« PreviousContinue »
church, a young man whose name was Sisinnius, endowed with fine natural parts, which were cultivated by learning and study. He first presents himself to us as a reader in the church; but even then, and probably while only a young man, he greatly assisted his venerable pastor at a synod or conference, convened. by the emperor Theodosius, at Constantinople, in the year 383, with the view of putting an end to those dissensions which the various sects of religionists produced in the empire, a year only before the death of Agelius. Immediately after this, Sisinnius was raised to the office of elder or presbyter; and Agelius finding his end fast approaching, and desirous of guarding against any disturbance that might arise in the church after his decease respecting a successor, nominated Sisinnius for that purpose. The church, however, gave the preference to Marcian, lately mentioned as having been so serviceable to them in the persecution that took place under Valens; and, to avoid any thing like strife or contention, Agelius yielded to their wishes; it being understood that Sisinnius was to succeed Marcian, which he did in the year 395.
Socrates is somewhat copious on the history of Sisinnius, and his character is so fine that it deserves a respectful notice from us. He was educated, it seems, along with the emperor Julian, under a noted philosopher of the name of Maximus, and was well skilled in all parts of philosophy, but especially in that of logic. He was an able disputant, and excelled so much in controversy, that those who knew him were shy of encountering him. He had an intimate acquaintance with the holy Scriptures, and could speak eloquently. His knowledge of the world was extensive, and he had wit at will. For some specimens of this the reader may consult the note below.* We are told by
: * Being interrogated by one of his acquaintance, why he who was a bishop chose to bathe twice a day, Sisinnius promptly replied, “ Because I cannot bathe thrice !" His good sense led him to treat with levity the practice of clothing the clergy in black. Calling'one day to pay a friendly visit at the house of Arsacius, who had succeeded Chrysostom in the see of Constantinople, he was asked, why be dressed in a manner so unsuitable to his character as a bishop. “ Tell me,” said he, “where it is written that a bishop should wear a black garment ?-you can never show that a priest ought to wear black-but I will give you my authority for wearing white. Hath not Solomon expressly said, “ Let thy garments be always white ?" Eccles.ix. 8. He then referred them to Luke ix. 29, on which occasion both the Lord Jesus, and Moses and Elias, appeared to the apostles clothed in white. In the province of Ga
EMINENT MEN AMONG THE NOVATIANISTS.
Socrates, that he was in high repute for his learning, on which account he was respected by all his successors. He was likewise honoured with the esteem and affection of many persons of the senatorian rank. His publications were numerous, but his style was thought too refined, and he was too fond of poetical phrases. He was, therefore, more admired as a speaker than as an author; and to this the gracefulness of his person, the neatness of his address, his look and attitude, all contributed. In short, he was beloved by all, and especially by bishop Atticus.
Sisinnius died in 407, and was succeeded in the episcopate by Chrysanthus, the son of Marcian, his immediate predecessor. This person, in his younger years, had held a military station in the palace. In the reign of Theodosius the First, Chrysanthus was governor of Italy, after which he was constituted vicar (perhaps viceroy) of the British islands, in both which high stations his conduct acquired him great reputation. At an advanced period of life he returned to Constantinople, and offered himself as prefect of the city, but, instead of that civil appointment, he was compelled to accept of a bishopric! for Sisinnius, when near his end, having mentioned him as a fit person to succeed him, and the church regarding whatever Sisinnius said as law, they entreated him to accept the episcopal office; to avoid which, Chrysanthus withdrew from the city. The people, however, traced him into the province of Bithynia, and, having met with him, their importunity overcame all his scruples. Socrates represents him as a man of signal prudence and modesty; and says that, by his means, the Novatianist churches were not only upheld but increased. He was liberal to the poor, and this out of his own estate, but declined to receive any thing from the churches under his care, except two loaves of bread every Lord's day. Socrates says that his polite and ingenious sermons were extant in his time. Chrysanthus was succeeded in the episcopate by a person of the name of Paul, who had been a teacher of Latin ; but, laying aside that employment, he betook himself to a retired life, occupying himself wholly in acts of devotion, of which Tertullian had set him an example. While bishop of the church he was almost universally beloved by the citizens of Constantinople, the great mass of whom, of all sects and parties, accompanied his remains to the grave, singing psalms as the funeral procession advanced, and bewailing the departure of one whose simplicity and integrity of manners had greatly endeared him to them. He died in the year 439.
latia, Leontius, the bishop of Ancyra, commenced a persecution against the church of the Novatians, in that city, and took from them their place of worship. Happening soon afterwards to come to Constantinople, Sisinnius waited upon him, for the purpose of entreating him to restore to his friends their place of worship. Leontius flew into a passion, and said, “ You Novatianists ought not to have churches, for you discard all repentance, and exclude the loving kindness of God,” &c. Sisinnius listened patiently to this philippic, and then calmly replied, “ But no man can repent more than I do!” How, said Leontius, do you repent? “I repent,” replied Sisinnius, “ that I have seen you!" Chrysostom, who was at the head of the Catholic party, on one occasion addressed him with great beat, saying, “ You are a heretic, and I will make you leave off preaching." “ I'll give you a reward,” said Sisinnius « if you will free me from the labour of it.” “Oh! if the office is laborious,” rejoined Chrysostom, “ you may go on with it."
The learned Cassiodorus, who wrote about the middle of the sixth century, makes mention of one Eusebius, who belonged to the sect of the Novatians, whose history entitles him to a slight notice from me. This man was blind from his childhood : but blessed with a wonderfully retentive memory, which enabled him to become intimately acquainted with all the best authors and books, and to treasure up in his mind a stock of useful knowledge. Cassiodorus, who knew him personally, does not furnish us with any information respecting his situation in life, nor say whether he filled any office, civil or ecclesiastical. Possibly the loss of sight might discourage or disqualify him for-that; but it would appear that he made good use of his leisure, and stored his mind with valuable knowledge, which he communicated in conversation as he had opportunity.
From the particulars now laid before you, I think it must appear, that the denomination of the Novatianists, the first Protestant dissenters from the church of Rome, had among them many individuals whose learning, talents, and virtues would have done honour to any sect or party, and I enlarge upon their history with the greater pleasure, because it is an act of justice to injured merit. It is only discharging a debt of gratitude which we, of the present day, owe to the memory of a class of men who were the first to set us an example of contending for the purity and simplicity of Christian worship, and a firm adherence to the laws of Christ's kingdom. In maintaining a uni
PERSECUTIONS OF THE NOVATIANISTS.
form and consistent regard to divine truth, and zealously opposing every corruption of it, they subjected themselves to continual reproach and obloquy from the Catholic party, and were frequently made to feel the effects of their malice, of which I may give you a few additional instances.
There were several churches of the Novatianists in the city of Alexandria at the beginning of the fifth century. In the year 412, Cyril was ordained bishop of Alexandria; that is, of the Catholic church in that famous city, having succeeded his uncle Theophilus in that see. The bishops of that city had for some time past arrogated to themselves great authority and power, not only in ecclesiastical, but in civil affairs also; and Cyril, the newly appointed bishop, was not of a temper to permit any power to be diminished which fell into his hands. One of his first acts was to shut up all the churches of the Novatianists, strip them of all their sacred vessels and ornaments, and deprive Theopomptus, one of their ministers, of every thing he possessed. Socrates, who relates this, having mentioned the names of several bishops of Rome, proceeds to speak of Innocent, who was ordained in the year 401 and died in 417, and then adds, “ he was the first that persecuted the Novatianists at Rome, taking away from them many churches.”. Celestinus, also, one of his successors, who possessed the see of Rome from the year 424 to 432, followed the example of Innocent: he “ deprived the Novatianists of all their churches at Rome, and forced them to assemble for worship in private houses in the most obscure places.” Socrates adds that, “ until this period, the Novatianists had flourished mightily at Rome, having a great number of places of Worship, and large congregations, but envy laid hold of them also, the bishop of Rome, like that of Alexandria, haying long since surpassed the sacerdotal dignity, and assumed secular power and authority; for whichreason those bishops would not allow these persons to meet together freely, though they were of the same opinion with themselves. They, indeed, commended them for their soundness in the faith, but took away from them every thing that they had. In the city of Constantinople, the bishops (of the Catholic church) acted in a different manner; they treated the Novatianists with much affec
THE Donors whicis, to
tion and mildness, allowing them to hold their meetings for public worship within the walls of the city."*
I now take my leave, for the present, of the sect or denomination of the Novatianists, whose memory I venerate as witnesses of the truth as it is in Jesus; and shall proceed to give you some account of another denomination which was contemporary with them, and contended for the same things, but who resided mostly in Africa, and passed under a different name,
The DonatiSTS. I do not find any class of professors which so much resembled the Novatianists as that of the Donatists, to which, consequently, I am now about to draw your attention. It is true that they do not make their appearance, in the annals of the Christian church, so early as the Novatianists by half a century, and the churches in this connexion appear to have been confined almost exclusively to Africa. They agreed with the former in reprobating the lax state of discipline which was common to the churches in the Catholic communion; and though they did not, like them, refuse to re-admit penitents into their communion, nor, like them, condemn all second marriages, they denied the validity of baptism as administered by the ministers of the church of Rome, and rebaptized all those who left the communion of that church to unite with them. In doctrinal sentiments they were agreed with both the Novatianists and the Catholics ; while the regard which they paid to purity of communion occasioned their being stigmatized with the epithet of Puritans, and their being treated as schismatics by those who wrote against them, particularly Optatus and Augustine.
The Donatists are said to have derived their distinguishing appellation from one Donatus, a native of Numidia, in Africa, who was elected to the episcopal office in Carthage about the year 306. I will quote to you what the learned Du Pin says of this sect; for the testimony of an adversary, when it is favourable, has always been regarded as the best kind of evidence that we can at any time have in behalf of the party. “ Hitherto,” says he, “we have only represented the Donatists as a faction, that separated from the [Catholic] church, without taking notice
* Socrates, 1. vii. Lardner, vol. iii. ch. 17.