Century VII, Chapter III

CHAP. III.

The General History of the Church in this Century.

P HOC AS, the Greek emperor, was deposed and slain by Heraclius in the year 610: he was one of the most vicious and profligate tyrants, and may be compared with Caligula, Nero, and DoYnitian. Since the days of Constantine such characters had been exceedingly rare. For such was the benign influence of the gospel, that even amidst all the corruptions and abuses of it, which were now so numerous, a decency of character and conduct, unknown to their pagan predecessors, was supported by the emperors in general. Heraclius, the successor of Phocas, reigned thirty years. In the beginning of his reign the Persians desolated the eastern part of the empire, and made themselves masters of Jerusalem. While Asia groaned under their cruelties and oppressions, and was afflicted with scourge after scourge, for her long abuse of the best gift of God, an opportunity was given for the exercise of christian graces to a bishop of a church, which had long ceased to produce christian fruit.

This was John, bishop of Alexandria, called the Almoner, on account of his extensive liberality. He daily supplied with necessaries those who flocked into Egypt, after they had escaped the Persian arms. He sent to * Jerusalem the most ample relief for such as remained there: he ransomed captives; placed the sick and wounded in hospitals, and visited them, in person, two or three times a week. He even seems to have interpreted too strictly the sacred rule, " of giving to him that asketh of thee." His spirit however was noble. " Should the whole world come to Alexandria," said he, " they could not exhaust the treasures of God."

The Nile not having risen to its usual height, there

%

' Fleury xxxvii. 10.

was a barren season; provisions were scarce, and crowds of refugees still poured into Alexandria. John continued, however, his liberal donatives, till he had neither money, nor credit. The prayer of faith was his resource, and he still persevered in hope. He even refused a very tempting offer of a person, who would have bribed him with a large present, that he might be ordained deacon. " As to my brethren the poor," said the holy prelate, " God, who fed them, before you and I were born, will take care to feed them now, if we obey him." Soon afterward he heard of the arrival of two large ships, which he had sent into Sicily for corn. " I thank thee, O Lord," cried the bishop in a rapture of joy, " that thou hast kept me from selling thy gift for money."

From the beginning of his bishopric he maintained 7500 poor persons by daily alms. He was accessible to them on all occasions; and what is most material, divine faith seems to have influenced his acts of love. " If God," said he, " allow us to enter into his house at all times, and if we wish him speedily to hear us, how ought we to conduct ourselves toward our brethren?" He constantly studied the scriptures, and, in his conversation, was instructive and exemplary. Slander and evil speaking he peculiarly disliked. If any person in his presence was guilty in this respect, he would give another turn to the discourse. If the person still persisted, he would direct his servant not to admit him any more.

The long course of heresy, licentiousness, and ambition, which had filled the Alexandrian church, supported by the shameful examples of such pastors as Theophilus and other profligate men, must have reduced it to the lowest ebb; and I wonder not to find, that persons behaved indecently even in public worship. John, one day seeing several leave the church after the reading of the gospel, went out also and sat down among them. " Children," said he, " the shepherd should be with his flock; I could pray at home, but I cannot preach at home." By doing this twice, he reformed the abuse. Let it be marked, as an evidence of the zeal of this prelate, who, like another Josiah, seems to have been sent to reform a falling church, that the preaching of the word engaged much of his heart, and let it moreover be observed, that the contempt of preaching is a certain token of extreme degeneracy.

A canon was made at Paris, in a council, in the year 614, the same year in which Jerusalem was taken, which enjoins that he shall be ordained to succeed a deceased bishop, who shall be chosen by the archbishop, together with the bishops of the province, the clergy and the people, without any prospect of gain: if the ordination be conducted otherwise through compulsion or neglect, the election shall be void. The intelligent reader will hence judge of the state of ecclesiastical polity at that time.

In 616 John the Almoner departed from Alexandria, for fear of the Persians, and died soon after in Cyprus, in the same spirit in which he had lived; and with him ends all that is worth recording of the church of Alexandria.

In the same year the haughty Chosroes, king of Persia, having conquered Alexandria and Egypt, and taken Chalcedon, Heraclius, who saw the ruin of his empire approaching, begged for peace. " That I will never consent to," replied the tyrant, " till you renounce him who was crucified, whom you call God, and with me adore the sun." If one compare Chosroes and Heraclius, their personal characters will not appear intrinsically different. In one is seen a daring blasphemer of Christ, in the other a nominal professor of his religion, whose life brought no honour to the name. Their ostensible characters in the world were, however, extremely different. The Lord, who is a jealous God, has ever been used to confound his open enemies in the view of all mankind. Chosroes was a second Sennacherib, and he was treated as such by the Sovereign of the universe. The spirit of Heraclius was roused, and God gave him wonderful suecess: the Persian king was repeatedly vanquished, though he ceased not to persecute the christians, so long as he had power; and after he had lost the greatest part of his dominions, he was murdered by his own son, as was the case with Sennacherib; and in the year 628 the Persian power ceased to be formidable to the Roman empire. *

It is not without reason that St. Paul exhorts us " to shun profane and vain babblings; because their word will eat like a canker, "f The nestorian and eutychian heresies, opposite extremes, the one dividing the person, the other confounding the two natures of Jesus Christ, though condemned by councils, still flourished in great vigor in the east. And the resistance of the orthodox had little effect, for want of theJ energy of true spiritual life, which still subsisted in a measure in the west. For there the sound doctrine of grace, the guard of true humility, was an ensign, around which truly pious men were wont to rally their strength from time to time. But, in Asia and Egypt, religion was for the most part heartless speculation. And about the year 630 the eutychian heresy produced another, the monothelite, which ascribed only one will to Jesus Christ. This opinion was the natural consequence of that, which gave him only one nature. Theodore, bishop of Pharan in Arabia, first started this notion, which was also readily received by Sergius, bishop of Constantinople, whose parents had been eutychians. Cyrus, who soon after was made bishop of Alexandria, supported the same heresy. The ambiguous subtilties of the party drew the emperor Heraclius into the same net, and the east was rapidly overspread with the heresy.

Sophronius, formerly the disciple of John the Almoner, a man of sincerity and simplicity, with tears bewailed and protested against the innovation in a counpil at Alexandria, but iq vain. Having been elected bishop of Jerusalem in 629, he afterwards in 633

* Fleiiry, b. xxxvil. 3*. f 2 Tim. 16, 17. i Fleury, xlvji. 41.

exerted his authority against the growing heresy, but with meekness of wisdom. In a synodical letter he explained with equal solidity and accuracy the divine and human operations of Jesus Christ, and gave pertinent instances of both.*

" When he thought fit, ,he gave his human nature an opportunity to act or to suffer whatever belonged to it. His incarnation was no fancy, and he always acted voluntarily. Jesus Christ, as God, willingly took on himself human nature, and he willingly suffered in his flesh to save us, and, by his merits, to free us from suffering. His body was subject to our natural and innocent passions: he permitted it to suffer, according to its nature, till his resurrection; then he freed himself from all that is corruptible in our nature, that he might deliver us from the same." Sophronius recommends himself to the prayers of Sergius, to whom he writes, and adds, " pray for our emperors," he means Heraclius and his son, " that God may give them victory overall the barbarians; particularly, that he would humble the pride of the Saracens, who for our sins have suddenly risen upon us, and lay all waste with fierce barbarity and impious confidence."

Thus, in the lowest times of evangelical religion, God ever raised up men who understood the truth, and knew how to defend it by sound argument, a charitable spirit, and an holy life. This seems to have been the case of Sophronius. In the mean time the monothelite heresy spread wider and wider. Even Honorius, bishop of Rome, was led into the snare, owned but one will in Jesus Christ, and imposed silence on all the controversialists. Heraclius himself, who lent his imperial authority to the support of a speculative phantom, while he imposed on his own heart by a specious show of theological nicety, lived in the gross and open wickedness of incest, by marrying his own niece.

The danger from the Saracens, mentioned by So

• Flenrv, xxxviii. 5.

Vol. III. 17

phronius, was no other than the victorious arms of Mahomet, the Arabian impostor. He had begun in the year 608 to declare himself a prophet, and, by the assistance of a Jew and a renegado christian, had formed a farrago of doctrines and rites, in which there was a mixture of paganism, judaism, and christianity, whence he found means to draw over to his party some of the various sorts of men who inhabited Arabia. An age of excessive ignorance favoured his schemes: at this day so senseless and absurd a book as the koran could scarce move the minds of any persons in Europe. But he laid hold of the corrupt passions of man, and by indulging his followers in sensuality, ambition, and the love of booty, and by promising them a carnal heaven hereafter, he contrived a religion more directly adapted to please mankind than any other of which we have heard. At the same time by declaring war against all who did not receive him, he gave an undoubted right to all nations to attack a system which could only thrive by the oppression of others. But there are seasons of infatuation, when, for the sins of men, empires and kingdoms are permitted to slumber, and enter into no effectual measures of resistance, till invaders, at first weak and contemptible, grow in time to an enormous height. This was the case with mahometanism. The time was come when the Saracen locusts were about to torment the christian world, and the prophecy of Rev. ix. 1—12, was going to be fulfilled. The Greeks were idly employed in the new dispute: vice and wickedness prevailed over the east in all forms. A few indeed mourned*over the times, and adorned the truth by humility and holiness, but scarce any christian writers appeared to make a serious opposition to the doctrines of Mahomet; and at the time of his death, which happened in the year 631, he had conquered almost all Arabia.*

* It has pleased God to permit the existence of this odious and contemptible religion to this day. And it should be carefully observed, that Mahomet, wicked and deceitful as he doubtless was altogether, did not openly oppose God or his Christ. He did not deny directly, though he

Notwithstanding the decease of the impostor, the mahometan arms proceeded still with the same rapidity. Damascus fell into the hands of his successors; and Sophronius exhorted his flock to take warning and repent. Jerusalem however was taken by the enemy in the year 637, and Sophronius died soon after. Antioch and Alexandria successively sunk under them. Persia itself was subdued. Thus did God equally punish the persecuting idolaters, and the vicious professors of christianity in the east. They were doomed to a long night of servitude under mahometanism, which continues to this time. Heraclius himself died in the year 641. God had showed him great mercies and given him very great encouragement to seek true religion, by the remarkable success of his arms against the Persians in the middle of his reign. But he lived wickedly and speculated unscripturally. And a new power was erected, which reaped the fruits of all his Persian triumphs, and tore from him the fairest provinces of the east.

To what purpose should I run through the mazes of the monothelite controversy? Yet something must be said of the part which Maximus acted in it. He was one of the most learned men of the age, and had been employed by Heraclius as his secretary; but I wonder not that a man, who loved real godliness, as he did, should have a strong aversion to a court like that of Heraclius. He entered into the monastery of Chrysopolis near Chalcedon, and was at length elected abbot. He it was who succeeded Sophronius in the

did consequentially, the divine revelation either of old or new testament. He always spake respectfully of the inspired prophetical character of Moses and of Christ. He received so much of Christianity as afrreea with socinianism. Jehovah was not therefore openly despised by him as he was by Julian, Chosroes, and Sennacherib. On them was fulfilled that scripture, " he repayeth them, that hate him, to destroy them; he w ill not be slack to him, that hatcth him, he will repay hi in to his face " De liter, vii. 10. A speedy destruction of such avowed enemies seems to be menaced, that the divine character may be vindicated. His covert enemies, who yet treat him with respectful decorum, are often permitted lonj* to exist, for the punishment of false professors. For the truth and majesty of God are not so sensibly dishonoured by them in the view of the whole world, as to call for their immediate extirpation.

defence of the primitive faith, and with much labour confuted the heresiarchs. Martin, bishop of Rome, was excited by the zeal of Maximus to assemble a council, in the Lateran,of a hundred and five bishops in 649. Constans was at this time emperor, and? by a decree, had forbidden any side at all to be taken in the controversy. Sergius, Pyrrhus, and Paul, three successive bishops of Constantinople, had supported the heresy. The controversy had now lasted eighteen years. In this way the active minds of men, destitute of true godliness, but eagerly embracing the form, gratified the selfrighteous bias of the heart and all the malevolent passions in long protracted controversies, while practical religion was lost. Nor could all the calamities of the times and the desolation of the eastern churches move them to the love of peace and truth.

In these circumstances, Martin in council ventured to anathematize the supporters of the monothelite heresy. I cannot blame his disobedience to the emperor Constans in refusing to observe silence on a point of doctrine, which to him appeared important. Constans evidently forgot his office, when he required such things. And it is a curious instance of the power of prejudice in some protestant historians,* that they will so much support the conduct of a worthless tyrant, as Constans doubtlesswas, because his speculative principles induced him to treat a Roman bishop with cruelty. There was a haughtiness, no doubt, and an asperity in the language and behaviour of Martin, very unbecoming a christian. His cause however seems just; nor does it appear, that he either meant or acted treasonably: he defended that part of the truth, which was opposed, with the magnanimity, though not with the meekness, that became a bishop. Constans ordered him to be dragged into the east, and treated him with a long, protracted barbarity of punishment. Martin was firm to the last. " As to this wretched body," says

• See Bower and Moshcim

he, " the Lord will take care of it. He is at hand; why should I give myself any trouble? for I hope in his mercy, that he will not prolong my course." He died in the year 655. His extreme sufferings of imprisonment, hunger, fetters, brutal treatment a thousand ways, call for compassion: his constancy demands respect; and his firm adherence to the doctrines of truth, though mixed with a very blamable ambition in maintaining the dignity of the Roman see, deserves the admiration of christians. He is, in Roman language, called St. Martin; and I hope he had a just title to the name in the best sense of the word.

Maximus was also brought to Constantinople, and, by the order of Constans, underwent a number of examinations. He was asked by an officer to sign the type; so the edict of Constans was named. Only do this, said the officer, believe what you please in your heart. " It is not to the heart alone," replied Maximus, " that God hath confined our duty; we are also obliged with the mouth to confess Jesus Christ before men."* It is astonishingf to observe, what pains were taken to engage him to own the monothelite party, nor can this be accounted for in any other way than by the opinion which all men had of his piety and sincerity, and the expectation of the influence, which his example would have on many. But the labour was lost: Maximus, though seventy-five years old, preserved all the vigor of understanding, and confounded his examiners, by the solidity of his answers. He clearly proved, " that to allow only one will or operation in Jesus Christ was in reality to allow only one nature: that therefore the opinion for which the emperor was so zealous, was nothing more than eutychianism dressed up anew: that he had not so properly condemned the emperor, as the doctrine, by whomsoever it was held: that it was contrary to the current of all ecclesiastical antiquity: that our Saviour was always allowed from the apostolical times

* See Butler's Lives, voL sil f Fleury, b. Jols.iv. 12, &c;

to be perfect God and perfect man, and must therefore have the nature, will, and operations distinctlybelonging both to God and man: that the new notion went to confound the idea both of the divinity and the humanity, and to leave him no proper existence at all: that the emperor was not a pastor, and that it had never been practised by christian emperors in the best times, to impose silence on bishops: that it was the duty of the latter not to disguise the truth by ambiguous expressions, but to defend it by clear and distinct terms adapted to the subject: that arianism had always endeavoured to support itself by such artifices as those employed by the emperor, and that a peace obtained by such methods in the church was at the expense of truth." I admire the good sense and sincerity, which appear through the very long account of his defence, of which I have given a very brief summary. Were it not, that God, from age to age, had raised up such champions in his church, humanlyspeaking, not an atom of christian truth by this time would have been left in the world. For heretics have uniformly acted on this plan: they have imposed silence on the orthodox, under pretence of the love of peace and union, whenever they had the power, and in the mean time propagated their own tenets. The question before us was very metaphysical and obscure; yet, if the emperor's side had prevailed, instead of an insignificant party, called the maronites, in the cast, who still subsist, the monothelites might have filled half the globe to this day.

The tyrant, enraged to find himself disappointed, ordered Maximus to be scourged, his tongue to be cut out, his right hand to be cut off; and he then directed the maimed abbot to be banished and doomed to imprisonment for the rest of his life. The same punishment was inflicted on two of his disciples, both of the name of Anastasius. These three upright men were separated from each other, and confined in three castles in obscure regions of the east. Their condemnation took place in 656: Maximus died in (362: one of the Anastasiuses in 664: they both had sustained the most cruel indignities, and had been rendered incapable of any consolations, except those which undoubtedly belong to men who suffer for righteousness' sake. The other Anastasius died in a castle at the foot of Mount Caucasus in 666.

While such barbarous measures were used by nominal christians to support unscriptural tenets, it is not to be wondered at that providence frowned on the affairs of the empire. The Saracens now ruled over Arabia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Chaldea, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and part of Africa. Even Europe suffered from the depredations of the Arabians, and part of Sicily was reduced to their subjection.

The unworthy emperor Constans murdered also his own brother Theodosius, and continued to disgrace the christian name by his follies, his vices, and his cruelties. He was himself despatched at length in the twenty-seventh year of his reign in 667.

In the year 680 a general council was called at Constantinople: the emperor Constantine Pogonatus presided: the monothelite heresy was anathematized; and its several abettors were condemned, among whom was Honorius a bishop of Rome. A certain proof that infallibility was neither allowed nor pretended to at that time by the Italian prelate. For the legates of Agathon, who was then bishop of Rome, were at the council, nor do we find that any opposition was made by them or by their master to the condemnation of Honorius.

If we compare the east and the west, during this century, we shall see a very striking difference. In England true godliness shone for a considerable part of it: in France there was a good measure of piety; and from these two countries divine truth made its way into Germany and the north with glorious success. In Italy, the Lombards were more and more cleared of arianism; and though there arose no bishop of Rome to be compared at all to Gregory, yet the purity of the faith was preserved by them all, in point of theological speculation, except one. And his condemnation, which we have just seen, demonstrates, that antichrist had not yet arrived at maturity. Infallibility was not then thought of, as attached to the person of the Roman prelate. His power indeed was much too great; so was his pomp and influence. But it was the same with the bishops of other great sees: and the bishop of Constantinople retains the title of universal bishop to this day. Nor had the bishop of Rome any temporal dominion, nor did he pretend to any. In fine, the most decisive marks of antichrist, idolatry and false doctrine, had not yet appeared at Rome. Superstition and vice were lamentably on the increase in the west, though a considerable degree of true piety prevailed, and some gracious effusions of the Spirit of God appeared.

The influences of divine grace seem to have been withheld. in the east, intirely. Men had there filled up the measure of their iniquities. Even from Origen's days a, decline of true doctrine, and the spirit of sceptical philosophy, ever hostile to that of grace, kept them low in religion compared with their western brethren. How precious must the grace of the gospel be, which, being revived in Europe, in the time of Augustine, ceased not to produce salutary effects, and to extend true religion even to the most savage nations! Attempts indeed to propagate, what they called Christianity, were made in the east by the nestorians, who dwelt in Persia and India, and by the eutychians. who flourished in Egypt. The former were particularly successful in increasing their numbers; but I have nothing to produce of real godliness as the result of the labours of either party. Abyssinia, which from the days of Athanasius, always considered herself as a daughter of Alexandria, receives thence her pontiff to this day: when eutychianism prevailed in Egypt, it did so of course in Abyssinia, and has been the prevalent form ever since the seventh century in both Countries. The mahometan conquerors reduced the ancient professors of orthodoxy into a state of extreme insignificaucy; and this was one of the scourges of God by the Arabian imposture, namely, that heretics were encouraged and protected by those conquerors, while the orthodox were crushed. Orthodox patriarchs existed indeed in Egypt for some time after the Saracen conquest. But ignorance, superstition, and immorality, still abounded, and have now continued to abound for many centuries. The east, whence the light first arose, has long sat in darkness, with the exception of some individuals from age to age, such as John the Almoner and a few others, who have been mentioned in this chapter. God will have a church upon earth, and it shall be carried to the most despised regions rather than extinguished intirely. And there is a voice which speaks to Europe in these works of his providence in a louder tone than I know how to describe.

Africa fell under the power of the mahometans toward the close of this century. It had long shared in the general corruption, and it shared in the general punishment. The region, which has so often refreshed us with evangelical light and energy, where Cyprian suffered, and where Augustine taught, was consigned to mahometan darkness, and must henceforth be very nearly dismissed from these memoirs.