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ions of the fathers, and the decrees of the pope to an equal authority, and icensed the violation of all the laws of God and man by the authorization of indulgences. “Moreover the holy synod in order to restrain presumptuous dispositions, decrees that no one relying on his own wisdom, shall presume in matters of faith and customs that pertain to the support of Christian doctrine, to distort the sacred Scriptures to his own opinion, or interpret them contrary to that sense which the holy mother church has held and holds, whose it is to judge in respect to the true import and exposition of the sacred word, or contrary to the unanimous consent of the fathers, even although interpretations of that kind should never be made public. Let whoever does otherwise be reported by the usual officers and punished according to the laws."! “Since the power of conferring indulgences has been conceded by Christ to the church, and she has exercised it from the earliest ages, the holy synod teaches and enjoins that the use of them, highly salutary to the Christian people, and sanctioned by the holy councils, is to be continued in the church, and pronounces an anathema on those who either assert that they are useless, or deny that the church has power to confer them." All the other false doctrines and superstitious and impious rites of the ancient and modern Asiatic Greek and Latin churches, have in like manner been legalized and enforced by canons of synods or decrees of patriarchs and popes, and a boundless demonstration furnished that the right of legislation which they have thus assumed, involves in practice as well as principle, an arrogation of absolute authority over the laws and prerogatives of God.
In the exercise of the stupendous powers thus usurped, they took peace from the earth by animosities, rivalries, contests, and endeavors to conquer and destroy each other officially; by tyranny over their inferiors, the persecution of those who refused submission to their dictation, encroachment on the civil powers, and quarrels with monarchs and princes, analogous to the revolts, strifes, battles and slaughters in the empire, of which in the second and third century political and military usurpers were the authors.
The spirit with which they ruled their dioceses within a short period of their institution of the office, is indicated by Cyprian in his letter to Cornelius, in which he represents all the heresies and schisms that had arisen, as having sprung from a refusal to
Concil. Trident. Sess. iv. ? An indulgence is a release from obligation to law, and is either a license to sin with impunity, or an exemption from liability for sins already committed.
• Concil. Trident, de Indul. Sess. xxv.
acknowledge the bishop alone as a priest and judge in the church in the place of Christ, which, however extravagant, reveals the feeling which he exhibits in many of his letters, and which became common to his order, that every disobedience to the will of the bishop and every exercise of the sacred office without his permission, was a violation of his rights, rebellion against God, and a just ground of the deprivation of office and excommunication with which they then began to visit those who dissented from their doctrines, or refused subjection to their authority.' That love of power, pride, discord, strife, and tyranny, soon became their characteristics, is shown by Eusebius, who represents their ambition, abuse of their authority by the introduction of unworthy persons into the sacred office, and contentiousness in the period immediately preceding the persecution by Diocletian, as too discreditable to the church to be recorded. Sozomen exhibits them as accustomed immediately on being freed from persecution by the civil powers, to engage in disputes and contentions with one another.3 Alexander of Alexandria, represents ambition and avarice as perpetually exciting bad men to intrigue for the great churches." Chrysostom presents a frightful picture of the influence of the office from the passions to which it gives birth. He exhibits the mind of the priest as ruffled by waves more violent than those which tempestuous winds excite on the sea; that the first dangers which he is called to encounter are those of vain-glory, more fatal than the rock of the syrens ; that to be installed in the office is like being exposed to perpetual laceration by those monsters, and that the ambition, anger, strife, envy, jealousy, and detraction that attend it, are so many furies that rend and devour the soul.5
That their ambition soon led to collision and excited distractions in the church, is indicated by the canons of councils and forged documents which were employed to restrain their usurpation of each other's prerogatives, and encroachment on one another's jurisdiction. “Let not a bishop presume to make an Neque enim
aliunde hæreses obortæ sunt, aut nata sunt schismata, quam inde, quod sacerdoti Dei non obtemperatur, nec unus in ecclesia ad tempus sacerdos et ad tempus judex vice Christi cogitatur: cui si secundum magisteria divina obtemperaret fraternitas universa, memo adversum sacerdotum collegium quidquam moveret, nemo post divinum judicium, post populi suffragium, post coepiscoporum consensum, judicem se, jam non episcopi, sed Dei faceret, nemo discidio unitatis Christi ecclesiam scinderet.- Epist. 59. See also Epist. 66.
? Euseb. Eccl. Hist. lib. viii. c. 1, 2. De Martyribus, c. 12.
ordination in cities or rural places not subject to him. Should he be convicted of having done it without the approbation of those who hold those cities or villages, let him be deposed, and those also whom he has ordained."
“Let no bishop presume to pass from one province into another and ordain any to the sacred office, unless by a written invitation from the metropolitan and subordinate bishops of the province which he enters. Should he without a call proceed to ordain persons and administer ecclesiastical affairs that do not belong to him, his acts are without authority, and as a fit punishment for his disorderly and presumptuous attempt, he is deposed by this holy synod.” A large part of the acts of the first councils of which we have any memorials, and the forged canons, constitutions, and decretals ascribed to the apostles, and the bishops of Rome of the second, third, and fourth centuries, are in like manner designed to repress their lawless ambition of power and disposition to encroach on each other's prerogatives. The usurping spirit which thus characterized the order, accordingly either gave birth to most of the dissensions, disgraceful strifes, and bloody quarrels which agitated and wasted the church through a long succession of ages, or raised the differences in faith and practice that sprung from other causes into a factitious importance, and made them the occasions of violent discord, exacerbated animosities, and the deposition and ejection of one another from the churches. It was thus the imperious and domineering spirit of Victor, bishop of Rome, that near the close of the second century rendered the differences of the east and west in respect to the day on which Easter was to be observed, the occasion of the passionate contests, enmities, and excommunications of each other with which the church was distracted and disgraced on that subject. His attempt to compel the churches of the east to conform to the west, was pronounced by the great body of the bishops of the age an unauthorized arrogation of power; and his debarring them, on their refusing obedience to his mandate, from communion with those of his patriarchate, rebuked as a wanton violation of the peace of the church.3
The violent contests with which the churches, first of Africa, and at length of Europe and Asia, were for generations agitated in respect to the rebaptism of those who were received from dissenting sects, were occasioned in a chief degree by the claims of the bishops to legislative power over the church, and endeavor to enforce their will as of divine authority. Those of each party denounced and excommunicated their opponents as heretics, and endeavored to induce the church at large to unite in debarring them from fellowship. How violent the passions and language of Cyprian sometimes were, though more moderate than many, may be seen from passages like the following. He says of those who rejected the doctrine he maintained respecting the power of bishops, the unity of the church, and baptism : “Is God honored by the friend of heretics and enemy of Christians, who thinks the priests of God who keep the truth of Christ and the unity of the church, are to be debarred from communion ? If that is honoring him, if his fear and discipline are in that manner maintained by his worshippers and priests, let us throw down our arms, let us yield our hands to be bound, let us deliver to the devil the institution of the gospel, the appointment of Christ, the majesty of God; let the oaths of fidelity in the sacred warfare be abrogated, let the standards of the heavenly camp be surrendered, let the church succumb and yield to heretics, light to darkness, truth to perfidy, hope to despair, immortality to death, Christ to anti-christ.”l
* Canon Apost. can. xxxiv. Labbei, tom. i. P.
35. Concil. Antioch i. can. xiii. Labbei, tom. ii. p. 1314. * Euseb. Eccl. Hist. lib. v. c. 24.
It was ambition of the episcopal chair at Rome, that gave birth about the middle of the third century to the contest between Novatian and Cornelius, which led to the ordination of Novatian as an anti-pope, the formation of the party which bore his name, and thence to strifes and violences which tore and disgraced the churches of Italy, Africa, and Asia, in a measure, for many centuries.?
The adherents of Novatian soon becoming numerous, and organized under their own bishops, the contest between them and their antagonists degenerated in a large degree into a mere struggle for power, in the progress of which they not only excommunicated each other as heretics, but excited the civil magistrates to enforce their anathemas by proscription, confiscation, and banishment.3
The still more unhappy schism of the Donatists was originated likewise by the bishops, and owed to their ambition, arrogance, and obstinacy the immeasurable evils which it drew in its train. The bishop of Carthage dying in the year 311, at the instigation
Epist. 74, c. 8. · Euseb. Eccl. Hist. lib. vi. c. 43. Socratis E. H. lib. i. c. 38, lib. iv. c. 9, lib. vii. c. 9, 11. Sozomeni E.H. lib. ii. c. 32. Cypriani Epist. 50, 60.
* At the distance of eighty years from the schism, Constantine granted them toleration and legalized their possession of the churches, cemeteries and other property which they had acquired during their separation. Codicis Theodos. lib. xvi. Tit. v. I. 2.
of two presbyters who aspired to the office, an election and institution of a successor was held by the bishops of the vicinity, before the arrival of those summoned from Numidia, who had been accustomed to take part in the election and ordination. On their arrival, who were seventy in number, they, and especially their primate, complained of the violation of their rights in the induction of a bishop without their concurrence, and encouraged by a faction organized by the disappointed candidates and other enemies of Cæcilianus the new bishop, summoned him before them, and on his disregarding their call, deposed him and elected and ordained another in his place. Hinc schismatis ac dissensionis initium ; sic altare contra altare erectum est : such was the origin of the schism. They then addressed letters to all the churches of Africa, in which to justify themselves, they accused the bishop who ordained Cæcilianus of having surrendered the Scriptures to the heathen magistrates,—an offence of which their primate and several of the others had been guilty,—and become incapable thereby of inducting into the sacred office, pronounced his ordination invalid, and enjoined them to exclude him from their communion, and acknowledge Majorinus, whom they had ordained his rival, as the only legitimate bishop.
Those representations from so numerous a council commanding the belief of great numbers, the whole African church became divided into two parties, and a violent contest arose between the antagonist primates to secure the acquiescence of their subordinates, maintain their authority, and gain possession of the church edifices and property, in which all the arts of fraud, detraction, and demagoguism were employed, especially by the Donatist faction, on a boundless scale, and violences, robberies, assassinations, and slaughters perpetrated, that are scarcely equalled in the history of any other people. Several councils were called by Constantine for the purpose of hearing their accusations of Cæcilianus, and remedying their difficulties, and several synods held by the Catholic bishops of Africa to effect a reconciliation, but without success. The bishops on either side, but especially the Donatists, exacerbated by intolerance, inflamed with ambition, and embittered by mutual injuries, strove rather to perpetuate than terminate the strife. The Donatist bishops not unfrequently headed the bloody bands of the Circumcellions in the robbery and abuse of the helpless, the destruction of churches, the promiscuous slaughter of families and communities, and the conflagration of villages and cities;' and continued
* S. Optati, De Schis. Donat. lib. i. Augustini Oper. tom. ix. p. 594.