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    August 23, 1897

    “How the Catholic Creed Was Made. Character of the Church Under Imperial Patronage” The Bible Echo 12, 34, pp. 265-267.


    THE Donatist controversy, that strife for supremacy between church factions, each claiming to be the Catholic Church, touched no point of doctrine, but of discipline only, and was confined to the provinces of Africa. The result in this case, however, ought to have convinced Constantine that the best thing for the imperial authority to do was to return, and strictly adhere, to the principles announced in his Edict of Milan, namely to let religious questions and controversies entirely alone, and allow each individual “that privilege of choosing and professing his own religion.” Yet, even if this thought had occurred to him, it would have been impossible for him to do so and attain the object of his ambition.BEST August 23, 1897, page 265.1

    The principles of the Edict of Milan had no place in the compact entered into between Constantine and the bishops. As yet he possessed only half the empire; for Licinius still held the East, and Constantine’s position was not yet so secure that he dared risk any break with the bishops. He had bargained to them his influence in religious things for theirs in politics. The contract had been entered into, he had sold himself to the church influence, and he could not go back even if he would. The empire was before him, but without the support of the church party it could not be his.BEST August 23, 1897, page 265.2


    IT is necessary now to notice the material point in that edict issued in A.D. 313 (a portion of which was quoted last week), exempting from all public offices the clergy of the Catholic Church. As a benefit to society and that “the greatest good might be conferred on the State,” the clergy of the Catholic Church were to “be held totally free and exempt from all public offices.”BEST August 23, 1897, page 265.3

    At this time the burdens and expenses of the principal offices of the State were so great that this exemption was of the greatest material benefit. The immediate effect of the edict, therefore, was to erect the clerical order into a distinct and privileged class. For instance, in the days of the systematic governing of the empire, the decurionate was the chief office of the State. “The decurions formed the Senates of the towns; they supplied the magistrates from their body, and had the right of electing them. Under the new financial system introduced by Diocletian, the decurions were made responsible for the full amount of taxation imposed by the cataster, or assessment on the town and district.” (Milman’s “History of Christianity.”)BEST August 23, 1897, page 265.4

    As the splendour and magnificence of the court display was increased, and as the imperial power became more absolute, the taxation became more and more burdensome. To such an extent indeed was this carried that tenants, and indeed proprietors of moderate means, were well-nigh bankrupted. Yet the imperial power demanded of the decurions the full amount of the taxes that were levied in their town or district. “The office itself grew into disrepute, and the law was obliged to force that upon the reluctant citizen of wealth or character which had before been an object of eager emulation and competition.” (Milman.)BEST August 23, 1897, page 265.5

    The exemption of the clerical order from all public offices opened the way for all who would escape these burdens, to become, by whatever means possible, members of that order. The effect was, therefore, to bring into the ministry of the church a crowd of men who had no other purpose in view than to be relieved from the burdensome duties that were laid upon the public by the imperial extravagance of Constantine. So promptly did this consequence follow from this edict, and “such numbers of persons, in order to secure this exemption, rushed into the clerical order,” that “this manifest abuse demanded an immediate modification of the law.” It was therefore ordered that “none were to be admitted into the sacred order except on the vacancy of a religious charge, and then those only whose poverty exempted them from the municipal functions.” (Milman.)BEST August 23, 1897, page 266.1

    Nor was this all. The order of the clergy itself found that it was required to pay for this exemption a tribute which it had not at all contemplated in the original bargain. Those already belonging to the clerical order who were sufficiently wealthy to exercise the office of decurion, were commanded to “abandon their religious profession” (Milman), in order that they might fill the office which had been deserted because of the exemption which had been granted to their particular order. This of course was counted by the clergy as a great hardship. But as they had willingly consented at the first to the interference of the authority of the State when it was exercised seemingly to their profit, they had thereby forfeited their right to protest against that same interference when it was exercised actually to the denial of their natural rights. Yet the resources of dishonest intrigue were still left to them,—especially the plea that their possessions belonged not to themselves but to the church,—and this subterfuge was employed to such an extent as virtually to defeat the purpose of this later law. Thus the evil consequences of the original law still flowed on, and “numbers, without any inward call to the spiritual office, and without any fitness for it whatever, now got themselves ordained as ecclesiastics, for the sake of enjoying this exemption, whereby many of the worst class came to the administration of the most sacred calling.” (Neander’s Church History.)BEST August 23, 1897, page 266.2


    ANOTHER scheme adopted by Constantine was fraught with more evil in the same direction. As he had favoured the new religion only on account of its value to him as a political factor, he counted it to his advantage to have as many as possible to profess that religion. He therefore used all the means that could be employed by the State to effect this purpose. He made the principal positions about his palace and court a gift and reward to the professors of the new imperial religion; and “the hopes of wealth and honors, the example of an emperor, his exhortations, his irresistible smiles, diffused conviction among the venal and obsequious crowds which usually fill the apartments of a palace.... As the lower ranks of society are governed by imitation, the conversion of those who possessed any eminence of birth, of power, or of riches, was soon followed by dependent multitudes. The salvation of the common people was purchased at an easy rate, if it be true that in one year twelve thousand men were baptized at Rome, besides a proportionable number of women and children, and that a white garment, with twenty pieces of gold, had been promised by the emperor to every convert.” (Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall.”)BEST August 23, 1897, page 266.3

    It will be observed that in this statement Gibbon inserts the cautious clause, “if it be true,” but such a precaution was scarcely necessary; because the whole history of the times bears witness that such was the system followed, whether this particular instance was a fact or not. This is proved by the next instance which we shall mention of Constantine’s efforts in gaining converts to the new religion. He wrote letters offering rewards both political and financial to those cities which, as such, would forsake the heathen religion, and destroy or allow to be destroyed their heathen temples. “The cities which signalised a forward zeal by the voluntary destruction of their temples, were distinguished by municipal privileges, and rewarded with popular donatives.” (Gibbon.)BEST August 23, 1897, page 266.4

    In cities that would accept this offer, he would build churches at the public expense, and send there “a complete body of the clergy and a bishop” when “there were as yet no Christians in the place.” Also upon such churches he bestowed “large sums for the support of the poor; so that the conversion of the heathen might be promoted by doing good to their bodies.” (Neander.) And that this was simply the manifestation of his constant policy, is shown by the fact that at the Council of Nice, in giving instruction to the bishops as to how they should conduct themselves, he said:—BEST August 23, 1897, page 266.5

    “In all ways unbelievers must be saved. It is not every one who will be converted by learning and reasoning. Some join us from desire of maintenance, some for preferment, some for presents; nothing is so rare as a real lover of truth. We must be like physicians, and accommodate our medicines to the diseases, our teaching to the different minds of all.”BEST August 23, 1897, page 266.6

    He further enacted “that money should be given in every city to orphans and widows, and to those who were consecrated to the divine service; and he fixed the amount of their annual allowance [of provisions] more according to the impulse of his own generosity, than to the exigencies of their condition.” (Theodoret.) In view of these things it is evident that there is nothing at all extravagant in the statement that in a single year twelve thousand men, besides women and children, were baptized in Rome.BEST August 23, 1897, page 266.7

    In addition to all this, he exempted all church property from taxation, which exemption, in the course of time, the church asserted as of divine right; and the example there set is followed to this day, even among people who profess a separation of Church and State.BEST August 23, 1897, page 266.8


    THE only result which could possibly come from such proceedings as these, was, first, that the great mass of the people, of the pagans, in the empire, with no change either of character or convictions, were drawn into the Catholic Church. Thus the State and the church became one and the same thing; and that one thing was simply the embodiment of the second result; namely, a solid mass of hypocrisy. “The vast numbers who, from external considerations, without any inward call, joined themselves to the Christian communities, served to introduce into the church all the corruptions of the heathen world. Pagan vices, pagan delusions, pagan superstition, took the garb and name of Christianity, and were thus enabled to exert a more corrupting influence of the Christian life. Such were those who, without any real interest whatever in the concerns of religion, living half in paganism and half in an outward show of Christianity, composed the crowds that thronged the churches on the festivals of the Christians, and the theatres on the festivals of the pagans. Such were those who accounted themselves Christians if they but attended church once or twice in a year; while, without a thought of any higher life, they abandoned themselves to every species of worldly pursuit and pleasure.” (Neander.)BEST August 23, 1897, page 266.9

    It could not be otherwise. The course pursued by Constantine in conformity with the political intrigues of the bishops, drew into the Catholic Church every hypocrite in the Roman Empire. And this for the simple reason that it could draw no other kind; because no man of principle, even though he were an outright pagan, would allow himself to be won by any such means. It was only to spread throughout all the empire the ambiguous mixture of paganism and apostate Christianity which we have seen so thoroughly exemplified in the life of Constantine himself, who was further inspired and flattered by the ambitious bishops.BEST August 23, 1897, page 266.10

    There were some honest pagans who refused all the imperial bribes and kept aloof from the wicked system thereby established. There were some genuine Christians who not only kept aloof from the foul mass, but protested against every step that was taken in creating it. But speaking generally, the whole population of the empire was included in the system thus established. “By taking in the whole population of the Roman Empire, the church became, indeed, a church of the masses, a church of the people, but at the same time more or less a church of the world. Christianity became a matter of fashion. The number of hypocrites and formal professors rapidly increased; strict discipline, zeal, self-sacrifice, and brotherly love proportionally ebbed away; and many heathen customs and usages, under altered names, crept into the worship of God and the life of the Christian people. The Roman State had grown up under the influence of idolatry, and was not to be magically transformed at a stroke. With the secularising process, therefore, a paganising tendency went hand in hand.” (Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church.”)BEST August 23, 1897, page 266.11


    THE effect of all this was further detrimental to true Christianity in that it argued that Christianity consists in the mere profession of the name, pertaining not to the essential character, nor implying any material change in the general conduct. Consequently those who had been by this means brought into the church acted worse, and really were worse, than those who remained aloof. When the bishops or clergy of the church undertook to exhort the heathen to become Christians, the pagans pointed to the hypocritical professors who were already members of the church, and to the invitation replied: “‘We lead good lives already; what need have we of Christ? We commit no murder, theft, nor robbery; we covet no man’s possessions; we are guilty of no breach of the matrimonial bond. Let something worthy of censure be found in our lives, and whoever can point it out may make us Christians.’ Comparing himself with nominal Christians: ‘Why would you persuade me to become a Christian? I have been defrauded by a Christian, I never defrauded any man; a Christian has broken his oath to me, I never broke my word to any man.’” (Neander.)BEST August 23, 1897, page 267.1

    Not only was the church thus rendered powerless to influence those who were without, she was likewise powerless to influence for any good those who were within. When the vast majority in the church were unconverted, and had joined the church from worldly and selfish motives, living only lives of conscious hypocrisy, it was impossible that church discipline should be enforced by church authority.BEST August 23, 1897, page 267.2

    The next step taken by the bishopric, therefore, was to secure edicts under which they could enforce church discipline. This, too, not only upon the members of the church, but likewise upon those who were not members. The church having, out of lust for worldly power and influence, forsaken the power of God, the civil power was the only resource that remained to her. Conscious of her loss of moral power, she seized upon the civil. The account of this further wickedness will be given in the next paper.BEST August 23, 1897, page 267.3

    A. T. JONES.

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