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DU PIN'S ACCOUNT OF THE DONATISTS.
of any particular doctrine whereby they were distinguished. Indeed they did not teach any thing that was contrary to the [Apostle's] Creed; but they were so rash as to affirm, that all the churches every where which had embraced the communion of Cæcilianus [bishop of Carthage] and his party, ceased to be the true churches of Jesus Christ; that thus the Catholic church was only found among themselves, having ceased to exist in other parts of the world. Besides which, being very fond of the ancient doctrine of the African churches, that baptism and the other sacraments conferred out of the church were null and void, they rebaptized such as had been baptized by the Catholics, trampled upon their eucharist as a profane thing, and maintained that the consecrations, unctions, and ordinations performed by the Catholics were of no avail. They burnt or scraped the altars which the latter made use of, as being polluted by impure sacrifices, and broke their [communion] cups. They looked upon the vows made in their communion as of no value ; in a word, they would not communicate with them. They maintained that the church ought to be made up of just and holy men, or at least of those who were such in appearance; and that, although wicked men might lurk in the church, yet it would not harbour those who were known to be such.”*
This is Du Pin's account of the Donatists, and there are one or two points in it, in particular, which deserve your notice. You see that he bears testimony to the soundness of their faith - but they refused to communicate with the Catholic church solely on the ground of the very corrupt state of things which prevailed in it. . And then observe what a noble testimony he bears to the purity of these churches in the conclusion of the paragraph. They maintained that a church of Christ ought to be made up of just and holy men, or at least of those who appeared to be such ; and that, although wicked men might lurk in the church, yet, when persons manifested themselves to be notoriously wicked characters, the church should put them away. This was the principle of the Donatists, and I hope I need not tell you that it is a principle fully supported and sanctioned by the New Testament; but it was scouted you see by the Catholic church—the latter could tolerate wicked characters among them, even when discovered to be such; and can you wonder that, acting upon such a principle, the Catholic church should become, as in process of time it did, “the habitation of devils, the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird ? ” Rev. xviii. 3.
* Du Pin's Ch. Hist. Cent. iv. ch. iii.
It appears from a variety of circumstances that the Donatists were a very numerous body of professed Christians in Africa ; and, in fact, they seem to have been almost as numerous as the Catholics themselves, which, considering the strictness of their discipline and their firm adherence to the laws of Christ's house, is a subject of pleasing reflection. There was scarcely a city or town in Africa in which there was not a church of the Donatists. In the year 411 a famous Synod or public conference was held at Carthage, at which were present 286 bishops belonging to the Catholic party, and of the Donatists 279-leaving a difference of only seven in favour of the former; and when we take into account, not only their rigid discipline, but also that they were a proscribed sect, and frequently the subjects of severe and sanguinary persecution from the ruling party, one can scarcely refrain from surprise at the fact. Indeed their increasing numbers, under the disadvantages just mentioned, evidently drew the attention of the governors of the province, who felt anxious if it were possible to conciliate them, and form a union between them and the Catholics. The emperor Constans, in particular, to whose lot it fell to administer the government in this quarter, in the year 348, which was only ten or a dozen years after the death of his father Constantine the Great, deputed two persons of rank to try to bring about a reconciliation between the two parties, and the account which is given by historians of the result of this attempt pours a flood of light on the principles of the Donatists. When it was urged upon them that it was their duty to study the peace of the church and avoid schism, they, with great prudence and propriety, took their stand upon Christ's good confession concerning his kingdom, and urged the unscrip tural nature of the alliance which had recently taken place between church and state !” Quid est imperatori cum ecclesia ?” said they: in plain English, “ What has the emperor to do with the church?” And a more important and pertinent question could not have been propounded. Happy would it have been,
EXCELLENT PRINCIPLES OF THE DONATISTS:
for both the church and the world, had all Christians adopted and acted upon it; in that case we had never heard of Antichrist -the Man of Sin—the son of perdition--that wicked one that exalteth himself against all that is called God, or is worshipped ! We had never heard of Babylon the Great, the Mother of harlots, and abominations of the earth! Our hearts had not been sickened with a detail of the atrocities of the church of Rome in de luging the earth with the blood of the Waldenses and Albigenses, from the 12th to the 17th century! Alas, for Constantine the Great! he was little aware of what he was doing when, to gratify the clergy of his day, he formed that unnatural alliance. Could he have foreseen the racks, the fires, the massacres, the butcheries, that were to follow his measures of complaisance to the clergy, he would have shuddered at his own conduct.
Another maxim of the Donatists was, as we learn from Optatus,—“ Quid Christianis cum regibus, aut quid episcopis cum palatio ?” “ What have Christians to do with kings, or what have bishops to do at court ?”
Now the answer to these questions is perfectly easy on the principles of the New Testament, and the doctrine of our Lord concerning his kingdom in particular. For instance, you may recollect that, in the days of his public ministry, he was accosted by certain hypocrites who desired to know from him whether it was lawful to give tribute to Cæsar or not-meaning, doubtless, did the divine law permit them so to do or not? “Shall we give or shall we not give ?" said they. But “ Jesus, perceived their wickedness and said,“ Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites ? Show me the tribute money;" and they brought to him a penny bearing the emperor's inscription; when Jesus pointing them to it, said, “ Render, therefore, unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Matt. xxii. 15—21. But what is the instruction that we derive from this piece of sacred history? Is it not this ?--that in all the civil, and secular, and political transactions of life, Christ would have his disciples to yield a ready and cheerful obedience to the civil magistrate; but that, in the affairs of religion, they must allow no human authority to dictate to them, their consciences must be in subjection to the authority of God, speaking to them in his word, and to that alone? When the question is put_“What have
emperor's to do with the church?” We answer, that, as empeperors, they have nothing to do with it—not a particle more than the beggar on the dunghill. If an emperor, or king, believe the gospel, and apply to the church for communion in divine ordinances, he may be received on a confession of his faith, and on being baptized, in obedience to the command of Christ : but in that case he takes his standing in the church or kingdom of heaven, on the very same footing as the humblest believer-his elevated 'station in life avails him nothing here. In a Christian church all those distinctions which prevail in the kingdoms of this world, and which are founded on birth, property, education, or other adventitious circumstances, avail nothing—“Jew and Gentile, barbarian, Scythian, bond, and free,” here meet upon one common level.
THE ÆRIANS. While the subject of dissent and a contention for primitive Christianity is the topic of the Lecture, I must not omit to mention a third class of Reformers which rose up towards the close of the fourth century, and which is well entitled to notice. I will first lay before you Dr. Mosheim's account of this matter, and then offer a few strictures and observations upon it. Thus he writes :
“ About this time” (the latter part of the fourth century)Ærius, a presbyter and Semi-Arian, erected a new sect, and excited divisions throughout Armenia, Pontus, and Cappadocia, by propagating opinions different from those that were commonly received. One of his principal tenets was, that-bishops were not distinguished from presbyters by any divine right; but that, according to the institution of the New Testament, their offices and authority were absolutely the same. How far Ærius pursued this opinion, through its natural consequences, is not certainly known ; but we know with the utmost certainty, that it was highly agreeable to many good Christians, who were no longer able to bear the tyranny and arrogance of the bishops of this century. · “ There were other things in which Ærius differed from the common notions of the time: he condemned prayers for the dead-stated fasts—the celebration of Easter, and other rites of
MOSHEIM'S ACCOUNT OF ÆRIUS.'
that nature, in which the multitude erroneously imagine that the life and soul of religion consists. His great purpose seems to have been that of reducing Christianity to its primitive simplicity,—a purpose indeed laudable and noble when considered in itself, though the principles from which it springs, and the means by which it is executed, are generally, in many respects, worthy of censure, and may have been so in the case of this reformer."*
You have, in this extract, one specimen of the things for which I blamed this learned writer in my first Lecture. The tyranny and arrogance of the bishops of the Catholic church, he assures us, had, at this time, become insupportable. The friends of truth examined the New Testament in order to ascertain upon what ground these claims were founded, and the result was a conviction that the scriptures afforded not the slightest pretext for them. They consequently made a noble stand against them. Numerous other corruptions had crept into the church, and against these also they raised their voice. They appealed to the law and to the testimony, the doctrine of Christ and his apostles, and “ were for reducing the profession of Christianity to its primitive simplicity," an object which has extorted from Mosheim a tribute of applause," the purpose was, indeed, laudable. and noble in itself.” Well, surely, if so, it is natural to expect that the conduct of these reformers would receive his unqualified approbation. That, however, is not the case; “ the principles from which an opposition to an intolerable grievance, and the increase of corrupt practices springs, and the means by which it is executed,” he tells us, “ are generally, in many respects, worthy of censure, and may have been so in this reformer.”, What, then, is the inference that Dr. Mosheim would have his readers to deduce from the things he has laid before them ?Why, that we are justified in suspecting the motives of every reformer, whether in church or state; and that, if men are wise, they will swim with the stream, countenance, or at least connive at, every species of corruption, and never raise their voice against them, lest they subject themselves to the imputation of base motives ! Now this is monstrous, and had Wycliffe, and Huss, and Jerome of Prague, had Luther, Calvin, Zuinglius, and the
* Mosheim's Eccles. Hist. vol. i. p. 387, &c.