Church History:  The 400s


What happened in this century?

  • Rome was conquered and sacked not once but twice:  in 410 and 455.

  • Jerome completed the Vulgate, the standard Bible until the 1500s.

  • The beginnings of the split between the Western and Eastern Churches emerged.

  • The Dark Ages  or Early Middle Ages begins in this century and lasts until approximately 1000, when the High Middle Ages began.

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c. 400        Augustine  wrote The Confessions


410        Rome is defeated and sacked by Alaric I, leader of the Visigoths.  The last time Rome had been sacked was in 387 BC.  Constantinople, the new capital of the Roman Empire since 330, would not fail until 1453 (to the Muslims).  


c. 415        Augustine wrote The City of God in response to the defeat of Rome.  In this book, Augustine will coin the phrase "Just War" and gives this explanation:  "They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons teh public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, "You shall not kill."


418       Pelagius died sometime soon after this year.  The year of his death is unknown, and could have been decades later; this is the last year he was known to be alive. 


The Big Picture:  Pelagianism

Pelagius is significant because of one theological idea:  he believed that humans can make the initial step toward accepting God without any assistance or draw from God.  Augustine became involved in a lengthy disagreement with Pelagius and his followers:  Augustine believed that God has to initially draw humans to him and that humans can only respond, not initiate.  What was the problem?  Pelagius concluded that humans have the responsibility of choosing between good and evil and are not guided by the Holy Spirit or any other aspect of God.  Therefore, the purpose of Christ was to give instruction and a good example, not to provide salvation.  Pelagianism was condemned as a heresy by Augustine and others, and was eventually defeated in the Council of Ephesus in 431. 


420        Jerome died.  He translated the Bible in Latin; it was known as the Vulgate and was the official version for European Christians until the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s.


430        Augustine died.  The Vandals were at that point besieging Rome, although they would not take Rome until 455.


The Big Picture:  Augustine's Impact

Through involvement with the Donatists, the fall of Rome, and Pelagius, Augustine developed theological ideas which would greatly impact Christianity.  Among his ideas:  the validity of a rite of the church does not depend on the spiritual purity of the clergy but on the church in which it is performed; the concept of a just war; and the initiative to respond to God must initiate from God, humans are not capable of responding to God from their own initiative--this was an early form of predestination.


431        Council of Ephesus.  This was the third of the twenty-one major Church Councils.  Convened by Emperor Theodosius II in response to the Nestorian Controversy.  Nestorius' ideas were condemned and he was excommunicated.  He believed that Christ consisted of two separate Persons, one Divine and one Human, in one body.  The Church belief was that Christ was one Person, fully God and fully human, in the one body.  In addition, the Council gave approval to refer to Mary as "theotokos," "God-bearer."


435        John Cassian died.  He began a monastery in France and wrote on the proper lifestyle of monks and the proper administration of a monastery.  He greatly influence Benedict of Nursia's Rule, which is the basis of much Western monasticism.  He taught a type of Christian spirituality common among the desert fathers in Egypt:  the three step process (which took years to accomplish) included "purgatio" where monks sought to gain control of "the flesh" by prayer and ascetic practices; "illuminatio" where monks sought to practice the holiness as described in the Gospels; and "unitio" where monks sought the bond with God described in the "Song of Solomon/Songs."


451        Council of Chalcedon.  This was the fourth of the twenty-one major Church Councils.  Convened by Emperor Marcian in response to the Eutychian (also called Monophysitism) Controversy.  Eutychius was removed from his position of leadership over a large monastery in Constantinople and exiled.  He believed that Christ only contained a Divine Nature.  This was a direct contradiction of the Council of Ephesus, which stated that Christ was fully God and fully human.  In addition, the Western representatives rejected the idea that the head of the church in Constantinople be given the title "Patriarch" and that it be made second in authority to the church in Rome.


452        Attila the Hun started to capture Rome but changed his mind after meeting Pope Leo I.


The Big Picture:  Different Identities for the Western and Eastern Churches

While it is difficult to determine the first difference between the Western and Eastern Churches, it is certain that the break which would occur in 1054 began well before that.  In the Council of Chalcedon the differing ideas are apparent.  The Constantinople Church recognized the supremacy of the Roman Church' but wanted some recognition of its own unique worth.  Other factors also indicated a future rupture:  many smaller Councils consisted of either all Western or all Eastern participants, the ascetic movement began in the East (Egypt) and was appropriated in the West, Rome was defeated whereas Constantinople remained strong, and many of the controversies in this time period originated in the East, which indicates more divergent ideas of what it means to be Christian than in the West. 


455        Rome is again defeated and sacked, this time by the Vandals.  They were Arian.


459        Simeon Stylites died.  He was the first of the Stylites, also known as "pillar saints."  He lived on top of various heights of pillars, eventually living on one which was app. 60 feet tall.  He stayed there until his death.  He inspired others to do the same, with records indicating some existed as late as the tenth century.  To read more about the Stylite movement, go here.


c. 460       St. Patrick died.  Although born in Britain, he was sent to Ireland as a bishop and remained there his entire life.  To learn more about St. Patrick and read an excerpt from his autobiography, click here.


461       Pope Leo I, the Great, died.  He is credited with consolidating the power of the papacy during the time of turmoil following the fall of Rome, at which he was present.  He enlarged the authority of the papacy into Northern Africa, Gaul (France), and Spain.


476        The Western Roman Empire comes to an end when Odoacer, a German general, forced Romulus Augustus, the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, to resign.  Odoacer became the king of Italy; he held Arian beliefs.  The Middle Ages are considered to have begun in this year.


483        Simplicius died and Felix III became PopeOne of his grandsons would become Gregory the Great.


484        Felix III excommunicated the Patriarch of Constantinople, causing a split between the Western and Eastern Churches.  It resulted as a consequence of the Eastern Christians drifting toward monophysitism (Jesus had one nature, which his human nature being absorbed into his divine nature).  This split is known as the Acacian Schism (Acacius was the Patriarch of Constantinople from 471 to 489) and only lasted until 519, but shows the volatile nature of the relationship between Christians in the West and the East.  The longer schism would occur in 1054.


492        Gelasius died.  He was pope from 492.  He believed that the Roman bishop was superior to the Constantinople bishop (in other words, that the Pope was superior to the Patriarch).


496        Clovis, the Frankish (French) king, was baptized.  3000 of Clovis' soldiers were also baptized.


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