Larger font
Smaller font
  • Results
  • Related
  • Featured
No results found for: "".
  • Weighted Relevancy
  • Content Sequence
  • Relevancy
  • Earliest First
  • Latest First
    Larger font
    Smaller font


    We have already learned how some, at least, of the bishops allowed the members of their flocks to emulate in their feasts all the profligacy of the heathen; we are therefore now prepared to believe that no bounds were set to the corruption that was then overwhelming the church. We introduce the testimony by the following mild statement of the case by Killen:—“There was a traitor among the twelve, and it is apparent from the New Testament that, in the apostolic church, there were not a few unworthy members. ‘Many walk,’ says Paul, ‘of whom I have told you often, and now tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.’ In the second and third centuries the number of such false brethren did not diminish. To those who are ignorant of its saying power, Christianity may commend itself, by its external evidences, as a revelation from God; and many, who are not prepared to submit to its authority, may seek admission to its privileges. The superficial character of much of the evangelism now current appeared in times of persecution; for, on the first appearance of danger, multitudes abjured the gospel, and returned to the heathen superstitions. It is, besides, a fact which cannot be disputed that, in the third century, the more zealous champions of the faith felt it necessary to denounce the secularity of many of the ministers of the church. Before the Decian persecution [A. D. 250] not a few of the bishops were mere worldlings, and such was their zeal for money-making, that they left their parishes neglected, and traveled to remote districts where, at certain seasons of the year, they might carry on a profitable traffic. If we are to believe the testimony of the most distinguished ecclesiastics of the period, crimes were then perpetrated, to which it would be difficult to find anything like parallels in the darkest pages of the history of modern Christianity. The chief pastor of the largest church in the proconsular Africa tells, for instance, of one of his own presbyters who robbed orphans and defrauded widows, who permitted his father to die of hunger, and treated his pregnant wife with horrid brutality. (Cyprian, Ad Cornelium, epis. 49.) Another ecclesiastic, of still higher position, speaks of three bishops in his neighborhood who engaged, when intoxicated, in the solemn rite of ordination. Such excesses were indignantly condemned by all right-hearted disciples, but the fact, that those to whom they were imputed were not destitute of partisans, supplies clear yet melancholy proof that neither the Christian people nor the Christian ministry, even in the third century, possessed an unsullied reputation.”—Ancient Church, period 2, sec. 1, chap. 3, paragraph 2.FACC 276.2

    This is not to be wondered at; if it was considered right to lie when contending for the “truth” (!) what could be expected of men in ordinary life? Robinson, in his “Ecclesiastical Researches” (p. 126), as quoted by “McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia,” art. “Novatian,” uses the following language concerning that ecclesiastic and the church in his time:—
    “He saw with extreme pain the intolerable depravity of the church. Christians within the space of a very few years were caressed by one emperor and persecuted by another. In seasons of prosperity many persons rushed into the church for base purposes. In times of adversity they denied the faith, and reverted again to idolatry. When the squall was over, they came again to the church, with all their vices, to deprave others by their example. The bishops, fond of proselytes, encouraged all this, and transferred the attention of Christians to vain shows at Easter, and other Jewish ceremonies, adulterated too with paganism.”
    FACC 278.1

    Novatian died about 255 A. D.; therefore the church reached the condition here described less than one hundred and fifty years after the death of the apostle John. Certainly the degradation was rapid enough.FACC 278.2

    Bingham says:—
    “There goes a decree under the name of Pope Eutychian, which makes the habit of drunkenness matter of excommunication to a layman also, till he break off the custom by reformation and amendment. But it must be owned, this vice was sometimes so general and epidemical, that the numbers of transgressors made the exactness of the discipline impracticable. St. Austin complains and laments, that it was so in Africa in his time. Though the apostle had condemned three great and detestable vices in one place, viz., rioting and drunkenness, chambering and wantonness, strife and envying; yet matters were come to that pass with men, that two of the three, drunkenness and strife, were thought tolerable things, whilst wantonness only was esteemed worthy of excommunication; and there was some danger that in a little time the other two might be reputed no vices at all. For rioting and drunkenness was esteemed so harmless and allowable a thing, that men not only practiced it in their own houses every day, but in the memorials of the holy martyrs on solemn festivals, and that in pretended honor to the martyrs also.”—Antiquities of the Christian Church, book 16, chap. 11.
    FACC 279.1

    After quoting what Cyprian (who lived in the early part of the third century) says of the condition of the church, Bingham adds:—
    “He was forced to endure these colleagues of his, who were covetous, rapacious, extortioners, usurers, deserters, fraudulent, and cruel. It was impossible to exercise church censures with any good effect, when there were such multitudes both of priests and people ready to oppose them, and distract the church into a thousand schisms, rather than suffer themselves to be curbed or reformed that way.”—Id., chap. 3.
    FACC 279.2

    In another place he gives the following, which shows not only the depravity of the church in the third century, but also how readily Scripture could be manufactured to meet the emergency:—
    “If a bishop, presbyter, or deacon, says one of the apostolical canons, be taken in fornication, perjury, or theft, he shall be deposed, but not excommunicated; for the Scripture says, ‘Thou shalt not punish twice for the same crime.’[?] And the like rule is prescribed in the canons of Peter, bishop of Alexandria, and those of St. Basil.”—Id., book 17, chap. 1.
    FACC 280.1

    If anything were yet lacking to show how rapidly the church, as a whole, was becoming paganized, even in the third century, the following from Dr. Killen most certainly supplies the lack:—
    “Meanwhile the introduction of a false standard of piety created much mischief. It had long been received as a maxim, among certain classes of philosophers, that bodily abstinence is necessary to those who would attain more exalted wisdom; and the Gentile theology, especially in Egypt and the East, had indorsed the principle. It was not without advocates among the Jews, as is apparent from the discipline of the Essenes and the Therapeutae. At an early period its influence was felt within the pale of the church, and before the termination of the second century, individual members here and there were to be found who eschewed certain kinds of food, and abstained from marriage. The pagan literati, who now joined the disciples in considerable numbers, did much to promote the credit of this adulterated Christianity. Its votaries, who were designated ascetics and philosophers, did not withdraw themselves from the world, but, whilst adhering to their own regimen, still remained mindful of their social obligations. Their self-imposed mortification soon found admirers, and an opinion gradually gained ground that these abstinent disciples cultivated a higher form of piety. The adherents of the new discipline silently increased, and by the middle of the third century, a class of females who led a single life, and who, by way of distinction, were called virgins, were in some places regarded by the other church-members with special veneration. Among the clergy also celibacy was now considered a mark of superior holiness. But, in various places, pietism about this time assumed a form which disgusted all persons of sober judgment and ordinary discretion. The unmarried clergy and the virgins deemed it right to cultivate the communion of saints after a new fashion, alleging that, in each others’ society, they enjoyed peculiar advantages for spiritual improvement. It was not, therefore, uncommon to find a single ecclesiastic and one of the sisterhood of virgins dwelling in the same house and sharing the same bed! All the while the parties repudiated the imputation of any improper intercourse, but in some cases the proofs of profligacy were too plain to be concealed, and common sense refused to credit the pretensions of such an absurd and suspicious spiritualism. The ecclesiastical authorities felt it necessary to interfere, and compel the professed virgins and the single clergy to abstain from a degree of intimacy which was unquestionably not free from the appearance of evil.”—Ancient Church, period 2, sec. 1, chap. 3, paragraph 3.
    FACC 280.2

    If the reader will turn back to pages 90 and 91, he will there find that the “Shepherd of Hermas,” which was regarded as an inspired production, was responsible for this vile practice. The heathen Christians of the early centuries were apt pupils of this “bad master in morals.”FACC 281.1

    Vice is the next neighbor to fanaticism; that excessive zeal for virtue, which leads men to despise and reject that which the Lord has instituted and declared honorable, is as sure to end in immorality as is open contempt of all moral law. Henry Charles Lea, in his “History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages,” says that the practice of unnatural lusts “was a prevalent vice of the Middle Ages, and one to which monastic communities were especially subject” (vol. 3, p. 255), and he quotes as follows from Nicholas de Clemangis, a Catholic writer of the fourteenth century, and secretary to Pope Benedict XIII.:—“As for monks, they specially avoid all to which their vows oblige them—chastity, poverty, and obedience—and are licentious and undisciplined vagabonds. The mendicants, who pretend to make amends for the neglect of duty by the secular clergy, are Pharisees, and wolves in sheep’s clothing. With incredible eagerness and infinite deceit they seek everywhere for temporal gain; they abandon themselves beyond all other men to the pleasures of the flesh, feasting and drinking, and polluting all things with their burning lusts. As for the nuns, modesty forbids the description of the nunneries, which are mere brothels; so that to take the veil is equivalent to becoming a public prostitute.”—History of the Inquisition, vol. 3, pp. 630, 631.FACC 281.2

    And this state of things has always existed to the same degree that ascetic fanaticism has existed.FACC 282.1

    Dr. Schaff certainly cannot be accused of lack of respect for early traditions, yet he makes the following general statement concerning the first three centuries of the church’s existence:—
    “The Christian life of the period before Constantine has certainly been often unwarrantably idealized. In a human nature essentially the same, we could but expect all sorts of the same faults and excrescences, which we found even in the apostolic churches. The epistles of Cyprian afford incontestable evidence, that, especially in the intervals of repose, an abatement of zeal soon showed itself, and, on the re-opening of persecution, the Christian name was dishonored by whole hosts of apostates. And not seldom did the most prominent virtues, courage in death, and strictness of morals, degenerate to morbid fanaticism and unnatural rigor.”—History of the Christian Church, vol. 1, sec. 87.
    FACC 282.2

    The growth of asceticism can be traced through the writings of the Fathers; and the following from Mosheim, touching upon the point, gives a brief outline of all that we have noted in the history of the church, and prepares the way for the last feature that we design to consider:—
    “Those idle fictions, which a regard for the Platonic philosophy and for the prevailing opinions of the day had induced most theologians to embrace even before the times of Constantine, were now in various ways confirmed, extended, and embellished. Hence it is that we see, on every side, evident traces of excessive veneration for departed saints, of a purifying fire for souls when separated from the body, of the celibacy of the clergy, of the worship of images and relics, and of many other opinions, which in process of time almost banished the true religion, or at least very much obscured and corrupted it.
    FACC 283.1

    “Genuine piety was supplanted by a long train of superstitious observances, which originated partly from opinions inconsiderately embraced, partly from a preposterous disposition to adopt profane rites, and combine them with Christian worship, and partly from the natural predilection of mankind in general for a splendid and ostentatious religion. At first, frequent pilgrimages were undertaken to Palestine, and to the tombs of the martyrs; as if, thence men could bear away the radical principles of holiness, and certain hopes of salvation. Next, from Palestine and from places venerated for their sanctity, portions of dust or of earth were brought; as if they were the most powerful protection against the assaults of evil spirits; and these were bought and sold everywhere at great prices. Further, the public supplications by which the pagans were accustomed to appease their gods, were borrowed from them, and were celebrated in many places with great pomp. To the temples, to water consecrated in due form, and to the images of holy men, the same efficacy was ascribed and the same privileges assigned as had been attributed to the pagan temples, statues, and lustrations, before the advent of Christ. Images indeed were as yet but rare, and statues did not exist. And shameful as it may appear, it is beyond all doubt, that the worship of the martyrs,—with no bad intentions indeed, yet to the great injury of the Christian cause,—was modeled by degrees into conformity with the worship which the pagans had in former times paid to their gods. From these specimens the intelligent reader will be able to conceive how much injury resulted to Christianity from the peace and repose procured by Constantine and from an indiscreet eagerness to allure the pagans to embrace this religion.”FACC 283.2

    “This unenlightened piety of the common people opened a wide door to the endless frauds of persons who were base enough to take advantage of the ignorance and errors of others, disingenuously to advance their own interests. Rumors were artfully disseminated of prodigies and wonders to be seen in certain edifices and places (a trick before this time practiced by the pagan priests), whereby the infatuated populace were drawn together, and the stupidity and ignorance of those who looked upon everything new and unusual as a miracle, were often wretchedly imposed upon. Graves of saints and martyrs were supposed to be where they were not; the list of saints was enriched with fictitious names; and even robbers were converted into martyrs. Some buried blood-stained bones in retired places, and then gave out that they had been informed in a dream, that the corpse of some friend of God was there interred. Many, especially of the monks, traveled through the different provinces, and not only shamelessly carried on a traffic in fictitious relics, but also deceived the eyes of the multitude with ludicrous combats with evil spirits. It would require a volume to detail the various impositions which were, for the most part successfully, practiced by artful knaves, after genuine piety and true religion were compelled to resign their dominion in great measure to superstition.”—Ecclesiastical History, book 2, cent. 4, part 2, chap. 3, sec. 1-3.FACC 284.1

    Let not the reader imagine that this was Christianity, although it bore that name. There is no reason whatever in the infidel charges that are brought against Christianity, because of the conduct of the apostate church. Everybody recognizes the truthfulness of the saying that “all is not gold that glitters.” But in the days of which we are writing there was not even the glitter of the gold of Christianity. In its stead there was only the tinsel of paganism. But it must not be supposed that there were no Christians at that time. There were true Christians, but their history is not accessible at present. They were of little repute, for they were of the class “of whom the world was not worthy,” and so their history is preserved only in the records of “the church of the First-born,” in Heaven.FACC 285.1

    Larger font
    Smaller font