Page images




Retrospect of the Donatists- Introduction of the worship

of images-Rise of the Mahometan imposture- Ignorance of the Catholic clergy-Origin of the sect of the Paulicians.

A. D. 606-800.

HAVING hitherto taken no notice in this history of the sect of the Donatists, it seems almost necessary, before we proceed farther with the affairs of the Christian church, to introduce a concise account of them, which I shall here do from the writings of Dr. Lardner, who has collected into a few pages almost every thing that is now interesting, relative to this denomination of Christians.

The Donatists appear to have resembled the followers of Novatian more than any other class of professors in that period of the church, of whom we have any authentic records; but their origin was at least half a century later, and the churches in this connexion appear to have been almost entirely confined to Africa. They agreed with the Novatians in censuring the lax state of discipline in the Catholic church, and though they did not, like the former, refuse to readmit penitents into their communion, nor like them condemn all second marriages, they denied the validity of baptism as administered by the church of Rome, and rebaptized all who left its communion to unite with them. In doctrinal


sentiments they were agreed with both the Catholics and the Novatians; while the regard they paid to the purity of their communion, occasioned their being stigmatized with the title of Puritans, and uniformly treated as schismatics by Optatus and Augustine, the two principal writers against them, in the Catholic church.

The Donatists are said to have derived their distinguishing appellation from Donatus, a native of Numidia, in Africa, who was elected bishop of Carthage about the year 306. He was a man of learning and eloquence, very exemplary in his morals, and, as would appear from several circumstances, studiously set himself to oppose the growing corruptions of the Catholic church. The Donatists were consequently a separate body of Christians for nearly three centuries, and in almost every city in Africa, there was one bishop of this sect and another of the Catholics. The Donatists were very numerous, for we learn that in the year 411, there was a famous conference held at Carthage, between the Cathohics and the Donatists, at which were present 280 Catholic bishops, and of the Donatists 279, which, when we consider the superior strictness of their discipline, must give us a favourable opinion of their numbers, and especially as they were frequently the subjects of severe and sanguinary persecutions from the dominant party. The emperor Constans, who reigned over Africa, actuated by the zeal of his family for the peace of the church, sent two persons of rank, Paul and Macarius, in the year 348, to endearour to conciliate the Donatists, and if possible to restore them to the communion of the Catholic church. But the Donatists were not to be reconciled to such an impure communion! to all their orertures for peace, they replied, Quid est imperatori cum ecclesia! that is, " What has the Emperor to do with the church?" an excellent saying certainly, and happy had it been for

both the church and the world, could all Christians bare adopted and acted upon it. Optatus relates another maxim of theirs, which is worthy of being recorded. It was usual with them to say, “ Quid Christianis cum regibus, aut quid cpiscopis cum palatio ?” What hare Christians to do with kings, or what have bishops to do at court? These hints are strikingly illustrative of the principles and conduct of the Donatists, who had among them men of great learning and talents, and who distinguished themselves greatly by their writings. * But I pass on from this brief mention of them to notice the state of things during this period in the Catbolic church.

The introduction of images into places of Christian worship, and the idolatrous practices to which, in process of time, it gave rise, is an evil that dates its origin soon after the times of Constantine the Great; but, like many other superstitious practices, it made its way by slow and imperceptible degrees. The earlier Christians reprobated every species of image worship in the strong. est language; and some of them employed the force of ridicule to great advantage, in order to expose its absurdity. When the empress Constantia desired Eusebius to send her the image of Jesus Christ, he expostulated with her on the impropriety and absurdity of her requisition in the following striking words—“ What kind of image of Christ does your imperial Majesty wish to have conveyed to you? Is it the image of his real and immutable nature; or is it that which he assumed for our sakes, when he was veiled in the form of a servant? With respect to the former, I presume you are not to learn, that “no man hath known the Son but the Father, neither hath any man known the Father but the Son,

See Lardner's Works, 4to. ed. Vol. II. p. 295–301, and Long's History of the Donatists.

and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him." But you ask for the image of Christ when he appeared in human form, clothed in a body similar to our own. Let me inform you, that the body is now blended with the glory of the Deity, and all that was mortal in it is absorbed in life." *

Paulinus, who died bishop of Nola, in the year 431, caused the walls of a place of worship to be painted with stories taken out of the Old Testament, that the people might thence receive instruction; the consequence of which was, that the written word was neglected for these miserable substitutes. But about the commencement of the seventh century, during the pontificate of the first Gregory, a circumstance turned up which tends to throw additional light upon this subject. Serenus, bishop of Marseilles, in France, observing some of his congregation paying worship to the images that had been placed in the churches of that city, in his zeal, commanded them to be broken and destroyed, which gave so much disgust, that many withdrew from his communion, and complaints against him were made to the bishop of Rome. Gregory wrote to him in consequence of these complaints; and the following is an extract of his letter. “I am lately informed,” says he, “that upon your taking notice that some people worshipped images, you ordered the church pictures to be broken and thrown away. Now though I commend you for your zeal, in preventing the adoration of any thing made with hands, yet, in my opinion, those pictures should not have been broken in pieces. For, the design of pictures in churches, is to instruct the illiterate, that people may read that in the paint, which they have not education enough to do in the book. In my judgment, therefore, brother, you

• White's Bamptou Lectures, Notes, p. 8.

are obliged to find out a temper to let the pictures stand in the church, and likewise to forbid the congregation the worship of them. That by this provision, those who are not bred to letters, may be acquainted with the scripture history; and the people, on the other band, preserved from the criminal excess of worshipping images." Hence it appears, that the worship of images was not a very general thing in Gregory's time, and that he disapproved of the practice.

But this imprudent concession, sanctioned by the authority and influence of Gregory, was productive of the worst consequences that can be imagined, and tended to accelerate the growing superstition with amazing velocity throughout the countries subject to his pontificate. For as the knowledge of God's true character is only to be fully learned from the revelation which is made of it by means of the gospel of Christ, in proportion as the hearts of men become fortified against that which alone dispels the clouds of ignorance and error from the human mind, their propensity to every kind of superstition and idolatry naturally succeeds. This evil, therefore, made a most rapid progress, during the seventh century, and arrived at its zenith in the next. It did not, however, succeed without a struggle; and as the conflict ultimately issued in bringing about two important events, viz. the schism between the Greek and Roman churches, and the establishment of the pope as a temporal potentate, I shall endeavour, as concisely as possible, to sketch the leading particulars of this article of ecclesiastical history.

About the beginning of the eighth century, Leo, the Greek emperor, who reigned at Constantinople, began openly to oppose the worship of images. One Besor, a

• Ep. Greg. I. 1. 7. Epist. 109.

« PreviousContinue »