Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book VIII/Chapter 2
Chapter II.—The Pious Old Man Rejoices that He Read Plato and the Scriptures, and Tells Him of the Rhetorician Victorinus Having Been Converted to the Faith Through the Reading of the Sacred Books.
3. To Simplicianus then I went,—the father of Ambrose (at that time a bishop) in receiving Thy grace, and whom he truly loved as a father. To him I narrated the windings of my error. But when I mentioned to him that I had read certain books of the Platonists, which Victorinus, sometime Professor of Rhetoric at Rome (who died a Christian, as I had been told), had translated into Latin, he congratulated me that I had not fallen upon the writings of other philosophers, which were full of fallacies and deceit, “after the rudiments of the world,” whereas they, in many ways, led to the belief in God and His word. Then, to exhort me to the humility of Christ, hidden from the wise, and revealed to little ones, he spoke of Victorinus himself, whom, whilst he was at Rome, he had known very intimately; and of him he related that about which I will not be silent. For it contains great praise of Thy grace, which ought to be confessed unto Thee, how that most learned old man, highly skilled in all the liberal sciences, who had read, criticised, and explained so many works of the philosophers; the teacher of so many noble senators; who also, as a mark of his excellent discharge of his duties, had (which men of this world esteem a great honour) both merited and obtained a statue in the Roman Forum, he,—even to that age a worshipper of idols, and a participator in the sacrilegious rites to which almost all the nobility of Rome were wedded, and had inspired the people with the love of
“The dog Anubis, and a medley crew
Of monster gods [who] ’gainst Neptune stand in arms,
’Gainst Venus and Minerva, steel-clad Mars,”
whom Rome once conquered, now worshipped, all which old Victorinus had with thundering eloquence defended so many years,—he now blushed not to be the child of Thy Christ, and an infant at Thy fountain, submitting his neck to the yoke of humility, and subduing his forehead to the reproach of the Cross.
4. O Lord, Lord, who hast bowed the heavens and come down, touched the mountains and they did smoke, by what means didst Thou convey Thyself into that bosom? He used to read, as Simplicianus said, the Holy Scripture, most studiously sought after and searched into all the Christian writings, and said to Simplicianus,—not openly, but secretly, and as a friend,—“Know thou that I am a Christian.” To which he replied, “I will not believe it, nor will I rank you among the Christians unless I see you in the Church of Christ.” Whereupon he replied derisively, “Is it then the walls that make Christians?” And this he often said, that he already was a Christian; and Simplidanus making the same answer, the conceit of the “walls” was by the other as often renewed. For he was fearful of offending his friends, proud demon-worshippers, from the height of whose Babylonian dignity, as from cedars of Lebanon which had not yet been broken by the Lord, he thought a storm of enmity would descend upon him. But after that, from reading and inquiry, he had derived strength, and feared lest he should be denied by Christ before the holy angels if he now was afraid to confess Him before men, and appeared to himself guilty of a great fault in being ashamed of the sacraments of the humility of Thy word, and not being ashamed of the sacrilegious rites of those proud demons, whose pride he had imitated and their rites adopted, he became bold-faced against vanity, and shame-faced toward the truth, and suddenly and unexpectedly said to Simplicianus,—as he himself informed me,—“Let us go to the church; I wish to be made a Christian.” But he, not containing himself for joy, accompanied him. And having been admitted to the first sacraments of instruction, he not long after gave in his name, that he might be regenerated by baptism,—Rome marvelling, and the Church rejoicing. The proud saw, and were enraged; they gnashed with their teeth, and melted away! But the Lord God was the hope of Thy servant, and He regarded not vanities and lying madness.
5. Finally, when the hour arrived for him to make profession of his faith (which at Rome they who are about to approach Thy grace are wont to deliver from an elevated place, in view of the faithful people, in a set form of words learnt by heart), the presbyters, he said, offered Victorinus to make his profession more privately, as the custom was to do to those who were likely, through bashfulness, to be afraid; but he chose rather to profess his salvation in the presence of the holy assembly. For it was not salvation that he taught in rhetoric, and yet he had publicly professed that. How much less, therefore, ought he, when pronouncing Thy word, to dread Thy meek flock, who, in the delivery of his own words, had not feared the mad multitudes! So, then, when he ascended to make his profession, all, as they recognised him, whispered his name one to the other, with a voice of congratulation. And who was there amongst them that did not know him? And there ran a low murmur through the mouths of all the rejoicing multitude, “Victorinus! Victorinus!” Sudden was the burst of exultation at the sight of him; and suddenly were they hushed, that they might hear him. He pronounced the true faith with an excellent boldness, and all desired to take him to their very heart—yea, by their love and joy they took him thither; such were the hands with which they took him.
- Simplicianus succeeded Ambrose, 397 A.D. He has already been referred to, in the extract from De Civ. Dei, in note 1, p. 113, above as “the old saint Simplicianus, afterwards Bishop of Milan.” In Ep. p. 37, Augustin addresses him as “his father, most worthy of being cherished with respect and sincere affection.” When Simplicianus is spoken of above as “the father of Ambrose in receiving Thy grace,” reference is doubtless made to his having been instrumental in his conversion—he having “begotten” him “through the gospel” (1 Cor. iv. 15). Ambrose, when writing to him (Ep. 65), concludes, “Vale, et nos parentis affectu dilige, ut facis.”
- Col. ii. 8.
- i.e. the Platonists.
- In like manner Augustin, in his De Civ. Dei (viii. 5), says: “No philosophers come nearer to us than the Platonists;” and elsewhere, in the same book, he speaks, in exalted terms, of their superiority to other philosophers. When he speaks of the Platonists, he means the Neo-Platonists, from whom he conceived that he could best derive a knowledge of Plato, who had, by pursuing the Socratic method in concealing his opinions, rendered it difficult “to discover clearly what he himself thought on various matters, any more than it is to discover what were the real opinions of Socrates” (ibid. sec 4). Whether Plato himself had or not knowledge of the revelation contained in the Old Testament Scriptures, as Augustin supposed (De Civ. Dei, viii. 11, 12), it is clear that the later Platonists were considerably affected by Judaic ideas, even as the philosophizing Jews were indebted to Platonism. This view has been embodied in the proverb frequently found in the Fathers, Latin as well as Greek, Ἤ Πλάτων φιλονίζει ἤ Φίλων πλατωνίζει. Archer Butler, in the fourth of his Lectures on Ancient Philosophy, treats of the vitality of Plato’s teaching and the causes of its influence, and shows how in certain points there is a harmony between his ideas and the precepts of the gospel. On the difficulty of unravelling the subtleties of the Platonic philosophy, see Burton’s Bampton Lectures (lect. 3).
- See iv. sec. 19, above.
- Matt. xi. 25.
- “Victorinus, by birth an African, taught rhetoric at Rome under Constantius, and in extreme old age, giving himself up to the faith of Christ, wrote some books against Arius, dialectically [and so] very obscure, which are not understood but by the learned, and a commentary on the Apostle” [Paul] (Jerome, De Viris Ill. c. 101). It is of the same, probably, that Gennadius speaks (De Viris Ill. c. 60), “that he commented in a Christian and pious strain, but inasmuch as he was a man taken up with secular literature, and not trained in the Divine Scriptures by any teacher, he produced what was comparatively of little weight.” Comp. Jerome, Præf. in Comm. in Gal., and see Tillemont, 1. c. p. 179, sq. Some of his works are extant.—E. B. P.
- Æneid, viii. 736–8. The Kennedys.
- Ps. cxliv. 5.
- Ps. xxix. 5.
- Luke ix. 26.
- “The Fathers gave the name of sacrament, or mystery, to everything which conveyed one signification or property to unassisted reason, and another to faith. Hence Cyprian speaks of the ‘sacraments’ of the Lord’s Prayer, meaning the hidden meaning conveyed therein, which could only be appreciated by a Christian. The Fathers sometimes speak of confirmation as a sacrament, because the chrism signified the grace of the Holy Ghost; and the imposition of hands was not merely a bare sign, but the form by which it was conveyed. See Bingham, book xii. c. 1, sec. 4. Yet at the same time they continually speak of two great sacraments of the Christian Church” (Palmer’s Origines Liturgicæ, vol. ii. c. 6, sec. 1, p. 201).
- That is, he became a catechumen. In addition to the information on this subject, already given in the note to book vi. sec. 2, above, the following references to it may prove instructive. (1) Justin Martyr, describing the manner of receiving converts into the Church in his day, says (Apol. i. 61): “As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray, and to entreat God with fasting for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. And this washing is called illumination, because they who learn these things are illuminated in their understandings.” And again (ibid. 65): “We, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers, in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place.…Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread, and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he, taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.…And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present, to partake of, the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.” And once more (ibid. 66): “This food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.” (2) In Watts’ translation, we have the following note on this episode in our text: “Here be divers particulars of the primitive fashion, in this story of Victorinus. First, being converted, he was to take some well-known Christian (who was to be his godfather) to go with him to the bishop, who, upon notice of it, admitted him a catechumenus, and gave him those six points of catechistical doctrine mentioned Heb. vi, 1, 2. When the time of baptism drew near, the young Christian came to give in his heathen name, which was presently registered, submitting himself to examination. On the eve, was he, in a set form, first, to renounce the devil, and to pronounce, I confess to Thee, O Christ, repeating the Creed with it, in the form here recorded. The time for giving in their names must be within the two first weeks in Lent; and the solemn day to renounce upon was Maundy Thursday. So bids the Council of Laodicea (Can. 45 and 46).” The renunciation adverted to by Watts in the above passage may be traced to an early period in the writings of the Fathers. It is mentioned by Tertullian, Ambrose, and Jerome, and “in the fourth century,” says Palmer (Origines Liturgicæ, c. 5, sec. 2, where the authorities will be found), “the renunciation was made with great solemnity. Cyril of Jerusalem, speaking to those who had been recently baptized, said, ‘First, you have entered into the vestibule of the baptistry, and, standing towards the west, you have heard, and been commanded, and stretch forth your hands, and renounce Satan as if he were present.’ This rite of turning to the west at the renunciation of Satan is also spoken of by Jerome, Gregory, Nazianzen, and Ambrose; and it was sometimes performed with exsufflations and other external signs of enmity to Satan, and rejection of him and his works. To the present day these customs remain in the patriarchate of Constantinople, where the candidates for baptism turn to the west to renounce Satan, stretching forth their hands and using an exsufflation as a sign of enmity against him. And the Monophysites of Antioch and Jerusalem, Alexandria and Armenia, also retain the custom of renouncing Satan with faces turned to the west.”
- Ps. cxii. 10.
- Ps. xxxi. 6, 14, 18.
- Literally, “give back,” reddere.
- Anciently, as Palmer has noted in the introduction to his Origines Liturgicæ, the liturgies of the various churches were learnt by heart. They probably began to be committed to writing about Augustin’s day. The reference, however, in this place, is to the Apostles’ Creed, which, Dr. Pusey in a note remarks, was delivered orally to the catechumens to commit it to memory, and by them delivered back, i.e. publicly repeated before they were baptized. “The symbol [creed] bearing hallowed testimony, which ye have together received, and are this day severally to give back [reddidistis], are the words in which the faith of our mother the Church is solidly constructed on a stable foundation, which is Christ the Lord. ‘For other foundation can no man lay,’ etc. Ye have received them, and given back [reddidistis] what ye ought to retain in heart and mind, what ye should repeat in your beds, think on in the streets, and forget not in your meals, and while sleeping in body, in heart watch therein. For this is the faith, and the rule of salvation, that ‘We believe in God, the Father Almighty,’” etc. (Aug. Serm. 215, in Redditione Symboli). “On the Sabbath day [Saturday], when we shall keep a vigil through the mercy of God, ye will give back [reddituri] not the [Lord’s] Prayer, but the Creed” (Serm. 58, sec. ult.). “What ye have briefly heard, ye ought not only to believe, but to commit to memory in so many words, and utter with your mouth” (Serm. 214, in Tradit. Symb. 3, sec. 2). “Nor, in order to retain the very words of the Creed, ought ye any wise to write it, but to learn it thoroughly by hearing, nor, when ye have learnt it, ought ye to write it, but always to keep and refresh it in your memories.—‘This is my covenant, which I will make with them after those days,’ saith the Lord; ‘I will place my law in their minds, and in their hearts will I write it.’ To convey this, the Creed is learnt by hearing, and not written on tables or any other substance, but on the heart” (Serm. 212, sec. 2). See the Roman Liturgy (Assem, Cod. Liturg. t. i. p. 11 sq., 16), and the Gothic and Gallican (pp. 30 sq., 38 sq., 40 sq., etc.). “The renunciation of Satan,” to quote once more from Palmer’s Origines (c. 5, sec. 3), “was always followed by a profession of faith in Christ, as it is now in the English ritual.…The promise of obedience and faith in Christ was made by the catechumens and sponsors, with their faces turned towards the east, as we learn from Cyril of Jerusalem and many other writers. Tertullian speaks of the profession of faith made at baptism, in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in the Church. Cyprian mentions the interrogation, ‘Dost thou believe in eternal life, and remission of sins through the Holy Church?’ Eusebius and many other Fathers also speak of the profession of faith made at this time; and it is especially noted in the Apostolical Constitutions, which were written in the East at the end of the third or beginning of the fourth century. The profession of faith in the Eastern churches has generally been made by the sponsor, or the person to be baptized, not in the form of answers to questions, but by repeating the Creed after the priest. In the Western churches, the immemorial custom has been, for the priest to interrogate the candidate for baptism, or his sponsor, on the principal articles of the Christian faith.”