GOLDEN AGE OF PATRISTIC LITERATURE 4th and 5th centuryI. Introduction The period from St. Athanasius to the death of St. Augustine is the golden age of patristicliterature. It produced the most talented and prolific writers due to the rise of Arianism and Pelagianismand the beginning of the Christological disputes. Arianism, condemned in 325, is defeated by St. Athanasius and St. Hilary. In the second part(360-430) we meet the Cappadocian Fathers, St. Basil, St. Gregory Nazianzenus and St. Gregory ofNyssa ; St. John Chrysostom (of Antioch school); in the West, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine - toname only the most outstanding writers. So far the Church had been struggling for her existence againstpersecution, and Church writers were concerned with the defence of the Church. The edict of toleration of January 313 gave peace to the Church and tolerated Christianity as areligio licita, (lawful religion). It was only a short step to the overthrow of paganism, and in 337Constantine was baptised and his sons assumed a hostile attitude to heathenism and in 383 Chris tianitybecame the State religion under Theodosius. An attempt by Julian the Apostate (361-363) to infuse lifeinto the old paganism failed. In 392 the worship of the gods was declared treason, and by 423 heathenismwas looked on in the East as defunct.Peace ushered in a new era in Christian literature : - The writers could now afford to concern themselves solely with domestic matters. - The conversion of the educated classes in the empire gave the Church eminent scholars and orators, and men of culture. Men were able to spend more time at study and undertake lengthy works. - The great heresies provided a powerful stimulus to literary activity. - Lastly the development of the monastic life with its solitude, silence and prayer gave great depth and solidity to the works of many of the Fathers.As a result of these influences the great authors of this period present Christian truths in classicalstyle ; they combine the findings of philosophy admirably with the faith ; they write on almosteverything with brilliance : exegesis, apologetics, controversy, dogmatic and moral theology,asceticism, poetry, etc.Advantages of the State preference for Christianity besides those enumerated were : - The clergy soon developed into an independent body in pursuit of their ministry. - The higher prelates received considerable political privileges - Ecclesiastical councils were more frequently held and with great solemnity. Drawbacks counterbalanced these somewhat : - Caesaropapism was a serious menace especially when the civil power supported Arianism : the clergy often became very subservient to the court and their obsequiousness delayed the defeat of Arianism for many years.
The breaking-up of the empire aggravated these evils. Diocletian divided (in 285) the empire intoeast and west. Constantine restored the monarchy in 323, after the defeat of Licinius, but this didnot arrest the tendency, nor did Theodosius’s establishment of unity have lasting results. The firststep led to an inevitable separation. The result was serious for the Church, because manymembers of the episcopate in the East (chiefly Arian) thought of Church in terms of State. Thesense of Christian unity was attenuated by this division.II. Development of Doctrine They centre round Christs Person. It is the development and determination of ecclesiasticaldoctrine that lend to this epoch its distinct character. To the East particularly falls the special task ofabstract crystallisation and speculative illustration of theological truths in their strict significance. Thetrue divinity and perfect humanity of Christ are established against Arianism, Macedonianism,Sabellianism and Apollinarism (Conc. Constantinople, 381). The relation of the human and the divine inthe God-Man is defined to mean that two natures are united in one person, but without confusion andwithout change.III. HeresiesConcerning Trinity or Christology.a) Arians. Arius, a priest of Alexandria, taught that the Logos was a creature created ex nihilo, from nothing,before the creation of the world, by nature distinct from the Father. He is the Son of God as all men aresons of God, by adoption. The second creature was the Holy Ghost. The Father alone is true God. There were extremists and moderates : pure Arians (hetero-ousios), Homeans (homoios = similar),and Semi-Arians (homoi-ousios). Emperors sponsored it freely. It lasted on into the ninth century. Nicaea (325) condemned this and taught the Son of God was of the same substance or nature as theFather (homo-ousios to Patri). St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. Gregory ofNyssa were the great Church representatives.b) Pneumatomachi. They denied the divinity of the Holy Ghost and so the Trinity. Their heresy comes from Arianism andthey are called Semi-Arians, Macedonians, Marathonians, (Tropicists).c) Sabellians They held the divine persons were only modes or modalities of the same Person, God. They are called Photinians (Photinus, bishop of Sirmium). They believed there was only a modaldistinction - God as Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. A logical outcome of it was Patripassianism. Marcellus, bishop of Ancyra (374) is associated with Sabellianism, his aim being to emphasise theunity of nature of Father and Son and he suppressed the distinction of persons. Eusebius and Athanasius opposed it.d) Apollinarists Apollinaris, 390, bishop of Laodicea, Syria, to render Christ’s divinity more certain, taught hishumanity was incomplete : a body and a sensitive soul. The word took the place of the spiritual soul. Apollinaris was one of the most fertile and versatile ecclesiastical writers of his time, primarily anexegete.
e) Nestorians They denied the personal unity of Christ and taught two separate persons in Him and so denied theGod-Man. The heresy did not come to a head until 430.Other heresiesf) Origenism Origenists defended Origen’s eschatological errors and the temporal nature of hell. (There was aprudent Origenism which favoured a spiritual exegesis - not to be confused with above).g) Manichaeans They taught two eternal and irreducible principles, good and evil, and advanced this as an explanationof all natural and supernatural mysteries.h) Donatists Led by Donatus of Carthage, they affirmed the saints and the just form the Church and taught that thevalidity of the sacraments depends on the holiness of the minister.i) Pelagians They taught that the human will was all powerful in the moral order, and denied the need of grace to move it.j) Priscillianists They taught a doctrine which combined Sabellianism, Manichaeism and some Origenist theories.These heresies were opposed by individual Fathers and by group movements in schools of theology in theEast.IV. The two mains Schools1) The School of Alexandria with Clement, Origen and others. The new school flourished in the fourth century. It had for its representatives St. Athanasius andDidymus the Blind in Egypt, and later the Cappadocians. The school is distinctive in its mystical interpretation and tendency, and employment of Platonicphilosophy. In theology their faith in the divinity of the Word led them to a clear affirmation of Hissubstantial sameness with the Father. They readily accepted the homoousios of Nicaea. The unity of God was first in their thought, and this they stressed though enemies might accuse themof Sabellianism. The Alexandrians became the defenders of the substantial and personal unity of Christ,and so strenuously that Monophysitism sought to claim St. Cyril as a supporter.2) The School of Antioch. It had had three periods: - 260-360. Lucianus and Dorotheus were prominent. - 360-430, its great period - Flavian, Diodorus of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Theodoret of Cyrus, and above all St. John Chrysostom.
- The period of decadence after 430.Characteristics of the School. The school opposed to the allegorical interpretation of Alexandria a prudent, literal sense, eitherproper or metaphorical, insisting on the helps afforded by language-study, etc. Occasionally the spirit wasneglected for the letter. For the mystical they substituted a moral teaching (especially St. Chrysostom). They cultivated Aristo-telian philosophy. In theology they affirmed clearly the distinction of the divine Persons and to ensure the reality of thedistinction gave them the name of hypostases (hypostasis, substance) thereby risking the possibility ofbeing accused of holding the theory that the Persons are not only a substance but differ from one anotherby a substance. For this reason many of them opposed homo-ousios, and the misuse of the word by Paul ofSamosata in the previous century helped them to this. The school stressed the humanity of Christ in its Christology. The later heresies centred principally on the person of Christ : was He true God and true Man ? Howmany persons in Christ ? Errors often arose from a too zealous defence of orthodoxy in one point.Nestorius was combating the loss of human will in Christ and held there were two persons in Christ.Under stress of these heresies and questionings, theology developed with great precision, and an elaborateand systematic defence of Christianity resulted (especially concerning the Incarnation and Redemption).3) The traditional School In the fourth century there are writers who belong to a movement which is classed as the TraditionalSchool. It was first a reaction to Origen, and later on rejected all scientific knowledge and criticism. In thethird century Methodius had protested against certain theses of Origen, but the fourth century opposition,headed by St. Epiphanius, is more personal than scientific opposition and sometime used of unworthymeans.