SECTION 4: ORIENTAL CHURCHES
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world," &c.--Col. 2:8.
1. By the oriental churches are intended those communities of Christians formed by the apostles and their successors, in those parts of Asia situated in the Levant, or east of Italy. It appears probable that the gospel was preached in Idumea, Syria, and Mesopotamia, by Jude; in Pontus, Galatia, and the neighboring parts of Asia, by Peter; in the territories of the seven Asiatic churches, by John; in Parthia, by Matthew; in Scythia, by Philip and Andrew; in the northern and western parts of Asia, by Bartholomew; in Persia, by Simon and Jude; in Media, Carmania, and several eastern parts, by Thomas; from Jerusalem to Illyricum, by Paul, as also in Italy. In most of which places Christian churches were planted in less than thirty years after Christ, and ten before the destruction of Jerusalem. [A. Young on Idolatry, v. ii. pp. 216--34]
2. These worthy men, scattered as they were on Stephens death, went everywhere preaching the word. They disseminated the celestial seed in all the provinces and cities through which they passed. Many Christian societies were gathered and formed by them, all bearing a striking resemblance to the parent institution, [Mosh. Hist. Cent. 1, pt. 1, c. 4, ~ 5] which original society was composed of those only "who gladly received the word and were baptized," Acts 2:41.* The doctrines and discipline of these communities very soon awakened the enmity of Jews and Gentiles to the followers of the Lamb. Nero, who it is said was, at the commencement of his reign, favorable to Christianity, changed his line of policy, and was the first emperor to enact laws against the disciples of Jesus. Among the martyrs at this period, are enumerated Peter and Paul. His cruel example was followed by Domitian in this century, and others at after periods, who, without examining the claims of Christianity, indulged her prejudices against the followers of its dictates. The number of martyrs in the first ages was very great, which is allowed by all impartial historians. [Mosh. Hist. C. 1, pt. 1, c. 5]
[* The word BAPTIZE is purely Greek, and the orientals are supposed to understand its meaning. Its import can be decided by the practice of the Greeks, which practice ever has been to dip. Dr. Kings Rites of the Gr. Ch. Office, Bap., Rob. Res. p. 91. Immersion in the East could be easily performed, since each house has a bagnio, which consists generally of two or three rooms, leading to the top room or bath, paved with marble, &c., and possessing every conveniency for bathing, Rob. Res. c. 9. Adams Antiq. p. 378; Potters Greece, b. 1, c. 8; Hornes Crit. Intro. to the Scrip, v. iii. pt. 4, c. 6, ~ 3. See above, ch. 1, s. 1, ~ 17, and references there.]
3. Errors more or less pernicious to the welfare of souls, crept into the churches during the apostles ministry. It was in the oriental churches where almost all the disputes on doctrine arose. [Camp. Lect. 14, p. 240] A disposition prevailed in this quarter, to accommodate the two dispensations, and, by blending baptism with circumcision, to secure a more extensive community, while the honor of each dispensation should remain unabated. The question being important, the elders and brethren at Jerusalem, on hearing the circumstance, decided very solemnly, that if any were circumcised, Christ would profit them nothing, and thus a glorious liberty was secured to the Christian converts.* The same class of disputants obscured the way of a sinners acceptance before God, which called forth the epistles to Galatia and Rome, wherein a sinners justification without and the deeds of the law, is and admirably argued. But the great evil to the Christian cause was its coalition with the science styled by its advocates, gnomis, or the way to the true knowledge of the Deity. "The Greeks," says Campbell, "were always keen disputants, and it was by them that most of the first heresies were broached. Their condition, early habits, natural character, with their copious and ductile language, conspired to inure them to disputations. Hence, sprang those numerous sects, into which the Christian community was so early divided." [Camp. ubi sup.] So that it becomes exceedingly evident that the Grecian atmosphere was congenial to native freedom and nonconformity, and when spiritual claims were made by one party, dissensions ensued--nonconformists, who had always been dispersed all over the empire, maintained their original claim in religion to think and act for themselves. Here we trace the rising class, who adhered to the Truth through ages of ignorance, superstition, and vice; "as it seems clear," observes Robinson, "that Greece was the parent, Spain and Navarre the nurses, France the step-mother, and Savoy the jailer of this class of Christians known afterwards by the name of Waldenses." But, amidst all the diversity of speculative opinions, they all agreed in administering baptism by immersion. [Researches, pp. 73, 93, 320]
[* See Acts 15. It is very remarkable in this discussion, that no allusion was made to baptism as succeeding the place of circumcision; this proves the two economies to be distinct in their subjects, the one from the other: and so must the first adopters have viewed them, or they would not have continued for years to practise both circumcision and baptism, if one was understood as superseding the other. Those who ground their practice of infant baptism, on circumcision prefiguring baptism, should act consistently; and as circumcision was administered universally throughout the land of Canaan, baptism should be administered universally (i.e., to children, servants, and slaves) in England or any country where the gospel is preached. Only males were circumcised---only males should be baptized. Faith, neither personal nor relative, was a condition of circumcision; faith, as a pre-requisite to baptism, should not be required either in the child or in the parent. All children who were circumcised, partook of the passover; all children who are baptized, should receive the Lords Supper. All children who were circumcised were thenceforth considered members of the Jewish church, and without any subsequent conversion or profession of faith, were entitled to all its privileges; all children who are baptized should be received as members of the visible church of Christ, and have a right to its privileges, independent of any work of grace or profession of faith, in their future lives; but in this consistency the paedobaptists fail. See Gibbs on Bap.]
4. When Trajan ascended the throne, the third general persecution was set on foot. The severity of his edicts was felt in Pontus and Bithynia, over which provinces the younger Pliny was governor. The profession of Christianity was so general in Asia, that the governor, in enforcing Trajans measures against Christians, perceived that their extinction would nearly annihilate the inhabitants of his province. He acknowledged, in writing to the emperor, that the heathen temples were forsaken, yet he apprehended it inexpedient to search for Christians. [Epis. b. 10, let. 97 and 98] Trajan replied, by saying, they should not be sought for as heretofore, and those accused, and who felt disposed to accommodate themselves to the religion of the empire, or pagan customs, should be spared, but those who remained inflexible to their profession should be put to death. [Joness Ecc. Lect. v.i. pp. 194-8] Under this reign, females were tortured, to make them criminate each other, but while on the rack, they said, "We are Christians, and no evil is done among us." It was a regular custom, at this period, for Christians to meet together for divine worship, to sing hymns to Christ, who was worshipped as God almost throughout the East; to exhort one another to abstain from all evil, and to commemorate Christs death; to observe the first day of the week, which was regarded by all Christians. [Mosh. Hist. v. i, pp. 91 and 109] Yet Pliny calls these heavenly engagements, "a depraved superstition. Such views the most polished heathens encouraged, respecting the doctrines of the cross and spiritual worship.
5. We have already mentioned Justin Martyr, for the sake of exhibiting his views on the ordinance. This early and learned writer of the eastern churches was born at Neapolis, the ancient Shechem of Palestine. On his embracing Christianity, he quitted neither the profession nor the habit of a philosopher. He selected various and natural circumstances to impress the mind with the doctrine of the cross, which in a few ages aided in perverting the gospel altogether. In his dialogue he says, "the roasted lamb was made into the figure of a cross, by impaling or spitting it, from head to tail, and then from one shoulder to the other, with a skewer, on which last was extended the fore feet, and thus it was roasted." He wrote two apologies for his persecuted brethren, and fell a martyr to the cause he espoused, in A.D. 167. What influence Justins philosophic notions had at this period in aiding Platos views, about a middle state after death, we know not, but it is certain such views were partially embraced by some persons in the Christian interest.* These views once embraced, led to decide on the subject, who occupied this middle state, while others were anxious to know, "what became of those persons who died unbaptized?" This middle state and the answer to the inquiry were made to quadrate, and in the following centuries, Platos intermediate state was by several able Fathers assigned to the unbaptized. [Thus the neglect of baptism led in two centuries to the adoption of a purgatory of which we shall hereafter speak.]
[* Mosh. Ecc. Hist. c. 2, ch. 3, ~ 2, 3. The sprinkling of water is spoken of by several of the Fathers as purely heathenish. "Justin Martyr says, that it was an invention of demons, in imitation of the true baptism signified by the prophets, that their votaries might also have their pretended purifications by water." See Middletons Letters from Rome on this subject, p. 139. Tertullian, in his book on baptism, says, "The heathen did adopt a religious rite, particularly in the mysteries of Apollo and Ceres, where persons were baptized for their regeneration and pardon of their perjuries." "Here we see," he says, "the aim of the devil, imitating the things of God." Walls Hist. v.i. c, 4, p. 50.]
6. In most of those Christian congregations planted by the apostles, a plurality of pastors was settled. To conduct their affairs with harmony and prudence, it was necessary they should often meet and consult together. These meetings, made up of pastors, deacons, and members, were properly a council of the congregation. Everything regarding worship and discipline was settled among themselves. When points were difficult or disputed, a more general company of ministers and disciples met, as the apostles had done at Jerusalem, to consult and promote love, truth, and unity. This course probably suggested to churches the propriety of a regular intercourse with one another. A stated meeting ensued of all the churches in the same canton or province, wherein they fully discussed church affairs.
From the confidence the church had in their ministers, when the distance was great, the affairs of the churches were intrusted to a deputation of elders and deacons with others. From these friendly meetings arose a sort of republic association of the churches in a particular province. The metropolis being the most centric, was usually the place of meeting. At first, the office of president seems generally to have been elective, and to have continued no longer than the sessions of the synod. The bishop of the place where the association was held, from a sort of natural title to preside in the convention, came, by the gradual but sure operation of custom, to be regarded as the head of the body. This in time, aided by other auxiliary causes, established a metropolitan bishop, [Camp. Lect., lec. 9, and Mosh. Hist. C. 2, p. 2, ch. 2, ~ 2] which, when fully matured, gave a seat and conferred authority on the papistical monster.
7. During the greater part of this century, Christian churches were independent of each other; nor were they joined together by association, confederacy, or any other bonds but those of charity. Each Christian assembly was a little state, governed by its own laws, which were either enacted, or at least approved, by the society; but in process of time, as above noticed, all the churches of a province were brought into one ecclesiastical body. [Mosh. ut ante.] With this accumulating corporation, a desire prevailed among ministers to increase the numbers of adherents to their respective interests. But instead of increasing their ministerial exertions, and giving a simple exhibition of divine truths as in the first planting of Christianity, the pastors increased the numbers of rites and ceremonies in the Christian worship; thus an accommodation was afforded to Jews and Pagans, and their conversion facilitated to the sophisticated doctrines of the cross. [Mosh. c. 2, p. 2, c. 4, ~ 2] As the boundaries of the church were enlarged by an easier ingress, the number of vicious and irregular persons who entered into it, proportionably increased. Most of the churches at the end of this century assumed a new form. As the old disciples retired to their graves, their children, along with the new converts, both Jews and Gentiles, under new ministers from the Alexandrian school, came forward and new-modelled the cause. [Mosh. Hist. C. 2, pt. 1, ch. 1, ~ 12. Rob. Res. c. 6, p. 51] When the evil of the new system had developed itself, a new course of discipline was adopted; but the character of the community was changed, and purity with primitive simplicity took leave of such a mixtion. [Mosh. Hist. C. 2, pt. 2, oh. 3, ~ 16, and pt. 2, c. 1, ~4--12] The ceremonies introduced occasioned strife and discord. Victor, Bishop of Rome, insisted upon Easter being observed by the Asiatic churches, at the same time it was kept by the western. His authority and request being disregarded, he thundered out his excommunications against the orientals. This conduct in Victor broke the friendly communion which had before subsisted between the churches in the east and west. [Id. ch. 4,~11] Having now traced the features of the churches generally, and finding their assumption of power, with their aspect and composition, of an antichristian character, we must dissent from these, and leave them; directing our investigation to other claimants, until we can trace some honorable and scriptural distinction.
8. The innumerable Christians of the East, who were not in communion with either the Greek or Roman churches, may be divided into two classes. The first consists of such as in ages past dissented from the Greek church, and formed similar hierarchies, which yet subsist independent of one another, as well as of the Grecian and Romish communities. The second consists of those who never were of any hierarchy, and who have always retained their original freedom. The number of such orientals is very great, for they lived dispersed all over Syria, Arabia, Egypt, Persia, Nubia, Ethiopia, India, Tartary, and other eastern countries. "It is remarkable," says Robinson, "that although they differ, as Europeans do, on speculative points of divinity, yet they all administered baptism by immersion, and there is no instance to the contrary. [Rob. Hist. Bap. p. 484]
9. The MESSALIANS or EUCHITES (the one a Hebrew term, the other Greek, and signifying a praying people) had in Greece a very early existence. These terms had also a very extensive application among the Greeks and orientals, who gave it to all those who endeavored to raise the soul to God, by recalling and withdrawing it from all terrestrial and sensible objects. [Mosh. Hist. C. 4, p. 2. oh. 5, ~ 24] These people, like all other nonconformists, are reproached and branded with heresy by the old orthodox writers; but, whatever errors may have been mixed up with their creed, it would appear devotion and piety formed the ground of the stigma, so that a puritanical character is fully implied. These Messalians were evidently the parent stock of Nonconformists in Greece. They attributed to two opposite causes, the sources of good and evil, much as we do in the present day; but their enemies, recording their views, have made them a people to be wondered at, and to be avoided. This way of misrepresentation was the only means the dominant party had to suppress "the men more righteous than themselves," before the church was endowed with a sword. The morality of this people was severe and captivating to the simple, but their discipline and worship are both reproached. [Rob. Hist. Bap. p. 208] This parent stock of nonconformists was divided and subdivided by the clergy into various classes of heretics. They were often named from the country they inhabited, as Armenians, Phrygians, Bulgarians, and Philippopolitans, or as it was corruptly sounded in the west, Popolicans, Poblicans, Publicans. Some were called after the names of their teachers, as Pauleanists, Novatianists, Donatists, Paulicians, and many more names were found in this class. [Rob. Res. p. 58] The term Euchites among Greeks was a general name for Dissenters, as the Waldenses was in the Latin church, and Nonconformists in England. [Id. p. 56] This large body of Dissenters were resident in the empire from the first establishment of Christianity, till its destruction in the thirteenth century. [Ib.]
10. In Greece, says Dr. Mosheim, (who whenever he alludes to dissenters always evinces "the spider of the mind,") and in all eastern provinces, this sort of men were distinguished by the general and invidious name of Euchites or Messalians, as the Latins comprehended all the adversies of the Roman pontiff under the general terms of Albigenses and Waldenses. It is, however, necessary to observe, that the names above mentioned were vague and ambiguous in the way they were applied by the Greeks and orientals, who made use of them to characterize, without distinction, all such as complained of the multitude of useless ceremonies, and of the vices of the clergy, without any regard to the difference that there was between such persons, in point of principles and morals. There are several circumstances which render it extremely probable that many persons of eminent piety and zeal for genuine Christianity, were confounded by the Greeks with these enthusiasts. In short, the righteous and the profligate, the wise and the foolish, were equally comprehended under the name Messalians, whenever they opposed the raging superstition of the times, or looked upon true and genuine piety as the essence of the Christian character. [Mosh. Hist. C. 12, pt. 2, ch. 5, ~ 1] In regard to baptism, these dissidents in the East were so far from rejecting it, that if they erred, it was in baptizing too much, if the expression may be allowed. "They rebaptize," said one of their opponents, "but instead of being immersed in water, they ought to be plunged in hell." [Rob. Hist. p. 208]
11. Towards the conclusion of the second century, one MONTANUS, who lived in a Phrygian village called Pepuza, undertook a mission to restore Christianity to its native simplicity. One class of professors being at the period carried away with Egyptian symbols, while others made up a system of religion from philosophic notions, oriental customs, and a portion of the gospel; apparently prompted this humble individual to attempt a reformation, or rather a restoration, of the primitive order of things. Being destitute of classical lore himself, he required it not in others who were willing to further his designs. He was decidedly hostile to those ministers, who with the new system, emanated from Alexandria. He was very successful in his labor of love, since his views and doctrines spread abroad, and were received through Asia, Africa, and in part of Europe. His doctrine and discipline, though severe, gained him the esteem of many who were not of the lowest order. Some ladies of opulence aided Montanus with their services and their fortunes. [Mosh. Hist. C. 2, pt. 2, ch. 5, ~ 23] We noticed the inquiries made of Tertullian, by females in this Christian community, respecting minor baptism, [See ch. 2, s. 2, ~ 7, and note 18] and of Tertullian seceding from the Catholic church in Carthage, and his uniting with the Montanists, on the grounds of purity of communion. From Tertullians works, his views and arguments in support of their doctrines, with the nature of their discipline, can be ascertained. He formed in his own city a separate congregation, which continued for two hundred years. Agrippinus its first pastor, with Tertullian, admitted members by examination and baptism, but all such as joined the Montanists from other communities were rebaptized. [Rob. Hist. Bap. p. 183]
12. A name often appears in church history, which it will be necessary for us to mention and illustrate. A physician, named MANES, embraced Christianity, and taught others the views he adopted. It is plain he had many followers in this, and in the following centuries. An endless variety of tales are told of this man, and his adherents, who were called after him, MANICHEANS, which name became a kind of warning Merimo to all the orthodox. Their enemies being the recorders of their creed and discipline, deserve little credit, as in this case, with others already mentioned, their interested accusers confounded all Dissenters with the profligates and the enthusiasts, and most state clergy have pursued the same path and spirit. This class of orientals was unconnected with all hierarchies, and consisted of innumerable churches in different countries. [Rob, His. Bap., p. 496] Though errors were probably mixed up with this new system, one circumstance is favorable to these people, that of their enumeration by early catholic writers, with the Messalians, Novatianists, Donatists, and Paulicians, whose memories and creeds have been rescued from undeserved reproach. We do not expect perfection in any body of Christians, but taking dissenters in every age, they have been found preferable in their knowledge of doctrines, and their practice of morals, to any community in national forms; while it is easy to discover these only have maintained civil and religious freedom, 1 Cor. 7:23, in their native dignity. These people accounted for the origin of evil as many had done before them, supposing it to arise out of physical or natural imperfections. They rejected the Old Testament, (as a rule to Christians, of which more hereafter.) The leading errors in the African churches arose from their adopting the Old Testament rites, which probably occasioned these Christians with others to reject its precepts. Their morals were rigidly severe, their worship simple but mixed with oriental visions. Their doctrines were a mixture of national superstitions with the tenets of Christianity. Their exact views are probably not ascertained, and the reproaches heaped upon all nonconformists, leave us room to exercise charity in their case and creed. Their congregations, like those of the English dissenters, were divided into hearers and members, whom they called auditors and elect. They refused oaths, remonstrated against penal sanctions, and denied the authority of magistrates over conscience. Dr. Mosheim has demonstrated that they did administer baptism to those who desired it, but not without the candidates consent, and that they did not baptist infants [Comment. on the Affairs of the Christians before Constantine, &c., in Rob. Bap. p. 496]: which is further evident by those books published against dissenters; wherein are shown that all parties administered baptism, single or trine, and all re-baptized. [Rob. Res., p. 212] The Manichean reproach has been charged on the Paulicians and Albigenses, since these people have been rescued from the stigma of palpable and damnable errors, we doubt not had similar investigation been pursued by unprejudiced men; a similar result would have ensued to a considerable extent, respecting the Manicheans.
13. In reference to the orientals, we observed, during the first three centuries Christian congregations all over the East subsisted in separate independent bodies, unsupported by government, and consequently without any secular power over one another. "All this time they were baptist churches," says Robinson, "and though all the Fathers of the first four ages, down to Jerome (A.D. 370) were of Greece, Syria and Africa, and though they give great numbers of histories of the baptism of adults, yet there is not one record of the baptism of a child till the year 370." The Grecian conventicles, as their practice proves beyond all contradiction, held that the decrees and constitutions of prelates were not binding on conscience; that river water was preferable to consecrated water for baptism. [Rob. Res. pp. 55, 56] It has been affirmed by modern writers that Greeks are Anabaptists, but they do not repeat baptism. The reason is plain; dipping includes sprinkling, but sprinkling does not include dipping. There is an officer in the Grecian church called the baptist or dipper, who administers baptism, in the present day, to all who have not been immersed. This will explain many anecdotes, says Robinson, in the Russian church. The Greek church admitted none into her communion, of the reformed church, but who must be baptized anew. [Rob. Hist. Bap. p. 511] No church, says Wall, ever gave the communion to any person before they were baptized [Hist. of Inf. Bap. pt. 2, c. 9, ~ 15, p. 440]: though the ancients reckoned that Christians might and ought to hold communion, notwithstanding difference of opinion in lesser matters. [Id. pt. 1. c. 11. ~ 11]
14. On the commencement of the fourth century the Christian church enjoyed peace, but in 303 this halcyon period was disturbed by the edicts of Diocletian, this persecution threatened the extirpation of the Christian interest. Constantine was saluted emperor, and a change was soon effected in the policy of the government by Constantine declaring himself a Christian, and ordering by edict in the ensuing year all persecution to cease. [Mosh. Hist. C. 4, pt. 1, c. 1, ~ 4-6] The emperor having obtained the sole guardianship of the empire, and to strengthen his interest with a vast number of his subjects, pays particular attention to the bishops and clergy, who previous to this period were obscure men, and little more is known of them than their names. [Rob. Res. p. 120] In 313 he issued his edict granting religious liberty to all christians. In 316 he gave liberty to those slaves who would receive baptism. In 320 he issued his edict against the Donatists, and some suffered death. The year before he relieved the catholic clergy from taxes, and in 326 evinces moderation towards the Novatianists because of their soundness in that faith he had the year before established in the council of Nice. [Dupin. Cent. v. ii. p. 11-16; Constantine, Gib. Ro. Hist. c. 20; Jones Lect. v.i. 354] He now incorporated the church with the state, and transferred the seat of government from Rome to Byzantium, and called it Constantinople from his own name. Here his imperial majesty erected the spacious and splendid church of St. Sophia. As an appendage to this elegant building, Constantine built the baptistery of St. John, in the style of a convocation-room in a cathedral. It was very large and was called the great Illuminary. In the middle was the bath, in which baptism was administered: it was supplied with water by pipes, [T.D. Fosbrokes Ency. of Antiq. v. i. pp. 46 and 103, and Pilkingtons Sacred Elucidations, v. 2, pt. 4, of Baptism] and there were outer rooms for all concerned in baptism of immersion, the only baptism of the place.* Everything in this church goes to prove that baptism was administered by immersion, and only to instructed persons. The canon laws, the officers, the established rituals, the Lent sermons of the prelates, and the baptism of the archbishops themselves.*
[* Baptisteries are of different forms and of very high antiquity, as that of St. Johns connected with the church of Constantinople. In Italy, although the churches were numerous, in some of the most considerable cities there was only one general baptistery, to which all resorted. Of the baptisteries of Rome the Lateran is the most ancient. This baptistery was made out of an old mansion-house given by Constantine to Bishop Sylvester, and was endowed with a handsome income, the dimensions have been preserved. Rob. Hist. of Bap. c. 14. One was prepared for the baptism of Clovis, king of France, and his majesty, with three thousand of his subjects, were plunged, says Mezeray, on Christmas day, 496. The baptistery of Pisa, both externally and internally, presents a fine display of the most exquisite workmanship. See Penny Cyclop. Art. Bap.; Ency. Britan.; and Antiquarian Repository, v. ii. p. 423. The baptistery of Florence is remarkable for the beauty of its gates. The Italian baptistery in appearance is not dissimilar to the octagon in Ely Cathedral. Lon. Ency. Art. Bapt.; Rob. Hist. of Bap. ch. 16. p. 89.]
1670 Dr. Wall says, "the Greek church, in all its branches, does still use immersion; and so do all Christians who have not submitted to the popes authority." [Hist. Inf. Bap. p. 1. c. 2, S 2.]
1815 "This day, (says Dr. Pinkerton, Russia,) "was excessively cold, being upwards of ten degrees of frost, and the water in the font almost freezing. I expressed my surprise to the priest that they did not use tepid water, seeing the infant had to be three times dipped over head and ears in the icy hath," &c. Again, he remarks, "the Duchobortzi make the sacraments to consist only in a spiritual reception of them, and therefore reject infant baptism. Their origin is to be sought for among the Anabaptists. This people have excited great attention" (in Russia).
1854 The Syrians baptize their children, says Missionary Wolf, by placing the child in the fountain, so that part of the body is in the water, then the priest three times takes water in his hands and pours it on the childs head, repeating at each time the name of one person in the Trinity. After this the body is immersed. [Jewish Expositor, for September, 1824]
The rubric of the present Greek church requires dipping in baptism. [Gales Reflect. p. 158]
15. The change effected in the affairs of the church by Constantine, was attended with serious consequences to the well-being of the community. After he had adjusted the Nicene creed, he issued a law and sent it to all the presidents of provinces, requiring all persons to conform to his creed. The emperor condemned his past forbearance, as an occasion of mens being seduced by these erroneous people. By this edict, says Eusebius, the dens of heretics were laid open, and the wild beasts, the ringleaders of their impiety, were scattered. "This edict," observes Lardner, "was principally directed against the Novatianists, &c., and all others, who by private meetings endeavored to support heresies." [Cred. of the Gospel, v. iv. ch. 70, p. 169] His choice of clergy soon led him to erect splendid churches, and to richly adorn them with pictures and images, which bore a striking resemblance to the pagan temples. [Ion. Ency. Art. Rom. Cathol. p. 647] The clergy of these churches became vicious, and they contended with each other in the most scandalous manner; they trampled on the rights of the people, as by endowments they were raised above them. They imitated the luxury of princes, and consequently ignorance and superstition soon prevailed among the people. Reverence now began to be paid to the memory of departed saints. The people, being left by those state paid clergy soon had their minds diverted from the simple worship of the New Testament to the scene of the Redeemers labors. The Holy Land had peculiar charms, pilgrimages were made, discoveries of relics, belonging once to a sacred name, became an enviable treasure, which awakened ambition, and opened a door to a system of pious frauds. [Mosh. Hist. C. 2, pt. 2, c. 2, ~ 8] After having opened the way into the church for every evil, and provided a chair for the man of sin, Constantine took leave of all his earthly grandeur, May 22, 337, aged 66.
[The dangers attending the church of God at this period, are shown in Gods sealing his own people, Rev. 7:3. The sealing in the forehead suggests an open profession, and a visible piety in the Lords servants. This mark is not baptism, as Bishop Newton fancies, since that is not Gods work, and is given alike to friends and foes, nor is that rite ever called in the New Testament a seal, but is plainly the work of the Holy Spirit, by which they were sealed to the day of redemption, Eph. 1:13, and without which Spirit, they would not be Gods servants, nor would the Novatianists in Italy, the Euchites in Asia, the Donatists in Africa, the Paterines in Italy, the Paulicians in Armenia, the Albigenses and Waldenses, have been preserved from the surrounding contagion for a day, but they were sealed or secured.]