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Christian Theology from the Fathers To the 13th Century

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The Church, after Christ death, is building along the Mediterranean shores in relation with the power of the time, which is Rome. As it evangelizes, it organises itself, persecuted and then officialized, that time, which lasts until the end of the Roman empire and about the 7th century A.D., is that of the Patristic which is the works of the 'Fathers,' those first rulers of the Church, like the bishops, intellectuals, etc. As they are readers of the Gospels and the authors of a speech about God, the Fathers, for miscellaneous reasons, are explaining the Scriptures. Here is to be found the basics of theology the synthesis of which under a completed form eventually occurred in the 13th century, under St. Thomas Aquinas. The Roman Catholic faith thus is based upon the Revelation and the explanation of it through theology. Such a dual approach, for example, is not taken back in the Churches of the Reform

The Patristic Until in The 3rd Century A.D.

Early Christians are badly distinguished, in that beginning Roman Empire from Jews, whence they are issued. It is a time when the fundamental texts of the Chuch, like the Gospels or the Epistles are written down, the Apocryphs included -texts which eventually will not be retained in the official doctrine (proponents of the Apocryphs stress that the 4 Gospels become official would have turned such only for cause they were those the most read, or the simplier compared to some 30 other ones). About 90 A.D. however, Christians of Palestine definitively have broken from the Jews as either they are joining to Jewish cults or to the Christian communities of Asia Minor. A Jewish frame of thought however is keeping, with the notions of apocalyptic knowledge (or 'gnose') of cosmos (apocalypse, angels, demons, etc.), millenarism, the synagogue, ascetism or didactism, etc. Christians then are incorporating into the gnose the elemets of the Revelation with new catechetical handbooks, scholars, writing about martyrs (copies of the trials proceedings, tales or legends), odes, liturgy, discipline (with the presbyters, a collegial direction and deacons). The Jewish influence also mirrors the state of Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple, like the Pharisees in Palestine, the Zealots in Asia Minor, or the Essenes in Rome or Syria. By the turn of the 2nd century, Roman Catholicism is now reaching to the Roman world, generally, among the flow of other oriental religions which are coming to supplement a declining traditional Roman one. Antioche, which had been instrumental like a city for the Romans to conquer the East is the first city conquered by Christians as the 7 cities quoted in the Apocalypse of John, are following in Anatolia and then Asia Minor and, eventually Rome, whence the West and North Africa. Such primitive Churches are confronting to factions, proponents of Judaism, and sporadic persecutions. Clemens, pope maybe about 95 A.D., Ignatius, a bishop, Polycarpus of Smyrne (70-156), a disciple of John are known through their pastoral correspondance, as they are termed the 'Apostolic Fathers' as they met in person, or indirectly, the Apostles selves. Of a Greek cultural background, with Greek their language -or the 'koinè,' a middle between attical and popular Greek- their techniques, their reference or even their morals, and of a Paulinian inspiration, such writers are seen beginning to have the Church to get distant from Judaism. As they are telling what their life is, they are calling for unity, salvation and they consider imminent the second Coming of the Lord. The Church then is building up, getting organized as the first persecutions and martyrdom are welcomed like a imitation of Christ. Roman Catholicism, during the 2nd century, as the Roman Empire is definitively establishing itself, is swiftly growing along the whole Mediterranean and in Rome self, as rulers and the people alike are beginning to perceive it like a religion of itself as they are keeping too to consider Christians like a Jewish cult. Christians, on the other hand, are refusing to celebrate the imperial religion. Jews of the Second Diaspora, as far as they are concerned, do not like them neither who, finally, are issued from their religion and they are the most vigorous in terms of calomny -which too is the feat of the Roman people- like the accusations of incest and ritual murder, or in terms of denonciations. It is in those conditions that one sses the first attacks coming from the Roman intellectuals, the elites belonging to the stoician philosophy, or a materialism, like Fronton of Cirta, preceptor of Marcus Aurelius, Lucianus of Samosate, a satyrical writer or Celsius, a Platonician. They do not understand the isolation of Christians, their supposed hatred of the human species or how they are despising death. As Christianity won educated elites, with their Greek culture, those are to defend Roman Catholicism, and make a apology of it towards other hellenized Romans or Jews. Such Fathers are showing that the Church is not a danger for the Roman state, as they are castigating the corrumpted mores of pagans or attacking Greek philosophies like it is wanting due to that they do not accede to the ultimate Logos. The nature of such writings makes that the 'Apologists' only are studying fundamental questions, and not the whole of Revelation. Fathers of that time are Aristides of Athens, a philosopher and author of a Apology written to Emperor Hadrian; Ariston of Pela; a text known like the Epistle to Diognetes (who maybe is Claudios Diognetos, a Roman administrator and procurator of Egypt). Justin, above all, a philosopher and martyr with his apology sent to emperor Antoninus. And Tatien, maybe the disciple of the latter but he founded a cult, the one of 'encratists' or 'abstinents'. With too Athenagoras of Athens, Melito of Sardes, Minucius Felix or bishop Theophilus of Antioch. Most important theological points are now emerging, like Christianism is a mystery, God is every human being, the Old Testament has passed as it was heralding Christ and now pagan people are taking the lot of Israel; Christians are the soul of the world (as Greeks were thinking that the world has been created at the image of man, a body and a soul), or Greek philosophers only have a 'natural' knowledge and some truths only. Irenus, as far as he is concerned, from Lyons, France and a evangelized of the Gauls, up to Germany, is fighting the first major Christian heresies, which worked upon the 'gnose.' He might have died martyr by 202 A.D. from a persecution under Septimus Severus. The hierarchical structures of Churches, at the time, have changed as bishop emerged upon presbyters, with a position of authority, and a hierachy set between bishops, priests and deacons. Christian gnostic heretics are finding their origin in the hellenistic culture of the time of Alexander the Great. Thence, a mix appeared between Greek philosophers, oriental religions and Judaism, or 'gnosticism,' which is a syncretism separating God from the world, the soul from body, Good from Evil as it is waiting for redemption and immortality, to which some Jewish apocalyptics are added along with some 'feminism.' Gnostics are practising secret, initiation and the search of certainty of salvation. Gnosticism is still extant at the time of the early Church and the basis for first heresies. Gnostics are still using at that time their own apocryph texts. Irenus, working from Justin, against them, is simply going to show the unity of both the Old and New Testament and a panoptical view of Salvation, with the Original Sin, the progressive pedagogy of God trought the Jews, the definitive Revelation by Christ and the Church opened to all, the rule of faith and the Resurrection of the Flesh (which, finally, is a acceptation of the material world). The Apologist Fathers, as they are working from a elitist, hellenistic culture, they are using rhetorics and philosophy, thus they are also at the origin of post-classical Greek culture. Irenus, like a Father, eventually influenced the Council of Vatican II. Then comes a time when the Roman Catholicism has pervaded all social ways of life and that it is following the fate of the Roman Empire during the 3rd century A.D., a time of crisis and heralding the final fall of Rome. Threats at the borders of the empire are destabilizing the Roman power as numerous emperors which are elected and evicted by the Roman legions are rapidly succeding themselves. Through those events, either the persecutions against Christians are turning horrific, as officialized by such or such ruler, as, meanwhile, they are too spaced through relatively long periods of truce and coexistence, which in turn are progressively officialized themselves, allowing to Church to get out of clandestine and pratice openly. Such a evolution however is brining first periods of moral decline and even schisms too. The 3rd century A.D. too is the century of the Neoplatonicism, a religious and philosophical system, with Plotin, a Greek of Egypt and then Rome. Neoplatonicism first passed through a mix of Platonicism and Stoicism as it is advancing a new hierarchical vision of the world of the platonicist type and with a pantheism by Zeno. That hierarchy is that of the 'Being in Itself,' 'Intelligence' -which is figure of it- and the 'Soul' derivated from, a soul of the world, as the system is the one, thus, of a God in three terms, and going from the abstact to the concrete. Man thus had to free himself from matter so he can aim perfection through a return to the 'Being in Itself' through ascese. At the time Sabellianist or Adoptianist heresies are concerning the question of Trinity. In terms of Patrictic strictly, the 3rd century is the one when Africa, from the Maghreb to Egypt, is home to where Christianity developed the most and where Fathers are transitioning from a defence to a presentation of the Faith, and to theology. It is a time too when they are passing from Greek to Latin, with Latin added with a vocabulary and concepts enabling to use those of Patristic

With the bases which had been purified and deepened by Apologists, they are now fighting against religious syncretism, the errors of exegetics, or atheism. Tertullian and Cyprian, in Carthage -as they are writing in Latin- and Clemens and Origenus in Alexandria -as they keep writing in Greek, the Fathers of the time, look like however there is some proximity of them with heresy as Patristic is coming to slow. Tertullian, a barrister originating in Carthage, converted to Christianity about 193 A.D. as he stressed the Trinitarian concept or that Virgin Mary is the Second Eve, eventually turns a Montanist heretic. St. Cyprian, a rhetor in Carthage, converted by 230, a martyr is affected into the crises of 250 when persecution brings numerous Christian to lapse. He considers himself a disciple of Tertullian as he defends the Church's unity. Clemens, a Greek in Athens (150-c. 214), converted through Pantene into the Didascaleus of Alexandria, a catechumenical school, is too a teacher who builds upon Greek philosophy and creates a philosophical gnosis at the service of Christianity and who turns Alexandria into a center of influence, the Didascaleus becoming a official Christian school fighting gnosticists through the 'allegorical exegese,' a form which originates from Jewish rabbis and is found back by Philo, a hellenizing rabbi showing how soul is leading to God through the mystical itinerary of the Torah. The School of Alexandria somehow subjected the Jewish thought to the Greek Logos (as the School of Antioch -without considering influences it received from the East- did, as far as it was concerned, imposed the Logos to Jews and Judaizers). Alexandria was a cosmopolitan city with a strong Jewish diaspora as it endured a strong development of gnosticism by the 2nd century A.D. Origene (185-254), at last, the disciple of Clemens, is one of a first endeavour to establish a critical text for the Old Testament. He without doubt is one of the fundamentals Fatthers, at once a exegete, a theologian and a mystic who support a understanding of Scriptures against their letter, the knowledge too, and the 'lectio,' with the ascese, contemplation and mystics and a interiorization leading to God. Origene is one of the Fathers to who Bernard of Clairvaux is claiming. Origene however was to let room to the ascent of aristotelism as he was brought back to light by Erasmus by the Renaissance. Origene also had been trained by Saccas, a Neoplatonician. The School of Alexandria, generally, is related to mysticism and a preference for Platonicism. Another Father of that time, Hippolytus, has written about liturgy

Church Turning Official, Arianism

As the 4th century A.D. begins, Christianity is simply officially authorized in the Roman Empire! Constantine the Great, Roman emperor from 306 to 337, who put a end to the troubles of the 3rd century, is officially recognizing the Church, by the Edict of Milano, in 313, to the freedom of religion. As a last persecution had occurred under Diocletian, in 303-304, which had been the last attempt of paganism to annihilate the Church, it is now on its way to become the only authorized religion in the Roman empire by the end of the century. Church now is favoured by powerfuls as the emperor and his successors are Christians themselves and Church is presented with buildings and domains, as it may openly exists and keep developing -among others via the evangelization of the countryside which had remained pagan until then. The 4th century A.D. however is also the one of the great Arian heresy, a Trinitarian on which was to be fed through a educated, Greek-Roman Christian people which now was shielded from persecution and could adhere to such or such faction. Arius, a priest in Alexandria, a hellenizing and rationalist, wanted to privilege the Father among the Trinity. Thus he was distinguishing and lowering Christ. As he came to be condemned by the Church of Alexandria and the Pope, that affair turned political as Constantine the Great had a council meeting, the first major, ecumencial one of the Church, the Council of Nicaea, which gave a definition of the Christian Creed. That Christian emperor however, by his death in 337 -as Arius had died by 336- eventually asked for the Arian baptism as that crisis, under his successors, is bringing both a division between East and West in the Roman Empire back and the first expansion of that upon the Church with the Eastern emperors Arian and the pope anti-Arian and supporting of Athanasius, the great bishop of Alexandria, a moderate Origenist. As emperor Julian the Apostate (361-363) took advantage of disorders to pretend to restore paganism, Capadoccian writeres -Basilus of Caesarea, Gregory of Naziantius, Gregory of Nyssius, or Melecius of Antioch, all moderate Origenists- are augmenting their new party and eventually merging into the Nicaeans during the council of Antioch by 379 A.D. A first division thus had appeared between some Eastern patriarcates, with Constantinople their head, and the West, with the Pope in Rome. That tendency kept increasing as the patriarcates both in the East and West are under the control of the emperors. The Arian crisis also made that Athanasius, who took refuge in Rome with Egyptian monks, gave birth to the Western monachism. Hilarius, the bishop of Poitiers, France, in 353, became at the occasion the first Western Father, having St. Martin coming to him and founding a monastery in Ligugé, the first in Gauls, was a supporter of Athanasius

East and West

Since about 351 A.D. the unity in the Roman Empire being temporarily restored, and the faith of Nicaea reasserted though the 2nd Council of Constantinople, that time now became that one of the relation between the temporal power and the Church, bringing either to cesaropapism, that will of the temporal rulers to interfere with spiritual matters, or to servility by some emperors. That now is the Golden Age of Patristic unto the background of the definitive partition between a Eastern, and a Western Roman Empire and the beginning of the parting between a Eastern, and Western Church. The unity of language already was broken as the letters coming from the East are waiting long before being translated. St. Augustine, for example, is no more mastering Greek works as Hilarius or Ambrosius still were. At the converse, the East practically ignored Augustine. A other sign of the ditch is that the importance of the translators of Greek into Latin, like Ieronimus (who revised a Latin translation of Scriptures and the Roman psalter) and Rufinus. Both monks are then hasting to allow that the heritage of the Greek Fathers be perpetuated for the Middle Age monasteries. In the East then it is about monasticism, hellenism, mystics, Origenian influence and incorporation of Neoplatonicism into the Church! Capadoccian Fathers, who all belonged the School of Alexandria, are keeping fighting against Arianism, who worsened through conflicts between bishops and patriarchs, as they support monasticism. Basilus the Great is considered the father of eastern monasticism and the reformator of liturgy. Gregory of Naziantius, a predicator and a poet, is mastering Greek rhetorics. Gregory of Nyssius is a theologian and a mystic. Platon, Plotinus or Philo are only used now to philosophically express the Christian doctrine. By the extreme end of the period, St. John Chrysostomus is revealing the School of Antioch, a meeting point for the Asiatic culture and the Roman world as it appeared by 370 A.D. against the excesses of the allegorical interpretation in the School of Alexandria. Antioch scholars came back to the proper, or figured litteral sense of Scriptures as the Antiochians moreover are the remote ancestors to the historical method applied to Holy Scriptures, and users of Aristotle, and moralists. Excesses, in turn, into the letter, brought to other heresies like Pelagianism and tendencies to question Trinity. A bishop of Constantinople by 398 A.D. and rattached to his débuts like a ermit, John Chrysostomus, better predicator than a theologien and a admirer of St. Paul, was involved into the palatial fights as the flow of Origenian and spiritualist monks who had fled Egypt -of them Cassian- due to the persecution of bishop Theophilus of Alexandria, brought him to further criticize the court's luxury. Exiled, he died in 407. In the West, on the other hand, Ambrosius, a high ranking civil servant and then bishop of Milano by 374 A.D. is harmonizing the Alexandrian mystics with the Church as he becomes too a proponent of the idea that the Roman empire is to be the defensor of Faith. He originated the famed episode during which Emperor Theodosus had to made a public penance following the massacer in Thessalonika, Greece. Ambrosius is more a Roman than a Greek. With the Germanic peoples now, the epoch is now entering the Middle Ages. St. Augustine is the first Father there, a fundamental one in Patristic and who was the main, if not unique, inspirator of the Western Christian thought during centuries. He never was acquainted with Greek language and as he was inclined to dissociate reason and faith due to he had first been trained in the pagan schools, he had leant to Manicheism, who were gnostics from a Persian and Babylonian origin. He had read Plotin and he converted to Christianity steps by steps. He fought Donatists, a North African heresy which had originated from the lapsi question during the late 3rd century persecutions and Pelagianists, a late 4th century heresy from England which stresses human will. Augustine, at the opposite, showed the independency of the Divine grace and that Pelagius was a pretentious naturalist who asserted the autonomy of man related to God. The sack of Rome in 410, which was a trauma for old Romans, brought Augustine to write 'The City of God', a refutation of paganism and that fundamental intuition of both the Heavenly and Terrestrial cities like the basis of the world history. St. Augustine was a Neoplatonician as he considered that doctrine like the closest one to Christianity and actually reconciliating Platonicism and Aristotelism. Like a testimony of how distant the East was at the time, he did not get involved into the complexified debates of Eastern Fathers concerning Arianism. Pierre the Lombard's Libri Sententiarum, and the base for the medieval theology, are made at 90 percent of Augustinian propositions. Augustinism, as complemented with Aristotelism, ended cohabitating into the Thomas or the Bonaventure synthesis. The time too alread is the one of pope Leo I, a pastor and a liturgist or Cassian and Vincent in Lerins, southern France. 4th century, at last, on another domain, was too a capital period as far as liturgy is concerned with churches built, a complete liturgical year (as it was before focusing upon the 50 days of Easter), or the beginning of sacramental theology

The Byzantine Empire and The Western Kingdoms

The Roman Empire eventually came to its fall by the middle of the 5th century as the Byzantine empire appeared East and that western territories were passing to German tribes, who were Arians and brought back, in their majority to Roman Catholicism by Frankish king Clovis in the late 5th century, that epoch is the one when a old world is desorganizing. Rome, since, passed under the tutelage of Constantinople during 150 years, with the 'national' Church of the Byzantine emperors. Theological feuds there eventually marked the decline, then the end of Patristic. Cyrillus, a nephew of Theophilus who had confronted with the Origenist monks of Egypt is elected bishop of Alexandria by 412 A.D. A intolerant and rigorous adept of the Alexandrine mysticism and Nestorius, by 428, a proponent of the School of Antioch and the monks, a ascet, is elected bishop of Constantinople. Nestorius is badly understanding the complicated assertions of Cappadocians who, through the Arianist question, came, along with the people's devotion, to recognize Virgin Mary with the status of 'theotokos,' or 'God's Mother.' As he suspected that to be some form of Arianism under that too large rattachment of Christ to his human birth, Nestorius claimed that form and concept heretics. As Alexandria was supported by the Pope, that debate deepened the distance between both Schools of Alexandria -a mystical and Platonician one, which had remained quite close to Rome- and Antioch -the Aristotelicain and ascetic one, such a debate likely due too to the worldly struggle between both those major eastern cities. The feud furthered itself with Eutyches, a antinestorian, a few educated monk and influent at the Byzantine court, who had remained attached with the Cyrillian views and amplified those to the point that he had asserted that, once the divine and humane persons of Christ merged into each other, only one is still extant, the divine one. Thus the 'Monophysicism' occurred, as supported by Alexandria, to which pope Leo I, close to bishop Flavian of Constantinople. Monophysicism eventually was condemned at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which re-established orthodoxy, with two natures of Christ, one divine, one human into a sole person as the council too established Constantinople like the see of a patriarcate. That council had been the occasion of a bond formed between Rome and Constantinople against Alexandria and its prominence, averting the danger of an all-powerful Alexandrian patriarch. That, on the other hand, also made that all the eastern province of the Eastern Roman empire entered opposition to Constantinople. Albeit both Nestorianism and Monophysicism had been officially condemned, they gravely weakened and divided the Eastern patriarcates, thus the Byzantine empire as Alexandria self deemed that Chalcedon had betrayed the true thought of Cyrillus. Nestorians mainly established themselves in the patriarcate of Antioch, where Syriac was the language as the Sassanids, a Persian dynasty, hosts of Byzantium at the eastern borders took the occasion to welcome them and expell Byzantine Christians from their dominions. Monophysicism eventually became officially admitted with the Byzantine Church by Emperor Zeno, since 474 A.D., which led to a schism from Rome until in mid-6th century

In the West, the heirs to king Clovis engaged into endless struggles as, in Italy, new Barbaric invasions kept on, bringing the West to full decline and Ireland alone, by 550 A.D. remaining the main place of western Christianity. Papacy at the time had been weakened and is isolated, first becoming a kind of vice-roi of Italy for Byzantium as the eastern emperors however did not go to the point of proclaiming the patriarch of Constantinople the sole head of a united Church. Those desolated times however gave us Benedict of Nursia, who founded the western monasticism and pope Gregory the Great (590-604), the reign of who definitively marked the end of Antiquity. He retrieved papacy and took contact back with the western, national Churches. Gregory the Great is a Father, above all harmonized the Patristic as it had developed until then, and making a slight adaptation of St. Augustine to his time however as Gregory's 'Moralia in Job' became a reference handbook during the Middle Ages after the writings of Augustine. Gregory mostly based upon his personal experience as he displays a mystical tendency. He was conscious that his times were ones of Apocalypse. Byzantine emperor Justinian I, with his imperial reconquest of the Mediterranean, by the mid-6th century, had to fight a renaissance of the Alexandrine influence which was then condemned by the antiorigenist monks of Egypt and the 2nd Council of Constantinople thus condemned Origenism like a heresy. Justinian, on the other hand, closed the pagan schools of Athens, forcing Neo-platonicists to take refuge in the Sassanid empire. That too put a end to the School of Alexandria. As the 2nd Council of Constantinople however was reasserting the propositions of the Council of Chalcedon and took profit to condemn the Antiochians too, a new Alexandrine tendency took on in turn, or a 'Neochalcedonain' which eventually ended into Monothelism, a doctrine accentuating the unity of both nature of Christ into the divine person of Him. A new logics eventuelly surfaced during those times of decline, as Islam added to the East and the West, with the Arabs conquering all the middle-eastern territories of the Byzantines. All those lands, from Egypt to Antioch were Monophysicist lands, faithfull to the doctrine of Cyrillus. The Byzantine unsuccessfully tried to restore the religious unity of their empire through a series of middle-termed formulae as they just were able to push a new heresy forwards, the Monothelistic one, which became a sort of official doctrine of the Byzantine empire


Patristic, strictly, is ending in the West through Isidore of Seville (560-636) and St. Jean Damascène (675-750) in the East. Both will transmit it to the following times. Patristic thus is mostly a set of specialized treaties and never a general, systematic exposition was produced, although some theologians engaged in that way. St. John Damascene who moreover established from the Fathers the first systematic ensemble. He was the first of the scholastics. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite had performed such a work as soon as the 5th century already but he was above all known in the West and not in the East. The Father to have the most influence on the second period of theology (scholasticism) was Augustine as Venerable Bede is the link between patristic and the Middle Ages and such thinkers of the intercalaray period between the great age of the Patristic and the Carolingian era, like Claudianus Mamertus, Boethius, Cassiodorus, St. Isidore of Seville, or Venerable Bede are considered to have handed the Patristic to a this new generation of theologians of the Carolingian Revival. It is during the Carolingian era, under Charlemagne that the scholastic developped. During the carolingien era, the theologians, generally, are more inclined to preserve than to innovate. The earliest move to a new attitude may be traced back to the 9th century with discussions relative to the Last Supper at which Rabanus Mauraus took place. Albeit it was not before Anselme of Canterbury (d. 1109) or Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153) that the first real systematic scholastic endeavour was produced having theology move toward a scientific and rational base, the thinkers of the Carolingian era are considered to be the founders of Scholasticism, in its method, contents, and conclusions however. Anselme and Bernard, as far as they are concerned, in the 11th and the 12th centuries, just laid the foundations for the 13th century, the first building upon Augustine and being more a disciple of Plato than of Aristotle, the second being an ascetic-mystical using the weapons of the scientific theology againts the errances of the rationalists. It was Pierre the Lombard (d. 1164) who in its four Libri Sententiarum first did for theology what Gratian had done for the canon law. He explained and paraphrased most of the patristic era works. The Libri IV Sententiarum became the theology textbook down to the 16th century! The following period was the apogee of the scholastic theology. It was during the 13th century that appeared the great "Summae" as the scholastic movement was pushed forward by the new religious orders like the Dominicans or the Franciscans. St Albert the Great introduced a purified Aristotle into the Christian theology. The greatest masters of the scholastic theology were St Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. The first produced its "Summa Theologica", a systematic exposition of the faith, as the second was Franciscan and more mystico-platonist

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