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had indeed the priority of all the churches ; but from circumstances which we have already noticed, it was now a society of no great eminence. Antioch was certainly the mother church of all the Gentiles; the central point, for some years, from which the apostles went forth, and to which they returned. But the superior importance of the capital of the civilised world, perhaps the superior success of the Gospel among its numerous population, the superior wealth and influence of its professors, and more especially the circumstance that St. Paul, - and there is no reasonable doubt, St. Peter also,-had made it their residence in their latter days, would, of course, procure a pre-eminence for that church in the estimation of all who professed the Christian name. We may add that, in all probability, their early bishops and presbyters were men of the highest character, whose advice would naturally be sought. This circunstance was, indeed, for some time, more than balanced by the protraoted life of the apostle John in the East, and of his disciples, Ignatius and Polycarp; but after their decease, the usual reference in Christian affairs, especially in the West, would be to the heads of the Roman church.

All churches, under their respective bishops, were certainly, at this time, independent; the visitorial guardianship of the apostles, and of their immediate successors, who, in their continual circuits, had planted and watered them, was now no more. But still the desire of preserving the unity of the faith, and of the Christian profession, especially as heresies began to abound, and various disputes arose, would often render a reference to the judgment and practice of the more eminent and longer established churches, both useful and necessary. We find, in fact, that this was the usual practice; and that I am not too early in claiming this sort of pre-eminence for Rome, is plain from the expressions of Irenæus. We have, indeed, only a translation extant of this part of his work; but, however imperfectly it may represent the original, we cannot altogether mistake the writer's views. He is mentioning Rome, among the other churches which had apostles for their founders : “ For to this church, on account of its more powerful principality" — which may mean only a more extensive sway with respect to its more numerous members -- “ it is necessary that the whole church should have recourse" -- convenire-" that is, those who are faithful, from all parts to that church“ in which has always, by them who are from all parts, been preserved that tradition which is from the apostles.”

We

may be thankful, indeed, from what has since happened, that our holy faith was not left to be preserved by tradition in Rome, or in any other of the apostolic churches. The Bible, and the Bible alone, after the Spirit of prophecy was withdrawn, could preserve it from corruption and adulteration. But, at this early period, the constant and uniform tradition, in all these churches, was an argument of great importance against recent heretics, as Irenæus uses it, in addition to the written word; and especially as many of these false teachers did not receive all the Scriptures. It was certainly an argument of great weight, to be able to urge against such teachers as Valentinus and Marcion, leaders of the Gnostic heresies that now much troubled the church, what Clemens, who had been a contemporary of the apostles, had been known to teach ; and more recently, Polycarp, the disciple of St. John, who, he tells us, had come to Rome, under Anicetus, and had actually converted many of these heretics to the church, declaring “ that that was the one and only truth delivered from the apostles, which had been committed to the church.” Anicetus was only the second bishop in succession before Eleutherius, who, in Irenæus's time, presided at Rome; so that he was quite competent to testify that, through this succession of bishops, “ the tradition of the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, has come even to us ;” and to assert against those who set up a tradition of their own against the written word, “ that this was a most full demonstration that it is one and the same life-giving faith, which is even to this present time preserved and handed down in truth, in the church, from the apostles.”

Not only does he refer to the tradition of the apostolic churches, as being against the heretics, but he observes, " there are many nations of those barbarians who believe in Christ, without pen and paper, having salvation written by the Spirit in their hearts, and diligently preserving the ancient tradition, believing in one God, the Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things that are therein, by Jesus Christ, the Son of God; who, for his most eminent love towards his own workmanship, sustained that generation which was from the Virgin; he, by himself, having united man to God, and suffered under Pontius Pilate, and risen, and being received into brightness, will come again with glory, the Saviour of them who are saved, and the Judge of them that are judged ; and sending into eternal fire the corrupters of the truth, and the despisers of his Father and of his coming.” “ This faith those who believe without letters, with

regard to our language, are barbarians; but with respect to their sentiment and behaviour, most wise, because of their faith ;' and please God, walking in righteousness, and purity, and wisdom. To these, if any one should preach in their own tongue these inventions of the heretics, they would immediately stop their ears, and flee far away; not bearing to hear such blasphemous discourse.”

This is a beautiful testimony that the church was still “ the ground and pillar of the truth,” and that all Christians were unanimous against the errors of the Gnostics, of what class soever they might be, concerning the Father and the Son, and the mystery of godliness. These heretics, it seems, were becoming at this period very insidious. “ In public (says Irenæus) they use alluring discourses, because of the common Christians, -as they call those who wear the Christian name in general ;and to entice them to come often, they pretend to preach like us,” &c.

The testimony of the same writer is conclusive, that miraculous gifts were not altogether withdrawn from the churches at this era.

It appears also that the church was harassed by false prophets, both men and women ; they seem to have been possessed with a fanatical spirit ; and, unlike the true prophets, they fell in trances, gave way to every extravagancy, and raved in perfect frensy of mind'. Of this class was Montanus, whose followers afterwards made a lasting division from the church.

In the tenth year of Commodus, Eleutherius, bishop of Rome, was succeeded by Victor. This bishop appears to have felt something of the genius of the future popes. There was a diversity between the churches of the East and of the West, about the time of keeping Easter : the former followed the mode of observing the passover, by the age of the moon; the latter always celebrated the Lord's resurrection, on the Sunday, according to the present practice. This dispute had arisen as early as the time of Polycarp and Anicetus ; but the apostolic fathers were of opinion, that the respective churches might follow their own practice. Victor, however, now began to assume authority, and to pronounce excommunicated, or cut off from the unity of the church, all the churches and congregations that observed not the western rule. But the church was not yet ripe for such arrogancy and usurpation. The other bishops were not pleased with this proceeding of Victor, but severely reproved him, and

· Eusebius, and the authors quoted by him.

advised him to seek after the things that made for peace and brotherly love. Among others, Irenæus wrote to him on this subject, and urged the example of his predecessor Anicetus, and of Polycarp. “ They differed,” he observes, “ on this and other trifling matters, but soon agreed that each ought to follow the example of his predecessors. They communicated one with another; and in the church Anicetus granted the eucharist unto Polycarp', out of the reverence which he owed unto him;" “and all that retained contrary observations held fast the bond of love and unity throughout the universal church." Irenæus has this very striking observation : “ This variety of fasting commends the unity of faith.”

But neither the impression made about this time by the Gnostic heresies, nor the raving of fanatics, nor this single stretch of ecclesiastical power in the bishop of the most eminent church in the empire, did so much mischief, or does so mark the decline of the true spirit of Christianity, as the inroad which about this time began to be made on the simplicity of the faith by philosophy,

« after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.'

Towards the end of this century there arose, among the heathen, the sect of new Platonics, or Eclectics, which spread with amazing rapidity throughout the Roman world, and swallowed up almost all the other sects of the pagan philosophy. Comprehensive and latitudinarian in its principles, it refused not to admire some things delivered by Moses and the prophets, and which were to be found in the precepts of the Christian sect; and, in return, they received no little homage from some of the teachers of the church. Justin Martyr, the converted philosopher, and, in some measure, Irenæus, who had read his writings, had prepared the way for this ; and this philosophy was now openly embraced by some Christian teachers of Alexandria, who were ambitious of the title of philosophers. Among these were Athenagoras, Pantænus, and Clemens Alexandrinus. The system afterwards underwent some changes by Ammonius, and was very extensively embraced in the church, where it much adulterated the truth; and though it seemed to give the cause of Christ able defenders, and is reckoned as one cause of the progress of Christianity, yet, in fact, it substituted in the place of the pure and sublime simplicity of the Gospel, an unseemly mixture of heathen philosophy, and the doctrines of

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revelation, as the word of prophecy had predicted. The basis of the system of this paganised Christianity, was the same as that of the older Gnostics, the ancient philosophy of the East, which St. Paul stigmatises as “ the mystery of iniquity already working,” foreseeing in it the latent causes of the future apostasy which was to oppress the church. But these philosophisers brought also to their aid, the more refined scheme of the Grecians. They considered Plato as the best interpreter, among the heathens, of this ancient wisdom, which they maintained to be the common source of truth, from which all the various sects and opinions of the world, variously corrupted, were derived. Jesus Christ, they taught, came to restore this ancient theology. Thus they shaped it in a Christian mould. The government of the world by demons, to whom a kind of inferior worship was due, was one of their leading tenets. A way was thus made for what the Scripture denominates “ the worshipping of angels;" for the kind of being which was termed a demon, in the language of Plato and the ancient mythologists, the Hebrews designated by the term “ angel;” and it is singular that this system, which is supposed, in very ancient times, to have been diffused from Egypt over the nations of Europe, should be refined in the same spot, and sent forth again to turn away the same people from the truth, and at length to restore the empire of idolatry. The moral discipline of the Eclectics carried an aspect of high sanctity and uncommon austerity. They were to raise the soul, whose origin was celestial and divine, by contemplation, above all terrestrial things. The sluggish body, which restrains the immortal spirit, they were to extenuate by hunger, thirst, and other mortifications : – the very“ rudiments of the world,” marked by the apostle as destructive of true religion ; " which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the Aesh?!”

Surely, in all this, we see the yet unformed materials of the future apostasy being hewn from the quarry by the seducing spirit of the power of darkness! The fanatical spirit and lying wonders of the Montanists — joined with this new philosophy, and the worshipping of angel or demon protectors, substituting mysticism and bodily austerities for true holiness, and for the mortifying of carnal affections — and directed by such a spirit in church rulers, as shewed itself in bishop Victor, in the Easter

Col. ii. Mosheim comp. Milner.

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