Saint Alban (lived 3rd century), first English martyr. His martyrdom has traditionally been connected with the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian about 305, but some scholars believe that he suffered under Septimius Severus about a century earlier. Alban’s cult is unique in that it links England with the early patristic age (2nd century to 4th century) and with the church in the late Roman Empire (3rd century to 5th century).
Alban was probably born in the town of Verulamium (now Saint Albans, Hertfordshire) in the Roman province of Brittania and served in the Roman army. According to Bede the Venerable, who followed earlier accounts, Alban was a soldier converted to Christianity and baptized by a fugitive priest whom he sheltered. When his house was searched by the emperor’s soldiers, Alban, disguised as the priest, was arrested, tried before a military tribunal, and beheaded. A shrine dedicated to him still stands in Saint Albans Abbey, founded in 793 at the site of his martyrdom. His feast day is June 17 in the Church of England, and June 22 in the Roman Catholic church.
Saint Augustine (354-430), greatest of the Latin Fathers and one of the most eminent Western Doctors of the Church.
Augustine was born on November 13, 354, in Tagaste, Numidia (now Souk-Ahras, Algeria). His father, Patricius (died about 371), was a pagan (later converted to Christianity), but his mother, Monica, was a devout Christian who labored untiringly for her son’s conversion and who was canonized by the Roman Catholic church. Augustine was educated as a rhetorician in the former North African cities of Tagaste, Madaura, and Carthage. Between the ages of 15 and 30, he lived with a Carthaginian woman whose name is unknown; in 372 she bore him a son, whom he named Adeodatus, which is Latin for “the gift of God.”
Inspired by the philosophical treatise Hortensius, by the Roman orator and statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, Augustine became an earnest seeker after truth. He considered becoming a Christian, but experimented with several philosophical systems before finally entering the church. For nine years, from 373 until 382, he adhered to Manichaeism, a Persian dualistic philosophy then widely current in the Western Roman Empire. With its fundamental principle of conflict between good and evil, Manichaeism at first seemed to Augustine to correspond to experience and to furnish the most plausible hypothesis upon which to construct a philosophical and ethical system. Moreover, its moral code was not unpleasantly strict; Augustine later recorded in his Confessions:”Give me chastity and continence, but not just now.” Disillusioned by the impossibility of reconciling certain contradictory Manichaeist doctrines, Augustine abandoned this philosophy and turned to skepticism.
About 383 Augustine left Carthage for Rome, but a year later he went on to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric. There he came under the influence of the philosophy of Neoplatonism and also met the bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, then the most distinguished ecclesiastic in Italy. Augustine presently was attracted again to Christianity. At last one day, according to his own account, he seemed to hear a voice, like that of a child, repeating, “Take up and read.” He interpreted this as a divine exhortation to open the Scriptures and read the first passage he happened to see. Accordingly, he opened to Romans 13:13-14, where he read: “…not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” He immediately resolved to embrace Christianity. Along with his natural son, he was baptized by Ambrose on Easter Eve in 387. His mother, who had rejoined him in Italy, rejoiced at this answer to her prayers and hopes. She died soon afterward in Ostia.
|III||BISHOP AND THEOLOGIAN|
He returned to North Africa and was ordained in 391. He became bishop of Hippo (now Annaba, Algeria) in 395, an office he held until his death. It was a period of political and theological unrest, for while the barbarians pressed in upon the empire, even sacking Rome itself in 410, schism and heresy also threatened the church. Augustine threw himself wholeheartedly into the theological battle. Besides combating the Manichaean heresy, Augustine engaged in two great theological conflicts. One was with the Donatists, a sect that held the sacraments invalid unless administered by sinless ecclesiastics. The other conflict was with the Pelagians, followers of a contemporary British monk who denied the doctrine of original sin. In the course of this conflict, which was long and bitter, Augustine developed his doctrines of original sin and divine grace, divine sovereignty, and predestination. The Roman Catholic church has found special satisfaction in the institutional or ecclesiastical aspects of the doctrines of St. Augustine; Roman Catholic and Protestant theology alike are largely based on their more purely theological aspects. John Calvin and Martin Luther, leaders of the Reformation, were both close students of Augustine.
Augustine’s doctrine stood between the extremes of Pelagianism and Manichaeism. Against Pelagian doctrine, he held that human spiritual disobedience had resulted in a state of sin that human nature was powerless to change. In his theology, men and women are saved by the gift of divine grace; against Manichaeism he vigorously defended the place of free will in cooperation with grace. Augustine died at Hippo, August 28, 430. His feast day is August 28.
The place of prominence held by Augustine among the Fathers and Doctors of the Church is comparable to that of St. Paul among the apostles. As a writer, Augustine was prolific, persuasive, and a brilliant stylist. His best-known work is his autobiographical Confessions (circa 400), exposing his early life and conversion. In his great Christian apologia The City of God (413-26), Augustine formulated a theological philosophy of history. Ten of the 22 books of this work are devoted to polemic against pantheism. The remaining 12 books trace the origin, progress, and destiny of the church and establish it as the proper successor to paganism. In 428 Augustine wrote the Retractions, in which he registered his final verdict upon his earlier books, correcting whatever his maturer judgment held to be misleading or wrong. His other writings include the Epistles, of which 270 are in the Benedictine edition, variously dated between 386 and 429; his treatises On Free Will (388-95), On Christian Doctrine (397), On Baptism: Against the Donatists (400), On the Trinity (400-16), and On Nature and Grace (415); and Homilies upon several books of the Bible.
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh
Saint Barbara, virgin martyr of dubious authenticity, said to have died during the reign of Emperor Maximian about the turn of the 4th century. The earliest account of her life dates from the 7th century, and Nicomedia (modern ?zmit), Heliopolis (modern Baalbek), and Rome were all claimed as the site of her martyrdom. To prevent her from marrying, her father had a tower built, and there she spent her youth in solitude. While confined, she was converted to Christianity against the will of her father, who then delivered her to the Roman governor. When she failed to relinquish Christianity under torture, the father took her to the top of a mountain and cut off her head. When he had beheaded her, the father was struck by lightning and killed. Because of that event, Saint Barbara has been associated with lightning and is prayed to during storms. For the same reason she is the patron saint of artillery, and her image was at one time placed frequently on arsenals and powder magazines; the powder storage room of a French warship is still called Sainte-Barbe. The feast day of Saint Barbara is December 4.
Saint Christopher (lived 3rd century?), patron saint of travelers, perhaps martyred in the persecutions of Decius. The only firm evidence for the existence of Saint Christopher is the antiquity of his cult, which dates from as early as the 5th century. According to Eastern legend, he was a converted pagan warrior named Reprobus, who died by cruel torture rather than deny his faith. Western medieval legend represents him as a giant who, after his conversion to Christianity, devoted his life to charity by carrying travelers on his shoulders across a river. One day a child asked to be carried but, with each step across the river, the child grew heavier. When Christopher—whose name in Greek means “he who bears Christ”—complained of the weight, he was told that he was bearing the weight of the world upon his back in the person of Christ. In art, he is usually depicted carrying the Christ child on his back. His feast day, July 25, is no longer listed on the Roman calendar, but it may still be observed locally.
Constantine the Great (about ad 274-337), Roman emperor (306-337), the first Roman ruler to be converted to Christianity. He founded Constantinople (present-day ?stanbul) as a capital of the Roman Empire in 330, and it remained the seat of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire until 1453.
Constantine the Great was born Flavius Valerius Constantinus at Niš, in what is now Serbia and Montenegro, son of the commander Constantius Chlorus (later Constantius I) and Helena (later Saint Helena), a camp follower. Constantius became co-emperor in 305. Constantine, who had shown military talent in the East, joined his father in an invasion of the British Isles in 306. He was popular with the troops, who proclaimed him emperor when Constantius died later the same year. Over the next two decades, however, Constantine had to fight his rivals for the throne, and he did not finally establish himself as sole ruler until 324.
Following the example of his father and earlier 3rd-century emperors, Constantine in his early life was a solar henotheist, believing that the Roman sun god, Sol, was the visible manifestation of an invisible “Highest God” (summus deus), who was the principle behind the universe. This god was thought to be the companion of the Roman emperor. Constantine’s adherence to this faith is evident from his claim of having had a vision of the sun god in 310 while in a grove of Apollo in Gaul. In 312, on the eve of a battle against Maxentius, his rival in Italy, Constantine is reported to have dreamed that Christ appeared to him and told him to inscribe the holy sign ??, the first two letters of the Greek word ???S??S (Christos), on the shields of his troops. The next day he is said to have seen a cross superimposed on the sun and the words “in this sign you will be the victor” (usually given in Latin, in hoc signo vinces). Constantine then defeated Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, near Rome. The Senate hailed the victor as savior of the Roman people. Thus, Constantine, who had been a pagan solar worshiper, now looked upon the Christian deity as a bringer of victory. Persecution of the Christians was ended, and Constantine’s co-emperor, Licinius, joined him in issuing the Edict of Milan (313), which mandated toleration of Christians in the Roman Empire. As guardian of Constantine’s favored religion, the church was then given legal rights and large financial donations.
A struggle for power soon began between Licinius and Constantine, from which Constantine emerged in 324 as a victorious Christian champion. Now emperor of both East and West, he began to implement important administrative reforms. The army was reorganized, and the separation of civil and military authority, begun by his father’s predecessor, Diocletian, was completed. The central government was run by Constantine and his council, known as the sacrum consistorium. The Senate was given back the powers that it had lost in the 3rd century, and new gold coins (solidi) were issued, which remained the standard of exchange until the end of the Byzantine Empire.
Constantine intervened in ecclesiastical affairs to achieve unity; he presided over the first ecumenical council of the church at Nicaea in 325 (see Councils of Nicaea). In 326 he began the building of a new capital, later named Constantinople (“city of Constantine”), on the site of ancient Greek Byzantium. Completed in 330 (later expanded), the new capital was given Roman institutions and beautified by ancient Greek works of art. In addition, Constantine built churches in the Holy Land, where his mother (also a Christian) supposedly found the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. The emperor fell ill in April 337 and died on May 22. He was baptized shortly before his death by the Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia (now ?zmit, Turkey).
Constantine the Great unified a tottering empire, reorganized the Roman state, and set the stage for the final victory of Christianity at the end of the 4th century. Many modern scholars accept the sincerity of his religious conviction. His conversion was a gradual process; at first he probably associated Christ with the victorious sun god. By the time of the council at Nicaea in 325 he was completely Christian, but he still tolerated paganism among his subjects. Although criticized by his enemies as a proponent of a crude and false religion, Constantine the Great strengthened the Roman Empire and ensured its survival in the East. As the first emperor to rule in the name of Christ, he was a major figure in the foundation of medieval Christian Europe.
Dionysius the Areopagite (flourished 1st century), member of the Areopagus in Athens and convert to Christianity through the preaching of Saint Paul, as related in Acts 17:34. Nothing more is definitely known about him. He is reputed to have been the first bishop of Athens and to have been martyred there in the reign of Domitian, emperor of Rome. Another tradition confuses him with the apostle to France, Saint Denis.
Throughout the Middle Ages a body of Greek writings that modern scholars identify as the work of a 6th-century Neoplatonist (known as the Pseudo-Dionysius) was ascribed to Dionysius. These writings include The Celestial Hierarchy and The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, works dealing respectively with the three triads of orders of angelic beings and with their earthly counterparts; The Divine Names, a treatise on what biblical appelations of the Deity can teach respecting his nature and attributes; and Mystic Theology, in which the author expounds a form of intuitive mysticism.
These pseudo-Dionysiac writings, which may have been written in Syria or Egypt, were first cited in 553 at the second Council of Constantinople. Their influence is apparent in the theological system of the 8th-century Doctor of the Eastern church John of Damascus. In the West they were unknown until early in the 7th century, but later they exerted a vast influence upon the thought of Christian Europe. In the 9th century they were translated into Latin by the Scottish theologian John Scotus Erigena, and in this more accessible form they furnished inspiration to the Scholastic theologians, notably St. Thomas Aquinas, and to the English humanists John Colet and William Grocyn. From them, theologians and artists derived a conception of angels and were introduced to the ideas of Neoplatonism. The influence of these writings is plainly discernible in The Divine Comedy of Dante and in the works of the English poet John Milton. The Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus was among those who first cast doubt upon the assumption that Dionysius was the author of these writings.
Saint Hilarion (290?-371), Palestinian monk and hermit, born near Gaza, and educated in Alexandria, Egypt, where he became a convert to Christianity. Hilarion visited Saint Anthony in the Egyptian desert and, on his return to Palestine, became the first monk and hermit in that country. He lived as an anchorite in the desert marshes near Gaza for a number of years and attracted many disciples by his piety and by the miraculous cures attributed to him. Seeking solitude, Hilarion returned to Egypt in 360, but his retreat was discovered by his followers. He set out again, traveling first to Sicily and finally to Cyprus, where he died. The only evidence for Hilarion’s life is a biography written by Saint Jerome. His feast day, October 21, is no longer in the Roman Catholic calendar.
Saint Hilary of Poitiers (315?-367?), Christian prelate and Doctor of the Church, born in Poitiers, France. Of pagan parentage, Hilary was a convert to Christianity. About 353 he was elected bishop of Poitiers and immediately began a rigorous suppression of the heresy of Arianism in his diocese. Although his Arian opponents secured his banishment to Phrygia in 356, Hilary attended the Synod of Seleucia in 359, where he delivered a scholarly and vigorous defense of orthodoxy. He returned to Poitiers in 361 and continued until his death to attack Arianism. His feast day is January 13.
Saint Mark (lived 1st century ad), the reputed author of the Gospel According to Mark. Born John Mark, his life can be reconstructed in part from incidental facts in the New Testament. He is frequently identified with Mark the son of Mary, a householder of Jerusalem, at whose home the early Christians held meetings in the days of persecution (see Acts 12:12). His Roman surname (Marcus) and his relationship to Saint Barnabas, a Cyprian (see Colossians 4:10) suggest that he was a Gentile. Saint Peter called him “son” (see 1 Peter 5:13), an appellation indicating the strong personal bond between them.
Mark was probably converted to Christianity under Peter’s ministry in Jerusalem and thereafter acted as Peter’s interpreter because the apostle had little knowledge of Greek. He went with his cousin Barnabas and Saint Paul to Antioch in Pisidia from Jerusalem, but he left them at Perga in southern Asia Minor and returned to Jerusalem (see Acts 12:25, 13:5). He accompanied Barnabas to Cyprus in about ad50, but Paul was unwilling to take him on another journey. Nothing is known about Mark’s activities during the next ten years, but during Paul’s first Roman captivity, about ad60, Mark was in Rome preparing to leave for Asia Minor. They became reconciled, so that five years later Paul wrote to Saint Timothy, who was probably then at Ephesus, asking that he bring Mark to him (see 2 Timothy 4:11).
According to tradition, Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome, basing it on Peter’s teachings. It is supposed that he last worked at Alexandria. Mark is a patron saint of notaries. His feast day is April 25.
Saint Martin (316?-397?), bishop of Tours and patron saint of France, who established monasticism in Gaul. Born the son of a Roman soldier in Pannonia, Martin was converted to Christianity at the age of ten. He joined the Roman army but became convinced that his religious commitment was incompatible with military service. After a period of imprisonment, he was discharged from the army and went to Poitiers, France, where he became a disciple of Saint Hilary, bishop of Poitiers and a leading opponent of Arianism. After a period in Italy, Martin rejoined Hilary and founded the first monastery in Gaul at Ligugé. In 371 Martin, against his will, was named bishop of Tours. While serving as bishop, he established a monastery at Marmoutier that became an important religious center. Martin continued his missionary work in Touraine and throughout Gaul, giving particular attention to the conversion of the rural population (Latin pagani, from which the English “pagans” is derived). He is credited with destroying many temples and sacred groves. Many miracles are attributed to him. According to tradition, he offered half of his cloak to a beggar at Amiens and afterward experienced a vision of Christ relating the charitable act to the angels. His feast day is November 11 (Martinmas).
Saint Paul (circa ad 3-62), the greatest missionary of Christianity and its first theologian, called Apostle to the Gentiles.
Born to Jewish parents in a thoroughly observant home in Tarsus (now in Turkey), Paul was originally named for the ancient Hebrew king Saul. On the eighth day he was circumcised, as stipulated by the Jewish Law; indeed, in all respects he was reared in accordance with the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law. As a young Jew of the Diaspora (the dispersion of Jews into the Greco-Roman world), Saul took as his everyday name the Latin Paul, a name with a sound similar to that of his Hebrew birth name.
Paul’s letters reflect a keen knowledge of Greek rhetoric, something he doubtless learned as a youth in Tarsus. But his patterns of thought also reflect formal training in the Jewish Law as preparation for becoming a rabbi, perhaps received in Jerusalem from the famous teacher Gamaliel the Elder (flourished ad 20-50). By his own account Paul excelled in the study of the Law (see Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:6); and his zeal for it led him to persecute the nascent Christian church, holding it to be a Jewish sect that was untrue to the Law and that should therefore be destroyed (see Galatians 1:13). Acts portrays him as a supportive witness to the stoning of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
Paul became a Christian after experiencing a vision of Christ during a journey from Jerusalem to Damascus (see Acts 9:1-19, 22:5-16, 26:12-18). Paul himself, in referring to this event, never uses the term conversion, which implies shifting allegiance from one religion to another; he clearly perceived the revelation of Jesus Christ to mark the end of all religions, and thus of all religious distinctions (see Galatians 3:38). Instead, he consistently spoke of God’s having “called” him (see Election below). Paul viewed his call to be a Christian and his call to be an evangelist to the Gentiles as a single and indivisible event. He recognized the legitimacy of a mission to the Jews, as carried out by Peter, but he was convinced that Christianity was God’s call to all the world, and that God was making this call apart from the requirements of the Jewish Law.
According to the widely known account recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul carried out three well-defined missionary journeys (see maps). The letters reveal that Paul’s missionary itinerary was guided by three major concerns: (1) the vocation of a missionary to work in territory as yet unreached by other Christian evangelists—hence his plan to go as far west as Spain (see Romans 15:24, 28; see also Romans 1:14); (2) the concern of a pastor to revisit his own congregations as problems arose—hence, for example, Paul’s several visits to Corinth; and (3) an unshakable determination to collect money from his largely Gentile churches and to deliver the collection himself to the Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem. Although scholars do not fully understand Paul’s motive for this endeavor, it is certain that he wished by it to bring together the churches of his Gentile mission with those of the Jewish Christians in Palestine.
From Acts it is known that Paul was arrested in Jerusalem after riots incited by his Jewish opponents, and that he was finally taken to Rome; it is also in Acts that Paul speaks of the possibility of his own death (see Acts 20:24; see also Acts 20:38). He was executed in Rome, probably in ad 62; Christian tradition from the 4th century fixes the day as February 22. As a Roman citizen, he probably was executed by beheading. Saint Paul is sometimes depicted carrying a sword, a reference to his probable beheading.
The New Testament contains 13 letters bearing Paul’s name as author, and 7 of these were almost certainly written by Paul himself: 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, and Philemon. These letters, in which Paul occasionally speaks of his personal experience and his work, are the major source of knowledge about the course of his life; most scholars concentrate on them and consult the Acts of the Apostles as a supplementary source.
Every attempt to summarize Paul’s thought encounters obstacles, especially the fact that each of the letters was written to a specific church, and Paul felt it necessary to slant his teachings so as to address that church’s unique problems and to correct its particular errors. Even the letter to the Romans—the most systematic of Paul’s epistles—fails to provide a complete exposition of Paul’s theology. Certain themes and perspectives, however, are repeated with sufficient frequency to be considered the core of his thought.
Paul consistently assumes the basic temporal scheme of Jewish apocalyptic speculation, which posited two ages, the Old Age, under the dominance of Satan and his hosts, and the New Age, which God will inaugurate at some point in the future through his superior power (see Apocalyptic Writings). Paul believed that God’s sending of his Son, Jesus Christ, had already inaugurated the New Age; yet that event had not wholly obliterated the Old Age with its powers of sin and death. On the contrary, he believed that the two ages were locked in combat, as could be seen, for example, from the fact that the power of death had not yet been broken.
The ultimate outcome of the apocalyptic struggle, however, Paul considered certain, because God struck the decisive blow for freedom (paradoxical as it might seem) in the cross—the point at which, to all appearances, the powers of the Old Age had won a tremendous victory. He attributed the crucifixion to “the rulers of this age,” an expression by which he referred both to the political authorities involved and to the demonic powers at work in and through them (see 1 Corinthians 2:8). These rulers had scarcely triumphed, however, for in crucifying the “Lord of Glory,” they sealed their own doom (see 1 Corinthians 2:6).
Thus, according to Paul, the cross, when it is perceived truly, reveals God’s strange power, a power made perfect in weakness. God affirmed this power by raising Jesus from the dead, by sending the Holy Spirit, and by thus establishing the church as the foundation of his New Age. The church was consequently placed in the midst of the eschatological struggle, with the assurance that God would soon send the risen Lord to bring that struggle to a victorious conclusion (see Eschatology).
|B||View of Christ|
Paul quoted the formulations of earlier Christians that focused on a sacrificial view of Christ’s death (see, for instance, 1 Corinthians 15:3), but the essence of his view of Christ lies in the assertion that God has made Christ the victor over the power of sin. Rejecting the prevailing Jewish-Christian emphasis on repentance and forgiveness of sins, Paul did not call upon his hearers to repent of particular sins, but rather announced God’s victory over all sin in the cross of Christ.
The consequences of these doctrines for Paul’s understanding of the Law are complex. He affirmed the Law to be holy, just, and good, but after he turned to Christianity, he no longer believed it powerful enough to vanquish sin and death (see Romans 8:3). Hence, one cannot depend on it. Indeed, whoever tries to depend on it will find that, in the hands of sin, the Law can itself become an enslaving power (see Galatians 3:23-25).
|D||View of Human Beings|
Scarcely any part of Paul’s thought has been more widely misunderstood than that which involves the terms flesh and spirit. These are not to be understood as simply the constituent parts of a human being; for Paul they were conflicting spheres of power, because the realm of the flesh (the human realm) is susceptible to the power of sin. The solution to evil, therefore, does not lie in a code of ethics that people can be exhorted to obey, but rather in God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, who triumphs in the life of the new community by bearing the fruit of love, joy, and peace.
As mentioned previously, Paul spoke not of having decided to convert to Christianity from Judaism, but of having been “called” by God. Because he said essentially the same thing of all Christians, it can be seen that for him Christianity begins not in something people decide to do, but rather in something God has already done by revealing his Son and by sending his Spirit. God has called people and is continuing to call people into the Christian community on the basis of his own freely given grace. The radical nature of God’s power is affirmed in Paul’s insistence that in the death of Christ God has rectified the ungodly (see Romans 4:5). Human beings are not called upon to do good works in order that God may rectify them. On the contrary, it is God who has acted first. It follows that Paul understands even faith to be God’s gift rather than a discrete and consciously intended act of the human being (see Galatians 5:22). Like life itself, faith is something God calls into existence (see Romans 4:17). Thus, everything is seen by Paul to depend not on the will or exertion of the individual, but on the mercy of God (see Romans 9:16).
It has been a widely held view that Paul’s thought was soon virtually eclipsed by other theological teachings and was recovered only by St. Augustine in the 5th century and again by Martin Luther in the 16th century (and by them only in part). This view is now being somewhat revised. Although the author of 2 Peter speaks of difficulties in understanding Paul (see 2 Peter 3:16), numerous communities of the late 1st and early 2nd centuries preserved Paul’s letters and tried valiantly to apply aspects of his thought to the new situations in which they found themselves. Such Pauline communities are reflected in Colossians, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus. It is true, however, that a thorough, sustained engagement with the theology of Paul was not undertaken until the works of Augustine and Luther; in the 20th century, the work of the German theologians Karl Barth and Ernst Käsemann has renewed interest in Paul’s theology.
J. Louis Martyn
Saint Sebastian (lived early 3rd century), Roman Christian martyr. According to the fictitious Acts of Saint Sebastian, a 5th-century work wrongly attributed to Saint Ambrose, Sebastian was a captain of the Praetorian Guard but was also secretly a Christian who made many converts. When the Roman emperor Diocletian learned of his faith, he ordered Sebastian shot to death by archers. The arrows did not kill him, however, and a Christian widow named Irene took him away and tended his wounds. As soon as he recovered, Sebastian returned to the emperor and denounced him for his cruelty. Diocletian then ordered him beaten to death. The first martyrdom of Saint Sebastian was a favorite subject for Italian painters of the Renaissance (14th century to 17th century). He is often depicted with an arrow or pierced through the chest by an arrow. The saint’s aid was invoked against plague. His feast day is January 20.
Tertullian (160?-220?), the first important Christian ecclesiastical writer in Latin, whose work is remarkable for its blunt sarcasm, epigrammatic phrasing, aggressive partisan spirit, and skillful—though sometimes specious—reasoning. Tertullian was born Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus in Carthage, the son of a Roman centurion. He trained for a career in law and practiced his profession in Rome. Sometime between 190 and 195, while still in Rome, he became a convert to the Christian faith, and it is evident that he visited Greece and possibly Asia Minor. In 197 he returned to Carthage, where he married and became a presbyter of the church. About 207 he aligned himself with Montanism, a sect that encouraged prophesying and espoused a rigorous form of asceticism. The Montanists, increasingly in conflict with church authorities, were finally declared heretical.
A zealous champion of Christianity, Tertullian wrote many theological treatises, of which 31 have survived. In his various works he strove either to defend Christianity, to refute heresy, or to argue some practical point of morality or church discipline. His views on ethics and discipline, rigorously ascetic from the first, became progressively more harsh in his later works. After espousing Montanist doctrines, he was a severe critic of orthodox Christians, whom he accused of moral laxity.
Tertullian profoundly influenced the later church fathers, especially Saint Cyprian—and through them, all Christian theologians of the West. Many of his works are accepted as orthodox by the Roman Catholic church and are included in the recognized body of patristic literature.
Tertullian’s writings demonstrate a profound knowledge of Greek and Latin literature, both pagan and Christian. He was the first writer in Latin to formulate Christian theological concepts, such as the nature of the Trinity. Having no models to follow, he developed a terminology derived from many sources, chiefly Greek and the legal vocabulary of Rome. His legal turn of mind imprinted on this newly minted theological language of the West a juridical character that has never been erased.
The most famous work by Tertullian is Apologeticus (197?), an impassioned defense of Christians against pagan charges of immorality, economic worthlessness, and political subversion. Of his doctrinal treatises refuting heresy, the most important is De Praescriptione Hereticorum (On the Claims of Heretics), in which he argued that the church alone has the authority to declare what is and is not orthodox Christianity. In other writings he strongly disapproved of second marriages, exhorted Christians not to attend public shows, and favored simplicity of dress and strict fasts. Like all Montanists, Tertullian held that Christians should welcome persecution, not flee from it. Christian historians value many of his writings, especially De Baptismo (On Baptism) and De Oratione (On Prayer), for the light they throw on contemporary religious practices.
Saint Vitus (?-303?), Christian martyr, born perhaps in Sicily or Lucania in southern Italy. He appears in legendary accounts as a pagan who was converted by his nurse, Crescentia, and his tutor, Modestus, and martyred with them either in Lucania or in Rome during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian. He was especially venerated in medieval Germany. The aid of Saint Vitus is invoked by those suffering from various diseases, especially the nervous disorder Sydenham’s chorea, with which his name became associated. He is often represented in a burning cauldron or holding a small cauldron in his hand and having a dog on a leash. His traditional feast day, June 15, is no longer included in the Roman Catholic calendar.