We shall not extend our views into the depths of theology. God preserve us from such presumption. Humble faith alone is enough for us. We never assume any other part than that of mere historians.
In the years that immediately followed Jesus Christ, who was at once God and man, there existed among the Hebrews nine religious schools or societies — Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenians, Judahites, Therapeutæ, Rechabites, Herodians, the disciples of John, and the disciples of Jesus, named the “brethren,” the “Galileans,” the “believers,” who did not assume the name of Christians till about the sixteenth year of our era, at Antioch; being directed to its adoption by God himself, in ways unknown to men. The Pharisees believed in the metempsychosis. The Sadducees denied the immortality of the soul, and the existence of spirits, yet believed in the Pentateuch.
Pliny, the naturalist — relying, evidently, on the authority of Flavius Josephus — calls the Essenians “gens æterna in qua nemo nascitur”—“a perpetual family, in which no one is ever born”— because the Essenians very rarely married. The description has been since applied to our monks.
It is difficult to decide whether the Essenians or the Judahites are spoken of by Josephus in the following passage: “They despise the evils of the world; their constancy enables them to triumph over torments; in an honorable cause, they prefer death to life. They have undergone fire and sword, and submitted to having their very bones crushed, rather than utter a syllable against their legislator, or eat forbidden food.”
It would seem, from the words of Josephus, that the foregoing portrait applies to the Judahites, and not to the Essenians. “Judas was the author of a new sect, completely different from the other three;” that is, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Essenians. “They are,” he goes on, “Jews by nation; they live in harmony with one another, and consider pleasure to be a vice.” The natural meaning of this language would induce us to think that he is speaking of the Judahites.
However that may be, these Judahites were known before the disciples of Christ began to possess consideration and consequence in the world. Some weak people have supposed them to be heretics, who adored Judas Iscariot.
The Therapeutæ were a society different from the Essenians and the Judahites. They resembled the Gymnosophists and Brahmins of India. “They possess,” says Philo, “a principle of divine love which excites in them an enthusiasm like that of the Bacchantes and the Corybantes, and which forms them to that state of contemplation to which they aspire. This sect originated in Alexandria, which was entirely filled with Jews, and prevailed greatly throughout Egypt.” The Rechabites still continued as a sect. They vowed never to drink wine; and it is, possibly, from their example that Mahomet forbade that liquor to his followers.
The Herodians regarded Herod, the first of that name, as a Messiah, a messenger from God, who had rebuilt the temple. It is clear that the Jews at Rome celebrated a festival in honor of him, in the reign of Nero, as appears from the lines of Persius: “Herodis venere dies,” etc. (Sat. v. 180.)
“King Herod’s feast, when each Judæan vile,
Trims up his lamp with tallow or with oil.”
The disciples of John the Baptist had spread themselves a little in Egypt, but principally in Syria, Arabia, and towards the Persian gulf. They are recognized, at the present day, under the name of the Christians of St. John. There were some also in Asia Minor. It is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (chap. xix.) that Paul met with many of them at Ephesus. “Have you received,” he asked them, “the holy spirit?” They answered him. “We have not heard even that there is a holy spirit.” “What baptism, then,” says he, “have you received?” They answered him, “The baptism of John.”
In the meantime the true Christians, as is well known, were laying the foundation of the only true religion. He who contributed most to strengthen this rising society, was Paul, who had himself persecuted it with the greatest violence. He was born at Tarsus in Cilicia, and was educated under one of the most celebrated professors among the Pharisees — Gamaliel, a disciple of Hillel. The Jews pretend that he quarrelled with Gamaliel, who refused to let him have his daughter in marriage. Some traces of this anecdote are to be found in the sequel to the “Acts of St. Thekla.” These acts relate that he had a large forehead, a bald head, united eyebrows, an aquiline nose, a short and clumsy figure, and crooked legs. Lucian, in his dialogue “Philopatres,” seems to give a very similar portrait of him. It has been doubted whether he was a Roman citizen, for at that time the title was not given to any Jew; they had been expelled from Rome by Tiberius; and Tarsus did not become a Roman colony till nearly a hundred years afterwards, under Caracalla; as Cellarius remarks in his “Geography” (book iii.), and Grotius in his “Commentary on the Acts,” to whom alone we need refer.
God, who came down upon earth to be an example in it of humanity and poverty, gave to his church the most feeble infancy, and conducted it in a state of humiliation similar to that in which he had himself chosen to be born. All the first believers were obscure persons. They labored with their hands. The apostle St. Paul himself acknowledges that he gained his livelihood by making tents. St. Peter raised from the dead Dorcas, a sempstress, who made clothes for the “brethren.” The assembly of believers met at Joppa, at the house of a tanner called Simon, as appears from the ninth chapter of the “Acts of the Apostles.”
The believers spread themselves secretly in Greece; and some of them went from Greece to Rome, among the Jews, who were permitted by the Romans to have a synagogue. They did not, at first, separate themselves from the Jews. They practised circumcision; and, as we have elsewhere remarked, the first fifteen obscure bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised, or at least were all of the Jewish nation.
When the apostle Paul took with him Timothy, who was the son of a heathen father, he circumcised him himself, in the small city of Lystra. But Titus, his other disciple, could not be induced to submit to circumcision. The brethren, or the disciples of Jesus, continued united with the Jews until the time when St. Paul experienced a persecution at Jerusalem, on account of his having introduced strangers into the temple. He was accused by the Jews of endeavoring to destroy the law of Moses by that of Jesus Christ. It was with a view to his clearing himself from this accusation that the apostle St. James proposed to the apostle Paul that he should shave his head, and go and purify himself in the temple, with four Jews, who had made a vow of being shaved. “Take them with you,” says James to him (Acts of the Apostles xxi.), “purify yourself with them, and let the whole world know that what has been reported concerning you is false, and that you continue to obey the law of Moses.” Thus, then, Paul, who had been at first the most summary persecutor of the holy society established by Jesus — Paul, who afterwards endeavored to govern that rising society — Paul the Christian, Judaizes, “that the world may know that he is calumniated when he is charged with no longer following the law of Moses.”
St. Paul was equally charged with impiety and heresy, and the persecution against him lasted a long time; but it is perfectly clear, from the nature of the charges, that he had travelled to Jerusalem in order to fulfil the rites of Judaism.
He addressed to Faustus these words: “I have never offended against the Jewish law, nor against the temple.” (Acts xxv.) The apostles announced Jesus Christ as a just man wickedly persecuted, a prophet of God, a son of God, sent to the Jews for the reformation of manners.
“Circumcision,” says the apostle Paul, “is good, if you observe the law; but if you violate the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. If any uncircumcised person keep the law, he will be as if circumcised. The true Jew is one that is so inwardly.”
When this apostle speaks of Jesus Christ in his epistles, he does not reveal the ineffable mystery of his consubstantiality with God. “We are delivered by him,” says he, “from the wrath of God. The gift of God hath been shed upon us by the grace bestowed on one man, who is Jesus Christ. . . . Death reigned through the sin of one man; the just shall reign in life by one man, who is Jesus Christ.” (Romans v.)
And, in the eighth chapter: “We are heirs of God, and joint-heirs of Christ;” and in the sixteenth chapter: “To God, who is the only wise, be honor and glory through Jesus Christ. . . . . You are Jesus Christ’s, and Jesus Christ is God’s.” (1 Cor. chap. iii.)
And, in 1 Cor. xv. 27: “Everything is made subject to him, undoubtedly, excepting God, who made all things subject to him.”
Some difficulty has been found in explaining the following part of the Epistle of the Philippians: “Do nothing through vain glory. Let each humbly think others better than himself. Be of the same mind with Jesus Christ, who, being in the likeness of God, assumed not to equal himself to God.” This passage appears exceedingly well investigated and elucidated in a letter, still extant, of the churches of Vienna and Lyons, written in the year 117, and which is a valuable monument of antiquity. In this letter the modesty of some believers is praised. “They did not wish,” says the letter, “to assume the lofty title of martyrs, in consequence of certain tribulations; after the example of Jesus Christ, who, being in the likeness of God, did not assume the quality of being equal to God.” Origen, also, in his commentary on John, says: “The greatness of Jesus shines out more splendidly in consequence of his self-humiliation than if he had assumed equality with God.” In fact, the opposite interpretation would be a solecism. What sense would there be in this exhortation: “Think others superior to yourselves; imitate Jesus, who did not think it an assumption to be equal to God?” It would be an obvious contradiction; it would be putting an example of full pretension for an example of modesty; it would be an offence against logic.
Thus did the wisdom of the apostles establish the rising church. That wisdom did not change its character in consequence of the dispute which took place between the apostles Peter, James, and John, on one side, and Paul on the other. This contest occurred at Antioch. The apostle Peter — formerly Cephas, or Simon Bar Jona — ate with the converted Gentiles, and among them did not observe the ceremonies of the law and the distinction of meats. He and Barnabas, and the other disciples, ate indifferently of pork, of animals which had been strangled, or which had cloven feet, or which did not chew the cud; but many Jewish Christians having arrived, St. Peter joined with them in abstinence from forbidden meats, and in the ceremonies of the Mosaic law.
This conduct appeared very prudent; he wished to avoid giving offence to the Jewish Christians, his companions; but St. Paul attacked him on the subject with considerable severity. “I withstood him,” says he, “to his face, because he was blamable.” (Gal. chap. ii.)
This quarrel appears most extraordinary on the part of St. Paul. Having been at first a persecutor, he might have been expected to have acted with moderation; especially as he had gone to Jerusalem to sacrifice in the temple, had circumcised his disciple Timothy, and strictly complied with the Jewish rites, for which very compliance he now reproached Cephas. St. Jerome imagines that this quarrel between Paul and Cephas was a pretended one. He says, in his first homily (vol. iii.) that they acted like two advocates, who had worked themselves up to an appearance of great zeal and exasperation against each other, to gain credit with their respective clients. He says that Peter — Cephas — being appointed to preach to the Jews, and Paul to the Gentiles, they assumed the appearance of quarrelling — Paul to gain the Gentiles, and Peter to gain the Jews. But St. Augustine is by no means of the same opinion. “I grieve,” says he, in his epistle to Jerome, “that so great a man should be the patron of a lie.”—(patronum mendacii).
This dispute between St. Jerome and St. Augustine ought not to diminish our veneration for them, and still less for St. Paul and St. Peter. As to what remains, if Peter was destined for the Jews, who were, after their conversion, likely to Judaize, and Paul for strangers, it appears probable that Peter never went to Rome. The Acts of the Apostles makes no mention of Peter’s journey to Italy.
However that may be, it was about the sixtieth year of our era that Christians began to separate from the Jewish communion; and it was this which drew upon them so many quarrels and persecutions from the various synagogues of Rome, Greece, Egypt, and Asia. They were accused of impiety and atheism by their Jewish brethren, who excommunicated them in their synagogues three times every Sabbath-day. But in the midst of their persecutions God always supported them.
By degrees many churches were formed, and the separation between Jews and Christians was complete before the close of the first century. This separation was unknown to the Roman government. Neither the senate nor the emperors of Rome interested themselves in those quarrels of a small flock of mankind, which God had hitherto guided in obscurity, and which he exalted by insensible gradations.
Christianity became established in Greece and at Alexandria. The Christians had there to contend with a new set of Jews, who, in consequence of intercourse with the Greeks, had become philosophers. This was the sect of gnosis, or gnostics. Among them were some of the new converts to Christianity. All these sects, at that time, enjoyed complete liberty to dogmatize, discourse, and write, whenever the Jewish courtiers, settled at Rome and Alexandria, did not bring any charge against them before the magistrates. But, under Domitian, Christianity began to give some umbrage to the government.
The zeal of some Christians, which was not according to knowledge, did not prevent the Church from making that progress which God destined from the beginning. The Christians, at first, celebrated their mysteries in sequestered houses, and in caves, and during the night. Hence, according to Minucius Felix, the title given them of lucifugaces. Philo calls them Gesséens. The names most frequently applied to them by the heathens, during the first four centuries, were “Galileans” and “Nazarenes”; but that of “Christians” has prevailed above all others. Neither the hierarchy, nor the services of the church, were established all at once; the apostolic times were different from those which followed.
The mass now celebrated at matins was the supper performed in the evening; these usages changed in proportion as the church strengthened. A more numerous society required more regulations, and the prudence of the pastors accommodated itself to times and places. St. Jerome and Eusebius relate that when the churches received a regular form, five different orders might be soon perceived to exist in them — superintendents, episcopoi, whence originate the bishops; elders of the society, presbyteroi, priests, diaconoi, servants or deacons; pistoi, believers, the initiated — that is, the baptized, who participated in the suppers of the agape, or love-feasts; the catechumens, who were awaiting baptism; and the energumens, who awaited their being exorcised of demons. In these five orders, no one had garments different from the others, no one was bound to celibacy; witness Tertullian’s book, dedicated to his wife; and witness also the example of the apostles. No paintings or sculptures were to be found in their assemblies during the first two centuries; no altars; and, most certainly, no tapers, incense, and lustral water. The Christians carefully concealed their books from the Gentiles; they intrusted them only to the initiated. Even the catechumens were not permitted to recite the Lord’s prayer.
That which most distinguished the Christians, and which has continued nearly to our own times, was the power of expelling devils with the sign of the cross. Origen, in his treaties against Celsus, declares — at No. 133 — that Antinous, who had been defied by the emperor Adrian, performed miracles in Egypt by the power of charms and magic; but he says that the devils came out of the bodies of the possessed on the mere utterance of the name of Jesus.
Tertullian goes farther; and from the recesses of Africa, where he resided, he says, in his “Apology”— chap. xxiii. —“If your gods do not confess themselves to be devils in the presence of a true Christian, we give you full liberty to shed that Christian’s blood.” Can any demonstration be possibly clearer?
In fact, Jesus Christ sent out his apostles to expel demons. The Jews, likewise, in his time, had the power of expelling them; for, when Jesus had delivered some possessed persons, and sent the devils into the bodies of a very numerous herd of swine, and had performed many other similar cures, the Pharisees said: “He expels devils through the power of Beelzebub.” Jesus replied: “By whom do your sons expel them?” It is incontestable that the Jews boasted of this power. They had exorcists and exorcisms. They invoked the name of God, of Jacob, and of Abraham. They put consecrated herbs into the nostrils of the demoniacs. Josephus relates a part of these ceremonies. This power over devils, which the Jews have lost, was transferred to the Christians, who seem likewise to have lost it in their turn.
The power of expelling demons comprehended that of destroying the operations of magic; for magic has been always prevalent in every nation. All the fathers of the Church bear testimony to magic. St. Justin, in his “Apology”— book iii. — acknowledges that the souls of the dead are frequently evoked, and thence draws an argument in favor of the immortality of the soul. Lactantius, in the seventh book of his “Divine Institutions,” says that “if any one ventured to deny the existence of souls after death, the magician would convince him of it by making them appear.” Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian the bishop, all affirm the same. It is true that, at present, all is changed, and that there are now no more magicians than there are demoniacs. But God has the sovereign power of admonishing mankind by prodigies at some particular seasons, and of discontinuing those prodigies at others.
When Christians became somewhat numerous, and many arrayed themselves against the worship established in the Roman Empire, the magistrates began to exercise severity against them, and the people more particularly persecuted them. The Jews, who possessed particular privileges, and who confined themselves to their synagogues, were not persecuted. They were permitted the free exercise of their religion, as is the case at Rome at the present day. All the different kinds of worship scattered over the empire were tolerated, although the senate did not adopt them. But the Christians, declaring themselves enemies to every other worship than their own, and more especially so to that of the empire, were often exposed to these cruel trials.
One of the first and most distinguished martyrs was Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, who was condemned by the Emperor Trajan himself, at that time in Asia, and sent to Rome by his orders, to be exposed to wild beasts, at a time when other Christians were not persecuted at Rome. It is not known precisely what charges were alleged against him before that emperor, otherwise so renowned for his clemency. St. Ignatius must, necessarily, have had violent enemies. Whatever were the particulars of the case, the history of his martyrdom relates that the name of Jesus Christ was found engraved on his heart in letters of gold; and from this circumstance it was that Christians, in some places, assumed the name of Theophorus, which Ignatius had given himself.
A letter of his has been preserved in which he entreats the bishops and Christians to make no opposition to his martyrdom, whether at the time they might be strong enough to effect his deliverance, or whether any among them might have influence enough to obtain his pardon. Another remarkable circumstance is that when he was brought to Rome the Christians of that capital went to visit him; which would prove clearly that the individual was punished and not the sect.
The persecutions were not continued. Origen, in his third book against Celsus, says: “The Christians who have suffered death on account of their religion may easily be numbered, for there were only a few of them, and merely at intervals.”
God was so mindful of his Church that, notwithstanding its enemies, he so ordered circumstances that it held five councils in the first century, sixteen in the second, and thirty in the third; that is, including both secret and tolerated ones. Those assemblies were sometimes forbidden, when the weak prudence of the magistrates feared that they might become tumultuous. But few genuine documents of the proceedings before the proconsuls and prætors who condemned the Christians to death have been delivered down to us. Such would be the only authorities which would enable us to ascertain the charges brought against them, and the punishments they suffered.
We have a fragment of Dionysius of Alexandria, in which he gives the following extract of a register, or of records, of a proconsul of Egypt, under the Emperor Valerian: “Dionysius, Faustus Maximus, Marcellus, and Chæremon, having been admitted to the audience, the prefect Æmilianus thus addressed them: ‘You are sufficiently informed through the conferences which I have had with you, and all that I have written to you, of the good-will which our princes have entertained towards you. I wish thus to repeat it to you once again. They make the continuance of your safety to depend upon yourselves, and place your destiny in your own hands. They require of you only one thing, which reason demands of every reasonable person — namely, that you adore the gods who protect their empire, and abandon that different worship, so contrary to sense and nature.’ ”
Dionysius replied, “All have not the same gods; and all adore those whom they think to be the true ones.” The prefect Æmilianus replied: “I see clearly that you ungratefully abuse the goodness which the emperors have shown you. This being the case, you shall no longer remain in this city; and I now order you to be conveyed to Cephro, in the heart of Libya. Agreeably to the command I have received from your emperor, that shall be the place of your banishment. As to what remains, think not to hold your assemblies there, nor to offer up your prayers in what you call cemeteries. This is positively forbidden. I will permit it to none.”
Nothing bears a stronger impress of truth than this document. We see from it that there were times when assemblies were prohibited. Thus the Calvinists were forbidden to assemble in France. Sometimes ministers or preachers, who held assemblies in violation of the laws, have suffered even by the altar and the rack; and since 1745 six have been executed on the gallows. Thus, in England and Ireland, Roman Catholics are forbidden to hold assemblies; and, on certain occasions, the delinquents have suffered death.
Notwithstanding these prohibitions declared by the Roman laws, God inspired many of the emperors with indulgence towards the Christians. Even Diocletian, whom the ignorant consider as a persecutor — Diocletian, the first year of whose reign is still regarded as constituting the commencement of the era of martyrdom, was, for more than eighteen years, the declared protector of Christianity, and many Christians held offices of high consequence about his person. He even married a Christian; and, in Nicomedia, the place of his residence, he permitted a splendid church to be erected opposite his palace.
The Cæsar Galerius having unfortunately taken up a prejudice against the Christians, of whom he thought he had reason to complain, influenced Diocletian to destroy the cathedral of Nicomedia. One of the Christians, with more zeal than prudence, tore the edict of the emperor to pieces; and hence arose that famous persecution, in the course of which more than two hundred persons were executed in the Roman Empire, without reckoning those whom the rage of the common people, always fanatical and always cruel, destroyed without even the form of law.
So great has been the number of actual martyrs that we should be careful how we shake the truth of the history of those genuine confessors of our holy religion by a dangerous mixture of fables and of false martyrs.
The Benedictine Prior (Dom) Ruinart, for example, a man otherwise as well informed as he was respectable and devout, should have selected his genuine records, his “actes sinceres,” with more discretion. It is not sufficient that a manuscript, whether taken from the abbey of St. Benoit on the Loire, or from a convent of Celestines at Paris, corresponds with a manuscript of the Feuillans, to show that the record is authentic; the record should possess a suitable antiquity; should have been evidently written by contemporaries; and, moreover, should bear all the characters of truth.
He might have dispensed with relating the adventure of young Romanus, which occurred in 303. This young Romanus had obtained the pardon of Diocletian, at Antioch. However, Ruinart states that the judge Asclepiades condemned him to be burnt. The Jews who were present at the spectacle, derided the young saint and reproached the Christians, that their God, who had delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out of the furnace, left them to be burned; that immediately, although the weather had been as calm as possible, a tremendous storm arose and extinguished the flames; that the judge then ordered young Romanus’s tongue to be cut out; that the principal surgeon of the emperor, being present, eagerly acted the part of executioner, and cut off the tongue at the root; that instantly the young man, who, before had an impediment in his speech, spoke with perfect freedom; that the emperor was astonished that any one could speak so well without a tongue; and that the surgeon, to repeat the experiment, directly cut out the tongue of some bystander, who died on the spot.
Eusebius, from whom the Benedictine Ruinart drew his narrative, should have so far respected the real miracles performed in the Old and New Testament — which no one can ever doubt — as not to have associated with them relations so suspicious, and so calculated to give offence to weak minds. This last persecution did not extend through the empire. There was at that time some Christianity in England, which soon eclipsed, to reappear afterwards under the Saxon kings. The southern districts of Gaul and Spain abounded with Christians. The Cæsar Constantius Chlorus afforded them great protection in all his provinces. He had a concubine who was a Christian, and who was the mother of Constantine, known under the name of St. Helena; for no marriage was ever proved to have taken place between them; he even divorced her in the year 292, when he married the daughter of Maximilian Hercules; but she had preserved great ascendency over his mind, and had inspired him with a great attachment to our holy religion.
Thus did divine Providence prepare the triumph of its church by ways apparently conformable to human causes and events. Constantius Chlorus died in 306, at York, in England, at a time when the children he had by the daughter of a Cæsar were of tender age, and incapable of making pretensions to the empire. Constantine boldly got himself elected at York, by five or six thousand soldiers, the greater part of whom were French and English. There was no probability that this election, effected without the consent of Rome, of the senate and the armies, could stand; but God gave him the victory over Maxentius, who had been elected at Rome, and delivered him at last from all his colleagues. It is not to be dissembled that he at first rendered himself unworthy of the favors of heaven, by murdering all his relations, and at length even his own wife and son.
We may be permitted to doubt what Zosimus relates on this subject. He states that Constantine, under the tortures of remorse from the perpetration of so many crimes, inquired of the pontiffs of the empire, whether it were possible for him to obtain any expiation, and that they informed him that they knew of none. It is perfectly true that none was found for Nero, and that he did not venture to assist at the sacred mysteries in Greece. However, the Taurobolia were still observed, and it is difficult to believe that an emperor, supremely powerful, could not obtain a priest who would willingly indulge him in expiatory sacrifices. Perhaps, indeed, it is less easy to believe that Constantine, occupied as he was with war, politic enterprises, and ambition, and surrounded by flatterers, had time for remorse at all. Zosimus adds that an Egyptian priest, who had access to his gate, promised him the expiation of all his crimes in the Christian religion. It has been suspected that this priest was Ozius, bishop of Cordova.
However this might be, God reserved Constantine for the purpose of enlightening his mind, and to make him the protector of the Church. This prince built the city of Constantinople, which became the centre of the empire and of the Christian religion. The Church then assumed a form of splendor. And we may hope that, being purified by his baptism, and penitent at his death, he may have found mercy, although he died an Arian. It would be not a little severe, were all the partisans of both the bishops of the name of Eusebius to incur damnation.
In the year 314, before Constantine resided in his new city, those who had persecuted the Christians were punished by them for their cruelties. The Christians threw Maxentius’s wife into the Orontes; they cut the throats of all his relations, and they massacred, in Egypt and Palestine, those magistrates who had most strenuously declared against Christianity. The widow and daughter of Diocletian, having concealed themselves at Thessalonica, were recognized, and their bodies thrown into the sea. It would certainly have been desirable that the Christians should have followed less eagerly the cry of vengeance; but it was the will of God, who punishes according to justice, that, as soon as the Christians were able to act without restraint, their hands should be dyed in the blood of their persecutors.
Constantine summoned to meet at Nice, opposite Constantinople, the first ecumenical council, of which Ozius was president. Here was decided the grand question that agitated the Church, relating to the divinity of Jesus Christ. It is well known how the Church, having contended for three hundred years against the rights of the Roman Empire, at length contended against itself, and was always militant and triumphant.
In the course of time almost the whole of the Greek church and the whole African church became slaves under the Arabs, and afterwards under the Turks, who erected the Mahometan religion on the ruins of the Christian. The Roman church subsisted, but always reeking with blood, through more than six centuries of discord between the western empire and the priesthood. Even these quarrels rendered her very powerful. The bishops and abbots in Germany all became princes; and the popes gradually acquired absolute dominion in Rome, and throughout a considerable territory. Thus has God proved his church, by humiliations, by afflictions, by crimes, and by splendor.
This Latin church, in the sixteenth century, lost half of Germany, Denmark, Sweden, England, Scotland, Ireland, and the greater part of Switzerland and Holland. She gained more territory in America by the conquests of the Spaniards than she lost in Europe; but, with more territory, she has fewer subjects.
Divine Providence seemed to call upon Japan, Siam, India, and China to place themselves under obedience to the pope, in order to recompense him for Asia Minor, Syria, Greece, Egypt, Africa, Russia, and the other lost states which we mentioned. St. Francis Xavier, who carried the holy gospel to the East Indies and Japan, when the Portuguese went thither upon mercantile adventure, performed a great number of miracles, all attested by the R. R. P. P. Jesuits. Some state that he resuscitated nine dead persons. But R. P. Ribadeneira, in his “Flower of the Saints,” limits himself to asserting that he resuscitated only four. That is sufficient. Providence was desirous that, in less than a hundred years, there should have been thousands of Catholics in the islands of Japan. But the devil sowed his tares among the good grain. The Jesuits, according to what is generally believed, entered into a conspiracy, followed by a civil war, in which all the Christians were exterminated in 1638. The nation then closed its ports against all foreigners except the Dutch, who were considered merchants and not Christians, and were first compelled to trample on the cross in order to gain leave to sell their wares in the prison in which they are shut up, when they land at Nagasaki.
The Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion has become proscribed in China in our own time, but with circumstances of less cruelty. The R. R. P. P. Jesuits had not, indeed, resuscitated the dead at the court of Pekin; they were contented with teaching astronomy, casting cannon, and being mandarins. Their unfortunate disputes with the Dominicans and others gave such offence to the great Emperor Yonchin that that prince, who was justice and goodness personified, was blind enough to refuse permission any longer to teach our holy religion, in respect to which our missionaries so little agreed. He expelled them, but with a kindness truly paternal, supplying them with means of subsistence, and conveyance to the confines of his empire.
All Asia, all Africa, the half of Europe, all that belongs to the English and Dutch in America, all the unconquered American tribes, all the southern climes, which constitute a fifth portion of the globe, remain the prey of the demon, in order to fulfil those sacred words, “many are called, but few are chosen.”— Matt. xx., 16.
The term “church” among the Greeks signified the assembly of the people. When the Hebrew books were translated into Greek, “synagogue” was rendered by “church”, and the same term was employed to express the “Jewish society,” the “political congregation,” the “Jewish assembly,” the “Jewish people.” Thus it is said in the Book of Numbers, “Why hast thou conducted the church into the wilderness;” and in Deuteronomy, “The eunuch, the Moabite, and the Ammonite, shall not enter the church; the Idumæans and the Egyptians shall not enter the church, even to the third generation.”
Jesus Christ says, in St. Matthew, “If thy brother have sinned against thee [have offended thee] rebuke him, between yourselves. Take with you one or two witnesses, that, from the mouth of two or three witnesses, everything may be made clear; and, if he hear not them, complain to the assembly of the people, to the church; and, if he hear not the church, let him be to thee as a heathen or a publican. Verily, I say unto you, so shall it come to pass, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”— an illusion to the keys of doors which close and unclose the latch.
The case is here, that of two men, one of whom has offended the other, and persists. He could not be made to appear in the assembly, in the Christian church, as there was none; the person against whom his companion complained could not be judged by a bishop and priests who were not in existence; besides which, it is to be observed, that neither Jewish priests nor Christian priests ever became judges in quarrels between private persons. It was a matter of police. Bishops did not become judges till about the time of Valentinian III.
The commentators have therefore concluded that the sacred writer of this gospel makes our Lord speak in this passage by anticipation — that it is an allegory, a prediction of what would take place when the Christian church should be formed and established.
Selden makes an important remark on this passage, that, among the Jews, publicans or collectors of the royal moneys were not excommunicated. The populace might detest them, but as they were indispensable officers, appointed by the prince, the idea had never occurred to any one of separating them from the assembly. The Jews were at that time under the administration of the proconsul of Syria, whose jurisdiction extended to the confines of Galilee, and to the island of Cyprus, where he had deputies. It would have been highly imprudent in any to show publicly their abomination of the legal officers of the proconsul. Injustice, even, would have been added to imprudence, for the Roman knights — equestrians — who farmed the public domain and collected Cæsar’s money, were authorized by the laws.
St. Augustine, in his eighty-first sermon, may perhaps suggest reflections for comprehending this passage. He is speaking of those who retain their hatred, who are slow to pardon.
“Cepisti habere fratrem tuum tanquam publicanum. Ligas illum in terra; sed ut juste alliges vide; nam injusta vincula dirsumpit justitia. Cum autem correxeris et concordaveris cum fratre tuo solvisti eum in terra.” You began to regard your brother as a publican; that is, to bind him on the earth. But be cautious that you bind him justly, for justice breaks unjust bonds. But when you have corrected, and afterwards agreed with your brother, you have loosed him on earth.
From St. Augustine’s interpretation, it seems that the person offended shut up the offender in prison; and that it is to be understood that, if the offender is put in bonds on earth, he is also in heavenly bonds; but that if the offended person is inexorable, he becomes bound himself. In St. Augustine’s explanation there is nothing whatever relating to the Church. The whole matter relates to pardoning or not pardoning an injury. St. Augustine is not speaking here of the sacerdotal power of remitting sins in the name of God. That is a right recognized in other places; a right derived from the sacrament of confession. St. Augustine, profound as he is in types and allegories, does not consider this famous passage as alluding to the absolution given or refused by the ministers of the Roman Catholic Church, in the sacrament of penance.
In the greater part of Christian states we perceive no more than four churches — the Greek, the Roman, the Lutheran, and the reformed or Calvinistic. It is thus in Germany. The Primitives or Quakers, the Anabaptists, the Socinians, the Memnonists, the Pietists, the Moravians, the Jews, and others, do not form a church. The Jewish religion has preserved the designation of synagogue. The Christian sects which are tolerated have only private assemblies, “conventicles.” It is the same in London. We do not find the Catholic Church in Sweden, nor in Denmark, nor in the north of Germany, nor in Holland, nor in three quarters of Switzerland, nor in the three kingdoms of Great Britain.
The Jews, as well as all the different people of Syria, were divided into many different congregations, as we have already seen. All were aimed at a mystical perfection. A ray of purer light shone upon the disciples of St. John, who still subsist near Mosul. At last, the Son of God, announced by St. John, appeared on earth, whose disciples were always on a perfect equality. Jesus had expressly enjoined them, “There shall not be any of you either first or last. . . . . I came to serve, not to be served. . . . . He who strives to be master over others shall be their servant.”
One proof of equality is that the Christians at first took no other designation than that of “brethren.” They assembled in expectation of the spirit. They prophesied when they were inspired. St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, says to them, “If, in your assembly, any one of you have the gift of a psalm, a doctrine, a revelation, a language, an interpretation, let all be done for edification. If any speak languages, as two or three may do in succession, let there be an interpreter.
“Let two or three prophets speak, and the others judge; and if anything be revealed to another while one is speaking, let the latter be silent; for you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all exhort; the spirit of prophecy is subject to the prophets; for the Lord is a God of peace. . . . . Thus, then, my brethren, be all of you desirous of prophesying, and hinder not the speaking of languages.”
I have translated literally, both out of reverence for the text, and to avoid any disputes about words. St. Paul, in the same epistle, admits that women may prophesy; although, in the fourteenth chapter, he forbids their speaking in the assemblies. “Every woman,” says he, “praying or prophesying without having a veil over her head, dishonoreth her head, for it is the same as if she were shaven.”
It is clear, from all these passages and from many others, that the first Christians were all equal, not merely as brethren in Jesus Christ, but as having equal gifts. The spirit was communicated to them equally. They equally spoke different languages; they had equally the gift of prophesying, without distinction of rank, age, or sex.
The apostles who instructed the neophytes possessed over them, unquestionably, that natural preeminence which the preceptor has over the pupil; but of jurisdiction, of temporal authority, of what the world calls “honors,” of distinction in dress, of emblems of superiority, assuredly neither they, nor those who succeeded them, had any. They possessed another, and a very different superiority, that of persuasion.
The brethren put their money into one common stock. Seven persons were chosen by themselves out of their own body, to take charge of the tables, and to provide for the common wants. They chose, in Jerusalem itself, those whom we call Stephen, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas. It is remarkable that, among seven persons chosen by a Jewish community, six were Greeks.
After the time of the apostles we find no example of any Christian who possessed any other power over other Christians than that of instructing, exhorting, expelling demons from the bodies of “energumens,” and performing miracles. All is spiritual; nothing savors of worldly pomp. It was only in the third century that the spirit of pride, vanity, and interest, began to be manifested among the believers on every side.
The agapæ had now become splendid festivals, and attracted reproach for the luxury and profusion which attended them. Tertullian acknowledges it. “Yes,” says he, “we make splendid and plentiful entertainments, but was not the same done at the mysteries of Athens and of Egypt? Whatever learning we display, it is useful and pious, as the poor benefit by it.” Quantiscumque sumptibus constet, lucrum est pietatis, si quidem inopes refrigerio isto juvamus.
About this very period, certain societies of Christians, who pronounced themselves more perfect than the rest, the Montanists, for example, who boasted of so many prophecies and so austere a morality; who regarded second nuptials as absolute adulteries, and flight from persecution as apostasy; who had exhibited in public holy convulsions and ecstasies, and pretended to speak with God face to face, were convicted, it was said, of mixing the blood of an infant, a year old, with the bread of the eucharist. They brought upon the true Christians this dreadful reproach, which exposed them to persecutions.
Their method of proceeding, according to St. Augustine, was this: they pricked the whole body of the infant with pins and, kneading up flour with the blood, made bread of it. If any one died by eating it, they honored him as a martyr.
Manners were so corrupted that the holy fathers were incessantly complaining of it. Hear what St. Cyprian says, in his book concerning tombs: “Every priest,” says he, “seeks for wealth and honor with insatiable avidity. Bishops are without religion; women without modesty; knavery is general; profane swearing and perjury abound; animosities divide Christians asunder; bishops abandon their pupils to attend the exchange, and obtain opulence by merchandise; in short, we please ourselves alone, and excite the disgust of all the rest of the world.”
Before the occurrence of these scandals, the priest Novatian had been the cause of a very dreadful one to the people of Rome. He was the first antipope. The bishopric of Rome, although secret, and liable to persecution, was an object of ambition and avarice, on account of the liberal contributions of the Christians, and the authority attached to that high situation.
We will not here describe again what is contained in so many authentic documents, and what we every day hear from the mouths of persons correctly informed — the prodigious number of schisms and wars; the six hundred years of fierce hostility between the empire and the priesthood; the wealth of nations, flowing through a thousand channels, sometimes into Rome, sometimes into Avignon, when the popes, for two and seventy years together, fixed their residence in that place; the blood rushing in streams throughout Europe, either for the interest of a tiara utterly unknown to Jesus Christ, or on account of unintelligible questions which He never mentioned. Our religion is not less sacred or less divine for having been so defiled by guilt and steeped in carnage.
When the frenzy of domination, that dreadful passion of the human heart, had reached its greatest excess; when the monk Hildebrand, elected bishop of Rome against the laws, wrested that capital from the emperors, and forbade all the bishops of the west from bearing the name of pope, in order to appropriate it to himself alone; when the bishops of Germany, following his example, made themselves sovereigns, which all those of France and England also attempted; from those dreadful times down even to our own, certain Christian societies have arisen which, under a hundred different names, have endeavored to re-establish the primitive equality in Christendom.
But what had been practicable in a small society, concealed from the world, was no longer so in extensive kingdoms. The church militant and triumphant could no longer be the church humble and unknown. The bishops and the large, rich, and powerful monastic communities, uniting under the standards of the new pontificate of Rome, fought at that time pro aris et focis, for their hearths and altars. Crusades, armies, sieges, battles, rapine, tortures, assassinations by the hand of the executioner, assassinations by the hands of priests of both the contending parties, poisonings, devastations by fire and sword — all were employed to support and to pull down the new ecclesiastical administration; and the cradle of the primitive church was so hidden as to be scarcely discoverable under the blood and bones of the slain.
The religious and civil wars of Great Britain having desolated England, Scotland, and Ireland, in the unfortunate reign of Charles I., William Penn, son of a vice-admiral, resolved to go and establish what he called the primitive Church on the shores of North America, in a climate which appeared to him to be mild and congenial to his own manners. His sect went under the denomination of “Quakers,” a ludicrous designation, but which they merited, by the trembling of the body which they affected when preaching, and by a nasal pronunciation, such as peculiarly distinguished one species of monks in the Roman Church, the Capuchins. But men may both snuffle and shake, and yet be meek, frugal, modest, just, and charitable. No one denies that this society of Primitives displayed an example of all those virtues.
Penn saw that the English bishops and the Presbyterians had been the cause of a dreadful war on account of a surplice, lawn sleeves, and a liturgy. He would have neither liturgy, lawn, nor surplice. The apostles had none of them. Jesus Christ had baptized none. The associates of Penn declined baptism.
The first believers were equal; these new comers aimed at being so, as far as possible. The first disciples received the spirit, and spoke in the assembly; they had no altars, no temples, no ornaments, no tapers, incense, or ceremonies. Penn and his followers flattered themselves that they received the spirit, and they renounced all pomp and ceremony. Charity was in high esteem with the disciples of the Saviour; those of Penn formed a common purse for assisting the poor. Thus these imitators of the Essenians and first Christians, although in error with respect to doctrines and ceremonies, were an astonishing model of order and morals to every other society of Christians.
At length this singular man went, with five hundred of his followers, to form an establishment in what was at that time the most savage district of America. Queen Christina of Sweden had been desirous of founding a colony there, which, however, had not prospered. The Primitives of Penn were more successful.
It was on the banks of the Delaware, near the fortieth degree of latitude. This country belonged to the king of England only because there were no others who claimed it, and because the people whom we call savages, and who might have cultivated it, had always remained far distant in the recesses of the forests. If England had possessed this country merely by right of conquest, Penn and his Primitives would have held such an asylum in horror. They looked upon the pretended right of conquest only as a violation of the right of nature, and as absolute robbery.
King Charles II. made Penn sovereign of all this wild country by a charter granted March 4, 1681. In the following year Penn promulgated his code of laws. The first was complete civil liberty, in consequence of which every colonist possessing five acres of land became a member of the legislature. The next was an absolute prohibition against advocates and attorneys ever taking fees. The third was the admission of all religions, and even the permission to every inhabitant to worship God in his own house, without ever taking part in public worship.
This is the law last mentioned, in the terms of its enactment: “Liberty of conscience being a right which all men have received from nature with their very being, and which all peaceable persons ought to maintain, it is positively established that no person shall be compelled to join in any public exercise of religion.
“But every one is expressly allowed full power to engage freely in the public or private exercise of his religion, without incurring thereby any trouble or impediment, under any pretext; provided that he acknowledge his belief in one only eternal God Almighty, the creator, preserver, and governor of the universe, and that he fulfil all the duties of civil society which he is bound to perform to his fellow citizens.”
This law is even more indulgent, more humane, than that which was given to the people of Carolina by Locke, the Plato of England, so superior to the Plato of Greece. Locke permitted no public religions except such as should be approved by seven fathers of families. This is a different sort of wisdom from Penn’s.
But that which reflects immortal honor on both legislators, and which should operate as an eternal example to mankind, is, that this liberty of conscience has not occasioned the least disturbance. It might, on the contrary, be said that God had showered down the most distinguished blessings on the colony of Pennsylvania. It consisted, in 1682, of five hundred persons, and in less than a century its population had increased to nearly three hundred thousand. One half of the colonists are of the primitive religion; twenty different religions comprise the other half. There are twelve fine chapels in Philadelphia, and in other places every house is a chapel. This city has deserved its name: “Brotherly Love.” Seven other cities, and innumerable small towns, flourish under this law of concord. Three hundred vessels leave the port in the course of every year.
This state, which seems to deserve perpetual duration, was very nearly destroyed in the fatal war of 1755, when the French, with their savage allies on one side, and the English, with theirs, on the other, began with disputing about some frozen districts of Nova Scotia. The Primitives, faithful to their pacific system of Christianity, declined to take up arms. The savages killed some of their colonists on the frontier; the Primitives made no reprisals. They even refused, for a long time, to pay the troops. They addressed the English general in these words: “Men are like pieces of clay, which are broken to pieces one against another. Why should we aid in breaking one another to pieces?”
At last, in the general assembly of the legislature of Pennsylvania, the other religions prevailed; troops were raised; the Primitives contributed money, but declined being armed. They obtained their object, which was peace with their neighbors. These pretended savages said to them, “Send us a descendant of the great Penn, who never deceived us; with him we will treat.” A grandson of that great man was deputed, and peace was concluded. Many of the Primitives had negro slaves to cultivate their estates. But they blushed at having, in this instance, imitated other Christians. They gave liberty to their slaves in 1769.
At present all the other colonists imitate them in liberty of conscience, and although there are among them Presbyterians and persons of the high church party, no one is molested about his creed. It is this which has rendered the English power in America equal to that of Spain, with all its mines of gold and silver. If any method could be devised to enervate the English colonies it would be to establish in them the Inquisition.
The example of the Primitives, called “Quakers,” has given rise in Pennsylvania to a new society, in a district which it calls Euphrates. This is the sect of Dunkers or Dumpers, a sect much more secluded from the world than Penn’s; a sort of religious hospitallers, all clothed uniformly. Married persons are not permitted to reside in the city of Euphrates: they reside in the country, which they cultivate. The public treasury supplies all their wants in times of scarcity. This society administers baptism only to adults. It rejects the doctrine of original sin as impious, and that of the eternity of punishment as barbarous. The purity of their lives permits them not to imagine that God will torment His creatures cruelly or eternally. Gone astray in a corner of the new world, far from the great flock of the Catholic Church, they are, up to the present hour, notwithstanding this unfortunate error, the most just and most inimitable of men.
It has been a matter of lamentation to all good men for nearly fourteen centuries that the Greek and Latin Churches have always been rivals, and that the robe of Jesus Christ, which was without a seam, has been continually rent asunder. This opposition is perfectly natural. Rome and Constantinople hate each other. When masters cherish a mutual aversion, their dependents entertain no mutual regard. The two communions have disputed on the superiority of language, the antiquity of sees, on learning, eloquence, and power.
It is certain that, for a long time, the Greeks possessed all the advantage. They boasted that they had been the masters of the Latins, and that they had taught them everything. The Gospels were written in Greek. There was not a doctrine, a rite, a mystery, a usage, which was not Greek; from the word “baptism” to the word “eucharist” all was Greek. No fathers of the Church were known except among the Greeks till St. Jerome, and even he was not a Roman, but a Dalmatian. St. Augustine, who flourished soon after St. Jerome, was an African. The seven great ecumenical councils were held in Greek cities: the bishops of Rome were never present at them, because they were acquainted only with their own Latin language, which was already exceedingly corrupted.
The hostility between Rome and Constantinople broke out in 452, at the Council of Chalcedon, which had been assembled to decide whether Jesus Christ had possessed two natures and one person, or two persons with one nature. It was there decided that the Church of Constantinople was in every respect equal to that of Rome, as to honors, and the patriarch of the one equal in every respect to the patriarch of the other. The pope, St. Leo, admitted the two natures, but neither he nor his successors admitted the equality. It may be observed that, in this dispute about rank and pre-eminence, both parties were in direct opposition to the injunction of Jesus Christ, recorded in the Gospel: “There shall not be among you first or last.” Saints are saints, but pride will insinuate itself everywhere. The same disposition which made a mason’s son, who had been raised to a bishopric, foam with rage because he was not addressed by the title of “my lord,” has set the whole Christian world in flames.
The Romans were always less addicted to disputation, less subtle, than the Greeks, but they were much more politic. The bishops of the east, while they argued, yet remained subjects: the bishop of Rome, without arguments, contrived eventually to establish his power on the ruins of the western empire. And what Virgil said of the Scipios and Cæsars might be said of the popes:
“Romanos rerum dominos gentemque togatam.”
—Æneid, i. 286.
This mutual hatred led, at length, to actual division, in the time of Photius, papa or overseer of the Byzantine Church, and Nicholas I., papa or overseer of the Roman Church. As, unfortunately, an ecclesiastical quarrel scarcely ever occurs without something ludicrous being attached to it, it happened, in this instance, that the contest began between two patriarchs, both of whom were eunuchs: Ignatius and Photius, who disputed the chair of Constantinople, were both emasculated. This mutilation depriving them of the power of becoming natural fathers, they could become fathers only of the Church. It is observed that persons of this unfortunate description are meddling, malignant, and plotting. Ignatius and Photius kept the whole Greek court in a state of turbulence.
The Latin, Nicholas I., having taken the part of Ignatius, Photius declared him a heretic, on account of his admitting the doctrine that the breath of God, or the Holy Spirit, proceeded from the Father and the Son, contrary to the unanimous decision of the whole Church, which had decided that it proceeded from the Father only.
Besides this heretical doctrine respecting the procession, Nicholas ate, and permitted to be eaten, eggs and cheese in Lent. In fine, as the very climax of unbelief, the Roman papa had his beard shaved, which, to the Greek papas, was nothing less than downright apostasy; as Moses, the patriarchs, and Jesus Christ were always, by the Greek and Latin painters, pictured with beards.
When, in 879, the patriarch Photius was restored to his seat by the eighth ecumenical council — consisting of four hundred bishops, three hundred of whom had condemned him in the preceding council — he was acknowledged by Pope John as his brother. Two legates, despatched by him to this council, joined the Greek Church, and declared that whoever asserted the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son was a Judas. But the practice of shaving the chin and eating eggs in Lent being persisted in, the two churches always remained divided.
The schism was completed in 1053 and 1054, when Michael Cerularius, patriarch of Constantinople, publicly condemned the bishop of Rome, Leo IX., and all the Latins, adding to all the reproaches against them by Photius that, contrary to the practice of the apostles, they dared to make use of unleavened bread in the eucharist; that they wickedly ate blood puddings, and twisted the necks, instead of cutting off the heads, of pigeons intended for the table. All the Latin churches in the Greek empire were shut up, and all intercourse with those who ate blood puddings was forbidden.
Pope Leo IX. entered into serious negotiation on this matter with the Emperor Constantine Monomachus, and obtained some mitigations. It was precisely at this period that those celebrated Norman gentlemen, the sons of Tancred de Hauteville, despising at once the pope and the Greek emperor, plundered everything they could in Apulia and Calabria, and ate blood puddings with the utmost hardihood. The Greek emperor favored the pope as much as he was able; but nothing could reconcile the Greeks with the Latins. The Greeks regarded their adversaries as barbarians, who did not know a single word of Greek. The irruption of the Crusaders, under pretence of delivering the Holy Land, but in reality to gain possession of Constantinople, completed the hatred entertained against the Romans.
But the power of the Latin Church increased every day, and the Greeks were at length gradually vanquished by the Turks. The popes, long since, became powerful and wealthy sovereigns; the whole Greek Church became slaves from the time of Mahomet II., except Russia, which was then a barbarous country, and in which the Church was of no account.
Whoever is but slightly informed of the state of affair in the Levant knows that the sultan confers the patriarchate of the Greeks by a cross and a ring, without any apprehension of being excommunicated, as some of the German emperors were by the popes, for this same ceremony.
It is certainly true that the church of Stamboul has preserved, in appearance, the liberty of choosing its archbishop; but never, in fact, chooses any other than the person pointed out by the Ottoman court. This preferment costs, at present, about eighty thousand francs, which the person chosen contrives to get refunded from the Greeks. If any canon of influence and wealth comes forward, and offers the grand vizier a large sum, the titular possessor is deprived, and the place given to the last bidder; precisely as the see of Rome was disposed of, in the tenth century, by Marozia and Theodora. If the titular patriarch resists, he receives fifty blows on the soles of his feet, and is banished. Sometimes he is beheaded, as was the case with Lucas Cyrille, in 1638.
The Grand Turk disposes of all the other bishoprics, in the same manner, for money; and the price charged for every bishopric under Mahomet II. is always stated in the patent; but the additional sum paid is not mentioned in it. It is not exactly known what a Greek priest gives for his bishopric.
These patents are rather diverting documents: “I grant to N — a Christian priest, this order, for the perfection of his felicity. I command him to reside in the city herein named, as bishop of the infidel Christians, according to their ancient usage, and their vain and extravagant ceremonies, willing and ordaining that all Christians of that district shall acknowledge him, and that no monk or priest shall marry without his permission.” That is to say, without paying for the same.
The slavery of this Church is equal to its ignorance. But the Greeks have only what they deserve. They were wholly absorbed in disputes about the light on Mount Tabor, and the umbilical cord, at the very time of the taking of Constantinople.
While recording these melancholy truths we entertain the hope that the Empress Catherine II. will give the Greeks their liberty. Would she could restore to them that courage and that intellect which they possessed in the days of Miltiades and Themistocles; and that Mount Athos supplied good soldiers and fewer monks.
The Greek Church has scarcely deserved the toleration which the Mussulmans granted it. The following observations are from Mr. Porter, the English ambassador in Turkey:
“I am inclined to draw a veil over those scandalous disputes between the Greeks and Romans, on the subject of Bethlehem and the holy land, as they denominate it. The unjust and odious proceedings which these have occasioned between them are a disgrace to the Christian name. In the midst of these debates the ambassador appointed to protect the Romish communion becomes, with all high dignity, an object of sincere compassion.
“In every country where the Roman Catholic prevails, immense sums are levied in order to support against the Greek’s equivocal pretensions to the precarious possession of a corner of the world reputed holy; and to preserve in the hands of the monks of the Latin communion the remains of an old stable at Bethlehem, where a chapel has been erected, and where on the doubtful authority of oral tradition, it is pretended that Christ was born; as also a tomb, which may be, and most probably may not be, what is called his sepulchre; for the precise situation of these two places is as little ascertained as that which contains the ashes of Cæsar.”
What renders the Greeks yet more contemptible in the eyes of the Turks is the miracle which they perform every year at Easter. The poor bishop of Jerusalem is inclosed in a small cave, which is passed off for the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ, with packets of small wax tapers; he strikes fire, lights one of these little tapers, and comes out of his cave exclaiming: “The fire is come down from heaven, and the holy taper is lighted.” All the Greeks immediately buy up these tapers, and the money is divided between the Turkish commander and the bishop. The deplorable state of this Church, under the dominion of the Turk, may be judged from this single trait.
The Greek Church in Russia has of late assumed a much more respectable consistency, since the Empress Catherine II. has delivered it from its secular cares; she has taken from it four hundred thousand slaves, which it possessed. It is now paid out of the imperial treasury, entirely dependent on the government, and restricted by wise laws; it can effect nothing but good, and is every day becoming more learned and useful. It possesses a preacher of the name of Plato, who has composed sermons which the Plato of antiquity would not have disdained.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14