Archive for the ‘Pelagianism’ Tag

Feast of St. Leo the Great (November 10)   3 comments

Above:  St. Leo I “the Great”

Image in the Public Domain



Bishop of Rome

Former Western feast day = April 11

Eastern feast day = February 11

The number of Roman Catholic Supreme Pontiffs called “the Great” is short.  St. Leo I is deservedly on that list.

St. Leo I, of Tuscan parentage, was a deacon immediately prior to becoming the Pope.  Under his two immediate predecessors, St. Celestine I (in office September 10, 422-July 27, 432) and St. Sixtus III (in office July 31, 432-August 19, 440), St. Leo I had been an influential advisor.  St. Leo I had been an influential advisor.  He was on a diplomatic mission in Gaul in August 440, during the Papal election.  St. Leo I, back in Rome, assumed the office on September 29, 440.

As the Pope, St. Leo I dealt with challenges, theological and political.  He defended Papal authority via words and deeds.  Our saint resisted heresies, such as Manichaeism (dualistic), Arianism (Christ is a created being), Pelagianism (we can save ourselves via free will), and Priscillianism (the human body is evil).  St. Leo I’s theology vis-à-vis Christology defined the Definition of Chalcedon (451):  Jesus, one person, had two natures (human and divine).  Our saint also corrected ecclesiastical abuses, resolved disputes, and insisted on the uniformity of liturgical practice.

The Western Roman Empire was crumbling during the lifetime of St. Leo I.  This reality led to circumstances in which our saint rose to the occasion.  In 452 he met with Atilla the Hun near Mantua and persuaded Atilla to withdraw.  Three years later, St. Leo I spoke with Gaiseric, the King of the Vandals, outside the walls of Rome.  Our saint persuaded the Vandal king not to burn the city and massacre the inhabitants.

St. Leo I died on November 10, 461.  Pope Benedict XIV declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1754.









O Lord our God, grant that your Church, following the teaching of yours servant Leo of Rome,

may hold fast the great mystery of our redemption,

and adore the one Christ, true God and true Man,

neither divided from our human nature and not separate from your divine Being;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Lamentations 3:22-33

Psalm 77:11-15

2 Timothy 1:6-14

Matthew 5:13-19

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 673


Feast of Lynn Harold Hough (September 10)   Leave a comment

Above:  Lynn Harold Hough

Image Source =  Drew University Library



U.S. Methodist Minister, Theologian, and Biblical Scholar


Once more we are reminded that only God is to be met with a bended knee.  Even the high must not be given the place of the highest–even the good must not be given the place of the best.  The tragedy of mistaken loyalties is one of the greatest tragedies of the world.  Too late Wolsey realized that he had given to his king, Henry VIII, what belonged only to God.

–Dr. Hough’s exposition on Revelation 22:9, in The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 12 (1957), 545


Lynn Harold Hough, with his Roman collar, Charlie Chaplin mustache, and keen intellect, comes to A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via Volume 12 (1957) of The Interpreter’s Bible.

Hough owed much to Eunice Richey Giles (1856-June 3, 1937), his devoted, single mother.  She had married Franklin M. Hough, father of our saint.  The marriage had ended in divorce in 1877, and Eunice had moved back home, to Cadiz, Ohio, when she gave birth to her only child, Lynn Harold Hough, on September 10, 1877.  Eunice, a devout Methodist, raised her son in the faith.  She also worked hard to provide him with the best education possible.  In 1898 he graduated (with his B.A.) from Scio College, Scio, Ohio, where his mother worked as a cook.  Hough, ordained a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939), served in churches in New Jersey, New York, and Maryland from 1898 to 1914.  He also became the head of the household, which included his mother until 1936, when he married.

Above:  Drew Theological Seminary

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor from Matthew Simpson, ed., Cyclopedia of Methodism, Embracing Its Rise, Progress, and Present Condition, with Biographical Notices, 6h ed. (1876), 315

Hough continued his education, graduating from Drew Theological Seminary (now Drew Theological School, Drew University), Madison, New Jersey, with his B.D. in 1905.

Above:  Garrett Biblical Institute

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor from Matthew Simpson, ed., Cyclopedia of Methodism, Embracing Its Rise, Progress, and Present Condition, with Biographical Notices, 6h ed. (1876), 389

Our saint, from 1914 to 1918 Professor of Historical Theology at Garrett Biblical Institute (now Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary), Evanston, Illinois, graduated from that institution with his D.Th. in 1918.  Our saint, from 1919 to 1920 the President of Northwestern University, host of Garrett Biblical Institute, established the graduate division of the university’s School of Commerce and laid the foundations, metaphorically speaking, for subsequent improvements at the university.  He resigned for health reasons.

Above:  Central Methodist Episcopal Church, Detroit, Michigan

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor from Matthew Simpson, ed., Cyclopedia of Methodism, Embracing Its Rise, Progress, and Present Condition, with Biographical Notices, 6h ed. (1876), 294

Hough returned to parish work for the period of 1920-1930.  For eight years (1920-1928) Hough served as the pastor of Central Methodist Episcopal Church (now Central United Methodist Church), Detroit, Michigan.  Our saint was, the “preacher to the intelligentsia,” according to his contemporary, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), pastor of Bethel Evangelical Church, Detroit, from 1915 to 1928, and a fellow anti-Ku Klux Klan activist.  The outspoken Hough was not shy about expressing his opinions and opposing bigotry.  Our saint stated that the United States should have joined the League of Nations.  He condemned the Daughters of the American Revolution for being critical of Jane Addams (1860-1935).   In 1923 our saint described the second Ku Klux Klan as

the most diabolical organization this nation ever saw.

(That unequivocal statement was quite different from Donald Trump’s statement about the alleged presence of “very fine people” on both sides in he context of white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.  That statement’s most avid fans were white supremacists.  This pattern of giving aid and comfort to unapologetic bigots has not surprised me, given Trump’s public statements and over the years, as well as many of his policies, to the present day.  Nativism, xenophobia, and white nationalism have been present in him for a long time.There were no “very fine people” in the Ku Klux Klan, according to our saint.  In 1925 years later Hough’s assertion that Evolution and the Bible were mutually compatible nearly prompted a heresy trial.  Hough was usually a delegate to the denomination’s General Conference, which met every four years, but he was not a delegate in 1928.  The reason for Hough not being a delegate that year was the backlash against his article, “Why Not a Catholic President?” (Plain Talk magazine, 1927).  The article did lead, however, to an honorary degree from the University of Detroit (Roman Catholic).  Of the eleven honorary degrees Hough received, he was proudest of that one.  From 1928 to 1930 Hough was the pastor of the American Presbyterian Church (amalgamated into the Erskine and American United Church, extant 1934-2011; now amalgamated into the Mountainside United Church), Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  During that time he also doubled as the President of the Religious Education Council of Canada.

Hough was active in many organizations, including the Federal Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, the Society for Biblical Literature, the Masonic Lodge, the Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939), The Methodist Church (1939-1968), and The United Methodist Church (1968-).  Furthermore, he traveled across the United States and the world, preaching at prominent churches and, in 1934, addressing the League of Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, on “The Church and Civilization.”

Hough returned to academia for good in 1930.  At Drew Theological Seminary he was Professor of Homiletics (1930-1933), Professor of Homiletics and Comprehensive Scholarship (1933-1937), Professor of Homiletics and Christian Criticism of Life (1937-1947), and Dean (1934-1947).  Our saint, a well-read Anglophile with an expansive vocabulary, as well as a firm grasp of history and literature, founded the Department of Christian Humanism at Drew.  He retired in 1947.

Hough, like any properly functioning human being, changed his mind as time passed.  He, a pacifist, initially opposed U.S. entry into World War II.  Our saint was not naïve, though; he recognized the necessity of Allied victory, for the sake of civilization.  Hough, with his customary tolerance, supported the causes of conscientious objectors while supporting the war effort and ministering to military personnel.  He remained committed to peace as he adjusted to reality.  Hough’s theology also changed.  He settled into what he called a “new orthodoxy” more liberal than Fundamentalism, more conservative than Modernism, and distinct from the Social Gospel and Neo-Orthodoxy.  The Social Gospel, Hough argued correctly, was utopian, therefore not realistic.  Neo-Orthodoxy, he insisted, went too far by emphasizing the human inability to arrive at Christian faith.

I reject Hough’s critique of Neo-Orthodoxy.

Hough, being a staunch Methodist–a thoroughgoing Methodist, not a Baptist masquerading as one, per the old joke that a Methodist is a Baptist who can read–placed a high premium on the power of human free will.  He came very close to putting the Pelagianism in Semi-Pelagianism.  Karl Barth (1886-1968) and Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), leading Neo-Orthodox theologians, had Reformed backgrounds, however.  Barth, a minister in the Swiss and Reformed Church, emphasized divine actions, not human ones.  Niebuhr, a minister in the Prussian Evangelical (Lutheran-Reformed) tradition, rejected the Social Gospel as placing too little stress on sin and assuming too much human agency.  He emphasized original sin, which he redefined beyond an individual focus to have a strong societal, institutional component.  Barth was probably more optimistic than the sometimes grimly realistic Niebuhr.  Original sin, having corrupted human nature, institutions, and societies, severely hampered one’s ability to act morally, even when one was trying very hard to do so, Niebuhr taught.  My reading of Barth and Niebuhr has convinced me that they were mostly correct.

I am, by the way, an Anglican-Lutheran Single Predestinarian, so my theology makes room for free will to have a role in salvation for those not predestined to Heaven.  My critique of Hough is that he placed too much emphasis on free will.  I hold that nobody finds God, but that God finds people.  Via free will those not destined to Heaven may obey the invitation of the Holy Spirit and say “yes” to God, and therefore find salvation and eternal life, in the Johannine sense of eternal life, which is knowing God via Jesus.

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Hough wrote prolifically.  His catalog included 35 books (about one a year for a while) and many articles.  In retirement he, a visiting professor at various elite institutions off-an-on, wrote for The Interpreter’s Bible in the 1950s.  He wrote the exposition on the Book of Revelation in Volume 12 (of 12), published in 1957.  (I quoted a portion of that exposition at the beginning of this post.)

Image Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Hough also wrote “The Message of the Book of Revelation,” spanning pages 551-613 of Volume 12.

Hough, a Victorian in terms of morality, resided with his Eunice, mother (or rather, she lived with him) until 1936, when, at the age of 58 or 59, he married.  Our saint’s wife was Blanche Horton Trowbridge, a 57-year-old widow of a Congregationalist minister.  She had also been a missionary in Turkey then Egypt for a quarter of a century.  Sadly, Eunice Hough, who had devoted her life to her only child, died in New York City on June 3, 1937, after an automotive accident.  She was about 81 years old.  The Houghs died less than a year apart; the cause of death in both cases was heart attack.  Blanche, aged about 92 years, died on August 3, 1970.  Lynn, aged 93 years, died on July 14, 1971.

One might justifiably ask why Hough, one of the most famous preachers of his time, has fallen into obscurity.


I also composed the collect and selected the passages of scripture.


Compassionate God, you have created us in your image and endowed us with intellect.

We thank you for your servant Lynn Harold Hough,

who loved you with all his heart, mind, and strength, and who loved his neighbors as he loved himself.

May we likewise recognize your presence in history, literature, and each other,

as well as employ our intellects fully, as we confront forms of bigotry;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who,

stretching his arms on the hard word of the cross beckoned all the world to himself.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-15

Psalm 1

Philippians 2:1-11

Matthew 7:24-27









Feast of St. Sixtus III (August 19)   1 comment

Above:  St. Sixtus III

Image in the Public Domain



Bishop of Rome

Alternative feast day = March 28

Five Supreme Pontiffs of the Roman Catholic Church have borne the name “Sixtus.”  Extant information about St. Sixtus I (in office circa 116-circa 125) has proven to be unreliable.  St. Sixtus II (in office 257-258) died as a martyr.  Sixtus IV (in office 1471-1484) founded the Spanish Inquisition and practiced simony.  Sixtus V (in office 1585-1590) admired Sixtus IV, encouraged King Philip II of Spain to invade England in 1588, and presided over a repressive regime in the Papal States.

St. Sixtus III is therefore the second of two Sixtuses I choose to add to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.

Xystus, son of Xystus, was a Roman by birth.  Our saint had been a Pelagian, but had changed his mind in 418.

Pelagianism was the heresy named after Pelagius, an English or Irish monk who had moved to Rome circa 400.  He was optimistic about human nature, arguing that it was inherently good.  People could therefore save themselves via free will from damnation, the monk asserted.  His propositions aroused a great controversy in the Church.  St. Augustine of Hippo, for example, replied to those propositions in writing for years.  Eventually the Church declared Semi-Pelagianism (salvation results from the combination of divine grace and human free will) orthodox teaching, but Pope St. Celestine I (in office 422-432) preferred the answer of St. Augustine of Hippo:  we mere mortals are powerless to save ourselves, for Original Sin has corrupted our natures.

St. Sixtus III also opposed NestorianismNestorius, the Archbishop of Constantinople from 428 to 431, made  a distinction between Christ and the Logos.  St. Mary of Nazareth, he argued in his sermon for Easter 428, was the mother of Jesus, but not of God; she was not the Theotokos.  The Patriarch thought that the Logos dwelt within Jesus, as in a temple.  St. Sixtus III, at the Council of Ephesus (431), helped to draft the Formula of Reunion, which asserted the doctrine that, in Christ, there was the union of God and man in one person; that Christ was fully human and fully divine.

St. Sixtus III, elected Pope on July 31, 432, succeeding the late St. Celestine I, contended with the Pelagian and Nestorian heresies as the Supreme Pontiff.  St. Cyril of Alexandria had been engaged in a dispute with John of Antioch (d. 441), a Nestorian.  St. Sixtus III ordered John of Antioch to renounce Nestorianism; he did, and reconciled with St. Cyril.  In 439, with the influence of deacon Leo (the next pope, as St. Leo I “the Great,” in office 440-461), St. Sixtus III refused to permit the Pelagian bishop Julian of Eclanum (d. 454), exiled from the see of Apulia since 418, return.  As St. Sixtus III oversaw rebuilding projects in Rome, to repair damage from and replace structures destroyed in the Visigothic sack of Rome in 410, he had anti-Pelagian and anti-Nestorian inscriptions added to churches and baptistries.

St. Sixtus III asserted his authority against encroachment by St. Proclus of Constantinople, the Archbishop of Constantinople from 434 to 446.  In 434 St. Proclus tried to pry the dioceses in eastern Illyricum (in the Balkans) away from the Bishop of Rome.  St. Sixtus III resolved the situation with a carrot and a stick.  As the Pope requested that St. Proculus not receive any bishops disloyal to Rome, St. Sixtus III ordered all bishops in eastern Illyricum to remain loyal.

St. Sixtus III also founded the oldest known monastery at St. Sebastiano on the Appian Way.

St. Sixtus III died on August 19, 440.








Heavenly Father, shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servant Saint Sixtus III,

who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock.

We pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life,

we may by your grace attain our full maturity in Christ,

through the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3:14-21

John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60


Feast of Sts. Anna of Oxenhall, Wenna the Queen, Non, Samson of Dol, Cybi, and David of Wales (March 1)   Leave a comment


Above:  A Family Tree

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor



Welsh Prince, Priest, Bishop, and Abbot

His feast transferred from August 13 and November 8

son of


Queen of Cerniw

Also known as Saint Gwen

Her feast transferred from October 18

sister of 


Welsh Nun

Also known as Saint Nonna, Nonita, and Nonnita

Her feast transferred from March 2, 3, and 5

mother of


Welsh Abbot and Primate

Also known as Saint Dewi

His feast = March 1

Half-Nephew of


Welsh Priest, Abbot, Hermit, Bishop, and Missionary

son of


Welsh Princess

Mother of Saints Samson of Dol, Wenna the Queen, and Non


Work on this post began when I started taking notes on St. David of Wales, the patron saint of Wales.  His feast day is March 1.  Of that we can be certain; this is more than we can say about other portions of his official biography.  While taking notes on this saint I read references to many other Celtic saints, including five relatives.  I could have included many more saints than I did in this post, but I decided to keep it relatively simple and to focus on three generations of one family instead.  I, as one trained in history, have noticed discrepancies between dates in various sources.  I have done my best to honor chronology.  I have also done my best to recognize the difference between legend and objective reality.  King Arthur recurs in the hagiographies of some of these saints.  He was, of course, a composite figure and a legend–a fish story, if you will, O reader.  Instead of one big fish, fishes of various sizes existed.  By focusing on six members of one family I can be coherent while fulfilling one of my goals for the renovation of my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.    That goal is to emphasize relationships and influences.

The first of six saints was St. Anna of Oxenhall (born circa 445), mother of three other saints and grandmother of two more.  She, a daughter of Vortimer Fendigaidof, King of Gwertheflyrwig (now Gwent, Wales), married twice.  Her first husband was Cynyr the Fair-Bearded, Lord of Coer Goch.  According to legends, they were the foster parents of Uther Pendragon, father of King Arthur.  St. Anna’s first marriage produced at least six children, including St. Wenna the Queen (born circa 472) and St. Non (born circa 475).  The widowed St. Anna married Amon Ddu, Prince of Brittany.  They had several children, including St. Samson of Dol (circa 485-565).  The other two children also entered religious life.  Amon ended his days as a monk.

St. Wenna the Queen married Salom, King of Cerniw (now Cornwall, England).   Among their children was St. Cybi (circa 483-555), heir to the throne.  He received a fine education and became a priest, a bishop, and the Abbot of Caer Gybi.  At the age of 27, upon returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, St. Cybi learned that his father was dead and that he was the new king.  Our saint declined royal authority and opted instead to serve God via the Church.  He founded congregations throughout the Celtic world as political circumstances forced him to relocate.  St. Cybi also interacted with his esteemed cousin, St. David of Wales.  Among St. Wenna’s pious deeds was the founding of a Christian congregation in Morval, in the Cornwall region of England.

St. Non became a nun.  Scandal affected her when Sant (a.k.a. Sanctus), Prince of Ceredigian, raped and impregnated her.  Thus she became the unwed mother of Dewi Sant, a.k.a. St. David of Wales.  Mother and son founded a convent at Hanon.  Late in life she moved to Cerniw, to be close to her sister, St. Wenna the Queen.

The hagiographies of St. David are legion.  Many of them contain contradictory information.  For example, was the year of his birth closer to 500 or to 544?  I conclude that the former option is probable, based on issues of chronology.  Also, did he died closer to 589 or 601?  And, while we are pondering different chronologies, did the Synod of Brefi occur closer to 520, 550, or 560?  550 or a few years prior seems like a probable year to me, based on relevant facts.  560 is too late, due to the death of St. Dubricius circa 550.  Furthermore, I reject obviously legendary stories out of hand.  For example, I refuse to accept that a hill once rose while he was speaking, so that the audience could hear him better.  Horatio, friend of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, was correct that heaven and earth hold more than human philosophies attest, but even saints and land adjacent to them must obey the laws of nature.

St. David rose to become the primate of Wales.  As a young man he founded the first of a series of monasteries.  Our saint, an ascetic who survived on water and vegetables, required his monks to care for travelers, engage in study, and perform manual labor.  He was also a priest and, in time, a bishop–by whose hands, where, and when are matters of dispute.  An oft-repeated story tells us that St. David’s rebuttal of the Pelagian heresy (that people can save themselves from damnation by their free will alone) at the Synod of Brefi led to the installation as the primate of Wales.  Or perhaps that was not how he became the primate, becoming the handpicked successor of St. Dubricius.  Regardless of the reality of St. David’s life, he was an influential and respected figure in the Celtic Church.

St. David’s half-uncle (half-brother of Sts. Non and Wenna) was St. Samson of Dol (circa 485-565), a child of St. Anna of Oxenhall and her second husband, Prince Amon Ddu.  St. Samson studied at the Abbey of Llanilltud Fawr, Glamorganshire, Wales.  His teacher was St. Illtud (born circa 480), a former soldier and the founder of that monastery.  St. Samson had to depart that abbey because he had become unpopular with his teacher’s nephews.  St. Samson relocated to a monastery on Caldey Island, Wales.  Eventually he became the abbot there and reformed the abbey.  Next our saint spent time as a hermit before becoming a missionary bishop in the region of Cerniw.  Eventually St. Samson moved to Brittany, where he made Dol his see city.  He also founded monasteries at Dol and at Pental, Normandy.

People influence each other directly and indirectly.  Regardless of where reality ended and legends began with regard to the events of our six saints’ lives, a few concluding statements are certain:

  1. The faith that St. Anna of Oxenhall and her husbands instilled in their children took root;
  2. Those children passed that faith down to others; and
  3. The legacy of St. Anna of Oxenhall, her husbands, and their faithful descendants continues to influence Christian faith in people, frequently without them knowing it.

That is impressive.







Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses:

Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servants

Saint Cybi,

Saint Wenna the Queen,

Saint Non,

Saint David of Wales,

Saint Samson of Dol, and

Saint Anna of Oxenhall,

may persevere in running the race that is set before us,

until at last we may with them attain to your eternal joy;

through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Micah 6:6-8

Psalm 15

Hebrews 12:1-2

Matthew 25:31-40

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 724


Feast of St. Alipius (August 16)   Leave a comment

Carthage Ampitheater

Above:  Ruins of the Amphiteater at Carthage

Image in the Public Domain



Roman Catholic Bishop of Tagaste and Friend of Saint Augustine of Hippo

Also known as Saint Alypius

His feast transferred from August 15

The Roman Catholic feast day for St. Alipius is August 15.  I have, however, reserved that date on my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days for St. Mary of Nazareth, Mother of God.  Therefore I have transferred his commemoration to August 16.

St. Alipius had much in common with St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).  Both men were natives of Tagaste, Numidia, Roman Empire (now Souk Ahras, Algeria).  St. Alipius came from a noble family.  He studied grammar under St. Augustine at Tagaste then rhetoric under him at Carthage, sometimes to the great displeasure of his (St. Alipius’s) father.  At Carthage St. Alipius became a fan of the bloody sports of chariot racing and gladiatorial fighting.  Once he, under the influence of St. Augustine, who disapproved of such entertainment, ceased to attend those events briefly.  Then he returned to them with zest.  St. Alipius also became a Manichean and followed his teacher to Milan.  There he also came under the influence of St. Ambrose of Milan (337-397), the bishop.  St. Alipius, who found chastity easier to practice than his longtime teacher did, was among the people baptized with St. Augustine and Adeodatus (372-388) at the Easter Vigil in 387.  St. Alipius abandoned bloody sports forever.  The following year he joined St. Augustine’s monastic community at Tagaste.  He and his famous friend became priests at Hippo Regius in 391.  The friends worked together for a few years.  St. Alipius made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and befriended St. Jerome (347-450).  In 393, upon his return from the Holy Land, St. Alipius began his 30-year-long tenure as the Bishop of Tagaste before St. Augustine became the Bishop of Hippo Regius.  The two bishops cooperated in efforts to refute Manicheism, Donatism, and Pelagianism.  The two men also died at about the same time.

It would be easy to forget or ignore St. Alipius.  After all, he seemed to dwell in the shadow of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the most influential theologians in Western Christianity.  I am certain, however, that many members of St. Alipius’s flock, the Diocese of Tagaste, testified in their time with regard to his abilities as a bishop.  He was no mere second banana.







Almighty God, you have raised up bishops of your church, including your servant St. Alipius.

May the memory of his life be a source of joy for us and a bulwark of our faith,

so that we may serve and confess your name before the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Ezekiel 3411-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3:14-21

John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60


Feast of St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Monica of Hippo, and St. Augustine of Hippo (August 28)   32 comments

Basilica of St. Ambrose, Milan

Above:  Basilica of St. Ambrose, Milan, Italy, Between 1860 and 1890

Image in the Public Domain



Roman Catholic Bishop of Milan

His feast transferred from December 7



Mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo

Her feast transferred from May 4 and August 27



Roman Catholic Bishop of Hippo Regius


The Donatists in North Africa upheld the ancient image of the church as a gathered elite, a foreign body in the midst of a secular society and an apostate church.  Defenders of the orthodoxy agreed at the Council of Nicaea (325) sometimes denounced emperors such as Constantius II as heretics, and repudiated the authority of secular rulers over the church.  Others, like Ambrose, bishop of the imperial city of Milan (d. 397), were determined to subject the exercise of imperial power to the spiritual authority of bishops.  But until Augustine’s City of God (413-427) most Christians unquestioningly accepted the Roman political and social order as the earthly form of the Christian society.

–Robert A. Markus in The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity (1990), edited by John McManners, page 71




The three saints on which I focus in this post have separate commemorations on ecclesiastical calendars.  Nevertheless, I have chosen to combine those commemorations here at this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  Their three stories flow into one easily, after all.  Furthermore, recounting their lives this way functions to argue a point, which is that rugged individualism plays no part in a healthy Christian spiritual journey.  Each of us needs, at different times, encouragement or prodding on the part of others to pursue the proper path and to remain on it.





Above:  Saints Augustine and Monica, by Ary Scheffer

Image in the Public Domain

In the beginning of this composite story there were Patricius and Monica (sometimes called Monnica), of Tagaste, Numidia, Roman Empire.  (Tagaste has become Souk Ahras, Algeria.)  Patricius was a pagan and a municipal official.  His wife, St. Monica, was a Christian.  The couple had three children.  Navigius and his sister Perpetua grew up as Christians and entered the religious life.  St. Augustine, however, had a winding road of a spiritual pilgrimage.

St. Monica sought to bring her husband and her errant son to Christ.  She succeeded, but only after much prayer and effort.  Patricius converted shortly before he died in 370.  St. Augustine underwent baptism 17 years later.  The fact that he made the transition from apostate to Christian had much to do with his faithful and persistent mother, who had taught him religion and theology when he was a child.  St. Augustine, born at Tagaste on November 13, 354, began his studies in other topics in that city.  The schoolmaster beat him severely, though, and the young saint, having learned to dislike Greek, never mastered it.

St. Augustine became an apostate.  At age 11 or 12 (365 or 366) St. Augustine went to study at Madauros, about 25 kilometers from Tagaste.  Madauros was a center or pagan thought.  There he soaked up the pagan milieu and learned Latin literature.  In 370 St. Augustine moved to Carthage.  There he took a mistress, whose name he did not reveal in his writings.  They had a son, Adeodatus (372-388).  At Carthage St. Augustine also converted to Manicheism, a dualistic religion.  He taught grammar at Tagaste starting in 373.  Then, for seven years, he taught rhetoric at Carthage, where he lost his Manichean faith and became an agnostic.  In 383, over St. Monica’s strong objections, he moved to Rome.  Then, in the following year, St. Augustine accepted a position teaching rhetoric at Milan.  Along the way he regained his Manichean faith.

St. Monica had followed her errant son around for years, so she could influence him positively and locally.  She had managed to find a young woman who would, in time be of age to marry St. Augustine and be a suitable wife.  He dismissed his longtime mistress, who returned to northern Africa and joined a religious community.   As St. Augustine struggled with his sexuality he famously prayed,

Give me chastity, but not yet!

Then he took a second mistress.  At Milan St. Monica found the right man to help end her son’s time of spiritual rebellion.  She persuaded St. Augustine to listen to and meet St. Ambrose, the bishop there.




St. Ambrose

Above:  St. Ambrosius, by Francisco de Zurbaran

Image in the Public Domain

St. Ambrose of Milan (born in 337) traveled an interesting spiritual path to his destiny.  The native of Treves (now Trier, Germany) was a son of a Roman prefect and a pious and educated mother.  He grew up a Christian.  His widowed mother raised him in Rome, where he received a liberal arts education.  St. Ambrose became a lawyer.  In 371, at age 34, he received an appointment as governor of the province of Liguria and Aemilia, a job he performed well.  In 374 the governor presided over the election of the next Bishop of Milan.  He became not only a candidate but the favored one, much to his shock and displeasure.  St. Ambrose, who was neither baptized nor trained in theology, did not think himself qualified for the post.  Nevertheless, even going into hiding did not change destiny.  In one week in December 374 St. Ambrose became a baptized Christian, a priest, and the Bishop of Milan within a week, his consecration taking place on December 7.

St. Ambrose took his responsibilities seriously.  He donated his lands to the Church, gave his possessions to the poor, fasted daily, took communion daily, and spent much time studying, writing, and meditating.  Among his theological influences was Origen (185-254), who favored the allegorical reading of Scripture.  St. Ambrose also argued forcefully against the Arian heresy, which stated that God the Son was a created being.

[Aside:  Unfortunately, Arianism continues to thrive, especially among the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons.]

The Arian-Orthodox Christian controversy divided the Church and became a factor in imperial politics.  Some emperors were Orthodox.  Members of the faction out of imperial favor frequently suffered, for the concept of the separation of church and state was centuries of away from becoming commonplace and widely accepted.  The Emperor Gratian (reigned 375-383) was Orthodox.  Magnus Maximus (reigned 383-388), the usurper who murdered him, was an Arian.  While Magnus Maximusreigned in the western portion of the Roman Empire, Valentinian II, Gratian’s half-brother, theoretically ruled in the East.  Actually, however, Valentinian II’s mother, Justina, served as his regent from 383 to 388.  She and her son were Arians.  In 383 Justina asked St. Ambrose to intercede with Magnus Maximus.  The bishop traveled to Treves, where he remained to meet with the murderous usurper and with local priests responsible for the execution of Priscillian heretics, but he did succeed in distracting the usurper, to the benefit of forces of Valentinian II, who seized the alpine pass.  The grateful emperor honored St. Ambrose’s request that he not restore the pagan altar of Victory in the Senate.  Justina, also grateful, promised not to use her position to advance the cause of Arianism.

She either lied or changed her mind.  In 385 Justina demanded that St. Ambrose hand over a church building in Milan for use by Arians.  He refused.  She sent troops to enforce her demand, but had to back down after a crowd (including St. Monica) filled the cathedral, with the soldiers surrounded.  The following year the imperial government issued a decree favoring Arian worship and condemning to death those who objected.  St. Ambrose refused to keep silent, of course.  Justina sent soldiers again, but had to back down again.




St. Ambrose, who encouraged women to become nuns (rather than to marry), also advocated for missionary work, wrote hymns (such as Veni Redemptor Gentium, or “Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth“), and confronted imperial authorities, found time to mentor St. Augustine.  From St. Ambrose St. Augustine learned, among other things, aspects of Neo-Platonism, as well as Origen’s allegorical exegesis of Scripture, both of which aided him in his spiritual journey.  Next St. Augustine read the Pauline Epistles and studied the Desert Fathers.  He resigned as teacher of rhetoric and focused on preparation for baptism.  On Holy Saturday 387, at the Easter Vigil, St. Augustine and his son accepted baptism and joined the Roman Catholic Church.  St. Monica was present.

Later that year St. Monica died at the port of Ostia, Italy.  She and her family were planning to return to northern Africa.  She was about 56 years old when she died.

St. Monica is the patron saint of Christian wives and mothers and of victims of abuse.  She has two feast days, May 4 being the traditional date and August 27 being the date on the revised Roman Catholic calendar.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, The Anglican Church in Canada (in The Book of Common Prayer of 1962), and The Episcopal Church, among others, celebrate her life on May 4.  The Anglican Church in Canada (in the Book of Alternative Services of 1985); The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia; The Church of England; and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, among others, do so on August 27.




The traditions of the Scriptures are his [Christ’s] body; the Church is his body.

–St. Ambrose of Milan

St. Ambrose, who defended claims that St. Mary of Nazareth is the Mother of God, continued to defy imperial authority, even to assert his power over it.  Emperor Theodosius I “the Great” (reigned 379-395), the sole emperor from 392 to 395, made Christianity (already legal) the official religion.  He also suppressed Arianism and paganism.  In 388 St. Ambrose confronted Theodosius I over an order to spend state funds to build a structure for non-Christian worship, forcing the Emperor to back down.  Two years later, in Thessalonica, a popular charioteer attempted to rape a male servant of Butheric, the Roman master of soldiers in the region.  Butheric ordered the charioteer arrested, an action to which a mob objected.  Butheric and some other officers died during ensuing riots.  The angry Theodosius I ordered soldiers to surround the amphitheater in Thessalonica and to slaughter the spectators at a chariot race.  Whether any person killed was innocent was not an issue for the Emperor.  He reversed the order, but not before about 7000 people died.  St. Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius I, lifting the discipline after the Emperor had done several months of penance and issued a proclamation stating that no execution would occur less than 30 days after the issuing of the death sentence.

St. Ambrose died at Milan on April 4, 397.  He was about 60 years old.




Perhaps St. Augustine of Hippo was the greatest legacy of St. Ambrose of Milan.  Certainly aspects of the teacher’s philosophy echoed in that of the attentive pupil.

St. Augustine eventually made his way back to Tagaste, where he remained for a few years.  After spending a year in Rome he arrived in his hometown.  There he sold his inheritance, gave the money to the poor, and retained a house, which he converted into a monastery in 388.  St. Augustine might have spent the rest of his life thusly, but, in 391, St. Valerius, the Bishop of Hippo Regius, ordained him to the priesthood at Hippo Regius.  Four years later our saint became the bishop coadjutor, with the right of succession.  In 396 he succeeded as the Bishop of Hippo Regius, a minor port in northern Africa.

There St. Augustine remained.  More than 400 sermons and 200 letters, have survived.  By 427, according to his count, he had written 237 books and 93 other literary works, not counting sermons and letters.  Many of these volumes of St. Augustine’s oeuvre have survived, fortunately.

Theological controversies defined St. Augustine’s output.  He lived, thought, argued, and wrote during a time of theological formation.  He helped to define the tradition upon which we Christians of 2016 stand and became one of the greatest and most influential theologians of Western Christianity.  Nevertheless, even the Roman Catholic Church, which has no difficulty recognizing him as a saint, has not accepted all of his theology as worthy of inclusion in the catechism.  St. Augustine came from a particular time and a certain place, the circumstances of which defined his context.  In that context, in the judgment of Holy Mother Church, he went too far on occasion.  That did not detract from his influence, however.


Against Heresies



Opposing Manicheism, Donatism, and Pelagianism occupied much of St. Augustine’s time.  He had, of course, been a Manichean, leaving that religion twice.  The founder of the religion was Mani (215/216-276/277), of Babylonian origin.  He taught dualism.  Manicheism meshed easily with Gnosticism, with which many early Christian leaders had to content.  Manicheism spread rapidly throughout the Roman Empire from 280 to 330, attracting adherents from gnostic sects and people of haute culture and the intelligentsia.  The religion, with its dualistic and gnostic elements, rejected the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth.  It also made a strong case for human free will, offered an optimistic ethos of human freedom and agency.


Donatism (300s-700s) defined the Church as the assembled spiritual elite–the self-identified pure of heart and orthopraxy who separated themselves from the cosmos and the corrupt, old ecclesiastical structure.  (The spirit of Donatism has never ceased to exist, unfortunately.)  During the Diocletian persecution (303-305) many Christians in northern Africa had committed apostasy.  Afterward many of them expressed remorse and requested readmission to the Church.  The Roman Catholic Church, being willing to forgive, agreed, so long as the remorse was genuine.  The election of the successor of Mensurius, the Bishop of Carthage, who died in 311, functioned as the flash point of the Donatist schism.  Mensurius had been conciliatory toward remorseful apostates.  Two men contended to succeed him.  Caecilian was conciliatory; Majorinus, who died in 315, was a Donatist.  Donatus Magnus, from whose name the word “Donatist” came, succeeded as Bishop of Carthage in 315.

Donatism divided the Church in northern Africa for centuries.  Donatism defined the Church as the society of holy people and stated the holiness of the Church depended upon the exclusion of those who had committed mortal sin.  In contrast Roman Catholicism argued that the holiness of the Church depended upon the Holy Spirit and the communication of divine grace via priests.

St. Augustine was a staunch Roman Catholic.  The four marks of the Church, he wrote, were oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity.  Furthermore, our saint insisted, there is and can be only one Church.  St. Augustine, echoing St. Paul the Apostle and St. Ambrose of Milan, defined the Church as the Body of Christ.  The Church, the Bishop of Hippo Regius wrote, is the unity of faith and love, and schism and heresy are antithetical to unity, the principle of which is the Holy Spirit.  Our saint argued that the Church will contain impure elements until the end times, when God will remove them.  Meanwhile, the members of the Church were spiritual pilgrims in constant need of reform.

Furthermore, St. Augustine wrote, Christ exists in three modes–the eternal Word, the God-man, and the Church.  The emphasis on organic unity mattered to the bishop, who supported Papal primacy.  Donatists and other schismatics hampered the goal of unity.


St. Augustine also objected to Pelagianism, named after Pelagius (c. 360-c. 420), a Roman British theologian.  Pelagianism, which the Roman Catholic Church declared heretical quickly, argued for the inherent moral neutrality of people at birth, thereby repudiating the doctrine of original sin.  Pelagianism therefore contended for the complete freedom of human will to choose good or evil–to save or to condemn oneself.  This heresy eliminated grace from salvation.  St. Augustine refuted Pelagianism without teaching salvation by faith alone.

Augustine’s doctrine of grace led to deep issues that are still a matter of dispute in Western Christian tradition.  He insisted with Paul that we are justified by faith, but does not each the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone.  For Augustine, our journey to God, our salvation really is like a journey along a road.  When we’ve converted to the faith, that’s like getting on the right road.  What moves us along the road is love for God.  But Christian faith is just the beginning of the journey, and is not sufficient to bring us home.

Augustine insists on the necessity of grace if we are to do any good work, but does not teach the Protestant doctrine that we are saved by grace alone, because when our wills co-operate with grace our works of love have merit.  By grace we come to love God, though we never do so perfectly in this life.  Because believers pray for grace and forgiveness, their sins are not imputed to them.  Gifts of grace, called “co-operative grace,” work together with our good will to produce meritorious works of love.  Although all our good works are outgrowths of grace, our salvation requires merit as well as grace.  This is possible because the initial gift of grace, called “operative grace,” works a change in our hearts, turning our wills toward the end.

Augustine taught that grace and free will were compatible, but not everyone agrees that his doctrine of grace really is compatible with an adequate concept of free will.  He insists that this is not coercion, for it does not mean overcoming the unwilling but inwardly causing the unwilling to become willing.  Hence on Augustine’s view, God can cause us to will freely in a different way than we had before.  This view of free will is deemed inadequate in its own control.

–Phillip Cary, The History of Christian Theology Course Guidebook (Chantilly, VA:  The Great Courses, 2008), pages 40-41

For St. Augustine grace was essential and original sin was real.  He linked original sin with sexuality, agreeing with St. Paul the Apostle (in 1 Corinthians 7) that virginity is superior to marriage and that being married is better than committing sin.  St. Augustine agreed that sexual desire resulted from the fall of the human race at Eden and that the act of procreation was therefore impure.  Thus infants entered into the world already tainted by original sin and therefore deserving of damnation, hence infant baptism for the baptism of sins.  Not surprisingly, St. Augustine favored the mandatory celibacy of the clergy.

St. Augustine, in refuting Pelagianism, argued for Double Predestination, the idea that God predestines everyone–some to Heaven and others to Hell.  The official position of the Roman Catholic Church since the Council of Orange (529), guided by St. Caesarius of Arles (468/470-543), has been Semi-Pelagianism.

Simply put, this is the semi-Pelagian position:  We are all unworthy, undeserving sinners.  We not only leave undone many things we ought to have done; even the good we do is corrupted by sinful motives, desires, and goals.  We are totally dependent on the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ for our salvation.  But although it is true that we are not free and able to save ourselves by our good works, we are free and able to do one thing.  We can acknowledge our need for God’s grace and turn to God to ask for the deep, abiding faith, hope, and love we cannot achieve for ourselves.  We can confess Christ as Lord and Savior and show our willingness to receive the salvation made available to us in him.  We can allow the transforming power of God’s Holy Spirit to come into our hearts.  We can go to church in order to express our desire for the help and salvation we know comes only from God.  We cannot save ourselves, but we can do that much if we really want to.  And if we choose God and turn to God in this way, God will choose us, love, help, and save us.  If some do not receive this saving grace, it is not because God has rejected them; it is because they have rejected God.  Salvation is by God’s grace alone, available to all who sincerely ask for it and want it.

–Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr., Christian Doctrine, Revised Edition (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), pages 127-128


Other Matters Theological


St. Augustine became an influential theologian.  God occupied the center of Augustinian thought.  The saint argued that one can discern the existence of God, the preferred name for whom is Truth, via reason.  He also wrote that the image of God is evident in the soul, which is immortal and imperishable, not an aspect of the body.  Furthermore, St. Augustine contended, the human powers of memory, understanding, and will reflect the Holy Trinity.  He also affirmed transubstantiation while making a distinction between the sign or sacrament and the thing of which the sacrament was a sign, or between what one sees and what one understands, or what between the bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ.  He argued that the bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ are identical after the prayer of consecration, for they become substantially the same.

St. Augustine argued that, although not all wars are just, some of them are.  He established four standards for a just war:

  • lawful authority,
  • a just cause,
  • a right intention, and
  • war as the last resort.

With regard to sin and evil, St. Augustine understood evil to be not only the result of free will but the lack of good and sin to be disordered love, the turning away from things eternal.


The End of Saint Augustine and the Western Roman Empire


St. Augustine spent his final years mourning the crumbling of the Western Roman Empire.  (The Eastern Roman Empire survived until 1453.)  Among the traditional justifications for persecuting Christians had been the idea that Gentiles needed to honor pagan deities as a patriotic duty.  If too many Gentiles neglected this duty, the reasoning went, the gods would abandon the Roman Empire.  In 410, at the end of the reign (395-423) of the Emperor Honorius, Rome fell to the Visigoth chief Alaric (c. 370-410).  The Western Roman Empire limped along (at least de jure, until September 476, when Flavius Odoacer (Odovacer), an army officer of German origin, deposed Romulus Augustus, the last emperor in the west.  Actually, though, that event was a formality.  The Western Roman Empire did not fall; it faded away.  St. Augustine wrote The City of God to, among other things, argue against the blaming of Christians for the sorry state of the Western Roman Empire.  He died at Hippo Regius on August 28, 430, during the siege of that city by the Vandals.  Our saint was 75 years old.




One need not agree completely with someone entirely to acknowledge his or her sanctity and greatness.  Indeed, collegiality is a virtue in relation to both the living and the dead.  If I were to make total agreement with someone a requirement for inclusion on the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, the Ecumenical Calendar would not exist.

These saints were spiritual giants upon whose figurative shoulders my fellow Christians and I stand.  Their biographies remind us that we have an obligation to influence one another positively, for the glory of God and the benefit of each other.  The issues with which we must contend might differ from theirs, but the call of Christ to follow him remains constant.  Fidelity to Christ will look different from one person to another, depending on who, where, and when one is.  May we who follow Christ honor that diversity of discipleship.







Loving God, we praise you and give thanks to you for the examples of your servants

St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Monica of Hippo, and St. Augustine of Hippo,

who, in the late Western Roman period, contended for the faith courageously.

May we who follow you support each other in our spiritual pilgrimages,

be one with you and each other, and leave a legacy that honors you and

brings glory to you; in the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

–Kenneth Randolph Taylor, May 10, 2016 Common Era

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 2:7-11, 16-18

Psalm 87

Galatians 7:11-17

John 16:20-24

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), pages 107, 359, and 545