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which they despised, to lay the price of them at the chAP.

feet of the apostles, and to content themselves with receiving an equal share out of the general distribution.” The progress of the Christian religion relaxed, and gradually abolished, this generous institution, which, in hands less pure than those of the apostles, would too soon have been corrupted and abused by the returning selfishness of human nature; and the converts who embraced the new religion were permitted to retain the possession of their patrimony, to receive legacies and inheritances, and to increase their separate property by all the lawful means of trade and industry. Instead of an absolute sacrifice, a moderate proportion was accepted by the ministers of the gospel; and in their weekly or monthly assemblies, every believer, according to the exigency of the occasion, and the measure of his wealth and piety, presented his voluntary offering for the use of the common fund." Nothing, however inconsiderable, was refused; but it was diligently inculcated, that, in the article of Tithes, the Mosaic law was still of divine obligation ; and that since the Jews, under a less perfect discipline, had been commanded to pay a tenth part of all that they possessed, it would become the disciples of Christ to distinguish themselves by a superior degree of liberality," and to acquire some merit by resigning a superfluous treasure, which must

* See the Acts of the Apostles, c. 2. 4, 5, with Grotius's Commentary. Mosheim, in a particular dissertation, attacks the common opinion with very inconclusive arguments.

* Justin. Martyr, Apolog. Major, c. 89. Tertullian, Apolog. c. 39.

* Irenaeus ad Haeres. l. iv. c. 27. 34. Origen in Num. Hom. ii. Cyprian de Unitat. Eccles. Constitut. Apostol. l. ii. c. 34, 35, with the notes of Cotelerius. The Constitutions introduce this divine precept, by declaring that priests are as much above kings, as the soul is above the body. Among the tithable articles, they enumerate corn, wine, oil, and wool. On this interesting subject, consult Prideaux's History of Tithes, and Fra-Paolo delle Materie Beneficiarie; two writers of a very different character.

*

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CHAP.

so soon be annihilated with the world itself." It is almost unnecessary to observe, that the revenue of each particular church, which was of so uncertain and fluctuating a nature, must have varied with the poverty or the opulence of the faithful, as they were dispersed in obscure villages, or collected in the great cities of the empire. In the time of the emperor Decius, it was the opinion of the magistrates, that the Christians of Rome were possessed of very considerable wealth; that vessels of gold and silver were used in their religious worship, and that many among their proselytes had sold their lands and houses to increase the public riches of the sect, at the expense, indeed, of their unfortunate children, who found themselves beggars, because their parents had been saints." We should listen with distrust to the suspicions of strangers and enemies: on this occasion, however, they receive a very specious and probable colour from the two following circumstances, the only ones that have reached our knowledge, which define

• The same opinion which prevailed about the year one thousand was productive of the same effects. Most of the Donations express their motive, “appropinquante mundi fine.” See Mosheim's General History of the Church, vol. i. p. 457. d Tum summa cura est fratribus

(Ut sermo testatur loquax).

Offerre, fundis venditis

Sestertiorum millia.

Addicta avorum praedia

Foedis sub auctionibus,

Successor exheres gemit

Sanctis egens Parentibus.

Haec occuluntur abditis

Ecclesiarum in angulis.

Et summa pietas creditur

Nudare dulces liberos.

Prudent, rept a repovan. Hymn. 2.

The subsequent conduct of the deacon Laurence only proves how proper a use was made of the wealth of the Roman church; it was undoubtedly very considerable; but Fra-Paolo (c. 3) appears to exaggerate, when he supposes, that the successors of Commodus were urged to persecute the Christians by their own avarice, or that of their Praetorian praefects.

any precise sums, or convey any distinct idea. Almost chAP.

at the same period, the bishop of Carthage, from a society less opulent than that of Rome, collected a hundred thousand sesterces (above eight hundred and fifty pounds sterling), on a sudden call of charity to redeem the brethren of Numidia, who had been carried away captives by the barbarians of the desert." About a hundred years before the reign of Decius, the Roman church had received, in a single donation, the sum of two hundred thousand sesterces from a stranger of Pontus, who proposed to fix his residence in the capital. These oblations, for the most part, were made in money; nor was the society of Christians either desirous or capable of acquiring, to any considerable degree, the incumbrance of landed property. It had been provided by several laws, which were enacted with the same design as our statutes of mortmain, that no real estates should be given or bequeathed to any corporate body, without either a special privilege or a particular dispensation from the emperor or from the senate; * who were seldom disposed to grant them in favour of a sect, at first the object of their contempt, and at last of their fears and jealousy. A transaction however is related under the reign of Alexander Severus, which discovers that the restraint was sometimes eluded or suspended, and that the Christians were permitted to claim and to possess lands within the limits of Rome itself." The progress of Christianity, and the civil confusion of the empire, contributed to relax the severity of the laws, and before the close of the third century many

* Cyprian Epistol. 62. * Tertullian de Praescriptione, c. 30.

* Diocletian gave a rescript, which is only a declaration of the old law; “Collegium, si nullo speciali privilegio subnixum sit, haereditatem capere non posse, dubium non est.” Fra-Paolo (c. 4) thinks that these regulations had been much neglected since the reign of Valerian.

* Hist. August. p. 131. The ground had been public; and was now disputed between the society of Christians, and that of butchers.

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considerable estates were bestowed on the opulent churches of Rome, Milan, Carthage, Antioch, Alexandria, and the other great cities of Italy and the provinces. The bishop was the natural steward of the church; the public stock was intrusted to his care without account or control; the presbyters were confined to their spiritual functions, and the more dependent order of deacons was solely employed in the management and distribution of the ecclesiastical revenue.' If we may give credit to the vehement declamations of Cyprian, there were too many among his African brethren, who, in the execution of their charge, violated every precept, not only of evangelic perfection, but even of moral virtue. By some of these unfaithful stewards the riches of the church were lavished in sensual pleasures, by others they were perverted to the purposes of private gain, of fraudulent purchases, and of rapacious usury.j But as long as the contributions of the Christian people were free and unconstrained, the abuse of their confidence could not be very frequent, and the general uses to which their liberality was applied reflected honour on the religious society. A decent portion was reserved for the maintenance of the bishop and his clergy; a sufficient sum was allotted for the expenses of the public worship, of which the feasts of love, the agapac, as they were called, constituted a very pleasing part. The whole remainder was the sacred patrimony of the poor. According to the discretion of the bishop, it was distributed to support widows and orphans, the lame, the sick, and the aged of the community; to comfort strangers and pilgrims, and to alleviate the misfortunes of prisoners and captives, more especially when their sufferings had been occa- cor.

CHAP.
XV.

Distribu-
tion of the
revenue.

| Constitut. Apostol. ii. 35. j Cyprian de Lapsis, p. 89. Epistol. 65. The charge is confirmed by the 19th and 20th canon of the council of Illiberis.

sioned by their firm attachment to the cause of religion." A generous intercourse of charity united the most distant provinces, and the smaller congregations were cheerfully assisted by the alms of their more opulent brethren. Such an institution, which paid less regard to the merit than to the distress of the object, very materially conduced to the progress of Christianity. The Pagans, who were actuated by a sense of humanity, while they derided the doctrines, acknowledged the benevolence of the new sect." The prospect of immediate relief and of future protection allured into its hospitable bosom many of those unhappy persons whom the neglect of the world would have abandoned to the miseries of want, of sickness, and of old age. There is some reason likewise, to believe, that great numbers of infants, who, according to the inhuman practice of the times, had been exposed by their parents, were frequently rescued from death, baptised, educated, and maintained by the piety of the Christians, and at the expense of the public treasure."

II. It is the undoubted right of every society to Excom.

exclude from its communion and benefits such among its members as reject or violate those regulations which have been established by general consent. In the exercise of this power, the censures of the Christian church were chiefly directed against scandalous sinners, and particularly those who were guilty of murder, of fraud, or of incontinence; against the

* See the apologies of Justin, Tertullian, &c. * The wealth and liberality of the Romans to their most distant brethren is gratefully celebrated by Dionysius of Corinth, ap. Euseb. l. iv. c. 23. * See Lucian in Peregrin. Julian (Epist. 49.) seems mortified, that the Christian charity maintains not only their own, but likewise the heathen poor. " Such, at least, has been the laudable conduct of more modern missionaries, under the same circumstances. Above three thousand new-born infants are annually exposed in the streets of Pekin. See Le Comte Memoires sur la Chine, and the Recherches sur les Chinois et les Egyptiens, tom, i. p. 61.

VOL. II. K

munication.

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