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The organization of the early Christian churches : eight lectures delivered before the University of Oxford, in the year 1880 online

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which, from the report of the prefects to the successor of Aelafius, appear to have
given the right to provisions as well as to conveyance (' angarialem cum annonaria
competentia,' ap. St. Augustin. Op. ed. Migne, vol. ix. append, p. 790).

11 1 Cone. Arelat. c. 21.

12 Ibid. c. 15 ' de diaconibus quos cognovimus multis locis offerre, placuit minima
fieri debere :' c. 18 ' de diaconibus urbicis ut non sibi tantum praesumant sed
honore presbyteris reservent, ut sine conscientia ipsorum nihil tale faciat.' It may
be inferred from the expression of the Council of Elvira, c. 67 'diaconus regens
plebem,' that up to this time a deacon might be the chief or sole officer of a
parish, in which capacity he would naturally be the bishop's deputy as president
at the Eucharist. That a deacon could so act, as the bishop's deputy, is clear from
the words of the deacon Laurence to his bishop Sixtus, ' Experire utrum idoneum
ministrum elegeris cui commisisti doininici sanguinis consecrationem ' (St. Ambros.
De Offic. i. 41 : many attempts have been made to explain away the force of these
words, but it is a significant fact that they are the only part of the account which
is omitted by writers of the succeeding generation in whom the sacerdotal idea wan
stronger, viz. St. Augustin. In Joann. Evang. Tract. 27, c. 12, Op. ed. Migne,
vol. iii. 1621, St. Maxim. Taurin. Horn. 74, p. 238).

1 74 Councils and the Unity of tJie Church, [lect.

l>e appointed ordinarily by eight, but at least by three
bishops, and that one bishop should not have the right
of appointing another by himself alone 13 .

Henceforward there were two kinds of meetings or
councils. For matters which affected the whole body
of Christian Churches there were general assemblies
of the bishops and other representative members of
all the Churches of the world : for minor matters, such
as a controversy between one Church and another, or
between the majority of the members of a Church
and one of its officers, there were provincial assemblies.
These latter were held upon a strictly local basis :
they followed the lines of the civil assemblies whose
ordinary designation they appropriated. They fol-
lowed them also in meeting in the metropolis of the
province. The bishop of that metropolis was their
ordinary president : in this respect there was a differ-
ence between the civil and the ecclesiastical assemblies,
for in the former the president was elected from year
to year. In this way the bishop of the metropolis came
to have a preeminence over the other bishops of a
province. By a natural process, just as the vote and
sanction of a bishop had become necessary to the
validity of the election of a presbyter, so the vote
and sanction of a metropolitan became necessary to
the validity of the election of a bishop 14 . In time a
further advance was made. Just as civil provinces
were grouped into dioceses, and the governors of a
' province ' were subordinated to the governor of a

,s i Cone. Axelat. c. 20.

M Cone. Nicaen. c. 4, 6; Cone. Autiuch. c. 19; Cone. Laud. c. 12.

vii.] Councils and the Unity of the Church. 175

'diocese,' so a gradation was recognized between
the bishop of the chief city of a province and
the bishop of the chief city of a diocese. In both
cases the civil names were retained : the former
were called metropolitans, the latter exarchs or
patriarchs 16 .

It was by these gradual steps that the Christian
Churches passed from their original state of indepen-
dence into a great confederation. It is important to
observe not only the closeness with which that confede-
ration followed the lines of the imperial government
but also the wholly voluntary nature of the process by
which it was formed. There was no attempt at coer-
cion. The cause which operated to change its volun-
tary character is one which flows from the very nature
of association, and which existed in the individual com-
munities before confederation began. For it is of the
essence of an association that it should have power to
frame regulations, not only for the admission, but also
for the exclusion, of its members. In the Christian as
in the Jewish communities an offending member was
liable to be expelled. But the utility of excommunica-
tion as a deterrent in the primitive Churches had been
weakened by the fact that its operation did not neces-

15 The equivalence of the title ' exarch ' and ' patriarch ' is shown by a comparison
of Cone. Chalc. c. 9 with Justin. Novell. 123, c. 22, and also by the scholium upon
the canon of Chalcedon which is printed in Pitra, Jur. Ecclts. Graee. Mon. vol. ii.
p. 645. For an account of the correspondence between the ecclesiastical and civil
divisions see my articles in the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, s. vv. Patriarch,
Primate : and for the most complete modern accounts of the constitution and func-
tions of the provincial and other councils see Liming, Geschichte ilex deutschen
Kirchenrechts, Bd. i. pp. 362 422, Hinschius, Das Eirohenrecht, Bd. iii. a ,e H&fte
(1882), p. 325 sqq.

1 76 Councils and the Unity of the Church, [lect.

sarily extend beyond the particular Church of which
a man had been a member. If he had been expelled
for a moral offence, no doubt the causes which led to
his expulsion by one community would prevent his
reception into another. But where the ground of
expulsion had been the holding of peculiar opinions,
or the breach of a local by-law, it might be possible to
find some other community which would ignore the one
or condone the other. When the Churches of a province,
and still more when the Churches of the greater part of
the Empire, were linked together by the ties of a con-
federation, meeting in common assembly, and agreeing
upon a common plan of action, exclusion by a single
Church came to mean exclusion from all the confede-
rated Churches 16 . This rule was recognised by the
Council of Nicaea, Avhich at the same time made pro-
vision against an arbitrary exercise of the power of
excommunication 17 . But as no penalty was attached
to a violation of the rule, it was probably disregarded,
for the Council of Antioch, about twenty years later,
found it necessary to enact that a church officer who
admitted to communion one whom another Church had
excluded should himself be cut off from communion 18 .
This later form of the enactment was repeated in the

16 The attempt to exclude a group of churches from the general association was
first made, but without success, by Victor of Rome in reference to the churches
of Asia Minor, on account of the tenacity with which they clung to the Quartode-
ciman theory (rfjs 'Atria? irairrj^ ap.a rats 6p.6pois e>ac\T]oiats tcLs Trapoucias aTTOTtpvtiv,
waav tTepoSo£ovoas, ttjs Koivfjs evwaKos irtiparai, Euseb. H. E. 5. 24. 9 ; cf. Heini-
chen's Meletema VIII, in his edition of Eusebius, vol. iii, p. 676, ed. alt.). He suc-
ceeded only in that which was within his competence, viz. in excluding them from
communion in his own church, Socrat. H. E. 5. 22.

17 Cone. Nicaen. c. 5. ,9 Cone. Antioch. c. a.

vii.] Councils and the Unity of the Church. 177

code which is known as the Apostolic Canons' 9 : and
ultimately became the standing rule in both East and
West. The observance of the rule was fenced round
by the further enactment that no one should be re-
ceived into another Church without a letter from the
bishop of the Church to which he belonged 20 . In
primitive days a Christian who travelled, or who
changed his residence from one town to another, was
received into communion with but little question : but
the interests of social order, no less than of faith, com-
pelled a change. Henceforth any one who was formally
expelled from his Church was cut off also from all the
Churches of the association. Nor was he cut off onlv
from public worship and from participation in the
Church offerings. He was denied social intercourse
with those who remained faithful : the rigorous com-
mand of the Apostle was applied to him, ' with such an
one no not to eat 21 .'

Now as long as Christians were in a great minority,
a man might be cut off from social intercourse with
them without sustaining any serious social loss. But

19 Can. Apost. 10.

M Cone. Antioch. c. 7; Can. Apost. 12. 33.

ai 2 Cone. Arelat. c. 49, which professes to be based upon earlier regulations, ' si
quis a communione sacerdotali fuerit auctoritate suspen.sup, hunc non solum a cle-
ricorum sed etiam a totius populi colloquio atque convivio placuit excludi, donee
resipiscens ad sanitatem redire festinet :' so 1 Cone. Tolet. c. 15. Under the close
union of Church and State in the Frankish domain the law was both more explicit
and more effective : ' et ut sciatis qualis sit modus istius excommunicationis, in
ecclesiam non debet intrare, nee cum ullo Christiano cibum vel potuni sumere, nee
ejus munera quisquam accipere debet vel osculum porrigere, nee in oratione se
jungere, nee salutare, antequam ab episcopo suo fuerit reconciliatus ' (Pippin, Capit.
Vern. duplex, A.D. 755, ap. Pertz, Legum, vol. i. p. 26 — Cone. Vern. ap. Mansi, vol.
* u - P- 577 » C P- Capit. Ticin. A.D. 801, c. 17, ap. Pertz, vol. i. p. 85).


178 Councils and the Unity of the Church, [lect.

when Christians began to be a majority in all the great
centres of population, excommunication became a real
deterrent, and consequently a powerful instrument in
the hands of those who were desirous of tightening the
bonds of association.

And yet it is doubtful whether it would have been
a sufficiently powerful instrument to produce the uni-
formity which ultimately prevailed, if the State had not
interfered. The associated Churches might have been
strong enough to crush isolated individuals, but it may
be questioned whether they could have held their
ground, without State interference, against whole
Churches or a combination of Churches. It might hap-
pen that not an individual but a whole community —
bishops, presbyters, deacons, and people — declined to
accept the resolutions of a provincial council, and that
they were consequently cut off from the association.
There was nothing to prevent their continuing to be and
to do what they had been and done before. Even before
Christianity had been recognized by the State, when
Paul of Samosata refused to give up possession of the
Church-buildings at Antioch, and claimed still to be the
bishop of the Church, there were no means of ejecting
him except that of an appeal to the Emperor Aurelian 22 .
A number of such Churches might join together and
form a rival association. In one important case this
was actually done. A. number of Churches in Africa
held that the associated Churches were too lax in their
terms of communion. How far they were right in the
particular points which they urged cannot now be

a See Lecture VI, note 25.

vii.] Councils and the Unity of the Church. 1 79

told 23 . But the contention was for purity. The seceding
Churches were rigorists. Their soundness in the faith
was unquestionable 24 . They resolved to meet together
as a separate confederation, the basis of which should
be a greater purity of life ; and but for the interference
of the State they might have lasted as a separate con-
federation to the present day. The interference of the
State was not so much a favour shown to the bishops
who asked for it as a necessary continuation of the
policy which Constantine had begun. For as, on the one
hand, it was necessary to draw a strict line of demar-
cation round the persons by whom the privileges of
Christians could be claimed, so, on the other hand, it
was impossible for the State to assume the office of
determining for itself what was and what was not
Christian doctrine. It was enough for the State that

M The dispute was in the first instance mainly as to a matter of fact, viz.
whether Felix of Aptunga was a ' traditor,' i. e. one who in a time of persecution
had delivered up the sacred books to be burnt. The Donatists contended that he
was so, and that consequently his ordination of Caecilian was invalid. Out of this
arose the wider question, on which the controversy chiefly turned, whether ' the
unworthiness of the minister hindered the effect of the sacrament ? ' For a clear,
though partial, history of the controversy see F. Ribbeck, Donatus mid Augustinus,
Elberfeld, 1857.

24 They probably did no more than continue the stricter African discipline, for
which Cyprian had in his time strongly contended. There had been, in other
words, for some time two parties in the African Church, and the dispute between
them was brought to a crisis by the Diocletian persecution and a personal ani-
mosity towards Caecilian : (this is the view of Rieck, Ueber Entstehung und Berech-
tigung des Donatismus im Hinblick auf vericandte Erscheinungen innerhalb <ler
christlichen Kirche, Friedland, 1877, Oymnas-Progr.) The strong contrast between
the position of Cyprian, and that of those who, under different auspices or with
less force of character, held his views in subsequent times, struck even early
writers: 'Et, O mira rerum conversio, auctores ejusdem opiiiionis catholiei, con-
sectatores vero haeretici judicantur : absolvuntur magistri, condemnantur disci-
puli: conBcriptores librorum filii regni sunt, adsertores vero gehenna suacipiet.*
(St, Vincent. Lirin. Commonitorium, c. 6.)

N 2

180 Councils and the Unity of the Church, [lect.

a great confederation of Christian societies existed.
With that confederation, and it alone, the State found
it expedient to deal. The terms of membership of the
confederation must be left to the confederation itself.
Those who were within it, and those only, were
Christians and entitled to the privileges of Chris-

The interposition of the State took three forms : —
( i ) The State recognized the decisions of Councils —
i.e. the resolutions of the representative assemblies of
the associated Churches — as to questions of doctrine 25 .

(2) The State recognized the validity of sentences of
deposition from office, or exclusion from membership of
a Church, by a person or body within the Church whose
competence was admitted by the associated Churches 26 .

(3) The State discouraged and ultimately prohibited
the formation of new associations outside the general
confederation. ' Let all heresies,' says a law of Gratian
and Valentinian, ' for ever hold their peace : if any one

25 E. g. Constantine followed up the decision of the Council of Nicaea by
decreeing that Arius and his followers should be ' infames,' and that his books
should be burnt (Socr. B. E. 1. 9 gives the text of the decree). Theodosius
punished with confiscation any one who impugned the decision of the Council of
Ephesus (Cod. Theodos. 16. 5. 66). Valentinian and Marcian affixed penalties in
varying degrees to those who refused to accept the decisions of the Council of
Chalcedon (Acta Cone. Chalc. ap. Harduin, Concilia, vol. ii. pp. 659, 661 : Zeno and
Anastasius formally abrogated the decisions of this Council, but Justin restored
their authority : Zonaras, 14. 2, 5 ; Victor Tunn. Chron. ap. Roncall. Vet. Lat.
Script. Chron. pars ii. p. 353, Isidor. Chron. ibid. p. 458).

26 Euseb. Vit. Constant. 4. 27 Kal tow toiv ema«6rrajv opovs rolis iv ovvoSon airotyav-
Oivras eiT(O<ppayi£(T0 ws /at/ t£ih>at rots toiv tOvwv apxovcri to fiogavra irapahvtiv.
navros yap tlvai SiKaarov tovs itpiis rod Otov SoKipuortpovs : so Sozom. H. E. i . o
(in both authovs evvobois probably includes the ordinary council of a bishop and
his presbyters as well as provincial or other assemblies : cf. Heinichen ad Euseh.,
I.e.). A deposed clerk was forthwith made liable to the fiscal burdens from which,
as a clerk, he had been exempt (Cod. Theodos. 16. 2. 39; Const. Sirmond. c. 6).

vii.] Councils and the Unity of the Church. 181

entertains an opinion which the Church has condemned
let him keep it to himself and not communicate it to
another 2 V

87 The extent to which the State employed coercion to prevent the Christian
societies from being' disintegrated by heresy or schism will appear from the fol-
lowing summary of the penal enactments against various classes of heretics, and
ultimately also of schismatics, during the latter part of the fourth, and the begin-
ning of the fifth, century. It must be borne in mind that under the name of
heresy was included the least deviation from the doctrine of the associated
churches; ' haereticorum vocabulo continentur et latis adversus eos sanctionibus
debent succumbere qui vel levi argumento a judicio catholicae religionis et tramite
detecti fuerint deviare' (law of Arcadius and Honorius in A.D. 395, Cod. Theodos.
16. 5. 28). i. The churches and other buildings of heretics were to be confis-
cated : laws of Valentinian and Valens, a. D. 372, Cod. Theodos. 16. 5. 2 :
A.D. 376. Cod. Theodos. 16. 5. 4: of Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius,
A.D. 381, Cod. Theodos. 16. 5. 8: A.D. 383, ibid. 16. 5. 12: of Arcadius and
Honorius, a.d. 396, ibid. 16. 5. 30: A.D. 397, ibid. 16. 5. 33 : A.D. 398, ibid. 16.
5. 34 : of Honorius and Theodosius, A.D. 408, ibid. 16. 5. 45 : A.D. 415, ibid. 16.

5. 58 : in some cases their private property was also confiscated, law of Arcadius
and Honorius, a.d. 408, Cod. Theodos. 16. 5. 40. ii. They were not allowed to
assemble by laws of Valens, Gratian, and Valentinian, and their successors, in a. d.
376, Cod. Theodos. 16. 5. 4: A.D. 379, ibid. 16. 5. 5: A.D. 381, ibid. 16. 5. 6 (cf.
Theodoiet, 5. 16; Zonaras, 13. 19) : a.d. 383, ibid. 16. 5. 10, II, 12 (cf. Sozom.
E. E. 7. 12): A.D. 388, ibid. 16. 5. 14, 15 : a.d. 389, ibid. 16. 5. 19, 20: a.d. 394,
ibid. 16. 5. 24: a.d. 395, ibid. 16. 5. 26: A.D. 396, ibid. 16. 5. 30: a.d. 410, ibid.
16. 5. 51, which first prescribed the penalty of proscription and death to those who
ventured to assemble, so in a.d. 415, ibid. 16. 5. 56 : A.D. 412, ibid. 16. 5. 53, which
punished with ' deportatio' those who availed themselves of the permission which
Jovian had given them to hold assemblies outside the walls of a city : a.d. 415,
ibid. 16. 5. 57, 58. iii. They were made ' intestabiles,' incapable of bequeathing
or receiving money by will, by a law of Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius in
a.d. 381, Cod. Theodos. 16. 5. 7 (which is made retrospective), and in a.d. 382, ibid.
16. 5. 9 (which goes so far as to exempt informers from the ordinary penalties of
' delatio') : laws of Valentinian, Theodosius and Arcadius in a.d. 389, ibid. 16. 5.
17, 18 : of Arcadius and Honorius in a.d. 395, ibid. 16. 5. 25, and in a.d. 407, ibid.
16. 5. 40. iv. They or their teachers were banished from cities by laws of Gratian,
Valentinian, and Theodosius, and their successors in A.D. 381, Cod. Theodos. 16. 5,

6, 7 (cf. Sulp. Sever. Chron. 2. 47") : a.d. 384, ibid. 16. 5. 13: a.d. 389, ibid. 16. 5.
19: a.d. 396, ibid. 16. 5. 30, 31, 32: A.D. 398, ibid. 16. 5. 34: a.d. 425, ibid. 16.
5. 62 ( = Const. Sirmond. 6), 64. In addition to this they were sometimes branded
as ' infames ' (Cod. Theod. if>. 5. 54) : they were liable to fines (ibid. 16. 5. 21, 65),
they were excluded from the civil service of the State (ibid. 16. 5. 29, 42), their
books were to be sought and burnt (ibid. 16. 5. 34, which makes concealment
a capital offence), and provincial judges and governors were fined unless they carried
out the above laws rigidly (ibid. 16. 5. 40, 46).

1 82 Councils and the Unity of the Church, [lect.

In this way it was that, by the help of the State, the
Christian Churches were consolidated into a great confe-
deration. Whatever weakness there was in the bond of
a common faith was compensated for by the strength of
civil coercion. But that civil coercion was not long
needed. For the Church outlived the power which had
welded it together. As the forces of the Empire be-
came less and less, the forces of the Church became
more and more. The Churches preserved that which
had been from the first the secret of Imperial strength.
For underneath the Empire which changed and passed,
beneath the shifting pageantry of Emperors who moved
across the stage and were seen no more, was the abid-
ing empire of law and administration, — which changed
only as the deep sea changes beneath the wind-swept
waves. That inner empire was continued in the Chris-
tian Churches. In the years of transition from the
ancient to the modern world, when all civilized society
seemed to be disintegrated, the confederation of the
Christian Churches, by the very fact of its existence
upon the old imperial lines, was not only the most
powerful, but the only powerful organization in the
civilized world. It was so vast, and so powerful, that
it seemed to be, and there were few to question its
being, the visible realization of that Kingdom of God
which our Lord Himself had preached — of that
* Church' which He had purchased with His own blood.
There seemed to loom out in all its grandeur before the
eyes of men the vision of a vast empire, of which, as of
the ancient kingdom of David or of Solomon, the boun-
daries could be told and the members enumerated. The

vii.] Councils and the Unity of the Church. 183

metaphors in which the Jewish Kabbis had spoken of
the ancient Israel, and the metaphors which had been
consecrated by inspired writers to the service of the
new Israel, were applied to it. This confederation, and
no other, was the 'city of God ;' this, and no other, was
the ' body of Christ ; ' this, and no other, was the ' Holy
Catholic Church.' In it were fulfilled the ancient types.
It was the Paradise in which the regenerated souls of
the new creation might walk, as Adam walked, and eat
without the threatening of a curse the fruit of the tree
of knowledge 28 . It was the ark of Noah, floating with
its rescued multitude of holy souls over the moving
waters of this world's troubled sea 29 . It was Solomon's
temple whose golden roofs glistened with a divine
splendour through the dark world's mists and storms
and whose courts were thronged with the new priests
and people of God holding sacred converse, and offering
spiritual sacrifices upon its altars 30 . It was the new
Jerusalem into which ' the sons of them that had
afflicted her' came bending, and whose 'sun could no
more go down 31 .' It was the 'fenced garden' of Solo-
mon's Song, and in its midst was a well of living water,
of which all who drank were healed of sin 32 . It was

28 E.g. St. August. De Genesi, lib. xi. c. 25, Op. ed. Migiie, vol. iii. p. 442, De
Civit. Dei, lib.xiii.c. 21, vol. vii. p. 395. Pseudo-Ambros. In Apocal. Expos, dc Vis.
tert. c. 6, vol. ii. pars ii. p. 520.

n E.g. St. August. In Joann. Trad. 6, c. 1. 19, vol. iii. p. 1434, Epist. 187.
(57), vol. ii. p. 847, De Catechiz. Rud. c. 32, vol. vi. p. 334: St. Hilar. Pictav.
Tract, in Ps. cxlvi. c. 12, vol. i. p. 638, ed. Ben. : St. Maxim. Taurin. Serin. 1 14, p.
641 : St. Greg. M. Moral, lib. 35, c. 8, vol. i. p. 1 149, Epist. lib. ii. 46, vol. ii. p. 1 133.

30 E.g. St. Arabros. Expos. Evang. sec. Luc. lib. 2, c. 89, vol. i. p. 1311.

31 E. g. St. August. De Civit. Dei, lib. 1 7, c. 16, vol. vii. p. 549 : Prosper. Aquitan.
Expos. Psalm, cxxxi. v. 13, p. 483 : St. Hieron. Comm. inZach. lib. 3, c. 14, vol. vi. p.

* 2 E.g. St. Optat. De Schism. Donat. 2. 13: St. August. De Baptism, c. Donat.

184 Councils and the Unity of the Church, [lect.

like the widow of Sarepta, whose cruse of oil never
failed 33 . It was like the Queen of Sheha, always gather-
ing some new knowledge, and marvelling at some new
wonder, among the treasures of the distant Lord 34 .
There was hardly a hero of Hebrew story whose life
did not seem to prefigure the fortunes and the one-
ness and the glory of this vast organized aggregate
of believing souls 35 .

It is impossible not to sympathize with the poetry
and with the hope.

But if we look more closely at the assumption upon
which all this is founded — the assumption that the
metaphors in which the Church of Christ is described
in Scripture are applicable only to this confederation
which the State had recognized and consolidated, that
whatever is predicated in the New Testament of the
Church of Christ is predicated of it, and it only, that

lib. 5. 27, vol. ix. p. 195, Contra Crescon. lib. 2. 13, vol. ix. p. 477, ibid. lib. 4. 63,
vol. ix. p. 590: St. Maxim. Taurin. Serm. 15, p. 433.

x< E. g. St. Ainbros. De Viduis, c. 3, vol. ii. p. 190 : Csesar. Arelat. Serm. dt
Elisaeo in Append, ad. St. August. Op. vol. v. Serm. 42, p. 1828 : St. Greg. M.
Horn, in Ezech. lib. 1, hom. 4. 6, vol. i. p. 1194.

34 E.g. St. Hilar. Pictav. Tract, in Psalm, cxxi. c. 9, Pseudo -August. Serm. 231

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20 21

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