« Victurinus Vigilantius Vigilius Thapsensis »


Vigilantius (1), a presbyter of Comminges and Barcelona, known by his protests against superstitious practices in the church. He was born c. 370 at Calagurris, near Comminges (Convenae), a station on the great Roman road from Aquitaine to Spain (Itiner. Antonin. quoted in Gilly's Vigilant. p. 128). His father probably kept the statio or place of refreshment there; and Vigilantius was apparently brought up as an inn-keeper and wine-seller "Iste Caupo Calagurritanus," Hieron. cont. Vig. 1), but had from the first an inclination to learning. Sulpicius Severus, who had estates in these parts, took him into his service, and probably baptized him. It is certain that in 395 he was sent with letters from Sulpicius to Paulinus, then recently settled at Nola (Paul. Ep. i. 11), by whom he was treated as a friend. Paulinus speaks of hm as "Vigilantius noster" (Ep. v. 11), and reports the care with which he had watched him during illness, refusing to let him depart till well. On his return to Severus, then living at Elusa in Gaul, he was ordained; and, having a desire for learning and a wish to visit Jerusalem, set forth by way of Nola. His father, it seems, had died, since he was wealthy enough to have many notaries in his employ (Hieron, Ep. lxi. 4), and he was the proprietor of the inn at Convenae (ib. lxi. 3; cont. Vig. i.). Paulinus gave him a very honourable introduction to Jerome (Hieron. Ep. lxi. 3), then living at Bethlehem, where he was received with great respect (lviii. 11). He remained there a considerable time, staying partly with Jerome, but partly, it is supposed, with others, possibly with Rufinus (Hieron. Apol. iii. 11). The schism between the monasteries of Bethlehem and the bp. of Jerusalem was at its height; and probably in connexion with this Vigilantius had his first disagreement with Jerome (Hieron. Ep. lxi. 1; Apol. iii. 19). Origenism, which had caused the schism, and with which Vigilantius afterwards connected Jerome's name, was, no doubt, the subject of this disagreement. But Vigilantius was brought to confess himself in the wrong and to ask pardon (Hieron. Ep. lxi. end). He was an inmate of Jerome's monastery on the occasion of a tremendous storm with earthquake and eclipse (cont. Vig. ii.). He was for a time favourably impressed by what he saw at Bethlehem, and on one occasion, when Jerome was preaching upon the reality of the body at the resurrection, sprang up, and with applause of hands and feet saluted Jerome as champion of orthodoxy (Ep. lxi. 3). But the extremes of asceticism, the corruption produced by indiscriminate almsgiving, and the violence, perhaps the insincerity, of Jerome's dealing with the question of Origen [HIERONYMUS, § Origenism] produced a reaction against Jerome. Vigilantius begged to be dismissed, and left in great haste (Ep. cix. 2) without giving any reason. He bore Jerome's reply to Paulinus at Nola (Ep. lxi. 11); but his journey home was first by Egypt (ib. 1; cont. Ruf. iii. 12), "by Hadria and the Cottian Alps" (Hieron. Ep. cix. 12). He landed probably at Naples, and, after visiting Nola, went home by the land route, staying a considerable time at various places. His account of what he had seen in the East, which was related to Jerome either by report or by some writing of Vigilantius to or about Jerome, provoked a reply (Ep. lxi.), wherein Jerome shews a jealous sensitiveness for his own orthodox reputation, and treats him with contempt, declaring that he had never understood the points in dispute (lxi. 1). On his return to Gaul, Vigilantius settled in his native country.

His work against superstitious practices was written c. 403. We may presume that his intercourse with Severus, Paulinus, and Jerome furnished the principal motives and materials for it. Similar practices no doubt arising in a grosser form in his own neighbourhood among a population emerging from heathenism provoked his protest against the introduction of heathen ceremonial into Christian worship. The work is only known to us through the writings of Jerome, of whose unscrupulousness and violence in controversy we have many proofs. Nothing of the kind appears in the quotations from the book of Vigilantius, which, considering the extreme difficulty of his position in the rising flood of superstition, we must presume to have been a serious and faithful protest. It was not written hastily, under provocation, such as he may have felt in leaving Bethlehem, but after the lapse of six or seven years. His own bishop (Hieron. Ep. cix. 1) and others in his neighbourhood (cont. Vig. ii.) approved his action, and he was apparently appointed after the controversy to a church in the diocese of Barcelona (Gennad. ut infra).

The points against which he argues are four: (1) The superstitious reverence paid to the remains of holy men, which were carried round in the church assemblies in gold vessels or silken wrappings to be kissed, and the prayers in which their intercession was asked; (2) the late and frequent watchings at the basilicas of the martyrs, from which scandals constantly arose, the burning of numerous tapers, which was a heathen practice, the stress laid on the miracles performed at the shrines, which, Vigilantius maintained, were of use only to unbelievers; (3) the sending of alms to Jerusalem, which might better have been given to the poor in each diocese, and generally the monkish habit of divesting oneself of possessions which should be administered as a trust by the possessor; and (4) the special virtue attributed to the unmarried state. Vigilantius held that for the clergy to be married was an advantage to the church; and he looked upon the solitary life as a cowardly forsaking of responsibility.

The bishop of the diocese (possibly Exuperius of Toulouse, known to have had communications with pope Innocent about this time on points of discipline) strongly favoured the views of Vigilantius, and they began to spread widely in S. Gaul. The clergy who were fostering the practices impugned by him found their people imbibing his opinions, and two of them, Desiderius and Riparius, wrote to Jerome, representing the opinions of Vigilantius and asking for his advice. Jerome answered Riparius at once (Ep. 109, ed. Vall.), expressing chagrin and indignation but without 1017sober argument. He declares that no adoration was paid to martyrs, but that their relics were honoured as a means of worshipping God. He expresses wonder that the bishop of the diocese should acquiesce in Vigilantius's madness. It was a case for such dealing as that of Peter with Ananias and Sapphira. He offered to answer more fully if the work of Vigilantius were sent him. This offer was accepted. Through their friend Sisinnius, Riparius and Desiderius sent the book in the latter part of 406 (Pref. to Comm. on Zach.). Jerome gave little attention to it at first, but finding Sisinnius obliged to leave Bethlehem in haste, sat down, and in one night wrote his treatise contra Vigilantium. This treatise has less of reason and more of mere abuse than any which he wrote. He throughout imputes to his adversary extreme views, which it may certainly be assumed he did not hold.

What effect was produced by this philippic is unknown. Possibly Exuperius, if Vigilantius was in his diocese, by degrees changed towards him, and that it was on this account that Vigilantius passed into the diocese of Barcelona, where Gennadius places him. Jerome in his Apology (iii. 19) expressly repels the imputation of having asserted that the character of Vigilantius had been stained by communion with heretics. But the official leaders of the church came to reckon as enemies those whom Jerome had so treated, and Vigilantius was by degrees ranked among heretics. The judgment of Gennadius (de Sc. Eccl. 35) is: "Vigilantius the presbyter, a Gaul by birth, held a church in the Spanish diocese of Barcelona. He wrote with a certain zeal for religion; but was led astray by the praise of men, and presumed beyond his strength; and being a man of elegant speech but not trained in discerning the sense of the Scriptures, interpreted in a perverse manner the second vision of Daniel, and put forth other works of no value, which must be placed in the catalogue of heretical writings. He was answered by the blessed presbyter Jerome." This judgment lasted long. In 1844 Dr. Gilly, canon of Durham, published a work on Vigilantius and his Times (Seeley), bringing together all the known facts, and shewing the true significance of his protest by describing the life of Severus, Paulinus, and Jerome from their own writings.


« Victurinus Vigilantius Vigilius Thapsensis »
VIEWNAME is workSection