St. Celestine I - St. Patrick's Patron

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Two acts make the pontificate of St. Celestine outstanding: the condemnation of the Nestorian heresy and the sending of St. Patrick to Ireland.

A Campanian, Celestine was said to have lived for a while with St. Ambrose at Milan. He was certainly a deacon at Rome in the time of Pope Innocent I. In contrast to the stormy election of Pope Boniface, Celestine's seems to have been quiet and harmonious. Once pope, St. Celestine continued the fight against now dying Pelagianism. He had the satisfaction of seeing it die away in Britain, the native isle of its founder, under the spirited attack of St. Germanus of Auxerre and St. Lupus of Troyes. When the heresy in the diluted form known as Semi-Pelagianism raised its head in Gaul, Celestine wrote against this new danger. A great friend of St. Augustine, he wrote a letter to the bishops of Gaul on the occasion of the mighty father's death, praising him and forbidding all attacks on his memory. The Pope also got the Council of Ephesus to condemn Pelagianism.

But the third great ecumenical council held at Ephesus in 431 was chiefly concerned with still another new heresy. Nestorius, a priest of Antioch, had become patriarch of Constantinople. From the eminence of this lofty position he taught the new doctrine that in Christ there are not only two natures, which is correct, but that there are also two persons, which is incorrect. A logical consequence was that Mary was not the Mother of God but only of the human person of Christ. This aroused horror even in Constantinople itself, while St. Cyril, the patriarch of Alexandria, attacked the new doctrine most vigorously. Both Nestorius and Cyril were soon clamoring to the Pope for a decision. Celestine held a synod at Rome in 430 and condemned Nestorianism. Nestorius was to be deposed and excommunicated if he persisted in teaching false doctrine. Nestorius refused to submit, all the more because Cyril, who had been made the Pope's agent in the matter, demanded more than Celestine had asked. A general council was called to meet at Ephesus in 431. The council condemned Nestorianism, to the great joy of the people.

It is probable, though not certain, that St. Celestine a short time before his death personally commissioned St. Patrick to preach the gospel to the Irish. At any rate, it was at this time that Patrick did begin his marvelous work. St. Prosper of Aquitaine says that Celestine saved the Roman island for the faith and to the "barbarous" island brought the light of Christ.

At Rome Celestine restored the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, which had been destroyed by the Goths. He also caused some interesting pictures of the saints to be painted in the Church of St. Sylvester.

St. Celestine died on July 27, 432. His feast is kept on July 27. The Greek Church also honors Celestine because of his part in putting down the Nestorian heresy.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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