Gaul, Early Church in
GAUL, EARLY CHURCH IN
Earliest evidence of the existence of Christianity in Gaul stems from the middle of the 2d century; the legends tracing evangelization to the Apostles and Disciples are totally unhistorical. In about 150 a Christian community was organized in the Roman colony of Lyons to care for a large group of Greek settlers, but in 177 a popular uprising caused persecution to break out there. Among some 48 known victims were the first bishop of the city, Pothinus, who died in prison; the deacon Sanctus of Vienne; the young slave girl Blandina; and the youth Ponticus. The details of the persecution are known from a letter sent by the Christians of Lyons and Vienne to their brethren in Asia Minor (Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 5.1–4).
Foundation of the Episcopacy. The successor of Pothinus was irenaeus of lyons, who in his youth had been a disciple of polycarp at Smyrna. Christianity spread from Lyons into the valley of the Rhône and penetrated northward toward Treves and the Rhine Valley. Irenaeus wrote to Pope victor (c. 190) to give him the collective opinion of the parishes of Gaul on the easter controversy (Hist. eccl. 5.23). Although Irenaeus suffered martyrdom under Septimius Severus (c. 202), according to gregory of tours (Hist. Franc. 1.27), Eusebius makes no reference to the death of the great bishop. The Greek epitaph of pectorius discovered at Autun indicates that there were Christians in that city by the second half of the 2d century or at the beginning of the 3d; by 250 there were some 30 episcopal sees, including Lyons, Arles, Marseilles, Autun, Vienne, Toulouse, Narbonne, Treves, Reims, and Paris.
A letter from cyprian of carthage to Pope stephen on the severity of Bp. Marcion of Arles, in dealing with the lapsi of the Decian persecution, names several Gallic bishops (Cyprian, Epist. 68.2–3). Faustinus of Lyons had informed the Pope of the schismatic attitude of Marcion and appealed to Cyprian to solicit the intervention of Rome. According to Gregory of Tours (Hist. Franc. 1.30), Bp. Saturninus of Toulouse suffered martyrdom in the persecution of Decius (249–251); in that case, the bishopric of Toulouse was anterior to 250. Bishoprics were established also in Belgian and Celtic Gaul; but the western region, less Romanized, seems to have been neglected. The account of seven bishops sent to Gaul by Pope Fabian (c. 250) is found only in Gregory of Tours (Hist. Franc. 1.28) and has no other evidence, nor is there any proof that the churches of Tours, Limoges, and Clermont were founded at this time. The later persecutions had only a few victims in Gaul; under Valerian (257), Denis of Paris suffered martyrdom. But thanks to the benevolent policy of Constantinus Chlorus, the persecution of Diocletian was not carried out in Gaul.
There were 36 episcopal sees in Gaul when constantine i granted peace to the Church. Sixteen of these were represented at the Council of Arles (314), 12 of them by their bishops: Arles, Lyons, Vienne, Marseilles, Vaison, Bordeaux, Eauze, Autun, Rouen, Reims, Treves, and Cologne. In the 30 years following this council, efforts were made toward ecclesiastical organization. By the middle of the 4th century, the number of episcopal sees had doubled the number listed for the year 313. By the time of the death of theodosius i (395), the Church in Gaul was fully organized in diocesan structure and hierarchy; but it was only in the last third of the 4th century that the Nicene provision for provincial grouping was effectively adopted. According to the Notitia Galliarum, Gaul counted 17 provinces in 375.
Administration and the Control of Heresy. Conflict in the southwest over the attempt to follow the framework of the civil administration in provincial grouping led to controversy between the metropolitan of Vienne and the bishop of Arles. The latter claimed to be the metropolitan, since the prefecture of Gaul had been transferred from Treves to Arles. In 398 the bishops of Gaul submitted the matter to the bishops of the province of Milan, meeting in synod at Turin. They suggested a division of the province between the two bishops. The same synod was asked to settle the claims of the bishops of the Narbonnaise against Bp. Proclus of Marseilles, who had assumed the office of metropolitan of that province.
Only one bishop from Gaul had assisted at the Council of Nicaea; but after the sojourn in Treves of athanasius of alexandria, who had been exiled by Constantine I (335–337), the bishops of Gaul participated in the controversies that had their rise in the political Arianism of Constantius. At the Council of sardica (343) that restored Athanasius, bishops were present from Lyons and Treves. Although Saturninus of Arles sided with the Arianizing Emperor, hilary of poitiers and Phebadus of Agen strongly supported the orthodox position. After the Council of Béziers (356), Hilary spent four years in exile in Phrygia (356–360). On his return, in spite of the wavering of almost all the bishops of Gaul at the Council of Rimini (359), Hilary succeeded in having the episcopate of Gaul assembled about him at the Council of Paris (360). "Everyone knows," wrote Sulpicius Severus, "that Gaul is indebted to Hilary alone for the benefit of freedom from heresy" (Chron. 2.45). In 380 two bishops of Aquitaine took part in the Council of Saragossa that condemned priscillianism; the next year, six Gallic bishops assisted at the Council of Aquileia that dealt with two bishops accused of Arianism.
Parishes and Monasteries. Since a bishop was an official personage, he installed his cathedral inside the city. In the suburbs, cemeterial basilicas were built to honor the tombs of martyrs and confessors. The apostolate in the countryside began only with the peace of the Church. It was carried out through the erection of parishes in the villages. St. Martin of Tours, who was noted for evangelizing the rural areas, created the first six parishes of his diocese (371–397). At the beginning of the 5th century, the number of pagans, almost insignificant in the cities, was still high in the country places. The oratories established by the lords of rural estates were often transformed into parochial churches. In the second half of the 4th century, following the example of the East, hermitages and monasteries were established. The oldest known was the modest monastery that Martin of Tours organized at Ligugé near Poitiers. Later as bishop, Martin gathered his numerous disciples at Marmoutier near his episcopal city. Many women embraced a life of virginity; some lived in common, others, such as St. geneviÈve of paris, lived at home. There were also recluses among them (Sulpicius Severus, Dial. 2.12). Monastic life gained in prestige during the 5th century. Among the monasteries were Lérins, established by honoratus of arles (c. 410), and that of St. Victor at Marseilles founded by John cassian (c. 416) on the model of Egyptian monasticism.
Consolidation. The 5th century witnessed the struggle to consolidate the power of the episcopate of Gaul and to preserve communication with Rome in the midst of barbarian inroads. Under Pope Siricius (384–398) a number of decrees were sent to bishops in Gaul, and the popes were frequently called upon to preserve discipline and uphold the rights of sees and bishops. In 417 jurisdictional conflicts arose when Pope zosimus, pressed by Bp. Patroclus of Arles, placed under the metropolitan authority of Arles all the ancient Narbonnaise, to which was annexed the provinces of the Maritime Alps. Although this attempt to create the primacy of Arles was not sustained by the successors of Zosimus, the city remained a great ecclesiastical center, especially under Bishop hilary of arles (429–449), whose encroachments were severely censured by Pope leo i in 445 (Epist. 10). Before attracting the unfavorable attention of the Pope, Hilary had tried more than once to assemble all the bishops of the southeast in inter-provincial council: Riez (439), Orange (441), and Vaison (442).
The vandals raged through Gaul between 407 and 408, but the invasions of the visigoths, Burgundians, franks, and Alamanni were of more serious consequence. These peoples, at first established as foederati of the Roman Empire, set up independent kingdoms and destroyed what remained of imperial authority. The bishops, among whom were Aignan of Orléans, germain of auxerre, and Lupus of Troyes, tried to alleviate the hardships of the time. The Church adapted itself to the rule of barbarian kings: Visigoths in Aquitaine and a part of the Narbonnaise, Burgundians in the valleys of the Rhine and the Saine, and Franks in Belgian Gaul and in the Rhine region. With the baptism of Clovis and about 3,000 of his retainers (c. 496), the conversion of the Frankish nation was soon an accomplished fact.
Scholars and Defenders of the Faith. Gaul produced some of the foremost writers of early Christianity. Two works of Irenaeus of Lyons (originally from Asia Minor, however) are extant: Proof of the Apostolic Preaching and Adversus haereses. Hilary of Poitiers (d.367), the first to write in Latin, composed De Trinitate, Commentarium in s. Mattheum, and Tractatus super Psalmos, as well as controversial tracts in defense of Nicene orthodoxy. St. Jerome reports that Hilary also composed a Liber hymnorum. paulinus of nola (353–431) composed most of his poetry after he had left Gaul for Italy. sulpicius severus (d. 420) wrote excellent Latin prose, as his Dialogues, Chronicle, and Vita Martini prove. The latter work (Ancient Christian Writers 7) popularized the cult of the famous bishop and attracted pilgrims to his tomb. John Cassian (d. 435) wrote De Incarnatione at the request of the deacon, later Pope Leo I, and composed his Institutes and Collations as a stimulus to monastic spirituality. His Semi-Pelagian tendencies provoked a lay theologian, prosper of aquitaine, to come to the defense of St. Augustine in works of prose and verse. vincent of lÉrins (d. 450) exhibited Semi-Pelagian leaning in his Commonitorium, and Salvian of Marseilles (c. 400) wrote his famous De gubernatione Dei (Ancient Christian Writers 7). The hagiography that developed in the 6th century with Gregory of Tours' eight books of miracles is not trustworthy, although his History of the Franks, despite its credulous and moralizing tendency, is an indispensable source for the early history of Christian Gaul and one of the major historical works of the Middle Ages.
The zeal of caesarius of arles (502–542) was exercised in an attempt to vivify the Church in Gaul by means of popular preaching and a reform of ecclesiastical discipline. Some 238 of his sermons have been preserved and reveal him to have been the greatest popular preacher in the Latin Church after St. Augustine. The synod at Orange (529), presided over by Caesarius, submitted its 25 canons rejecting pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism to Pope boniface ii (530–532). The papal confirmation of the decisions was accepted throughout the Church, and thus the first great Western controversy in regard to grace was brought to a close. With the death of Caesarius, a new phase in the Gallican Church began.
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[m. c. hilferty]