Pope St. Celestine I
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Pope St. Celestine I was the bishop of Rome from 10 September 422 to his death on 1 August 432. In 430, he held a synod in Rome, at which the teachings of Nestorius were condemned. The following year, he sent delegates to the First Council of Ephesus to address the issue of Nestorianism. Nestorius, the Arch-Bishop of Constantinople, rejected the use of the ancient title Theotokos (Mother of God), that had been used for Mary, mother of Jesus, for centuries. He instead proposed the title of Christotokos (Mother of Christ) which indicated his preference for the concept of a loose prosopic union of Christ’s two natures (divine and human), over the concept of their full hypostatic union (fully divine and fully human). That brought him into conflict with the greater Catholic Church, especially with Cyril of Alexandria, who accused him of heresy. Pope Celestine I issued a letter that was read at the Council of Ephesus and the Council formally condemned Nestorianism and excommunicated Nestorius. Four additional letters written by Pope Celestine on that occasion, all dated 15 March 431, that were addressed to the bishops of North African, of Illyria, of Thessalonica, and of Narbonne, are extant in re-translations from the Greek.
Celestine also actively condemned the Pelagian Heresy. Pelagius was an ascetic layman from the British Isles who taught that God could not command believers to do the impossible, and therefore it must be possible for humans with free will to satisfy all divine commandments without the aid of God’s grace. He also taught that it was unjust to punish one person for the sins of another; therefore, he denied that Original Sin tainted the soul and that infants are born blameless. Due to this position, Pelagius accepted no excuse for sinful behavior and taught that all Christians, regardless of their station in life, should live unimpeachable, sinless lives. To combat this teaching, Pope Celestine was involved in the initiative of the Gallic bishops to send Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes to Britain in 429 to confront bishops reportedly holding Pelagian views. He then sent Palladius to Ireland to serve as a bishop in 431. After Palladius’ death, Celestine sent St. Patrick to act as Bishop, who became known as the “Apostle of Ireland” and is the primary patron saint of Ireland as he was largely responsible for converting a society practising a form of Celtic polytheism to Christianity. The Heresy of Pelagianism was decisively condemned at the 418 Council of Carthage and is still regarded as heretical by the Catholic Church.
Celestine strongly opposed the Novatians in Rome. The Novationists refused absolution to the lapsi (Christians who renounced their faith under Roman persecution), but Celestine argued that reconciliation should never be refused to any dying sinner who sincerely asked for it. Socrates Scholasticus writes about Pope Celestine in his work Ecclesiastical History; “this Celestinus took away the churches from the Novatians at Rome also, and obliged Rusticula their bishop to hold his meetings secretly in private houses.” (Ecclesiastical History 7:11).
Celestine died on 26 July 432. He was buried in the cemetery of St. Priscilla in the Via Salaria, but his body, subsequently moved, now lies in the Basilica di Santa Prassede.
- The Letter to the Legates of Pope Celestine I to the Council of Ephesus
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LETTER OF POPE CELESTINE I TO HIS LEGATES TO THE COUNCIL OF EPHESUS 17
May 8, 431.
“We enjoin upon you the necessary task of guarding the authority of the Apostolic See. And if the instructions handed you have to mention this and if you have to be present in the assembly, if it comes to controversy, it is not yours to join the fight, but to judge of their opinions.”
The Letter of Pope Cœlestine to the Synod of Ephesus. 431 A.D.
Cœlestine the bishop to the holy Synod assembled at Ephesus, brethren beloved and most longed for, greeting in the Lord.
A Synod of priests gives witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit. For true is that which we read, since the Truth cannot lie, to wit, the promise of the Gospel; Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. And since this is so, if the Holy Spirit is not absent from so small a number how much more may we believe he is present when so great a multitude of holy ones are assembled together! Every council is holy on account of a peculiar veneration which is its due; for in every such council the reverence which should be paid to that most famous council of the Apostles of which we read is to be had regard to. Never was the Master, whom they had received to preach, lacking to this, but ever was present as Lord and Master; and never were those who taught deserted by their teacher. For he that had sent them was their teacher; he who had commanded what was to be taught, was their teacher; he who affirms that he himself is heard in his Apostles, was their teacher. This duty of preaching has been entrusted to all the Lord’s priests in common, for by right of inheritance we are bound to undertake this solicitude, whoever of us preach the name of the Lord in various lands in their stead for he said to them, Go, teach all nations. You, dear brethren, should observe that we have received a general command: for he wills that all of us should perform that office, which he thus entrusted in common to all the Apostles. We must needs follow our predecessors. Let us all, then, undertake their labours, since we are the successors in their honour. And we show forth our diligence in preaching the same doctrines that they taught, beside which, according to the admonition of the Apostle, we are forbidden to add anything. For the office of keeping what is committed to our trust is no less dignified than that of handing it down.
They sowed the seed of the faith. This shall be our care that the coming of our great father of the family, to whom alone assuredly this fullness of the Apostles is assigned, may find fruit uncorrupt and many fold. For the vase of election tells us that it is not sufficient to plant and to water unless God gives the increase. We must strive therefore in common to keep the faith which has come down to us today, through the Apostolic Succession. For we are expected to walk according to the Apostle. For now not our appearance (species) but our faith is called in question. Spiritual weapons are those we must take, because the war is one of minds, and the weapons are words; so shall we be strong in the faith of our King. Now the Blessed Apostle Paul admonishes that all should remain in that place in which he bid Timothy remain. The same place therefore, the same cause, lays upon us the same duty. Let us now also do and study that which he then commanded him to do. And let no one think otherwise, and let no one pay heed to over strange fables, as he himself ordered. Let us be unanimous, thinking the same thing, for this is expedient: let us do nothing out of contention, nothing out of vain glory: let us be in all things of one mind, of one heart, when the faith which is one, is attacked. Let the whole body grieve and mourn in common with us. He who is to judge the world is called into judgment; he who is to criticise all, is himself made the object of criticism, he who redeemed us is made to suffer calumny. Dear Brethren, gird yourselves with the armour of God. You know what helmet must protect our head, what breast-plate our breast. For this is not the first time the ecclesiastical camps have received you as their rulers. Let no one doubt that by the favour of the Lord who makes two to be one, there will be peace, and that arms will be laid aside since the very cause defends itself.
Let us look once again at these words of our Doctor, which he uses with express reference to bishops, saying, Take heed to yourselves and to the whole flock, over which the Holy Ghost has placed you as bishop, that you rule the church of God, which he has purchased with his blood.
We read that they who heard this at Ephesus, the same place at which your holiness has come together, were called thence. To them therefore to whom this preaching of the faith was known, to them also let your defense of the same faith also be known. Let us show them the constancy of our mind with that reverence which is due to matters of great importance; which things peace has guarded for a long time with pious understanding.
Let there be announced by you what things have been preserved intact from the Apostles; for the words of tyrannical opposition are never admitted against the King of Kings, nor can the business of truth be oppressed by falsehood.
I exhort you, most blessed brethren, that love alone be regarded in which we ought to remain, according to the voice of John the Apostle whose relics we venerate in this city. Let common prayer be offered to the Lord. For we can form some idea of what will be the power of the divine presence at the united intercession of such a multitude of priests, by considering how the very place was moved where, as we read, the Twelve made together their supplication. And what was the purport of that prayer of the Apostles? It was that they might receive grace to speak the word of God with confidence, and to act through its power, both of which they received by the favour of Christ our God. And now what else is to be asked for by your holy council, except that you may speak the Word of the Lord with confidence? What else than that he would give you grace to preserve that which he has given you to preach? That being filled with the Holy Ghost, as it is written, you may set forth that one truth which the Spirit himself has taught you, although with various voices.
Animated, in brief, by all these considerations (for, as the Apostle says: I speak to them that know the law, and I speak wisdom among them that are perfect), stand fast by the Catholic faith, and defend the peace of the Churches, for so it is said, both to those past, present, and future, asking and preserving those things which belong to the peace of Jerusalem.
Out of our solicitude, we have sent our holy brethren and fellow priests, who are at one with us and are most approved men, Arcedius, and Projectus, the bishops, and our presbyter, Philip, that they may be present at what is done and may carry out what things have been already decreed be us (quæ a nobis antea statuta sunt, exequantur).
To the performing of which we have no doubt that your holiness will assent when it is seen that what has been decreed is for the security of the whole church. Given the viij of the Ides of May, in the consulate of Bassus and Antiochus
The Letter of the Synod of Ephesus to Pope Celestine. 431 A.D.
The Holy Synod which by the grace of God was assembled at Ephesus the Metropolis to the most holy and our fellow-minister Cœlestine, health in the Lord.
The zeal of your holiness for piety, and your care for the right faith, so grateful and highly pleasing to God the Saviour of us all, are worthy of all admiration. For it is your custom in such great matters to make trial of all things, and the confirmation of the Churches you have made your own care. But since it is right that all things which have taken place should be brought to the knowledge of your holiness, we are writing of necessity [to inform you] that, by the will of Christ the Saviour of us all, and in accordance with the orders of the most pious and Christ-loving Emperors, we assembled together in the Metropolis of the Ephesians from many and far scattered regions, being in all over two hundred bishops. Then, in accordance with the decrees of the Christ-loving Emperors by whom we were assembled, we fixed the date of the meeting of the holy Synod as the Feast of the Holy Pentecost, all agreeing thereto, especially as it was contained in the letters of the Emperors that if anyone did not arrive at the appointed time, he was absent with no good conscience, and was inexcusable both before God and man. The most reverend John Bishop of Antioch stopped behind; not in singleness of heart, nor because the length of the journey made the impediment, but hiding in his mind his plan and his thought (which was so displeasing to God,) [a plan and thought] which he made clear when not long afterwards he arrived at Ephesus.
Therefore we put off the assembling [of the council] after the appointed day of the Holy Pentecost for sixteen whole days; in the meanwhile many of the bishops and clerics were overtaken with illness, and much burdened by the expense, and some even died. A great injury was thus being done to the great Synod, as your holiness easily perceives. For he used perversely such long delay that many from much greater distances arrived before him.
Nevertheless after sixteen days had passed, certain of the bishops who were with him, to wit, two Metropolitans, the one Alexander of Apamea, and the other Alexander of Hierapolis, arrived before him. And when we complained of the tardy coming of the most reverend bishop John, not once, but often, we were told, He gave us command to announce to your reverence, that if anything should happen to delay him, not to put off the Synod, but to do what was right. After having received this message — and as it was manifest, as well from his delay as from the announcements just made to us, that he refused to attend the Council, whether out of friendship to Nestorius, or because he had been a cleric of a church under his sway, or out of regard to petitions made by some in his favour — the Holy Council sat in the great church of Ephesus, which bears the name of Mary.
But when all with zeal had come together, Nestorius alone was found missing from the council, thereupon the holy Synod sent him admonition in accordance with the canons by bishops, a first, second, and third time. But he surrounding his house with soldiers, set himself up against the ecclesiastical laws, neither did he show himself, nor give any satisfaction for his iniquitous blasphemies.
After this the letters were read which were written to him by the most holy and most reverend bishop of the Church of Alexandria, Cyril, which the Holy Synod approved as being orthodox and without fault (ὀρθῶς καὶ ἀλήπτως ἔχειν), and in no point out of agreement either with the divinely inspired Scriptures, or with the faith handed down and set forth in the great synod of holy Fathers, which assembled sometime ago at Nice in Bithynia, as your holiness also rightly having examined this has given witness.
On the other hand there was read the letter of Nestorius, which was written to the already mentioned most holy and reverend brother of ours and fellow-minister, Cyril, and the Holy Synod was of opinion that those things which were taught in it were wholly alien from the Apostolic and Evangelical faith, sick with many and strange blasphemies.
His most impious expositions were likewise read, and also the letter written to him by your holiness, in which he was properly condemned as one who had written blasphemy and had inserted irreligious views (φωνᾶς) in his private exegesis, and after this a just sentence of deposition was pronounced against him; especially is this sentence just, because he is so far removed from being penitent, or from a confession of the matters in which he blasphemed, while yet he had the Church of Constantinople, that even in the very metropolis of the Ephesians, he delivered a sermon to certain of the Metropolitical bishops, men who were not ignorant, but learned and God-fearing, in which he was bold enough to say, I do not confess a two or three months old God, and he said other things more outrageous than this.
Therefore as an impious and most pestilent heresy, which perverts our most pure religion (θρησκείαν) and which overthrows from the foundation the whole economy of the mystery [i.e. the Incarnation], we cast it down, as we have said above. But it was not possible, as it seemed, that those who had the sincere love of Christ, and were zealous in the Lord should not experience many trials. For we had hoped that the most reverend John, bishop of Antioch would have praised the sedulous care and piety of the Synod, and that perchance he would have blamed the slowness of Nestorius’s deposition. But all things turned out contrary to our hope. For he was found to be an enemy, and a most warlike one, to the holy Synod, and even to the orthodox faith of the churches, as these things indicate.
For as soon as he had come to Ephesus, before he had even shaken off the dust of the journey, or changed his travelling dress, he assembled those who had sided with Nestorius and who had uttered blasphemies against their head, and only not derided the glory of Christ, and gathering as a college to himself, I suppose, thirty men, having the name of bishops (some of whom were without sees, wandering about and having no dioceses, others again had for many years been deposed for serious causes from their metropolises, and with these were Pelagians and the followers of Celestius, and some of those who were turned out of Thessaly), he had the presumption to commit a piece of iniquity no man had ever done before. For all by himself he drew up a paper which he called a deposition, and reviled and reproached the most holy and reverend Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, and the most reverend Memnon, bishop of Ephesus, our brother, and fellow-minister, none of us knowing anything about it, and not even those who were thus reviling knew what was being done, nor for what reason they had presumed to do this. But ignoring the anger of God for such behaviour, and unheeding the ecclesiastical canons, and forgetting that they were hastening to destruction by such a course of action, under the name of an excommunication, they then reviled the whole Synod. And placing these acts of theirs on the public bulletin boards, they exposed them to be read by such as chose to do so, having posted them on the outside of the theatres, that they might make a spectacle of their impiety. But not even was this the limit of their audacity; but as if they had done something in accordance with the canons, they dared to bring what they had done to the ears of the most pious and Christ-loving Emperors. Things being in this condition, the most holy and reverend Cyril, bishop of Alexandria and the most reverend Memnon bishop of the city of Ephesus, offered some books composed by themselves and accusing the most reverend Bishop John and those who with him had done this thing, and conjuring our holy Synod that John and those with him should be summoned according to the canons, so that they might apologize for their daring acts, and if they had any complaints to make they might speak and prove them, for in their written deposition, or rather sheet of abuse, they made this statement as a pretext, They are Apollinarians, and Arians, and Eunomians, and therefore they have been deposed by us. When, therefore, those who had endured their reviling were present, we again necessarily assembled in the great church, being more than two hundred bishops, and by a first, second, and third call on two days, we summoned John and his companions to the Synod, in order that they might examine those who had been reviled, and might make explanations, and tell the causes which led them to draw up the sentence of deposition; but he did not dare to come.
But it was right that he, if he could truly prove the before-mentioned holy men to be heretics, both should come and prove the truth of that which, accepted as a true and indubitable crime, induced the temerarious sentence against them. But being condemned by his own conscience he did not come. Now what he had planned was this. For he thought that when that foundation-less and most unjust reviling was done away, the just vote of the Synod which it cast against the heretic Nestorius would likewise be dissolved. Being justly vexed, therefore, we determined to inflict according to law the same penalty upon him and those who were with him, which he contrary to law had pronounced against those who had been convicted of no fault. But although most justly and in accordance with law he would have suffered this punishment yet in the hope that by our patience his temerity might be conquered, we have reserved this to the decision of your holiness. In the meanwhile, we have deprived them of communion and have taken from them all priestly power, so that they may not be able to do any harm by their opinions. For those who thus ferociously, and cruelly, and uncanonically are wont to rush to such frightful and most wicked things, how was it not necessary that they should be stripped of the powers which [as a matter of fact] they did not possess, of being able to do harm.
With our brethren and fellow-ministers, both Cyril the bishop and Memnon, who had endured reproval at their hands, we are all in communion, and after the rashness [of their accusers] we both have and do perform the liturgy in common, all together celebrating the Synaxis, having made of none effect their play in writing, and having thus shown that it lacked all validity and effect. For it was mere reviling and nothing else. For what kind of a synod could thirty men hold, some of whom were marked with the stamp of heresy, and some without sees and ejected [from their dioceses]? Or what strength could it have in opposition to a synod gathered from all the whole world? For there were sitting with us the most reverend bishops Arcadius and Projectus, and with them the most holy presbyter Philip, all of whom were sent by your holiness, who gave to us your presence and filled the place of the Apostolic See (τῆς ἀποστολικῆς καθέδρας). Let then your holiness be angered at what took place. But if license were granted to such as wished to pour reproval upon the greater sees, and thus unlawfully and uncanonically to give sentence or rather to utter revilings against those over whom they have no power, against those who for religion have endured such great conflicts, by reason of which now also piety shines forth through the prayers of your holiness [if, I say, all this should be tolerated], the affairs of the Church would fall into the greatest confusion. But when those who dare to do such things shall have been chastised aright, all disturbance will cease, and the reverence due to the canons will be observed by all.
When there had been read in the holy Synod what had been done touching the deposition of the most irreligious Pelagians and Cœlestines, of Cœlestius, and Pelagius, and Julian, and Præsidius, and Florus, and Marcellian, and Orontius, and those inclined to like errors, we also deemed it right (ἐδικαιώσαμεν) that the determinations of your holiness concerning them should stand strong and firm. And we all were of the same mind, holding them deposed. And that you may know in full all things that have been done, we have sent you a copy of the Acts, and of the subscriptions of the Synod. We pray that you, dearly beloved and most longed for, may be strong and mindful of us in the Lord.
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