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by the Primitive Churches.
How wielded lical Church, some remarks were made in an earlier stage of this
inquiry. As far as we can trace, the first uninspired Churches were guided strictly by these models. The offender, whether heretic, nonconformist, or evil-liver, was first cautioned, then excluded from certain acts of communion, generally beginning with the Eucharist. If these successive interdictions failed to bring the offender to a sense of his crime, and to the appropriate acknowledgment of that sense, the Church proceeded to complete exclusion; and in some extreme cases this was made perpetual.160 It was only when the sentence was that of complete exclusion, that it was made known formally from the Church whose sentence it was, to all others likely to be concerned, that they might be on their guard against receiving the outcast.
The formal testimony of contrition, according to the appointment of the Church, was called penance, or penitence. In the gradual distortions of primitive usages, this assumed a place among the penalties of the Church; but its original character, as the term imports, was that of a formal act of submission and sorrow.
This was always requisite before the offender could be received again into communion; but it was not always at once considered sufficient. Excommunication varied, not only as to the religious privileges from which the offender was excluded, but as to the term of his exclusion; and it was found requisite to keep some offenders under this spiritual degradation for a long period, 161 while others were immediately readmitted on acknowledgment of error.
All was performed, as far back as we can trace any account of it, with the strictest regard to the solemnity of Christ's earthly tribunal. As the act of penance was formal and solemn, so, too, was the act of absolution, by which the Church restored its member to his former rights.
160 Such, at least, was the rule retained τον άσωτον, τον μεταπογνών μειώσαντα την in the Apostolical Constitutions, Lib. II. πατρικήν ουσίαν. So, too, Ignatius, (ad C. 41. It may be doubted, however,
Phil. Č. 3.) “ As many as repent and whether it is to be interpreted as en
return to the unity of the Church, these joining perpetual exclusion under all shall be of God.” circumstances-as allowing no possible readmission. This is not necessarily 161 See Bingham, Book XVIII. C. I. implied, and we know that the general Sec. 4. St. Paul's intercession for the principle was, for the parent Church to offending member of the Corinthian receive its prodigal child, whenever it Church, that the term of his interdiction should give sufficient proof of repentance. should be shortened, proves the apostoliΕίσδέξασθε αυτόν ως τον υιόν τον απολωλότα, cal establishment of the custom.
WHAT MEASURES THE FIRST UNINSPIRED CHURCH PURSUED FOR
SELF-PRESERVATION FROM EXTERNAL DANGERS.
In the last Chapter, I considered the mode of self-preservation adopted by the primitive Church in reference to the dangers it had reason to apprehend from its own members.
But, besides this tendency of the constitution to decay, and External become vitiated of itself, there was another class of dangers from dengers without. Heathen philosophy was likely, either to assault Chris- Primitive tianity as a rival, or to claim connexion with it as a kindred system. In the apostolic age the Ministry comprised few learned men; and this, evidently, in order to demonstrate that the wisdom of the Gospel was from above. As the Divine gifts of wisdom, of knowledge, and of utterance decayed, human learning and human talents became requisite; and these were not lacking. Men arose with the necessary endowments whose names will be over dear to Christians. Nor was it long before a sufficient host of these was enlisted in the good cause, to form a noble defence of the true faith. The most critical season was the period of transition,-the one to which we have now advanced; a period when the heavenly and miraculous wisdom was rarely, if ever, vouchsafed, and yet the propagation of the Gospel had scarcely exceeded the original limits of the unlearned and unknown. If we consider the peculiar danger to which the faith was then exposed, we need be thankful, indeed, for the recorded form in which the whole rule of faith was delivered and left. As the new sect spread, philosophers no longer disdained an From the inquiry into its character, and became candidates for admission. But they came with more than the prejudices of local custom and hereditary manners about them. To a certain extent, their know
152 This is what St. Paul asserts, 1 Cor. i. 26. In our Authorized Version it is,
Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, aré called,” &c.; it should have been, were employed in calling you-were your callers. The words in Italics have no corresponding words in the original, and supplied words must be determined by the drift of the whole passage. Now what the apostle is dwelling on is, the
weakness of the instrumentality which
And I,” (more correctly “Even I”) “ brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom,” &c.-See“ Scripture and the Authorized Version of Scripture,” p. 40.
ledge of heavenly things was supposed to be begun; and they only sought for more light, not such as would make their former view seem darkness and a dream. Many must have turned away from the Christian preachers discontented and disdainful; and theirs was not the worst case. Others would renounce their former knowledge as vain and unfounded, and apply themselves to the minister for instruction. But the applicant was a philosopher; the teacher, perhaps, a plain, unlettered man. The former, although he renounced his religious errors, still could not at once renounce the habits of thought, the mouldings of mind, through which they had flowed. He could only learn religious theology, as he had once learned metaphysical theology. Unsuspicious of danger, and assuming among his most useful qualifications, that of being "all things to all men,” the early teacher might blamelessly convey his holy lesson to these, by illustrations and phrases borrowed from their previous stores. In some instances no harm would ensue. In others, we might expect the doctrine to be corrupted by the impure vessels which received it, and the poisonous effect to exhibit itself alike on catechumen and catechist. Out of all this would arise two distinct scenes of danger to religion—distinct in their progress, although originally the same. From the philosophical world which rejected the Christians' offer, all its wisdom would be openly arrayed to crush it. From that portion which embraced it, there would be no less danger in the impurities which it introduced. These would be the authors of heresy and corruption; the former would be sophists and satirists—the last defenders of the ruined temple of idolatry which they could not bring themselves to forsake. In what way heretics were opposed, and how specific antidotes were provided for their errors and seductions, has been already considered. Against the assaults of infidel writers and orators, too, the Church soon found an appropriate weapon of defence. Apologies, or formal defences of the faith, were circulated abroad, and even presented to the imperial throne. Of these, the most famous are those of Justin Martyr, addressed to the Antonines. But, many years earlier, Quadratus, bishop of Athens, and Aristides, had made similar appeals to Hadrian. The province of learning and eloquence was as yet, however, the weakest point of the Church; and Providence had graciously ordained, that as yet the Church should not so greatly need this kind of support.
It was against the power of the unbelieving world that its earliest efforts were required ; and for this it was proportionably armed. Every son of the Church was baptized unto a faith, which taught him to aspire to an imitation of Christ, not only in his holiness and spiritual endowments, but in his earthly humiliation and his sufferings. “ To me to die is gain,” was echoed down from the apostle to his meanest convert; and elevation to a bishopric was nearly equivalent to an appointment to martyrdom. To read the Epistles
Character of the Primitive Martyrs.
of Ignatius, or the monuments of the primitive martyrs generally,
the learned there are some, not exempt from the error of measuring the results of ancient characters, manners, and feelings, as if those characters, manners, and feelings, were still the same, and our own. Apologies have been made, and attempts ingeniously contrived, to soften down the expressions of the ambitious martyr in his glorious thirst for death. What would Ignatius or Polycarp have said to such a dilution of their character ? Surely Cranmer and Ridley understood it, although in the quiet and gentle scenes around us, Christian heroism may seem romance, and fervid religion, enthusiasm. Martyrdom, the most eager martyrdom, was an act of self-defence in the Church, through its brave and devoted champion. It was the surest, and often the only means of appeasing the awakened fury of persecution; which, being thus spent on the eminent individual, no longer extended itself to the whole body. Amid the jarring elements of passions and prejudices, with which Christ's holy temple was surrounded, the primitive martyrs were the conductors of the fatal spark whenever it flashed forth. They defied, and they received its fury, but the edifice was untouched. For, it is to be observed, that these early persecutions were not Persecution
not always altogether the result of state policy, directed against the growth of
in reality a political evil. Had it been so, the Roman power was competent directed (without the intervention of some signal miracle) to have certainly Church as crushed the new sect. But Christianity was, for reasons often such. alluded to, unpopular; and persecution was, generally, only a permission to indulge popular licentiousness. Hence it happened, that the sacrifice of one or two conspicuous objects, which would have been insufficient and weak as a political measure for suppressing the sect, was often enough to stay persecution.
Such, then, was the character of the primitive martyrs. Nor, in contemplating the immense service rendered by these worthies to the Church formerly, should we forget that to them we also are indebted for an important link in the evidence on which we believe. The primitive martyrs told a tale of miracles which they had seen Evidence to performed in confirmation of that faith, for which they, therefore, Christianity died. Could they have been otherwise than sure, who held life as afforded a trifle, when demanded in testimony of the truth of their assertions? Primitive Surely their blood still cries from the earth.
Martyrs. It is to be regretted, although we can scarcely wonder at it, that False the reverence felt by the Church for benefactors such as these were, the Early should have displayed itself in those various bursts of feeling, which Martyrs cold-hearted craft, or superstition, afterwards systematized and by superpractised as formal duties. By institutions, not unlike that which should bind us to weep periodically over the grave of one, whose
loss drew involuntary tears from our forefathers; how many Churches, in succeeding ages, have bound themselves to pay the same respect to the relics of these holy men, as did their contemporaries and friends in the first transports of gratitude and affection! It has been worse than this. Instead of that enthusiasm of public or private regard, which naturally passed away with the generation to which they belonged, a false and formal piety was substituted. They, who like Paul and Barnabas at Lystra, lived and died to persuade mankind to turn from idolatrous vanities, were mistaken, like their inspired predecessors, and scarcely regarded as “men of like passions” with their brethren. Martyrs to the truth of that holy record, in which it is written, that “there is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” they were gradually addressed as intercessors with God; and whilst that same record declared, that we are saved by faith and not by works, that “ the blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin,” and that God gives not his glory to another; their lives were regarded as abounding in transferable merit; and out of their very relics virtue was supposed
Hence, too, it has happened, that instead of that simple narrative respecting of their deaths, which we should expect to find, whatever is true
concerning them lies buried in an undistinguishable mass of fable and marvels. It would afford little gratification, therefore, to a searcher after truth, to be presented with a series of these false pictures; and, accordingly, we shall confine our notice of the primitive martyrs to two, who are, perhaps, the most illustrious, and whose history is at the same time best authenticated. These are Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, and Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. With the latter of these closes the line of apostolical Fathers, and the period within which the present inquiry has been restricted.
MARTYRDOM OF IGNATIUS. Ignatius. To connect the narrative of the martyrdom of Ignatius, which
occurred in what is called by ecclesiastical writers the third general persecution, with the mention of the preceding two, it may be necessary to go back for a while to the period which embraces
these. It was in the tenth or eleventh year of Nero's reign, that Persecution, the first of these fiery trials of God's people commenced, which
numbered amongst its victims the apostles Peter and Paul. The interval between this and the second general persecution, which has also been noticed as the era of St. John's banishment, comprises a period of twenty-four years. During this time, the general security did not exempt individuals from persecution and death; it being, as has been observed, one of the apparent motives which actuated these heroic champions of the holy Church, to devote themselves, with a nobler patriotism than that of the Decii
, that on them might be spent the wrath and spleen, which, otherwise, the Church at large