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The Church Of The Western Empire

The period between the closing years of the fourth century, in which the
struggle was still going on between heathenism and Christianity ( 81),
and the end of the Roman Empire of the West is of fundamental importance
in the study of the history of the Christian Church of the West. In this
period were laid the foundations for its characteristic theology and its
ecclesiastical organization. The former was the work of St. Augustine, the
most powerful religious personality of the Western Church. In this he
built partly upon the traditions of the West, but also, largely, upon his
own religious experience ( 82). These elements were developed and
modified by the two great controversies in which, by discussion, he
formulated more completely than ever had been done before the idea of the
Church and its sacraments in opposition to the Donatists ( 83), and the
doctrines of sin and grace in opposition to a moralistic Christianity,
represented by Pelagius ( 84). The leading ideas of Augustine, however,
could be appropriated only as they were modified and brought into
conformity with the dominant ecclesiastical and sacramental system of the
Church, in the semi-Pelagian controversy, which found a tardy termination
in the sixth century ( 85). In the meanwhile the inroads of the
barbarians with all the horrors of the invasions, the confusion in the
political, social, and ecclesiastical organization, threatened the
overthrow of all established institutions. In the midst of this anarchy,
the Roman See, in the work of Innocent I, and still more clearly in the
work of Leo the Great, enunciated its ideals and became the centre, not
merely of ecclesiastical unity, in which it had often to contest its
claims with the divided Church organizations of the West, but still more
as the ideal centre of unity for all those that held to the old order of
the Empire with its culture and social life ( 86).

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