The Waldenses and the famous sonnet of John Milton (1608-1674)

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The Waldenses started as a Christian movement in Lyon, France, in the late 1170s. They received their name from their reputed founder, Pierre Valdès (Peter Waldo). In 1173 Waldo, a wealthy merchant from Lyon, heard a troubadour (a medieval poet/singer) sing the praises of St. Alexius, the patron saint of pilgrims and beggars. This song, together with the sorrow he felt for the sudden death of one of his friends shortly before, pressed on him the feeling that all his accumulated possessions were worthless. Thus he made the decision, which shortly afterwards would also be taken by Francis of Assisi, to give away his property to the poor and to those whom he felt he had done wrong, becoming an advocate of voluntary poverty in the process.

Waldo had begun street-preaching, which was simple and accommodated to the uneducated, drawing followers who became known as The Poor of Lyon. Meanwhile he had commissioned two priests to translate sections of the Bible, particularly the Gospels and Psalms, into French. His preaching, lack of theological training, and use of a non-Latin Bible, however, got him in trouble with the Archbishop Guichard of Lyon and the local ecclesiastical authorities, who forbade his activities. When he refused to obey their orders, invoking Peter and the other apostles’ words “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29 – where the apostles were also forbidden to preach), he was banned from the local diocese.

So he appealed to Pope Alexander III, and went Rome to explain his cause at the third Lateran Council (1179), where he was not treated with hostility, but yet was forbidden to preach without permission from the ecclesiastical authorities in Lyon. Still Waldo did not obey this verdict of the Council, and took Luke 10:1 literally by sending his followers out two by two to preach all over the place, but especially in southern France, northern Italy, and the Rhineland, establishing communities which were separate from the Roman Catholic Church. This did not go down well with Rome, and resulted in a Papal Bull (Ad Abolendam) being issued in 1184 by Pope Lucius III, which placed the Waldenses under ban, with them being condemned as heretics. This resulted in centuries-long persecution, torture, and killing of Waldenses by both civil and ecclesiastical authorities, which drove them to flee to the French and Italian valleys of the Cottian Alps.

The principal “heresy” of the Waldenses was their disregard for the authority of the Papacy, although they also came to reject such Papist doctrines and traditions as the seven sacraments (affirming only baptism and the Lord’s Supper), transubstantiation, purgatory, the holiness of relics, pilgrimages, prayer for the dead, the veneration of saints, and the use of the Latin Vulgate only, along with several others.

Importantly, the Waldenians came to their convictions by the reading of the Bible. The Dominican Inquisitor Etienne de Bourbon, wrote of the Waldenses:

“They know the Apostolic Creed very well in their mother tongue, they learn the Gospels in their language in such a way that they can recite  parts in the presence of others. I knew a young cowhand who spent but one year in the home of a Waldensian heretic, but so faithfully trained and recited to himself everything that within one year he had learned the Gospel-pericopes of forty Sundays; he could repeat it all word for word in his mother tongue.”

This emphasis on returning to the Bible as the source of religious knowledge played a key role in the Waldenses arriving at their views and rejecting many of the Popish errors. Waldo’s saying is preserved in Waldensian writer Durando d’Osca’s Liber Antihaeresis: “The church of God is always there where a community of believers is found, who uphold the true faith and endorse this by their works.”

While we should be cautious to anachronistically think of the early Waldenses as forerunners of the Reformation, some of the later Waldensian ministers were introduced to Reformed Protestant thought by John Calvin’s colleague in Geneva, Guillaume Farel. These Waldenses came to affirm the Reformed doctrine of predestination, and furthermore adapted themselves to Genevan forms of worship and church polity, and in fact were taken up in the Swiss Reformed Church at the Synod of Chanforan in 1532 to leave their secrecy and worship openly in French. Not all later Waldenses went this route, however, as many remained in secrecy in the Alps, and some developed views more akin to those of the Anabaptists.

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Persecution of Waldenses, as with Protestants in general, continued throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. One of these persecutions occurred with the Massacre of Mérindol in 1545, in which King Francis I of France ordered that the Waldenses be punished for religious dissent. Dozens of villages were destroyed, and thousands upon thousands of people were killed. What’s more, is that Francis I and Pope Paul III both gave the thumbs-up to this massacre, with the Pope even rewarding Jean Maynier d’Oppède, one of the leaders of the massacre, with Imperial honours.

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Another instance occurred in 1655, when the Duke of Savoy in January commanded the Waldenses to attend Mass or be removed from the lower valleys of their homeland, giving them twenty days to sell their lands. Since it was winter at the time,  the Duke reckoned that the Waldenses would rather choose to attend Mass than leave their homes behind. But contrary to his expectations, they instead opted to leave the lower valleys and move to the upper valleys, making the harsh trek through the Alps in the middle of winter, where they were warmly received by their impoverished Waldensian brothers in the upper valleys. By April it became clear that the Duke’s efforts to convert the Waldenses to Catholicism had failed, and so he sent troops into the upper valleys to suppress them, forcing them to host the troops in their homes, which the Waldenses complied with. This, of course, was entirely a scheme to give the troops easy access to the Waldenses. At 4 a.m. on 24 April 1655, the signal was given for a general massacre, in which the troops embarked on an unprovoked campaign of looting, rape, torture, and murder. This massacre became known as the Piedmont Easter. Peter Liegé wrote of the event:

“Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, clasped by their tiny feet, and their heads dashed against the rocks; or were held between two soldiers and their quivering limbs torn up by main force. Their mangled bodies were then thrown on the highways or fields, to be devoured by beasts. The sick and the aged were burned alive in their dwellings. Some had their hands and arms and legs lopped off, and fire applied to the severed parts to staunch the bleeding and prolong their suffering. Some were flayed alive, some were roasted alive, some disemboweled; or tied to trees in their own orchards, and their hearts cut out. Some were horribly mutilated, and of others the brains were boiled and eaten by these cannibals. Some were fastened down into the furrows of their own fields, and ploughed into the soil as men plough manure into it. Others were buried alive. Fathers were marched to death with the heads of their sons suspended round their necks. Parents were compelled to look on while their children were first outraged [raped], then massacred, before being themselves permitted to die.”

News of the massacre was met by indignation from Protestants in Switzerland and the Netherlands, where attempts were made to provide an asylum for survivors, as well as in England, where Oliver Cromwell petitioned on behalf of the Waldenses.

John Milton

John Milton (1608-1674) wrote a famous sonnet on this event, titled On the Late Massacre in Piedmont:

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold,
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones;
Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To Heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O’er all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

The Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs

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The Scillitan Martyrs were twelve North African Christians from Scilla (or Scillium) in Numidia who were tried in Carthage under the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. The Acts of the Scillitan Martyrs is the earliest authentic document on Christianity in North Africa and represents one of the earliest (if not the earliest) specimens of Christian Latin. The document takes a brief legal form, quoting the dialogue between the judge and those accused. The names of the 7 men and 5 women were Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Veturius, Felix, Aquilinus, Laetantius, Januaria, Generosa, Vestia, Donata, and Secunda.  Speratus, the principal spokesman of the Christians, claimed that he and his companions had lived quiet and moral lives, paid their dues, and did no wrong to their neighbours. But for refusing to apostatize (deny their faith) or swear by the “genius” of the emperor, they were executed on July 17, 180, by order of the Roman proconsul Saturninus:

 

WHEN Praesens, for the second time, and Claudianus were the consuls, on the seventeenth day of July, at Carthage, there were set in the judgment-hall Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Secunda and Vestia.

Saturninus the proconsul said: Ye can win the indulgence of our lord the Emperor, if ye return to a sound mind.

Speratus said: We have never done ill, we have not lent ourselves to wrong, we have never spoken ill, but when ill-treated we have given thanks; because we pay heed to OUR EMPEROR,

Saturninus the proconsul said: We too are religious, and our religion is simple, and we swear by the genius of our lord the Emperor, and pray for his welfare, as ye also ought to do.

Speratus said: If thou wilt peaceably lend me thine ears, I can tell thee the mystery of simplicity.

Saturninus said: I will not lend mine ears to thee, when thou beginnest to speak evil things of our sacred rites; but rather swear thou by the genius of our lord the Emperor.

Speratus said: The empire of this world I know not; but rather I serve that God, whom no man hath seen, nor with these eyes can see. I have committed no theft; but if I have bought anything I pay the tax; because I know my Lord, the King of kings and Emperor of all nations.

Saturninus the proconsul said to the rest: Cease to be of this persuasion.

Speratus said: It is an ill persuasion to do murder, to speak false witness.

Saturninus the proconsul said: Be not partakers of this folly.

Cittinus said: We have none other to fear, save only our Lord God, who is in heaven.

Donata said: Honour to Caesar as Caesar: but fear to God.

Vestia said: I am a Christian.

Secunda said: What I am, that I wish to be.

Saturninus the proconsul said to Speratus: Dost thou persist in being a Christian?

Speratus said: I am a Christian. And with him they all agreed.

Saturninus the proconsul said: Will ye have a space to consider?

Speratus said: In a matter so straightforward there is no considering.

Saturninus the proconsul said: What are the things in your chest?

Speratus said: Books and epistles of Paul, a just man.

Saturninus the proconsul said: Have a delay of thirty days and bethink yourselves.

Speratus said a second time: I am a Christian. And with him they all agreed.

Saturninus the proconsul read out the decree from the tablet: Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Donata, Vestia, Secunda and the rest having confessed that they live according to the Christian rite, since after opportunity offered them of returning to the custom of the Romans they have obstinately persisted, it is determined that they be put to the sword.

Speratus said: We give thanks to God.

Nartzalus said: To-day we are martyrs in heaven; thanks be to God.

Saturninus the proconsul ordered it to be declared by the herald: Speratus, Nartzalus, Cittinus, Veturius, Felix, Aquilinus, Laetantius, Januaria, Generosa, Vestia, Donata and Secunda, I have ordered to be executed.

They all said: Thanks be to God.

And so they all together were crowned with martyrdom; and they reign with the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jacques Auguste de Thou (1553-1617) on St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and the death of Gaspard de Coligny (1519-1572)

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So the other day I was driving around Bloemfontein, the city where I live and study, when I was inspired by a street name to write this post. A few street names in Bloemfontein bear witness to the Reformed heritage of the South African Afrikaner people (which unfortunately is widely neglected today), including Calvynsingel (Calvin Crescent), John Knox Street, Luther Street, and Coligny Road. It was the latter that drew my attention and inspired me to post this one.

Gaspard de Coligny (1519-1572) was a French Huguenot leader in the French Wars of Religion, who was killed during the notorious St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre on 24 August 1572, in which thousands of Huguenots (French Reformed Protestant Christians) were slaughtered. The factors behind St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre are complex, so for brevity’s sake I’ll try to only offer a short heuristic paragraph for a little bit of context:

The French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) were largely the result of increasing religious (Catholic vs Huguenot) and political (different aristocratic houses) tensions. The spread of Reformed Protestantism in France didn’t go down well with the Catholics. It is generally agreed that the wars started with the Massacre of Vassy in 1562, the first of many massacres of Protestants, where a reported 63 Huguenots were killed and over a hundred more wounded when the barn in which they were holding a church service was set on fire. Despite further persecution of the Huguenots in the subsequent years, their number continued to grow throughout France (does Tertullian’s famous phrase “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” come to mind?). In 1570 the Peace of Saint-Germain brought a brief end to the conflicts, at least on paper. France was still rife with religious and political tension. The very influential Guise family, staunch Catholics, could not stomach the readmission of Huguenot leader Coligny to the King’s council in September 1571. Many Catholics thought Coligny had tried to persuade the French king to side with the Dutch (Protestants) against the Spanish (Catholics) during the Dutch Revolt, which didn’t help to soothe religious and political discord. The queen mother, Catherine de Medici, and her son, King Charles IX, attempted to cement the peace between the religious parties by having Catherine’s daughter, Margaret of Valois, marry the Protestant prince Henry III of Navarre on 18 August 1572, which, to put it lightly, did not go down well with the Catholics. The wedding led to the gathering of Huguenot nobility from far and wide in predominantly Catholic and anti-Huguenot Paris. After the wedding, Coligny and the Huguenot nobility remained in Paris in order to discuss some outstanding grievances about the Peace of Saint-Germain with the king. The queen mother was concerned that Coligny may succeed in persuading the king to side with the Dutch in their conflicts with Spain, and accordingly gave her approval to a plot devised by the above-mentioned staunchly Catholic house of Guise to assassinate Coligny. On 22 August 1572, there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Coligny, in which he was severely wounded. The king promised to investigate the attempted assassination in order to appease the angry Huguenots, but his mother, Catherine, convinced him that the Huguenots were on the brink of rebellion and persuaded him to authorize the Guise family’s plot and allow the Catholic authorities to butcher the Huguenot leaders. Thus the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre broke out on the night of 23 August and the morning of 24 August 1572, where thousands of Huguenots were killed. The Catholic Parisians, overcome by bloodlust, ended up not only slaughtering the Huguenot nobility but also Huguenots in general, sparking similar mass killings of Huguenots elsewhere in France.

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French historian Jacques Auguste de Thou (1553-1617), who witnessed the massacre as a young man, wrote down his account of Coligny’s death in his work Historia sui temporis, the second part (containing his treatment of the French Wars of Religion and the excerpt below) of which, by the way, ended up on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the Catholic list of prohibited books:

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So it was determined to exterminate all the Protestants and the plan was approved by the queen. They discussed for some time whether they should make an exception of the king of Navarre and the prince of Condé. All agreed that the king of Navarre should be spared by reason of the royal dignity and the new alliance. The duke of Guise, who was put in full command of the enterprise, summoned by night several captains of the Catholic Swiss mercenaries from the five little cantons, and some commanders of French companies, and told them that it was the will of the king that, according to God’s will, they should take vengeance on the band of rebels while they had the beasts in the toils. Victory was easy and the booty great and to be obtained without danger. The signal to commence the massacre should be given by the bell of the palace, and the marks by which they should recognize each other in the darkness were a bit of white linen tied around the left arm and a white cross on the hat.

Meanwhile Coligny awoke and recognized from the noise that a riot was taking place. Nevertheless he remained assured of the king’s good will, being persuaded thereof either by his credulity or by Teligny, his son-in-law: he believed the populace had been stirred up by the Guises and that quiet would be restored as soon as it was seen that soldiers of the guard, under the command of Cosseins, bad been detailed to protect him and guard his property.

But when he perceived that the noise increased and that some one had fired an arquebus in the courtyard of his dwelling, then at length, conjecturing what it might be, but too late, he arose from his bed and having put on his dressing gown he said his prayers, leaning against the wall. Labonne held the key of the house, and when Cosseins commanded him, in the king’s name, to open the door he obeyed at once without fear and apprehending nothing. But scarcely had Cosseins entered when Labonne, who stood in his way, was killed with a dagger thrust. The Swiss who were in the courtyard, when they saw this, fled into the house and closed the door, piling against it tables and all the furniture they could find. It was in the first scrimmage that a Swiss was killed with a ball from an arquebus fired by one of Cosseins’ people. But finally the conspirators broke through the door and mounted the stairway, Cosseins, Attin, Corberan de Cordillac, Seigneur de Sarlabous, first captains of the regiment of the guards, Achilles Petrucci of Siena, all armed with cuirasses, and Besme the German, who had been brought up as a page in the house of Guise; for the duke of Guise was lodged at court, together with the great nobles and others who accompanied him.

After Coligny had said his prayers with Merlin the minister, he said, without any appearance of alarm, to those who were present (and almost all were surgeons, for few of them were of his retinue) : “I see clearly that which they seek, and I am ready steadfastly to suffer that death which I have never feared and which for a long time past I have pictured to myself. I consider myself happy in feeling the approach of death and in being ready to die in God, by whose grace I hope for the life everlasting. I have no further need of human succor. Go then from this place, my friends, as quickly as you may, for fear lest you shall be involved in my misfortune, and that some day your wives shall curse me as the author of your loss. For me it is enough that God is here, to whose goodness I commend my soul, which is so soon to issue from my body. After these words they ascended to an upper room, whence they sought safety in flight here and there over the roofs.

Meanwhile the conspirators; having burst through the door of the chamber, entered, and when Besme, sword in hand, had demanded of Coligny, who stood near the door, “Are you Coligny ?” Coligny replied, “Yes, I am he,” with fearless countenance. “But you, young man, respect these white hairs. What is it you would do? You cannot shorten by many days this life of mine.” As he spoke, Besme gave him a sword thrust through the body, and having withdrawn his sword, another thrust in the mouth, by which his face was disfigured. So Coligny fell, killed with many thrusts. Others have written that Coligny in dying pronounced as though in anger these words: “Would that I might at least die at the hands of a soldier and not of a valet.” But Attin, one of the murderers, has reported as I have written, and added that he never saw any one less afraid in so great a peril, nor die more steadfastly.

Then the duke of Guise inquired of Besme from the courtyard if the thing were done, and when Besme answered him that it was, the duke replied that the Chevalier d’Angouleme was unable to believe it unless he saw it; and at the same time that he made the inquiry they threw the body through the window into the courtyard, disfigured as it was with blood. When the Chevalier d’Angouleme, who could scarcely believe his eyes, had wiped away with a cloth the blood which overran the face and finally had recognized him, some say that he spurned the body with his foot. However this may be, when he left the house with his followers he said: “Cheer up, my friends! Let us do thoroughly that which we have begun. The king commands it.” He frequently repeated these words, and as soon as they had caused the bell of the palace clock to ring, on every side arose the cry, “To arms !” and the people ran to the house of Coligny. After his body had been treated to all sorts of insults, they threw it into a neighboring stable, and finally cut off his head, which they sent to Rome. They also shamefully mutilated him, and dragged his body through the streets to the bank of the Seine, a thing which he had formerly almost prophesied, although he did not think of anything like this.

As some children were in the act of throwing the body into the river, it was dragged out and placed upon the gibbet of Montfaucon, where it hung by the feet in chains of iron; and then they built a fire beneath, by which he was burned without being consumed; so that he was, so to speak, tortured with all the elements, since he was killed upon the earth, thrown into the water, placed upon the fire, and finally put to hang in the air. After he had served for several days as a spectacle to gratify the hate of many and arouse the just indignation of many others, who reckoned that this fury of the people would cost the king and France many a sorrowful day, Francois de Montmorency, who was nearly related to the dead man, and still more his friend, and who moreover had escaped the danger in time, had him taken by night from the gibbet by trusty men and carried to Chantilly, where he was buried in the chapel.

Leo the Great (c. 400-461) on Christology: The “Tome”

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Leo the Great (c. 400-461) was Pope at the time of the highly significant Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). Leo’s famous Letter 28 (to Archbishop Flavian of Constantinople), better known as the Tome, laid down the orthodox Western position on Christology. Written in 449, it was intended to be read at the Second Council of Ephesus that same year, but was ultimately ignored at the council. Two years later at the Council of Chalcedon, it was presented again as offering a solution to the Christological controversies still raging between the East and the West. This time it was read out, and the council acknowledged its Christology as “the faith of the fathers”, “the faith of the apostles” and “the true faith.” Leo’s Tome thus played a significant role at the Council of Chalcedon and is a highly significant text in the history of the church. Below is the Tome in its entirety. The Eutyches mentioned in the letter was a prominent Monophysite, i.e. he denied that Christ has two natures and held that He had only one nature: divine-human. This is a longer read than is usually offered on this blog, but one which is certainly edifying:

Letter 28 – The Tome (to Archbishop Flavian of Constantinople)

I. Eutyches has been driven into his error by presumption and ignorance.

Having read your letter, beloved, at the late arrival of which we are surprised , and having perused the detailed account of the bishops’ acts , we have at last found out what the scandal was which had arisen among you against the purity of the Faith: and what before seemed concealed has now been unlocked and laid open to our view: from which it is shown that Eutyches, who used to seem worthy of all respect in virtue of his priestly office, is very unwary and exceedingly ignorant, so that it is even of him that the prophet has said: “he refused to understand so as to do well: he thought upon iniquity in his bed.” But what more iniquitous than to hold blasphemous opinions, and not to give way to those who are wiser and more learned than ourself. Now into this unwisdom fall they who, finding themselves hindered from knowing the truth by some obscurity, have recourse not to the prophets’ utterances, not to the Apostles’ letters, nor to the injunctions of the Gospel but to their own selves: and thus they stand out as masters of error because they were never disciples of truth. For what learning has he acquired about the pages of the New and Old Testament, who has not even grasped the rudiments of the Creed? And that which, throughout the world, is professed by the mouth of every one who is to be born again, is not yet taken in by the heart of this old man.

II. Concerning the twofold nativity and nature of Christ

Not knowing, therefore, what he was bound to think concerning the incarnation of the Word of God, and not wishing to gain the light of knowledge by researches through the length and breadth of the Holy Scriptures, he might at least have listened attentively to that general and uniform confession, whereby the whole body of the faithful confess that they believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son , our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. By which three statements the devices of almost all heretics are overthrown. For not only is God believed to be both Almighty and the Father, but the Son is shown to be co-eternal with Him, differing in nothing from the Father because He is God from God , Almighty from Almighty, and being born from the Eternal one is co-eternal with Him; not later in point of time, not lower in power, not unlike in glory, not divided in essence: but at the same time the only begotten of the eternal Father was born eternal of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. And this nativity which took place in time took nothing from, and added nothing to that divine and eternal birth, but expended itself wholly on the restoration of man who had been deceived : in order that he might both vanquish death and overthrow by his strength , the Devil who possessed the power of death. For we should not now be able to overcome the author of sin and death unless He took our nature on Him and made it His own, whom neither sin could pollute nor death retain. Doubtless then, He was conceived of the Holy Spirit within the womb of His Virgin Mother, who brought Him forth without the loss of her virginity, even as she conceived Him without its loss.

But if he could not draw a rightful understanding (of the matter) from this pure source of the Christian belief, because he had darkened the brightness of the clear truth by a veil of blindness peculiar to himself, he might have submitted himself to the teaching of the Gospels. And when Matthew speaks of “the Book of the Generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1), he might have also sought out the instruction afforded by the statements of the Apostles. And reading in the Epistle to the Romans, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called an Apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God, which He had promised before by His prophets in the Holy Scripture concerning His son, who was made unto Him of the seed of David after the flesh” (Romans 1:1-3) he might have bestowed a loyal carefulness upon the pages of the prophets. And finding the promise of God who says to Abraham, “In your seed shall all nations be blest” (Genesis 12:3) to avoid all doubt as to the reference of this seed, he might have followed the Apostle when He says, “To Abraham were the promises made and to his seed. He says not and to seeds, as if in many, but as it in one, and to your seed which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16). Isaiah’s prophecy also he might have grasped by a closer attention to what he says, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son and they shall call His name Immanuel”, which is interpreted “God with us”. And the same prophet’s words he might have read faithfully. “A child is born to us, a Son is given to us, whose power is upon His shoulder, and they shall call His name the Angel of the Great Counsel, Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, the Father of the age to come.” And then he would not speak so erroneously as to say that the Word became flesh in such a way that Christ, born of the Virgin’s womb, had the form of man, but had not the reality of His mother’s body. Or is it possible that he thought our Lord Jesus Christ was not of our nature for this reason, that the angel, who was sent to the blessed Mary ever Virgin, says, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon you and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you: and therefore that Holy Thing also that shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35), on the supposition that as the conception of the Virgin was a Divine act, the flesh of the conceived did not partake of the conceiver’s nature? But that birth so uniquely wondrous and so wondrously unique, is not to be understood in such wise that the properties of His kind were removed through the novelty of His creation. For though the Holy Spirit imparted fertility to the Virgin, yet a real body was received from her body; and, “Wisdom building her a house” (Proverbs 9:1), “the Word became flesh and dwelt in us,” that is, in that flesh which he took from man and which he quickened with the breath of a higher life.

III. The Faith and counsel of God in regard to the incarnation of the Word are set forth.

Without detriment therefore to the properties of either nature and substance which then came together in one person , majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt belonging to our condition inviolable nature was united with possible nature, so that, as suited the needs of our case , one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and not die with the other. Thus in the whole and perfect nature of true man was true God born, complete in what was His own, complete in what was ours. And by “ours” we mean what the Creator formed in us from the beginning and what He undertook to repair. For what the Deceiver brought in and man deceived committed, had no trace in the Saviour. Nor, because He partook of man’s weaknesses, did He therefore share our faults. He took the form of a slave without stain of sin, increasing the human and not diminishing the divine: because that emptying of Himself whereby the Invisible made Himself visible and, Creator and Lord of all things though He be, wished to be a mortal, was the bending down of pity, not the failing of power. Accordingly He who while remaining in the form of God made man, was also made man in the form of a slave. For both natures retain their own proper character without loss: and as the form of God did not do away with the form of a slave, so the form of a slave did not impair the form of God. For inasmuch as the Devil used to boast that man had been cheated by his guile into losing the divine gifts, and bereft of the boon of immortality had undergone sentence of death, and that he had found some solace in his troubles from having a partner in delinquency , and that God also at the demand of the principle of justice had changed His own purpose towards man whom He had created in such honour: there was need for the issue of a secret counsel, that the unchangeable God whose will cannot be robbed of its own kindness, might carry out the first design of His Fatherly care towards us by a more hidden mystery ; and that man who had been driven into his fault by the treacherous cunning of the devil might not perish contrary to the purpose of God.

IV. The properties of the twofold nativity and nature of Christ are weighed one against another.

There enters then these lower parts of the world the Son of God, descending from His heavenly home and yet not quitting His Father’s glory, begotten in a new order by a new nativity. In a new order, because being invisible in His own nature, He became visible in ours, and He whom nothing could contain was content to be contained : abiding before all time He began to be in time: the Lord of all things, He obscured His immeasurable majesty and took on Him the form of a servant: being God that cannot suffer, He did not disdain to be man that can, and, immortal as He is, to subject Himself to the laws of death. The Lord assumed His mother’s nature without her faultiness: nor in the Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin’s womb, does the wonderfulness of His birth make His nature unlike ours. For He who is true God is also true man: and in this union there is no lie , since the humility of manhood and the loftiness of the Godhead both meet there. For as God is not changed by the showing of pity, so man is not swallowed up by the dignity. For each form does what is proper to it with the co-operation of the other; that is the Word performing what appertains to the Word, and the flesh carrying out what appertains to the flesh. One of them sparkles with miracles, the other succumbs to injuries. And as the Word does not cease to be on an equality with His Father’s glory, so the flesh does not forego the nature of our race. For it must again and again be repeated that one and the same is truly Son of God and truly son of man. God in that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1); man in that “the Word became flesh and dwelt in us.” God in that “all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made”: man in that “He was made of a woman, made under law” (Galatians 4:4). The nativity of the flesh was the manifestation of human nature: the childbearing of a virgin is the proof of Divine power. The infancy of a babe is shown in the humbleness of its cradle: the greatness of the Most High is proclaimed by the angels’ voices. He whom Herod treacherously endeavours to destroy is like ourselves in our earliest stage: but He whom the Magi delight to worship on their knees is the Lord of all. So too when He came to the baptism of John, His forerunner, lest He should not be known through the veil of flesh which covered His Divinity, the Father’s voice thundering from the sky, said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). And thus Him whom the devil’s craftiness attacks as man, the ministries of angels serve as God. To be hungry and thirsty, to be weary, and to sleep, is clearly human: but to satisfy 5,000 men with five loaves, and to bestow on the woman of Samaria living water, droughts of which can secure the drinker from thirsting any more, to walk upon the surface of the sea with feet that do not sink, and to quell the risings of the waves by rebuking the winds, is, without any doubt, Divine. Just as therefore, to pass over many other instances, it is not part of the same nature to be moved to tears of pity for a dead friend, and when the stone that closed the four-days’ grave was removed, to raise that same friend to life with a voice of command: or, to hang on the cross, and turning day to night, to make all the elements tremble: or, to be pierced with nails, and yet open the gates of paradise to the robber’s faith: so it is not part of the same nature to say, “I and the Father are one”, and to say, “the Father is greater than I.”  For although in the Lord Jesus Christ God and man is one person, yet the source of the degradation, which is shared by both, is one, and the source of the glory, which is shared by both, is another. For His manhood, which is less than the Father, comes from our side: His Godhead, which is equal to the Father, comes from the Father.

V. Christ’s flesh is proved real from Scripture.

Therefore in consequence of this unity of person which is to be understood in both natures, we read of the Son of Man also descending from heaven, when the Son of God took flesh from the Virgin who bore Him. And again the Son of God is said to have been crucified and buried, although it was not actually in His Divinity whereby the Only-begotten is co-eternal and con-substantial with the Father, but in His weak human nature that He suffered these things. And so it is that in the Creed also we all confess that the Only-begotten Son of God was crucified and buried, according to that saying of the Apostle: “for if they had known, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). But when our Lord and Saviour Himself would instruct His disciples’ faith by His questionings, He said, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” And when they had put on record the various opinions of other people, He said, “But you, whom do you say that I am?” Me, that is, who am the Son of Man, and whom you see in the form of a slave, and in true flesh, whom do you say that I am? Whereupon blessed Peter, whose divinely inspired confession was destined to profit all nations, said, “You are Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-16). And not undeservedly was he pronounced blessed by the Lord, drawing from the chief corner-stone the solidity of power which his name also expresses, he, who, through the revelation of the Father, confessed Him to be at once Christ and Son of God: because the receiving of the one of these without the other was of no avail to salvation, and it was equally perilous to have believed the Lord Jesus Christ to be either only God without man, or only man without God. But after the Lord’s resurrection (which, of course, was of His true body, because He was raised the same as He had died and been buried), what else was effected by the forty days’ delay than the cleansing of our faith’s purity from all darkness? For to that end He talked with His disciples, and dwelt and ate with them, He allowed Himself to be handled with diligent and curious touch by those who were affected by doubt, He entered when the doors were shut upon the Apostles, and by His breathing upon them gave them the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), and bestowing on them the light of understanding, opened the secrets of the Holy Scriptures (Luke 24:27). So again He showed the wound in His side, the marks of the nails, and all the signs of His quite recent suffering, saying, “See My hands and feet, that it is I. Handle Me and see that a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see Me have;” in order that the properties of His Divine and human nature might be acknowledged to remain still inseparable: and that we might know the Word not to be different from the flesh, in such a sense as also to confess that the one Son of God is both the Word and flesh. Of this mystery of the faith your opponent Eutyches must be reckoned to have but little sense if he has recognized our nature in the Only-begotten of God neither through the humiliation of His having to die, nor through the glory of His rising again. Nor has he any fear of the blessed apostle and evangelist John’s declaration when he says, “every spirit which confesses Jesus Christ to have come in the flesh, is of God: and every spirit which destroys Jesus is not of God, and this is Antichrist.” But what is “to destroy Jesus”, except to take away the human nature from Him, and to render void the mystery, by which alone we were saved, by the most barefaced fictions. The truth is that being in darkness about the nature of Christ’s body, he must also be befooled by the same blindness in the matter of His sufferings. For if he does not think the cross of the Lord fictitious, and does not doubt that the punishment He underwent to save the world is likewise true, let him acknowledge the flesh of Him whose death he already believes: and let him not disbelieve Him man with a body like ours, since he acknowledges Him to have been able to suffer: seeing that the denial of His true flesh is also the denial of His bodily suffering. If therefore he receives the Christian faith, and does not turn away his ears from the preaching of the Gospel: let him see what was the nature that hung pierced with nails on the wooden cross, and, when the side of the Crucified was opened by the soldier’s spear, let him understand whence it was that blood and water flowed, that the Church of God might be watered from the font and from the cup. Let him hear also the blessed Apostle Peter, proclaiming that the sanctification of the Spirit takes place through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood. And let him not read cursorily the same Apostle’s words when he says, “Knowing that not with corruptible things, such as silver and gold, have you been redeemed from your vain manner of life which is part of your fathers’ tradition, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ as of a lamb without spot and blemish” (1 Peter 1:18). Let him not resist too the witness of the blessed Apostle John, who says: “and the blood of Jesus the Son of God cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). And again: “this is the victory which overcomes the world, our faith.” And “who is He that overcomes the world save He that believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is He that came by water and blood, Jesus Christ: not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that testifies, because the Spirit is the truth , because there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, the water and the blood, and the three are one.” The Spirit, that is, of sanctification, and the blood of redemption, and the water of baptism: because the three are one, and remain undivided, and none of them is separated from this connection; because the Catholic Church lives and progresses by this faith, so that in Christ Jesus neither the manhood without the true Godhead nor the Godhead without the true manhood is believed in.

VI. The wrong and mischievous concession of Eutyches. The terms on which he may be restored to Communion. The sending of deputies to the east.

But when during your cross-examination Eutyches replied and said, “I confess that our Lord had two natures before the union but after the union I confess but one,” I am surprised that so absurd and mistaken a statement of his should not have been criticised and rebuked by his judges, and that an utterance which reaches the height of stupidity and blasphemy should be allowed to pass as if nothing offensive had been heard: for the impiety of saying that the Son of God was of two natures before His incarnation is only equalled by the iniquity of asserting that there was but one nature in Him after “the Word became flesh.” And to the end that Eutyches may not think this a right or defensible opinion because it was not contradicted by any expression of yourselves, we warn you beloved brother, to take anxious care that if ever through the inspiration of God’s’s mercy the case is brought to a satisfactory conclusion, his ignorant mind be purged from this pernicious idea as well as others. He was, indeed, just beginning to beat a retreat from his erroneous conviction, as the order of proceedings shows , in so far as when hemmed in by your remonstrances he agreed to say what he had not said before and to acquiesce in that belief to which before he had been opposed. However, when he refused to give his consent to the anathematizing of his blasphemous dogma, you understood, brother , that he abode by his treachery and deserved to receive a verdict of condemnation. And yet, if he grieves over it faithfully and to good purpose, and, late though it be, acknowledges how rightly the bishops’ authority has been set in motion; or if with his own mouth and hand in your presence he recants his wrong opinions, no mercy that is shown to him when penitent can be found fault with : because our Lord, that true and “good shepherd” who laid down His life for His sheep and who came to save not lose men’s souls (Luke 9:50), wishes us to imitate His kindness; in order that while justice constrains us when we sin, mercy may prevent our rejection when we have returned. For then at last is the true Faith most profitably defended when a false belief is condemned even by the supporters of it.

Now for the loyal and faithful execution of the whole matter, we have appointed to represent us our brothers Julius Bishop and Renatus priest [of the Title of S. Clement], as well as my son Hilary, deacon. And with them we have associated Dulcitius our notary, whose faith is well approved: being sure that the Divine help will be given us, so that he who had erred may be saved when the wrongness of his view has been condemned. God keep you safe, beloved brother.

The 13 June, 449, in the consulship of the most illustrious Asturius and Protogenes.

Johann von Staupitz (c. 1460-1524) on God’s eternal predestination

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Towards the end of the Middle Ages there was what one may describe as a Neo-Augustinian renaissance which included a number of outstanding theologians such as Gregory of Rimini. This increased interest in Augustine’s writings to a large extent set the table for the Protestant Reformation, specifically with regard to the doctrine of predestination. Johann von Staupitz (c. 1460-1524) was Vicar-General of the Augustinian Order in Germany and a very influential mentor of the young monk Martin Luther. Von Staupitz, however, later had to release Luther from the Augustinian Order (perhaps you’ve seen the 2003 film Luther – I remember the scene where Luther is released by Von Staupitz distinctly – see picture below) to preserve the good name of the Order with Rome.

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Though Von Staupitz never joined the Reformation and remained a Catholic both in disposition as well as in doctrine in a number of areas, he nonetheless still adhered to a number of Protestant-leaning doctrines, one of which was his view of predestination. He came to be associated with the “Lutheran heretics” as a result of it, and in 1559 Pope Paul IV put Von Staupitz’s works on the Index of Prohibited Books.

Below are a few excerpts from his work Eternal Predestination and its Execution in Time:

“In order that the whole plan of creation should not be frustrated, there has been ordained preservation by divine power for nature and for free will the grace of the divine Incarnation; and thus natural life is upheld by preservation, a morally good life is sustained by grace, and both by God Himself. Accordingly, before the creation of the world it was determined that no one would be able to do morally good works without the grace of Christ.

Because mercy and justice contribute equally to the praise of the Almighty it has been decreed that some should be elected and predestined to conformation with the image of the Son of God and to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who do not have faith are judged already.

This [election] is the first grace which precedes nature and works. No one elicits or merits this grace, nor is this grace due to merits foreknown by God, nor to good use of reason in the future foreseen by God, nor to merits already performed. Rather, the sole source of this grace is the most kind and generous will of God.

Once this first grace is given, other graces follow one by one without fail, and Christ is put under obligation to save the elect. That is exactly what He said to Zacchaeus, ‘It is necessary that I stay in thy house,’ implying that even this Israelite, this son of Abraham, was elected according to promise. Necessity in the same sense of the word led to Christ’s passion, crucifixion, and death for sinners…

Paul, illustrious doctor of the Church, tongue of Christ, and the most direct disciple of the most Holy Trinity said: ‘Those whom He predestined He Himself also called.’ He did not say, ‘He had them called,’ Many are called by the ‘light that has arisen over us,’ others by the law, by prophets, by gifts, by tribulations, by Apostles or preachers of the faith. But not all are elected. However, those who are freely predestined are called without fail in their lifetime unto faith by God’s powerful will. For indeed this is not done by Moses nor by the prophets nor by the Apostles, but by God Himself Who speaks to the heart.

Concerning this call the Son said, ‘No one comes to Me unless the Heavenly Father draws him,’ Paul also preached this in an excellent manner: ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.’ For indeed he who plants is nothing, nor he who waters, but He who gives the growth, that is God, is all.

Provided the exterior call is efficacious, then you could certainly say that all who are called [i.e efficaciously] will doubtless be justified. For just as God is committed to call all who are predestined, so He is committed to justify all who are called. This is not a natural obligation but an obligation of grace which the Apostle fully appreciates when he says, ‘He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not also give us all things with Him?’

For just as the knowledge of natural things flows from the knowledge of the first principle, so also each individual grace flows from the grace of predestination. In this and through this, as I have indicated above, Christ has been made the servant of our salvation and ‘has come into the world not to be ministered to but to minister and to give His life as a ransom for many’.”

– Johann von Staupitz (c. 1460-1524), Eternal Predestination and its Execution in Time, chapters IV & V

Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415): Christ alone is the head of the church

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Tomorrow is Reformation Day, in which we commemorate the traditional start of the Protestant Reformation: Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg. However, it is crucial to note that there were forerunners of the Reformation in the late Middle Ages who to an extent laid a foundation from which the 16th Reformation built on. While there are quite a number of these forerunners, the two most well-known are John Wycliffe in England and Jan Hus of Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic).

Jan Hus (c. 1369-1415) would end up being burned at the stake for his ideas, which countered the ecclesiology and sacramentology (among other theological issues) of the Roman Church. Hus took up many of Wycliffe’s ideas and in the excerpt below, from his work De Ecclesia (On the Church) argues that Christ (and not the Pope) is the true and only head of the Church. The final condemnation of Hus on 6 July 1415 was based primarily on propositions derived from the aforementioned work. The same morning that Hus was burned at the stake a copy of this work was symbolically destroyed by fire. Martin Luther would later say of Hus, specifically in light of his opposition to the authority of extrascriptural canon law: “I have taught and held all the teachings of Jan Hus, but thus far did not know it. Johann von Staupitz [I’ll get to this guy in my next post] has taught it in the same unintentional way. In short we are all Hussites and did not know it. Even Paul and Augustine…”

The excerpt below is quite long (read it with patience) – it is the entire chapter 7 of Hus’ De Ecclesia:

CHAPTER VII

THE ROMAN PONTIFF AND THE CARDINALS NOT THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH

It has been said that Christ is the sole Head of the holy universal church and all the predestinate, past and future, are his mystical body and every one of them members of that body. It remains now briefly to examine whether the Roman church is that holy universal church, the bride of Christ. This seems to be the case because the holy catholic apostolic church is one, and this is none other than the Roman church. What seemed a matter of question is therefore true. The first part of the statement appears from Pope Boniface’s bull: “By the urgency of faith we are compelled to believe and hold that the holy catholic apostolic church is one.” Likewise, the second statement appears from the same decretal, which says: “Of the one and only church there is one body, one head, and not two heads like a monster, namely, Christ and Christ’s vicar, Peter, and Peter’s successors, even as, when the Lord said to Peter himself, ‘Feed my sheep,’ he spoke in a general sense, not of individuals, of these or those sheep. It is plain that he regarded all the sheep as committed to him. Therefore, if the Greeks and others say that they were not committed to Peter and his successors, they thereby confess that it is not necessary to be of Christ’s sheep; for did not the Lord say, in John: ‘They shall become one fold and one shepherd’?” Is it not evident, therefore, that the holy Roman church is that holy universal church, because all are Christ’s sheep, and the one fold is of one shepherd? This is the meaning of the aforesaid decretal of Boniface, which closes with these words: “Further we declare, say and determine that to be subject to the Roman pontiff is for every human being altogether necessary for salvation”—subesse Romano pontifici omni humanæ creaturæ . . . omnino esse de necessitate salutis. If, therefore, every man is of necessity subjected by this declaration to the Roman pontiff, the aforesaid proposition will follow as true, and, on the other hand, the proposition that the Roman church is the church, whose head is the pope and whose body the cardinals, and these together constitute that church. But that church is not the holy catholic and apostolic church. Therefore, what seemed a matter of doubt is false. The first proposition is made out by the statements of certain doctors—among the statements being that the pope is the head of the Roman church and the body is the college of cardinals. The second is manifest from the fact that the pope with the cardinals is not the totality of all the elect.

For the understanding of this subject the notable passage of the Gospel must be meditated upon, namely, Matt. 16:16-19: “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In this passage are designated Christ’s church, its faith, the foundation, and the authority. In these words Christ’s church is designated, “I will build my church”; in these Peter’s faith, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”; in these the foundation, “on this rock I will build”; and in these the authority, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” These four are to be touched upon briefly, namely, the church, faith, the foundation, the church’s power.

As for the first point, in view of the things set forth above the proposition is to be laid down that, if we put aside the church, nominally so called and as she is generally esteemed to be, then the church is said to be threefold. In one sense it is the congregation or company of the faithful in respect to what is for a time or in respect to present righteousness alone, and in this sense the reprobate are of the church for the time in which they are in grace. But this church is not Christ’s mystical body nor the holy catholic church nor any part of it. In the second sense the church is taken to be the admixture of the predestinate and the reprobate while they are in grace in respect to present righteousness. And this church is in part but not in whole identical with God’s holy church. And this church is called mixed in character—grain and chaff, wheat and tares—the kingdom of heaven like unto a net cast into the sea and gathering fish of every kind and the kingdom of heaven like unto ten virgins, of whom five were foolish and five wise, as was said above. This church, Tychonius falsely called the bipartite body of the Lord, as appears in de doct. Christi, 3:32 [Nic. Fathers, 2:569]. For the reprobate are not the body of the Lord or any part of it.

In the third sense the church is taken for the company of the predestinate, whether they are in grace in respect to present righteousness or not. In this sense the church is an article of faith, about which the apostle was speaking when he said, Eph. 5:26: “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, cleansing it by the washing of water in the word of life, that he might present it to himself a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it might be holy and without spot.”

This church the Saviour calls his church in the Gospel quoted, when he said: “On this rock I will build my church.” And that he means this church is plain from the words which follow: “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” For seeing that Christ is the rock of that church and also the foundation on whom she is builded in respect to predestination, she cannot finally be overthrown by the gates of hell, that is, by the power and the assaults of tyrants who persecute her or the assaults of wicked spirits. For mightier is Christ the king of heaven, the bridegroom of the church, than the prince of this world. Therefore, in order to show his power and foreknowledge and the predestination wherewith he builds, protects, foreknows, and predestinates his church, and to give persevering hope to his church, he added: “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Here Lyra says: “From this it appears that the church is not composed of men by virtue of any power of ecclesiastical and secular dignity, because there are many princes and high priests and others of lower degree who have been found apostates from the faith.” This comment has its proof, in part, in the case of Judas Iscariot, both apostle and bishop, who was present when Christ said: “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But he himself was not built upon the rock in respect of predestination and therefore the gates of hell prevailed against him.

From the aforesaid words of Christ it is evident that the church is taken to mean all, in a special sense, who after his resurrection were to be built upon him and in him by faith and perfecting grace. For Christ commended Peter, who bore [represented] the person of the universal church and confessed his faith in the words: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Christ said to him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah.” This commendation befits Peter and the whole church, which from the beginning was blessed in the way, by confessing humbly, obediently, heartily, and constantly that Christ is the Son of the living God. This faith in regard to that most hidden article, the flesh—that is, the wisdom of the world—does not reveal; nor does blood reveal it, that is, pure philosophical science—but alone God, the Father. And because the confession was so clear and positive, the Rock—Petra—said to Peter—the rock: “And I say unto thee that thou art Peter,” that is, the confessor of the true Rock—Petra—who is Christ, and “on this Rock,” which thou hast confessed—that is, upon me—“I will build” by strong faith and perfecting grace “my church”—that is, the company of the predestinate who, the probation being over, are appointed to glory. Wherefore, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Up to this point it has been deduced from the Saviour’s words that there is (1) one church—namely, from the very word “church”; (2) that it is Christ’s church—from the word “my”; (3) that it is holy—from the words, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The conclusion, therefore, is that there is one holy church of Christ, which in Greek is katholike and in Latin universalis. She is also called apostolic, apostolike, because she was established by the words and deeds of the apostles and founded upon the Rock, Christ, as Jerome says in the Prologue to his Commentary on the Apocalypse.

Hence I lay it down that it is to be called the holy Roman church, for the Decretum, Dist. 21 [Friedberg, 1:70], says that “although there is only one bridal couch of the universal catholic church of Christ throughout the world, nevertheless the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church is by the decisions of no synods set above the other churches.” This it proves by the passage already cited, Matt. 16—namely: “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.” And a little later it calls this church “the Roman church, the primal seat of the apostle, which has neither spot nor wrinkle.” This church, however, cannot be understood to mean the pope with his cardinals and his household, for they alike come and go. Therefore, the Gloss on this text has this to say: “The argument is, that wherever the good are, there is the Roman church.” And so the Decretum, 24:1 [Friedberg 1:970]: a recta is to be understood. Where the canon on the Roman church speaks in this way: “This is the holy and apostolic mother church of all the churches of Christ, which by God’s omnipotent grace is proved never to have erred from the path of apostolic tradition, nor has ever been corrupted by or succumbed to heretical novelties.” This, it must here be noted, cannot be understood of any pope or the members of his household, on which point the Gloss also says: “I ask, therefore, of which church do you understand that it cannot err?” But it is certain that the pope can err. See Decretum, Anastasius, 19, and Si papa, 40 [Friedberg, 1:64, 146]. Therefore, neither the pope himself nor his family is that church of which it is here said, she cannot err. Hence the Gloss says: “The company of the faithful itself is called this church.” So also is to be understood St. Jerome’s statement, Dist. 25:1,Hæc est fides [Friedberg 1:970]: “The Roman church is holy, which always has remained thoroughly unspotted, will in the future by the Lord’s providence and the blessed Apostle Peter’s care remain without any dent from heretics and abide unmoved and unmovable for all time.” Here no pope with his college of cardinals can be understood. For often these are as soiled with wicked, deceitful depravity and sin, as at the time of pope Joanna, the Englishwoman, who was called Agnes. How, therefore, did that Roman church—that Agnes, pope Joanna with college—remain always unspotted, seeing she bore? And the same is true of other popes who were heretics and deposed on account of their manifold enormities.

Since, therefore, according to the Decretals, the Roman church has the primacy and the dignity, so far as God is concerned, over all other churches, it is evident that she is the whole militant church, which God loves more than any of its parts. And so it is evidently of faith that not that college [of the cardinals] but the whole mother dispersed among all peoples and tongues is that holy Roman church of which the laws [the canon law] accord in speaking with the holy doctors. Hence, in order to impress upon us this judgment by St. Augustine and St. Ambrose, the hymn is ordained for the church, “The holy church throughout the world doth acknowledge thee.” And in the canon of the mass, first and chiefly, we offer prayer for the holy catholic church, that God would condescend to give her peace, to keep her, and to grant her unity in all the world. Hence prayer is undoubtedly offered for the principal—principalissima—militant church, which, I lay down, is the Roman church. And truly among its parts, when we compare in the matter of greatness, the pope and his college are in dignity its chief part, so long as they follow Christ closely and, putting away the pomp and ambition of the primacy, serve their mother diligently and humbly. For in doing the opposite they are turned into the desolation of abomination—into a college at direct variance with the humble college of the apostles and our Lord Jesus Christ.

But it is to be noted that the Roman church was properly called a company of Christ’s faithful, living under the obedience of the Roman bishop, just as the Antiochian church was called the company of Christ’s faithful, under the bishop of Antioch. The same also was true of the faithful in Alexandria and Constantinople. And in this way Peter, Christ’s apostle and Roman bishop, speaks of the church when, addressing the faithful in Christ in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, he says: “The church which is gathered together1in Babylon saluteth you,” I Peter 5:13. Is not the church here taken to mean the faithful of Christ who were at Rome with St. Peter? After the same manner also, the apostle designated particular churches when he wrote from Corinth to the Romans, “all the churches of Christ salute you,” and a little further on: “I, Tertius, salute you, who wrote the epistle in the Lord. Gaius my host and the whole church saluteth you.” Romans 16:16, 23. Here the whole church is taken for all Christ’s faithful, who with Paul were waging warfare in Corinth. Likewise we have the words: “To the church of God which is in Corinth, sanctified in Christ Jesus,” I Cor. 1:2, and “Paul and Sylvanus and Timotheus to the church of the Thessalonians,” I Thess. 1:2. We have the same often in other places, so that those are properly called particular churches which separately are parts of the universal church, which is the church of Jesus Christ.

But the Christian church had its beginning in Judea and was first called the church of Jerusalem, as it is said: “In that day there arose a great persecution in the church which was in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles,” Acts 8:1. The second church was the Antiochian, in which Peter, the apostle, resided, and there, for the first time, the name Christian was employed. Hence, the faithful were first called disciples and brethren, and later Christians, for we read: “The apostles and brethren which were in Judea,” and at the close of the chapter it is stated how Barnabas led Paul to Antioch and they were together for a whole year in the church and taught great multitudes, so that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch,” Acts 11:1, 26.

In the second sense, the Roman church is taken to mean any pope together with any cardinals, wherever they may happen to reside, whether their lives are good or evil. And in the third sense, it is taken for the pope. These two last senses are wrested by scholars. For there is no good reason for calling the Roman church our mother either (1) on account of its pride or (2) on account of the emperor’s element goodness in endowing the church or on account of the pope’s haughtiness and self-assertion because of imperial rule drawn from the pope’s primacy or dominion, (3) or, again, is this a good reason that men should believe that it is incumbent upon every Christian to have recourse to the pope and that it is of necessity for salvation to recognize him as the head and as the most holy father, but for other reasons than this. For since the term Roman church was established aside from any foundation in sacred Scripture, it is enough to give a probable reason. For the holy church of Christ flourished first in Jerusalem during the days of the apostles, who companied with Christ, and afterwards in Antioch at the time of Peter’s incumbence as bishop—cathedrationis—and afterwards in Rome at the time of the preaching and martyrdom of Peter and Paul. And so is to be understood the Saviour’s saying, Matt. 12:28, “Finally is the kingdom of God come unto you,” and also Luke 17:21, 37, “The kingdom of God is within you . . . for where the body is, thither will the eagles also be gathered together.” For, although the Christian church began in Judea and Christ suffered martyrdom in Jerusalem, nevertheless with reason Christ’s church is called the Roman church in view of a certain pre-eminence and for three causes: (1) Christ knew that the peoples under the Roman empire would be brought in in the place of the unbelieving Jews, as the apostle says, Romans 11:2, 12. (2) A larger multitude of martyrs triumphed there than in any other city, for so, where a man is born from the womb and triumphs gloriously, from that place he takes his name. Inasmuch, therefore, as holy church, so far as many of its parts go, was born in Rome, having been gathered out of the womb of the synagogue, and there triumphed, growing among the nations, so it was thought proper that she should take her name from the metropolitan city which is Rome. Hence Dist. 22 [Friedberg, 1:74] runs: “She is called most holy, because Peter and Paul on the same day and at one and the same time consecrated the whole Roman church and exalted her above all other cities in the whole world by their presence and by their glorious triumph.” (3) Not the locality or the antiquity, but the formulated faith establishes the church of Christ, for, both as regards personalities and time, Christ’s church had existed before in its earlier seats. And in this sense it is said: “The Lord did not choose people on account of the place, but the place on account of the people,” II Macc. 5:19. For this cause, I believe it is permitted to name Christ’s church from any locality which the righteous faithful inhabit, just as Christ was called the Nazarene on account of his conception which occurred in Nazareth, and as he may be called a Bethlehemite from the place of his nativity, and a Capernaumite from Capernaum where he worked miracles, and a Jerusalemite from his most glorious passion in Jerusalem.

In view of these things it is plain what ought to be said with regard to the doubtful statement made at the beginning of this chapter. For it should be granted that the Roman church is the holy mother, the catholic church, the bride of Christ. To the argument in favor of the opposite, by which it is argued that the Roman church is the church of which the pope is the head and the cardinals the body—this is said by way of concession and by defining the church in the second way, that is, as the pope—whoever he may be—in conjunction with the cardinals—whoever they may be and wheresoever they may live. But it is denied that this church is the holy, catholic and apostolic church. And so both parts of the argument are granted, but the conclusion is denied. But if this be said, namely, “I lay down that the pope is holy together with all the twelve cardinals living with him,” this being laid down and admitted as highly possible, it follows that the pope himself in conjunction with the cardinals is the holy, catholic and apostolic church. This conclusion is denied, but it follows well that a holy pope in conjunction with holy cardinals are a holy church which is a part of the holy, catholic and apostolic church. Therefore Christ’s faithful must hold firmly as a matter of faith to the first conclusion and not to the second; for the first is confirmed by Christ’s words: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” But the second is a matter of doubt to me and to every other pilgrim, unless a divine revelation makes it plain. Hence neither is the pope the head nor are the cardinals the whole body of the holy, universal, catholic church. For Christ alone is the head of that church, and his predestinate are the body and each one is a member, because his bride is one person with Jesus Christ.

Historical trajectory of the Apostles’ Creed

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The Apostles’ Creed, according to legend, was composed by the Apostles on the tenth day after the Ascension under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The legend no doubt added prestige to the creed, but it was effectively exposed as legendary by Lorenzo Valla (c. 1407-1457) and subsequent scholars. The creed does, however, have a legitimate claim to its title on the basis of the fact that all of its articles are to be found in the theological formulas that were current circa A.D. 100.

The ancestry of the Apostles’ Creed can be traced to a creed that developed at Rome around the end of the 2nd century (known as the Roman Symbol). The origin of this creed is not clear, but its early form is likely preserved in the Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition (c. 215), the creed submitted by Marcellus to Julius I (340), and the Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed by Rufinus of Aquileia (c. 404), which was based on the baptismal creed of his own church, Aquileia, but in which he is careful to point out divergences from the Roman Creed.

The Roman Symbol (late 2nd century, as given by Rufinus of Aquileia)

I believe in God the Father almighty;

and in Christ Jesus His only Son, our Lord,

Who was born from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

Who under Pontius Pilate was crucified and buried,

on the third day rose again from the dead,

ascended to heaven,

sits at the right hand of the Father,

whence He will come to judge the living and the dead;

and in the Holy Spirit,

the holy Church,

the remission of sins,

the resurrection of the flesh

(the life everlasting).

Note: The last clause is to be found in the Greek but not in the Latin

Interrogatory Creed of Hippolytus (c. 215)

Do you believe in God the Father All Governing [pantokratora]? Do you believe in Christ Jesus, the Son of God, Who was begotten by the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary, Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died (and was buried) and rose the third day living from the dead, and ascended into the heavens, and sat down at the right hand of the Father, and will come to judge the living and the dead? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Church, and (in the resurrection of the body [sarkos])?

 

Creed of Marcellus (340)

I believe in God, All Governing [pantokratora];

And in Christ Jesus His only begotten Son, our Lord,

Who was begotten of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried,

Who rose from the dead on the third day,

ascending to the heavens

and taking His seat at the Father’s right hand,

whence He shall come to judge both the living and the dead;

And I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy Church,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body [sarkos],

life everlasting.

 

Creed of Rufinus (c. 404)

I believe in God the Father almighty, invisible and impassable;

And in Christ Jesus, His only Son, our Lord,

who was born by the Holy Spirit from Mary the Virgin,

crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried.

He descended to hell.

On the third day He rose again from the dead,

He ascended to heaven, where He sits at the Father’s right hand

and from whence He will come to judge both living and dead;

And I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy Church,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the dead [carnis].

In the three centuries following the emergence of the old Roman Symbol numerous creeds developed in the area that was under Roman influence. While these creeds bear the marks of local influence, they have so strong a resemblance to the Roman Symbol that they can be considered daughter creeds.

The date and place of the origin of the present form of the Apostles’ Creed cannot be fixed with precision. There is considerable evidence for a date late in the 6th or 7th century somewhere in southwest France. The earliest appearance of the Textus Receptus (Received Text) of the Apostles’ Creed is found in De singulis libris canonicis scarapsus of Priminius, which dates somewhere between 710-724. This creed, which owed much to Rome, was finally adopted by Rome and became the common creed of Western Christendom, and is still confessed in traditional Christian churches all over the world today. Below is the Latin text with the English translation below it:

Textus Receptus of Apostles’ Creed

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae,

et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominum nostrum,

qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine,

passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus,

descendit ad inferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis,

ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Patris omnipotentis,

inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.

Credo in Spiritum Sanctum,

sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem,

remissionem peccatorum,

carnis resurrectionem,

vitam aeternam.

Amen.

I believe in God,

the Father almighty,

Creator of heaven and earth,

and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,

born of the Virgin Mary,

suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died and was buried;

he descended into hell;

on the third day he rose again from the dead;

he ascended into heaven,

and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;

from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and life everlasting. Amen.