Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

of their neighbors; especially every man should officiate as a teacher in his own house.

VII. We shall next consider the loss of liberty in the primitive church, with regard to her unlimited power of choosing pastors. By the desire of St. Peter, the church of Jerusalem chose seven men to take eare of their widows and the indigent, who could be useful to their souls as well as to their bodies. Fabian, a layman, was elected bishop of Rome by the whole congregation, a dove having descended on his head at the moment when they were divided in their choice.* Spyridon, a poor shepherd, was exalted at once, on account of his piety, to be bishop of a city.f Frumentius, a laymen also, by the advice of Athanasius, was made bishop over some Indians, to whom he had been useful. Ambrose, when only a catechuman, and unbaptized, was elected bishop of Milan. In general, a church elected a man of its own community, but they were not obliged to do so.

John Chrysostom, presbyter of Antioch, whose eloquence was never exceeded, was elected to the see of Constantinople.

The first Christian emperor who had liberally supplied the wants of the clergy, promoted many of them to considerable offices of trust and dignity, and enriched the churches with the spoils of paganism, had undesignedly caused the episcopal chair to become an ob. ject highly flattering to ambition. From this period, the election of a bishop instead of being preceded by fasting and prayer, and every man voting from his heart, often exhibited shameful scenes of noise and riot. The people had no longer any occasion to drag the timorous shepherd from his closet to the church; there were generally two or more competitors. In Alexandria, and in Rome, blood has been shed on those , occasions. The contest between Damasus and Ursicinus for the Roman see, was so great, that one hundred and thirty-seven dead bodies were found in the

* Euseb. Hist, Eccles. lib. 6. cap. xxix. + Socra. Hist. Eccles. lib. 1, cap. xii. Ibid. cap. xix. $ Ibid. lib. 4. cap. xxx.

place in which the Christians had assembled.* Juz lian permitted the prelates to contend in the palace before the populace, well kowing that the beasts were not so fierce against man, as some of these Christians were ou trageous against one another.t

These riotous elections, and the consequent appeals to the emperor, soon annihilated the people's liberty. Theodosius, the younger, under a pretence of preventing a riot, interposed the imperial power, and vominated a bishop for Constantinople. So high a precedent could not be unnoticed. In a little time the kings of Europe did the same. And when the Christian world was divided into parishes, the barons exercised the same power over the churches, which sovereigns did over the sees. The house of God was not more exempt from villanage than the people. Thus the degenerate Christians let their most sacred privileges slip out of their hands, and were compelled to receive a minister nominated by an individual, however con. trary to their inclination. We cannot but shed a tear for this total loss of primitive liberty, and of primitive love. But the glory of the Lord having in some sort departed from the sanctuary, ecclesiastic affairs were scarcely an object of the people's regard.

VIII. The Christian priesthood being now established, and protected by princes and nobles, the clergy no longer sought promotion by cultivating popular talents, but by paying their court to great men; and in fact, forced their way to the sanctuary by simony or secular interests. They thought of little but preferment, and of increasing their revenues, sometimes by pious frauds, and sometimes by open force. The worship of the martyrs was at first connived at, and presently defended, because it brought the clergy abundance of offerings. It is, however, a duty to observe, that the clergy were not agreed on this subject. Image worship was opposed by a council at Constantinople, and at Ephesus, and, so late as the year seven hundred, by a council at Frankfort.

* Ammianus, lib. 27.

| Ibid. lib. 23.

· IX. It might have been easily conjectured, that the use of gowns for the clergy would speedily be introduced, because both the pagan and Jewish priests officiated in flowing robes. But this custom, we are told, was first derived from the philosophers, who lectured in a pall. The fathers seem unwilling to have it said, that it was derived from the ancient priests. However, several bishops in the second century peremptorily refused to wear it. Constantine presented a pall to the bishop of Jerusalem, woven with threads of gold, in which he performed the divine service.* About the same time, a great number of bishops attended the dedication of the church of Tyre, in flowing robes. This marks the sondness of the clergy and monks for worldly honors. They now began to introduce many childish imitations of the magnificence of the Jewish worship, and of the pagan superstition ; and to enforce the observance of them as essential to salvation.

X. Those who now officiated in the sanctuary, being destitute of extempore gifts, had recourse to liturgies, and many of them to the pitiful method of reading sermons: an indulgence which should be allowed to feeble ministers only. That the church of Carthage used no such liturgy, is plain enough from a passage of Cyprian on the the Lord's prayer.

“ Et quando in unum cum fratribus convenimus, et sacrificia Divina cum Dei sacerdote celebramus, ve- * recundiæ et disciplinæ memores esse debemus. Non passim ventilare preces nostras inconditis vocibis, nec petitionem commendandam modeste deo, tumultuosa loquacitate jactare, quia Deus non vocis, sed cordis auditor est.” This passage relates expressly to the public worship; and if it were conducted according to a prescribed form, what need to caution them against a noisy redundancy of words ?

With regard to preaching, we may farther add, that the primitive fathers were not confined to the manu- . script, because their homilies and sermons abound with remarks, which could be suggested in the pulpit only. This is illustrated by the case of the mild and learned Atticus, bishop of Constantinople. When he was made a presbyter, he could not preach extempore; but composed his sermons, and committed them to memory; and then repeated them in the church. By this assiduity, he soon acquired the talent of extempore preaching. *

* Theod. Hist, Eccles. lib. 2. cap. xxvii.

These facts are not adduced to depreciate the real excellence of liturgies, or to recommend the total disuse of prescribed forms, but from an apprehension that they have been productive of fatal effects to vital godliness. The least evil arising from them is, the obligation they impose on able ministers to suppress their talents. No sooner were these indulgences allowed, than the mere reader became qualified to feed the flock; yea, and the dissipated youth could breathe a moment from his career of pleasure, and move the machine of public worship with a dexterous hand.

XI. We shall next consider the clerical or antichristian empire which God permitted to arise and punish the apostacy of the church. It has already been noticed, that Constantine conferred on the bishops many places of trust and dignity. This constituted them rulers of the state, and the pastoral simplicity soon degenerated into political subtlety. We have noticed, also, the manner in which the metropo litans and patriarchs obtained the ascendancy over their brethren in the country. From that period, the great bishops seem to have looked wishfully at a power similar to the Jewish high-priest, who sometimes governed the whole nation.

Provincial and general councils were frequently called, for the management of the chureh and the suppression of heresies. But whatever was the occasion of any council, the rights of the priesthood were always guarded, and new canons made, which were

* Socrat. Hist. Eccles, lid. 17. cap. if

dinding to the emperor as well as to bis subjects. In a little time the canons became so voluminous and contradictory, that no man could acquire a perfect knowledge of them.

XII. The first object on which the priesthood displayed its secular power, was the pious Novatians, and other religious sects. However, the ancients were not wholly intolerant. When Atticus had ascended the patriarchal chair of Constantinople, he commenced a persecution against the sects; but finding it productive of no good effects, he wisely changed his measures, and treated them with great lenity.

In Egypt the persecution was severe. Theodosius, bishop of Synnada, was furious against heretics; sometimes he prosecuted them in the courts of justice, and sometimes assailed them by an armed force. Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, did the same. He took a military force and shut up the Novatian churches, took away the sacred vessels, and deprived Theopemtus, their bishop, of all his property. *

The pontiff of Rome, it could scarcely be expected, would be less active in subjects of this nature, than his cotemporaries. Innocent the first, deprived the Novatians, at a stroke, of all their churches. But his triumph was short; for Alaric, king of the Goths, took the city by storm, and made a terrible carnage among the senators and people. By this calamity the Novatians regained the peaceable possession of their churches. This persecution was as impolitic as unjust, because it disunited the citizens. Had Innocent displayed the mildness of Atticus, it would probably have saved the city. About twenty years after this, Celestine the first, once more totally deprived them of their religious liberties.

The Novatians in Constantinople, after a long repose, were persecuted by the unhappy Nestorius. He was promoted from the see of Antioch, by the command of Theodosius the younger. In his first sermon

* Socrat. Hist. Eccles. lib. 7. cap. vii.

« ForrigeFortsett »