CHAPTER V. HERESIES OF THE FIFTH CENTURY.
ARTICLE I. THE HERESIES OF ELVIDIUS, JOVINIANUS, AND VIGILANTIUS. 1. -Heresy of Elvidius. 2.-Errors of Jovinian. 3. -Adverse Opinions of Basnage refuted. 4.-Vigilantius and his Errors.
1. Elvidius was a disciple of the Arian Ausentius, who was intruded into the See of Milan by the Emperor Constans, when he banished St. Dionisius. St. Jerome says he was a turbulent character, both as priest and layman; but, notwithstanding this high authority, it is doubtful whether he ever was a priest, because, as Noel Alexander says, he was a poor peasant, who scarcely knew his letters. He began to disseminate his heretical doctrines in the year 382. He said that the Blessed Virgin had other children by St. Joseph, besides our Lord, and he relied on the authority of Tertullian for this blasphemy; but St. Jerome proves that Tertullian never held such doctrine. St. Ambrose, St. Epiphanius, and especially St. Jerome refuted the errors of Elvidius. He drew three arguments from the Scriptures in support of his heresy: First That text of St. Matthew : ” Before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost” (Matt., i, 18). He, therefore, argued, as the text says ” before they came together,” it is a proof that they after wards did so. Next he adduced the twenty-fifth verse of the same chapter: ” And he knew her not until she brought forth her first-born son.” Therefore, he argues he knew her after. St. Jerome, in his answer, says: “Should I grieve or smile at this folly.” He then asks, in derision; If any one should say that Elvidius was seized on by death before he did penance, is that a proof that he did penance after death? He then brings other texts of Scripture to refute him. Our Lord says to his apostles, ” Behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world” (Matt, xxviii, 20); does that prove, says St. Jerome, that Jesus Christ will not be with his elect any more after the end of the world? St. Paul says of Christ, ” For he must reign until he hath put all his enemies under his feet” (Cor. xv, 25); so, when our Lord has conquered his enemies, he will reign no longer. In the book of Genesis it is said of the crow that left the ark, ” That it did not return till the waters were dried up” (Gen. viii, 7); does it then follow that it returned to the ark when the waters were dried up? Away, then, with arguments of this sort, says St. Jerome (1); the Scripture here tells, not what was done, but what was not done not what took place, but what did not. The second proof Elvidius adduces is taken from the text already mentioned (Matt, i, 25):” She brought forth her first-born son;” therefore, if he was her first-born, she must have had others after. St. Jerome answers this: The Lord commanded, that for every first-born a certain ransom should be paid a month after the birth (Numbers, xviii, 15, 16). Here, then, says St. Jerome, according to Elvidius, one might say: “How can I be obliged to pay a price for my first-born after a month; how can I tell whether I shall ever have a second? I must wait till a second is born to me, and then I can pay for the first-born.” But the Scripture says itself, that the first-born is that which first ” openeth the womb.”
(1) St. Hieron. l. 1, Comment, in cap. ii, Matt.
The same is declared in Exodus, where it says: “The Lord slew every first-born in the land of Egypt” (Exod. xii, 29). Here there is no doubt, but that the text speaks of only-born as well as first-born. His third argument is from the text of St. Luke (viii, 19) : ” His mother and brethren came to him.” Therefore, he had brothers; but St. Jerome proves, from a great many passages in the Scriptures, that first-cousins are also called brothers, and the brothers referred to in that text are St. James and St. John, the children of the other Mary, the sister of the Mother of God.
2. Jovinian shall now occupy our attention. He was a monk in Milan; and after spending the early years of his life in the austere practices of monastic life fasting on bread and water, going barefooted, and labouring with his hands he forsook his monastery, and went to Rome, where, as St. Ambrose (2) informs us, he began to disseminate his errors. After falling into this impiety he abandoned his mortified manner of living went shod, and clothed in silk and linen garments nourished and dressed his hair frequented taverns, and indulged in play, banquets, delicate dishes, and exquisite wines and still professed all along to be a monk, and led a life of celibacy, to avoid the responsibility of marriage. Preaching a doctrine pleasing to the senses, he soon had many followers of both sexes in Rome, who, having previously led chaste and mortified lives, now abandoned themselves to luxury, and got married. Jovinian was first condemned by Pope Siricius, in a Council, held in Rome, in the year 390, and soon after, in another Council, held by St. Ambrose, in Milan. In the end he was exiled by the Emperor Theodosius, and afterwards by Honorius, to Boas, a maritime town of Dalmatia, and died there in misery, in the year 412 (3). He taught many errors: First, that marriage and virginity were equally meritorius; secondly, that those once baptized can sin no more; thirdly, that those who fast and those who eat have equal merit, if they praise God; fourthly, that all have an equal reward in heaven; fifthly, that all sins are equal; sixthly, that the Blessed Virgin was not a virgin after giving birth to our Lord (4). This last error was followed by Hinckmar, Wickliife, Bucer, Peter Martyr, Molineus, and Basnage (5), but has been ably refuted by St. Jerome, and condemned in a Synod by St. Ambrose. Petavius says, that all the Fathers unanimously profess the virginity of the Blessed Virgin, as fixed by a decree of the Catholic faith. St. Gregory says, that, as Jesus Christ entered into the house, where the apostles were assembled, with the doors shut, in the same manner, at his nativity, he left the inviolated cloister of Mary.
(2) St. Ambrose, Ep. 41, n. 9. (3) Nat. Alex. t. 8, c. 3, ar. 19; Orsi, t. 9, l. 20, n. 27; Fleury, t. 3, l. 19. (4) Nat. Alex. t. 8, ar. 19. (5) Basnape, ad an. 5, ante Pom. n. 25.
The letter of Theodotus, of Ancira, was approved of by the General Council of Ephesus, in which, speaking of the Blessed Virgin, he says : the birth of Jesus Christ makes her a mother without injury to her virginity. The third canon of the Lateran Council, celebrated in the year 649, under Martin I., says: that he should be condemned, who does not confess that the Mother of God was always a virgin. A similar declaration was made in the Council of Trullus, in 692, and in the eleventh Council of Toledo, in 675 (6). He was also condemned by St. Gregory, of Nyssa, St. Isidore, Pelusiot, St. Proclus, St. John Chrysostom, St. John Damascenus, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Siricius, Pope, (who excommunicated him and his followers, in a synod held in Rome), St. Peter Chrysologus, St. Hilary, St. Prosper, St. Fulgentius, St. Eucherius, St. Paulinus, St. Anselm, St. Bernard, St. Peter Damian, and many others; and any one who wishes to see the opinions expressed by the fathers, has only to look to Petavius’s Theology (7). The text of Ezechiel : ” This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened” (Ezechiel, xliv, 2), is generally understood to refer to the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God, and St. Leo (8), Pope Hormisdas, Pelagius I., and the Council of Chalcedon, in the discourse addressed to the Emperor Marcion, all understood it thus.
3. Let us now hear what Basnage, and the heretics who hold the contrary opinion, have to say. Their first argument is founded on that text of Isaias, ” Behold a virgin shall conceive, and shall bring forth a son” (Isaias, vii, 14), which St. Matthew, speaking of the Incarnation of the Divine Word, quotes (Matthew, i, 13). Basnage then argues on this text: The prophet says, that Mary conceived as a virgin; but he does not say, that she brought forth her son as a virgin. But what sort of argument is this? Because the text does not say that she was a virgin, in the birth of her son, therefore, it is a proof that she did not bring him forth a virgin; whereas, the universal tradition of the Church, as we have seen, explains the text in its true sense, that she conceived a virgin, and brought forth our Lord a virgin.
(6) Col. Con. t. 1, col. 1. 10, col. 1151. (7) Petav. Theol. Dog. 6, l. 14, c. 3 (8) St. Leo, Epist.
Basnage brings forth another argument, which he deems unanswerable. We read in St. Luke, he says:” After the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord: as it is written in the law of the Lord, every male opening the womb, shall be called holy to the Lord” (Luke, ii, 22). Now, says Basnage, (and it is worthy of remark, with what temerity he threw overboard the doctrine of the Fathers, as opposed to Scripture, and the opinion of the learned), the opinion of the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God is generally held, and still it is opposed, both to Scripture and the opinions of the ancients. The narrative of St. Luke is quite plain:” When the days of her purification, &c.” Mary was then subjected to the usual law of women, after birth, not alone to avoid scandal, but as a matter of duty; and she was compelled, by the general discipline of the law, to offer a sacrifice for her purification. The days of her purification could not be accomplished if she had no necessity of purification. All his argument, then, is reduced to this, that Mary ought not to fulfil the days of her purification, if there was no necessity of purification; and, for all that, she was obliged (coacta sit) to fulfil the rite. This argument he took from Origen (9); but, as the Fathers of St. Maur say, truly, this was a blasphemy uttered by that Father (10); and, justly, for all the Fathers have said with St. Basil (11), this virgin never was obliged to the law of purification; and this is clear, says the Saint, from the Scriptures; for in Leviticus, xii, 2, it is clearly proved, that this law applies to ordinary mothers, but not to one who conceived by the Holy Ghost. “Scriptum est enim,” says the holy Father, “mulier quæ conceperit semen, et peperit masculum, immunda erit septem diebus; hæc autem cum facta sit Emmanuelis Mater sine semine, pura, et intemerata est; imo postquam effecta est Matre, adhuc virgo permansit.”
(9) Origen, Hom. 14, in Luc. (10) Patres. S. Maur. apud S. Hieron. t. 7, p. 285. (11) St. Basil, in can. 1; Isa. n. 201.
Even Melancthon, Agricola, and the other Lutherans, as we read in Canisius (12), all say that Mary had no necessity of purification. St. Cyril of Alexandria, the same author states teaches that to assert the contrary is rank heresy. With all that, Basnage is not convinced, and he quotes a passage of St. Fulgentius, where he says: ” Vulvam Matris Omnipotentia Filii nascentis aperuit.” But we have another passage, in St. Fulgentius himself, in which he declares that the mother of Christ was the only one who remained immaculate, after giving birth to a son (13). But how are we then to understand ” he opened the womb?” this is to be understood, as St. Gregory of Nyssa explains it (14); ” Solus ille haud ante patefactam virginalem aperuit vulvam ;” that he preserved the virginity of his holy mother. This is what St. Ambrose like wise says: ” Hic (Christus) solus aperuit sibi vulvam (15).” And, treating of the Mysteries against Jovinian, he says: ” Why do you seek the order of nature, in the body of Christ, when setting aside the order of nature, he was born of a virgin.” Basnage lauds St. Jerome as being of his opinion; but the passage he adduces is not to be found in St. Jerome’s writings; besides, St. Jerome (16) says, in his Dialogues : ” Christ alone opened the closed doors of the virginal womb, which, nevertheless, remained ever and always closed ;” so that the very Fathers Basnage quotes in his favour, most expressly condemnthe impious error he attempts to defend.
4. Vigilantius was a native of Comminges, near the foot of the Pyrenees, and of very low origin, having been a tavern-keeper for some time; somehow or other, he found leisure to study, and lead a pious life at the same time, so that he acquired the friendship of St. Paulinus, of Nola, who gave him a letter of recommendation to St. Jerome, and he undertook a journey to the Holy Land. This letter was so far useful to him, that St. Jerome, who knew him to be a man of relaxed morals, did not treat him as his hypocrisy deserved (17).
(12) Canis. l. 4, c. 10, de Virg. Deip. (13) St. Fulgent. l. 1, devere Protest. n. 5. (14) St. Greg. Nys.Orat. de Occursu. (15) St. Ambrose, l. 2, in Luc. n. 57. (16) St. Jerome, I. 2, Dial, contra Pelag. n. 4. (17) St. Hier. Epis. 61.
He had the audacity to treat St. Jerome as a heretic, of the sect of Origen, because he saw him reading Origen’s work; but the Saint, in the year 397, wrote to him (18), that he read these works, not to follow all their doctrine; but, to take whatever was good out of them, and he exhorts him either to learn or be silent. Some years after, about the year 404, Riparius, a priest, wrote to St. Jerome, that Vigilantius began to dogmatize, speaking against the Relics of Martyrs and Vigils in churches. St. Jerome gave summary answer, and promised to return again to the subject, and treat it more amply, when he would have read Vigilantius work (19); and having soon after seen the production, he gave it a short but strong answer, because the monk Sisinius, who brought it to him, was in a hurry to return to Egypt (20). The following are the errors of Vigilantius, refuted by St. Jerome. First. Like Jovinian, he condemned the practice of celibacy. Second He condemned the veneration of the relics of the martyrs; and called those who honoured them Cinerists and idolaters. Third He said it was a pagan superstition to light candles by day in their honor. Fourth He maintained, that the faithful after death could no longer pray for one another, and he founded this opinion on the apocryphal book of Esdras. Fifth He condemned public Vigils in the churches. Sixth He reprobated the custom of sending alms to Jerusalem. Seventh He totally condemned monastic life, and said, that it was only making ourselves useless to our neighbours, if we embraced it. This sect was not condemned by any council, it had but few followers, and soon became extinct (21).
(18) St. Hier. Epis. 75. (19) Idem. Epis. ad Ripar. 55..(20) St. Hier. l. con. Vigilan. c. 2. (21) Fleury, t. 3, l. 22, n. 5; Orsi, t. 10, 1. 25, n. 62; Nat. Alex. t. 10 c. 3, art 1; Diet. Portatif. 4, ver Vigilan