St. Paulinus of Aquileia
Again, another entry from the “Revised Roman Martyrology” yet not on the calendar since it’s Ordinary Time and I should talk more about that some time. But let’s talk now about Paulinus and the heresy he fought.
First, heresy is a false doctrine. They arise from false thinking. I suppose it could be quite easy to slip into heresy if the heretic has a false thought process stemming from a false brain. But heresies DO arise from time to time and right thinking (in Greek: ortho+doxy) is the only way to combat it. Sometimes the Church is successful and sometimes less successful; but the defense of the faith is never undertaken in isolation. It is always brave men and women who stand firm with the Truth and then begin the arduous task not only of thinking through the Truth but also finding a way to make that orthodoxy comprehensible to the masses. Enter Paulinus of Aquileia.
Born in Italy in 726 our hero spent his youth as a peasant farmer. He also gained a rep as a bookworm (or perhaps a “scrollworm” since it was the dark ages) and was called the the court of the great Charlemagne himself. In 787 he was appointed Patriarch of Aquileia by the emperor (they used to do the appointing). Known to be a great scholar, he attended all the synods and councils of the day and was fervent in his defense of the doctrine of the Incarnation. Now, the Incarnation is pretty central to the Christian faith. You know — the whole idea of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity becoming man? That old thing? Yeah, the same. It seems a heresy which came to be called adoptionism had begun to take root in the region. It held that Christ, as man, is only the adoptive son of God the Father and not truly God. In the fourth century (325, to be exact) the Church had firmly decreed at Nicaea that Jesus of Nazareth is both true God and true man. The bishops at that council even drove home the point that whatever the Father IS, the Son IS too — “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God”. Repetition is certainly one way to enforce the idea. Paulinus wrote at least two major tracts against the adoptionists and seems to have been successful in his efforts. How do we know? Have you ever met an adoptionist?
Another neat thing about the good patriarch centers around his missionary efforts. As new territories within the former Rome were conquered Paulinus would immediately send missionaries to evangelize the pagans. What makes him unique for his day is that he “vigorously condemned the practice then in vogue of baptizing uninstructed converts or imposing the Faith by force on unwilling ones.” (Hoefer, 31). Imagine that… He didn’t think it wise to baptize the ignorant and didn’t think Christianity would take root as deeply were it simply forced. Smart guy and quite ahead of his time.