Archive for the ‘400s’ Category


teotihuacan1pTeotihuacan (fl. 300 to 700) was the ancient and holy city of Mexico, “the city where the gods were created”. At its height it had 160,000 people, making it the sixth largest city in the world at the time. In the centre of the city was the third largest pyramid of the world, the Pyramid of the Sun. Teotihuacan is about 40 km north-east of Mexico City.

We do not know what the city called itself. All we have is the Aztec name: Teotihuacan, “the city of the gods”. It was the seed of a civilization that had lasted more than a thousand years by the time the Spanish appeared. Only the Mayans were able to pass Teotihuacan in science and the arts.

The city fell in 700, destroyed by fire. Mexico fell into a dark age that lasted until the time of the Toltecs 250 years later.

In its day the city was the centre of religion and trade. It seemed to have been the centre of an empire too: it was rich yet had no walls and its gods demanded regular human sacrifice which meant fighting and ruling foreigners. Under one of their temples are 130 bodies.

We do not know what language the city spoke. It may have been Nahuatl, what the Aztecs spoke. None of its books have come down to our time.

Teotihuacan started out as a place where people journeyed to in order to worship the gods. In time it built huge pyramids to the gods and grew into a big city. It was ruled by priests who lived in palaces. On holidays the priests walked up the steps to the top of the pyramids and sacrificed humans to the gods.

The priests lived in the centre of the city. Further out were craftsmen and businessmen, who came from all over Mexico. About two-thirds of the people who lived in the city were farmers. They went out to work their fields in the morning and came back at night. Despite that the city did not grow enough food to feed itself but also needed trade and tribute to live.

The Street of the Dead is the main street. It is very wide and runs north to the holy mountain of Cerro Gordo. Along the street were the main temples, palaces and squares.  The two main temples were:

  • The Pyramid of the Sun at the centre of the city, the largest pyramid in Mexico and the third largest in the world. It is now 63 metres tall but once it was 73. The base 225 by 222 metres – about two Manhattan city blocks on a side.
  • The Pyramid of the Moon is to the north along the Street of the Dead. It is smaller, only 43 metres tall.

There is also the temple of Quetzalcoatl, a snake god with feathers seen in the sky as the morning star. The square in front of the temple can hold 100,000, more than half the city.

Under the city are caves and tunnels.

– Abagond, 2009.

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If you believe what you like in the gospels and reject what you do not like, it is not the gospel you believe but yourself.

– Augustine

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Vulgate-manuscript_1The Vulgate (405) is the Bible as it was put into Latin by Saint Jerome. It was the main Bible people read in the West till the 1500s. It was the only book that Gutenberg ever printed. Even today the Catholic Church still uses it.

It is written in easy Latin: although Jerome wrote to his friends in the old-fashioned Latin of Cicero, for the Vulgate he used the Latin of the streets, which was already beginning to turn into Portuguese and French and so on. His starting point was the (cringey) Old Latin Bible.

Some English Bibles are based on the Vulgate: Wycliffe, Douai-Rheims, Confraternity and Knox. But not the King James or Authorized Version: it goes back to the Greek and Hebrew that the Bible was written in.

Some English words that come from the Vulgate: creation, salvation, justification, rapture, testament, regeneration, apostle, angel and the phrase “far be it”.

The Vulgate’s New Testament is far better than anything in English:

  1. It is much easier to turn the Greek of the New Testament into Latin than into English.
  2. It is more faithful to the wording of the New Testament.
  3. Jerome had much older copies of the New Testament than we do. He even had the book of Matthew in Hebrew. We have it only in Greek, which came later.
  4. The koine Greek that the New Testament was written in was still a living language in Jerome’s day. He would know the shades of meanings of words much better than we possibly can.

For the Old Testament, Jerome started out by basing it on the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament that Christians had always used up until then. But then he gave that up and based it on the Masorah instead, the Hebrew Bible that Jews used.

It is because of this decision by Jerome that Catholics and Protestants now use the Masorah for the Old Testament while Orthodox Christians still use the Septuagint.

The part of the Old Testament that Christians know best is the book of Psalms. Since Christians knew the wording of the Septuagint psalms so well, Jerome translated them twice: once from the Septuagint and once from the Masorah. That is why you see the book of Psalms twice in some Vulgates.

The Catholic Church says the Vulgate has no errors that would affect religious teachings. That is a natural thing for it to say: it has been using the Vulgate for over a thousand years. Until the 1960s Latin was the language all the priests and bishops knew. It was even the language used in part of the church services.

There are two sorts of Vulgates that you can get these days:

  1. The Stuttgart: an attempt by scholars to get as close to what Jerome wrote as possible. It is based on the oldest copies of the Vulgate that we can find.
  2. The Nova Vulgata: the Vulgate used by the Catholic Church. Not all of it is Jerome’s: some of it is new.

– Abagond, 2008.

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Roman Empire


The Roman Empire, circa +197.

The Roman Empire (-27 to +476) was the circle of lands round the Mediterranean Sea ruled by Rome. Its ideas about law, government, religion, language and writing became those of the West.

Before -27 Rome was called a republic because the Senate still had some power. But Rome had ruled lands outside of Italy since at least -220. Did it matter to those in Greece or Carthage whether they were ruled by one Roman (the emperor) or many (the Senate)?

And even after Rome fell in 476, the empire in the east continued, ruled from Constantinople, which did not fall to the Turks till 1453. We call it the Byzantine empire, but that is a name made up by French scholars in the 1800s. The empire called itself Roman. Even the Arabs and Turks called them Rumi.

In 117, Rome at its height ruled the lands from Scotland to Egypt, from Morocco to Mesopotamia. It was bound by the Rhine and Danube rivers in the north (except for Dacia, now Romania), the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Sahara in the south and Persia in the east.

Rome brought peace to all the lands round the Mediterranean Sea for hundreds of years: the Pax Romana or Roman peace.

Rome took the best ideas of Egypt, Babylon and Greece and added ideas of its own about law and government.

Latin was the main language in the west, Greek in the east.

Some of the early emperors were cruel and sick men, like Caligula, Claudius and Nero. They ruled from 37 to 68. Later it was ruled by five good emperors, from 96 to 180: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. They brought Rome to the height of its power and glory in the 100s.

In the 200s war was common: the empire had no peaceful, orderly way to hand power from one emperor to the next.

By the 200s the Christians were seen as a threat to the social order: they did not believe the emperor was a god. They would not even give the idea lip service. But by the 300s most people were Christians. They now became the social order, closing down the old temples and burning old books.

By the 300s the emperor rarely came to Rome. He spent most of his time in Milan and the new city of Constantinople, founded by Constantine. Sometimes the empire was ruled by two emperors, one in the west and one in the east. The last emperor to rule both halves together was Theodosius I from 379 to 395.

In the 400s the army in the west was mainly German defending the empire against other Germans! No surprise, then, when the west soon found itself cut up like a birthday cake among German generals, some of them from the Roman army itself. One of those generals, Odoacer, overthrew the last emperor in the west in 476.

In the 500s Justinian sent Belasarius to take back the west. He took much of Italy – by destroying its cities – but in time even Italy was lost.

– Abagond, 2007, 2016.


The Roman Republic / Empire from -510 to +530.

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Peregrinus: Commonitorium

Written: 434
Read: 2004

The Commonitorium by Peregrinus (the pen name of St Vincent of Lerins) is best known for these words:

… we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.

St Vincent wanted to know how to tell what the true Christian faith was. Scripture alone was not enough because heretics twisted it to favour their own teachings. Scripture is too deep a thing to have one plain meaning that everyone can agree on.

This is similar to but not quite the same as CS Lewis’s “mere Christianity”. Lewis wanted to write about the faith that was common to all who called themselves Christians — at the time he wrote his book in 1952.

That means “mere Christianity” changes through the ages: If Lewis had written his book in 200, it would have to be something that Gnostics could accept. In 350, he would have had to please both Arians and Catholics. In 430 it would have been the Nestorians. And so on. You see the difficulty.

That is why St Vincent puts “always” in his definition. If the Christian faith is true, then it is true for all time. It is just as true in 200 as it is in 350 as it is in 434 as it is in 1952.

As it turns out the Council of Ephesus three years before found themselves in the same position. In condemning the Nestorians as heretics, the bishops needed some way to figure out what the true faith was.

They did this by selecting twelve Fathers of the Church from the past two hundred years whom no one doubted as faithful and true interpreters of the faith. And, so as not to favour one region over another, they took them from the west and the east, the north and the south.

Here are the Twelve Fathers:

  1. St. Cyprian of Carthage
  2. St. Felix of Rome
  3. St. Peter of Alexandria
  4. St. Julius of Rome
  5. St. Basil the Great of Caesarea (Anatolia)
  6. St. Athanasius of Alexandria
  7. St. Ambrose of Milan
  8. St. Gregory of Nyssa (Anatolia)
  9. St. Gregory of Nazianzen (Anatolia)
  10. Theophilus, patriarch of Alexandria
  11. Atticus, archbishop of Constantinople
  12. Amphilochius of Iconium (Anatolia)
  • Europe (3):
    • Rome: Felix, Julius
    • Milan: Ambrose
  • Africa (4):
    • Alexandria: Peter, Athanasius, Theophilus
    • Carthage: Cyprian
  • Asia (5):
    • Anatolia: Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzen, Amphilochus
    • Constantinople: Atticus

So while the twelve will have their differences, anything that most of them agree on has to be true.

And this is what St Vincent does as well, but he only takes the first ten. It seems the last two were missing from his copy of the proceedings.

Of the twelve, the works of six of them are easy to find on the Internet: Ambrose, Athanasius, Cyprian, Basil and the two Gregories.

All this makes a lot of sense. It is one of those ideas that seem so obvious and natural once you hear it stated.

In fact, it is the original force of the word “catholic”, which comes from the Greek kata and holos – “according to the whole”. It is an argument used in one form or other from Irenaeus to Newman.

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St Augustine

St Augustine (354-430) was a Christian philosopher, the first to succeed in applying the thought of Plato to the Christian faith. Many attempted it before, such as Origen, Tertulian and the Gnostics, but they all came up with something that was not the true faith. Muslim philosophers later ran into the very same trouble.

Instead of treating Christian and Platonic ideas on equal terms, Augustine interpreted the Christian faith through Plato.

He is famous for two books especially:

  • “Confessions” (398) tells about his search for the truth, which finally brought him to Christ.
  • “City of God” (426) lays out his ideas about history as the Roman Empire was falling apart in the west. He saw history as the story of two cities: the City of God and the City of Man.

We have 4 million of his words (meaning he wrote at least 330 words a day), much of it written against the heretics of his day.

When Augustine was nineteen he read Cicero and burned for the truth (he loved both Cicero and Virgil). He kept searching for the truth till he found it.

His mother was a Christian, so he knew all the Christian answers to his questions. They did not persuade:

  • Question: How could evil exist in a world created by a good and perfect God?
  • Question: If Holy Scripture came from God, why was it not as beautifully written as Cicero?
  • He could neither marry nor leave his live-in girlfriend. “Give me chastity, but not just yet”.
  • He was afraid to trust in God.

His mother was a pious, holy Berber woman who prayed every day for twenty years for his soul. But she was no intellectual like her son. He would have to go out and find the answers for himself. It took him 13 years, from 373 to 386.

First he came to the Manichaeans. According to Mani, a prophet from Babylon, the world was created by a good god and an evil god and we are in the battle between them. This made sense to Augustine. But the more he learned, the more questions he had.

In time when he finally got a chance to ask one of the top Manichaeans his questions, he found that there were no answers — just a lot of fine words.

So he left the Manichaeans. Next he read philosophy, especially Porphyry, a follower of Plotinus, the founder of what we call Neoplatonism. It helped him to understand God. The reason Augustine was able to bring Plato and Christ together was because he came to Christ through Plato. It was not something he thought up one afternoon — it was his life.

When he moved to Milan he met the bishop, St Ambrose. His mother made sure of it. He admired Ambrose and Ambrose, as busy as he was, helped Augustine work through his difficulties and brought him to Christ. His mother’s prayers were answered at last! We know her as St Monica, the namesake of Santa Monica, California.

Augustine has a gift for words and a passion for the truth. Even when he writes about something hard like the Trinity, this shines through and makes him a joy to read.

– Abagond, 2006.

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