Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

virtues which seem adapted to the character of a saint and martyr.120

The same causes which at first had destroyed the equality of rrwminenc. the presbyters introduced among the bishops a pre-eminence of poiiun rank, and from thence a superiority of jurisdiction. As often as in the spring and autumn they met in provincial synod, the difference of personal merit and reputation was very sensibly felt among the members of the assembly, and the multitude was governed by the wisdom and eloquence of the few. But the order of public proceedings required a more regular and less invidious distinction; the office of perpetual presidents in the councils of each province was conferred on the bishops of the principal city, and these aspiring prelates, who soon acquired the lofty titles of Metropolitans and Primates, secretly prepared themselves to usurp over their episcopal brethren the same authority which the bishops had so lately assumed above the college of presbyters.121 Nor was it long before an emulation of pre-eminence and power prevailed among the metropolitans themselves, each of them affecting to display, in the most pompous terms, the temporal honours and advantages of the city over which he presided; the numbers and opulence of the Christians who were subject to their pastoral care; the saints and martyrs who had arisen among them, and the purity with which they preserved the tradition of the faith, as it had been transmitted through a series of orthodox bishops from the apostle or the apostolic disciple, to whom the foundation of their church was ascribed.123 From every cause, either of a civil or of an ecclesiastical nature, it was easy to foresee that Rome must enjoy the respect, and would soon claim the obedience, of the provinces. The society of the faithful bore a just proportion to the capital Ambition or of the empire; and the Roman church was the greatest, the J^uS"1"1 roost numerous, and, in regard to the West, the most ancient of all the Christian establishments, many of which had received their religion from the pious labours of her missionaries. Instead of one apostolic founder, the utmost boast of Antioch, of Ephesus, or of Corinth, the banks of the Tiber were supposed to have been honoured with the preaching and martyrdom of

i* If Novatus, Felicissimus, &c., whom the bishop of Carthage expelled from bis church, and from Africa, were not the most detestable monsters of wickedness, the zeal of Cyprian must occasionally have prevailed over his veracity. For a very just account of these obscure quarrels, see Mosheim, p. 497—512.

131 Mosheim, p. 269, 574. Dupin, Antiquae Eccles. Disciplin., p. 19, 20.

"•Tamilian, in a distinct treatise, has pleaded against the heretics the right of prescription, as it was held by the apostolic churches.

the two most eminent among the apostles ;123 and the bishops of Rome very prudently claimed the inheritance of whatsoever prerogatives were attributed either to the person or to the office of St. Peter.124 The bishops of Italy and of the provinces were disposed to allow them a primacy of order and association (such was their very accurate expression) in the Christian aristocracy.128 But the power of a monarch was rejected with abhorrence, and the aspiring genius of Rome experienced, from the nations of Asia and Africa, a more vigorous resistance to her spiritual, than she had formerly done to her temporal, dominion. The patriotic Cyprian, who ruled with the most absolute sway the church of Carthage and the provincial synods, opposed with resolution and success the ambition of the Roman pontiff, artfully connected his own cause with that of the eastern bishops, and, like Hannibal, sought out new allies in the heart of Asia.126 If this Punic war was carried on without any effusion of blood, it was owing much less to the moderation than to the weakness of the contending prelates. Invectives and excommunications were their only weapons; and these, during the progress of the whole controversy, they hurled against each other with equal fury and devotion. The hard necessity of censuring either a pope, or a saint and martyr, distresses the modern Catholics, whenever they are obliged to relate the particulars of a dispute in which the champions of religion indulged such passions as seem much more adapted to the senate or to the camp.127 Laity*nd The progress of the ecclesiastical authority gave birth to the ei,TfT memorable distinction of the laity and of the clergy, which had been unknown to the Greeks and Romans.128 The former of

123 The journey of St. Peter to Rome is mentioned by most of the ancients (see Eusebms, ii. 25), maintained by all the Catholics, allowed by some Protestants (see Pearson and Dodwell de Success. Episcop. Roman.), but has been vigorously attacked by Spanheim (Miscellanea Sacra, iii. 3). According to father Hardouin, the monks of the thirteenth century, who composed the ifineid, represented St. Peter under the allegorical character of the Trojan hero.

124 It is in French only that the famous allusion to St. Peter's name is exact. Tu es Pierre et sur cette frierre.—The same is imperfect in Greek, Latin, Italian, Sec., and totally unintelligible in our Teutonic languages.

"* Irenaeus adv. Haereses, iii. 3. Tertullian de Praescriptioa, c. 36, and Cyprian Epistol. 27, 55, 71, 75. Le Clerc (Hist. Eccles. p. 764) and Mosheim (p. 258, 578) labour in the interpretation of these passages. But the loose and rhetorical style of the fathers often appears favourable to the pretensions of Rome.

1,1 See the sharp epistle from Firmilianus, bishop of Cassarea, to Stephen, bishop of Rome, ap. Cyprian Epistol. 75.

157 Concerning this dispute of the re-baptism of heretics, see the epistles of Cyprian, and the seventh book of Euscbius.

■*For the origin of these words, see Mosheim, p. 141. Spanheim, Hist. Ecclesiast. p. 633. The distinction of Citrus and Laicus was established before the time of Tertullian.

these appellations comprehended the body of the Christian people; the latter, according to the signification of the word, was appropriated to the chosen portion that had been set apart for the service of religion; a celebrated order of men which has furnished the most important, though not always the most edifying, subjects for modern history. Their mutual hostilities sometimes disturbed the peace of the infant church, but their zeal and activity were united in the common cause, and the love of power, which (under the most artful disguises) could insinuate itself into the breasts of bishops and martyrs, animated them to increase the number of their subjects, and to enlarge the limits of the Christian empire. They were destitute of any temporal force, and they were for a long time discouraged and oppressed, rather than assisted, by the civil magistrate; but they had acquired, and they employed within their own society, the two most efficacious instruments of government, rewards and punishments; the former derived from the pious liberality, the latter from the devout apprehensions, of the faithful.

L The community of goods, which had so agreeably amused Ommioiu ud the imagination of Plato,129 and which subsisted in some degree So^S*0 among the austere sect of the Essenians,130 was adopted for a short time in the primitive church. The fervour of the first proselytes prompted them to sell those worldly possessions which they despised, to lay the price of them at the feet of the apostles, and to content themselves with receiving an equal ^hare out of the general distribution.181 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

^•Tbe community instituted by Plato is more perfect than that which Sir Thomas More had imagined for his Utopia. The community of women, and that of temporal goods, may be considered as inseparable parts of the same system.

i" Joseph. Antiquitat. xviii. 2. Philo, de Vit. Contemplativ.

mSee the Acts of the Apostles, c. ii. 4, 5. with Grotius's Commentary. Mosheim, in a particular dissertation, attacks the common opinion with very ^conclusive arguments.

and piety, presented his voluntary offering for the use of the common fund.182 Nothing, however inconsiderable, was refused; but it was diligently inculcated that, in the article of Tythes, 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,188 and to acquire some merit by resigning a superfluous treasure, which must so soon be annihilated with the world itself.184 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.135 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 any precise sums, or convey any distinct idea. Almost 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 iway captives by the barbarians of the desert.136 About an 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.137 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 ;138 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.139 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 considerable estates were bestowed on the opulent churches of Rome, Milan, Carthage, Antioch, Alexandria, and the other great cities of Italy and the provinces.

113Justin. Martyr, Apolog. Major, c. 89. Tcrtullian, Apolog. c. 39. "•Ircnaeusad Haeres. 1. iv. c. 27, 34. Origcn in Num. Hom. ii. Cyprian de Unitat. Eccles. Constitut. Apostol. 1. 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 tythable articles, they enumerate corn, wine, oil, and wood. On this interesting subject, consult Prideaux's History of Tythes, and Fra Paolo delle Materie Beneficiarie; two writers of a very different character.

1,4 The same opinion which prevailed about the year 1000 was productive of the same effects. Most of the donations express their motive, "appropinquantc mundi fine ". See Moshcim's General History of the Church, vol. i. p. 457. i*'Tum summa cura est fratribus,

(Ut sermo testatur loquax)

Offerre, fundis venditis

Scstertiorum millia.

Addicta avorum prasdia

Fcedis sub auctionibus.

Successor exheres gemit

Sanctis egens parentibus.

Hsec occuluntur abditis

Ecclesiarum in angulis,

Et summa pietas creditor

Nudare dulces liberos.

Prudent, irepl trrr^inw, Hymn s. 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;

:<a 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 prsefects. m Cyprian, Epistol. 62.

a Tertullian de Praescriptionibus, c. 30. [The stranger was the heretic Marcion. ] ■■Diocletian gave a rescript, which is only a declaration of the old law: Collegium, si nullo speciali privilegio subnixum sit, hereditatem capere non

posseTdubium non est". Fra Paolo (c. 4) thinks that these regulations had been

each neglected since the reign of Valerian. 136Hist. August, p. 131 [xviii. 49, 6]. The ground had been public; and was

urn disputed between the society of Christians and that of butchers.

VOL. II. 4

« ForrigeFortsett »