Skip to main content Accessibility help

A History of Heresy Past: The Sermons of Chromatius of Aquileia, 388–407

  • Robert McEachnie


Chromatius served as bishop of Aquileia, a large trade-centered city at the north end of the Adriatic Sea, from 388–407. He interacted with notables like Rufinus, Jerome, Ambrose, and John Chrysostom, but our knowledge of Chromatius was limited to second-hand statements until the rediscovery of his sermons in the last century. When one examines the sermons in their original context, a disconnect on the issue of heresy emerges. Based on a survey of Christianities in northern Italy, it seems that the variety we might expect is lacking in the sources. An examination of the region reveals that the area during this time was remarkably homogenous in terms of the diversity among its Christian adherents. In Aquileia, Chromatius would have been unchallenged by other churches. In light of that, what did his continued tirades against non-existent “heretical” groups achieve? By examining the whole of each sermon mentioning heretics a pattern emerges surrounding the history of heresy and orthodoxy. The maintenance of institutional memory was not done sentimentally, but to advance the domination Christians had achieved into new arenas, namely, for Chromatius, control over an urban religious space which included Judaism.



Hide All

1 This article grew out a paper I delivered at the American Society of Church History's Winter Meeting in January 2012 and was further nurtured as part of my dissertation, “Constructing Christian Community: The Sermons of Chromatius of Aquileia, 388–407” (PhD Diss., University of Florida, 2013). I wish to thank Andrea Sterk for all of her critiques and suggestions and the anonymous readers at Church History for their helpful comments.

2 Chromatius, “Sermon 41,” in Chromatii Aquileiensis Opera, ed. Étaix, Raymond and Lemarié, Joseph, CCSL 9A (Turnholti: Brepols, 1974), 1. All translations of Chromatius are my own.

3 I put the term “Arians” in quotes here to recognize the constructed nature of the term. No person or church referred to itself as Arian. Likewise, the term covers numerous groups that would have probably viewed and dealt with each other as heretical and out of communion. I will use the term here as Chromatius would have recognized it, accepting that this does not reflect any sort of historical reality. “Arian” will denote the groups of Christians that were excluded from Nicene Christianity based on their beliefs about the person of Jesus. It includes groups that are labeled as Arian, Eunomian, and Photinan, among others. I will not always put the term in quotation marks, but the reader should remember that it is a constructed label which reflects power dynamics of the time.

4 Mclynn, Neil, Ambrose of Milan: Church and Court in a Christian Capital (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 293; Williams, Dan, Ambrose of Milan and the End of the Arian-Nicene Conflicts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 232; Humphries, Mark, Communities of the Blessed: Social Environment and Religious Change in Northern Italy, AD 200–400 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 134136; Sumruld, William, Augustine and the Arians: The Bishop of Hippo's Encounters with Ulfian Arianism (Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 1994), 28; Lemarié, Joseph, “Introduction to Chromatius,” in Sermons, ed. and trans. Lemarié, Joseph and Tardif, Henri, SC 154 (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1969), 55f; Gryson, Roger, Scolies Ariennes sur le concile d'Aquilée, SC 267 (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1980), 142.

5 Sotinel, Claire, Identité civique et Christianisme: Aquileé du IIIe eu Vie siècle (Rome: Ecole Française de Rome, 2005), 1013.

6 Noy, David, Jewish Inscriptions of Western Europe: Volume 1: Italy (excluding the City of Rome), Spain and Gaul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 1113; Cracco-Ruggini, Lellia, “Cromazio di fronte a pagani ed ebrei,” in Cromazio di Aquileia: al crocevia di genti e religioni, ed. Piussi, Sandro (Milan: Silvana Editoriale, 2008), 184185.

7 The Sources Chrétiennes translations were published first and can still be used for reference: Sermons, SC 154 and 164 (Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 1969–1971). In the CCSL, sermons 33 and 36 were altered to reflect new discoveries. In addition, a sermon 42 (On the Passion of St. Peter) was added, though the editors (and I) find the sermon to be likely spurious: Chromatii Aquileiensis Opera, ed. and trans. Étaix, R. and Lemarié, J., CCSL 9A (Turnholti: Brepols, 1974). The CCSL supplement, published in 1977, added yet another dubious sermon. This one was a compilation sermon from an early medieval homilarium—a greatest hits of ancient preachers including Ambrose, Jerome and Chromatius: Spicilegium ad Chromatii Aquileiensis Opera, ed. and trans. Étaix, R. and Lemarié, J., CCSL vol. 9A Supplementum (Turnholti: Brepols, 1977). More useful was the updated version of Sermons 21 and 22 in: Étaix, Raymond, “Nouvelle edition des sermons XXI–XXII de saint Chromace d'Aquilée,” Revue Bénedictine 92 (1982): 105110. All of these changes are well summarized in: Lemarié, Joseph, “‘Chromatiana’ apport de nouveaux témoins manuscripts,” Revue Bénedictine 98 (1988): 258271. A partial commentary on Matthew can also be traced to Chromatius, though I will not be focusing on it in this article. The commentary, written for a small audience, would not have been influential: Chromatii Aquileiensis Opera, 184–498; Spicilegium ad Chromatii Aquileiensis Opera, 624–636.

8 On the importance of studying sermons in terms of both medium and message see: Cunningham, Mary and Allen, Pauline, “Introduction,” in Preacher and Audience: Studies in Early Christian and Byzantine Homiletics (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1998), 24 and 12–19; Mayer, Wendy, “Homiletics,” in The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies, ed. Harvey, Susan and Hunter, David (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 568.

9 Hilary, “Liber I ad Constantium,” in Contre Constance, ed. Rocher, André (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1987), 2:3.

10 Weedman, Mark, The Trinitarian Theology of Hilary of Poiters (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2007), 1113.

11 Barnes, T. D., Athanasius and Constantius: Theology and Politics in the Constantinian Empire (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993), 166; also Weedman, Trinitarian Theology, 10–13.

12 Hilary, “Liber I ad Constantium,” 2:3.

13 Jerome, De Viris Illustribus, 97. During the 350s Pope Liberius was exiled for his Nicene beliefs. His return to his seat in Rome in 357 was rumored to have been accomplished by acceding to the semi-Arian creed produced at Sirmium, the creed that Fortunatianus urged him to take up. Williams, Ambrose of Milan, 58–59. For another examination of the possibility see: Peršič, Alesso, “Fortunaziano, il primo dei padri Aquileiiesi: destabilis?” in Cromazio di Aquileia (Milan: Silvana Editoriale, 2008), 286289.

14 Rufinus, Apology, 1:4. There are a few excellent studies of this gathering that included Jerome, Rufinus, Chromatius, Evagrius of Antioch and at least 3 other future bishops: Sotinel, Identité civique, 67–71; Spinelli, Giovanni, “Ascetismo, monachesimo e cenobitismo ad Aquielia nel secolo IV,” in Aquileia nel IV Secolo, AAAd 22 (Udine: Arti grafiche friulane, 1982), 273300; Pietri, Charles, “Une aristocratie provincale et la mission Chrétienne: l'example de la Venetia,” in Aquileia nel IV Secolo, AAAd 22 (Udine: Arti grafiche friulane, 1982), 89138; Dissaderi, Massimo, “Sul monachesimo ‘prebenedettino’ aquileiese (IV–VII secolo)” in Aquileia e Il Suo Patriarcato, AAAd 35 (Udine: Arti grafiche friulane, 2000), 153167.

15 Jerome, Ep. 7:6. Translation from The letters of St. Jerome, ed. and trans. Lawler, Thomas and Mierow, Charles (New York: Newman Press, 1963).

16 For example: Hanson, R. P. C., The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy 318–381 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988).

17 Gryson, Scolies Ariennes, 130.

18 Williams, Ambrose, 181–184.

19 “Actes du concile d'Aquilée,” in Gryson, Scolies Ariennes, 45 and 52.

20 For a fuller account of the council with all its political maneuverings and the response of the condemned Palladius see: Gryson, Scolies Ariennes, 121–142; Williams, Ambrose, 154–190.

21 For example: Ambrose, Ep. 20:12; Orosius, Adversus Paganos, VII.37.1; Jerome, Ep. 123:16–17.

22 Zosimus, IV:44; Sozomen, V:14; Theodoret V:15.

23 Williams, Ambrose, 227–232. Ambrose mentions the existence of Gothic Arians in Milan, and says they dwell in wagons, launching a thousand theories about the “nomadic” Goths. Ambrose's letter confirms or creates this point depending on one's point of view: Ep. 20:12. On the topic of the Goths as Arians see: Liebeschuetz, J. H. W. G., Barbarians and Bishops: Army, Church, and State in the Age of Arcadius and Chrysostom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 53; Wolfram, Herwig, History of the Goths, trans. Dunlap, Thomas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 7585. The suggestion that all the Goths were Arian may well be a later “propaganda” point of the Byzantines that we have adopted. As a warning see: Amory, Patrick, People and Identiy in Ostrogothic Italy, 489–554 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 245247.

24 On this point see: Williams, Ambrose, 232; Sumruld, Augustine and the Arians, 27–30; Mathisen, Ralph, “Barbarian Bishops and the Churches ‘in Barbaricus Gentibus’ during Late Antiquity,” Speculum 72, no. 3 (1997): 677681.

25 I do not mean to suggest that the Christians in Aquileia were uniform in belief or every aspect of practice. Rather, I use the term “formal” to denote the lack of any other Christian institutions that would have actively competed with Chromatius's church for adherents a lá the Donatist/Catholic divide in North Africa or the Arian/Nicene split in Milan prior to 388.

26 Duval, Yves-Marie, “Les Relations doctrinales entre Milan et Aquilée Durant la seonde moitié du IVe siècle: Chromace d'Aquilée et Ambroise de Milan,” in Aquileia e Milano, AAAd 4 (Udine: Arti grafiche friulane, 1973), 188192; Thelamon, Françoise, “Les vaines illusions des juif incrédules selon Chromace et Rufin d'Aquilée,” in Les Chrétiens face à leurs adversaries dans l'occident Latin au IVe siècle, ed. Poinsotte, Jean-Michel (Mont-Saint-Aignan: Université de Rouen, 2001), 111. Even the last pope commented on Chromatius's interactions with supposed Arians in a sermon: Benedict, Pope XVI, The Fathers of the Church: From Clement of Rome to Augustine of Hippo, ed. Lienhard, Joseph (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2009), 126.

27 This approach suggests that anti-Jewish rhetoric in sermons and written texts, which often specifically deals with unbelief in the divinity of Christ, should be understood not as anti-Jewish rhetoric but as reflecting the rivalry with other Christian factions like the Arians. For examples of this approach see: Brakke, David, “Jewish Flesh and Christian Spirit in Athanasius or Alexandria,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 9 (2001): 453481; Fredriksen, Paula, Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010), 78; Shepardson, Christine, Anti-Judaism and Christian Orthodoxy: Ephrem's Hymns in Fourth-Century Syria (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008); Doefler, Maria, “Ambrose's Jews: The Creation of Judaism and Heterodox Christianity in Ambrose of Milan's Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam,” Church History 80, no. 4 (2011): 755f.

28 Noy, Jewish Inscriptions, xiii-xiv and 11–13; Lizzi, Rita, Vescovi e strutture ecclesiastiche nella età tardoantica, (Como: Edizioni New Press, 1989), 164165; Cracco-Ruggini, Lellia, Ebrei e Orientali Nell'Italia Settentrionale fra il IV e VI secolo D.CR (Rome: Pontifical University, 1959), 236241. Her views are updated and moderated a bit in: Cracco-Ruggini, “Cromazio di fronte a pagani ed ebrei,” 184–185.

29 Sermon 11:4.

30 Sermon 26:4.

31 Sermon 21:3.

32 Ibid.

33 Interestingly, Chromatius does not exhibit the same tendency in his rhetoric about Jews. He referred to Jews as members of the community and, while he attacked them for their denial of Christ's divinity, he did not descend into attacks on Jewish immorality or other common tropes. See: Thelamon, “Les Vaines,” 114.

34 Sermon 34:2.

35 Sermon 3:8.

36 Sermon 4:1. The scripture quote is from Ecclesiastes 4:12.

37 Sermon 21:3.

38 This process can be found in numerous areas of Christian history as demonstrated by the wonderful collection: Orthodoxie, Christianisme, Histoire, ed. Elm, Susanna, Rebillard, Éric, and Romano, Antonella (Rome: École française de Rome, 2000), specifically the article by Éric Rebillard “Sociologie de la déviance et orthodoxie. Le cas de la controverse pélagienne sur la grâce,” 221–240, and the historiographical essay by Alain Le Boulluec, “Orthodoxie et hérésie aux premiers siècles dans l'historiographie récente,” 303–319. Another work that only came to my attention at the final stages on the project, but does an excellent job explaining this process, though in a different time period: Royalty, Robert, The Origin of Heresy: A History of Discourse in Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity (New York: Routledge, 2013), 922.

39 Rufinus, Ecclesiastical History, trans. Amidon, Philip (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 10:14.

40 Rufinus probably took the story from Athanasius who propagated the story in a letter from 356. It does seem that the death of Arius is linked to the death of Judas in Acts 1:18. See: Thelamon, Françoise, Paiens et chrétiens au IVe siècle: l'apport de l'“Histoire Ecclésiastique” de Rufin d'Aquilée (Paris: Etudes augustiniennes, 1981), 446452.

41 The literature on this subject is vast, but some of the best recent examples include Buell, Denise, Making Christians: Clement of Alexandria and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999), 79106; Buell, Denise, Why This New Race: Ethnic Reasoning in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005); Burrus, Virginia, The Making of a Heretic: Gender, Authority, and the Priscillianist Controversy (Berkeley: University of California, 1995); Boyarin, Daniel, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 197200; Lieu, Judith, Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

42 Asad, Talal, “Medieval Heresy: An Anthropological View,” Social History 11, no. 3 (1986): 356. This article dealt with heresy in a later period that had different processes and institutions. Nonetheless, the act of labeling a heretic is still a power process, for it presumes the ability to deny legitimacy to the other person or group. Accusations of heresy might be thrown out by both sides, but a dominant, institutional power structure, which is denoted by its ability to enforce its will through law, denial of property or legitimacy, or any other means, is the only source for producing and maintaining a narrative of heresy and orthodoxy which eventually becomes a reality. The irony is that the construction of such a narrative reinforces the existence of the power structure, creating a vicious cycle of demonization.

43 Asad, “Medieval Heresy,” 357.

44 Cameron, Averil, “The Violence of Orthodoxy,” in Heresy and Identity in Late Antiquity, ed. Iricinschi, Eduard and Zellentin, Holger (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 102114; Cameron, Averil, “How to Read Heresiology,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 33, no. 3 (2003): 471492.

45 Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, trans. Sheridan, Alan (New York: Vintage, 1979), 194.

46 Henderson, John, The Construction of Orthodoxy and Heresy: Neo-Confucian, Islamic, Jewish, and Early Christian Patterns (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), 152; Pearson, Birger, “Eusebius and Gnosticism,” in Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism, ed. Attridge, Harold and Hata, Gohei (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1992), 298.

47 I understand the term “collective memory” from the works of Paul Ricoeur, who outlines a process by which learned history becomes a kind of collective memory, in his reinterpretation of Maurice Halbwachs's classic work The Collective Memory. Ricoeur, Paul, Memory, History, Forgetting, trans. Blamey, Kathleen and Pellauer, David (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 393396. For the often unconscious means see Vivian, Bradford, Public Forgetting: The Rhetoric and Politics of Beginning Again (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2010), 11f.

48 Fentress, James and Wickham, Chris, Social Memory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), 47.

49 A full list would be too long here. For a few of the earliest examples of difference within the proto-church, I would suggest the debate in Acts 15 over the need for gentiles to adopt Mosaic law, the differences between Paul and Peter in Galatians 2, the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols in Romans 14, and the railing against “false teachers” in Jude and 1 John.

50 See above. For Arius: Sermon 21:3. For Photinus: Sermon 11:4 and 21:3. For Manicheans and Marcion: Sermon 26:4.

51 Sermons 1:7 and 31:4; Tractates XVII, XXX, XLVI, XLVII.

52 Sermon 31:4.

53 Sermon 6:2.

54 Sermon 6:4 citing Jeremiah 17:11. The passage mirrors Ambrose in the Hexameron IV, 3, 13. Noted in: Sermons, 1:179n2.

55 Sermon 41:7.

56 Sermon 33:1. Chromatius's knowledge of Hebrew is obviously doubtful, though his close relationship with Jerome, who created and translated several commentaries on the Hebrew Bible for Chromatius and sent them to him over the years, raises the possibility that this was more than a bluff. Williams, Megan, The Monk and the Book Jerome and the Making of Christian Scholarship (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 283, 286290, and 297.

57 Sermon 33:2.

58 I previously discussed how Chromatius employs the labels of “heretic” and “Arian.” The labels of “Jew” and “Jewish” is also problematic. While persons would use the term(s) as self-identifiers the labels could also be a pejorative for Christians or pagans that attended the synagogue for services. I read the label as reflecting the presence of the Jewish community in Aquileia because of how Chromatius addresses Jews in one sermon (16:4), but it may also encompass persons that were not actually Jewish and merely attended the synagogue on occasion.

59 Sermon 4:1. The scriptural quotation is Ecclesiastes 4:12. The interpretation seems adopted from Origen, In Exodum, IX:3. Noted in: Sermons, 2:161n1.

60 Sermon 4:2.

61 Sermon 9:1. The scriptural quotation is Psalm 11:1.

62 Sermon 21:3.

63 This version of a unified Christianity appears in Chromatius's sermons, but even more so in Rufinus's Ecclesiastical History. This work was closely tied to Chromatius as he commissioned it, paid for it, and was the dedicatee. For the links between Chromatius and the EH, see: Thelamon, Païens et chrétiens, 151–155.

64 Sermon 30:3.

65 CTh, 16.10.11.

This paper was awarded the Sidney E. Mead Prize for graduate student research.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

A History of Heresy Past: The Sermons of Chromatius of Aquileia, 388–407

  • Robert McEachnie


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.