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“ In ages of ignorance and credulity," says Dr. Robertson, " the ministers of religion are the objects of superstitious veneration. When the Barbarians who overran the Roman empire first embraced the Christian faith, they found the clergy in possession of considerable power; and they naturally transferred to those new guides the profound submission and reverence, which they were accustomed to yield to the priests of that religion which they had forsaken. They deemed their persons to be equally sacred with their function, and would have considered it as impious to subject them to the profane jurisdiction of the laity. The clergy were not blind to these advantages which the weakness of mankind afforded them. They established courts, in which every question relating to their own character, their function, and their property, was tried. They pleaded, and obtained an almost total exemption from the authority of civil judges. l'pon different pretexts, and by a multiplicity of artifices, they communicated the privilege to so many persons, and extended their jurisdiction to such a variety of cases, that the greater part of those affairs which gave rise to contest and litigation, was drawn under the cogniZance of the spiritual courts.” *
The claims to supremacy, which, during the preceding centuries, had been asserted by the bishops of Rome, were at first faintly urged, and promoted by artful and
the year 415, Generic, a l'audal warrior, invaded Italy, and once more sached the city of Rome. * The pilaze lauted fourteen days and nights, and all that yet remaibed of puulie or priva'e wealth, of suured or profane treasure, was diligently transported to the vessels of Geusenie." Among the spoils were the holy instruments of the Ji wash worship, -the golden table, the golden randieniach with seven bratum, & winch tour hun. dred years befuse Tites liad brought frou da radalm, and which had been sinre deposited in tue l'empie of Peace lle also stripped the Christian cliurches of every article of plate and grandeur ikut was moveable.
History of Charles W. vol. 1. sect. 1.
almost imperceptible means. They now, however, began to insist upon superiority as a divine right attached to their see, which, they contended, had been founded by the apostle Peter; and this arrogant claim, which had appeared conspicuously enough in the conduct of the bishops of Rome of the preceding century, was now no longer concealed, or cautiously promulgated. But, however violent their claims, or extensive their authority in affairs both ecclesiastical and civil, they still remained subject, first to the jurisdiction of the Gothic kings, and, upon the retaking of Rome, to the emperors of Constantinople. Such, however, was the extensive influence of the papal intrigues, that there were few among the princes of the Western Empire, that were not virtually brought into a state of subjection to the authority of the bishops of Rome, before the close of the fifth century.
A station so elevated, which lay open to the ambition of numbers, was eagerly contested, and often obtained by fraud, chicanery, or the practice of whatever was most opposite to the spirit of the gospel. During the sixth century, the peace of the catholic church was thrice disturbed by the contests and squabbles of the rival pontiffs. Symmachus and Laurentius, who had been elevated to the vacant see by different parties, continued, for several years, to assert their discordant claims. After repeated struggles, the former, at length, prevailed. In this contest he was materially assisted by the pen of Ennodius, bishop of Pavia, who employed the most abject flattery in behalf of Symmachus, whom he blasphemously styles “ Judge in the place of God, and Vicegerent of the Most High.” The church was again divided by the reciprocal claims of Boniface and Dioscorus; the premature death of the latter, however, terminated this clerical war. But the century did not close without a scene alike disgraceful. A prelate of the name
of Vigilius, intrigued at court to procure the deposition of the reigning bishop Silverus. The latter was, in consequence, deprived of his dignities and banished. He appealed to the emperor Justinian, who interfered in his behalf, and encouraged him to return to Rome, with the delusive expectation of regaining his rights; but the artifices of Vigilius prevailed-his antagonist was resigned to his power, and immediately confined by him in the islands of Pontus and Pandatara, where, in penury and affliction, he terminated his wretched existence.
The advantages attendant upon the acquisition of such enormous power, induced the bishops of Constantinople, who were scarcely less arrogant and ambitious than their brethren at Rome, to refuse acknowledging their preeminence, and prompted them to lay claim to similar authority. The arrogant pretensions of these rival sees involved them in continual dissensions; which were prodigiously increased by the conduct of John, the faster, a prelate distinguished for his authority; who, in a council held at Constantinople in the year 588, assumed the title of Universal Bishop, which was confirmed to him by the council. This appellation, which implied a pre-eminence difficult to be endured by those who were as ambitious as himself, was opposed vehemently by Pelagius II. then bishop of Rome, who called it an execrable, profane, and diabolical procedure, but his invectives were disregarded, and he died soon after. In the year 560 he was succeeded by Gregory the great, as he is usually termed; a voluminous writer, and, though superstitious in the extreme, not altogether destitute of talents. His works are still extant, and in high reputation with the Catholics. The following letter written by him to the Emperor Maurice, at Constantinople, in consequence of John, the Patriarch of that city, assuming the name of “Universal Bishop,” casts so much light upon the history of that age, that it cannot, without injury to the subject, be omitted.
“ Our most religious Lord, whom God hath placed over us, among other weighty cares belonging to the empire, labours, according to the just rule of the sacred writings, to preserve peace and charity among the clergy. He truly and piously considers, that no man can well govern temporal matters, unless he manages with propriety things divine also; and that the peace and tranquillity of the commonwealth depend upon the quiet of the universal church. For, most gracious Sovereign, what human power or strength would presume to lift up irreligious hands against your most Christian majesty, if the clergy, being at unity amongst themselves, would seriously pray to our Saviour Christ to preserve you who have merited so highly from us? Or what nation is there so barbarous as to exercise such cruelty against the faithful, unless the lives of us who are called Priests, but in truth are not such, were most wicked and depraved? But whilst we leave those things which more immediately concern us, and embrace those things for which we are wholly unfit, we excite the Barbarians against us, and our offences sharpen the swords of our enemies, by which means the commonwealth is weakened. For what can we say for ourselves, if the people of God, over whom, however unworthily we are placed, be oppressed through the multitude of our offences; if our example destroys that which our preaching should build; and our actions, as it were, give the lie to our doctrine ? Our bones are worn with fasting, but our minds are puffed up! Our bodies are covered with mean attire, but in our hearts we are quite elated! We lie grovelling in the ashes, yet we aim at things exceedingly high! We are teachers of humility, but patterns of pride, hiding the teeth of wolves under a sheep's countenance! The end of all is, to make
a fair appearance before men, but God knoweth the truth! Therefore our most pious Sovereign hath been prudently careful to place the church at unity, that he might the better compose the tumults of war and join their hearts together. This verily is my wish also, and for my own part I yield due obedience to your Sovereign commands. However, since it is not my cause, but God's, it is not myself only but the whole church that is troubled, because religious laws, venerable synods, and the very precepts of our Lord Jesus Christ, are disobeyed by the invention of a proud and pompous speech. My desire is, that our most religious Sovereign would lance this sore, and that he would bind with the cords of his imperial authority the party affected, in case he makes any resistance. By restraining him the commonwealth will be eased; and by the paring away of such excrescences the empire is enlarged. Every man that has read the gospel knows that, even by the very words of our Lord, the care of the whole church is committed to St. Peter, the apostle—the Prince of all the apostles. For to him it is said, “ Peter, lovest thou me? Feed my sheep." “ Behold, Satan bath desired to winnow thee as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith should not fail.” And, “thou being at the last converted, confirm thy brethren.” To him it is said, “ Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and to thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou bindest on earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed also in heaven." Behold! he hath the keys of the kingdom, and the power of binding and loosing is committed to him. The care and the principality of the whole church is committed to him; and yet he is not called “ Universal Apostle”--though this holy man, John, my VOL. I.