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man nature; and the converts who embraced the new religion were permitted to retain the possessions 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.q 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 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 andhouses 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 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 850/. 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 estate 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 ;y 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.2 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. bistri. The bishop was the natural steward of the bution church; the public stock was intrusted to his
1 Justin Martyr, Apolog. Major, c. 89. Tertallian, Apolog. c. 39.
'Irenaeus ad Haeres. lib. 4. c. 27. 34. Origen in Num. Hom. 2. Cyprian de I nitiit. Eccles. Constitut. Apostol. lib. 2. 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 wood. On this interesting subject, consult Prideaux's History of Tithes, and Fra Paolo delle Materie Beneficiarie; two writers of a very different character.
• The same opinion, which prevailed about the year 1000, 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. 1. p. 457.
'Tum sumiua cura est fratribus
The subsequent conduct of the deacon Laurence only proves how proper a use was
of the ''
revenue, care without account or control; the presbyters were confined to their spiritual functions; and the more dependant 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 evangelical 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." 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 expense of the public worship, of which the feasts of love, the agape, 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 occasioned 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.11 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.0 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, ofsickness,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, baptized, educated, and maintained, by the piety of the Christians, and at the expense of the public treasure/
s Diocletian gave a rescript, which is only a declaration of the old law; "CIolegium, si nullo speciali privilegio subnixum sit, haereditatem capere mm posse, il\il>iurn mm rat." 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. * Constitut. Apostol. 2. 35.
b Cyprian de Lapsis, p. 89. Epistol. 65. The charge is confirmed by the nineteenth and twentieth canon of the council of lllibcris.
c See the apologies of Justin, Tertullian, &c.
•1 The wealth and liberality of the Romans to their most distant brethren Ib gratefully celebrated by Dionysius of Corinth, ap. Euseb. lib, 4. c. 23.
'See I.ih tan 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 modem missionaries, under the same circumstances. Above three thousand new-born infants are annually exposed in the streets of Pekin. See Le Comte Memoirs Sut la Chine, and the Recheiches But les Chinois et les Egyptiens, tom. 1. p. 61.
II. It is the undoubted right of every society
JUcom- . ° J |
munica- to 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 authors, or the followers of any heretical opinions which had been condemned by the judgment of the episcopal order; and against those unhappy persons, who, whether from choice or from compulsion, had polluted themselves, after their baptism, by an act of idolatrous worship. The consequences of excommunication were of a temporary, as well as a spiritual, nature. The Christian against whom it was pronounced was deprived of any part in the oblations of the faithful; the ties both of religious and of private friendship were dissolved; he found himself a profane object of abhorrence to the persons whom he most esteemed, or by whom he had been the most tenderly beloved; and, as far as an expulsion from a respectable society could imprint on his character a mark of disgrace, he was shunned or suspected by the generality of mankind. The situation of these unfortunate exiles was in itself very painful and melancholy; but, as it usually happens, their apprehensions far exceeded their sufferings. The benefits of the Christian communion were those of eternal life, nor could they erase from their minds the awful opinion, that to those ecclesiastical governors by whom they were condemned, the Deity had committed the keys of hell and of paradise. The heretics, indeed, who might be supported by the consciousness of their intentions, and by the flattering hope that they alone had discovered the true path of salvation, endeavoured to regain, in their separate assemblies, those