Page images



The NOVATIANISTS. You will doubtless recollect that in a former Lecture, appropriated to the history of the church of Rome from its foundation to the middle of the third century, I mentioned a schism which then took place, in consequence of the progress of corruption. At that epoch Novatianus, “ a man of uncommon learning and talents,” and of irreproachable.morals,* disgusted with the prevailing laxity of discipline, and despairing of being able to stem the torrent of corruption, withdrew from what was called The CHURCH, and, countenanced by a number of his friends, formed a separate communion, in which they were followed by great numbers in every part of the empire. The churches thus formed upon a plan of strict communion, and rigid discipline, obtained the name of Puritans ; they were the first Protestant dissenting churches of which we have any account in history, and a succession of them have continued to the present day. Venerating, as I most sincerely do, their conscientiousness, their zealous contention for the purity and simplicity of Christian worship, and their dutiful obedience to the will of their ascended Saviour, so far as they were instructed into it, -I would never willingly lose sight of their history; it is entitled to our particular attention and regard in this Course of Lectures, and it is a matter of the sincerest regret to me that I am so little qualified to do it justice. The materials for a complete history of the Novatianist churches, if extant, which I greatly doubt, are not within my reach. I must be content to glean where I can the few scattered hints that are upon record concerning them; and even these, for the most part, must be drawn from the writings of their adversaries, who maligned them as heretics and schismatics !+ I am, however,

* The learned Du Pin, speaking of the founder of the Novatianist sect, says, “ This author had abundance of wit [genius], learning, and eloquence; his style is pure, neat, and polite; his expressions are chosen (select], his thoughts natural, and bis reasonings just. He is full of citations of texts of Scripture, that are much to the purpose. Moreover there is a great deal of method and order in those treatises of his which we have, and he always expresses himself with mildness and moderation.”--Bibliotheque Universelle, &c., p. 182. Such is the testimony of this le:arned Catholic, and, considering the quarter whence it comes, it must be allowed to say much for him.

+ The following paragraph, from a letter of Cyprian’s, may serve to explain my meaning on this point :

but little affected by this kind of reproachful epithets: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more they of his household ?" A kingdom which is not of this world cannot reasonably be expected to look abroad with the air of a worldly faction: and, in this respect, it must form a perfect contrast to that of the beast, after which "all the world” is represented as “wondering," Rev. xiii. 3. 'But, waiving all further preliminary observations, I now proceed to trace the progress of dissent from the Catholic church.

The Novatianist churches had existed in many of the municipal cities of the empire, some sixty or seventy years, at the period when Constantine the Great granted a charter of incorporation to the Catholic church, and took it under his fostering care and protection. During this interval a number of eminent men had risen up among them, in the work of the ministry, and their churches were in a flourishing state, notwithstanding their rigid discipline and their schismatical character. Fabius, bishop of Antioch, in particular, was of the denomination. Marcianus, bishop of Arles, was firm in the same cause, at the time that Stephen filled the see of Rome, nor is it known that he ever deserted them. Even in the city of Carthage, Cyprian's own diocese, Maximus was ordained bishop of a church of the Novatianist denomination: and in many places, even in the third century, societies connected with them abounded, though in a state of separation from the Catholic church. * .

One of the canons of the council of Nice, in the year 325, relates to these Puritan churches. The historian Socrates informs us that the emperor, anxious for peace and desirous to procure the concord and harmony of the churches, invited Acesius, one of the Novatianist bishops, to attend the council, which he did. When the Nicene creed had been composed and subscribed by

« As to the person of Novatianus, dearest brother, of whom you desire some account, and the heresy he has introduced, I must tell you, in the first place, that I do not look upon myself obliged to be very inquisitive what it is he teaches, since he teaches it in schism; for whoever he is, or bowever gifted, he is no Christian, I am sure, while he is not in the church of Christ.. Let him value himself as much as he pleases, and pride himself in his philosophy and eloquence; yet he who holds not to the brotherhood, and the unity of the church, has forfeited even all he was before.” Epist. 52, ad Antonianum..

* Lardner's Works, vol. iii. p. 96.



the synod, Constantine appealed to Acesius, and asked him whether he concurred with them; to which he replied, that there was nothing new to him in what the synod had determined ; for it was what he had always held, and what had been maintained from the times of the apostles. “ Why then,” said the emperor, “ are you separated from the communion of the church ?” Aicesius on this proceeded to explain their dissatisfaction with the lax discipline of the Catholic church, with which he contrasted the strictness of their own—that they could not have fellowship with persons who fell into such and such sins—that they indeed exhorted them to repentance, but that it belonged to God alone to pardon them, and not to the church. When Acesius had ended, the emperor is said to have answered, -" Then set up a ladder, Acesius, and go to heaven your own way.”

In the following year, 326, Constantine passed a law which was favourable to the churches of the Novatianists, allowing them their meeting-houses and cemeteries, provided they had never belonged to the Catholic party. But in the year 331, which was half a dozen years before the decease of Constantine, a severe edict was issued against several sects of what the church was pleased to term heretics, such as the Valentinians, the Marcionites, the Paulians, and Cataphrygians, &c., with whom the Novatianists were also joined. According to this edict their places of worship were to be taken from them—they were forbidden to assemble in public or private, and their books to be sought for and destroyed. It would seem, however, from the remarks which Sozomen makes on this edict, that though its effects were ruinous, or nearly so, to all the other sects, yet it did not very materially affect the Puritan churches. The historian's own words are : “ the Novatianists having good leaders (meaning, I suppose, skilful teachers), and being of the same mind with the Catholic church upon the doctrine of the Deity, were numerous from the beginning, and have continued to be so, without suffering much by this law: and the emperor himself, as may be supposed, softened it of his own accord with regard to them, designing rather to frighten than hurt his subjects.” Something also seems to be placed to the account of a partiality which the emperor had for Acesius, then bishop of the Novatianist church in Constantinople, whom he much esteemed on account of his superior sancvol. I.

2 H

tity, and who, it was supposed, interceded in behalf of the churches in his denomination.

In the Arian persecution set on foot by Constantius, about the year 356, the Novatianists suffered in common with the Catholics. Agelius, then bishop of the Novatianists in Constantinople, saved himself by flight; but many of his flock, who were eminent for piety, suffered greatly at that time. Several of their places of worship were destroyed. That in Constantinople had nearly fallen a victim to the fury of the mob; but the Novatianists, prevented its total ruin, by taking it down themselves, and conveying all the materials to another place without the city. About the same time the church of the Novatianists in Cyzicum was totally demolished, by Eleusius, the Arian bishop; but, as soon as the emperor Julian had ascended the throne, he gave orders to those who had occasioned its destruction to liave it rebuilt in two months at their own expense, on pain of a heavy forfeiture. He also granted the Novatianists permission to rebuild their place of worship in Constantinople, which they did in a splendid manner, and gave it the name of Anastasia.

· I mentioned in a former Lecture, that when Valens became sole emperor, A. D. 375, he sided with the Arian party, and cruelly persecuted the orthodox.* On this occasion the Novatianists were included in the effects of his indignation. They were prohibited the privileges of public worship in the city of Constantinople, their places of worship were shut up, and their pastors banished. Agelius, a man of admirable sanctity and virtue, and remarkable for his contempt of money, was exiled from his episcopate. He was, however, allowed to return after a time, and even succeeded in recovering the churches of his communion. The emperor's displeasure against the Noyatianists was moderated, as Socrates informs us, by one Marcian, a pious and learned man, who had formerly held a military post in the imperial palace, and was now presbyter of the church in Constantinople, who had the educating of two of the emperor's daughters, Anastasia and Carosa. The historian also particularly mentions the kindness and liberality which the Novatianists manifested towards the persecuted of the orthodox party, at a time when they themselves were tolerated-a, trait in their history which has extorted an expression of commendation from Milner,

* See page 404.


who admits that “it reflects an amiable lustre on the character of those dissenters," and for showing which they actually incurred the displeasure of the Arians, who were in power.

The vast extent of this sect of Puritans is a subject of pleasing contemplation, especially when we take into account their soundness in the faith, and their regard to the purity of communion, which could not but be secured by the strictness of their discipline. In the fourth century they had three, if not four churches in the city of Constantinople ; they had also churches at Nice, Nicomedia, and Coticus in Phrygia, all of them large and extensive bodies; besides which they were very numerous in the western parts of the empire. Dr. Lardner says, " the pieces written against them by St. Ambrose, Pacian, the anonymous author of the questions out of the Old and New Testament—the notice taken of them by Basil, and Gregory Nazianzen—the accounts given of them by Socrates and Sozomen in their ecclesiastical histories, are proofs of their being numerous, and in most parts of the world, in the fourth and fifth centuries. Among the epistles of Isidore of Pelusium, who flourished about the year 412, there are two against the Novatianists. And that they subsisted towards the end of the sixth century appears from the books of Eulogius, bishop of Alexandria, written about that time. Thus, continues Dr. Lardner, the vast extent of this sect is manifest from the names of the authors who have mentioned, or written against them, and from the several parts of the Roman empire in which they were found. It is evident, too, that these churches had among them some individuals of note and eminence, as already stated.”.

Among the principal ministers belonging to the Novatianist denomination, I have already spoken of their illustrious founder, whose learning and talents are attested by Du Pin, Mosheim, Lardner, and indeed all who mention him. I also had occasion to notice, incidentally, Acesius, whose character and talents attracted the regard and respect of the great Constantine. Having served his generation by the will of God, he was succeeded in the pastoral office of the church of Constantinople by Agelius, who presided over it nearly fifty years, dying in the year 384. He does not seem to have been a person of shining abilities, but was distinguished for his piety. There rose up, however, in this

« PreviousContinue »