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Clemens Romanus, the only apostolical father belonging strictly to the first century, and contemporary with several of the apostles, throughout his epistle treats the church of Corinth as the only court of censure. He addresses his epistle, A. D. 68 or 98, not to the bishop, but to the entire body of believers. This circumstance is worthy of particular notice, inasmuch as the epistle is written relative to a case of discipline, and not to enforce the practical duties of religion. The church at Corinth was recognized as having authority in the case under consideration. The epistle of Polycarp, also, treating on the same general subject, is addressed to the church at Philippi, recognizing in the same manner the right of the church to take cognizance of offences.
Clement, in his epistle, reflects severely upon the Corinthians for their treatment of their religious teachers, some of whom they had rejected from the ministry. To do this without good reason, he assures them "would be no small sin" in them,10 and earnestly exhorts them to exercise a charitable, orderly, and submissive spirit. But he offers no hint, § 42—53, that they had exceeded the limits of their legitimate authority, even in deposing some from the ministry; on the contrary, he recognizes the right of the church to regulate, at their discretion, their own discipline, and the duty of others to acquiesce in it. "Who among you is generous? who is compassionate? who has any charity? Let him say whether this sedition, this contention, and these schisms be on my account. I am ready to depart, to go whithersoever you please, and to do whatsoever ye shall command me, only let the flock of Christ be in peace with the ministers that are set over them." 11.
The above passage is twice quoted by Chancellor King, of the Episcopal church, in proof that the laity were members of the ecclesiastical court for the trial of offences, "and
10 Chauncey's Episcopacy, pp. 77, 78.
11 Ep. ad Cor. c. 44.
judges therein." 12 And Riddle, of the same communion, concurs with him in opinion. "Clement," says this author, "recommends those on whose account the dissensions had arisen, to retire and to submit to the will of the majority." These censures to which Clement urges them to submit, he characterizes as "the commands of the multitude, τὰ προστάσσομενα ὑπὸ του πλήθους.”
The epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, written, according to bishop Wake, A. D. 116 or 117, affords us, indirectly, a similar example of the deportment of the church towards a fallen brother. This venerable father was greatly afflicted at the defection of Valens, a presbyter of that church, who had fallen into some scandalous offence. But he entreats the charitable consideration of the church towards the offender, urging them to exercise moderation towards him; and on similar occasions to seek to reclaim the erring, and to call them back, in the spirit of kindness and Christian charity.14 The address and exhortation, throughout, proceed on the supposition, that the duty of mutual watchfulness belongs to the brethren of the church collectively. It is not, however, a clear case of church discipline, though this may be implied.
Next in succession is Tertullian. He has given, in his Apology for the Christians, an account of the constitution of their society or church, together with the nature and circumstances of its religious worship and discipline. The passage in question is, in several respects, one of the most important extant, in the writings of the early fathers. Let us, however, confine our attention at present to that part of it which relates to their mode of administering ecclesiastical
12 Primitive Church, B. I, c. 11, § 6, 7, § 2.
13 Christ. Antiq., p. 9. Εἰ δέ ἐμὲ στάσις καὶ ἔρις καὶ σχίσματα ἐκχωρῶ, ἄπειμι, οὗ ἐαν βούλησθε, καὶ ποιῶ τὰ προστασσόμενα ὑπὸ του πλήθους.—Ep. ad Cor., c. 54.
14 Comp. Ep., c. 11.
censure. This Apology was written, probably, about A. D. 198 or 199, or, at the latest, in 205. "We, Christians," says Tertullian, "are one body by our agreement in religion, and our unity of discipline, and bonds of hope, spei foedere, being animated with one and the same hope." He then proceeds to describe their public worship as consisting in prayer and the reading of the Scriptures, and then adds, "Surely from the sacred oracles we strengthen our faith, we encourage our hope, we establish our trust [in God], and, by the divine precepts, press the duties of religion. Here, also, we exhort and reprove, and pass the divine censure,—[the sentence of excommunication]. For, the judgment is given with great solemnity, and as in the presence of God. And it is regarded as the most impressive emblem of the final judgment, when one has so sinned as to be banished from the prayers, the assemblies, and the holy communion of the church." 15
We are a society, corpus sumus; we are an associated body, in which seems, of necessity, to be implied the idea of a voluntary, deliberative and popular assembly ;—and the tenor of the entire passage, viewed in its connection, forcibly impresses us with the conviction, that the "divine was inflicted by the united decision of that body. Certain approved elders, probati quique seniores, presided; but nothing is said to indicate even that they pronounced the sentence, as the officers of the church. How extraordinary the omission, then, if these elders had already, within the space of one hundred and fifty years, usurped
15 Corpus sumus de conscientia religionis et disciplinae unitate et spei foedere...... Certe fidem, sanctis vocibus pascimus, spem erigimus, fiduciam figimus, disciplinam praeceptorum nihilominus inculcationibus, densamus; ibidem etiam exhortationes, castigationes, et ce sura divina. Nam et judicatur magno cum pondere, ut apud certos de Dei conspectu ; summumque futuri judicii praejudicium est, se quis ita deliquerit ut, a communicatione orationis et conventus et omnis sancti commercii relegetur.---Apol. 39. Comp. § 62, also J. H. Böhmer, Diss. 3, p. 151.
the prerogatives, and assumed the rights, which, by divine authority, was originally accorded to the church,-of regulating her own discipline by her public deliberative assembly? Chancellor King,16 and even the "great Du Pin,” though himself a Roman Catholic, both cite the above. passage, as evidence that the discipline of the church continued to be administered, as from the beginning it had been, by public vote of the church; the clergy being understood to have had a joint action and influence in these deliberations.
On another occasion, Tertullian remarks, that the crimes of idolatry and of murder are of such enormity, that the charity of the churches is not extended to such as had been guilty of these offences.18
We come next to Cyprian, who was contemporary with Tertullian, and died about forty years later. In considering the authority of Cyprian, let the reader also bear in mind the following remarks of Riddle relative to this celebrated father. "In these writings of Cyprian, as well as in all his works, we are especially delighted with the sincere and primitive piety of the author; while the chief subject of our regret and disapprobation are his mistaken views concerning the constitution of the church, and, especially, his assertion of undue power and prerogative on behalf of Christian ministers;-of such influence and authority as the apostles never sanctioned, and such as no pastors who have thoroughly imbibed the apostolic spirit would wish to exercise or to possess.' "19 But notwithstanding this "undue power and prerogative" which Cyprian ascribes to Christian ministers, he uniformly recognizes, and most fully asserts, the right of the church to direct the discipline of its members. About the year 250, the emperor Decius
16 Prim. Christ., P. I, c. VII, § 4.
17 Du Pin's Antiqua Disciplina, Diss. 3, c. 1.
18 Neque idololatriae, neque sanguini pax ab ecclesiis redditur.-De Pudicit, c. 12. 19 Christ. Antiq., p. 99.
issued an edict commanding the Christians to sacrifice to the gods. To escape the requisitions and penalties of this edict, Cyprian, then bishop of Carthage, was compelled to fly for his life, and continued in exile about sixteen months. But many of his church, under the relentless persecution that ensued, yielded an apparent compliance to the emperor's impious command. Others, without compliance, had the address to obtain a certain certificate from the prosecuting officer which freed them from further molestation. All such persons, however, were denominated the lapsed, lapsi, and were excommunicated as apostates. The system of canonical penance, as it was called, at this time was so far established, that this class of offenders were required to fulfil the forms of a prescribed and prolonged penance before they could be restored to the communion of the church. Many of the lapsed, however, touched with a sense of their guilt, plead for an abatement of the rigor of these austerities, and an earlier and easier return to the communion of the church. To this course a party in the church were, for various reasons, strongly inclined; and some were actually restored in the absence of the bishop. This irregularity was often and severely censured by Cyprian, who, in his epistles and writings relative to the case of the lapsed, often recognizes the right of the people to be a party in the deliberations and decisions held, and to be held, respecting them. The clergy who had favored this abuse, he says, "shall give an account of what they have done, to himself, to the confessors,2 20 and to the whole church." 21
20 "It was the privilege of the confessors, that is, of persons who had suffered torture, or received sentence of death, to give to any of the lapsed a written paper, termed a letter of peace; and the bearer was entitled to a remission of some part of the ecclesiastical discipline."-Burton's History of the Church, Chap. 15.
21 Acturi et apud nos, et apud confessores ipsos, et apud plebem universam, causam suam cum, Domino permittente, in sinum matris ecclesiae · recolligi coeperimus.-Ep. 10, al. 9.