« Clovis, king of the Salian Franks Coelestinus, commonly called Celestine, bp. of… Coelestius, heretic of Hibernian Scots »

Coelestinus, commonly called Celestine, bp. of Rome

Coelestinus, commonly called Celestine, 42nd bp. of Rome, succeeded Boniface I. on Sunday, Sept. 10, 422, without any delay or contest. He was of Roman birth, the son of Priscus. In early life he had visited Milan during the episcopate of St. Ambrose. While deacon to Innocent, he had written a cordial letter to St. Augustine, who returned a suitable reply (Aug. Ep. 192). Soon after his accession to the see of Rome, Celestine received a letter from Augustine (Ep. 209) on the case of one Antony, bp. of Fussala, 40 miles from Hippo, who had gravely misconducted himself in his office, been compelled by a synod of bishops to leave Fussala, and had afterwards applied to Boniface for restoration. Augustine entreated Celestine not to impose on the people of Fussala, by aid of secular power, a prelate so unworthy. After this, the African bishops resolved no longer to allow appeals to Rome from their country; and when Celestine, apparently in 426, wrote to them in behalf of the priest Apiarius, a general council of Africa sent a reply begging Celestine to observe the Nicene rule (can. 5) and not receive to communion those excommunicated by them. The African church thus claimed its right to decide its own causes. They pointed out that the Nicene council had ordered that all causes should be decided where they arose; nor could anyone "believe that our God will inspire a single individual with justice, and deny it to a large number of bishops sitting in council." That persons should be sent from Rome to decide causes in Africa had been "ordained by no synod"; and they had proved to Celestine's predecessor, by authentic copies of Nicene canons, that such a claim was wholly baseless (Cod. Can. Eccl. Afric. ad. fin.; Galland, Bibl. Patr. ix. 289).

Celestine was zealous against Pelagianism, and constrained Coelestius, the companion of Pelagius, to leave Italy.

The affairs of eastern Illyricum occupied the attention of Celestine, as of his predecessors. This civil "diocese" was attached, politically, to the eastern empire; but the see of Rome had kept a hold over its churches by committing a sort of vicarial authority to the see of Thessalonica, which was its head. Thus Damasus is said to have made the bps. of Thessalonica his representatives. See Fleury, b. xviii. c. 22. Le Quien, Or. Christ. ii. 9, thinks this an over-statement; but at any rate, he observes, Siricius (who succeeded Damasus), and afterwards Innocent, gave a delegated authority to Anysius of Thessalonica. In a.d. 421 a collision took place between the Roman bp. Boniface and Theodosius II., who "claimed the power of transferring to the bp. of Constantinople that superintendence over the bps. of Illyricum" which Rome had entrusted to Thessalonica (Fleury, xxiv. 31). But Theodosius appears to have yielded the point; and Celestine having already "interposed" in behalf of an Illyrian bishop named Felix, who was "in peril of being crushed by factious accusers," afterwards wrote (Cel. Ep. 3) to Perigenes of Corinth and eight other prelates of eastern Illyricum, asserting his right, as successor of St. Peter, to a general oversight ("necessitatem de omnibus tractandi"), and directing his 196"beloved brethren" to refer all causes to his deputy, Rufus of Thessalonica, and not to consecrate bishops, nor hold councils, without the sanction of that bishop. "Dominentur nobis regulae," writes Celestine, "non regulis dominemur; simus subjecti canonibus," etc. But, says Tillemont significantly, "it is difficult to see how he practised this excellent maxim"; for by the sixth Nicene canon the Illyrian bishops would be subject to their several metropolitans and provincial synods (xiv. 150).

Another letter from Celestine (Ep. 4) was addressed, July 25, 428, "to the bishops of the provinces of Vienne and Narbonne, for the purpose of correcting several abuses" (Fleury, xxiv. 56). Some bishops, he had learned, "surreptitiously" wore the philosophic "pallium," with a girdle, by way of carrying out Luke xii. 35. "Why not," asks Celestine, "also hold lighted lamps and staves?" The text is to be understood spiritually. This sort of dress, he adds, may be retained by those who dwell apart; (monks), but there is no precedent for it in the case of bishops. "We ought to be distinguished from the people, not by dress, but by teaching; not by attire, but by conduct." On other matters he comments. Some refuse to give absolution to penitents even at the hour of death: this is a barbarous "killing of the soul." Some consecrate laymen to the episcopate. Let no one be consecrated until he has gone through all degrees of the ministry: he who would be a teacher must first be a disciple. In the appointment of bishops he said that the wishes of the flock must be respected: Nullus invitis detur episcopus. These words became the recognized expression of a great principle of church law.

With this letter may be compared a short one (Ep. 5), written in 429, to urge the Apulian and Calabrian bishops to observe the canons, and not to gratify any popular wish for the consecration of a person who had not served in the ministry. (On this subject of per saltum consecrations, see Bingham, ii. 10, 4 seq.)

In the same year (429) Germanus bp. of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes were sent into Britain to repress Pelagianism. Prosper, in his Chronicle, says that Celestine sent German to guide the Britons to Catholic faith. Constantius of Lyons, the biographer of German, whom Bede follows (H. E. i. 17), says that German and Lupus were sent by a large synod of Gallic bishops. (Prosper was then in Gaul, and ere long became Celestine's secretary: Constantius wrote some sixty years later, but with full access to local information.) The accounts may be reasonably harmonized. In German's case there was probably a special commission from Celestine, in addition to that which emanated from the Gallican synod. In this way, apparently, Celestine, as Prosper afterwards wrote in another work (C. Collatorem, 21, al. 24), "took pains to keep the Roman island Catholic." It will be natural to consider next Celestine's proceedings in regard to Ireland, which, says Prosper, in the same sentence, he "made Christian." Two years after the expedition of German he consecrated Palladius, and sent him to "the Scots, who believed in Christ," i.e. to the Irish, "as their first bishop." Such is Prosper's statement in his Chronicle. Palladius had but little success, and stayed in Ireland but a short time; and there is no sufficient evidence for associating the mission of his great successor, St. Patrick, with Celestine or with the see of Rome. (See Todd's Life of St. Patrick, pp. 309 seq., 352, 387 etc.)

We now turn to the part which Celestine took in the great doctrinal controversy raised by Nestorius at Constantinople at the end of 428. Celestine (Ep. 13) early in 429 received copies of controversial discourses said to be by Nestorius, and wrote on his own behalf, and on that of other Italian bishops, to Cyril of Alexandria, asking for information. [Cyril.] Cyril purposely kept silence for a year; and before he wrote, Celestine had received from Nestorius himself, by the hands of a man of high rank, named Antiochus, copies of his discourses, with a letter, in which Nestorius speaks of certain exiled Pelagians resident in Constantinople; and then passes on to the controversy about the Incarnation, and describes his opponents as Apollinarians, etc. He wrote more than once again (Mansi, iv. 1023), and another extant letter resumes the same topic.

Celestine caused the Nestorian discourses to be rendered into Latin; and meanwhile received a letter from Cyril, accompanied by other translations of these documents, made at Alexandria. Thus aided, Celestine formed his own opinion on their theological character, and summoned a synod of bishops at the beginning of Aug. 430. We possess an interesting fragment of his speech on this occasion. "I remember that Ambrose of blessed memory, on the day of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, made the whole people sing to God with one voice—

'Veni, Redemptor gentium,

Ostende partum Virginis;

 Miretur omne saeculum;

 Talis decet partus Deum '"

(Ambros. Hymn 12; in Brev. Ambros. first vespers of Nativ.). "Did he say, 'Talis decet partus hominem'? So, the meaning of our brother Cyril, in that he calls Mary 'Theotokos,' entirely agrees with 'Talis decet partus Deum.' It was God Whom the Virgin, by her child-bearing, brought forth, through His power Who is full of omnipotence." He proceeded to quote a passage from Hilary, and two shorter ones from Damasus (Mansi, iv. 550; Galland, ix. 304). The council's resolutions were expressed by Celestine in letters to Cyril and to Nestorius. The former (Ep. 11) commends Cyril's zeal in a cause which is, in truth, that of "Christ our God"; and concludes by saying that unless Nestorius should, within ten days, condemn his own wicked doctrines by a written profession of the same faith, as to "the birth of Christ our God," which is held by the Roman, by the Alexandrian, by the entire church, provision must be made for the see of Constantinople as if vacant, and Nestorius must be treated as one "separate from our body." This letter was dated Aug. 11, 430. Celestine wrote also to John, bp. of Antioch, Juvenal of Jerusalem, Flavian of Philippi, and Rufus of Thessalonica (Ep. 12). His meaning is evident: he is not professing 197to act as the sole supreme judge and oracle of Christendom, or as the mouthpiece of the Catholic church; he announces his resolution, in concert with the Alexandrian church, to break off all communion with the bp. of Constantinople, unless the latter retracted his heretical sentiments. Another letter was addressed to Nestorius himself (Ep. 13): its point is contained in the observation, "You have been warned once, twice—I now give you the third warning, according to the rule of St. Paul: if you wish to retain communion with myself and with the bp. of Alexandria, affirm what he affirms—confess our faith." Celestine also wrote (Ep. 14) to the clergy and laity of Constantinople, exhorting the orthodox clergy to endure manfully, and to take example from St. Chrysostom and St. Athanasius.

For the events which followed the council of Rome, see Cyril. In Nov. 430, when Theodosius had summoned an oecumenical council to meet at Ephesus at the coming Whitsuntide, and before the Roman and Alexandrian resolutions had been communicated to Nestorius, the latter wrote to Celestine that the best solution would be the adoption of the word "Christotokos," although he did not object to "Theotokos," if it were used so as not to imply "a confusion of natures." In the spring of 431 Cyril wrote again to Celestine, asking what should be done if Nestorius having refused to retract at the summons of Rome and Alexandria—were to retract at the coming synod. Celestine answered, May 7 (Ep. 16), in a tone which exhibits him in a more favourable light than his great Alexandrian colleague, "I am anxious for the salvation of him who is perishing, provided that he is willing to own himself sick: if not, let our previous decisions stand." Next day, May 8, Celestine wrote instructions for the three persons whom he was sending to represent him at the council (Ep. 17). The substance was, "When you reach Ephesus, consult Cyril in everything, and do what he thinks best. But if the council should be over when you arrive, and Cyril gone to Constantinople (i.e. to consecrate a new bishop), you must go thither also, and present to the emperor the letter which you will be charged with for him. If you find matters still unsettled, you will be guided by circumstances as to the course which, in conjunction with Cyril, you should take." On the same day Celestine wrote the most remarkable of his letters, that addressed to the council of Ephesus (Ep. 18), which was afterwards read, first in Latin, then in a Greek translation, at the second sitting of the council (see Mansi, iv. 1283). Celestine, citing Matt. xviii. 20, adds, "Christ was present in the company of apostles when they taught what He had taught them. This duty of preaching has been entrusted to all the Lord's priests in common, for by right of inheritance are we bound to undertake this solicitude. Let us act now with a common exertion, that we may preserve what was entrusted to us and has been retained through succession from the apostles (per apostolicam successionem) to this very day." Celestine then insists on those recollections of the pastoral epistles which the place of the council's meeting should inspire. "Idem locus, eadem causa. . . ." "Let us be unanimous, let us do nothing by strife or vainglory." He reminds them of the words of St. Paul to the "episcopi" of Ephesus, Acts xx. 28. It was on July 10 that the three deputies appeared in the council, Nestorius having been deposed on June 22; the council, as Firmus of Caesarea told the deputies, had "followed in the track" of Celestine's previous decision; but, it must be observed, after a full and independent examination of the evidence. The deputies on the next day heard the "acts" of the first session read, and then affirmed the sentence passed on Nestorius in that session, taking care to dwell on the dignity of the see of St. Peter, while Cyril was not less careful to refer to them as representing "the apostolic chair and the council of Western bishops." The council wrote to Celestine as their "fellow-minister" (Ep. 20), giving a narrative of events, and saying that they had read and affirmed the sentences formerly pronounced by him against the Pelagian heretics. They evidently regarded him as first in dignity among all bishops, but not as master or ruler of all; they "admire him for his far-reaching solicitude as to the interests of religion." "It is your habit, great as you are, to approve yourself in regard to all things, and to take a personal interest in the defence of the churches."

Nestorius, though sent away from Ephesus, had been allowed to live at his old home near Antioch. Celestine objected strongly to this and thought that Nestorius ought to be placed where he could have no opportunity of spreading his opinions. The birthplace of the Christian name is beset by a pestilent "disease." As for Nestorius's adherents, he thinks, there are many points for consideration, and that a distinction should be drawn between heresiarchs and their followers. The latter "should have opportunity of recovering their position on repentance." The consecrators of Maximian appeared to him to have passed a too indiscriminating sentence against all Nestorianizing bishops, and Celestine wished to moderate their zeal. He also wrote (Ep. 23) to Theodosius, extravagantly lauding his acts in behalf of orthodoxy, speaking highly of Maximian, and hinting that Nestorius ought to be sent into distant exile.

"One of Celestine's last actions," says Tillemont, xiv. 156, "was his defence of the memory of St. Augustine as a teacher, against the semi-Pelagians of Gaul. He wrote to Venerius, bp. of Marseilles, and five other Gallic prelates, urging them not to be silent. When presbyters spoke rashly and contentiously, it was not seemly that bishops should allow their subordinates 'to claim the first place in teaching,' especially when they raised their voices against 'Augustine of holy memory'" (Ep. 21). The nine articles on the doctrine of grace appended to this letter are not by Celestine (see note to Oxf. ed. of Fleury, iii. p. 143).

Celestine is described by Socrates (vii. 11) as having treated the Novatianists of Rome with harshness, taken away their churches, and obliged their bishop Rusticola to hold his services in private houses. Celestine died on or about July 26, 432 (Tillemont, xiv. 738), 198and was succeeded by Sixtus III. Hefele, Conc. Gesch. ed. 2, pp. 164 ff.

[W.B.]

« Clovis, king of the Salian Franks Coelestinus, commonly called Celestine, bp. of… Coelestius, heretic of Hibernian Scots »





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