SECTION 1: CHURCHES IN ITALY
"Now I command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly."--2 Thess. 3:6.
1. We have endeavored to detail, in the previous pages, the features of the Christian churches generally. While the interests of religion retained their scriptural character, all were upon equality, and each society possessed its government within itself; so that no one church originally can claim our attention more than another. The churches, during this early period, were strictly Baptist in their practice and constitution. [See above, oh. 1, s. 3, ~ 7] These early interests stood perfectly free of Rome, and at after periods refused her communion. As churches rose into importance, contentions about offices were frequent, and tumults ensued; but having no secular aid, their rage against each other spent itself in reproaches, and often subsided into apathy. The disappointed, the disaffected, the oppressed, the injured, with the pious, had only to retire from the scene of strife, and they were safe; which evidently they did: and while the express command, 2 Thess. 3:6, regulated dissidents, other causes and motives combined to increase their number, since by 250 they became very numerous, as already stated. These dissidents, in small companies, or in more general associations, unostentatiously worshipped God under their own vine, and were not disturbed, unless the government adopted measures involving all; but as dissidents increased, political considerations regulated the governors.
2. The religion of the New Testament commenced with Dissent. John, Jesus, and His disciples were charged with innovations, both at Jerusalem and in other cities, John 1:22; Luke 23:2,5; Acts 6:28; 17:7; and 18:13. Their want of conformity was a crime in the eyes of the unthinking or secularizing multitude. The genuine spirit of religion has been and will be preserved by those only, who dissent from all establishments devised by human policy. [Church records prove purity to have existed only out of establishments.] Liberty of soul is the breath, the element, the existence of that religion inculcated in the New Testament, of which liberty the Baptists have ever been the most open advocates. [Robins. Reseat. pp. 641 and 551, from Voltaire] "Ye have one master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren." The voice of Moses and the prophets, with Jesus and his apostles, urge on all who fear God, singleness of motive, blamelessness of character; and in their social stations, purity of communion. In obedience to these heavenly injunctions, men and women have "come out" of impure communities, and with such persons, actuated by divine motives, we now hope to associate.
3. When Decius came to the throne in 249, he required by edicts all persons in the empire to conform to Pagan worship. Forty years toleration had greatly increased professors, and they were found in every department of the government. They had been so long unaccustomed to trials, that the lives of many were unsuited to suffering. Deciuss edicts rent asunder the churches, multitudes apostatized, and many were martyred. In two years the trial abated, when many apostates applied for restoration to Christian fellowship, and sanctioned their application by letters, written 251 by some eminent Christians who had been martyrs during the persecution. [From this circumstance arose prayer to saints.]
The flagrancy of some apostates occasioned an opposition to their readmission. In the time of peace, many had entered the church without calculating on trials, and when persecution arose such persons revolted easily to idolatry, and on trials subsiding, gained but too easy admittance again to communion. One NOVATIAN, a presbyter in the church of Rome, strongly opposed the readmission of apostates, but he was not successful. The choice of a pastor in the same church fell upon Cornelius, whose election Novatian opposed, from his readiness to readmit apostates. Novatian consequently separated himself from the church, and from Corneliuss jurisdiction. [Dupins Hist., c. 3, p. 125, &.]
4. Novatian, with every considerate person, was disgusted with the hasty admission of such apostates to communion, and with the conduct of many pastors, who were more concerned about numbers than purity of communion. Novatian was the first to begin a separate interest with success, and which was known for centuries by his name. One Novatus, of Carthage, coming to Rome, united himself with Novatian, and their combined efforts were attended with remarkable success. It is evident that many persons were previously in such a situation as to embrace the earliest opportunity of uniting with churches whose communion was scriptural. Novatian became the first pastor in the new interest, and is accused of the crime of giving birth to an innumerable multitude of congregations of puritans in every part of the Roman empire; and yet all the influence he exercised was, an upright example, and moral suasion: these churches flourished until the fifth century. [Euseb. b. 6, c. 42. Dupins Hist., c. 3, pp. 125 and 146. Mosh., c. 3, 17, 18]
5. There was no difference in point of doctrine between the Novatianists and other Christians. Novatian had seen evils result from readmitting apostates; he consequently refused communion to all those who had fallen after baptism. The terms of admission in those churches were, "If you wish to join any of our churches, you may be admitted among us by baptism; but observe, that if you fall away into idolatry or vice, we shall separate you from our communion, and on no account can you be readmitted among us. We shall never attempt to injure you, in your person, property, or character; we do not presume to fudge the sincerity of your repentance, or your future state; but you can never be readmitted to the fellowship of our churches, without our giving up the securest guardian we have for the purity of our communion." [Robins. Res., p. 127; Joness Lect., 1, 306] "They considered," says Mosheim, "the Christian Church, as a society where virtue and innocence reigned universally, and none of whose members, from their entrance into it, had defiled themselves with any enormous crimes; and, of consequence, they looked upon every society, which readmitted heinous offenders to its communion, as unworthy of the title of a true Christian church. On account of the churchs severity of discipline, the example was followed by many, and churches of this order flourished in the greatest part of those provinces which had received the gospel. [Hist. c. 3, ~ 17] Many advenient rites had been appointed, and interwoven with baptism, with a threefold administration of the ordinance, in the old interests, which obscured the original simplicity and design of the institutor. To move all human appendages, the Novatianists said to candidates, "If you be a virtuous believer, and will accede to our confederacy against sin, you may be admitted among us by baptism, or if any catholic has baptized you before, by rebaptism." They were at later periods called anabaptists. [Rob. Res., p. 127; Baronius Ann., v. iii. 231; Chamb. Ency.; Colliers Dict.; Ency. Brit. Art. Anabap.; Forneys Ecc. Hist., v.i.p. 64; and Mosh. ubi sup.] The churches thus formed upon a plan of strict communion and rigid discipline, obtained the reproach of Puritans; they were the oldest body of Christian churches, of which we have any account, and a succession of them, we shall prove, has continued to the present day. Novatians example had a powerful influence, and puritan churches rose in different parts, in quick succession. So early as 254, these Dissenters are complained of, as having infected France with their doctrines, [Mezerays Hist., p. 4. Miln. Ch. Hist., c. 3, c. 13] which will aid us in the Albigensian churches, where the same severity of discipline is traced, [Allixs Pied., c. 17, 156] and reprobated. [Mosh. Hist., cent. 13, p. 2. c. 5, ~ 7, note]
6. Learned men and historians have investigated the pretensions of these churches to puritanical character, and have conferred on them the palm of honor. Dupin says, "Novatians style is pure, clean and polite; his expressions choice, his thoughts natural, and his way of reasoning just; he is full of citations of texts of Scripture, that are always to the purpose; and besides, there is a great deal of order and method in those treatises of his we now have, and he never speaks but with a word of moderation and candor." [Dupin, c. 3, pp. 125, and 146] "Their manners," says Dr. A. Clarke, "were, in general, simple and holy; indeed, their rigid discipline is no mean proof of this." We well know that those called Pietists in Germany, and Puritans in England, were in general, in their respective times, among the most religious and holy people in both nations. [Suc. of Sac. Lit. Mosh. i. 2 22; Gills cause of God, &c., v. iv. pp. 57 and 131; Miln. Ch. Hist., c. 3, oh. 3 and 11; Nears Hist. of the Puritans, v. i. pref. vii.]
7. These churches existed for sixty years under a pagan government, during which time, the old corrupt interests at Rome, Carthage, and other places, possessed no means, but those of persuasion and reproach, to stay the progress of Dissent. During this period, the Novatian churches were very prosperous, and were planted all over the Roman empire. [Joness Lect., v. i. pp. 305 and 436] "They were very numerous," says Lardner, "in Phrygia," and a number of eminent men were raised up in the work of the ministry. It is impossible to calculate the benefit of their services to mankind. Their influence must have considerably checked the spirit of innovation and secularity in the old churches. Although rigid in discipline and schismatic in character, yet they were found extensive, and in a flourishing condition, when Constantine came to the throne, 306. Their soundness in doctrine, evident unity among themselves, with their numbers, suggested to Constantine the propriety of uniting them with the catholic church, but this union they refused. These churches with other dissidents, realized religious liberty in 313, from Constantine.*
[* Constantines father lived in Britain at the time of his birth, 271. He was not baptized during infancy, though his father was favorable to Christianity, if not a professor of it. When he came to the throne, he professed to receive the gospel, and many of officers and servants did the same. He gave Bishop Sylvester his mansion, for a baptistery, and conferred freedom on those slaves who would receive baptism. He offered a reward to others, on their embracing Christianity, so that 12,000 men, besides women and minors, were baptized in one year. In 319 he relieved the clergy of taxes, and in 320, issued an edict against the Donatists. He abolished heathen superstition, and erected splendid churches, richly adorned with paintings and images, bearing a striking resemblance to heathen temples. Places were erected for baptizing, some over running water, while others were supplied by pipes. In the middle of the building was the bath, which was very large. (Dr. Cave.) Distinct apartments were provided for men and women, as are found in Baptist meeting houses at this day. See Bing. Antiq.; Robins. Hist. Bap. and Res.; Gibbons ch. 20; Campbells Lect. No. 3, p. 35; Fosbrokes Ency. of Antiq., v. i. p. 103; Pilkingtons Sac. Elucidations, v. 2, part 4.]
In 331 Constantine changed his policy towards the Novatians, and they were involved, with other denominations, in distress and sufferings. Their books were sought for, they were forbidden assembling together, and many lost their places of worship.+ The orthodoxy of the Novatian party, with the influence of some of their ministers, is supposed to have procured some mitigation of the law. Constantines oppressive measures prompted many to leave the scene of sufferings, and retire into more sequestered spots. Claudius Seyssel, the popish archbishop, traces the rise of the Waldensian heresy to a pastor named Leo, leaving Rome at this period, for the Valleys. [Facts Opp. to Fict. p. 37]
[+ Constantines conduct in the church, has proved a kind of Pandoras box to the interest of religion, and the hope of deliverance has tried the faith of the godly to this day. The evils of splendid churches and pensioned bishops were soon seen in their persecuting ascendency, and in the ministers of religion, exhorting their congregations to crown their talents with clapping their hand, and loud applause.--See Lardners Credibility of the Gospel History, v. 4, part 2, c. 70, p. 169.]
The succeeding emperor, Constantius, embraced the Arian faith, and severely oppressed the orthodox. In the territory of Mantinium, a large district of Paphlagonia, the Novatianists were extremely numerous. Being involved in the massacre sanctioned by Constantius, a body of four thousand troops was sent to exterminate them, with other Trinitarians. The Novatian peasants, however, arming themselves with scythes and axes, fought the invaders of their homes in so desperate a manner, that they even vanquished and destroyed the disciplined soldiery. They lost several of their places of worship, but Julian on ascending the throne, required the Arians to rebuild and restore them. In 375, the emperor Valens embraced the Arian creed. He closed the Novatian churches, banished their ministers,+ and probably would have carried his measures to extreme severity, had not his prejudices and zeal been moderated by a pious man, named Marcion. During this severe trial, the benevolent feelings of the Novationists became so apparent, as to extort admiration from their enemies. About this period, 380, Pacianus, Bishop of Barcelona, wrote some treatises against these people. He observes to Sempronianus, one of the Novatian ministers, "You have forsaken the tradition of the church, under pretence of reformation: likewise you say, that the church is a body of men regenerated by water and the Holy Spirit, who have not denied the name of Christ, which is the temple and house of God, the Pillar and Ground of truth: we say the same also." [Dupin, cent. 4. pp. 81-3]
[+ This Valens, who required baptism for his dying son, sent 80 ministers into banishment, but before the vessel had gotten far from land, it fired, and all of them perished.]
In 383, Theodosius assembled a synod, with a view to establish unity among churches. On the Novatianists stating their views of discipline; the emperor, says Socrates, [Lib. 5, cap. 10] "wondered at their consent and harmony touching the faith." He passed a law, securing to them liberty, civil and religious, all their property, with all churches of the same faith and practice. While these pure churches were in peace and. concord, it is stated that discord prevailed in the national churches.
8. At the conclusion of the fourth century, the Novatianists had three, if not four churches, in Constantinople; they had also churches at Nice, Nicomedia, and Cotiveus, in Phrygia, all of them large and extensive bodies, besides which, they were very numerous in the Western empire. There were several churches of this people in the city of Alexandria, in the 410 beginning of the fifth century.
In 412, Cyril was ordained bishop of the catholic church in this city. One of his first acts, was to shut up the churches of the Novatianists,+ to strip them of all their sacred vessels and ornaments. They experienced very similar treatment at Rome, from Innocent, who was one of the first bishops to persecute the Dissenters and rob them of their churches. This proceeding is easily accounted for. The clergy of the establishments were an idle and ignorant class of men, and unacquainted with the Scriptures. Innocent wrote many letters to various bishops, containing the rules of discipline in his church, plainly with the intention of establishing uniformity. [Dupin, c. 5. pp. 195-8] This uniformity could not be imposed on the Novatianists, nor would they receive his views on childrens baptism and communion; they, consequently, became the object of his aversion. Another means of awakening the catholic prelates anger, was rebaptizing. When this was first introduced, purity of communion, with a strict adherence to Zions laws, was no doubt intended; but when the Arians arose, different creeds were formed, and the candidates acquaintance with the creed was, in each church, the sine qua non for baptism. The catholic party, now accumulating power, saw, in other churches rebaptizing, a virtual renunciation of the baptism they had conferred upon those who went over to the other party; as understood by the paedobaptists of the present day: consequently a spirit of persecution was raised against all those who rebaptized catholics. In the fourth Lateran council, canons were made to banish them as heretics, and these canons were supported by an edict in 413, issued by the emperors, Theodosius and Honorius, declaring that all persons rebaptized, and the rebaptizers, should be both punished with death. Accordingly, Albanus, a zealous minister, with others, was punished with death, for rebaptizing.* The edict was probably obtained by the influence of Augustine, who could endure no rival, nor would he bear with any who questioned the virtue of his rites, or the sanctity of his brethren, or the soundness of the Catholic creed; and these points being disputed by the Novatianists and Donatists, two powerful and extensive bodies of dissidents in Italy and Africa, they were consequently made to feel the weight of his influence. These combined modes of oppression led the faithful to abandon the cities, and seek retreats in the country, which they did, particularly in the valleys of Piedmont, the inhabitants of which began to be called Waldenses. [Bap. Mag. ib.]
[+ Persecution in the first ages was confined to the edict of the Emperors; but in Cyril and Innocents conduct, we see the spirit and rising power of the man of sin.]
[* Bap. Mag. vol. i.p. 256. Circumstances become here apparent, and unite their evidence to prove when infant baptism was publicly espoused. We have already noticed the writers who declared against the innovation. In 412, the Baptists were banished as heretics. In 413, Innocent sent letters of advice to various ministers. In the same year, the Baptists, for rebaptizing, were sentenced to death. In 416, a council at Mela, accursed all those who denied forgiveness to accompany infant baptism, and in 418, a council at Carthage enforced the same curse. Augustine, Cyril, Innocent and others, concurred in its expediency, Rob. Res. 151. They borrowed the sword of the magistrate, to enforce what their arguments and views could not do, Wall, i. p. 111. The sword, and the infant rite have always been companions, Rob. Bap. 438 and 450; and the early advocates accursed the parents who withheld the blessing from the child. Its support by the sword has called the Baptists to extreme sufferings, but they are additionally convinced of its origin from its companion and defence, and know that every rite defended by the sword shall perish by the sword.]
9. The Novatianists had hitherto flourished mightily in Rome, having a great many places of worship, and large congregations; but the rising power of the Catholic interest, its union with the sword, the ambitious character of its officers, with the tyrannical spirit of its bishops, prompted them to crush every opposing interest. They, consequently, robbed the Novatianists of all their churches, and drove them into obscurity. About this time, some epistles appeared against them, written by different individuals, which had a baneful influence at this period on the interests of this people. One individual, whose hostility was felt by the Novatianists, was Celestines, one of Innocents successors, A.D., 432. He took possession of all their churches in the city of Rome, and compelled them to worship in private houses, in the most obscure places.
A council was convened at Aries, and at Lyons, in 455, in which the views of the Novatianists on predestination were controverted, and by which name they were stigmatized. [Mezeray, p. 19, Clovis]
These holy people now retired from public notice; yet it is pretty manifest that, while some of them sought asylums in other kingdoms, many of these despised people continued in Italy, and a succession of them will be found under another name. [Mosh. Hist. cent. 12, p. 2, c. 5, ~ 4, note; and cent. 11, p. 2, c. 5, ~ 2, note; and cent. 11, p. 2, c. 2, ~ 13, note]
In 476, on the 23rd of August, a period was put to all persecution in Italy, by the subjection of that kingdom to the Goths, whose laws breathed the purest spirit of equal and universal liberty. The state of religion out of the Catholic church is not made apparent. This civil and religious liberty continued for about three centuries, during which time the dissidents, no doubt, greatly increased. [Rob. Res. ch. 8, pp. 151, 157] The accounts given of the Novatianists, by Eusebius and Socrates in their histories, are decided proofs of their extensive influence. That they subsisted towards the end of the sixth century, is evident from the book of Eulogius, Bishop of Alexander. Dr. Lardner remarks, "The vast extent of this sect is manifest from the names of the authors who have mentioned or written against them, and from the several parts of the Roman empire in which they were found. It is evident, too, that these churches had among them some individuals of note and eminence."
10. The rise of these puritans at so critical a period, their soundness in the faith, their regard to character and purity of communion, their vast extent, and long success, must have had a powerful influence in all the vicinity of their churches, in checking the ambition and secularity of the established clergy, and in shedding a moral auspice on benighted provinces. These sealed witnesses were the first protestant dissenters from assuming hierarchies; and it is most gratifying to be able to prove ourselves the successors of a class of men who first set the example of contending for the purity and simplicity of Christian worship, and a firm adherence to the laws of the King of Zion. [Robins. Ec. Res. ch. 8. Jones Lect., 25. See a detailed account of the Novatianists in Lardners Credibility of the Gospel History, vol. iii. part 2, c. 47, p. 206--seq.]