The faith of Gallia Aquitanica and Narbonensis in the fourth century.


ST. Hilary, Bishop of Poictiers, a famous Confessor in the persecution which the Arians stirred up against the orthodox, can afford us much light concerning the state and faith of these dioceses: this great man was married, as he who published his works at Paris owns, after the famous Baptista Mantuanus, observing that the law for the celibacy of the Clergy was not yet introduced, and that before that time, as St. Jerome expresseth it, they rather made choice of married persons than unmarried, because the former were judged more proper for the functions of the holy ministry. But this is not the only article wherein he differed from Popery, as well as the Church of Aquitain.

1. He counts the canonical books as we do, and plainly holds them for apocryphal which we reject, as we find in the preface to his Commentary upon the Book of Psalms.

2. He lays it down for an error and piece of impiety to look upon the Scripture as imperfect, in Psalm 118. Lit. Vau.

3. He asserts that ignorance is not capable of excusing men, seeing the Scripture is proposed to us as the rule of our faith and manners: Non habet veniam ignoratio voluntatis; quia sub scientiae facultate nescire, repudiatae magis, quam non repertae scientiae est reatus: ob id enim longe a peccatoribus salus, quia non exquisierint justificationes Dei: nam utique non ob aliud consignatae literis maneut, quam ut ad universorum scientiam, notionemque defluerent.

“Ignorance of the Divine will gives no excuse; because to be ignorant when we may learn, makes us guilty of rejecting knowledge, rather than missing of it: for therefore is salvation far from sinners, because they search not after that which justifies before God, and which indeed is for no other reason preserved in writing, but that it might be derived to the knowledge and understanding of all.”

This is a style, and these are maxims, very different from those of the Church of Rome.

4. He affirms that we are to be ignorant of whatsoever the Scripture doth not teach us: and after having asserted, that it is the character of heretics to conceal the holy Scripture, fol. 204, he maintains that it is another mark of heresy to believe beyond what the Gospel teacheth us. Tu qui ultra Evangelium sapis, necesse est ut aliis alibi arcanorum doctrinis, cognitionem Paterni nominis adeptus sis.

“Thou who art wise beyond the Gospel, it must needs be that thou hast elsewhere, by other secret doctrines, attained the knowledge of God the Father,” fol. 132.

5. He asserts, that it was the will of God, that the Scripture should be plain and clear. Quanta enim potuit Dominus, verborum simplicitate evangelicam fidem locutus est, et in tantum ad intelligentiam nostram sermones aptavit, in quantum naturae nostrae ferret infirmitas, non tamen ut quicquam minus dignum naturae suae majestate loqueretur:

“The Lord hath expressed the faith of the Gospel in the greatest simplicity of words he could, and so far accommodated his speech to our understanding, as the weakness of our nature would bear, yet so as not to speak any thing unbecoming the majesty of his nature.”

6. He there also confirms the fullness of Scripture after a most authentic manner: lib. 8. de Trin. Non est humano aut seculi sensu in Dei rebus loquendum;

“In the things of God we are not to speak according to a human or worldly sense and meaning.”

And a little after; Quae scripta sunt legamus, et quae legerimus intelligamus, et tunc perfectae fidei officio fungemur:

“Let us read what is written, and understand what we read, so shall we discharge the duty of perfect faith.”

So likewise, lib. 5. p. 46. Non est de Deo humanis judiciis sentiendum, neque in nobis ea natura est, ut se in coelestem cognitionem suis viribus efferat; a Deo discendum est, quid ex Deo intelligendum sit; quia non nisi se authore cognoscitur:

“We must not think of God according to human judgment; for neither is our nature such, to be able to raise itself by its own strength to heavenly knowledge; we must learn of God whatsoever is to be understood of him, because he is not to be known any further than as he is the author of our knowledge.”

And a little after; Loquendum ergo non aliter de Deo est, quam ut ipse ad intelligentiam nostram de se locutus est:

“Wherefore we are no otherwise to speak of God, than as he, in compliance with our understanding, hath spoke to us concerning himself.”

7. He owns no other foundation of the Church besides the confession of the divinity of our Savior, made by St. Peter, instead of referring it to the person of St. Peter, or to the functions of his apostleship; lib. 2.

Unum igitur hoc est immobile fundamentum, una haec est foelix fidei petra, Petri ore confessa, Tu es Filius Dei vivi;

“This is the only immoveable foundation, this is the only happy rock of faith confessed by the mouth of Peter, Thou art the Son of the living God.”

And so likewise, lib. 6. p. 77. Super hanc igitur confessionis petram Ecclesiae aedificatio est:

“Wherefore upon the rock of this confession the Church is built.”

9. He overthrows all the exceptions of the Church of Rome in favor of the adoration of angels, by maintaining that the angel who appeared to Abraham was Jesus Christ; de Trin. lib. 4. et lib. de Synodis contra Arianos.

10. He was so little of the belief, that the faith of the people depends upon that of their Pastors, that he asserts and proves, in his book against the Arians or Auxentius, that the people may continue orthodox under heretical Pastors.

11. He overthrows all worshipping of creatures, which is practiced by the Church of Rome, by maintaining, that if any should worship Jesus Christ, believing him to be a creature, he would be accursed, lib. 12. de Trinit.

12. He dreamed so little of the infallibility of the Pope, which a great part of the Church of Rome owns as the greatest article, into which the faith of all Christians must be resolved, that he pronounces many anathemas against Liberius, because he had subscribed to an Arian confession of faith; as may be seen in the Fragments of St. Hilary, published by Pithaeus.

13. He lays it down for a maxim, that Jesus Christ alone was without sin, in his discourse upon Psalm 58 and 138.

14. He owns God only to have the power of forgiving sins, Can. 8. in Matth.; so far was he from attributing this power to Ministers, as the Church of Rome doth at this day.

15. He formally asserts that the good works of one man are of no avail to deliver another from punishment, which overthrows the great foundation of satisfactions and purgatory, after the manner that the Church of Rome makes use of them, Can. 27. in Matthew The wise virgins tell the foolish, that they cannot give to them of their oil; Quia non sit forte quod omnibus satis sit, alienis scilicet operibus et meritis neminem adjuvandum, quia unicuique lampadi suae emere oleum sit necesse:

“Lest perhaps there might not be enough for them all; to intimate that nobody can be helped by the works and merits of another, because it is necessary for every one to buy oil for his own lamp.”

16. He was so far from believing the merit of works, as the Church of Rome at present doth, that he discourseth thus upon Psalm 118. lit. Coph. In operibus quidem bonitatis totus perfectus est, sed satis esse hoc sibi non putat ad salutem, nisi secundum miserationem Dei et judicia, miserationem consequatur:

“He is indeed wholly perfect in all the works of goodness, but he doth not think this sufficient for his salvation, except according to the mercy of God and his judgments he obtain mercy.”

And it is the same notion he gives us, speaking of the parable of the laborers, upon Psalm 130. Mercedem non operis sed misericordiae undecimae horae operarii consequuntur.

17. We cannot deny but that St. Hilary believed a purgatory, but yet in that point he differed much from the Church of Rome; he owns a baptism of fire after this life, but such a baptism as was to be conferred at the last day, viz. the day of judgment, Matthew Can. 2. And that which must needs greatly scandalize the Papists is, that St. Hilary maintains that all believers, without excepting so much as the blessed Virgin, must endure the fire, which he expressly affirms on Psalm 118.

18. If we have a mind to know whether he allowed the notion of the Church of Rome, which believes that we can perfectly fulfill the Law of God, we may easily be resolved by his manner of treating the young man, who boasted himself before Jesus Christ, as if he had done it: he accuses him of insolence, in several places of his works, for pretending to be justified by his works. De Trinit. lib. 9. Can. 19. in Matthew et lib. de Patris et Filii unitate.

19. He overturns the common notion of the Church of Rome, which is, that when Jesus Christ entered in to his disciples, the doors being shut, he had not lost the solidity of his body, and consequently that there was a penetration of dimensions: St. Hilary rejects this notion as absurd, accounting this penetration of dimensions impossible, lib. 3. de Trinit.

20. He asserts that the Eucharist is celebrated in breaking of bread, and that the disciples of Jesus Christ did drink of the fruit of the vine at the Lord’s Supper, and mentions not so much as one word of transubstantiation, in a place where he particularly explains the institution of the Eucharist, Can. 30. in Matthew To speak the truth, how could he have any other thoughts, who maintains that Jesus Christ is no longer on the earth, in respect of his body, because it is impossible for a body to be in more places than one?

Adest enim et cum fideliter invocatur per naturam suam praesens est; spiritus enim est omnia penetrans et continens; non enim secundum nos corporalis est, ut cum alicubi adsit, absit aliunde, sed virtute praesenti, et se quacunque est porrigenti, cum replente omnia ejus spiritu in omnibus sit, tamen ei, qui in eum credat, adsistit:

“For he is present by his nature, when he is called upon with faith, he being a spirit penetrating and containing all things: for he is not like us, corporeal, so as that when he is in one place he should be absent from another, but he is in all places by the presence of his power, which extendeth itself where-ever he is, and his Spirit that filleth all things; yet he is in a more peculiar manner with him that believes in him.”

21. He was so far from approving the Romish inquisition, that he calls the Emperor Constantius Antichrist, for persecuting those that were not of his opinion, lib. in Constant. August. Yea, he judged all force to be so contrary to the spirit of the Christian religion, that he maintains that there can be no religion where force is made use of.

Lastly, He was so far from believing that the Antichrist, whereof St. John speaks, was already come, that he maintains that he would be revealed in the Churches that were then possessed by the Arians, and that the faith being thus attacked, the true believers would be forced to look out for shelter amongst the mountains in woods and caves, leaving the Antichrist master of the public places consecrated to the worship of God.

This is the sum of what may be gathered from the writings of St. Hilary. I make no mention of some errors of this great man, because Claudianus Mamertus, having confuted them about the end of the fifth century, has made it appear that they were only some particular opinions of this great Confessor; and that we cannot look upon them as the common faith of the diocese where he was settled. But the same cannot be said of the articles I have noted; Claudianus is so far from blaming them, that he approves them by his silence, and shews that his doctrine, in this respect, was the doctrine of the Church of Gaul.

We have nothing left us of the works of Rhodanius, Bishop of Toulouse, who was contemporary with St. Hilary: but it appears clear to us, that this holy Confessor having been sent into banishment with St. Hilary, after the Council of Beziers, by the cabal of Saturninus, Bishop of Arles, favourer of the Arians, we are to consider Rhodanius as a defender of the same faith, and an illustrious witness of the belief of his diocese: and we ought to make the same judgment of Phaebadius, Bishop of Agen, who was so much engaged in the same quarrel, and who acquired so great a name by the vigorous opposition he made against the errors of Arius: but Providence has preserved us one of his books.

In effect, this great man, who wrote in the year 357, as appears by his book against the Arians, gives us sufficiently to understand what his faith was in divers articles, and what was the doctrine of the diocese.

1. He maintains that the Catholic faith is found with those who speak according to the holy Scripture, and not amongst those who only make use of prejudices. After having quoted several places of Scripture, to prove against the Arians the eternity of the Son, he concludes in this manner, B. Patr. t. 4. p. 174. Volentes igitur a Patre Filium scindere, et infra Deum ponere, de Evangelio praescribunt:

“Those therefore who would rend the Father from the Son, and place him below God, give law to the Gospel.”

He expresseth himself yet more strongly to this purpose towards the end of his book, ib. p. 180. Hoc credimus, hoc tenemus, quia hoc accepimus a Prophetis; hoc nobis Evangelia locuta sunt, hoc Apostoli tradiderunt, hoc Martyres in passione confessi sunt; in hoc mentibus fidei etiam haeremus, contra quod si angelus de coelo annuntiaverit, anathema sit. — Ergo, ut supra diximus, praejudicatae opinionis authoritas nihil valebit, quia contra semetipsam ipsa consistit:

“This we believe, this we hold fast, because it is this we have received from the Prophets, this the Gospels have declared to us, this the Apostles have left us, this the Martyrs in their sufferings have confessed, and to this we adhere with our minds by faith, so that if an angel from heaven should preach contrary to this, let him be accursed. — Wherefore, as was said before, the authority of a prejudicate opinion can be of no force, because it stands against itself.”

2. He makes it appear that the name of Catholic was not sufficient to be a true Christian, when he represents that Arianism had so far seized the minds of all the world, that it was necessary to espouse the Arian heresy, to procure the name of being Catholics, ib. p. 169. Sed quia aut haeresis suscipienda est ut Catholici dicamur, aut vere Catholici non futuri; si haeresin non repudiamus, ad hanc tractatus conditionem necessitate descendimus:

“But because we are either to become heretics, that we may be called Catholics, or cease to be Catholics indeed; by becoming heretics we are necessitated to write this treatise.”

3. He asserts that the revelation of holy Scripture is so perfect, with respect to the divinity of our Saviour, that anathemas are to be pronounced against all those that advance any other doctrine. This appears from the great number of passages which he quotes from thence, p. 173 and 178, to which he joins the anathema, whereof I have already spoke before.

4. He observes expressly, that the same honors rendered to Jesus Christ in the Liturgy, as to God, do demonstrate his equality with God, p. 174. Quod si ita est, saith he, quotidie blasphemamus in gratiarum actionibus et oblationibus sacrificiorum, communia haec Patri et Filio confitentes, etc.

“If it be so, we blaspheme daily in our thanksgivings and offerings of sacrifice, in confessing these things common to Father and Son.”

Thus doth he implicitly overthrow the first principles of the Church of Rome, viz. the imperfection of the holy Scripture in matters of faith, the authority and necessity of traditions, which are the completing of it, and other such like doctrines. We should now proceed to examine what the state of these dioceses was in the following century, but that the Bishop of Meaux stops us, to reflect upon the history and doctrine of Vigilantius, whose name is too famous, and his memory too unworthily torn by that Bishop, not to afford him that defense which his zeal against superstition doth justly deserve.


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