« Frumentius Fulgentius, Fabius Claudius Gordianus, bp. of… Fulgentius (4) Ferrandus, disciple and companion of Ruspe »

Fulgentius, Fabius Claudius Gordianus, bp. of Ruspe

Fulgentius (3), Fabius Claudius Gordianus, bp. of Ruspe, b. 468, d. 533. His life was mostly spent in the provinces of N.W. Africa ruled by the Vandal kings, Genseric, Hunneric, and Thrasimund, and he suffered from their persecutions. The writings of Fulgentius himself, a biographical memoir prefixed to his works and addressed to bp. Felicianus, his successor, supposed to be by Ferrandus, a deacon of Carthage, and a treatise de Persecutione Vandalica, by Victor Vitensis in 487 (Migne, Patr. Lat. t. lviii.), are the principal sources of information for the Vandal persecution in Africa.. Every refinement of cruelty seems to have been visited upon the presbyters, bishops, and virgins of the N. African church during the reigns of Genseric and Hunneric. At the first incursion of the Vandals the whole country was desolated, houses of prayer and basilicas razed, neither age nor sex spared, the tombs of the martyrs rifled for treasure, bishops banished from their sees, virgins basely used, and every effort made to alienate the people from the Catholic faith. At the commencement of Hunneric's reign (Victor, lib. ii.) a gleam of sunshine cheered the church, during which the vacant see of Carthage was filled by Eugenius, whose extraordinary virtues are duly recorded by his biographers. His popularity excited the rage and animosity of the conquerors, who forbade their own people to enter his church. Those who disobeyed were submitted to torture; some were blinded, and many died of the inhuman treatment. Women were scalped, stripped, and paraded through the streets. Victor says, "We knew many of these." Nor did the orthodox alone suffer. Jocundus, the Arian patriarch, was burned alive, and Manicheans were hunted down like wild beasts. At the end of his 2nd year Hunneric refused all position in the court or executive to any but Arians, and banished to Sardinia all who refused to conform; heavy pecuniary fines were imposed whenever a bishop was ordained; many Christian women died under inhuman cruelties, and many were crippled for life. In 486 the bishops and priests were exiled into the desert, and in his 8th year Hunneric issued an edict, still preserved (ib. iii.), summoning the Homoousians to renounce their faith, fixing a date for their submission and for their churches to be destroyed, books burned, and pastors banished. The consequences of this edict are detailed with horrible circumstantiality by Victor, and even Gibbon considers them inhumanly severe. The cruelties of the Diocletian persecution were equalled, if not surpassed, by these efforts to extirpate the Homoousian faith. Gordian, the grandfather of Fulgentius, a senator of Carthage, was exiled by Genseric. His two sons returned home during an interval of grace to find their property in the hands of Arian priests. Not being allowed to remain at Carthage, they settled at Telepte in the province of Byzacene. One of them, Claudius, married Maria Anna, a Christian lady, who gave birth in 468 to Fulgentius. His mother was careful that he should study the Greek language, and would not allow him to read Roman literature until he had committed to memory the greater part of the poems of Homer and of the plays of Menander. He displayed great talent for business and much versatility. His fine character recommended him to the court, and he was appointed fiscal procurator of the province. But after perusing Augustine's comment on Ps. xxxvi. (xxxvii. Heb.), he was attracted by the "pleasures of a mind at peace with God, which fears nothing but sin." Hunneric having banished the bishops to the neighbouring deserts, young Fulgentius began to retire from society and devote himself to prayer and various austerities. One of these exiled bishops, FAUSTUS, had formed a little monastery not far from Telepte, to which Fulgentius betook himself. Owing to the persecution, and at the advice of Faustus, Fulgentius removed to another small monastery, under abbat Felix, between whom and Fulgentius sprang up an enduring friendship. They divided the superintendence of the monastery between them, Fulgentius undertaking the duties of teacher. Troubles from an incursion of the Numidians compelled them to settle at Sicca Veneria or Siccensis (Vita, c. ix.). An Arian presbyter in the neighbourhood, alarmed at the influence exercised by the saintly Felix and Fulgentius, laid a plot to rob and torture them. The little company again migrated to Ididi in Mauritania, and here Fulgentius, reading the Institutiones Cassiani, resolved to go to Egypt and the Thebaid to follow a more severe rule of mortification. At Syracuse he was kindly received by bp. Eulalius, who discouraged his going to the Thebaid, as it was separated by a "perfidious heresy and schism from the communion of St. Peter," i.e. the Monophysite doctrine and the schism to which that led in the Egyptian church after the council of Chalcedon, a.d. 451. The advice was followed, and for some months he resided near Syracuse. In 500 he visited Rome, was present at the gorgeous reception given to Theodoric, and that year returned to Africa. He received from Sylvester, primarius of Byzacene, a site for a spacious monastery which was at once crowded; thence he retired to a lonely island, which lacked wood, drinkable water, and access to the mainland. Here he occupied himself with manual toil and spiritual exercises. Felix, having discovered his retreat, persuaded Faustus to ordain Fulgentius a presbyter, and, under pain of excommunication, to compel a return to his monastery. This was shortly after the death of Hunneric and accession of Thrasimund, who, though an Arian, was more liberal than his predecessors (Gibbon, Smith's ed. vol. iv. c. 37). The little seaport of Ruspe, on a projecting spur of the coast near the Syrtis Parva, had remained without a bishop, and desired Fulgentius, who was taken by force from his cell to Victor the primate of Byzacene and consecrated as its bishop in 508, when 40 years old. He made no change in his costume or daily regimen. His first demand from his people was a site for a monastery, and his old friend Felix was summoned to preside over it. But Thrasimund dismissed Fulgentius and other newly elected bishops to Sardinia. Here, in the name of the 60 exiles, he wrote important letters on questions of theological and ecclesiastical importance. 374His literary faculty, knowledge of Scripture, and repute as a theologian, probably induced Thrasimund to summon him to Carthage, and ten objections to the Catholic faith were presented to him. His reply was his earliest treatise, viz. One Book against the Arians, Ten Answers to Ten Objections. The third objection resembles a common argument of the earlier Arians, viz. that Prov. viii. 22, John xvi. 29, Ps. ii. 7, and other passages imply that the Son is "created," "generated in time," and therefore not of the same substance with the Father, to which Fulgentius replied that they all refer to the Incarnation, and not to the essence of the Son of God. He used the argument of Athanasius, which makes the customary worship of the Son of God verge either on Polytheism or Sabellianism if we do not at the same time recognize the consubstantiality of the Son. To deny, said Fulgentius, the Catholic position, produces the dilemma that the Son of God was either from something or from nothing. To suppose that He was made "out of nothing" reduces Him to the rank of a creature; while to suppose that He was made "from something," in essence different from God, involves a coeternal Being, and some form of Manichean dualism. Fulgentius laid the greatest emphasis on the unity of God's essence, and assumed, as a point not in dispute, that Christ was the object of Divine worship. This throws some light upon the later Arianism. The reply was not considered satisfactory by Thrasimund, who sent another group of objections, which were to be read to Fulgentius. No copy was to be left with him, but he was expected to return categorical answers: a statement vouched for by the opening chapters of the ad Trasimundum Regem Vandalorum Libri tres (cf. Schroeckh, Christliche Kirchengeschichte, xviii. 108). Bk. i. treats "of the Mystery of the Mediator, Christ, having two natures in one person"; bk. ii. "of the Immensity of the Divinity of the Son of God"; bk. iii. "of the Sacrament of the Lord's Passion." In bk. i. Fulgentius displays great familiarity with Scripture, and endeavours to establish the eternal generation of the Logos, and the birth in time of the Christ, when the Logos took flesh, and endeavours to shew that by "flesh" is meant the whole of humanity, body and reasonable soul, just as occasionally by "soul" is denoted not only reasonable soul but body as well. In bk. i. he shews that the whole of humanity needed redemption, and was taken into union with the Eternal Word; in bk. ii. that nothing less than Deity in His supreme wisdom and power could effect the redemption. In many ways he argues the immensity of the Son and of the Spirit of God. In bk. iii. he opposes strongly not only Patripassianism, but all theopathia, Θεοπασχιτισμός and the supposition that the Deity of Christ felt substantialiter the sorrows of the Cross. The dyophysite position is urged with remarkable earnestness, and held to be completely compatible with the unity of the person of Christ. The personality of the Christ the Son of God is distinguished from the personality of the Father, with an almost semi-Arian force, while he holds that the nature and substance of the Father and the Son are one and the same. "Sicut inseparabilis est unitate naturae sic inconfusibilis permanet proprietate personae" (lib. iii. c. 3). (Cf. ";unus omnino; non confusione substantiae; sed unitate personae," of the Athanasian Creed.) Yet though Christ emptied Himself of His glory, He was full of grace and truth. The two natures were united, not confused, in Christ. But as there was taken up into His one personality the reasonable soul and flesh of man, not a human personality, but human nature, He could weep at the grave of Lazarus and die upon the Cross. Chap. 20 shews conclusively that Fulgentius must have read as the text of Heb. ii. 9, χωρὶς Θεοῦ rather than χάριτι Θεοῦ as he lays repeated emphasis on the sine Deo. The author of the Vita assures us that Thrasimund secured the assistance of an Arian bishop, Pinta, to reply to these three books, and that Fulgentius rejoined. The existing work entitled Pro Fide Catholica adv. Pintam Episcopum Arianum, liber unus (Opp. Migne's ed. pp. 708-720) cannot be the work of Fulgentius. The indignation of the Arian party at Carthage led to what is called his second exile. In the dead of night Fulgentius was hurried on board a vessel bound for Sardinia. On reaching Calaris (Cagliari) in Sardinia, he was received by the exiles with great enthusiasm and reverence. Here he remained until the king died in 523, and displayed extraordinary energy in literary, polemical, and monastic work. With the assistance of Brumasius, the "antistes" of the city, he built another monastery, where more than 40 monks lived under a strict rule of community of property. The equity, benevolence, and self-abnegation of these coenobites are extolled in high terms, and Fulgentius is especially commended for his sweetness and gentleness to the youngest and weakest, which was never disturbed except when bound by his office and vows to act with severity towards insubordination or sin. Symmachus, bp. of Rome, wrote a letter of congratulation to these valiant champions of Christ (Anast. in Symmacho, Baron. ann. 504). During this period the majority of his extant letters were penned, for the most part in answer to difficult theological questions, and then also Fulgentius revealed his strong agreement with Augustine on predestination, grace, and remission of sin, at a time when these doctrines were being called in question by the semi-Pelagians of S. Gaul and N. Africa. Cf. Neander, General Church History, Clark's trans. vol. iv. 417 ff.; Shedd, Hist. of Christian Doctrine, vol. ii. 104 ff.; Wiggers, Augustinismus and Pelagianismus, II. Theil, 369-393; Schroeckh, xviii.

The most extended of these dissertations is ad Monimum, libri tres.  I. De duplice praedestinatione Dei.  II. Complectens tres quaestiones.  III. De vera expositione illius dicti: et verbum erat apud Deum. Monimus was an intimate friend of Fulgentius, and, on perusing Augustine's de Perfectione Justitiae Hominis, had thought that that Father taught predestination to sin as well as to virtue. Fulgentius assured Monimus that God does not predestinate men to sin, but only to the punishment merited by sin, quoting Ez. xviii. 30. "Sin," said he, "is not in Him, so sin is not from Him. That which is not His work 375cannot be His predestination." No constraint of the will is meant by predestination, but the disposition of Divine grace by which God pardons one, though He may punish another, gives grace to one who is unworthy of it, even if He find another worthy of His anger. Bk. ii. is occupied with Arian questions as to the Trinity, and the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. The rigidity of his ecclesiastical theory is here conspicuous. The charity, the sacrifices, the services of heretics are of no avail, since they are separated from the Catholic Church. Bk. iii. replies to the Arian interpretation of "apud Deum" in John i. 1; to their theory that if it had been said "verbum est in Deo," we might have thence deduced the identity of the two natures, that "apud" implies separation and dissimilarity. His argumentum ad hominem is very ingenious; the exegetical argument which follows is feeble.

During this period Fulgentius wrote the Liber ad Donatum de Fide Orthodoxa et Diversis Erroribus Haereticorum (Ep. viii. Migne), elsewhere described as a letter to the Carthaginians. His object was succinctly to characterize Sabellian, Arian, Macedonian, and Manichean heresy; he condemns Photinus, and the errors of Eutyches and Nestorius by name, declaring that the true doctrine of the church was to assert the two natures, as against Eutyches, and to repudiate the two persons, against Nestorius. During his residence in Sardinia an important letter was written to Euthymius, de Remissione Peccatorum (§ xiv. Ceillier, p. 527, Migne). The question was asked by Euthymius, a devout laic, whether remission of sins was possible after death. After a broad description of what remission of sin is, Fulgentius declares the human conditions to be "faith," "good works," and "time," but it can only be secured in the Catholic church, which has power to remit all sin except the sin against the Holy Ghost, which he declares to be "final impenitence." The utmost stress is laid upon the irreversible condition of the soul at death. All merits are attributed to Divine grace (Wiggers, op. cit. p 382).

The 3 books, de Veritate Praedestinationis et Gratia Dei (Migne, p. 604), are addressed to John and Venerius, to whom other letters were also sent during the 2nd exile (Ep. xv. Ceillier, § x.) on the doctrines of Faustus of Rhegium (de Riez, Riji, sometimes Galliarum).

Fulgentius lays down, in opposition to Faustus, that grace can neither be known nor appreciated until given; that so long as man is without it, he resists it by word or deed. Faustus had spoken of an imperishable grain of good in every man which is nourished by grace. Free will is this spark of heavenly fire, not obliterated by the fall. Fulgentius urged that there may be free will, but not free will to that which is good.

In 523 Thrasimund died, and his successor, Hilderic, allowed the return of the Catholic bishops, and the election of new ones in the churches still vacant. The bishops were received at Carthage with transports of joy, and none with greater enthusiasm than Fulgentius, who was welcomed with triumphal arches, lamps, torches, and banners. On arriving at Ruspe, he yielded in the monastery entire deference to Felix, took the position of the humblest neophyte, and only suggested more vigorous work for the clerics, more frequent fasting for the monks. In 524 a council was held at Juncensis, apparently to enforce a more rigid attention to the canons. Fulgentius was called to preside. His precedence was disputed by a bishop called Quodvultdeus, but confirmed by his brethren. After the council, Fulgentius besought out of charity that his brethren would transfer this nominal precedence to his rival, thus heaping on his head coals of fire. The primate of Carthage, Boniface, sought the presence of Fulgentius at the dedication of a new church, and wept tears of joy under his powerful discourse. During this period Fulgentius wrote his great work against Fabianus, fragments only of which remain. They discuss a variety of interesting problems bearing on the Divinity of the Holy Spirit and other elements of Trinitarian doctrine. The Sermones which remain, by their flowing eloquence, antithetic style and tender sensibility, attest the power of Fulgentius. He powerfully discriminates between the Son and the Trinity, and clearly implies the double procession of the Holy Spirit. He claims that the Father had created everything by the Son. Men are only wounded by the poison and malice of creatures by reason of their sins. The mightiest beings are submitted to man. There is no evil in nature. He draws weighty distinctions between the sins of the just and the wicked.

Ferrandus the deacon asked whether he might count upon the salvation of an Ethiopian who had come as a catechumen eagerly desiring baptism, but had died at the moment of baptism. Fulgentius starts with the thesis that faith is the indispensable condition of salvation, baptism or no baptism. Heretics and enemies of the church will not be saved by baptism. The Ethiopian had given evidence of faith, and was baptized, though then unconscious, both conditions being indispensable to salvation. He is therefore saved. But he reprobates baptism of the really dead, for baptism removes the stain and curse of original sin, the seat of which is the soul. If the soul is severed from the body, baptism is worthless. He decides that the benefits of the Eucharist are contained in baptism, and hence, he says, for many centuries past, infants are not fed with the Eucharist after their baptism.

In another correspondence Fulgentius argues that the passion was Christ's quâ His whole person, but quâ nature it was the experience of His flesh only. His soul and body were separated at death. His soul went to Hades, His body to the grave, but His Divine nature at that very moment filled all space and time, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Many of the same arguments are repeated in the Letter Addressed to the Monks of Scythia, who accepted all the decisions of Chalcedon, anathematized Pelagius, Julian, and even Faustus, and asked for further light. The reply of Fulgentius and 15 other bishops consists of 67 chapters. The points of chief interest are that Fulgentius denied that the Virgin was conceived immaculate, and that 376when speaking of the eternal generation of the Son, he used the bold expression, "ex utero Patris." He laid the strongest emphasis on the Monergistic hypothesis of regeneration, and weakened the universalism of God's love by declaring that "all" does not mean "all men," but "all kinds of men."

While pursuing his literary work with such industry, Fulgentius retired from his monastery at Ruspe to another on the island of Circina, and redoubled his self-mortifications. Here his health gave way. When told that a bath was absolutely necessary to prolong his life, he obstinately refused to break his rule. He died in Jan. 533, in his 65th year and the 25th of his episcopate, and Felicianus was elected his successor the same day.

The most complete ed. of his works was issued in Paris (1684) by L. Mangeant. The whole, with many letters to which he replied, is in Migne, Patr. Lat. t. lxv.; Schroeckh, Kirchengeschichte, xvii. xviii. 108 ff.


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