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church, from whence it was designed to banish the errors that daily arose.
“ In the earliest times of the church all who professed firmly to believe that Jesus was the only Redeemer of the world, and who, in consequence of this profession, promised to live in a manner conformable to the purity of his holy religion, were immediately received among the disciples of Christ. This was all the preparation for baptism then required; and a more accurate instruction in the doctrines of Christianity was to be administered to them after their receiving the sacrament. But when Christianity had acquired more consistence, and churches rose to the true God and his eternal Son almost in every nation, this custom was changed for the wisest and most solid reasons. Then none were admitted to baptism but such as had been previously instructed in the principal points of Christianity, and had also given satisfactory proofs of pious dispositions and upright intentions. Hence arose the distinction between catechumens, who were in a state of probation, and under the instruction of persons appointed for that purpose, and believers, who were consecrated by baptism, and thus initiated into all the mysteries of the Christian faith.
" The methods of instructing the catechumens differed according to their various capacities. Those in whom the natural force of reason was small, were taught no more than the fundamental principles and truths, which are, as it were, the basis of Christianity. Those, on the contrary, whom their instructers judged capable of comprehending, in some measure, the whole system of divine truth, were furnished with superior degrees of knowledge ; and nothing was concealed from them which could have any tendency to render them firm in their profession, and assist them in arriving at Christian perfection. The care of instructing such was committed to persons who were distinguished by their gravity and wisdom, and also by their learning and judgment. From hence it comes, that the ancient doctors generally divide their flock into two
classes--the one comprehending such as were solidly and thoroughly instructed; the other, those who were acquainted with little more than the first principles of religion. Nor do they deny that the methods of instruction applied to these two sorts of persons were extremely different.
“ 'The Christians took all possible care to accustom their children to the study of the Scriptures, and to instruct them in the doctrines of their holy religion ; and schools were every where erected for this purpose, even from the very commencement of the Christian church. We must not, however, confound the schools designed only for children, with the gymnasia, or academies of the ancient Christians, erected in several large cities, in which persons of riper years, especially such as aspire to be public teachers, were instructed in the different branches, both of human learning and of sacred erudition. We may, undoubtedly, attribute to the apostles themselves, and their injunctions to their disciples, the excellent establishments in which the youth destined to the holy ministry received an education suitable to the solemn office they were to undertake. St. John erected a school of this kind at Ephesus, and one of the same nature was founded by: Polycarp at Smyrna. But none of these were in greater repute than that which was established at Alexandria, which was commonly called the catechetical school, and is generally supposed to have been erected by St. Mark.
“One of the circumstances which contributed chiefly to preserve, at least, an external appearance of sanctity in the Christian church, was the right of excluding from thence, and from all participation of the sacred rites and ordinances of the gospel, such as had been guilty of enormous transgressions, and to whom repeated exhortations to repentance and amendment had been administered in vain. This right was vested in the church, from the earliest period of its existence, by the apostles themselves, and was exercised by each Christian assembly upon its respective members. The
rulers or doctors denounced the persons whom they thought unworthy of the privileges of church-commie nion; and the people, freely rejecting or approving their judgment, pronounced the decisive sentence. It was not, however, irrevocable ; for such as gave undoubted signs of their sincere repentance, and declared their solemn resolutions of future reformation, were readmitted into the church, however enormous their crimes had been; but, in case of a relapse, their second exclusion became irreversible.
“ 'The rites instituted by Christ himself were only two in number, and these designed to continue to the end of the church here below, without
any variation. These rites were baptism and the holy supper, which are not to be considered as mere ceremonies, nor yet as symbolic representations only, but also as ordinances, accompanied with a sanctifying influence upon the heart and affections of true Christians ; and we cannot help observing here, that since the divine Saviour thought fit to appoint no more than two plain institutions in his church, this shows us that a number of ceremonies is not essential to his religion, and that he left it to the free and prudent choice of Christians to establish such rites as the circumstances of the times, or the exigences of the church might require.
“ There are several circumstances which incline us to think that the friends and the apostles of our blessed Lord either tolerated through necessity, or appointed for wise reasons, many other external rites in various places. At the same time, we are not to imagine that they ever conferred upon any person a perpetual, indelible, pontifical authority, or that they enjoined the same rites in all churches. We learn, on the contrary, from authentic records, that the Christian worship was, from the beginning, celebrated in a different manner in different places, and that, no doubt, by the orders, or at least with the approbation, of the apostles and their disciples. In these early times, it was both wise and necessary to show, in the establishment of outward forms of worship, some indulgence to the ancient opi
nions, manners, and laws of the respective nations to whom the gospel was preached.
“ In those Christian societies which were totally or principally composed of Jewish converts, it was natural to retain as much of the Jewish ritual as the genius of Christianity would suffer ; and a multitude of examples testify that this was actually done. But that the same translation of Jewish rites should take place in Christian churches, where there were no Jews, or a very small and inconsiderable number, is utterly incredible ; because such an event was morally impossible. In a word, the external forms of worship used in the times of old, must necessarily have been regulated and modified according to the character, genius, and man. ners of the different nations on which the light of the gospel arose.”
8. REGARD PAID TO THE SCRIPTURES BY THE EARLY
CHRISTIANS. The following interesting account of the regard paid to the Holy Scriptures by the early Christians, is extracted from Cave's Primitive Christianity.
“ Their next care was diligently and seriously to read the Scriptures, to be mighty in the Divine Oracles, as, indeed, they had an invaluable esteem of, and reverence for, the word of God, as the book which they infinitely prized above all others; upon which account Nazianzen very severely chides his dear friend Gregory Nyssen, then having laid aside the Holy Scriptures (the most excellent writings in the world), which he was wont to read privately to himself, and publicly to the people, he had given up himself to the study of foreign and profane authors, desirous rather to be accounted an orator than a Christian. St. Augustine tells us, that after his conversion, how meanly soever he had before thought of them, the Scriptures were become the matter of his pure and chaste delight, in respect of which all other books (even of Cicero himself, which once he had so much doated on), became
dry and unsavory to him. It was in the study of this book that Christians then mainly exercised themselves, as thinking they could never fully enough understand it, or deeply enough imprint it upon their hearts and memories. Of the younger Theodosius, they tell us, that rising early every morning, he, together with his sisters, interchangeably sung psalms of praise to God; the Holy Scriptures he could repeat, in any part of them, with the bishops that were at court, as readily as if he had been an old bishop himself. We read of Origen, though then a child, that when his father commanded him to commit some places of Scripture to memory, he most willingly set himself to it, and not content with the bare reading, he began to inquire into the more profound and recondite ineaning of it, often asking his father (to his no less joy than admiration) what the sense of this or that place of Scripture was ; and his thirst after divine knowledge still continued and increased in him all his life. St. Jerome reports it out of a letter of one who was his great companion and benefactor, that he never went to his meals without some part of Scripture being read, never to sleep till some about him had read them to him, and that, both by night and by day, no sooner had he done praying but he betook himself to reading, and after reading returned again to prayer. Valens, deacon of the church of Jerusalem, a venerable old man, had so entirely given up himself to the study of the Scriptures, that it was all one to him to read or to repeat whole pages together. The like we find of John, an Egyptian confessor (whom Eusebius saw and heard), that though both his eyes were put out, and his body mangled with unheardof cruelty, yet he was able at any time to repeat any places or passages, either out of the Old or New Testament ; which, when I first heard him do in the public congregation, I supposed him (says Eusebius) to have been reading in a book, till coming near, and finding how it was, I was struck with great admiration at it. Certainly, Christians then had no mean esteem of, and took no small delight in these sacred volumes. For