Page images

CHAP. 5.



to the mines for imprisonment. This very charity of ours has caused us to be noticed by some See,” say they, “ how these Christians love one another."

Tertullian lived at Carthage the latter part of the second, and beginning of the third century. In early life, he was a lawyer; but became a presbyter of the church. He was a man of

profound learning; of warm and vigorous piety; but of a temperament melancholy and austere ; and unhappily adopted, in the close of life, the visions of Montanus. He is the first Latin writer of the church, whose works have been transmitted to us.

About the same period flourished Ireneus, bishop of Lyons. He was a Greek by birth, and a disciple of Polycarp. “I can describe," says he in a letter to a friend, “ the very spot in which Polycarp sat and expounded, and his coming in and going out, and the very manner of his life, and the figure of his body, and the sermons which he preached to the multitude, and how he related to us his converse with John and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord; how he mentioned the particular expressions, and what things he had heard from them of the Lord and of his miracles, and of his doctrine. As Polycarp had received from the eye witnesses of the Word of life, he told us all things agreeably to the Scriptures. These things then, through the mercy of God inviting me, I heard with seriousness: I wrote them, not on paper, but on my heart;

and ever since, through the grace of God, I have a genuine remembrance of them; and I can witness before God, that if that blessed Apostolical Presbyter had heard some of the doctrines which are now maintained, he would have cried out and stopped his ears, and, in the usual manner, have said, “O good God, to what times hast thou reserved me, that I should endure such things ?' And he would immediately have fled from the place in which he heard such doctrines."

Ireneus was ordained successor to Pothinus, A. D. 169, and suffered martyrdom under the persecution of Severus, in the beginning of the third century. He was a man of much meekness, humility, dexterity, and resolution. He had a true missionary spirit. He was a superior Greek scholar, and doubtless might have obtained the luxuries and pleasures of Asia, but these he renounced from the love of souls. He went among the Gauls, learned their barbarous dialect, and conformed to their plain and homely fare. He wrote five books against the heresies of the age, which have been transmitted to us ;precious relics of antiquity.

About the middle of this century, two men shone with distin

But provi

guished brightness ;-Origen, a presbyter and catechist of Alexandria, and Cyprian, bishop of Carthage.

In his youth, Origen saw his father beheaded for professing Christianity, and all the family estate confiscated. dence provided for him. A rich lady in Alexandria became his friend and patron. He applied himself to study, and soon acquired prodigious stores of learning, While pursuing his studies, he distinguished himself by his attachment to the martyrs, and was often in peril of his life. He early became a catechist in the school at Alexandria. Multitudes crowded to hear him, and were impressed by his instructions. His daily habit was one of excessive austerity. Hearing of the power of his doctrine, Mammea, the mother of the emperor, sent for him, to hear him. At the age of fortyfive, he was ordained a priest, and delivered theological lectures in Palestine.

In diligence and learning, he surpassed all men. Of this, the remains of his Hexapla is the memorial. To confront the Jews, who always objected against those passages of scripture which were quoted against them, as not agreeing with the Hebrew version, he undertook to reduce all the Latin and Greek versions then in use, into a body with the Hebrew text, that they might be at once compared. He made six columns. In the first, he placed the Hebrew, as the standard, and in the next the Septaugint, and then the other versions according to their dates ---passage against passage. The whole filled fifty large volumes. It was found fifty years after his death, in an obscure place in the city of Tyre, and deposited in a public library. The most of it was destroyed in the capture of the city, A. D. 653. It was called the Hexapla, a work of six columns.

As a theologian, he was ruined by the Platonic philosophy ; and unhappily introduced a mode of explaining scripture which was of incalculable injury to the church. He suppossed it was not to be explained in a literal, but in an allegorical manner; and that the meaning of the sacred writers was to be sought in a hidden sense, arising from the things themselves. This hidden sense he endeavored to give, and always did it at the expense of truth. This hidden sense he farther divided into the moral and mystical. The latter was of his own creation and very wild. He seems to have been but little acquainted with the plain, evangelical doctrines of the Gospel; to have adopted most fatal errors; to have given no offence in his preaching to men of the world; but, on the contrary, to have been very poplar with philosophers and philologists, and men of wild fancies and visionary notions; and was much honored by courts. He

CHAP. 5.



His con

introduced the practice of selecting a single text as the subject of discourse. He suffered martyrdom ; but no man did more to corrupt the simplicity of the Gospel, and his vast popularity gives us a low idea of the state of religion at that period.

Cyprian was no less great, but a very different character. He came late in life into the vineyard of Christ, without the learning of Origen, but with great abilities and a heart devoted to the service of God. He was slain by the law; made to feel himself poor and wretched in the bonds of Paganism, and to inquire with earnestness for light and salvation. version was sudden, but effectual, and he entered deeply into all the doctrines of grace. For twelve years he was bishop of Carthage,--strong in Episcopacy,-and, on the subject of miracles, upbappily wild. Thinking it his duty to save life, he once went into retirement during the persecution of Decius; but was as active when hidden from the views of his enemies, as when in public. He gave the Scriptures a literal interpretation. He maintained strict discipline in the churches, and, by his 'firmness and perseverance, gained the victory over a most powerful party, who would open wide the door of pardon and reconciliation, to all the lapsed. He effectually resisted many heresies; recovered many apostates; and, through his example and influence, the north of Africa, now covered with gross Mahommedan darkness, was, for many years, as the garden of God. He fell a glorious martyr to the cause of truth, A. D. 257, under the persecution of Valerian He bound the Dapkin over his own eyes. A presbyter and a deacon tied his hands, and the Christians placed before him handkerchiefs and papkins to receive his blood. His head was then severed from his body by a sword. His writings cannot fail to be read with pleasure and profit.

A letter of his claims a place in ecclesiastical history, as throwing some light on a much disputed subject. A council of sixtysix bishops was held in Africa, over which Cyprian presided, for regulating the internal affairs of the churches. A question came before them whether infants should be baptized immediately after their birth, or on the eighth day. In a letter to Fidus, Cyprian says: “ As to the case of infants, of whom you said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day of their birth, and that the ancient law of circumcision should be so far adhered to, that they ought not to be baptized till the eighth day, we were all of a very different opinion. We all judged that the mercy

and grace

of God should be denied to none. Our sentence, therefore, dearest


brother, in the council was, that none, by us, should be prohibited from baptism and the grace God, who is merciful and kind to all.” While it is melancholy to see Christians so early connecting the grace of God with baptism, it is worthy of remark, that in the year 253, it was a question before sixtysix faithful ministers, not whether infants were the proper subjects of baptism, but whether they should be baptized immediately after their birth, or according to the custom of circumcision, on the eighth day.

Two other men, Gregory Thaumaturgus, bishop of Neocesarea, and Firmilian, bishop of Cappadocia, pupils of the famous Origen, were distinguished lights of that period, though they were much injured by the Eclectic philosophy. The miracles ascribed to Gregory by subsequent historians, deserve no credit. Many others have left able controversial writings. Indeed the defenders of Christianity were a mighty host.

In this century a large body of Christians dissented from the main Church, under Novatian, a priest of Rome; and a man of genius, learning, and eloquence, and of unimpeachable moral character; maintaining that the Church of Christ, ought to be pure, and that a member, who had fallen into any offence, should never be readmitted to communion. They obliged such as came to their party to be rebaptized. They were called Novatian, and seemed to have walked closely with God.

In this century also, a number of new sects, the Sabellians, Noetians, and others arose, denying the proper doctrine of the Trinity, and having each some peculiarity relating to the character of Christ.

Paul of Samosata advocated the same cause the modern Socinians. A most odious and violent sect was that of the Manicheans. It can hardly be called Christian.

It was a motly mixture of Christianity with the old Magianism of Persia. Its founder, Manes, pretended that he was the Paraclete or comforter who came to perfect the Gospel. His fundamental principle was, that there were two original independent principles, one immaterial and supremely good; the other material and the source of all evil, but actuated by an intelligence. He rejected as false, the Old Testament and most of the New ;- and imposed great severities upon his followers. The Manicheans were headed by a President, who represented Jesus Christ. They were a monstrous sect, and show to what excesses the religious world were tending.

The heathen philosophers relaxed in this age none of their former zeal against Christianity, and lost none of their bitterness. They were headed by one Porphyry, a Syrian, a writer

CHAP. 5.



of much genius and cunning ;—but more virulent than_formidable. His captious reasonings against the book of Daniel, have been mentioned in a former part of this work. These philosophers wronght much mischief by drawing comparisons between Christ and the sages of antiquity. Thus persuading many that there was no essential difference between philosophy, and Christianity, and that Jesus was only one of the same order with Socrates and Plato, they brought them to feel that they could esteem both, and that it was not inconsistent with Christianity to remain in the religion of their ancestors. But while they and their cause have passed away, and the Lord has had them in derision, their attacks furnish strong evidence of the virtues and graces of the Christians.

The Church of Christ sustained its high and holy character, but a little period after the age of the Apostles. It however remained very reputable, until after the middle of the third century. From that period it was not the spiritual edifice it had been.

Cyprian says, that even before the Decian persecution,"long peace had corrupted the discipline. Each had been bent on improving his patrimony and had forgotten what believers had done under the Apostles, and what they ought always to do.-They were brooding over the arts of amassing wealth. The pastors and deacons each forgot their duty. Works of

mercy were neglected, and discipline was at its lowest ebb. Luxury and effeminacy prevailed. Meretricious arts in dress were cultivated. Fraud and deceit were practised among brethren.Christians could unite themselves in matrimony with unbelievers; could swear not only without reverence, but without veracity. Even bishops deserted their places of residence and their flocks. They travelled through distant provinces in quest of pleasure and gain, gave no assistance to the needy brethren at home, but were insatiable in their thirst for money. They possessed estates by fraud and multiplied usury. What have we pot deserved to suffer for such conduct ?"

One cause of the early declension of knowledge and piety in the Church, doubtless was the neglect of education for the sacred ministry. Theological seminaries were unknown, and what knowledge candidates for the pastoral office gained, was acquired from intercourse with learned bishops and pastors. At Alexandria indeed was a famous school under Pantaenus, Origen, and Cyril, where Theology to some extent, but of a very imperfect character was taught;, but we search the records of the first eight centuries in vain, for

any proper Theological seminaries.


« PreviousContinue »