Last Supper, Ravenna

Walker, “Period II. The Gnostic Crisis,” 2.11-2.16, pp. 87-103.

[6.1] The Hierarchical Dev't of the Church;  [6.2] Public Worship & Sacred Seasons;
[6.3] Baptism;   [6.4] The Eucharist;   [6.5] Forgiveness Of Sins;   [6.6] Sinners in the Church








   Growing Authority of the Bishops


THE effect of the struggle with Gnosticism and Montanism upon the development of the bishoprics as centers of unity, witnesses to apostolic tradition, and bearers of an apostolic succession, has already been seen (§ 4). The tendencies then developed continued to work in increasing power, with the result that, between 200 and 260, the church as an organization took on most of the constitutional features which were to characterize it throughout the period of the dominance of Graeco-Roman culture. Above all, this development was manifested in the increase of the power of the bishops. The circumstances of the time, the contests with Gnostics and Montanists, the leadership of increasing masses of ignorant recent converts from paganism, the necessities of uniformity in worship and discipline, all tended to centralize in the bishop the rights and authority which, in the first half of the second century had been the possession of the Christian congregation as a whole.

The “gifts of the Spirit,” which had been very real to the thought of Christians of the apostolic and subapostolic ages, and which might be possessed by any one, were now a tradition rather than a vital reality. The contest with Montanism, among other causes, had led such claims to be regarded with suspicion. The tradition, however, remained, but it was rapidly changing into a theory of official endowment. These “gifts” were now the official possession of the clergy, especially of the bishops.

The bishops were the divinely appointed guardians of the deposit of the faith, and therefore those who could determine what was heresy.

They were the leaders of worship—a matter of constantly increasing importance with the growing conviction, wide-spread by the beginning of the third century, that the ministry is a priesthood.

They were the disciplinary officers of the congregation—though their authority in this respect was not firmly fixed—able to say when the sinner needed excommunication and when he showed sufficient repentance for restoration. As given full expression by Cyprian of Carthage, about 250 (§ 2.7), the foundation of the church is the unity of the bishops.

The Christians of a particular city had been regarded, certainly from the beginning of the second century, as constituting a single community, whether meeting in one congregation or many. As such they were under the guidance of a single bishop. Ancient civilization was strongly urban in its political constitution. The adjacent country district looked to its neighboring city. Christianity had been planted in the cities. By efforts going out from them, congregations were formed in the surrounding villages, which came at first into the city for their worship;[1] but as they grew larger must increasingly have met by themselves. Planted by Christians from the cities, they were under the oversight of the city bishop, whose immediate field of superintendence was thus growing, by the third century, into a diocese. In some rural portions of the East, notably Syria and Asia Minor, where city influence was relatively weak, country groups of congregations developed before the end of the third century, headed by a rural bishop, a chorepiskopos — χωρεπίσκοπος  — but this system was not of large growth, nor were these country bishops deemed the equals in dignity of their city brethren. The system did not spread to the West at this time, though introduced there in the Middle Ages, only to prove unsatisfactory.

To Cyprian, the episcopate was a unit, and each bishop a representative of all its powers, on an equality with all other bishops. Yet even in his time this theory was becoming impracticable. The bishops of the great, politically influential cities of the empire were attaining a superiority in dignity over others, which those of Rome even more than the rest were striving to translate into a superiority of jurisdiction. Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Carthage, and Ephesus, with Jerusalem by reason of religious sentiment, had an outstanding eminence, and Rome most of all. Besides these greater posts, the bishop of the capital city of each province was beginning to be looked upon as having a certain superiority to those of lesser towns in his region; but the full development of the metropolitan dignity was not to come till the fourth century, and earlier in the East than in the West.


   Clergy and Laity


By the beginning of the third century clergy were sharply distinguished from laity. The technical use of the words laikos λαικός — and kleros κλῆρος —was a gradual development, as was the distinction which they implied. The earliest Christian employment of the former was by Clement of Rome.[2] The latter occurs in 1 Peter 53, in wholly untechnical usage. But and its Latin equivalent, ordo, were the common expressions for the “orders” of magistrates and dignitaries of the Roman Empire. It is probably from such popular usage that they come into Christian employment. The letter of the churches of Lyons and Vienne, giving a description of the persecution of 177, spoke of the “order” of the martyrs —  κλῆρον [3]Tertullian wrote of “clerical order” and “ecclesiastical orders.”[4] By his time the distinction had become practically fixed; even if Tertullian himself could recall, for purposes of argument, the early doctrine of the priesthood of all believers,[5] “are not even we laics priests ? “ [6]


   Major and Minor Orders


Admission to clerical office was by ordination, a rite which certainly goes back to the earliest days of the church, at least as a sign of the bestowal of charismatic gifts, or separation for a special duty.[7] The ordinary process of the choice of a bishop by the middle of the third century was a nomination

by the other clergy, especially the presbyters, of the city; the approval of neighboring bishops, and ratification or election by the congregation.[8] Ordination followed at the hands of at least one already a bishop—a number of episcopal ordainers which had become fixed at a normal minimum of three by the end of the third century. The control of the choice of the presbyters, deacons, and lower clergy lay in the hand of their local bishop, by whom they were ordained.[9]

The presbyters were the bishop’s advisers.

With [the bishop's] consent they administered the sacraments.[10]

They preached.

As congregations grew more numerous in a city, a presbyter would be placed in immediate charge of each, and their importance thereby enhanced, from its relative depression, immediately after the rise of the monarchical episcopate.

There was. no fixed limit to their number.

The deacons were immediately responsible to the bishop, and were

his assistants in the care of the poor

and other financial concerns,

in aiding in the worship and discipline.

They often stood in closer practical relations to him than the presbyters.

At Rome, the number of the deacons was seven, in remembrance of Acts 65. When Bishop Fabian (236-250) adopted the civil division of the city as its fourteen charity districts, he appointed seven subdeacons in addition to the seven deacons, that the primitive number might not be surpassed. Sub-deacons also existed in Carthage in the tune of Cyprian, and quite generally at a little later period. In many parts of the church there was no fixed rule as to the number of deacons.


   The Lesser Clergy


Bishops, presbyters, and deacons constituted the major orders. Below them there stood in the first half of the third century, the minor orders.

In the general absence of all statistical information as to the early church, a letter of Bishop Cornelius of Rome, written about 251, is of high value as showing conditions in that important church.

Under the single bishop in Rome there were

forty-six presbyters

and seven deacons.

Below them, constituting what were soon to be known as the minor orders, were

seven sub-deacons,

forty-two acolytes,

and fifty-two exorcists, readers, and door-keepers.[11]

More than fifteen hundred dependents were supported by the church, which may have included thirty thousand adherents. Some of these offices were of very ancient origin. Those of readers and exorcists had originally been regarded as charismatic. Exorcists continued to be so viewed in the Orient, and were not there properly officers. By the time of Cyprian the reader’s office was thought a preparatory step toward that of presbyter.[12] The exorcist’s task was to drive out evil spirits, in whose prevalent working the age firmly believed. Of the duties of acolytes little is known save that they were assistants in service and aid. They were not to be found in the Orient. The door-keepers were especially important when it became the custom to admit none but the baptized to the more sacred parts of the service.

In the East, though not in the West, deaconesses were to be found who were reckoned in a certain sense as of the clergy. Their origin was probably charismatic and was of high antiquity.[13] Their tasks were those of care for women, especially the ill [and to assist at the baptism of women]. Besides these deaconesses there were to be found in the churches, both East and West, a class known as “widows,” whose origin was likewise ancient.[14] Their duties were prayer and aid to the sick, especially of their own sex. They were held in high honor, though hardly to be reckoned properly as of the “ clergy.” All these were supported, in whole or in part, by the gifts of the congregation, which were of large amount, both of eatables and of money.[15] These gifts were looked upon, by the time of Cyprian, as “tithes,” and were all at the disposal of the bishop.[16] By the middle of the third century the higher clergy were expected to give their whole time to the work of the ministry;[17] yet even bishops sometimes shared in secular business, not always of a commendable character. The lower clergy could still engage in trades. It is evident, however, that though the ancient doctrine of the priesthood of all believers might still occasionally be remembered, it had a purely theoretical value. In practical Christian life the clergy, by the middle of the third century were a distinct, close-knit spiritual rank, on whom the laity were religiously dependent, and who were in turn supported by laymen’s gifts.








   Liturgical Prayer


Already, by the time of Justin (153), the primitive division of worship into two assemblies, one for prayer and instruction and the other for the Lord’s Supper in connection with a common meal had ceased. The Lord’s Supper was now the crowning act of the service of worship and edification.[18] Its separation from the common meal was now complete. The course of development during the succeeding century was determined by the prevalence of ideas drawn from the mystery religions. There is no adequate ground to believe that there was intentional imitation. Christians of the last half of the second and the third centuries lived in an atmosphere highly charged with influences sprung from these faiths. It was but natural that they should look upon their own worship from the same point of view. It is probable that already existing tendencies in this direction were strongly reinforced by the great growth of the church by conversion from pagan ism in the first half of the third century.

The church came to be more and more regarded as possessed of life-giving mysteries, under the superintendence and dispensation of the clergy. Inquirers were prepared for initiation by instruction—the catechumens. Such preparation, in some degree, had existed from the apostolic days. It was now systematized. Origen taught in an already celebrated school in Alexandria in 203. Cyprian shows that in Carthage, by about 250, such instruction was in charge of an officer designated by the bishop.[19] Instruction was followed by the great initiatory rite of baptism, which granted admission to the propitiatory sacrifice of the life-giving mystery of the Lord’s Supper. As in the time of Justin, the other elements of worship consisted of Scripture reading, preaching, prayers, and hymns. These were open to all honest inquirers. The analogy of the mystery religions barred all but those initiate or about to be initiate from presence at baptism or the Lord’s Supper, and led to a constant augmentation of the valuation placed on these rites as the most sacred elements of worship. Whether the custom had arisen by the third century of regarding these sacraments as a secret discipline, in which the exact words of the Creed and of the Lord’s Prayer were for the first time imparted to the baptized, and of which no mention was to be made to the profane, is uncertain. Such usages were wide-spread in the fourth and fifth centuries. Already in the third the forces were at work which were to lead to the practices.


   Sacred Seasons


Sunday was the chief occasion of worship, yet services were beginning to be held on week-days as well. Wednesday and Friday, as earlier (§1.8), were days of fasting. The great event of the year was the Easter season. The period immediately before was one of fasting in commemoration of Christ’s sufferings. Customs differed in various parts of the empire. In Rome a forty hours’ fast and vigil was held in remembrance of Christ’s rest in the grave. This was extended, by the time of the Council of Nicæa (325) to a forty-days’ Lent. All fasting ended with the dawn of Easter morning, and the Pentecostal period of rejoicing then began. In that time there was no fasting, or kneeling in prayer in public worship.[20] Easter eve was the favorite season for baptism, that the newly initiate might participate in the Easter joy. Beside these fixed seasons, the martyrs were commemorated with celebration of the Lord’s Supper annually on the days of their deaths.[21] Prayers for the dead in general, and their remembrance by offerings on the anniversaries of their decease, were in use by the early part of the third century.[22] Relics of martyrs had been held in high veneration since the middle of the second century.[23] The full development of saint-veneration had not yet come; but the church was honoring with particular devotion the memory of the athletes of the Christian race who had not counted their lives dear unto themselves.

[6].3. BAPTISM






Baptism is older than Christianity. The rite gave to John, the “Forerunner,” his name. He baptized Jesus. His disciples and those of Jesus baptized, though Jesus Himself did not.[24] The origin of the rite is uncertain; but it was probably a spiritualization of the old Levitical washings. Jewish teaching, traceable probably to a period as early as the time of Christ, required proselytes to the Hebrew faith not merely to be circumcised, but to be baptized.[25] It seems probable that John did not invent the rite, and simply used contemporary practice. It was a fitting symbol of the spiritual purification that followed the repentance that he preached. The mystery religions had equivalent rites (§ 1.1); but so purely Jewish was that primitive Christianity to which baptism belongs, that it is inconceivable that they should have had any effect on the origin of the practice, though they were profoundly to influence its development on Gentile soil. Peter represents baptism as the rite of admission to the church, and to the reception of the Holy Spirit.[26] As the sacrament of admission baptism always stood till the religious divisions of post-Reformation days. It so stands for the vast majority of Christians at present.

With Paul, baptism was not merely the symbol of cleansing from sin,[27] it involved a new relation to Christ,[28] and a participation in His death and resurrection.[29] Though Paul apparently did not think baptism essential to salvation[30] his view approached that of the initiations of the mystery religions and his converts in Corinth, at least, held an almost magical conception of the rite, being baptized in behalf of their dead friends, that the departed might be benefited thereby.[31] Baptism soon came to be regarded as indispensable. The writer of the fourth Gospel represented Christ as declaring: “Verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”[32] The appendix to Mark pictured the risen Christ as saying: “ He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”[33] This conviction but deepened. To Hermas (115-140), baptism was the very foundation of the church, which “is builded upon waters.”[34] Even to the philosophical Justin (153) baptism effected “regeneration” and “illumination.” [35]In Tertullian’s estimate it conveyed eternal life itself.[36]


   Baptismal Regeneration; Infant Baptism


By the time of Hermas[37] and of Justin[38] the view was general that baptism washed away all previous sins. As in the mystery religions it had become the great rite of purification, initiation, and rebirth into the eternal life. Hence it could be received but once. The only substitute was martyrdom, “ which stands in lieu of the fontal bathing, when that has not been received, and restores it when lost.”[39] With the early disciples generally baptism was “ in the name of Jesus Christ.” [40]There is no mention of baptism in the name of the Trinity in the New Testament, except in the command attributed to Christ in Matt. 28:19. That text is early, however. It underlies the Apostles’ Creed, and the practice recorded in the Didache[41] and by Justin.[42] The Christian leaders of the third century retained the recognition of the earlier form, and, in Rome at least, baptism in the name of Christ was deemed valid, if irregular, certainly from the time of Bishop Stephen (254-257).[43]

Regarding persons baptized, the strong probability is that, till past the middle of the second century, they were those only of years of discretion. The first mention of infant baptism, and an obscure one, was about 185, by Irenæus.[44] Tertullian spoke distinctly of the practice, but discouraged it as so serious a step that delay of baptism was desirable till character was formed. Hence he doubted its wisdom for the unmarried.[45] Less earnest men than Tertullian felt that it was unwise to use so great an agency of pardon till one’s record of sins was practically made up. A conspicuous instance, by no means solitary, was the Emperor Constantine, who postponed his baptism till his death-bed. To Origen infant baptism was an apostolic custom. [46]Cyprian favored its earliest possible reception.[47] Why infant baptism arose there is no certain evidence. Cyprian, in the letter just cited, argued in its favor from the doctrine of original sin. Yet the older general opinion seems to have held to the innocency of childhood.[48] More probable explanations are the feeling that outside the church there is no salvation, ‘ ‘ and the words attributed to Christ in John 3:5. Christian parents would not have their children fail of entering the Kingdom, of God. Infant baptism did not, however, become universal till the sixth century, largely through the feeling already noted in Tertullian, that so cleansing a sacrament should not be lightly used.


   Mode of Baptism



As to the method of baptism, it is probable that the original form was by immersion, complete or partial. That is implied in Romans 6:4 and Colossians 2:12. Pictures in the catacombs would seem to indicate that the submersion was not always complete. The fullest early evidence is that of the Didache; “Baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in living [running] water. But if thou hast not living water, then baptize in other water; and if thou art not able in cold, then in warm. But if thou hast neither, then pour water upon the head thrice in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[49] Affusion (i.e. pouring) was, therefore, a recognized form of baptism. Cyprian cordially upheld it.[50] Immersion continued the prevailing practice till the late Middle Ages in the West; in the East it so remains. The Didache and Justin show that fasting and an expression of belief, together with an agreement to live the Christian life were necessary prerequisites. By the time of Tertullian an elaborate ritual had developed. The ceremony began with the formal renunciation by the candidate of the devil and all his works. Then followed the threefold immersion. On coming from the fount the newly baptized tasted a mixture of milk and honey, in symbolism of his condition as a new-born babe in Christ. To that succeeded anointing with oil and the laying on of the hands of the baptizer in token of the reception of. the Holy Spirit.[51] Baptism and what was later known as confirmation were thus combined. Tertullian also shows the earliest now known existence of Christian sponsors, i.e., godparents.[52] The same customs of fasting and sponsors characterized the worship of Isis.


   Valid Baptism


        In the apostolic age baptism was administered doubtless not only by Apostles and other leaders, but widely by those charismatically eminent in the church. By 110-117 Ignatius, in the interest of unity, was urging, “it is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love-feast.”[53] In Tertullian’s time, “of giving it, the chief priest, who is the bishop, has the right; in the next place the presbyters and deacons . . . besides these even laymen have the right, for what is equally received can be equally given.”[54] In the Greek and Roman Churches baptism still continues the only sacrament which any Christian, or indeed any seriously intending person, can administer in case of necessity.

The middle of the third century saw a heated discussion over the validity of heretical baptism. Tertullian had regarded it as worthless;[55] and his was undoubtedly the prevalent opinion of his time. After the Novatian schism (see § 2.16) Bishop Stephen of Rome (254-257) advanced the claim that baptism, even by heretics, was effectual if done in proper form. His motives seem to have been partly the growing feeling that sacraments are of value in themselves, irrespective of the character of the administrant, and partly a desire to facilitate the return of the followers of Novatian. This interpretation was energetically resisted by Cyprian of Carthage, and Firmilian ‘of Caesarea in Cappadocia,[56] and led to certain important assertions of the authority of the Roman bishop. The deaths of Stephen and Cyprian gave a pause to the dispute; but the Roman view grew into general acceptance in the West. The East reached no such unanimity of judgment.








   Christ’s Presence in the Supper


Some account has been given of the early development of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper (§1.5, 1.8). It has been seen that “ breaking of bread,” in connection with a common meal, was a Christian practice from the beginning. From the time of Paul, certainly, it was believed to be by command of Christ Himself, and in peculiar remembrance of Him and of His death. Outside the New Testament three writers refer to the Lord’s Supper before the age of Irenæus. Of these the account in the Didache,[57] reflects the most primitive Christian conditions. It provides a simple liturgy of gratitude. Thou “didst bestow upon us spiritual food and drink and eternal life through Thy Son.” From Christ come “life and knowledge.” A more mystical explanation of the Supper, however, began early. John 6:47-58 teaches the necessity of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ to have “life.” To Ignatius the Supper “is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote that we should not die but live forever.” [58]Justin affirmed, “for not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His Word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” [59]

        By Justin’s time (153) the Lord’s Supper was already separated from the common meal. Irenæus continued and developed the thought of the fourth Gospel and of Ignatius that the Supper confers “life.” “For as the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread but the Eucharist, consisting of two realities, earthly and heavenly; so also our bodies, when they receive the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, having the hope of the resurrection to eternity.” [60]In how far these conceptions were influenced by the mystery religions, with their teaching that sharing a meal with the god is to become a partaker of the divine nature, is difficult to decide; but they undoubtedly grew out of the same habit of thought. It may be said that, by the middle of the second century, the conception of a real presence of Christ in the Supper was widespread. It was stronger in the West than in the East, but ultimately it won its way also there.


   The Eucharist a Sacrifice


In early Christian thought not only were believers themselves “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God,” [61]but all actions of worship were sacrificial. The leaders of the church “offered the gifts of the bishop’s office.”[62] All its membership could “do good and communicate,” “for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”[63] In particular, the Lord’s Supper was a “sacrifice,”[64] and this feeling was doubtless strengthened by the circumstance that it was the occasion of the gifts of the congregation for those in need.[65] As late a writer as Irenæus, while viewing the Lord’s Supper as pre-eminently a “sacrifice,” still held that all Christian actions are also of a sacrificial character.[66] Christianity, however, was in a world where sacrificial conceptions of a much more definite nature were familiar in the religions on every hand. Sacrifice demands a priest. With Tertullian the term sacerdos first comes into full use.[67]

With Cyprian the developed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice offered to God by a priest has been fully reached. “For if Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, is Himself the chief priest of God the Father, and has first offered Himself a sacrifice to the Father, and has commanded this to be done in commemoration of Himself, certainly that priest truly discharges the office of Christ, who imitates that which Christ did; and he then offers a true and full sacrifice in the church when he proceeds to offer it according to what he sees Christ Himself to have offered.” [68]The business of the Christian priest is “to serve the altar and to celebrate the divine sacrifices.”[69] Already by Tertullian’s time the Lord’s Supper was held in commemoration of the dead.[70] Cyprian shows such “sacrifices” for martyrs.[71] The sense of the life-giving quality of the Supper led, also, to the custom of infant communion, of which Cyprian is a witness. [72] Here, as in the doctrine of Christ’s physical presence, the conception of the Supper as a sacrifice to God was earlier in the West than in the East. It did not become general in the Orient much before 300. With it the Catholic conception of the Supper was evident as (a) a sacrament in which Christ is really present (the how of that presence was not to be much discussed till the Middle Ages), and in which the believer partakes of Christ, being thereby brought into union with Him and built up to the immortal life; and (b) a sacrifice offered to God by a priest and inclining God to be gracious to the living and the dead. Much was still left obscure, but the essentials of the Catholic view were already at hand by 253.








   What Sins Can Be Forgiven


The general view of early Christianity was that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins.”[73] But there were sins so bad that they could not be forgiven, they were “unto death.”[74] Just what this “sin unto death” might be, was uncertain. It was one opinion that it was rejection of the Holy Spirit. Mark represents Christ as saying; “Whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (329). The Didache held that “any prophet speaking in the Spirit, ye shall not try neither discern; for every sin shall be forgiven, but this sin shall not be forgiven.”[75] The general feeling was, however, that the unforgivable sins were idolatry or denial of the faith, murder, and gross licentiousness. The first-named was specially hopeless. No severer denunciations can be found in the New Testament than those directed by the writer of Hebrews toward such as “crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh” (6.4-8, 10.26-31). To Tertullian the “deadly sins” were seven, “idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, fornication, false-witness and fraud.” [76]

While, by the time of Hermas (115-140), baptism was regarded as cleansing all previous sins, those committed after it, of the class just described, were “deadly.” But the tendency was toward some modification of this strictness. The burden of Hermas was that, by exception, in view of the near end of the world, one further repentance had been granted after baptism.[77] This extended even to adultery.[78] Yet church practice was elsewhere milder, in the second century, than church theory. Irenæus gives an account of the reclaiming of an adulteress, who “spent her whole time in the exercise of public confession.” [79]In Tertullian’s time the feeling was that there was one repentance possible for deadly sins after baptism— “a second reserve of aid against hell”— “now once for all, because now for the second time, but never more.” [80] Restoration was to be, if at all, only after a humiliating public confession, an “exomologesis,” “to feed prayers on fastings, to groan, to weep and make outcries unto the Lord your God; to bow before the feet of the presbyters, and kneel to God’s dear ones.” [81]Yet practice was far from universally as rigorous as Tertullian would imply.


   Penance and Restoration


The question inevitably arose as to when a sinner had done enough to be restored. The feeling appeared early that the absolving power was divinely lodged in the congregation.[82] This authority was also regarded as directly committed to Peter, and, by implication, to church officers, when such developed.[83] But, curiously, a double practice prevailed. About to be martyrs and confessors, i. e., those who endured tortures or imprisonment for their faith, were deemed also able to absolve because filled with the Spirit.[84] This twofold authority led to abuse. Many of the confessors were lax. Cyprian, in particular, had trouble on this score.[85] Naturally bishops tried to repress this right of confessors; but it remained a popular opinion till the cessation of persecution. Absolution ultimately raised the question of a scale of penance, a standard as to when enough had been done to justify forgiveness, but that development is beyond the limits of the present period. It is not to be found till about 300.

These restorations, which were particularly of the licentious,[86] were deemed exceptional, however common; and it came as a shock, at least to a rigid Montanist ascetic like Tertullian, when the aggressive Roman bishop, Kallistos (217-222), who had himself been a confessor, issued a declaration in his own name, which is a landmark in the development of papal authority, that he would absolve sins of the flesh on a proper repentance.[87] This was an official breach in the popular list of “sins unto death,” whatever actual breach earlier practice may have made.


   All Sins may be Forgiven


In common judgment, denial of the faith was the worst of these offenses, and not even Kallistos had promised pardon for that. The question was raised on a tremendous scale by the Decian persecution. Thousands lapsed and sought restoration after the storm was over. In Rome, Bishop Fabian died a martyr in 250. The Roman Church was rent on the question of their treatment. A dispute beginning in personal antipathies, not at first involving the lapsed, resulted in the choice by the majority of Cornelius, a comparative nobody, as bishop over Novatian, the most distinguished theologian in Rome (§ 2.8). The minority supported Novatian. The majority soon advocated the milder treatment of the lapsed, while Novatian advanced to the rigorist position. Novatian began a schism that lasted till the seventh century, and founded protesting churches wide-spread in the empire. He renewed the older practice and denied restoration to all guilty of “sins unto death.” His was a lost cause. Synods in Rome and Carthage in 251 and 253, representative of the majority, permitted the restoration of the lapsed, under strict conditions of penance. Though the question was to arise again in the persecution under Diocletian, which began in 303,[88] and though varied practice long continued in different parts of the church, the decision in Rome in 251 was ultimately regulative. All sins were thereby forgivable. The old distinction continued in name, but it was henceforth only between great sins and small.

[6].6. SINNERS in the CHURCH



[6.6] SINNERS in the CHURCH



In apostolic times the church was undoubtedly conceived as composed exclusively of experiential Christians.[89] There were bad men who needed discipline in it,[90] but Paul could paint an ideal picture of the church as “ not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing.” [91]It was natural that this should be so. Christianity came as a new faith. Those who embraced it did so as a result of personal conviction, and at the cost of no little sacrifice. It was long the feeling that the church is a community of saved men and women. Even then, it was true that many were unworthy. This is Hermas’s complaint. The oldest sermon outside the New Testament has a modern sound. “ For the Gentiles when they hear from our mouth the oracles of God, marvel at them for their beauty and greatness; then, when they discover that our works are not worthy of the words which we speak, forthwith they betake themselves to blasphemy, saying that it is an idle story and a delusion.” [92]Yet, in spite of the recognition of these facts the theory continued. But the increasing age of Christianity forced a change of view. By the beginning of the third century there were many whose parents, possibly remoter ancestors, had been experiential Christians, but who, though they attended public worship, were Christians in little more than in name. What were they ? They did not worship with the pagan . The public regarded them as Christians. Some of them had been baptized in infancy. Had the church a place for them? Their numbers were such that the church was compelled to feel that it had. Its own conception of itself was altering from that of a communion of saints to that of an agency for salvation. This change was evident in the teaching of Bishop Kallistos of Rome (217-222). He cited the parable of the tares and the wheat,[93] and compared the church to the ark of Noah in which were “ things clean and unclean.” [94]The earlier and later theories thus indicated divide the allegiance of modern Christendom to this day.




The rejection of the Montanists and the decay of the expectation of the speedy end of the world undoubtedly greatly favored the spread of worldliness in the church—a tendency much increased by its rapid growth from pagan converts between 202 and 250. As common Christian practice became less strenuous, however, asceticism grew as the ideal of the more serious. Too much must not be expected of common Christians. The Didache, in the first half of the second century, had exhorted: “ If thou art able to bear the whole yoke of the Lord, thou shalt be perfect; but if thou art not able, do that which thou art able” (6). Hermas (115-140) had taught that a man could do more than God commanded, and would receive a proportionate reward.[95] These tendencies but increased. They were, however, greatly furthered by a distinction between the “advice” and the requirements of the Gospel, which was clearly drawn by Tertullian[96] and Origen.[97]

While the requirements of Christianity are binding on all Christians, the advice is for those who would live the holier life. On two main phases of conduct the Gospel was thought to give such counsels of perfection. Christ said to the rich young man: “If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.”[98] He also declared that some are “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” and that, “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as angels.”[99] Paul said “to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.” [100]Voluntary poverty and voluntary celibacy were, therefore, deemed advice impossible of fulfilment by all Christians, indeed, but conferring special merit on those who practised them. About these two conceptions all early Christian asceticism centred, and they were to be the foundation stones of monasticism when that system arose at the close of the third century. As the clergy should set a specially good example, not only was second marriage discouraged from the sub-apostolic age;[101] but, by the beginning of the third century, marriage after entering on office was deemed unallowable.[102] The life of celibacy, poverty, and contemplative retirement from the activities of the world was admired as the Christian ideal, and was widely practised, though as yet without separation from society. The road to full monasticism had been fairly entered. Probably the most unfortunate aspect of this double ideal was that it tended to discourage the efforts of the ordinary Christian.

[1] Justin, Apology, 67; Ayer, p. 35.

[2] 93-97; in 1 Clem., 40.

[3] Eusebius, Church History, 5:1.10.

[4] Monogamy, 12.

[5] Chastity, 7.

[6] Compare 1 Peter 2.5; Rev. 1.6.

[7] Acts 6.6, 13.3; also 1 Tim. 4.14, 5.22; 2 Tim. 1:6.

[8] Cyprian, Letters, 51-55.8, 66-68.2, 67.4, 5.

[9] Ibid., 23-29, 33-39.5, 34-40.

[10] Tertullian, Baptism, 17 Ayer, p. 167.

[11] Eusebius, Church History, 6; 43.11.

[12] Letters, 33.5.

[13] Romans 16.1.

[14] 1 Tim. 5:9, 10.

[15] Didache, 13; Justin, Apology, 67; Tertullian, Apology, 39; Ayer, pp. 35,41.

[16] Letters, 65-1.1.

[17] Cyprian, Lapsed, 6.

[18] Justin, Apology, 67; Ayer, p. 35.

[19]  Letters, 23-29.

[20] Tertullian, Corona, 3.

[21] Letter of the Church of Smyrna on Martyrdom of Polycarp, 18; Cyprian, Letters, 33-39.2; 36-12.2.

[22] Tertullian, Corona, 3; Monogamy, 10.

[23] Letter of Smyrna, as cited, 18.

[24] John 3:22, 4.1, 2.

[25] See Schürer, Geschichte des Jüdischen Volkes, 2:569-573.

[26] Acts 2.38; see also 2.41; 1 Cor. 12.13.

[27] 1 Cor. 6:11.

[28] Gal 3:26, 27.

[29] Romans 6:4; Col. 2:13

[30] 1 Cor. 1:14-17.

[31] 1 Cor. 15:29.

[32] John 3:5.

[33] Mark 16:16.

[34] Vis., 3:2.

[35] Apology, 61; Ayer, p. 33.

[36] Baptism, 1.

[37] Man., 4.3.

[38] Apology, 61.

[39] Tertullian, Baptism, 16.

[40] Acts 2:33; see also 8:16, 10:43, 19:5; Romans 6:3; Gal. 3:27.

[41] Didache, 7; Ayer, p. 38.

[42] Apology, 61; Ayer, p. 33.

[43] Cyprian, Letters, 73-74:5.

[44] Heresies, 2; 22:4.

[45] Baptism, 18.

[46] Com. on Romans, 5.

[47] Letters, 58-64:5.

[48] Tertullian, Baptism, 18.

[49] 7; Ayer, p. 38.

[50] Letters, 75-69:12.

[51] Tertullian, Baptism, 6-8; Corona, 3.

[52] Baptism, 18.

[53] Smyrna, 8; Ayer, p. 42.

[54] Baptism, 17; Ayer, p. 167.

[55] Baptism, 15.

[56] Cyprian, Letters, 69-76.

[57] 9-11; Ayer, p. 38.

[58] Eph., 20.

[59] Apology, 66; Ayer, p. 34.

[60] Heresies, 4: 185; Ayer, pp. 138, 139.

[61] Romans 121.

[62] 1 Clem., 44; Ayer, p. 37.

[63] Heb. 13:16.

[64] Didache, 14; Ayer, p. 41.

[65] Justin, Apology, 67; Ayer, p. 35.

[66] Heresies, 4;175, 183.

[67] Baptism, 17; Ayer, p. 167.

[68] Letters, 62-63:14.

[69] Ibid., 67:1.

[70] Chastity, 11.

[71] Letters, 33-39:3.

[72] Lapsed, 25.

[73] John 1:9.

[74] Ibid., 5:16.

[75] 11; Ayer, p. 40.

[76] Against Marcion, 4:9.

[77] Man., 4:3; Ayer, pp. 43, 44.

[78] Ibid., 4.1.

[79] Heresies, 1:13.5.

[80] Repentance, 7, 12.

[81] Repentance, 9.

[82] Matt. 18:15-18.

[83] Ibid., 16:16.

[84] Tertullian, Modesty, 22.

[85] Letters, 17-26, 20-21, 21-22, 22-27.

[86] Tertullian, Modesty, 22.

[87] Tertullian, Modesty, 1.

[88] The Melitian schism, Donatists.

[89] Romans 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2 Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:2.

[90] E.g., 1 Cor. 5:1-13.

[91] Eph. 5:27.

[92] 2 Clem., 13.

[93] Matt. 13:24-30.

[94] Hippolytus, Refutation, 97.

[95] Sim., 5:2-3.

[96] To his Wife, 2.1.

[97] Com. on Romans, 3.3.

[98] Matt. 19:21.

[99] Matt., 1912, 2230.

[100] 1 Cor. 7”.

[101] 1 Tim. 3.2, see also Hermas, Man., 4.4, against second marriage of Christians in general.

[102] Hippolytus, Refutation, 9.7.


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