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The Western Church Toward The En





Heathenism lingered as a force in society longer in the West than in the
East, not merely among the peasantry, but among the higher classes. This
was partly due to the conservatism of the aristocratic classes and the
superior form in which the religious philosophy of Neo-Platonism had been
presented to the West. This presentation was due, in no small part, to the
work of such philosophers as Victorinus, who translated the earlier works
of the Neo-Platonists so that it escaped the tendencies, represented by
Jamblichus, toward theurgy and magic, and an alliance with polytheism and
popular superstition. Victorinus himself became a Christian, passing by an
easy transition from Neo-Platonism to Christianity; a course in which he
was followed by Augustine, and, no doubt, by others as well.


Augustine, Confessiones, VIII, 2. (MSL, 32:79.)


The conversion of Victorinus.


To Simplicianus then I went--the father of Ambrose,(164) in receiving Thy
grace,(165) 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, formerly professor of rhetoric
at Rome (who died a Christian, as I had heard), 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 this world" [Col. 2:8], whereas they, in many respects, 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 babes, he spoke of Victorinus
himself, whom, while he was in Rome, he had known intimately; and of him
he related that about which I will not be silent. For it contained 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 both merited and obtained a statue in the Roman Forum
(something men of this world esteem a great honor), he, who had been, even
to that age, a worshipper of idols and a participator in the sacrilegious
rites to which almost all the nobility of Rome were addicted, and had
inspired the people with the love of "monster gods of every sort, and the
barking Anubis, who hold their weapons against Neptune and Venus and
Minerva" [Vergil, AEneid, VIII, 736 ff.], and those whom Rome once
conquered, she now worshipped, all of which Victorinus, now old, had
defended so many years with vain language,(166) he now blushed not to be a
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.

O Lord, Lord, who hast bowed the heavens and come down, touched the
mountains and they smoked [Psalm 144:5], by what means didst Thou convey
Thyself into that bosom? He used to read, Simplicianus said, the Holy
Scriptures and most studiously sought after and searched out all the
Christian writings, and he said to Simplicianus, not openly, but secretly
and as a friend: "Knowest thou that I am now 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: "Do walls then make Christians?" And this he often said, that
already he was a Christian; and Simplicianus used as often to make the
same answer, and as often the conceit of the walls was repeated. For he
was fearful of offending his friends, proud demon worshippers, from the
height of whose Babylonian pride, as from the cedars of Lebanon, which the
Lord had not yet broken [Psalm 29:5], he seriously thought a storm of
enmity would descend upon him. But after that he had derived strength from
reading and inquiry, and feared lest he should be denied by Christ before
the holy angels if he was now afraid to confess Him before men [Matt.
10:33], and appeared to himself to be 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, which as a proud
imitator he had accepted, he became bold-faced against vanity and
shamefaced 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." And he, unable to contain himself for joy, went
with him. When he had been admitted to the first sacrament of instruction
[i.e., the Catechumenate], he, not long after, gave in his name that he
might be regenerated by baptism. Meanwhile Rome marvelled and the Church
rejoiced; the proud saw and were enraged; they gnashed with their teeth
and melted away [Psalm 92:9]. But the Lord God was the hope of Thy
servant, and He regarded not vanities and lying madness [Psalm 40:4].

Finally the hour arrived when he should make profession of his faith,
which, at Rome, they, who are about to approach Thy grace, are accustomed
to deliver from an elevated place, in view of the faithful people, in a
set form of words learnt by heart. But the presbyters, he said, offered
Victorinus the privilege of making his profession more privately, as was
the custom to do to those who were likely, on account of 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 had 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, and all recognized him, they
whispered his name one to the other, with a tone of congratulation. And
who was there among them that did not know him? And there ran through the
mouths of all the rejoicing multitude a low murmur: "Victorinus!
Victorinus!" Sudden was the burst of exultation at the sight of him, and
as sudden the hush of attention that they might hear him. He pronounced
the true faith with an excellent confidence, and all desired to take him
to their hearts, and by their love and joy they did take him to them; such
were the hands with which they took him.





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