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his absolution, by which he was restored to the favor of God and to the communion of the church. 1
The wide-spread immoralities of the times, indicating a very corrupt state of society, rendered severe discipline necessary; but unreasonable severity defeats its object, and conduces to mitigation or evasion; and needless scrupulosity in small matters may justly expose to the charge of affectation or vain-glory. Some of the tracts written on this subject by Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria, though valuable in an antiquarian point of view, are far from creditable to the religious discernment of their writers. It may be added, that a practice had begun to prevail which was afterwards productive of many inconveniences and eviis. Persons who had exposed themselves to church censures by their improper conduct, prevailed on Christians who were in prison on account of the faith, and in danger of martyrdom, to intercede for them; and as it was held indecorous to refuse such requests, the exercise of salutary discipline was in many cases prevented.
The Christian writers of this century, expatiated at great length on the so-called heresies of the times. The names of heretics are carefully registered, and their opinions minutely detailed. A superficial observer would be apt to conclude that the church was rather a nest of hornets than a dove-cote. But it is unfair to charge upon Christianity the vagaries of such men as Valentinus, Basilides, and others, nor would it serve any good purpoese to enumerate in this paper their manifold follies, which, after all, had little or no connection with Christian truth. The Gnostics were divided into numerous sects, differing from one another in regard to trivialities and unintelligibles, and wasting upon them the time and energy which might have been employed in profitable study and in the propagation of the gospel. The Montanists diverged in another direction. Montanus, their founder, taught that Christianity had not yet attained its completeness, and that in order to it the Comforter promised by Christ, had now appeared in him, to give final instruction to the church, and to raise it to higher degrees of holiness. Maximilla and Priscilla, two women, joined him, pretending like himself to the gift of prophecy. The Montanists did not materially interfere with Christian doctrine, except as above specified, but professed to be Reformers. They held the necessity of frequent and strict fasts, prohibited female ornaments, forbade second marriages, proscribed learning, and foretold the approaching end of the world, and the millennial reign.
1 “The Ecclesiastical History of the Second and Third Centuries, illustrated from the Writings of Tertullian." Second eidtion, p. 252.
Tertullian became a Montanist about the year 199. That circumstance considerably affected the character and style of his later publications, imparting to them much bitterness of spirit.
The speculations of the Gnostics, in reference to the nature of God, and the successive gradations of being down to man, naturally issued in very unscriptural views of the Saviour. Some denied the reality of his incarnation, and maintained that he was human in appearance and form only. Some regarded him as one of the superior spirits. Others, under the teaching of Theodotus of Rome, held that he was merely a man, like other men, although blessed with high endowments and prophetic gifts. Praxeas propounded the notion that the Father united with himself the man Jesus, and with him suffered and died; hence he, and those who adopted his opinions, were called Patripassians, and, from their denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, Monarchians. The Arianism of the fourth century was the fruit of these speculations.
Many believers were seduced by the plausibilities of the errorists, and the Christian profession was tinged with motley colors. In endeavoring to check the advance of the novelties, Irenæus and Tertullian employed an argument which appeared to them irrefragable. They referred inquirers to churches which were founded by apostles, such as Philippi, Corinth and others, and wished them to believe that the doctines then held by those churches, and the services then practised, had been received from the apostles, and handed down, unaltered, in uninterrupted succession. Is it not surprising that the fallacy of this reasoning was not discerned ? The sact that such and such churches were founded by apostles could be no guarantee for continued steadfastness. It was nothing but a fact. The orthodoxy of those churches would have to be proved by an appeal to the Scriptures. Paul established the churches of Galatia; but ere many years had elapsed they were “ removed from the grace of Christ to another gospel.” (Gal. i. 6). The apostolicity of their origin was clear enough. The disgrace of their departure from the faith is equally clear.
The school of Alexandria exercised a powerful influence on the Christianity of the age. The exact time of its foundation is not known. Established at first for the benefit of catechumens, as candidates for baptism were called, and placed under the care of a teacher who, from his office, was styled a catechist, it soon became an institution of great importance. Among the catechumens were educated young men, who had already studied philosophy, and
1 Iren. Advors. Hæres, iii. c. 3. Tertull. de Præscript. Hæret. c. 36.
whose inquiries into Christianity were likely to be biassed by their philosophical views and impressions. Perhaps many of them were rather students, engaged in a critical examination of various systems, than sinners seeking salvation. They were desirous of knowing wherein the Christian philosophy differed from others, and whether it was a branch of knowledge that might be added to their previous stock, or amalgamated with it. Such pupils required a well qualified and judicious instructor. The names of the able men who presided over the institution in the early years of its history, have not been recorded. Pantanus, the first of whom we have any account, entered on his office about the year 181. Under him the character of the seminary was in some respects changed, as he admitted other young men besides catechumens, both as general students and as candidates for the ministry, and so the catechetical school gradually grew into a philosophical and theological institution. It will be borne in mind that the “philosophy" here alluded to was not confined to in inquiries into natural and physical laws, as the word is now commonly understood. It comprehended the study of all being, all wisdom and all duty, including researches into the Divine characters, attributes, and government. Theology and ethics, as far as they can be derived from uninspired sources, were comprised in it.
Pantænus favoured the stoic philosophy. Clement, who succeeded him in the year 191, when Pantænus went on a mission to India, professed eclecticism. “When I speak of philosophy,” he said, “I do not mean the stoic, or the Platonic, or the epicurean, or the Aristotelian, but whatever has been well said by each of those sects, which teach righteousness along with a science pervaded by piety, this eclectic whole I call philosophy.”! This was so far good, but unfortunately he assigned to philosophy a position, and ascribed to it an authority to which it had no right. Having embraced the notion that as the law was an introduction and preparation for the gospel to the Jews, so was philosophy to the Gentiles, he contemplated Christianity from that standpoint. The correctness of his philosophical opinions was taken for granted, and hence it became necessary that the interpretation of the Christian Scriptures should be in harmony with them, or, in other words, that the Scriptures should be so expounded as not to appear to contradict or differ from philosophy. The effects of the adoption of this method might have been safely and accurately predicted. Christianity was studied as a science, instead of being consulted as a revelation. Regarded as
1 Strom, i. c. 7.
supplementary to philosophy, or as its higher development, the doctrines of the gospel, so contemplated, received a human coloring. The inquirer's mind was pre-occupied on certain points, and his opinions already formed. If, on those points, any statement or decision given in the Bible, did not agree with the pre-conceived opinion, that opinion being looked upon as fixed and certain, the Scripture truth had to be interpreted or moulded accordingly; and that was often done by recurring to what was called the double sense. “ The one obvious and literal, the other hidden and mysterious." This was the allegorising system of interpretation which, adopted and extended by Clement, and carried still further by Origen in the next century, inflicted great injury on the church. Thus it came to pass that the theology taught at Alexandria was in many respects a corrupt mixture, and that a mode of religious inquiry was established which was by no means calculated to form humble, spiritual disciples of Christ.
Vain questions (as a lively writer of the last century observes) about matter and spirit, -the whole and the parts,-human souls, demons, and the great first cause,-time, place, circumstances of events,—were all applied by these men to the Christian religion; and the inspired writers were put on the rack, and tortured to give answers and determine points, of which, probably, they had never heard the names, and never entertained a thought. Here youth were bewildered under pretence of being taught; here the most dangerous of all rules of interpreting Scripture was laid down, and the tutors first amazed themselves with it, and then distracted the minds of the pupil.
The Christianity of the second century has now been briefly reviewed. The servants of God protested boldly against idolatry and its accompanying vices. They saw the whole world “lying in wickedness,” (1 John v. 19), and called upon men to forsake sin, and to seek pardon and grace through the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. They taught that the gospel of Christ is "the power of God unto salvation,” (Rom. i. 16), and they exhibited that power in their own holy lives, in their patient sufferings for the truth's sake, in the various outflowings of brotherly love, and in abundant charities, exciting the amazement of the heathen. Their written defences of Christianity were noble productions, and produced powerful effects.
Yet it cannot be denied that in various particulars there had occurred changes which indicated an undue assumption of authority. Christians had ventured to borrow from other systems, and to overlay the simple original by foreign ornament. They had no right
1 Robinson's Ecclesiastical Researches, chap. vi.
to do so.
The divine institution was not committed to them to be improved and perfected, but to be preserved. If it were susceptible of improvement, man would be wiser than God. We reject the conclusion as a profanity, and ask for “the old paths.” The restoration of the Christian church can only be effected by replacing the primitive pattern, and cutting off the superadded incumbrances. Less than this will not suffice. “To the law and to the testimony." (Isa. viii. 20).
Romanists would have us believe in the unchangeableness of their church, and would fain persuade us that the bark of Peter is sailing in the same waters and by the same rules as in the first ages. It is not so. The history of the second century dispels the illusion. The bishop of Rome had indeed begun at that time to lord it over other bishops, but his demands were stoutly resisted. Martys were greatly honored, but there was no saint-worship, nor had professing Christians learned to set up images and kneel before them. There was no restriction on the personal use of the Scriptures, which were held in the highest reverence by all. Worship was not performed in an unknown tongue. Transubstantian, communion in one kind, auricular confession, purgatory, and indulgences had not been invented. Respecting all these, instructive information has been obtained by an examination of the Roman Catacombs, or subterranean burial-places of the Christians, during the first three centuries. The inscriptions on the early tombs express in simple language the faith and hope of the church, but we search among them in vain for the novelties of Romanism. 1
But while we maintain the comparative purity of the church of that time, we are compelled to admit that the germs of subsequent evils already showed themselves. Although there were no prayers to saints, the enthusiasm of orators on occasions of annual visits to the graves of the martyrs, vented itself in expressions which were easily susceptible of wider application. The authority by which water was added to wine in the Lord's Supper, and the sign of the cross, the anointing, and other ceremonies, grafted on baptism, pre
, sumed afterwards on the extension of the latter ordinance to infants, and in the mutilation of the former by taking the cup from the laity. The efficacy ascribed to those ordinances issued in sacramentalism and the imposition of the yoke of the priesthood on the necks of the people. Asceticism opened the path for monks and hermits. The preference shown to single life was the forerunner of the celibacy of the clergy. The incautious language used by some writers, in
i Seo Maitland's Church in the Catacombs.