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§ 46. Opposition to Monasticism. Jovinian.


I. Chrysostomus: Πρὸς τοὺς πολεμοῦ́τας τοῖς ἐπὶ τὸ μονάζειν ἐνάγουσιν(a vindication of monasticism against its opponents, in three books). Hieronymus: Ep. 61, ad Vigilantium (ed. Vallars. tom. i. p. 345 sqq.); Ep. 109, ad Riparium (i. 719 sqq.); Adv. Helvidium (a.d. 383); Adv. Jovinianum (a.d. 392); Adv. Vigilantium (a.d. 406). All these three tracts are in Opera Hieron. tom. ii. p. 206–402. Augustinus: De haeres. cap. 82 (on Jovinian), and c. 84 (on Helvidius and the Helvidians). Epiphanius: Haeres. 75 (on Aerius).

II. Chr. W. F. Walch: Ketzerhistorie (1766), part iii. p. 585 (on Helvidius and the Antidikomarianites); p. 635 sqq. (on Jovinian); and p. 673 sqq. (on Vigilantius). Vogel: De Vigilantio haeretico orthodoxo, Gött. 1756. G. B. Lindner: De Joviniano et Vigilantio purioris doctrinae antesignanis, Lips. 1839. W. S. Gilly: Vigilantius and his Times, Lond. 1844. Comp. also Neander: Der heil. Joh. Chrysostomus, 3d ed. 1848, vol. i. p. 53 sqq.; and Kirchengesch, iii. p. 508 sqq. (Torrey’s translation, ii. p. 265 sqq.). Baur: Die christliche Kirche von 4–6ten Jahrh. 1859, p. 311 sqq.


Although monasticism was a mighty movement of the age, engaging either the cooperation or the admiration of the whole church, yet it was not exempt from opposition. And opposition sprang from very different quarters: now from zealous defenders of heathenism, like Julian and Libanius, who hated and bitterly reviled the monks for their fanatical opposition to temples and idol-worship; now from Christian statesmen and emperors, like Valens, who were enlisted against it by its withdrawing so much force from the civil and military service of the state, and, in the time of peril from the barbarians, encouraging idleness and passive contemplation instead of active, heroic virtue; now from friends of worldly indulgence, who found themselves unpleasantly disturbed and rebuked by the religious earnestness and zeal of the ascetic life; lastly, however, also from a liberal, almost protestant, conception of Christian morality, which set itself at the same time against the worship of Mary and the saints, and other abuses. This last form of opposition, however, existed mostly in isolated cases, was rather negative than positive in its character, lacked the spirit of wisdom and moderation, and hence almost entirely disappeared in the fifth century, only to be revived long after, in more mature and comprehensive form, when monasticism had fulfilled its mission for the world.

To this class of opponents belong Helvidius, Jovinian, Vigilantius, and Aerius. The first three are known to us through the passionate replies of Jerome, the last through the Panarion of Epiphanius. They figure in Catholic church history among the heretics, while they have received from many Protestant historians a place among the “witnesses of the truth” and the forerunners of the Reformation.

We begin with Jovinian, the most important among them, who is sometimes compared, for instance, even by Neander, to Luther, because, like Luther, he was carried by his own experience into reaction against the ascetic tendency and the doctrines connected with it. He wrote in Rome, before the year 390 a work, now lost, attacking monasticism in its ethical principles. He was at that time himself a monk, and probably remained so in a free way until his death. At all events he never married, and according to Augustine’s account, he abstained “for the present distress,”392392   1 Cor. vii. 26. and from aversion to the encumbrances of the married state. Jerome pressed him with the alternative of marrying and proving the equality of celibacy with married life, or giving up his opposition to his own condition.393393   Adv. Jovin. lib. i. c. 40 (Opera, ii. 304): “Et tamen iste formosus monachus, crassus, nitidus, dealbatus, et quasi sponsus semper incedens, aut uxorem ducat ut aequalem virginitatem nuptiis probet; aut, si non duxerit, frustra contra nos verbis agit, cum opere nobiscum sit.” Jerome gives a very unfavorable picture of his character, evidently colored by vehement bitterness. He calls Jovinian a servant of corruption, a barbarous writer, a Christian Epicurean, who, after having once lived in strict asceticism, now preferred earth to heaven, vice to virtue, his belly to Christ, and always strode along as an elegantly dressed bridegroom. Augustine is much more lenient, only reproaching Jovinian with having misled many Roman nuns into marriage by holding before them the examples of pious women in the Bible. Jovinian was probably provoked to question and oppose monasticism, as Gieseler supposes, by Jerome’s extravagant praising of it, and by the feeling against it, which the death of Blesilla (384) in Rome confirmed. And he at first found extensive sympathy. But he was excommunicated and banished with his adherents at a council about the year 390, by Siricius, bishop of Rome, who was zealously opposed to the marriage of priests. He then betook himself to Milan, where the two monks Sarmatio and Barbatian held forth views like his own; but he was treated there after the same fashion by the bishop, Ambrose, who held a council against him. From this time he and his party disappear from history, and before the year 406 he died in exile.394394   Augustinesays, De haer. c. 82: “Cito ista haeresis oppressa et extincta est;” and Jeromewrites of Jovinian, in 406, Adv. Vigilant. c. 1, that, after having been condemned by the authority of the Roman church, he dissipated his mind in the enjoyment of his lusts.

According to Jerome, Jovinian held these four points (1) Virgins, widows, and married persons, who have once been baptized into Christ, have equal merit, other things in their conduct being equal. (2) Those, who are once with full faith born again by baptism, cannot be overcome (subverti) by the devil. (3) There is no difference between abstaining from food and enjoying it with thanksgiving. (4) All, who keep the baptismal covenant, will receive an equal reward in heaven.

He insisted chiefly on the first point; so that Jerome devotes the whole first book of his refutation to this point, while he disposes of all the other heads in the second. In favor of the moral equality of married and single life, he appealed to Gen. ii. 24, where God himself institutes marriage before the fall; to Matt. xix. 5, where Christ sanctions it; to the patriarchs before and after the flood; to Moses and the prophets, Zacharias and Elizabeth, and the apostles, particularly Peter, who lived in wedlock; also to Paul, who himself exhorted to marriage,395395   1 Cor. vii. 36, 39. required the bishop or the deacon to be the husband of one wife,396396   1 Tim. iii. 2, 12. and advised young widows to marry and bear children.397397   1 Tim. v. 14; comp. 1 Tim. ii. 15; Heb. xiii. 4. He declared the prohibition of marriage and of divinely provided food a Manichaean error. To answer these arguments, Jerome indulges in utterly unwarranted inferences, and speaks of marriage in a tone of contempt, which gave offence even to his friends.398398   From 1 Cor. vii. 1, for example (“It is good for a man not to touch a woman”), he argues, without qualification, l. i. c. 7 (Opera, ii. 246): “Si bonum est mulierem non tangere, malum est ergo tangere, nihil enim bono contrarium est, nisi malum; si autem malum est, et ignoscitur, ideo conceditur, ne malo quid deterius fiat .... Tolle fornicationem, et non dicet [apostolus], unusquisque uxorem suam habeat.“Immediately after this (ii. 247) he argues, from the exhortation of Paul to pray without ceasing, 1 Thess. v. 17: “Si semper orandum est, nunquam ergo conjugio serviendum, quoniam quotiescunque uxori debitum reddo, orare non possum.” Such sophistries and misinterpretations evidently proceed upon the lowest sensual idea of marriage, and called forth some opposition even at that age. He himself afterward felt that he had gone too far, and in his Ep. 48 (ed. Vallars. or Ep. 30, ed. Bened.) ad Pammachium, endeavored to save himself by distinguishing between the gymnastic (polemically rhetorical) and the dogmatic mode of writing. Augustine was moved by it to present the advantages of the married life in a special work, De bono conjugali, though without yielding the ascetic estimate of celibacy.399399   De bono conj. c. 8: “Duo bona sunt connubium et continentia, quorum alterum est melius.”

Jovinian’s second point has an apparent affinity with the Augustinian and Calvinistic doctrine of the perseverantia sanctorum. It is not referred by him, however, to the eternal and unchangeable counsel of God, but simply based on 1 Jno. iii. 9, and v. 18, and is connected with his abstract conception of the opposite moral states. He limits the impossibility of relapse to the truly regenerate, who “plena fide in baptismate renati sunt,” and makes a distinction between the mere baptism of water and the baptism of the Spirit, which involves also a distinction between the actual and the ideal church.

His third point is aimed against the ascetic exaltation of fasting, with reference to Rom. xiv. 20, and 1 Tim. iv. 3. God, he holds, has created all animals for the service of man; Christ attended the marriage feast at Cana as a guest, sat at table with Zaccheus, with publicans and sinners, and was called by the Pharisees a glutton and a wine-bibber; and the apostle says: To the pure all things are pure, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.

He went still further, however, and, with the Stoics, denied all gradations of moral merit and demerit, consequently also all gradations of reward and punishment. He overlooked the process of development in both good and evil. He went back of all outward relations to the inner mind, and lost all subordinate differences of degree in the great contrast between true Christians and men of the world, between regenerate and unregenerate; whereas, the friends of monasticism taught a higher and lower morality, and distinguished the ascetics, as a special class, from the mass of ordinary Christians. As Christ, says he, dwells in believers, without difference of degree, so also believers are in Christ without difference of degree or stages of development. There are only two classes of men, righteous and wicked, sheep and goats, five wise virgins and five foolish, good trees with good fruit and bad trees with bad fruit. He appealed also to the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, who all received equal wages. Jerome answered him with such things as the parable of the sower and the different kinds of ground, the parable of the different numbers of talents with corresponding rewards, the many mansions in the Father’s house (by which Jovinian singularly understood the different churches on earth), the comparison of the resurrection bodies with the stars, which differ in glory, and the passage: “He which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully, shall reap also bountifully.”400400   2 Cor. ix. 6.



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