Century IV, Chapter XIX

CHAP. XIX.

THE PROPAGATION OF THE GOSPEL AMONG BARBARIANS; THE PROGRESS OF NOVATIANISM, AND OF MONASTICISM.

1 Have but little to say on each of these articles, partly, because materials are scanty, and partly because where they are more plentiful, they are uninteresting. Let us, however, collect from them, if we can, an enlivening ray or two of the Church of Christ.

The Saracens, the descendants of Ishmael, afterwards so ennobled, or rather disgraced, by Mahomet the impostor, were at war with the Romans, under the conduct of their queen Maovia, who was a Christian. The emperor Valens made peace with her, one of the conditions of which was, that Moses a monk, who lived in the desert between Egypt and Palestine, should be appointed bishop of her nation. Valens ordered him to be carried to Alexandria, there to be ordained by Lucius. Moses, who knew the Arian character of that Metropolitan, said before him and the magistrates, and all the people, Stay, I am not worthy to be called a bishop; but if I am called to this office, unworthy as I am, for the good of souls, I take the Creator of all things to witness, that I will not receive the imposition of your hands, which are defiled with the blood of so many holy men. If you know not my faith, replied Lucius, learn it from my mouth, and judge not by reports. Moses, however, was aware of the Arian subtilties, and chose to stand by the evidence of works. I know your faith, said he; the pastors exiled among infidels, condemned to the mines, thrown to the wild beasts, or destroyed by fire, testify your creed; the eyes speak more strongly than the ears*.

* Sozom. B. VI. c. 3«

Chap. Political necessities sometimes restrain the passions of wicked men. Lucius was obliged to dissemble his resentment, on account of the situation of Valens his master, and permit Moses to receive ordination from the exiled bishops. His labours among the Saracens were crowned with success. The nation before his time was chiefly idolatrous: that his work was blessed among them appears from hence, that he kept them in peace with the Romans. But this is all the account we have of the fruits.

The Goths had long harassed the Roman empire with their incursions ; but their depredations were made subservient to the progress of the Gospel. I have observed under the last century, that some captive bishops laboured among them with good success. And the work was of an abiding nature. Ulfilas, who is called the Apostle of the Goths, was descended from some of these. He, coming ambassador to Constantine, was ordained first bishop of the Christian Goths by Eusebius of Nicomedia. I have shown from a passage in Theodoret, that the Arians seem to have imposed upon him by an ambiguity of terms, in consequence of which he drew over his Goths to communicate with that sect. Certain it is, that this people held the Nicene faith for a considerable time, if we may credit Augustine. In the time of Valens, many of them suffered death from an idolatrous persecuting prince of their own. Ulfilas coming from his countrymen on an embassy to Valens, that he might induce him to allow them a settlement in Thrace, was on that occasion brought over to communicate with the Arians. That he was a man of superior genius and endowments, is certain. He civilized and polished this barbarous people, and first introduced the use of letters among them, and translated the Scriptures into their tongue for their use, omitting the books of the Kings, because he thought it might encourage the ferociousness of the Goths, who were already too warlike. A copy of his version of the four Gospels is still extant, a monument of the ancient Teutonic language. It is with regret I leave the account of this great man so imperfect, whose labours and success seem to show, that the hand of the Lord must have been with him. But, however innocent he and his contemporaries might be of the Arian heresy, the effect of their communication with the party was what might be foreseen. The whole church of the Goths, by degrees at least, came into Arianism, and the consequences will meet us in the course of this history*.

Heresies multiplied inthiscentury, chiefly through the various ramifications of Arianism, which have been explained with more than sufficient accuracy by many writers. Of the dissenters, the Meletians continued throughout the century. The Donatists still remained in all their ferocity; of whom it will be more convenient to speak hereafter. The Novatians have found in the candid Socrates, a historian who gives us some authentic information, having himself been acquainted with the son of one of their presbyters. In Phrygia and Paphlagonia, their church was in a flourishing state to his day. The general church, though surely right in its principle of opposition to the particular point of Novatian inflexibility, yet afterward abused the licence of readmission into the church granted to offenders ; and as discipline relaxed in various places, all kinds of crimes abounded.—The people of Phrygia and Pamphylia, being habitually an abstemious people, averse to pleasures, and to the indulgence of sensuality, were on that account the more disposed to admitthe severities of Novatianismf- Inthiscentury, a part of them separated themselves still farther from the general church, by appointing in a synod, that Easter should be observed at the same time that

* Excerpt . Philostorgii apud Phctium. f Socrates, B. IV. c. 28. VOL. XX. R

Chap, the Jews kept the feast of unleavened bread. But rc* , as Agelius the Novatian bishop of Constantinople, and other more celebrated bishops of their denomination, were not present, a schism was formed, from this circumstance, among them. Agelius presided forty years over their church at Constantinople, and died in the sixth year of Theodosius. When he was near his end, he ordained Sisinnius to be his successor, a presbyter of the church*, of great learning, who had been instructed by Maximus, the famous friend of Julian. The flock of Agelius murmured, because he had not ordained Marcian, a man of eminent piety, by whose means they had weathered, in safety, the persecution of Valens. The aged bishop, willing to pacify them, ordained Marcian, and directed that he should be his immediate successor, and that Sisinnius should be the next bishop to Marcian.

Thus slender and scanty are the accounts left us of a bishop, who for so many years presided over a great flock in turbulent and trying times. On Marcian's succession, one Sabbatius, a Jew, receiving Christianity, was advanced by him to the office of presbyter, and in his heart panted after a bishopric. This man undertook to defend the innovation concerning Easter, which has been mentioned; and first, under pretence of greater strictness of life, he withdrew himself from the church, declaring that he could not conscientiously communicate with some members of the congregation.

In time, however, his views were laid open, as he attempted to hold separate assemblies. Marcian then found his error in ordaining so ambitious a person, and often said in his grief, that he wished he had laid hands on thorns rather than on Sabbatius. He took measures, however, to disappoint his ambition. Calling a council,'he sent for Sabbatius, aud desired him to lay open the reasons of his * Socrates, B. V. c. 31.

disgust. The man informed them, that the difference of opinion concerning Easter was his grievance, as he thought that festival ought to be observed according to the rule of the synod of Paza. The bishops, suspecting his designs, obliged him to swear, that he would not attempt to become a bishop, and then decreed, that the time of observing Easter should be left indifferent, and that no schism should be made in the church on that account. Their design of preserving unity was laudable ; but it succeeded not. Sabbatius drew over a number of the simpler sort, and particularly those of Phrygia and Galatia, to his own Jewish mode, and got himself appointed bishop of his followers, in contradiction to his oath. The consequence was, a variety of divisions among the Novatians, concerning the time of Easter, and other frivolous subjects, and the crumbling of this church into contentious parties of different kinds.

Little can be said on this subject, but what must occur to the mind of a thinking reader. This most respectable of all the dissenting churches seems to have preserved, for a considerable time, a strictness and purity of discipline and manners; but its essential characteristic of narrow bigotry, in things of no moment, gave occasion to internal divisions among its own members, which, fomented by unprincipled persons, must have perverted them much from the simplicity of the Gospel.

Monasticism continued to make a rapid progress through this whole century. It is not worth while to trace its progress particularly, nor to recite any of the ridiculous frauds, abuses and superstitions, which were connected with it. Self-righteous formality made rapid strides in the Christian world; one single observation, however, of an author, who has recorded much of this trash with great complacency, will deserve to be transcribed. " Most of these famous monks," says Sozomen, " lived to extreme old age, Chap- and I think that this was a mean of facilitating the _.X1X' , progress of Christianity. Antioch excepted, Syria was very late in receiving the Gospel, and these monks were highly instrumental in the work, both in that country, and among the Persians and Saracens." That these countries, which were before, for the most part, void of the doctrine of Christ, might receive spiritual advantage from these superstitious men, is probable, because some genuine piety was doubtless among them. That Galatia and Cappadocia, which had long before been full of the best Christians, should do so, I very much doubt*. Superstition, drawing with it something of real Christianity, may bring a blessing to countries altogether profane or idolatrous ;—to a people already well evangelized, it can only act as a poison.