« ForrigeFortsett »
ambition and to public interest, that in the space of a few years it was received throughout the whole empire. Union of A regular correspondence was established bethe church. tween the provincial councils, which mutually communicated and approved their respective proceedings; and the Catholic church soon assumed the form, and acquired the strength, of a great federative republic.'' Progress As the legislative authority of the particular pL'authfr- churches was insensibly superseded by the use of rity- councils, the bishops obtained by their alliance a much larger share of executive and arbitrary power; and as soon as they were connected by a sense of their common interest, they were enabled to attack, with united vigour, the original rights of their clergy and people. The prelates of the third century imperceptibly changed the language of exhortation into that of command, scattered the seeds of future usurpations, and supplied, by scripture allegories and declamatory rhetoric, their deficiency of force and of reason. They exalted the unity and power of the church, as it was represented in the episcopal office, of which every bishop enjoyed an equal and undivided portion.b Princes and magistrates, it was often repeated, might boast an earthly claim to a transitory dominion: it was the episcopal authority alone which was derived from the Deity, and extend itself over another world. The bishops were the vicegerents of Christ, the successors of the apostles, and the mystic substitutes of the high priest of the Mosaic law. Their exclusive privilege of conferring the sacerdotal character invaded the freedom both of clerical and of popular elections; and if, in the administration of the church, they still consulted the judgment of the presbyters, or the inclination of the people, they most carefully inculcated the merit of such a voluntary condescension. The bishops
* Aguntur praterea per Gnecias illas, certis in locis concilia, &c. Tertullian de Jejuniis, c. 13. The African mentions it as a recent and foreign institution. The coalition of the Christian churches is very ably explained by Moaheim, p. 164—170.
b Cyprian, in his admired treatise DeUniUte Ecclesiae, p. 75—86.
acknowledged the supreme authority which resided in the assembly of their brethren; but in the government of his peculiar diocess, each of them exacted from his flock the same implicit obedience as if that favourite metaphor had been literally just, and as if the shepherd had been of a more exalted nature than that of his sheep.c This obedience, however, was not imposed without some efforts on one side, and some resistance on the other. The democratical part of the constitution was, in many places, very warmly supported by the zealous or interested opposition of the inferior clergy. But their patriotism received the ignonimous epithets of faction and schism; and the episcopal cause was indebted for its rapid progress to the labours of many active prelates, who, like Cyprian of Carthage, could reconcile the arts of the most ambitious statesman with the Christian virtues which seem adapted to the character of a saint and martyr.d Pre-emi- The same causes which at first had destroyed nenceof the equality of the presbyters, introduced among the bishops a pre-eminence of rank, and from
c urc PB. 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." 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 risen 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/ 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 Ambition the faithful bore a just proportion to the capital Roman of the empire; and the Roman church was the pontiff, greatest, the most 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 the two most eminent among the apostles ;s 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.11 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.' 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.k 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.1
« We may appeal to the whole tenor of Cyprian's conduct, of his doctrine, and of his epistles. Le Clerc, in a short life of Cyprian (Bibliotheque Univenelle, torn. 12. p. 207 — 378.), has laid him open with great freedom and accuracy.
* If Novatus, Felicissimus, &c. whom the bishop of Carthage expelled from his 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.
1 Mosheim, p. 269. 574. Dupin, Antiqua e Eccles. Disciplin. p. 19, 20.
* Tertullian, in a distinct treatise, has pleaded against the heretics, the right of prescription, as it was held by the apostolic churches.
c The journey of St. Peter to Rome is mentioned by most of the ancients (see f-.list-bins, 2. 25.), maintained by all the Catholics, allowed by some Protestants f Bee Pearson and I Indwell de Success. Episcop. Roman.), but has been vigorously attacked by Spanheim. (Miscellanea Sacra, 3. 3.) According to father Hardouin, the monks of the thirteenth century, who composed the ,-Eneiil, represented St. Peter under the allegorical character of the Trojan hero.
b It is in French only, that the famous allusion to St. Peter's name is exact. Tu es Pierre et sur cette pierre.—The same is imperfect in Greek, Latin, Italian, £u . and totally unintelligible in our Teutonic languages.
Laity and The progress of the ecclesiastical authority gave clergy- birth to the memorable distinction of the laity and of the clergy, which had been unknown to the Greeks and Romans.ra The former of 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.
1 Irenaeue adv. Haereses, 3. 3. TertuUian de Proscription. c. M. and Cyprian Epistol. 27. 55. 71.75. Le Clerc (Hist. Eccles. p. 764.) and Mosheim (p. 258. 278.) labour in the interpretation of these passages. But the loose and rhetorical style of the fathers often appears favourable to the pretensions of Rome.
k See the sharp epistle from Firmilianus, bishop of Caesarea, to Stephen, bishop of Rome, ap. Cyprian. Epistol. 75.
'Concerning this dispute of the re-baptism of heretics, see the epistles of Cyprian, and the seventh book of Eusebins.
nl For the origin of these words, see Mosheim, p. 141, Spanheim, Hist. Ecclesiat. p. 633. The distinction of cferut and taieu* ^-ns established before the time ^Tertullian.
Oblations I. The community of gooods, which had so one of the agreeably amused the imagination of Plato," and church, which subsisted in some degree among the austere sect of the Essenians," 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 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 hu
0 The community instituted by Plato is more perfect than that which Sir Thomas Moore has imagined for his Utopia. The community of women, and that of temporal goods, may be considered as inseparable parts of the same system.
o Joseph. Antiquitat . 18. 2. Philo, de Vit. Contemplativ.
P See the Acts of the Apostles, c. 2. 4, b. with Grotius's Commentary. Mosheim, in a particular dissertation, attacks the common opinion with very inconclusive arguments.