bishop of Silistria, in M?sia Inferior; see note of Hahn. It should be compared with that of Constantinople of 360.

I, Ulfilas, bishop and confessor, have always thus believed, and in this sole and true faith I make my testament before my Lord: I believe that there is one God the Father, alone unbegotten and invisible; and in His only begotten Son, our Lord and God, the fashioner and maker of all creation, not having any one like him-therefore there is one God of all, who, in our opinion, is God-and there is one Holy Spirit, the illuminating and sanctifying power-as Christ said to his apostles for correction, "Behold I send the promise of my Father to you, but remain ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be indued with power from on high"; and again, "And ye shall receive power coming upon you from the Holy Spirit"-neither God nor Lord, but a minister of Christ in all things; not ruler, but a subject, and obedient in all things to the Son, and the Son himself subject and obedient in all things to his Father … through Christ … with the Holy Spirit.…163

(c) Socrates, Hist. Ec., IV, 23. (MSG, 67:551.)

The barbarians dwelling beyond the Danube, who are called Goths, having been engaged in a civil war among themselves, were divided into two parties; of one of these Fritigernus was the leader, of the other Athanaric. When Athanaric had obtained an evident advantage over his rival, Fritigernus had recourse to the Romans and implored their assistance against his adversary. When these things were reported to the Emperor Valens [364-378], he ordered the troops garrisoned in Thrace to assist those barbarians against the barbarians fighting against them. They won a complete victory over Athanaric beyond the Danube, totally routing the enemy. This was the reason why many of the barbarians became [pg 427] Christians: for Fritigernus, to show his gratitude to the Emperor for the kindness shown him, embraced the religion of the Emperor, and urged those under him to do the same. Therefore it is that even to this present time so many of the Goths are infected with the religion of Arianism, because the emperors at that time gave themselves to that faith. Ulfilas, the bishop of the Goths at that time, invented the Gothic letters and, translating the Holy Scriptures into their own language, undertook to instruct these barbarians in the divine oracles. But when Ulfilas taught the Christian religion not only to the subjects of Fritigernus but to the subjects of Athanaric also, Athanaric, regarding this as a violation of the privileges of the religion of his ancestors, subjected many of the Christians to severe punishments, so that many of the Arian Goths of that time became martyrs. Arius, indeed, failing to refute the opinion of Sabellius the Libyan, fell from the true faith and asserted that the Son of God was a new God; but the barbarians, embracing Christianity with greater simplicity, despised this present life for the faith of Christ.

(d) Sulpicius Severus, Vita S. Martini, 13. (MSL, 20:167.)

Sulpicius Severus was a pupil of Martin of Tours, and wrote the life of his master during the latter's lifetime (died 397), but published it after his death. He wrote also other works on Martin. The astounding miracles they contain present curious problems for the student of ethics as well as of history. As St. Martin was one of the most popular saints of Gaul, and in this case the merits of the man and his reputation as a saint were in accord, the works of Sulpicius became the basis of many popular lives of the saint. The following passage illustrates the embellishment which soon became attached to all the lives of religious heroes. It is, however, one of the least astounding of the many miracles the author relates in apparent good faith. Whatever may be the judgment regarding the miracle, the story contains several characteristic touches met with in the history of missions in the following centuries: e.g., the destruction of heathen temples and objects of worship. This sacred tree also finds its duplicate in other attacks upon heathen sanctuaries.

Ch. 13. When in a certain village he had demolished a very ancient temple, and had set about cutting down a pine-tree, [pg 428] which stood close to the temple, the chief priest of that place and a crowd of other heathen began to oppose him. And though these people, under the influence of the Lord, had been quiet while the temple was being overthrown, they could not patiently allow the tree to be cut down. Martin carefully instructed them that there was nothing sacred in the trunk of a tree; let them rather follow God, whom he himself served. He added that it was necessary that that tree be cut down, because it had been dedicated to a demon [i.e., to a heathen deity]. Then one of them, who was bolder than the others, said: "If you have any trust in the God whom you say you worship, we ourselves will cut down this tree, you shall receive it when it falls; for if, as you declare, your Lord is with you, you will escape all injury." Then Martin, courageously trusting in the Lord, promised that he would do this. Thereupon all that crowd of heathen agreed to the condition; for they held the loss of their tree a small matter, if only they got the enemy of their religion buried beneath its fall. Accordingly when that pine-tree was hanging over in one direction, so that there was no doubt as to what side it would fall on being cut, Martin, having been bound, was, in accordance with the decision of these pagans, placed in that spot where, as no one doubted, the tree was about to fall. They began, therefore, to cut down their own tree with great joy and mirth. At some distance there was a great multitude of wondering spectators. And now the pine-tree began to totter and to threaten its own ruin by falling. The monks at a distance grew pale and, terrified by the danger ever coming nearer, had lost all hope and confidence, expecting only the death of Martin. But he, trusting in the Lord, and waiting courageously, when now the falling pine had uttered its expiring crash, while it was now falling, while it was just rushing upon him, with raised hand put in its way the sign of salvation [i.e., the sign of the cross]. Then, indeed, after the manner of a spinning top (one might have thought it driven back) it fell on the opposite side, so that it almost crushed the [pg 429] rustics, who had been standing in a safe spot. Then truly a shout was raised to heaven; the heathen were amazed by the miracle; the monks wept for joy; and the name of Christ was extolled by all in common. The well-known result was that on that day salvation came to that region. For there was hardly one of that immense multitude of heathen who did not desire the imposition of hands, and, abandoning his impious errors, believe in the Lord Jesus. Certainly, before the times of Martin, very few, nay, almost none, in those regions had received the name of Christ; but through his virtues and example it has prevailed to such an extent that now there is no place there which is not filled with either very crowded churches or monasteries. For wherever he destroyed heathen temples, there he was accustomed to build, immediately, either churches or monasteries.

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