Social Significance Of The State
The Church at no time degenerated into a mere department of the State. In
spite of the worldly passions that invaded it and the dissensions that
distracted it, the Church remained mindful of its duty as not merely a
guardian of the deposit of faith but as a school of Christian morality.
This was the principle of the penitential discipline of the ante-Nicene
period. It was saved from becoming a mere form, or lost altogether by the
custom which became general after 400, of having the confession of sin
made in private. In matters of great moral concern, such as the treatment
of slaves, marriage, and divorce, and the cruel sports of the arena, the
Church was able to exert its influence and eventually bring about a change
in the law. And in standing for righteousness, instances were not lacking
when the highest were rebuked by the Church, as in the great case of
Ambrose and Theodosius.
(a) Leo the Great, Epistula 168, ch. 2. (MSL, 54:1210.) Cf.
Denziger, n. 145.
Confession should no longer be public, but only private. From the
tone of the letter it would appear that private confession had
been customary for some time and that public confession had so far
gone out of use as to appear as a novelty. V. supra, § 42.
I direct that that presumptuous violation of the apostolic rule be
entirely done away, which we have recently learned has been without
warrant committed by some; namely, concerning penance, which is demanded
of the faithful, that a written confession in a schedule concerning the
nature of each particular sin be not recited publicly, since it suffices
that the guilt of conscience be made known by a secret confession to the
priests alone. Although that fulness of faith appears to be laudable which
on account of the fear of God is not afraid to blush before men, yet
because the sins of all are not such that those who demand penance would
not be afraid to publish them, let a custom so objectionable be done away;
that many may not be deterred from the remedies of penitence, since they
are ashamed or are afraid to disclose their deed to their enemies, by
which they might be ruined by the requirements of the laws. For that
confession suffices which is first offered to God, then further to the
priest, who intervenes as with intercessions for the sins of the penitent.
In this way many can be brought to penitence if the bad conscience of the
one making the confession is not published in the ears of the people.
(b) Codex Theodosianus, IV, 7, 1; A. D. 321. Cf. Kirch, n. 749.
Edict of Constantine granting the privilege of manumission to take
place in churches.
The Church does not seem to have been opposed to slavery as an
institution. It recognized it as a part of the social order,
following the advice of St. Paul. But, at the same time, also
following his advice, it endeavored to inculcate Christian love in
the treatment of slaves, and legislated frequently on the matter.
The edict of Constantine was in favor of this humane teaching of
the Church to the extent that it enabled it to forward the
tendency toward manumission of slaves, which the Church taught as
a pious act. This edict is to be found in Cod. Just., I, 13, 2.
Those who from the motives of religion shall give deserved liberty to
their slaves in the midst of the Church shall be regarded as having given
the same with the same legal force as that by which Roman citizenship has
been customarily given with the traditional solemn rites. But this is
permitted only to those who give this liberty in the presence of the
priest. But to the clergy we concede more, so that, when they give liberty
to their slaves, they may be said to have granted a full enjoyment of
liberty, not merely in the face of the Church and the religious people,
but also, when in their last disposition of their effects they shall have
given liberty or shall direct by any words whatsoever that it be given, on
the day of the publication of their will liberty, without any witness or
intervention of the law, shall belong to them immediately.
(c) Canons bearing on Slavery:
Synod of Elvira, A. D. 309, Canon 5, Bruns, II, 1.
If a mistress seized with furious passion beat her female slave with whips
so that within three days she gives up her soul in suffering, inasmuch as
it is uncertain whether she killed her wilfully or by chance, let her, if
it was done wilfully, be readmitted after seven years, when the lawful
penance has been accomplished; or after the space of five years if it was
by chance; but if she should become ill during the appointed time, let her
receive the communion.
Synod of Gangra, A. D. 343, Canon 3, Bruns, I, 107.
If any one, under the pretence of piety, advises a slave to despise his
master and run away from his service and not with good will and full
respect serve his master, let him be anathema.
Synod of Agde, A. D. 509. Canon 7, Bruns, II, 147.
As slaves were a valuable possession, bishops could no more
alienate them than any other property, or only under the same
conditions. This canon lays down principles generally followed in
the relation of the Church toward the unfree of every sort on
lands belonging to the endowments of the Church.
The bishops should possess the houses and slaves of the Church in a
faithful manner and without diminishing the right of the Church, as the
primitive authorities direct, and also the vessels of their ministry as
intrusted to them. That is, they should not presume to sell nor alienate
by any contracts those things from which the poor live. If necessity
requires that something should be disposed of either as a usufruct(140) or
in direct sale, let the case be first shown before two or three bishops of
the same province or neighborhood, as to why it is necessary to sell; and
after the priestly discussion has taken place, let the sale which was made
be confirmed by their subscription; otherwise the sale or transaction made
shall not have validity. If the bishop bestows upon any deserving slaves
of the Church their liberty, let the liberty that has been conferred be
respected by his successors, together with that which the manumitter gave
them when they were freed; and we command them to hold twenty solidi in
value in fields, vineyards, and dwellings; what shall have been given more
the Church shall reclaim after the death of the one who manumitted.(141)
But little things and things of less utility to the Church we permit to be
given to strangers and clergy for their usufruct, the right of the Church
(d) Apostolic Constitutions, IV, 6. (MSG, 1:812.)
Cruelty to slaves was placed upon the same moral level as cruelty
and oppression of other weak and defenceless people.
The Apostolic Constitutions form an elaborate treatise upon the
Church and its organization in eight books, which appear,
according to the consensus of modern scholars, to belong to the
early part of the fifth century. The Apostolic Canons are
eighty-five canons appended to the eighth book.
Now the bishop ought to know whose oblations he ought to receive, and
whose he ought not. For he is to avoid corrupt dealers and not receive
their gifts. He is also to avoid those that oppress the widow and
overbear the orphan, and fill the prisons with the innocent, and abuse
their own slaves wickedly, I mean with stripes and hunger and hard
(e) Apostolic Canons, Canon 81, Bruns, I, 12.
This deals with the question of the ordination of a slave. Later,
if a slave was ordained without his master's consent, the
ordination held, but the bishop was obliged to pay the price of
the slave to his master. Cf. Council of Orleans, A. D. 511,
We do not permit slaves to be ordained to the clergy without their
masters' consent; for this would wrong those that owned them. For such a
practice would occasion the subversion of families. But if at any time a
servant appears worthy to be ordained to a high office, such as Onesimus
appears to have been, and if his master allows it, and gives him his
freedom, and dismisses him free from his house, let him be ordained.
(f) Gregory the Great, Ep. ad Montanam et Thomam. (MSL, 77:803.)
Gregory and others approved of manumission of slaves as an act of
self-denial, for therein a man surrendered what belonged to him,
as in almsgiving; but he and others also justified the practice of
manumission upon lines that recall Stoic ideas of man's natural
freedom. Yet, at the same time, Gregory could insist upon the
strict discipline of slaves in the administration of the Church
The following is a letter of manumission addressed apparently to a
man and his wife.
Since our Redeemer, the Maker of every creature, vouchsafed to assume
human flesh for this end, that when by the grace of His divinity the chain
of slavery wherewith we were held had been broken He might restore us to
our pristine liberty, it is a salutary deed if men, whom nature originally
produced free, and whom the law of nations has subjected to the yoke of
slavery, be restored by the benefit of manumission to the liberty in which
they were born. And so moved by loving-kindness and consideration of the
case, we make you Montana and Thomas, slaves of the holy Roman Church,
which with the help of God we serve, free from this day and Roman
citizens, and we release to you all your private property.(142)
(g) Codex Theodosianus, XV, 12, 1; A. D. 325. Cf. Kirch, n. 754.
Constitution of Constantine regarding gladiatorial shows.
This edict was by no means enforced everywhere. In a shorter form
it passed into the Cod. Just. (XI, 44, 1), but only after the
edict of Honorius had stopped these shows.
Bloody spectacles are not pleasing in civil rest and domestic
tranquillity. Wherefore we altogether prohibit them to be gladiators(143)
who, it may be, for their crimes have been accustomed to receive this
penalty and sentence, and you shall cause them rather to serve in the
mines, that without blood they may pay the penalty of their crimes.
(h) Theodoret, Hist. Ec., V, 26. (MSG, 82:1256.)
Honorius, who had inherited the Empire of Europe, put a stop to
gladiatorial combats, which had long been held in Rome, and he did this
under the following circumstances. There was a certain man named
Telemachus who had embraced the ascetic life. He had set out for the East
and for this reason had repaired to Rome. There, when the abominable
spectacle was being exhibited, he went himself into the stadium, and
stepping down into the arena endeavored to stop the men who were wielding
their weapons against one another. The spectators of the slaughter were
indignant and, inspired by the mad fury of the demon who delights in these
bloody deeds, stoned the peacemaker to death. When the admirable Emperor
was informed of this he numbered Telemachus in the army of the victorious
martyrs, and put an end to that impious practice.
(i) Ambrose, Ep. 51. (MSL, 16:1210.) Cf. Kirch, nn. 754 ff.
Letter to the Emperor Theodosius after the massacre at
Thessalonica in 390.
The Emperor had ordered a general massacre of the inhabitants of
Thessalonica because of a sedition there. Ambrose wrote to him the
following letter after having pleaded in vain with him before the
massacre to deal mercifully with the people. (The well-known story
of the penitence of Theodosius may be found in Theodoret, Hist.
Ec., V, 17.) His residence at the seat of the imperial government
at that time, Milan, made him the chief adviser to the court in
spite of the fact that the Arian influence was strong at court, as
the empress mother Justina was an Arian, cf. Ambrose, Ep. 20,
21. (PNF, ser. II, vol. X.)
4. Listen, august Emperor, I cannot deny that you have a zeal for the
faith; I confess that you have the fear of God. But you have a natural
vehemence, which, if any one endeavors to soothe it, you quickly turn to
mercy; and if any one stirs it up, you allow it to be roused so much that
you can scarcely restrain it. Would that it might be that, if no one
soothed it, at least no one inflamed it. To yourself I willingly intrust
it, restrain yourself and overcome your natural vehemence by the love of
6. There took place in the city of the Thessalonians that of which no
memory recalls the like, which I was not able to prevent taking place;
which, indeed, I had before said, would be most atrocious when I so often
petitioned concerning it(144) and which as you yourself show, by revoking
it too late, you consider to be grave, and this I could not extenuate when
After citing from the Bible several cases of kings exhibiting
penance for sins, Ambrose continues:
11. I have written this, not to confound you, but that the examples of
kings may stir you up to put away this sin from your kingdom, for you will
put it away by humbling your soul before God. You are a man, temptation
has come to you; conquer it. Sin is not done away but by tears and
penitence. Neither angel can do it, nor archangel. The Lord himself, who
alone can say "I am with you," if we have sinned, does not forgive any but
those who do penance.
12. I urge, I beg, I exhort, I warn; for it is grief to me that you who
were an example of unheard-of piety, who were conspicuous for clemency,
who would not suffer single offenders to be put in peril, should not mourn
that so many innocent persons have perished. Though you have waged war
most successfully, though in other matters too you are worthy of praise,
yet piety was ever the crown of your actions. The devil envied that which
you had as a most excellent possession. Conquer him whilst you still
possess that wherewith you can conquer. Do not add another sin to your sin
by a course of action which has injured many.
13. I, indeed, though a debtor to your kindness, for which I cannot be
ungrateful, that kindness which I regard as surpassing that of many
emperors, and has been equalled by one only, I have no cause, I say, for a
charge of contumacy against you, but have cause for fear. I dare not offer
the sacrifice if you intend to be present. Is that which is not allowed
after the shedding of the blood of one innocent person allowed after the
shedding of the blood of many? I think not.
(j) Codex Theodosianus, III, 16, 2; A. D. 421.
The later Roman law of divorce.
The Roman law under the Empire was extremely favorable to divorce,
making it easy for either party to become rid of the other for any
cause that seemed sufficient. The Christian Church from the first,
following the teaching of Christ, opposed divorce. Marriage was an
indissoluble relation; see § 39 f, g. It was only by degrees
that much change could be introduced into the civil law. The
following law of Theodosius II gives the condition of the law in
the fifth century. It shows that to some extent the Christian
principles regarding marriage had affected legislation.
If a woman leave her husband by a repudiation made by her and prove no
cause for her divorcing him, the gifts which she received as bride shall
be taken away and she shall likewise be deprived of her dowry, and be
subjected to the punishment of deportation; and to her we deny not only
the right of marriage with another man, but also the right of
post-liminium.(145) But if the woman opposed to the marriage prove faults
of morals and vices, though of no great gravity, let her lose her dowry
and pay back to her husband her marriage gift, and let her never join
herself in marriage with another; that she may not stain her widowhood
with the impudence of unchastity we give the repudiated husband the right
of bringing an accusation by law. Hereafter if she who abandons her
husband prove grave causes and a guilt involving great crimes, let her
obtain a control of her dowry and marriage gifts, and five years after the
day of repudiation she shall receive the right of remarrying; for it would
then appear that she had acted rather out of detestation of her husband
than from desire after another. Likewise, if the husband bring a divorce
and charge grave crimes against the woman, let him bring action against
the accused under the laws and let him both have the dowry (sentence
having been obtained) and let him receive his gifts to her and let the
free choice of marrying another be granted him immediately. But if it is
an offence of manners and not of a criminal nature, let him receive the
donations, relinquish the dowry, and marry after two years. But if he
merely wishes to dissolve the marriage by dissent, and she who is put away
is charged with no fault or sin, let the man lose the donation and the
dowry, and in perpetual celibacy let him bear as a penalty for his
wrongful divorce the pain of solitude; to the woman, however, is conceded
after a year the right to remarry. Regarding the retention of the dowry on
account of the children we command that the directions of the old law
shall be observed.
(k) Jerome, Epistula 78, ad Oceanum. (MSL, 22:691.)
Divorce and remarriage.
The principle here laid down by Jerome was that which ultimately
prevailed in the Church of the West, that after divorce there
could be no remarriage, inasmuch as the marriage bond was
indissoluble, though the parties might be separated by the law.
But another principle was also made a part of the code of
Christian morality, that what was forbidden a woman was also
forbidden a man, i.e., the moral code as to chastity was the
same for both sexes.
§ 3. The Lord hath commanded that a wife should not be put away except for
fornication; and that when she has been put away, she ought to remain
unmarried [Matt. 19:9; I Cor. 7:11]. Whatever is given as a commandment to
men logically applies to women also. For it cannot be that while an
adulterous wife is to be put away, an incontinent husband must be
retained. The laws of Caesar are different, it is true, from the laws of
Christ. Papinian commands one thing; our Paul another.(146) Among them the
bridles are loosened for immodesty in the case of men. But with us what is
unlawful for women is equally unlawful for men; and both are bound by the
same conditions of service. She(147) then put away, as they report, a
husband that was a sinner; she put away one who was guilty of this and
that crime. She was a young woman; she could not preserve her widowhood.
She persuaded herself and thought that her husband had been lawfully put
away from her. She did not know that the strictness of the Gospel takes
away from women all pretexts for remarriage, so long as their former
husbands are alive.
(l) Jerome, Adversus Jovinianum, I, 7. (MSL, 23:229.)
The inferiority of marriage to virginity.
While the Church teachers insisted on the indissolubility of
marriage and its sanctity, in not a few cases they depreciated
marriage. Of those who did this Jerome may be regarded as the most
characteristic and representative of a tendency which had set in,
largely in connection with the increase of monasticism, regarded
as the only form of Christian perfection.
"It is good for a man not to touch a woman."(148) If it is good not to
touch a woman, it is bad to touch one; for nothing is opposed to goodness
but the bad. But if it be bad and the evil is pardoned, it is conceded
that a worse evil may not happen. But what sort of good is that which is
allowed only because there may be something worse? He would have never
added, "Let each man have his own wife," unless he had previously said,
"But because of fornication." "Defraud ye not one another, except it be
by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer." What, I
pray, is the quality of that good thing which hinders prayer, which does
not allow the body of Christ to be received? So long as I do a husband's
part, I fail in continency. The same Apostle in another place commands us
to pray always.(149)
9. "It is better to marry than to burn." If marriage itself be good, do
not compare it with fire, but simply say, "It is good to marry." I suspect
the goodness of that thing which must be only the lesser of two evils.
What I want is not the smaller evil, but a thing that is absolutely good.
(m) Chrysostom, Hom. 66 in Matth. (XX, 30). (MSG, 58:630.)
The Church took the lead in philanthropy and not only organized
relief of poor but constantly exhorted people to contribute to the
cause. See above, § 68, d.
If both the wealthy and those next to them in wealth were to distribute
among themselves those in need of bread and raiment, scarcely would one
poor person fall to the share of fifty men, or even a hundred. Yet,
nevertheless, though in such great abundance of persons able to assist
them, they are wailing every day. And that thou mayest learn their
inhumanity, recall that the Church(150) has a revenue of one of the lowest
among the wealthy, and not of the very rich; and consider how many widows
it succors every day, how many virgins; for indeed the list of them
amounts to the number of three thousand. Together with these she succors
them that dwell in prison, the sick in the caravansaries, the healthy,
those that are absent from their homes, those that are maimed in their
bodies, those that wait upon the altar; and with respect to food and
raiment, those that casually come every day; and her substance is in no
respect diminished. So that if ten men only were thus willing to spend,
there would be no poor.
(n) Gregory of Nazianzus, Panegyric on Basil, ch. 63. (MSG, 36:577.)
Gregory of Nazianzus was the friend and schoolmate of Basil. The
action of Basil in forcing upon him the bishopric of Sasima led to
an estrangement and brought about the tragedy of Gregory's
ecclesiastical career, his forced resignation of the
archiepiscopal see of Constantinople. See Gregory's oration, "The
Last Farewell" (PNF, ser. II, vol. VII, 385). Nevertheless, the
death of Basil was an occasion for him to deliver his greatest
oration. It was probably composed and delivered several years
after Basil's decease and after Gregory had retired from
Constantinople to his home at Nazianzus.
Go forth a little way from the city, behold the New City,(151) the
storehouse of piety where disease is regarded in a philosophic light,
and disaster is thought to be a blessing in disguise, and sympathy is
tested. Why should I compare with this work Thebes having the seven gates,
and the Egyptian Thebes and the walls of Babylon and all other objects
of men's wonder and of historic record, from all of which, except for some
slight glory, there was no advantage to their founders? My subject is the
most wonderful of all, the short road to salvation, the easiest ascent to
heaven.(152) There is no longer before our eyes that terrible and piteous
spectacle of men dead before their death, in many members of their body
already dead, driven away from their cities and homes and public places
and fountains, ay and from their dearest ones, recognizable by their names
rather than by their features. He, however, it was who most of all
persuaded us men, as being men, not to despise men nor to dishonor Christ,
the head of all, by inhuman treatment of them; but in the misfortune of
others to establish well our own lot and to lend to God that mercy, since
we ourselves need mercy. He did not therefore disdain to honor disease
with his lips; he was noble and of noble ancestry and of brilliant
reputation, but he saluted them as brethren, not out of vainglory, as some
might suppose (for who was so far removed from this feeling?), but taking
the lead in approaching to tend them in consequence of his philosophy, and
so giving not only a speaking but also a silent instruction. Not only the
city, but the country and parts beyond behave in like manner; and even the
leaders of society have vied with one another in their philanthropy and
magnanimity toward them.
§ 76. Popular Piety and the Reception of Heathenism in the Church
When vast numbers poured into the Church in the fourth century and the
profession of Christianity no longer involved danger, morals became less
austere, and the type of piety became adapted to the religious condition
of those with whom the Church had now to deal. This is shown in the new
place that the intercession of saints and the veneration of their relics
take in the religious life of the times. Yet these and similar forms of
devotion in popular piety were not new and cannot be attributed in
principle to any wholesale importation of heathenism into the Church, as
was charged at the time and often since. In principle, and to some extent
in practice, they can be traced to times of persecution and danger. But,
on the other hand, no little heathenism was brought into the Church by
those who came into it without any adequate preparation or real change of
religious feeling. With this heathenism the Church had to struggle, either
casting it out in whole or in part, or rendering it as innocuous as
possible. In spite of all, many heathen superstitions remained everywhere
in Christendom, though playing for the most part such an inferior role as
to be negligible in the total effect.
Additional source material: Eusebius, Vita Constantini (PNF),
III, 21, 28; IV, 38, 39, 54.
(a) Ambrose, De Viduis, ch. 9. (MSL, 16:264.)
The importance and value of calling upon the saints for their
When Simon's mother-in-law was lying sick with violent fever, Peter and
Andrew besought the Lord for her: "And He stood over her and commanded the
fever and it left her, and immediately she arose and ministered unto
So Peter and Andrew prayed for the widow. Would that there were some one
who could so quickly pray for us, or better still, they who prayed for the
mother-in-law--Peter and Andrew his brother. Then they could pray for one
related to them, now they are able to pray for us and for all. For you see
that one bound by great sin is less fit to pray for herself, certainly
less likely to obtain for herself. Let her then make use of others to pray
for her to the Physician. For the sick, unless the Physician be called to
them by the prayers of others, cannot pray for themselves. The flesh is
weak, the soul is sick and hindered by the chains of sins, and cannot
direct its feeble steps to the throne of that great Physician. The angels
must be entreated for us, who have been to us as guardians; the martyrs
must be entreated whose patronage we seem to claim by a sort of pledge,
the possession of their body. They can entreat for our sins, who, if they
had any sins, washed them in their own blood; for they are the martyrs of
God, our leaders, the beholders of our life and of our actions. Let us not
be ashamed to take them as intercessors for our weakness, for they
themselves knew the weakness of the body, even when they overcame.
(b) Jerome, Contra Vigilantium, chs. 4 ff. (MSL, 23:357.)
A defence of the worship and practice of the Church, especially in
regard to veneration of relics against the criticism of
Jerome's attack on Vigilantius is in many respects a masterpiece
of scurrility, and unworthy of the ability of the man. But it is
invaluable as a statement of the opinions of the times regarding
such matters as the veneration of relics, the attitude toward the
departed saints and martyrs, and many other elements of the
popular religion which have been commonly attributed to a much
Ch. 4. Among other words of blasphemy he [Vigilantius] may be heard to
say: "What need is there for you not only to reverence with so great honor
but even to adore I know not what, which you carry about in a little
vessel and worship?" And again in the same book, "Why do you adore by
kissing a bit of powder wrapped up in a cloth?" and further on, "Under the
cloak of religion we see really a heathen ceremony introduced into the
churches; while the sun is shining heaps of tapers are lighted, and
everywhere I know not what paltry bit of powder wrapped in a costly cloth
is kissed and worshipped. Great honor do men of this sort pay to the
blessed martyrs, who, as they think, are to be glorified by trumpery
tapers, but to whom the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne, with all
the brightness of His majesty gives light."
Ch. 5. Is the Emperor Arcadius guilty of sacrilege, who, after so long a
time, conveyed the bones of the blessed Samuel from Judaea to Thrace? Are
all the bishops to be considered not only sacrilegious but silly as well,
who carried that most worthless thing, dust and ashes, wrapped in silk and
in a golden vessel? Are the people of all the churches fools, who went to
meet the sacred relics, and received them with as much joy as if they
beheld the living prophet in the midst of them, so that there was one
great swarm of people from Palestine to Chalcedon and with one voice the
praises of Christ resounded?
Ch. 6. For you say that the souls of the Apostles and martyrs have their
abode either in the bosom of Abraham, or in some place of refreshment, or
under the altar of God, and that they cannot leave their own tombs and be
present where they will. They are, it seems, of senatorial rank and are
not in the worst sort of prison and among murderers, but are kept apart in
liberal and honorable custody in the isles of the blessed and the Elysian
fields. Do you lay down laws for God? Will you throw the Apostles in
chains? So that to the day of judgment they are to be kept in confinement
and are not with the Lord, although it is written concerning them, "They
follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth." If the Lamb is present
everywhere, then they who are with the Lamb, it must be believed, are
everywhere. And while the devil and the demons wander through the whole
world, and with only too great speed are present everywhere, the martyrs
after shedding their blood are to be kept out of sight shut up in a
coffin(153) from whence they cannot go forth? You say in your pamphlet
that so long as we are alive we can pray for one another; but after we are
dead the prayer of no person for another can be heard, and especially
because the martyrs, though they cry for the avenging of their blood, have
never been able to obtain their request. If Apostles and martyrs, while
still in the body, can pray for others, when they ought still to be
anxious for themselves, how much more must they do so after they have
their crowns and victories and triumphs? A single man, Moses, won pardon
from God for six hundred thousand armed men; and Stephen, the follower of
his Lord and the first martyr for Christ, entreats pardon for his
persecutors; and after they have entered on their life with Christ, shall
they have less power? The Apostle Paul says that two hundred and
seventy-six souls were given him in the ship; and after his dissolution,
when he began to be with Christ, must he then shut up his mouth and be
unable to say a word for those who throughout the whole world have
believed in his Gospel? Shall Vigilantius the live dog be better than Paul
the dead lion?
(c) Council of Laodicaea, A. D. 343-381, Canons 35. f., Bruns, I, 77.
The Council of Laodicaea is of uncertain date, but its earliest
possible date is 343 and the latest 381, i.e., between the
Councils of Sardica and Constantinople. See Hefele, § 93. It owes
its importance not to any immediate effect it had upon the course
of the Church's development, but to the fact that its canons were
incorporated in collections and received approval, possibly at
Chalcedon, A. D. 451, though not mentioned by name in Canon 1, and
certainly at the Quinisext, A. D. 692, Canon 2. In the West the
canons were of importance as having been used by Dionysius Exiguus
in his collection. That the Canon of Holy Scripture was settled at
this council is a traditional commonplace in theology, but hardly
borne out by the facts. The council only drew up one of the
several imperfect lists of sacred books which appeared in
antiquity. The following canons show the influx of heathenism into
the Church, resulting from the changed status of the Church.
Canon 35. Christians must not forsake the Church of God and go away and
invoke angels and gather assemblies, which things are forbidden. If,
therefore, any one shall be found engaged in secret idolatry, let him be
anathema; for he has forsaken our Lord Jesus Christ and gone over to
Canon 36. They who are of the priesthood and of the lower clergy shall not
be magicians, enchanters, mathematicians(154) nor astrologers; nor shall
they make amulets, which are chains for their own souls. And those who
wear such we command to be cast out of the Church.
(d) Augustine, Epistula 29. (MSL, 33:117.)
Heathenism in the Church.
An Epistle of Augustine, written when Augustine was still a
presbyter of Hippo, concerning the birthday of Leontius, formerly
bishop of Hippo. In it he tells Alypius that he had at length put
an end to the custom among the Catholics of Hippo of taking part
in splendid banquets on the birthday of saints, as was then the
custom in the African churches.
Ch. 8. When the day dawned on which they were accustomed to prepare
themselves for excess in eating and drinking, I received notice that some,
even of those who were present at my sermon, had not yet ceased
complaining, and that so great was the power of detestable custom among
them that, using no other argument, they asked: "Wherefore is this now
prohibited? Were they not Christians who in former times did not interfere
with this practice?"
Ch. 9. Lest, however, any slight should seem to be put by us upon those
who before our time either tolerated or dared not put down such manifest
wrong-doings of an undisciplined multitude, I explained to them the
necessity by which this custom seems to have arisen in the Church; namely,
that when, in the peace which came after such numerous and violent
persecutions, crowds of heathen who wished to assume the Christian
religion were kept back because, having been accustomed to celebrate the
feasts connected with idols in revelling and drunkenness, they could not
easily refrain from these pleasures so hurtful and so habitual; and it
seemed good to our ancestors that for a time a concession should be made
to this infirmity, that after they had renounced the former festivals they
might celebrate other feasts, in honor of the holy martyrs, which were
observed, not with the same profane design, although with similar
indulgence. Now upon them as persons bound together in the name of Christ,
and submissive to the yoke of His august authority, the wholesome
restraints of sobriety were laid; and these restraints, on account of the
honor and fear of Him who appointed them they might not resist; and that
therefore it was now time that those who did not dare to deny that they
were Christians should begin to live according to Christ's will; being now
Christians they should reject those things conceded that they might become
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