This week’s study in “The History of Christianity” took us through some very interesting figures. Great men of God who lived and wrote in the later part of the fourth century to the early part of the fifth century. Each man had a part to play in our current understanding of theology, doctrine, and practice. Most evangelicals today have heard of Augustine of Hippo, even if only vaguely, but have you heard of Ambrose, John Chrysostom, or Jerome?
Ambrose of Milan was governor of that city. There was division at that time within the church over the deity of Christ. Tempers were flaring and each side wanted his own view represented in the elected Bishop. So, Ambrose attended the election in order to avoid a riot. He was a trained speaker who won the support of the crowd. Even though he was not seeking to be Bishop, the crowd elected him to be their Bishop. Ambrose was a catechumen (new believer) who had not yet been baptized. In those days a new believer was discipled in the way of the faith prior to baptism. So, he received baptism and became Bishop of Milan. He would undergo study of the scriptures, and emphasized the centrality of the incarnation in his sermons. His preaching touched a young man named Augustine who had come to hear him speak. Ambrose Challenged Emperor Theodosius to repent of a wrong doing for which he demonstrated repentance publically.1
John of Constantinople was later called John Chrysostom, because of his preaching ability. John was first ordained deacon, then presbyter, and finally Bishop of Constantinople. He set before him the task of reforming the clergy of the church. John also challenged the Roman Emperor who ruled in the east, but unlike Ambrose that ruler would not repent and it was John who would have to leave his position.2
Jerome was a very interesting figure in the history of Christianity. He was interesting, because of his struggle with the world and himself.3 I told my pastor the other day that my favorite character out of the patristic period is Irenaeus of Lyons, a second century theologian who had the heart of a pastor, and saw God as a Shephard guiding his flock with his two hands; the Word and the Spirit.4 I told him, “Unfortunately I am more like Jerome.”5 I said this, because like Jerome, I struggle with the world and my flesh. Jerome brought to the church the Latin Vulgate. He went to Palestine, learned to read Hebrew, and translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Latin. Previous translations had used the Greek Septuagint.6
Augustine of Hippo came to faith gradually along a tortured path. He came to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God who had died for his sins, but he struggled with leaving behind the things that he loved in the world. Gonzales said, that he struggled “between willing and not willing.”7 It was the voice of a child who song out in play, “Take up and read, take up and read” that caused him to read a passage out of Romans, from which God granted him repentance. After his conversion he was baptized by Ambrose.8
Augustine would come to write much about the freedom of the will in refutation of the Manichaeans. He would write a just war theory in refutation of Donatism. In that theory the motive of love was of most importance. Lastly, what Augustine is most known for is his theological works against the Pelagians. Most who call themselves Christian today have an Augustinian or Semi-Augustinian theology. His two greatest writings are “Confessions” and “The City of God.” The contributions of these great men served the Lord in shaping the church today. Each had a significant part in the shaping of the doctrines and practices of the church, but none more so than Augustine of Hippo.9
1 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 219-224.
2 Ibid, 225-231.
3 Ibid, 232.
4 Ibid, 84-85.
5 Mike Peek, Personal Conversation with Phillip Dance, February 15, 2017.
6Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 237-239.