Imágenes de páginas




ORIGEN who having been early inftructed in the new kind of Platonifm already mentioned, blended it unhappily with the purer and more fublime tenets of a celeftial doctrine, and recommended it, in the warmest manner, to the youth who attended his public leffons. The fame of this philofopher increased daily among the Chriftians, and, in proportion to his rifing credit, his method of propofing and explaining the doctrines of Christianity gained authority, till it became almoft univerfal. Befides, fome of the difciples of PLOTINUS having embraced Christianity, on condition that they should be allowed to retain fuch of the opinions of their mafter, as they thought of fuperior excellence and merit [z], this must also have contributed, in fome measure, to turn the balance in favour of the fciences. These Chriftian philofophers preferving ftill a fervent zeal for the doctrines of their heathen chief, would naturally embrace every opportunity of fpreding them abroad, and inftilling them into the minds of the ignorant and the unwary.


Concerning the doctors and minifters of the church, and its form of government, during this century.

of the form of I. THE form of ecclefiaftical government that had been adopted by Christians in general, had now acquired greater degrees of stability and force, both in particular churches, and in the universal fociety of Christians collectively confidered. It appears inconteftable from the most authentic records, and the best hiftories of this century, that, in the larger cities, there was, at the head of each church, a perfon to whom was given the title of bishop, who ruled this facred community with a certain fort of authority, in counfel, however, with the body of prefbyters, and confulting, in matters of moment, the opinion and the voices of the whole affembly [o]. It is also equally evident, that in every province, one bishop was invefted with a certain fuperiority over the reft, in point of rank and authority. This was necessary to the maintenance of that affociation of churches that had been introduced in the preceding century, and contributed, moreover, to facilitate the holding of general councils, and to give a certain degree of order and confiftence to their proceedings. It muft, at the fame time, be carefully observed, that the rights and privileges of thefe primitive bishops were not, every where, accurately fixed, nor determined in such a manner as to prevent encroachments and difputes; nor does it appear, that the chief authority, in the province, was always conferred upon that bifhop who prefided over the church established in the metropolis. It is further to be noticed, as a matter beyond all difpute, that the bishops of Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria, confidered as rulers of

[x] AUGUSTINUS, Epiftola lvi. ad Diofcor. p. 260. tom. ii. Opp.

[o] A fatisfactory account of this matter may be feen in BLONDELLI Apologia pro Sententia Hieronymi de Epifcopis et Prefbyteris, p. 136. as that author has collected all the teftimonies of the ancients relative to that fubject.



dignity of the


primitive and apoftolic churches, had a kind of pre-eminence over all others, and were not only confulted frequently in affairs of a difficult and momentous nature, but were alfo diftinguished by peculiar rights and privileges. II. With refpect, particularly, to the bishop of Rome; he is fuppofed by The power and CYPRIAN to have had, at this time, a certain pre-eminence in the church [P]; bio of Rome nor does he ftand alone in this opinion. But it is to be carefully obferved, in this century; that thofe who, with CYPRIAN, attributed this pre-eminence to the Roman prelate, infifted, at the fame time, with the utmost warmth upon the equality in point of dignity and authority, that fubfifted among all the members of the epifcopal order. In confequence of this opinion of an equality among all Christian bishops, they rejected, with contempt, the judgment of the bishop of Rome, when they thought it ill-founded or unjuft, and followed their own fense of things with a perfect independence. Of this CYPRIAN himself gave an eminent example in his famous controverfy with STEPHEN bishop of Rome, concerning the baptifm of heretics, in which he treated the arrogance of that imperious prelate with a noble indignation, and also with a perfect contempt. Whoever, therefore, compares all these things together, will eafily perceive, that the pre-eminence of the bishop of Rome, was a pre-eminence of order and affociation [9], and not of power and authority. Or, to explain the matter yet more clearly, the pre-eminence of the bishop of Rome, in the univerfal church, was fuch as that of CYPRIAN, bishop of Carthage, was in the African churches. And every one knows that the precedence of this latter prelate diminished, in nothing, the equality that fubfifted among all the African bishops, invalidated, in no inftance, their rights and liberties, but gave only to CYPRIAN, as the president of their general affemblies, a power of calling councils, of prefiding in them, of admonishing his brethren in a mild and fraternal manner, and of executing, in short, fuch offices as the order and purposes of these ecclefiaftical meetings neceffarily required [r].

ment of the


III. The face of things began now to change in the Chriftian church. The govern The ancient method of ecclefiaftical government feemed, in general, ftill to church degenefubfift, while, at the fame time, by imperceptible steps, it varied from the rates into a primitive rule, and degenerated towards the form of a religious monarchy. formarch For the bishops afpired to higher degrees of power and authority, than they had formerly poffeffed; and not only violated the rights of the people, but alfo made gradual encroachments upon the privileges of the prefbyters. And that they might cover thefe ufurpations with an air of juftice, and an appearance of reafon, they published new doctrines concerning the nature of

[p] CYPRIAN. Ep. lxxiii. p. 131. Ep. lv. p. 86. Ib. De Unitate Ecclefiæ, p. 195. edit. Baluzii.

[(9) So I have tranflated Principatus ordinis et confociationis, which could not be otherwise rendered without a long circumlocution. The pre-eminence here mentioned fignifies the right of convening councils, of prefiding in them, of collecting voices, and fuch other things as were effential to the order of these affemblies.]

[r] See STEPH. BALUZII ad not. ad Cypriani Epiftolas, p. 387. 389. 400. confult particularly the LXXI. LXXIII epiftles of CYPRIAN, and the LV, addreffed to CORNELIUS bishop of Rome, in which letters the Carthaginian prelate pleads with warmth and vehemence for the equality of all Chriftian bishops.


[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

the church and of the epifcopal dignity, which however were, in general, fo obfcure, that they themselves feem to have understood them as little as thofe to whom they were delivered. One of the principal authors of this change, in the government of the church, was CYPRIAN, who pleaded for the power of the bishops with more zeal and vehemence, than had ever been hitherto employed in that caufe, though not with an unfhaken conftancy and perfeverance; for, in difficult and perilous times, neceffity might oblige him to yield, and submit all things to the judgment and authority of the church.

IV. This change, in the form of ecclefiaftical government, was foon followed by a train of vices which difhonoured the character and authority of thofe, to whom the administration of the church was committed. For, though several yet continued to exhibit to the world illustrious examples of primitive piety and Chriftian virtue; yet many were funk in luxury and voluptuoufnefs, puffed up with vanity, arrogance, and ambition, poffeffed with a fpirit of contention and discord, and addicted to many other vices, that cast an undeserved reproach upon the holy religion, of which they were the unworthy profeffors and minifters. This is teftified in fuch an ample manner, by the repeated complaints of many of the moft refpectable writers of this age [s], that truth will not permit us to fpred the veil, which we shouldotherwise be defirous to caft over fuch enormities among an order fo facred. The bishops affumed, in many places, a princely authority, particularly those who had the greatest number of churches under their infpection, and who prefided over the moft opulent affemblies. They appropriated to their evangelical function the fplendid enfigns of temporal majefty. A throne, furrounded with minifters, exalted above his equals the fervant of the meek and humble JESUS, and fumptuous garments dazzled the eyes and the minds of the multitude into an ignorant veneration for their arrogated authority. The example of the bishops was ambitiously imitated by the prefbyters, who, neglecting the facred duties of their ftation, abandoned themselves to the indolence and delicacy of an effeminate and luxurious life. The deacons, beholding the prefbyters deferting thus their functions, boldly ufurped their rights and privileges, and the effects of a corrupt ambition were spred through every rank of the facred order.

V. From what has been now observed, we may come, perhaps, at the true origin of minor, or leffer orders, which were, in this century, added, every where, to those of the bishops, prefbyters, and deacons. For, certainly, the titles and offices of fubdeacons, acolythi, oftiarii, or door-keepers, readers, exorcifts, and copiata, would never have been heard of in the church, if its rulers had been affiduously and zealously employed in promoting the interests of the truth and piety by their labours and their example. But when the honours and privileges of the bishops and prefbyters were augmented, the deacons alfo began to extend their ambitious views, and to despise those lower functions. and employments, which they had hitherto exercised with fuch humility and zeal. The additional orders that were now created to diminish the labours of

[] ORIGEN. Comm. in Matthæum, par. i. Opp. p. 420, 441, 442. EUSEBIUS, Hift. Ecclef.. lib viii. cap. i. p. 291, &c.


the prefent rulers of the church, had functions allotted to them, which their CENT. III. names partly explain [t]. The inftitution of exorcifts was a confequence of the doctrine of the New Platonifts, which the Chriftians adopted, and which taught, that the evil genii, or fpirits, were continually hovering over human bodies, towards which they were carried by a natural and vehement desire; and that vitious men were not fo much impelled to fin by an innate depravity, or by the seduction of example, as by the internal fuggeftions of fome evil. dæmon. The copiata were employed in providing for the decent interment of the dead.

VI. Marriage was permitted to all the various ranks and orders of the Marriage of the clergy, high and low. Thofe, however, who continued in a state of celebacy, clergy. obtained by this abftinence a higher reputation of fanctity and virtue than others. This was owing to an almost general perfuafion, that they, who took wives, were of all others the most fubject to the influence of malignant demons [z]. And as it was of infinite importance to the interests of the church, that no impure or malevolent spirit entered into the bodies of fuch as were appointed to govern, or to inftruct others; fo the people were defirous that the clergy should use their utmost efforts to abstain from the pleasures of the conjugal life. Many of the facred order, especially in Africa, consented to satisfy the defires of the people, and endeavoured to do this, in fuch a manner, as not to offer an entire violence to their own inclinations. For this purpose, Concubines inthey formed connexions with those women, who had made vows of perpetual troduced among chastity, and it was an ordinary thing for an ecclefiaftic to admit one of these fair faints to the participation of his bed, but ftill under the most folemn declarations, that nothing paffed in this commerce, that was contrary to the

[() The fubdeacons were defigned to eafe the deacons of the meaneft part of their work. Their office, confequently, was to prepare the facred veffels of the altar, and to deliver them to the deacons in time of divine fervice, to attend the doors of the church during the communionfervice, to go on the bishops embaffies, with his letters or meffages to foreign churches. In a word, they were fo fubordinate to the fuperior rulers of the church, that, by a canon of the council of Landicea, they were forbidden to fit in the prefence of a deacon without his leave.The order of acolythi was peculiar to the Latin church; for there was no fuch order in the Greek church during the four firft centuries. Their name fignifies attendants, and their principal office was to light the candles of the church, and to attend the minifters with wine for the eucharift.-The oftiarii, or door-keepers, were appointed to open and fhut the doors, as officers and fervants under the deacons and fubdeacons ; to give notice of the times of prayer and churchaffemblies, which, in time of perfecution, required a private fignal for fear of discovery; and that probably was the first reason for inftituting this order in the church of Rome, whose example, by degrees, was foon followed by other churches.-The readers were those that were appointed to read the fcripture in that part of divine service to which the catechumens were admitted. The exorcifts were appointed to drive out evil spirits from the bodies of perfons poffeffed; they had been long known in the church, but were not erected into an ecclefiaftical order until the latter end of the third century.-The copiata, or foffarii, were an order of the inferior clergy, whose business it was to take care of funerals, and to provide for the decent interment of the dead. In vain have BARONIUS and other Romifh writers afferted, that thefe inferior orders were of apoftolical inftitution. The contrary is evidently proved, fince none of thefe offices are mentioned as having taken place before the third century, and the origin of fome of them can be traced no higher than the fourth.]

[u] PORPHYRIUS, wefì droxñs, lib. iv. p. 417. VOL. I.



the clergy.


The principal

ental writers.

rules of chastity and virtue [w]. Thefe holy concubines were called, by the Greeks, ZuvoάxTO, and by the Latins, Mulieres fubintroducta. This indecent cuftom alarmed the zeal of the more pious among the bishops, who employed the utmost efforts of their severity and vigilance to abolish it, though it was a long time before they entirely effected this laudable purpofe.

VII. Thus we have given a fhort, though not a very pleafing, view of the Greek and Ori- rulers of the church during this century, and fhould now mention the principal writers that diftinguished themselves in it by their learned and pious productions. The moft eminent of thefe, whether we confider the extent of his fame, or the multiplicity of his labours, was ORIGEN, a prefbyter and catechist of Alexandria, a man of vaft and uncommon abilities, and the greatest luminary of the Chriftian world that this age exhibited to view. Had the juftness of his judgment been equal to the immensity of his genius, the fervor of his piety, his indefatigable patience, his extensive erudition, and his other eminent and fuperior talents, all encomiums must have fallen fhort of his merit. Yet fuch as he was, his virtues and his labours deferve the admiration of all ages, and his name will be tranfmitted with honour through the annals of time as long as learning and genius fhall be esteemed among men [x].

The fecond in renown among the writers of this century was JULIUS AFRICANUS, a native of Palestine, a man of the moft profound erudition, but the greatest part of whofe learned labours are unhappily loft.

HIPPOLYTUS, whofe hiftory is much involved in darknefs [y], is also efteemed among the most celebrated authors and martyrs of this age; but those writings, which at prefent bear his name, are juftly looked upon by many, as either extremely corrupted or entirely fpurious.

GREGORY, bishop of New Cæfarea,

Thaumaturgus, i. e. wonder-worker, on quired, at this time, the title of

of the variety of great and fignal miracles, which he is faid to have wrought during the courfe of his ministry. Few of his works have come down to our times, and his miracles are called in queftion by many, as unfupported by fufficient evidence [z].

It were to be wished that we had more of the writings of DIONYSIUS, bishop of Alexandria, than those which have furvived the ruins of time, fince the few remaining fragments of his works difcover the moft confummate wisdom and prudence, and the most amiable fpirit of moderation and candor, and thus abundantly vindicate from all fufpicion of flattery the ancients who mentioned him under the title of DIONYSIUS the GREAT [a].

[w] Credat Judeus Apella. See however DoDWELL. Diff. tertia Cyprianica, and LUD. AN MURATORIUS, Diff. de Synifacis et Agapetis, in his Anecdot, Græc. p. 218; as alfo BALUZIUS ad Cypriani Epiftol. p. 5. 12, &c.

[x] See a very learned and ufeful work of the famous HUBT bishop of Avranches, intitled, Origeniana. See also DouCIN, Hiftoire d'Origene et des mouvemens arrivés dans l'Eglise au fujes de fa doctrine; and BAYLE's Dictionary, at the article ORIGEN.

[y] The Benedictine monks have, with great labour and erudition, endeavoured to dispel this darknefs in their Hiftoire Litteraire de la France, tom. i. p. 361.

[x] See Van DALE's preface to his Latin treatife concerning Oracles, p. 6.

[a] The history of DIONYSIUS is particularly illuftrated by JAC. BASNAGE, in his Hiftoire de Eglife, tom. i. livre ii. cap. v. p. 68.


« AnteriorContinuar »