« PreviousContinue »
should apply to all cases that would come before them; or even verging towards an extreme on either side of this question. The following is the account given of Novatian by the late Mr. Robert Robinson, in his Ecclesiastical Researches, p. 126; and I the more readily submit it to the reader, because none who knew Mr. Robinson, can, for a moment, suspect him of having any undue predilection for the principles of Novatian. “He was,” says he, “an elder in the Church of Rome, a man of extensive learning, holding the same doctrine as the church did, and published several treatises in defence of what he believed. His address was eloquent and insinuating, and his morals irreproachable. He saw with extreme pain the intolerable depravity of the church. Christians within the space of a very few years were caressed by one emperor, and persecuted by another. In seasons of prosperity many persons rushed into the church for base purposes. In times of adversity, they denied the faith, and reverted again to idolatry. When the squall was over, away they came again to the church, with all their vices, to deprave others by their examples. The bishops, fond of proselytes, encouraged all this; and transferred the attention of Christians from the old confederacy for virtue, to vain shows at Easter, and other Jewish ceremonies, adulterated too with paganism. On the death of bishop Fabian, Cornelius, a brother elder, and a violent partizan for taking in the multitude, was put in nomination. Novatian opposed him; but as Cornelius carried his election, and he saw no prospect of reformation, but on the contrary a tide of immorality pouring into the church, he withdrew and a great many with him. Cornelius, irritated by Cyprian, who was just in the same condition, through the reme... strances of virtuous men at Carthage, and who was en asperated beyond measure with one of his own elder-. VOL. 1,
named Novatus, who had quitted Carthage, and gone to Rome to espouse the cause of Novatian, called a council and got a sentence of excommunication passed against Novatian. In the end Novatian formed a church, and was elected bishop. Great numbers followed his example, and all over the empire Puritan churches were constituted and flourished through the succeeding two hundred years. Afterwards, when penal laws obliged them to lurk in corners, and worship God in private, they were distinguished by a variety of names, and a succession of them continued till the Reformation."
The same author, afterwards adverting to the vile calumnies with which the catholic writers have in all ages delighted to asperse the character of Novatian, thus proceeds to vindicate him :
“ They say Novatian was the first Antipope; and yet there was at that time no pope, in the modern sense of the word. They call Novatian the author of the heresy of puritanism; and yet they know that Tertullian had quitted the church near fifty years before, for the same reason, and Privatus, who was an old man in the time of Novatian, had, with several more, repeatedly remonstrated against the alterations taking place; and, as they could get no redress, had dissented and formed separate congregations. They tax Novatian with being the parent of an innumerable multitude of congregations of Puritans all over the empire; and yet he had no other influence over any, than what his good example gave him. People every where saw the same cause of complaint, and groaned for relief; and when one man made a stand for virtue, the crisis had arrived; people saw the propriety of the cure, and applied the same means to their own relief. They blame this man, and all these churches for the severity of their discipline;- yet this
severe discipline, was the only coercion of the primitive churches, and it was the exercise of this that rendered civil coercion unnecessary. Some exclaimed, it is a
. barbarous discipline to refuse to readmit people into Christian communion, because they have lapsed into idolatry or vice. Others, finding the inconvenience of such a lax discipline, required a repentance of five, ten, or fifteen years; but the Novatians said, you may be admitted among us by baptism-or, if any Catholic has baptized you before, by rebaptism; but if you fall into idolatry, we shall separate you from our communion, and on no account readmit you. God forbid we should injure either your person, your property, or your character, or even judge of the truth of your repentance or your future state ; but you can never be readmitted to our community, without our giving up the last and only coercive guardian we have of the purity of our [fellowship.] Whether these persons reasoned justly or not, as virtue was their object, they challenge respect, and he must be a weak man indeed, who is frighted out of it because Cyprian is pleased to say, they are the children of the devil."
The doctrinal sentiments of the Novatians appear to have been very scriptural, and the discipline of their churches rigid in the extreme. They were the first class of Christians who obtained the name of ( Cathari) Puritans, an appellation which doth not appear to have been chosen by themselves, but applied to them by their adversaries; from which we may reasonably conclude that their manners were simple and irreproachable. Some of them are said to have disapproved of second marriages, regarding them as sinful; but in this they erred in common with Tertullian and many other eminent persons. A third charge against them was, that they did not pay due reverence to the martyrs, nor allow that there was any virtue in their reliques -A plain proof of their good sense.
Novatian appears to have been possessed of considerable talents-Mosheim terms him, “A man of uncommon learning and eloquence;”-and he wrote several works, of which only two are now extant. One of them is upon the subject of the Trinity. It is divided into thirty-one sections: the first eight relate to the FATHER, and treat of his nature, power, goodness, justice, &c. with the worship due to him. The following twenty sections relate to CHRIST—the Old Testament prophecies concerning him—their actual accomplishment—his nature-how the scriptures prove his divinity-confutes the Sabellians-shews that it was Christ who appeared to the patriarchs, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, &c. The twenty-ninth section treats of the Holy Spirit-how promised-given by Christ—his offices, and operations on the souls of men and in the church. The last two sections recapitulate the arguments before adduced. The work appears to have been written in the year 257; six years after his separation from the Catholic church. The other tract is upon the subject of “ Jewish Meats," addressed in the form of a letter to his church, and written either during his banishment, or retreat in the time of persecution. It opens up the typical nature of the law of Moses, and while he proves its abolition, is careful to guard his Christian brethren against supposing that they were therefore at liberty to eat things sacrificed to idols. *
Dr. Lardner in his Credibility of the Gospel History, ch. xlvii. has been at considerable pains in comparing the various and contradictory representations that have been given of Novatian and his followers, and has ex
* Dr. A. Clarke's Succession of Sacred Literature, vol. 1. p. 209–218.
onerated them from a mass of obloquy, cast upon them by the Catholic party. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote many epistles or treatises respecting the sect of the Novatians, which afford abundant evidence that their rigid discipline was relished by many. Fabius, bishop of Antioch, in particular, was their friend and favourer. Marcian, bishop of Arles, was firm in the same principles in the time of Stephen, bishop of Rome. A church was formed at Carthage for the Novatian party, of which Maximus was the pastor. Socrates, the historian, speaks of their churches at Constantinople, Nice, Nicomedia, and Coticus in Phrygia, all in the fourth century-these he mentions as their principal places in the East, and he supposes them to have been equally numerous in the West. What were their numbers in these cities does not appear, but he intimates that they had three churches in Constantinople.
Though, therefore, Novatian and his principles were condemned by the Catholic party, at the time that Dionysius wrote the fore-mentioned letters concerning them to the bishop of Rome, he still continued to be supported by a numerous party in various places, separated from the Catholic church. They had among them some persons of considerable note, and of eminent talents. Among these were Agelius, Acesius, Sisinnius, and Narcian, all of Constantinople. Socrates mentions one Mark, bishop of the Novatians in Scythia, who died in the year 439. In fact the pieces written against them by a great variety of authors of the Catholic churchsuch as Ambrose, Pacian, and others-the notice taken of them by Basil and Gregory Nazianzen--and the accounts given of them by Socrates and Sozomen in their ecclesiastical histories, are proofs of their being numerous, and that churches of this denomination were to be found in most parts of the world, in the fourth and fifth