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SPIRIT OF THE CLERGY IN CONSTANTINE'S DAY. 383
the seeds of strife and contention, by his liberal endowment of the churches, and by the riches and honours which he had conferred upon the bishops; and he was now reaping the fruit of his own folly. In after ages, and particularly among the Waldenses, it was a common saying, that Constantine, by the things now mentioned, had poured poison into the church, and there assuredly was much truth and justice in the remark.
Had Constantine rested satisfied with repealing the persecuting edicts of his predecessors, and then left Christianity to its own internal resources to make its own way, he had acted the part of a wise, good, and impartial governor. His first edict, without particularizing any sects or parties, gave full liberty to all of them, whether Christian or Pagan, to follow their own convictions in professing their religious faith ; but that liberty was of short duration, and soon abridged in reference to both Christians and Heathens. For though in that edict he had commanded that the places of Worship, and other effects which had been cruelly and unjustly wrested from them by the magistrates under the former emperors, should now be restored to Christians in general, it was soon followed by another, which restricted the restitution to the “ Catholic church.” In a letter which he wrote soon after to Miltiades, bishop of Rome, complaining of the differences that were fomented by the African bishops, he tells him that he had so great a reverence for the “ Catholic church,” that he advised him not to suffer, in any place, either schism or difference of any kind to exist. There are in his letters many things which savour of the same intolerant spirit, and which leave us no room to doubt that, by the Catholic church, we are to understand that system of things which was approved by those bishops who had the greatest share of interest in his favour. And, with respect to his treatment of the Pagans, his measures were in flagrant violation of the first principles of Christianity. He prohibited by law all idolatrous worship throughout the empire-commanded that no statues should be erected to the honour of their deities, nor any sacrifices offered upon their altars ; and he sent into all the provinces Christian presidents, with instructions to prohibit the offering of sacrifices by the Pagan priests, and confirming to the former the
honours which he considered to be due to their characters and stations; thus endeavouring to support the kingdom of Christ, a dispensation of truth and righteousness and peace, by means altogether worldly; the prospects and rewards of temporal grandeur and emolument.
It cannot reasonably excite our surprise, that the persons who could recommend the issuing of such edicts as these, which had for their object to suppress by force the ancient religion of the empire, should be against tolerating any sects among themselves that they considered to be heterodox. For, if we once concede that the civil magistrate may prohibit religious opinions or punish the abettors of them, merely because in his view they are erroneous, it will follow, by necessary consequence, that his power extends to the inflicting of punishment on professing Christians whose sentiments and practices he may disapprove. If the magistrate's jurisdiction be allowed to extend to his exercising a control over the human mind in one instance, we cannot consistently deny it to him in any other; and as his own judgment is, in all cases, the authorized standard of truth and error, he bears the sword, upon this principle, to punish every deviation from that standard which he has erected, whether it be found in Christian, Jew, or Pagan. Thus, if Constantine and the clergy of his day were justified in abolishing the superstitious worship of the Pagans by the civil power, merely because they deemed it erroneous, Diocletian and Gallienus with their priests were equally justified in putting down the Christians by virtue of their authority, for this plain reason, that they deemed it impious and even blasphemy against their gods, and as bordering upon Atheism itself. It is, however, high time that I dismissed this part of the subject, and proceeded to notice other evils which resulted from this unscriptural alliance between church and state.
From the change which at this time took place, with respect to the rank and character of the ministers of religion, the transition seems easy and natural to the subject of the revenues of the church. And on this topic it will be curious to observe by what steps the pastors, elders, or overseers of the churches, who ought to have been their servants, came to have independent and even
ORIGIN OF CHURCH REVENUES.
princely incomes, and, in a course of time, to engross to themselves a very considerable part of the wealth, and even of the landed property of Europe.
If we look back to the constitution of the churches of Christ, as recorded in Acts ii. 42, we shall find that one of the things which were statedly observed by the disciples, when they assembled for public worship on the Lord's day, was what is termed the fellowship, Gr. Kolvovia, collection, contribution, or communication of their worldly substance, for the relief of the poor and other necessary purposes connected with their joint association ; and this was always observed at the time of the Lord's supper, and committed to the deacons for distribution.
Until the times of Constantine, the different churches had no other revenues than the voluntary offerings of the members on these stated occasions, the laws of the state prohibiting their possessing either landed or funded property, as we now term it. If peculiar circumstances called for extraordinary exertions, such as a time of famine or more than ordinary distress, the disciples had their attention called to this particular institution of their Lord's kingdom, as the proper time and place and occasion for the manifestation of their liberality. In all the New Testament we read nothing of monthly, quarterly, or annual collections ; of the opening of chapels ; or of anniversaries instituted for the purpose of collecting money. We indeed find that, in the days of the apostle Paul, there was a famine throughout all the land of Judæa, and, the disciples in that quarter being put to great straits and difficulties, it was proposed that a contribution for their relief should be made among the Gentile churches, in which their apostle took a very lively interest.* The directions, however, which he gave the church at Corinth respecting this matter are worthy of our notice. “ Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye :-upon the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come,” 1 Cor. xvi. 1, 2. It is surely to be regretted that there is so little attention paid to the apostle's direction, by the pro
* See Gal. ii. 10; 2 Cor. viii, 10-14; Rom. xv. 26, 27. VOL. 1.
fessed churches of Christ in our day. The practice now so universally prevalent of observing the Lord's supper only once a month, instead of every first day of the week, has introduced a total change respecting the fellowship, which appears to be in a great measure lost sight of; but surely the churches of our day would do well to review their proceedings in these respects, and return to the practice of the primitive societies.
It was in the days of Constantine that the revenues of the church, like most other things of divine institution, were put upon a new footing. In the year 321 he issued an edict, addressed to the people of Rome, in which he gave full permission to every one to bequeath whatever they chose to the churches of Christ, besides restoring to them the confiscations which had taken place under Diocletian and Galerius; it was also enacted that the estates of such of the martyrs as had left no heirs should be transferred to the churches. This edict laid the basis of a new order of things; for the consequence was, that, in process of time, many of the churches came to possess what was called their patrimony ;--that is, they had an endowment of property, altogether independent of the weekly contribution, or fellowship, and the church of Rome in particular, in the sixth century, had a very considerable one, both in Italy and other countries ; and to inspire a greater respect for those endowments, or patrimonies, they were called after the names of the apostles or saints that were more especially respected in each; thus the territories belonging to the church of Rome obtained the name of the patrimony of St. Peter.
The enormous pitch to which this evil has accumulated in a course of ages, I do not say in Catholic countries, but even in our own Protestant state, is a point too glaring to escape notice; and yet it is one which, were I to enlarge upon it as it deserves, and expose it in all its enormity, might subject me to imputations which I would gladly avoid. Otherwise I might request you to look back to the weekly collection for the poor, the supply of the pastor's table, and various other purposes indispen. sable in keeping up the public worship of God in any place as wisely ordained by the Lord Jesus in his kingdom, and, having examined that ordinance as you find it laid down in the New Testament, then turn your attention to the rank and reve
TESTIMONIES TO THE COVETOUSNESS OF THE CLERGY. 387
nues of his Grace of Canterbury, the bishops of London, Durham, Lincoln, Gloucester, Worcester, &c. &c., and you would have a tolerable specimen of the monstrous abuses that have been engrafted upon the simple and primitive institution of the ordinance of the fellowship as recorded Acts ii. 42. One of our ablest and best historians has remarked, that “it was among the first effects of the conversion of Constantine to give not only a security, but a legal sanction to the territorial acquisitions of the church. The edict of Milan, in 313, recognizes the actual estates of ecclesiastical corporations. Another, published in 321, grants to all the subjects of the empire the power of bequeathing their property to the church. His own liberality, and that of his successors, set an example which did not want imitation. Passing rapidly from a condition of distress and persecution to the summit of prosperity, the church degenerated as rapidly from her ancient purity, and forfeited the respect of future ages in the same proportion as she acquired the blind veneration of her own. Covetousness, especially, became almost a characteristic vice. In the year 370, the emperor Valentinian I. prohibited the clergy from receiving the bequests of women-a modification more discreditable than any general law could have been; and several of the fathers severely reprobate the prevailing avidity of their contemporaries.”* Jerome, who was born about the time that the emperor Constantine died, says that in his day the church had indeed become more rich and powerful under the Christian emperors, but it had become proportionably less virtuous; and, with regard to the general character of the clergy, he tells us that the priests of his time spared no tricks or artifices to get the estates of private persons into their hands: he, moreover, mentions many low and sordid offices, to which priests and monks stooped to obtain the favour and the estates of old men and women who had no children. Chrysostom also attests that the bishops forsook their employments to sell their corn and wine, and to look after their glebes and farms, besides spending much of their time in law suits.
Before I put an end to the present Lecture, it may not be amiss to glance at the ground we have gone ever, and attempt something like a practical improvement of the subject. i * Mr. Hallam's History of the Middle Ages, vol. ii. ch. vii. p. 199.