CANONS OF THE APOSTLES.
"They shall teach Jacob Thy judgments, and Israel Thy law: they shall put incense before Thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon Thine altar. Bless, Lord, his substance, and accept the work of his hands: smite through the loins of them that rise against him, and of them that hate him, that they rise not again."
From what has been said, it would appear that the Canons called Apostolical come to us under circumstances which make them of especial service in an inquiry which we are desirous of seeing carefully instituted, but which would not suit these pages. Are there discoverable in the records of antiquity any traces of that sudden corruption or declension of primitive Christianity which ultra-Protestants say certainly did take place, or else Christianity, as we find it in history, would not be so unlike their own Christianity; or, on the other hand, is not this argument itself, after all, the real and sole ground of the alleged fact,—viz. " Christians must necessarily have fallen away, or else ultra-Protestantism is not divine." Is the supposed declension proved historically, or is it argued and inferred that it cannot but be so, as being a necessary hypothesis, or key-stone,
for reconciling discordant evidence,—viz. ancient facts with moder/i opinions? In short, is there, or is there not, any ground for the imputation thus cast upon the Christianity of the second and third centuries, beyond the necessity of casting it on the part of the caster,—beyond the duty of self-defence, and the right of self-preservation?
However necessary and becoming as is such a struggle for life, I do not think it will avail the ultra-Protestant who makes it. The problem before him is to draw a line between the periods of purity and alleged corruption, such, as may have all the Apostles on one side, and all the Fathers on the other, which may insinuate and meander through the dove-tailings and inosculations of historical facts, and cut clean between St. John and St. Ignatius, St. Paul and St. Clement; low enough not to encroach upon the book of Acts, yet so high as to be out of the reach of all extant documents besides. And any how, whether he succeeds or not, so much he must grant, that if such a system of doctrine as he would now introduce ever existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as if by a deluge, suddenly, silently, and without memorial; bv a deluge coming in a night, and utterly soaking, rotting, heaving up, and hurrying off, every vestige of what it found in the church before cock-crowing; so that "when they rose in the morning" her true seed "were all dead corpses"—nay, dead and buried— but without grave-stone. "The waters went over them; there was not one of them left; they sunk like lead in the mighty waters." Strange antitype, indeed, to the early fortunes of Israel!—then the enemy was drowned, and "Israel saw them dead upon the sea-shore." But now, jt would seem, water proceeded as a flood "out of the serpent's mouth," and covered all the witnesses, so that not even their dead bodies '' lay in the streets of the great city." Let him take which of his doctrines he will, his peculiar view of self-righteousness, of formality, of superstition, his notion of faith, or of spirituality in religious worship, his denial of the virtue of the sacraments, or of the ministerial commission, or of the visible Church, or his doctrine of the divine efficacy of the Scriptures as the one appointed instrument of religious teaching, and let him consider how far antiquity, as it has come down to us, will countenance him in it. No; he must allow that the supposed deluge has done its work; yes, and has in' turn disappeared itself; it has been swallowed up in the earth, mercilessly as itself was merciless.
This representation has been usually met by saying, that the extant records of primitive Christianity are scanty, and that, for what we know, what is not extant, had it survived, would have told a different tale. But granting this, the hypothesis that history might contain facts which it does not contain, is no positive evidence for the truth of those facts; and this is the question, what is the positive evidence that the Church ever believed or taught a Gospel substantially different from that which her extant documents contain? All the evidence that is extant, be it much or be it little, is on our side; ultra-Protestants' have none. Is none better than some? Scarcity of records—granting for argument's sake there is -scarcity—may be taken to account for ultra-Protes
tants having no evidence; it will not account for our having all that is to be had; it cannot become a positive evidence in their behalf. That records are few is no argument or presumption in favour of their being worthless.
Whether, however, there be a scarcity of primitive documents or not, I would contend that, supposing the appeal to facts be allowed as a legitimate line of argument, not only there is none for them, but there is enough for us. But the advocates of the creed, by courtesy called Protestantism, do not allow the appeal; they aver that the Apostolic sys- > tem of the Church was certainly lost, when they know not, how they know not, without assignable instruments, but by a great revolution,—of that they are certain; and then they challenge us to prove it was not so. "Prove," they say, "if you can, that the real and very truth is not so entirely hid from the world as to leave not a particle of evidence betraying it. The very speciousness of your error is, that all the arguments are in your favour. Is it not possible that an error has got the place of the truth, and has destroyed all the evidence but what witnesses in its behalf? Is it not possible that all the Churches should everywhere have given up and stifled the scheme of doctrine they received from the Apostles, and have substituted another for it? Of course it is; it is obvious to common sense it may be so. Well, we say, what may be, is; this is our great principle: we say that the Apostles considered episcopacy an indifferent matter, though Ignatius says it is essential. We say that the table is not an altar, though Ignatius says it is. We say
there is no priest's office under the Gospel, though Clement affirms it. We say that baptism is not an enlightening, though Justin takes it for granted. We say that heresy is a misfortune, though Ignatius accounts it a deadly sin; and all this because we have a right to interpret Scripture in our own way. We uphold the pure unmutilated Scripture; the Bible, and Bible only, is the religion of Protestants, and we the only interpreters of it. We claim a sort of parliamentary privilege to interpret laws our own way, and not to suffer an appeal to any court beyond ourselves. We know, and we lament, that all antiquity runs counter to our interpretation; and therefore, the Church was corrupt from very early times , indeed. But mind, we hold all this in a truly Catholic spirit, not in bigotry. We allow in others the right of private judgment, and confess we, as others, are fallible men. We confess facts are against us, while we claim an indefeasible right to our own opinion. Far be it from us to say, that we are certainly right; we only say, that the whole early Church was certainly wrong. We do not impose our belief on any one; we only say, that those who take the contrary side are Papists, firebrands, persecutors, madmen, zealots, and deserve nothing but contempt and reprobation, as an insult to the nineteenth century."
To such an argument, I am aware, it avails little to oppose historical evidence, of whatever kind. It sets out by protesting against all evidence, however early and consistent, as the testimony of fallible men; yet, at least, the imagination is affected by an array of facts; and I am not unwilling to appeal to the imagination of those who refuse to let me address their reason. With this view I have been inquiring into certain early works, unpopular either in their day or afterwards, to see if any vestige of the hypothetical system in question can be discovered there; for, as to the body of orthodox Fathers, it is pretty well acknowledged that there is nothing ultra-Protestant in them. With this object, then, I have been discussing the Canons called Apostolical.
The especial circumstance which recommends these Canons to our notice is this; that they contain what there is reason to consider a fair portrait of the customs and opinions of the ante-Nicene Church. This judgment about them, which depends on historical evidence, is confirmed by the two following considerations: the Canons in question were in a great measure neglected, or at least superseded in the Church, after Constantine's day, especially in the West. Let this be recollected by those who dwell upon the corruptions which they suppose resulted from the Church's establishment by Constantine, Rome being the fountain-head. Further, there is ground, weak or strong, for suspecting that the collection or edition of Canons, as we have it, was made by heretics—probably Arians—though they have not meddled with the contents of them. Thus, while the neglect of later times separates these Canons from Romanism, the assent of the Arians, if so, is a second witness, in addition to the judgment and practice of the early Church, in proof of their Apostolical origin. The first ages observe them; even heretics respect them; later and corrupt ages neglect them. Now, the argument to be derived from these Canons, in behalf of the Catholic system, is two-fold: first, from what they assume; secondly, from what they enjoin. I shall set down some points of detail under each of these heads.
1. First, as to what is implied in the Canons, as if an existing system on which they are built. Let it be observed, they do but contain directions as to particular matters; they do not begin a religion; they do not form a Church; nor are they reformations; they presuppose something existing, recognise it, and carry on its principles into their minute applications or developments. They are but ecclesiastical appointments, and assume Apostolical appointments as their basis. Here, then, an argument arises in favour of what they assume, for the very reason that they do assume it. That they do not enjoin, but assume it, is not only a stronger evidence of its existence, but even of its importance. It is but a common remark, that indirect notice of facts and events in an historical document is a stronger evidence that they existed, or took place, than direct. But, over and above this, such implication is, in the present case, a stronger evidence also of the authority and moment of the points assumed. For Canons themselves are enacted on the authority of the Church; what they assume as principles, and, instead of touching, only attempt to carry out, may seem to depend on an authority higher than the Church, which the Church cannot touch, and to come from the Apostles. This distinction has already been noticed, and is very obvious. For instance, we are accustomed to place the Sacraments among the Divine and Apostolical ordinances which
Christ gave, and Christ only can annul; among ecclesiastical, the subordinate rites connected with them, the particular prayers, and the provision about sponsors. Among Divine and Apostolical ordinances, we place the Lord's-day festival; among Ecclesiastical, are Saints' days. Among the Divine, are a number of, more or less, abstract or (what may be called) disembodied rites, to which the Church gives a substance and form—such as public worship, imposition of hands, benedictions, and the sign of the cross, which are first elements of actual ordinances, and the instrumental principles of grace, and are variously applied and dispensed according to the decision of the Church. Hence arise orders of service, the rites of confirmation, absolution, marriage, and the like, which are of a mixed nature, ecclesiastical in form, divine and life-giving in their principle. Now, then, let us see what these observances are, on which the canons build their system, and we shall have some insight into what were considered Apostolical at the time these Canons were framed.
They are such as these : the Canons take for granted the principle of ministerial superintendence, and the principle of ministerial succession, and consider them both vested in one and the same individual functionary. They take for granted that ordination is necessary, and that it is given by imposition of hands. They presuppose the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons. They take for granted the one baptism for the remission of sins. They assume that there is an altar and a sacrifice in the visible Church under the Gospel, and that by "the Lord's appointment." They take for granted the rite of holy communion. They take for granted the practice of excommunication. They speak of heretics, or sectarians, and of their being in a state of serious disadvantage; they use concerning them the same (what is now called) fierce and contemptuous language which occurs in later centuries. They take for granted a local and diocesan episcopacy. They take for granted an order of precedence among the bishops of each nation. They take for granted that councils are composed of bishops. They take for granted that men who have married may be clergy—nay, may be bishops. They recognise the observances of celibacy and fasting. They recognise the fast of the great Sabbath, or Easter-eve, and of Lent, and of Wednesday and Friday. They imply the observance of Easter; they imply the existence of festival days. They recognise the use of churches; and of wax, and of oil, gold and silver vessels, and linen, in the worship of God, and these as consecrated. They speak of demoniacal possession and exorcism. <
These are the usages and the points of discipline which these Canons recognise as established. As to doctrine, besides the sacred truths of the Trinity and Atonement, which are incidentally mentioned, there are the following :—that the Church may not inflict corporal punishments; that to pay for preferment is simony; that unanimity is a chief duty of Christians; that on the bishop solely falls the cure of souls, and its responsibility; that those who serve the altar should live of the altar; that to acknowledge heretics is to associate Christ with Belial; that there is a difference, under the Gospel, between true priests and false priests; that baptism is the cross and death of the Lord; and that persons who fast on festivals fulfil the prophecy in the beginning of the fourth chapter of St. Paul's first Epistle to Timothy.
2. So much on what these Canons imply; now, what do they enjoin? Here, however, I would observe, lest I should be mistaken, that I do not conceive that the injunctions contained in them have any direct binding force on us as Canons, but I take them as an historical evidence of the sort of religion which was in that age considered as included under the idea of Christianity. They will be found to breathe a certain spirit, very unlike what is now popular, and to be developments of principles which must be counted false, unless modern received principles are false instead. I shall set down some of them without any great care to be systematic :—
It was provided, then, that every bishop should be consecrated by two or three bishops, and the inferior orders always by a bishop; that no bishop, priest, or deacon, should take on him secular cares ; that, unless under very extraordinary circumstances and with leave from his brethren, a bishop should not move from see to see; that he should not admit into his diocese the clergy of another; that he should not ordain out of his diocese; that neither bishop, priest, nor deacon might put away his wife on pretext of religion; that a person who married a second time after baptism should not hold any office in the ministry, nor one who had married two sisters, or a niece; that a cleric should not become surety; that neither bishop, priest, nor deacon, might take interest of money; that clergy who had entered the sacred pale single might marry, provided they were only readers or chanters; that no secular influence should interfere with appointment of bishops; that letters of introduction should be required of foreign ecclesiastics; that no suffragan could act in extra-diocesan matters without his metropolitan, nor the metropolitan without his suffragans; that councils should be held twice a year for doctrine and settlement of disputes; that the bishop should have the oversight of all church property, but might not give to his relatives, who, if poor, were to receive the alms of the poor,—nor to himself, unless for his necessary maintenance and that of brethren who were his guests; that the inferior clergy might not move without him; and that a distinction should be preserved between the Church property and his private property, the latter of which he might bequeath to wife, children, relatives, and servants, as he would.
Moreover, these Canons enjoin that no bishop, priest, or deacon, might join in prayer with sectaries1, much less allow them to perform any ministerial acts; or acknowledge their baptism, sacrifice, or ordination; or re-baptize, or re-ordain, or be re-ordained, or neglect trine immersion, or refuse to restore a penitent; or allow the forged scriptures of the sectaries to be read in church; or ridicule the maim, deaf, blind, or lame; or eat flesh with the blood; or fast on Sundays, or on Saturdays, except Easter eve; or not fast in Lent, and on Wednesday and Fridays, except on account of bodily weakness; or enter a sectarian meeting or synagogue to pray, whether cleric or layman; or apply to common uses consecrated vessels or linen; that such bodily infirmities, and such only, 1 oiptriKOif.
should be a bar to ordination as interfered with ministerial usefulness; that kings and civil magistrates should not be insulted; and household slaves not ordained without the leave of their masters and the grant of freedom.
Now let us picture to ourselves the irksome position of a modern Protestant in a communion where such points were first principles; with his societies instead of the Church—his committees, boards, and platforms, instead of bishops—his Record or Patriot newspaper instead of councils—his "concerts for prayer" instead of anathemas on heretics and sectaries—his harangues at public meetings instead of exorcisms—his fourths of October instead of festival days—his glorious memories instead of holy commemorations—his cheap religion instead of gold and i silver vessels—his gas and stoves for wax and oil— ■ and his denunciations of self-righteousness for fasting and celibacy. Can we doubt that such Canons imply altogether a different notion of Christianity from that which he has been accustomed to entertain? This, indeed, would be the very fault he would find with the whole system,—he would say he was not at home in it, or, in other words, that there is nothing evangelical in such ecclesiastical regulations; and yet after all quite as much surely as in the rules laid down by St. Paul, as in the fifth, or seventh, or eleventh and twelfth, or fourteenth chapters of his first epistle to the Corinthians; the ninth chapter of his second; or the fourth and fifth of his first to Timothy. I do not mean to allow that the essential Gospel doctrines are absent from the Canons, which no one will say who has studied them. But even if z
they were, such absence is not in point, unless it is a proof that rulers of the Church do not hold doctrines, because they also give rules of discipline, and, when giving the latter, do not deliver the former instead. Certain doctrines may be true, and certain ordinances also; the one may be prescribed in Canons, the other taught in Confessions. It does not follow that those who enforce the one do not enforce the other; but it does follow that those who enforce the latter to the exclusion of the former, do not enforce both. Those who enforce the discipline, need not deny the doctrine; but those who think to escape the discipline by professing the doctrine, are more careful of doctrine than the early Church was, and have no congeniality of feeling with times which considered it better to follow out what they had received than to reason against it, "to do these, and not leave the other undone."
Such, then, is a sketch of the main rules of discipline in the primitive Church as they have come down to us, and which I offer for those whom it may concern. They show clearly enough the sort of religion which was then considered Apostolic; not that which we should term the "free-and-easy" religion, but what our opponents would call the " formal. and superstitious."