« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
that it is acknowledged by modern writers of all sorts, such as are most learned and best acquainted with antiquity." 53
If then the sanction of the church was sought in the minutest matters, much more must not an act of such solemnity, as that of expelling the guilty, and of restoring the penitent, have been submitted to their direction? Is a Christian salutation to a sister church communicated by public authority, commending, it may be, a faithful brother to their communion, and have they no voice in rejecting a fallen and reprobate member from their communion? Is the sanction of that body requisite before one from another church can be received to their communion, and have they no voice in restoring the penitent who returns confessing his sins and entreating the enjoyment of the same. privileges?
All this fully accords with the usage of the apostolical churches, and is evidently a continuation of the same policy. Whether deacons are to be appointed, or an apostle or presbyters chosen, it is done by vote of the church. A case for discipline occurs; it is submitted to the church. A dissension arises, Acts 15; this also is referred to the church. The decision is made up as seemeth good to the whole church. The result is communicated by the apostles, the elders, and the brethren jointly. The brethren of the church have a part in all ecclesiastical concerns; nothing is transacted without their approbation and consent. sovereign power is vested in the people. They are constituted by the apostles themselves the guardians of the church, holding in their hands the keys of the kingdom, to open and to shut, to bind and to loose at their discretion. So the apostles and primitive fathers evidently understood
53 Clarkson's Primitive Episcopacy, pp. 171, 172. The authority of the Magdeburg Centuriators is also to the same effect. Comp. Chap. 7, Cent. II, and III.
and administered the government of the church. Neither Peter, nor any apostle, nor bishop, nor presbyter, but each and every disciple of Christ, is the rock on which he would build his church. Such is Origen's interpretation of the passage in Matt. 16: 18. "Every disciple of Christ is that rock, and upon all such the whole doctrine of the church, and of its corresponding polity is built. If you suppose it to be built upon Peter alone, what.say you of John, that son of thunder; and of each of the apostles? Will you presume to say, that the gates of hell will prevail against the other apostles, and against all the saints, but not against Peter? Rather is not this, and that other declaration, 'On this rock I will build my church,' applicable to each and every one alike ?” 54
Such are the arguments which we offer in defence of the proposition, that any body of believers, associated together in the enjoyment of religious rights and privileges, was originally an ecclesiastical court, for the trial of offences.55 This is asserted by the great Du Pin, of the Roman Catholic church. It is admitted by respectable authorities, King, Cave, Riddle, &c., of the Episcopal church. It is generally acknowledged by Protestants of other religious denominations. It is implied or asserted in various passages from the early fathers. They speak of it, not as a controverted point, but as an admitted principle. The sanction of the primitive church was sought in all the less important concerns of the church. They controlled also, and frequently exercised, the highest acts of ecclesiastical censure, in deposing their own pastors and bishops who proved themselves unworthy of their sacred office. And, finally, the church was from the beginning authorized and
54 Comment. in Matt., Tom. 3, p. 524.
55 It was a doctrine of Tertullian, that where three are assembled together in the name of Christ, there they constitute a church, though only belonging to the laity. Three were sufficient for this purpose. Ubi tres, ecclesia est, licet laici.—Exhort. ad Castitat., c. 7, 522. De Fuga, c. 14.
instructed by the apostle Paul, to administer discipline to an offending member. With the approbation of the great apostle, they pronounced upon the transgressor the sentence of excommunication, and again, on receiving satisfactory evidence of penitence, restored him to their communion and fellowship.
With the question of expediency, in all this, we have no concern. If any prefer the Episcopal, to a free and popular system of government, they have an undoubted right to resign the exercise of this, and of all their rights, to the control of the diocesan. But when they go on to assert that the exercise of such authority belongs to him by the divine right of Episcopacy, we rest assured that they have begun to teach for doctrine the commandments of men. From the beginning it was not so. Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition."
MODE OF ADMISSION.
This was at first extremely simple; consisting only in the profession of faith in Christ, and baptism. The church, however, at an early period, learned the necessity of exercising greater caution in receiving men into her communion. Taught by their own bitter experience, they began to require, in the candidate for admission to their communion, a competent acquaintance with religious truth, and a trial of his character for a considerable space of time. From undue laxness, they passed into the opposite extreme, of excessive rigor in prescribing rules and qualifications for communion. These austerities gave rise to the order of catechumens towards the close of the second century, and to a long train of formalities preliminary to an union with the church.
In immediate connection with these rites, and as a part of the same discipline, began the system of penance in the treatment of the lapsed-persons who had incurred the
censure of the church. By this system a return to the church was rendered even more difficult than their original entrance to it. This penitentiary system was rapidly developed. In the course of the third century it was brought into full operation, while the people still retained much influence over the penal inflictions of the church upon transgressors.56 But it is not our purpose to treat upon this subject. The system is detailed at length in the author's Antiquities of the Christian Church, Chap. XVII, to which the reader is referred for information in relation to the offences which were the subject of discipline, the penalties inflicted, and the manner of restoring penitents.
The entire regimen however passed, in process of time, from the people into the hands of the clergy, especially of the bishops. It was lost in the general extinction of the rights and privileges of the church, and the overthrow of its primitive apostolical constitution; upon the ruins of which was reared the Episcopal hierarchy, first in the form "ambitious oligarchy," as Riddle very justly denominates it, and then, of a tyrannical despotism.
II. Usurpation of discipline by the priesthood.
In the fourth century, the clergy, by a discipline peculiar to themselves, and applicable only to persons belonging to their order, found means of relieving themselves from the penalties of the protracted penance which was exacted of those who fell under the censure of the church. Suspension and the lesser excommunication or degradation, and the like, were substituted as the penalties of the clergy, instead of the rigorous penance of the laity. And though in some respects it was claimed, that the discipline of the clergy was more severe than that of the laity, the practical effect of this discrimination, which was gradually introduced, was to
56 Planck, Gesellschafts-Verfass., 1, pp. 129-140. Fuch's Bibliotheca, 1, pp. 43, 44, 45-50, 403.
separate the clergy from the laity, and to bring the latter more under the power of the priesthood.57 It was at once the occasion of intolerance in the one hand, and of oppression to the other.
The confederation of the churches in synods and councils had also much influence in producing the same result. In these conventions, laws and regulations were enacted for the government and discipline of the churches of the province. And though the churches, severally, still retained the right of regulating their own polity, as circumstances might require, they seldom claimed the exercise of their prerogatives. The result was, that the law-making power was transferred, in a great degree, from the people to the provincial synods, where again the authority of the people was lost in the overpowering influence of bishops and clergy. These affected at first only to act as the representatives of their respective churches, by authority delegated to them by their constituents.58 But they soon assumed a loftier tone. Claiming for themselves the guidance of the Spirit of God, they professed to speak and act according to the teachings of this divine agent. Their decis
57 Planck, Gesellschafts-Verfass., 1, pp. 342-346. Comp. c. 8, pp. 125-141.
58 Tertullian describes such assemblies as bodies representative of the whole Christian church. Ipsa repraesentatio totius nominis Christiani.— De Jejun, c. 13, p. 552.
In the infancy, indeed, of councils, the bishops did not scruple to acknowledge that they appeared there merely as the ministers or legates of their respective churches, and that they were, in fact, nothing more than representatives acting from instructions; but it was not long before this humble language began, by little and little, to be exchanged for a loftier tone. They at length took upon themselves to assert that they were the legitimate successors of the apostles themselves, and might, consequently, of their own proper authority, dictate laws to the Christian flock. To what extent the inconveniences and evils arising out of these preposterous pretensions reached in after times, is too well known to require any particular notice in this place.-Mosheim, De Rebus Christ., Saec. II, § 23.