2. The Ancient Church

{195} WHEN Mr. Gladstone accuses us of "repudiating ancient history," he means the ancient history of the Church; also, I understand him to be viewing that history under a particular aspect. There are many aspects in which Christianity presents itself to us; for instance, the aspect of social usefulness, or of devotion or again of theology; but, though he in one place glances at the last of these aspects, his own view of it is its relation towards the civil power. He writes "as one of the world at large;" as a "layman who has spent most and the best years of his life in the observation and practice of politics" (p. 7); and, as a statesmen, he naturally looks at the Church on its political side. Accordingly, in his title-page, in which he professes to be expostulating with us for accepting the Vatican Decrees, he does so, not for any reason whatever, but because of their incompatibility with our civil allegiance. This is the key-note of his impeachment of us. As a public man, he has only to do with the public action and effect of our Religion, its aspect upon national affairs, on our civil duties, on our foreign interests; and he tells us that our Religion has a bearing and behaviour {196} towards the State utterly unlike that of ancient Christianity, so unlike that we may be even said to repudiate what Christianity was in its first centuries, so unlike to what it was then, that we have actually forfeited the proud boast of being "Ever one and the same;" unlike, I say, in this, that our action is so antagonistic to the State's action, and our claims so menacing to civil peace and prosperity.

Indeed! then I suppose that St. Ignatius of Antioch, and St. Polycarp of Smyrna, and St. Cyprian of Carthage, and St. Laurence of Rome, that St. Alexander and St. Paul of Constantinople, that St. Ambrose of Milan, that Popes Leo, John, Sylverian, Gregory, and Martin, all members of the "undivided Church," cared supremely and laboured successfully, to cultivate peaceful relations with the government of Rome. They had no doctrines and precepts, no rules of life, no isolation and aggressiveness, which caused them to be considered, in spite of themselves, the enemies of the human race! May I not, without disrespect, submit to Mr. Gladstone that this is very paradoxical? Surely it is our fidelity to the history of our forefathers, and not its repudiation, which Mr. Gladstone dislikes in us. When, indeed, was it in ancient times that the State did not show jealousy of the Church? Was it when Decius and Dioclesian slaughtered their thousands who had abjured the religion of old Rome? or, was it when Athanasius was banished to Treves? or when Basil, on the Imperial Prefect's crying out, "Never before did any man make so free with me," answered, "Perhaps you never before fell in with a Bishop"? or when Chrysostom was {197} sent off to Cucusus, to be worried to death by an Empress? Go through the long annals of Church History, century after century, and say, was there ever a time when her Bishops, and notably the Bishop of Rome, were slow to give their testimony in behalf of the moral and revealed law and to suffer for their obedience to it? ever a time when they forgot that they had a message to deliver to the world,—not the task merely of administering spiritual consolation, or of making the sick-bed easy, or of training up good members of society, or of "serving tables" (though all this was included in their range of duty),—but specially and directly, a definite message to high and low, from the world's Maker, whether men would hear or whether they would forbear? The history surely of the Church in all past times, ancient as well as medieval, is the very embodiment of that tradition of Apostolical independence and freedom of speech which in the eyes of man is her great offence now.

Nay, that independence, I may say, is even one of her Notes or credentials; for where shall we find it except in the Catholic Church? "I spoke of Thy testimonies," says the Psalmist, "even before kings, and I was not ashamed." This verse, I think Dr Arnold used to say, rose up in judgment against the Anglican Church, in spite of ifs real excellences. As to the Oriental Churches, every one knows in what bondage they lie, whether they are under the rule of the Czar or of the Sultan. Such is the actual fact that, whereas it is the very mission of Christianity to bear witness to the Creed and Ten Commandments in a {198} world which is averse to them, Rome is now the one faithful representative, and thereby is heir and successor, of that free-spoken dauntless Church of old, whose political and social traditions Mr. Gladstone says the said Rome has repudiated.

I have one thing more to say on the subject of the "semper eadem." In truth, this fidelity to the ancient Christian system, seen in modern Rome, was the luminous fact which more than any other turned men's minds at Oxford forty years ago to look towards her with reverence, interest, and love. It affected individual minds variously of course; some it even brought on eventually to conversion, others it only restrained from active opposition to her claims; but none of us could read the Fathers, and determine to be their disciples, without feeling that Rome, like a faithful steward, had kept in fulness and in vigour what our own communion had let drop. The Tracts for the Times were founded on a deadly antagonism to what in these last centuries has been called Erastianism or Csarism. Their writers considered the Church to be a divine creation, "not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ," the Ark of Salvation, the Oracle of Truth, the Bride of Christ, with a message to all men everywhere, and a claim on their love and obedience; and, in relation to the civil power, the object of that promise of the Jewish prophets, "Behold, I will lift up My Hand to the Gentiles, and will set up My standard to the peoples: kings and their queens shall how down to thee with their face toward the earth, and they shall lick up the dust of thy feet." No Ultramontane (so called) could go beyond those {199} writers in the account which they gave of her from the Prophets, and that high notion is recorded beyond mistake in a thousand passages of their writings.

There is a fine passage of Mr. Keble's in the British Critic, in animadversion upon a contemporary reviewer. Mr. Hurrell Froude, speaking of the Church of England, had said that "she was 'united' to the State as Israel to Egypt." This shocked the reviewer in question, who exclaimed in consequence, "The Church is not united to the State as Israel to Egypt; it is united as a believing wife to a husband who threatened to apostatize; and, as a Christian wife so placed would act ... clinging to the connexion ... so the Church must struggle even now, and save, not herself, but the State, from the crime of a divorce." On this Mr. Keble says, "We had thought that the Spouse of the Church was a very different Person from any or all States, and her relation to the State through Him very unlike that of hers, whose duties are summed up in 'love, service, cherishing, and obedience.' And since the one is exclusively of this world, the other essentially of the eternal world, such an Alliance as the above sentence describes, would have seemed to us, not only fatal but monstrous!" [Note] And he quotes the lines,—

"Mortua quinetiam jungebat corpora vivis,
Componens manibusque manus, atque oribus ora:
Tormenti genus!"

It was this same conviction that the Church had rights which the State could not touch, and was prone to {200} ignore, and which in consequence were the occasion of great troubles between the two, that led Mr. Froude at the beginning of the movement to translate the letters of St. Thomas Becket, and Mr. Bowden to write the Life of Hildebrand. As to myself, I will but refer, as to one out of many passages with the same drift, in the books and tracts which I published at that time, to my Whit-Monday and Whit-Tuesday Sermons.

I believe a large number of members of the Church of England at this time are faithful to the doctrine which was proclaimed within its pale in 1833, and following years; the main difference between them and Catholics being, not as to the existence of certain high prerogatives and spiritual powers in the Christian Church, but that the powers which we give to the Holy See, they lodge in her Bishops and Priests, whether as a body or individually. Of course, this is a very important difference, but it does not interfere with my argument here. It does seem to me preposterous to charge the Catholic Church of today with repudiating ancient history by certain political acts of hers, and thereby losing her identity, when it was her very likeness in political action to the Church of the first centuries, that has in our time attracted even to her communion, and at least to her teaching, not a few educated men, who made those first centuries their special model.

But I have more to say on this subject, perhaps too much, when I go on, as I now do, to contemplate the Christian Church, when persecution was exchanged for {201} establishment, and her enemies became her children. As she resisted and defied her persecutors, so she ruled her convert people. And surely this was but natural, and will startle those only to whom the subject is new. If the Church is independent of the State, so far as she is a messenger from God, therefore, should the State, with its high officials and its subject masses, come into her communion, it is plain that they must at once change hostility into submission. There was no middle term; either they must deny her claim to divinity or humble themselves before it,—that is, as far as the domain of religion extends, and that domain is a wide one. They could not place God and man on one level. We see this principle carried out among ourselves in all sects every day, though with greater or less exactness of application, according to the supernatural power which they ascribe to their ministers or clergy. It is a sentiment of nature, which anticipates the inspired command, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls."

As regards the Roman Emperors, immediately on their becoming Christians, their exaltation of the hierarchy was in proportion to its abject condition in the heathen period. Grateful converts felt that they could not do too much in its honour and service. Emperors bowed the head before the Bishops, kissed their hands and asked their blessing. When Constantine entered into the presence of the assembled Prelates at Nica, his eyes fell, the colour mounted up into his cheek, and his mien was that of a suppliant; he would not sit, till the Bishops bade him, and he kissed the wounds of the {202} Confessors. Thus he set the example for the successors of his power, nor did the Bishops decline such honours. Royal ladies served them at table; victorious generals did penance for sin and asked forgiveness. When they quarrelled with them, and would banish them, their hand trembled when they came to sign the order, and after various attempts they gave up their purpose. Soldiers raised to sovereignty asked their recognition and were refused it. Cities under imperial displeasure sought their intervention, and the master of thirty legions found himself powerless to withstand the feeble voice of some aged travel-stained stranger.

Laws were passed in favour of the Church; Bishops could only be judged by Bishops, and the causes of their clergy were withdrawn from the secular courts. Their sentence was final, as if it were the Emperor's own, and the governors of provinces were bound to put it in execution. Litigants everywhere were allowed the liberty of referring their causes to the tribunal of the Bishops, who, besides, became arbitrators on a large scale in private quarrels; and the public, even heathens, wished it so. St. Ambrose was sometimes so taken up with business of this sort, that he had time for nothing else. St. Austin and Theodoret both complain of the weight of such secular engagements, as were forced upon them by the importunity of the people. Nor was this all; the Emperors showed their belief in the divinity of the Church and of its creed by acts of what we should now call persecution. Jews were forbidden to proselytize a Christian; Christians were forbidden to become pagans; pagan rights were abolished, the books of heretics and {203} infidels were burned wholesale; their chapels were razed to the ground, and even their private meetings were made illegal.

These characteristics of the convert Empire were the immediate, some of them the logical, consequences of its new faith. Had not the Emperors honoured Christianity in its ministers and in its precepts, they would not properly have deserved the name of converts. Nor was it unreasonable in litigants voluntarily to frequent the episcopal tribunals, if they got justice done to them there better than in the civil courts. As to the prohibition of heretical meetings, I cannot get myself quite to believe that Pagans, Marcionites, and Manichees had much tenderness of conscience in their religious profession, or were wounded seriously by the Imperial rescripts to their disadvantage. Many of these sects were of a most immoral character, whether in doctrine or practice; others were forms of witchcraft; often they were little better than paganism. The Novatians certainly stand on higher ground; but on the whole, it would be most unjust to class such wild, impure, inhuman rites with even the most extravagant and grotesque of American sectaries now. They could entertain no bitter feeling that injustice was done them in their repression. They did not make free thought or private judgment their watch-words. The populations of the Empire did not rise in revolt when its religion was changed. There were two broad conditions which accompanied the grant of all this ecclesiastical power and privilege, and made the exercise of it possible; first, that the people consented to it, secondly, that the law of the Empire enacted {204} and enforced it. Thus high and low opened the door to it. The Church of course would say that such prerogatives were justly hers, as being at least congruous grants made to her, on the part of the State, in return for the benefits which she bestowed upon it. It was her right to demand them, and the State's duty to concede them. This seems to have been the basis of the new state of society. And in fact these prerogatives were in force and in exercise all through those troublous centuries which followed the break-up of the Imperial sway: and, though the handling of them at length fell into the hands of one see exclusively (on which I shall remark presently), the see of Peter, yet the substance and character of these prerogatives, and the Church's claim to possess them, remained untouched. The change in the internal allocation of power did not affect the existence and the use of the power itself.

Ranke, speaking of this development of ecclesiastical supremacy upon the conversion of the Empire, remarks as follows:—

"It appears to me that this was the result of an internal necessity. The rise of Christianity involved the liberation of religion from all political elements. From this followed the growth of a distinct ecclesiastical class with a peculiar constitution. In this separation of the Church from the State consists, perhaps the greatest, the most pervading and influential peculiarity of all Christian times. The spiritual and secular powers may come into near contact, may even stand in the closest community; but they can be thoroughly incorporated only at {205} rare conjunctures and for a short period. Their mutual relations, their positions with regard to each other, form, from this time forward, one of the most important considerations in all history."—The Popes, vol. i. p. 10, transl.

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Note

Review of Gladstone's "The State in its Relations with the Church," October, 1839.
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