| Saints and Heroes to the End of the Middle Ages|
|by George Hodges|
| An excellent introduction to the history of the church through portraits of twenty of the most important saints and heroes of the faith from the third century A.D. to the time of the Reformation. Includes Cyprian, Athanasius, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Benedict, Greg-ory the Great, Columba, Charlemagne, Hildebrand, Anselm, Bernard, Becket, Langton, Dominic, Francis, Wycliffe, Hus, and Savonarola. Ages 11-14 |
 AMONG the young men who listened with interest to the
eloquence of Ambrose in the cathedral of Milan was one
named Augustine. He was an outsider, a pagan, and went
to church, not because he was concerned about the
Christian religion, but because he liked to hear good
speaking. Perhaps, however, he thought sometimes, in
the midst of the service and the sermon, of his
Christian mother, Monica.
We are told much of the thoughts as well of the acts of
Augustine by himself, in his famous "Confessions."
This was the first of all the autobiographies.
Augustine was the first man in all history to write a
book about himself. And this he did with such
frankness, and such continual human interest, that it
 to-day the chief autobiography in literature.
Thus we know that he was born in Africa, not far from
Carthage, the son of descendants of Latin colonists,
like Cyprian. That is, his people were African by
residence, but Italian by race. His father was a
pagan, and lived the careless, and even evil life which
paganism permitted. The one good thing reported of him
is that he did not beat his wife; but even that was
explained by Monica on the ground that it takes two to
make a quarrel.
Augustine says that he was a bad boy at school, getting
his lessons pretty well,—though he hated
mathematics,—but running away to play ball, and
being well whipped for it. As he grew up, he showed an
inclination to follow the example of his father rather
than the piety of his mother.
ST. AUGUSTINE WITH HIS MOTHER
He went to college in Carthage, a place full of
temptation, into which he fell. He
 says, however, that what he most desired was not the
pleasure of sin, but the praise of his companions.
Accordingly, he pretended to be worse than he really
was. One of the lesser offenses of the wild youths who
were his associates in college was to break up the
lectures of the professors. A gang of them would go
about, and rush shouting into classroom after
classroom, destroying all the order of the college.
Still, Augustine studied to such good purpose that he
was asked to become a teacher himself.
Now he found that the pleasant pastime of mobbing
professors was much more agreeable to the students than
it was to the professors, and after being put to this
annoyance several times, he gave up in disgust, and
found some teaching to do in Rome. The students in
Rome were much more polite than in Carthage, but they
had a custom which was almost equally objectionable.
They would attend their
 classes with great diligence until just before the time
to pay their annual fees; then they would depart and
appear no more. As Augustine depended on his fees for
his support, this was a serious matter.
Happily, however, at this moment a professorship fell
vacant in Milan; it was a position which was supported
by the State, with a salary paid from the State
treasury. This comfortable place was offered to
Augustine by the Roman senator who pleaded against
Ambrose for the Altar of Victory. Thus he came to
He had now learned some lessons under the instruction
of experience. He had mastered the worst of his old
sins. He had become interested in the discussion of
religion: but not in the Christian religion. He had
found a sect of people called Manichees, whose creed
was brought from Persia. They believed in two gods,
like the Persians, a good god and a bad one. They had
a long series of secret initiations
 by which one passed by one degree after another
to illumination and perfection. Augustine went a little
way in this society, but not far. He was profoundly
dissatisfied with the world in which he lived, and with
He began to find what he needed, in the teachings of
Ambrose. Ambrose said, "Here is the Church, a divine
teacher with truth from heaven. Come into it, all
perplexed souls, and take this truth and live according
to it, and be at peace." It appealed to Augustine. It
seemed a pleasant prospect. But his mind was full of
questions. Several times he went to see the bishop.
There sat Ambrose in his great hall, with a book in his
hand, and people coming to consult him. When there was
a space between these visits, he read his book.
Augustine hesitated to interrupt his studies. He went
away without asking any of his questions.
At last, one day, one of the little group
 of Augustine's friends began to tell the story of St.
Anthony, the hermit, as it has been written by
Athanasius: how he had heard in church about the rich
young man to whom the Lord said, "Sell all that thou
hast and follow Me;" how he obeyed that command, and
took up his lodging in the desert, how he lived there
amidst the friendly beasts, saying his prayers,
strengthening his soul, and blessed of God. Augustine
was profoundly interested. He went away alone into a
little quiet garden and flung himself upon the grass.
"How long," he cried, "shall I pray 'O God, make me a
Christian, but not yet,'—how long shall I be like
one who is awakened in the morning and knows that he
ought to get up, yet lies in idle dreaming."
Suddenly he heard the voice of a child singing. Over
and over the child sang, "Take and read! Take and
read!" It seemed to Augustine a message from on
 high. Immediately he rose up and went into the house
and took a Bible, and opened wherever it would open and
read the words which there appeared upon the page. The
words were, "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in
chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying;
but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not
provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."
This experience changed his life. He applied to
Ambrose for baptism. He devoted himself to the study
and the teaching of the Christian religion. He took
his mother, and set out to return to Africa. From
Milan they went to Rome, and from Rome down the Tiber
to the port of Ostia. There they waited for a ship.
One evening, as they sat together in the starlight,
talking of the past and the future, Monica said,
"Augustine, I have now no more to live for. All these
years I have prayed for you that you might be a
 Now my prayers are answered." The next day she fell
sick, in a little while she died, the patron saint of
all devout and patient and long-enduring mothers.
Augustine settled on the farm which had belonged to his
father, and gathered friends about him. There they
lived, digging occasionally in the garden, but more for
exercise than in expectation of crops, and occupying
themselves for the most part with quiet talking, and
thinking, and reading and writing. One day Augustine
went on an errand to the near town of Hippo. There was
a service in the parish church, and he attended it.
And the bishop saw him in the congregation, and when
the time came for the sermon the bishop said,
"Brethren, you know that I am getting old, and am in
need of help. I am, moreover, a Greek and it is hard
for me to pray in Latin. I ought to have an
assistant." Then he looked at Augustine, and everybody
Au-  gustine, and there was a great shouting of Augustine's
name. There was no help for it; he must be a bishop.
By and by the bishop died and Augustine took his place.
Hippo is in Algeria, on a bay which opens into the
Mediterranean. The place is much frequented by
astronomers on the occasion of a total eclipse of the
sun. In the midst of the town is a new cathedral
dedicated to St. Augustine, who is still known there,
even among the Moslems, as "the great Christian."
The size of the place in which a man lives matters
little. The only thing which matters much is the size
of the man. Augustine in the little town of Hippo was
a person of more consequence and influence than the
bishop of Constantinople, and the bishop of Alexandria
put together. He was the greatest man who had appeared
in the Christian Church since St. Paul.
 Augustine now became acquainted with the meaning of two
new words. One word was "schism," the other was
"heresy." Schism means separation, and was applied to
people who separated themselves from the Church.
Heresy means choice, and was applied to people who
chose to think for themselves, and came to conclusions
different from the common teaching of the creed. These
words became important on account of the increasing
disorder of the age. The Roman Empire was going to
pieces, the hands of government were weak, the invading
barbarians were strong, the old order was steadily
giving way. It was necessary, under these conditions,
to maintain discipline in the Church. There must be
leadership and obedience, as in an army in the time of
war. The Christians must be kept together. Wise men
felt then, as wise men felt afterwards in Massachusetts
in the days of the wild Indians, that all
 differences must be prevented. People must act alike,
and think alike, and keep step, for the general safety.
Thus Augustine came into contention with the schism of
Donatus, and with the heresy of Pelagius.
The schism of Donatus had now been going on so long
that many people had forgotten what it was all about.
It arose after the persecution under Diocletian, as the
schism of Novatus arose, in Cyprian's day, after the
persecution under Decius. It began with the same
question, What shall be done with those who, in terror
of death, denied the faith? And there were two
answers, as before: the answer of charity and the
answer of severity. The followers of Donatus were on
the side of severity, and they went out of the Church,
as the followers of Novatus had done, and started a
Christian society of their own. The new church claimed
to be the true church. It had its own bishops, whom
 it set up in city after city against the bishops
already in control. There were two kinds of
Christians, Catholics and Donatists. And they began to
The Catholic Christians, as they were called who
belonged to the old church, appealed to the emperor.
And Constantine, who was then on the imperial throne,
sent soldiers to Africa, where the Donatists were in
the greatest numbers, to put them down. But this only
made bad matters worse. The Donatists, who had
rebelled against the Church, now rebelled against the
State. They became the enemies of the established
order. Some of them went about in gangs with clubs,
and broke into Catholic churches, and beat the Catholic
They were good men, too, many of these Donatists. They
fought for freedom of conscience. They protested
against the endeavor of the State to make them change
their religion by sending soldiers against
 them; and against the endeavor of the Church to make
them submit to rules which they considered wrong.
All wrongs and rights, however, were now confused in
the long contention. It was impossible even to discuss
the differences in any fair and friendly spirit.
Augustine tried it. There was a great debate at
Carthage, with Augustine on one side and a Donatist on
the other, but it came to nothing. It came, indeed, to
worse than nothing, for Augustine in his earnestness
for the order and strength of the Church was led to
take Christ's words out of the parable where He said,
"Compel them to come in," and to apply them to all who
were in a state of schism. Compel them to come in.
Persuade them, argue with them, and thus, if possible,
convert them; but if you cannot convert them, compel
them. Send soldiers after them, beat them, burn their
churches, drag them in. It was said in a moment of
 deep discouragement and indignation, but it was never
forgotten. It was applied to people in heresy and
schism for hundreds of cruel years.
The heresy of Pelagius first appeared in public in a
letter which he wrote to a young Roman lady who had
resolved to forsake the world and thenceforth to live a
single life of prayer and fasting. Many of her friends
sent letters of congratulation. Jerome was
particularly enthusiastic. Pelagius, however, was not
so sure about it. The world, he said, is indeed a bad
world, but not so hopelessly bad. It is not necessary
to go out of it in order to live a righteous life: nor
does it greatly matter, so far as holiness is
concerned, whether one is married or unmarried.
The letter came to the attention of Augustine, and he
condemned the opinion of Pelagius. Taking his own
experience of evil in his early life, and confirming it
with sentences from the writings of St.
 Paul, he maintained that human nature is bad
completely. Man is, by nature, depraved totally, and
comes into the world in sin, the child of the devil; so
that even a helpless infant, dying before he has done
either right or wrong, must go into everlasting
punishment for the sin which is born in him; unless he
has been born again in baptism. Nothing that we can
do, Augustine said, can save us, no works of goodness,
no life of righteousness: we must be saved by the act
of God. And God, he added, saves us, not because we
deserve it, but because of His own pleasure. Some He
has eternally predestined to be saved, others to be
lost. Our hope is not in our own merits, but in His
mercy; and our help is in the grace of God, gained for
us by the death of Jesus Christ, and given to us in the
sacraments of the Church.
The effect of this teaching was to increase the
importance of the Church. The
 world was represented as in the days of Noah, wholly
bad and under a destroying flood. The Church was like
the ark. Whoever would be saved must get into it,
through the door of baptism. Outside were angry
waters, and howling winds, and sure destruction.
So it seemed to Augustine, and the age in which he
lived illustrated it. Year by years rose the
unescapable flood of the barbarian invasion. Goths,
Huns, and Vandals threatened the empire. They came
over the ancient boundaries of the Danube and the
Rhine. They devastated cities, and laid waste great
tracts of cultivated country. And wherever they came,
they stayed. They took possession.
Finally, in 410, Alaric the Goth sacked Rome. The
Romans had believed, concerning Rome, as the Jews
believed concerning Jerusalem, that it could not be
taken. It had so long ruled the world, that it seemed
a part of the nature of things, like the
ever-  lasting sun. But the soldiers of Alaric conquered it.
The ancient city was given over to sword and flame.
Amidst a thousand other acts of terror, the Goths broke
into the house of Marcella, and so beat her that she
died in a few days.
Only the Roman emperor seemed unmoved by this
tremendous calamity. He was in a safe retreat at
Ravenna when the news came. It is remembered of the
emperor Honorius that there were only two matters in
which he was ever known to show the slightest interest:
one was the safety of his own imperial person, the
was the raising of hens, in which he was very
successful. His favorite hen was named Rome. When
they came, then, crying,, "Your Majesty, Rome has
perished!" he said, "Why, only an hour ago she was
feeding out of my hand!" And when they told him that
it was the capital of the world which had been
destroyed, he was much relieved.
 The Goths under Alaric spread over Italy. After them
came the Vandals under Genseric, and invaded Roman
Africa. Augustine saw them coming, a long way off. He
saw that the catastrophe long dreaded had at last
arrived. The Roman Empire had fallen. The old power
which governed the world had met defeat. The old
cities had new inhabitants. Rome had fallen, and the
Roman age had come to a tragic end.
In the midst of this situation, the news of the march
of the barbarians coming daily to his ears, Augustine
wrote his great book, the "City of God." The city of
Rome, he said, has indeed perished, but there is
another city, the Church of Christ, eternal in the
Augustine was now an old man, and ill. And the Vandals
were storming the walls of Hippo. He could hear the
cries of battle from his sick-bed. "I have but one
prayer to God amid these calamities,"
 he said, "either that He would set this city free from
the enemy, or if not, that He would make His servants
strong to bear His will, or at least that He would take
me to Himself from the world." The end of the prayer
was answered. Augustine died. The city, deserted by
its inhabitants, was burnt by the Vandals to the
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