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§ 47. Helvidius, Vigilantius, and Aerius.


See especially the tracts of Jerome quoted in the preceding section.


Helvidius, whether a layman or a priest at Rome it is uncertain, a pupil, according to the statement of Gennadius, of the Arian bishop Auxentius of Milan, wrote a work, before the year 383, in refutation of the perpetual virginity of the mother of the Lord—a leading point with the current glorification of celibacy. He considered the married state equal in honor and glory to that of virginity. Of his fortunes we know nothing. Augustine speaks of Helvidians, who are probably identical with the Antidicomarianites of Epiphanius. Jerome calls Helvidius, indeed, a rough and uneducated man,401401   At the very beginning of his work against him, he styles him “hominem rusticum et vix primis quoque imbutum literis.” but proves by quotations of his arguments, that he had at least some knowledge of the Scriptures, and a certain ingenuity. He appealed in the first place to Matt. i. 18, 24, 25, as implying that Joseph knew his wife not before, but after, the birth of the Lord; then to the designation of Jesus as the “first born” son of Mary, in Matt. i. 25, and Luke ii. 7; then to the many passages, which speak of the brothers and sisters of Jesus; and finally to the authority of Tertullian and Victorinus. Jerome replies, that the “till” by no means always fixes a point after which any action must begin or cease;402402   Comp. Matt. xxviii. 20. that, according to Ex. xxxiv. 19, 20; Num. xviii. 15 sqq., the “first born” does not necessarily imply the birth of other children afterward, but denotes every one, who first opens the womb; that the “brothers” of Jesus may have been either sons of Joseph by a former marriage, or, according to the wide Hebrew use of the term, cousins; and that the authorities cited were more than balanced by the testimony of Ignatius, Polycarp(?), and Irenaeus. “Had Helvidius read these,” says he, “he would doubtless have produced something more skilful.”

This whole question, it is well known, is still a problem in exegesis. The perpetua virginitas of Mary has less support from Scripture than the opposite theory. But it is so essential to the whole ascetic system, that it became from this time an article of the Catholic faith, and the denial of it was anathematized as blasphemous heresy. A considerable number of Protestant divines,403403   Luther, for instance (who even calls Helvidiusa “gross fool”), and Zuingle, among the Reformers; Olshausen and J. P. Lange, among the later theologians. however, agree on this point with the Catholic doctrine, and think it incompatible with the dignity of Mary, that, after the birth of the Son of God and Saviour of the world, she should have borne ordinary children of men.

Vigilantius, originally from Gaul,404404   Respecting his descent, compare the diffuse treatise of the tedious but thorough Walch, l.c. p. 675-677. a presbyter of Barcelona in Spain, a man of pious but vehement zeal, and of literary talent, wrote in the beginning of the fifth century against the ascetic spirit of the age and the superstition connected with it. Jerome’s reply, dictated hastily in a single night at Bethlehem in the year 406, contains more of personal abuse and low witticism, than of solid argument. “There have been,” he says, “monsters on earth, centaurs, syrens, leviathans, behemoths .... Gaul alone has bred no monsters, but has ever abounded in brave and noble men,—when, of a sudden, there has arisen one Vigilantius, who should rather be called Dormitantius,405405   This cheap pun he repeats, Epist. 109, ad Ripar. (Opera, i. p. 719), where he says that Vigilantius(Wakeful) was so called κατ ̓ ἀντίφρασιν, and should rather be called Dormitantius (Sleepy). The fact is, that Vigilantiuswas wide-awake to a sense of certain superstitions of the age contending in an impure spirit against the Spirit of Christ, and forbidding to honor the graves of the martyrs; he rejects the Vigils—only at Easter should we sing hallelujah; he declares abstemiousness to be heresy, and chastity a nursery of licentiousness (pudicitiam, libidinis seminarium) .... This innkeeper of Calagurris406406   In South Gaul; now Casères in Gascogne. As the business of innkeeper is incompatible with the spiritual office, it has been supposed that the father of Vigilantiuswas a caupo Calagurritanus. Comp. Rössler’s Bibliothek der Kirchenväter, part ix. p. 880 sq., note 100; and Walch, l.c mingles water with the wine, and would, according to ancient art, combine his poison with the genuine faith. He opposes virginity, hates chastity, cries against the fastings of the saints, and would only amidst jovial feastings amuse himself with the Psalms of David. It is terrible to bear, that even bishops are companions of his wantonness, if those deserve this name, who ordain only married persons deacons, and trust not the chastity of the single.”407407   Adv. Vigil.c. 1 and 2 (Opera, tom. ii. p. 387 sqq.). Vigilantius thinks it better for a man to use his money wisely, and apply it gradually to benevolent objects at home, than to lavish it all at once upon the poor or give it to the monks of Jerusalem. He went further, however, than his two predecessors, and bent his main efforts against the worship of saints and relics, which was then gaining ascendency and was fostered by monasticism. He considered it superstition and idolatry. He called the Christians, who worshipped the “wretched bones” of dead men, ash-gatherers and idolaters.408408   “Cinerarios et idolatras, qui mortuorum ossa venerantur.” Hieron. Ep. 109, ad Riparium (tom. i. p. 719). He expressed himself sceptically respecting the miracles of the martyrs, contested the practice of invoking them and of intercession for the dead, as useless, and declared himself against the Vigils, or public worship in the night, as tending to disorder and licentiousness. This last point Jerome admits as a fact, but not as an argument, because the abuse should not abolish the right use.

The presbyter Aerius of Sebaste, about 360, belongs also among the partial opponents of monasticism. For, though himself an ascetic, he contended against the fast laws and the injunction of fasts at certain times, considering them an encroachment upon Christian freedom. Epiphanius also ascribes to him three other heretical views: denial of the superiority of bishops to presbyters, opposition to the usual Easter festival, and opposition to prayers for the dead.409409   Epiph. Haer. 75. Comp. also Walch, l.c. iii. 321-338. Bellarmine, on account of this external resemblance, styles Protestantism the Aerian heresy. He was hotly persecuted by the hierarchy, and was obliged to live, with his adherents, in open fields and in caves.



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