Symmachus

(c. 345-c. 402)
Augustine's pagan patron

Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, Roman prefect, was everything Rome admired: wealthy, eloquent, a born leader. He was also a dedicated pagan at a time when paganism was on the wane.

The Roman empire at this time tolerated paganism, but Christianity was clearly the rising star among religions. Symmachus, a conservative aristocrat, tried to fight this trend, but he was outmaneuvered by his powerful cousin: Ambrose, bishop of Milan.

Ambrose persuaded the Roman emperor Gratian to remove the Altar of Victory from the Roman senate chamber—an obvious slap at Rome's pagan past. The senate sent Symmachus to plead with the emperor to replace the altar. Though eloquent (his style evoked comparisons with Cicero and Pliny), Symmachus failed in his mission.

Symmachus's clout was sufficient, however, to give Augustine's career an early boost. In 384 a government position as teacher of rhetoric in Milan was open, and some of Augustine's Manichee friends told Symmachus of the eloquent young teacher. "Symmachus … set me a test to satisfy himself of my abilities," Augustine recalled, and the young rhetorician won the post easily.

While in Milan Augustine came under the influence of Ambrose, which put him at odds with his former benefactor. However, no real conflict materialized because the two never met again after 384.

Petilian

(died c. 415)
Defender of the "pure" church

Petilian could have been remembered as a lawyer and bishop of Cirta, but instead he is known as a chief advocate for Donatism—and a major opponent of Augustine.

Donatists believed that the church's holiness was dependent on purity; sacraments administered by impure clergy (especially those who had buckled under persecution) didn't count. ...

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