Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAP. 6.

RESULTS OF THE REVOLUTION.

181

CHAPTER VI.

rors.

Result of the Revolution under Constantine. Rise of Arianism. Council of Nice. Death of Constantine. Succeeding Empe

Julian's attempt to restore Paganism. His defeat in rebuilding the temple at Jerusalem. Persecutions in Persia. Eusebius. Basil. Chrysostom; Jerome. Augustine. Per lagianisın. Civil revolution in Europe. Daniel's vision of the ten horns, Conversion of the barbarons nations. Franks. Irish. Britons. Progress of error and superstition in the 5th and 6th centuries.

The revolution under Constantine was one from which almost every thing which the Christian values, might be hoped ; but, alas! such is the deprayity of human nature, it was one in which almost every thing of evangelical worth was lost. Constantine brought the world into the Church, and the Church was paralyzed. The number of nominal Christians was indeed increased, a thousand fold. A new spring was given to missionary effort; and in this century, a number of barbarous tribes, among the Armenians, the Ethiopians, the Georgians, the Goths, and the Gauls, were partially enlightened by the Gospel of Christ. The work of translating and circulating the Holy Scriptures also received great encouragement; though, for the former, few had learning and industry sufficient. The Latin version of Jerome, though far from being correct, stands preeminent over all others that were made. Schools were established, and libraries were formed for Christian youth ; and the study of philosophy and the liberal arts was encouraged, that Christianity might not suffer by a comparison of her advocates with the erudition and skill of the sages of Paganism. Immense and splendid temples were erected and richly endowed; and a great priesthood was regularly organized and liberally supported. The body existed, but the spirit had fled. Constantine set up an immense national Church; but the humility and faith, and spirituality of the age of Polycarp had passed away.

Constantine did not find it in the Church which he thus raised to worldly glory; and how could he create it Į there by those means which always destroy vital piety ?

Among the more retired, in the humble walks of life, there was, no doubt, much true religion. There must have been much to support the sufferers through the Dioclesian persecution. Many of these sufferers with their children, were humble followers of Christ for many years. Some of the ministers

were worthy of a better age. But the most of those who were exalted to places of power and trust, were engaged in pompous rites and ceremonies, and knew but little of the humiliatiog and sanctifying doctrines of Christianity. Indeed their elevation to wealth and power was followed by an amazing increase of luxury and vice. Bishops contended with bishops about the extent of their jurisdictions; vied with princes in their style of living, and showed that they placed their heaven upon earth. Having such spiritual guides, the mass of the people soon became exceedingly corrupt. Shoals of profligate men, allured by gain or driven by fear, pressed into the Church; discipline ceased, and superstition reigned without control. The Gentile converts to nominal Christianity, brought into the Church a taste for the public processions and prayers, by which they had been accustomed to appease their gods ; hastily transferred the virtues which had been suppossed to belong to their temples and their ablutions to Christian temples and Christian ordinances; and were at once disposed to deify the apostles and early Christians, as they had been accustomed to do the heroes of antiquity. The old Christians found themselves associated with a new world of admirers, who knew nothing about their religion, and who were easily subjected to the most abominable impositions. Prodigies and miracles, therefore, beyond number were multiplied. The bones and relics of dead saints performed wonders. Dust and earth, brought from Palestine, was viewed as a certain and powerful remedy against the violence of wicked spirits. And, before the close of the century, the great business of the lower order of priests was to impose, in ten thousand ways, in the vilest manner, upon the credulity of the ignorant multitude.

The erection of splendid temples, and introduction of a splendid worship, gave rise also to a vast variety of additional rites and ceremonies. These, in general, were copied from the heathen worship, and such was the amalgamation of the two religions, as to differ very little in their external appearance. Gorgeous robes, mitres, tiaras, wax tapers, crosiers, processions, lustrations, images, gold and silver vases are mentioned, as common to both Christian and heathen churches. What deplorable degeneracy from the simple worship of the Apostles !

The great festivals were five in number;-commemorating the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, and the day of Pentecost, but were rather days of public licentiousness than of pious exercises. Fasts were greatly multiplied, under the idea that they repelled evil spirits.

From being the outpourings of a broken heart and a contrite

CHAP. 6.

RISE OF ARIANISM.

183

spirit, the public prayers degenerated into vain bombast; and in consequence of an intimate connexion with the Grecian

schools, the sermons of the divines partook of the nature of an | oration, and were clapped and applauded, as were orators in the forum, by the Christian assemblies.

Two principles were introduced into the Church which helped her on in her downward course, and led brother to imbrue his hands in brother's blood; and this too, thinking that he did God service. The first was, “ That it is an act of virtue to deceive and lie, when by that means, the interests of the Church may be promoted :"—the other, that “ Errors in religion, when maintained and adhered to, after proper admonition, are punishable with civil penalties and corporeal tortures." Strange that men, who professed to serve an holy master, and to be looking toward an holy heaven, should so soon set at defiance the solemn denunciation of Christ, against the fearful, and unbelieving, the abominable, and all liars; and, that, with scorched flesh and broken limbs they should kindle the fires of persecution against their own companions !

In such a degenerate period, it could not be expected that the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel should remain uncorrupt. They had before lost much of their influence over the minds of men; but until this time they had remained entire in most of the churches. A number of violent dissentions had arisen on account of discipline; and sentiments extremely erroneous, had been formed and advocated by a few powerful minds; but hitherto, no large churches had been seen to deny the fundamental doctrines, and to build their hopes of salvation on a different faith from that which had been generally received as the faith of the primitive Christians.

Two parties, the Donatists and the Meletians, were formed in Africa about the commencement of the fourth century, by contentions about power and place, which for a long time were persecuted and oppressed as dangerous schismatics; but it does not appear that they adopted any corrupt sentiments. Among them probably was much true piety.

But there was at this time a great departure from the ancient faith relating to the divinity of the Saviour.

As early as the days of John, there were those who denied the divinity of Christ; and, in every succeeding period, there were ingenious minds, fond of giving some new explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, which should free it from its inherent mystery ; but none had made much impression on the churches.

In the church of Alexandria, was a presbyter named Arius;

a man, venerable in his appearance, severe in his habits, monastic in his dress ; a subtle logician and a commanding orator. This man openly maintained, that the Son was essentially and totally distinct from the Father ; that there was a time when he was not; that he was the first and noblest of all created beings; was a mutable creature, and capable, as men are, both of sin and holiness. He preached continually to a crowded audience, and presented his doctrine to every one with whom he associated in private.

He soon gained many proselytes, both among the common people and men of rank and influence. Alexander, his bishop, assembled two councils, the last contained an hundred ministers, which condemned his opinions and excluded him from the fellowship of the Church.

Spiritual war was now proclaimed, which soon terribly raged throughout the Christian world. Arius retired into Palestine, and opened a correspondence with many eminent men, whom he endeavoured to bring over to his faith. Among his warmest admirers and greatest supporters, was Eusebius of Nicomedia, the metropolis where the Emperor usually resided. Constantine beheld the breach with grief. He wished to have one great, harmonious, splendid, religious empire. He wrote to the two parties and exhorted them to peace. But it was in. vain. He then called an immense council of 318 bishops from all parts of Christendom, to meet at Nice in Bithynia. They were convened in the year 325 and supported solely at his expense. Such a council had never before been witnessed. It was the first general council. The Emperor himself came to it, threw their mutual accusations into the fire and exhorted them to peace.

This being in vain, the doctrine of Arius was canvassed and condemned. He was deposed, excommunicated, and forbidden to enter Alexandria.

Such is the fact which the records of ecclesiastical history presents us—That, in the year 325, a denial of the real divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, was considered, by almost all the Christian Church, a deadly heresy. If Unitarianism was the faith of the Apostles and early Christians, when was their faith supplanted? Why have we no record of the change? Why was not the change, which must have been well known at this period, appealed to by Arius in his defence? Pliny says, in his day, the Christians worshipped Christ as God. Those who did this, were slain for the testimony of Jesus. Those who denied his divinity, were not persecuted by the Pagans.

In this council, a creed was adopted called the Nicene creed. The dispute concerning Easter was finally adjusted. The or

CHAP. 6.

ARIUS DEPOSED.

185

dination of new converts was forbidden; also, the translation of bishops, priests, and deacons, from one city to another. The Meletian controversy, for a time, was settled. The Novatians were invited to return to the bosom of the Church, as they held nothing at variance with the fundamental doctrines. Attempts were made to put upon the clergy the yoke of perpetual celibacy, but did not succeed.

Something of the fear of God, and a spirit of discipline, was, therefore, existing. And how could it be otherwise ? It was a council of martyrs, Many of them had passed through the fires of persecution, and bore on their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus. One appeared debilitated by the application of hot irons to both his hands. Others, appeared, deprived of their right eyes. Others, of a leg.

Arius was deposed, but not silenced. He and his friends made the most vigorous efforts to persuade the Christian world, that they had been unjustly condemned, and to gain a restoration to their former rank and privileges. The sister of the Emperor favoured their cause. In her last moments, she prevailed on Constantine to recall Arius from banishment; to repeal the laws which had been made against him and his party, and even to permit them, in various ways, to oppress the leading members of the Nicene council. This was done in the vear 330. But Athanasius, the successor of Alexander, in the bishopric of Alexandria, refused to receive Arius as a presbyter under him. For his firmness, he was, in turn, deposed and badished into Gaul. The chụrch in Alexandria, however, was true to its principles, and, though Arius had been reinstated with great solemnity, they would have no connexion with him. Constantine then ordered him to Constantinople. He had supposed, that all would be peace, for he had been made to believe, that Arius was unjustly condemned; that there was no essential difference between him and his accusers. required his opinion of the Nicene creed. Arius, without hesitation, subscribed it, and swore to his sincerity in doing it. The Emperor could never conceive of men's subscribing to the same words, who had entirely different views. This was the case in that period. The Church said that Christ was God. The Arians allowed it, but in the same sense, that rulers and angels are styled gods in scripture. Deluded by the apparent frankness of Arius, Constantine ordered Alexander, bishop of Constantinople, to receive him to communion. Alexander could not resist, but gave himself to fasting and prayer. The Arians were flushed with success; but while parading in tri

He now

« PreviousContinue »