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and that the Eucharist, to the close of the fourth century, stands forth to the Christian world, pure and uncontaminate, in its leading articles of doctrine and of practice.
The FIFTH CENTURY.
Towards the middle of this century, the northern nations commenced their invasion of Italy, and towards the close of it the western empire was totally subdued, and the first barbarian king ascended the throne of the Cæsars; the barbarian nations, who thus took possession of the imperial city, had already been converted to the doctrines of the Gospel, and therefore religion did not suffer any external diminution from this event, either in its numerical extent or its authority; the church, however, as regards its pastors and ministers, was sensibly declining from the simplicity of the Gospel which Jesus preached; “The vices of the clergy,” says Mosheim, “ were now carried to the most enormous excess, and all the writers of this century, whose probity render them worthy of credit, are unanimous in their accounts the luxury, arrogance, and voluptuousness of the sacerdotal order: but these opprobrious stains in their character would never have been endured, had not the greatest part of mankind been sunk in superstition and ignorance.
Multitudes of people were in every country admitted, without examination or choice, into the body of the clergy, the greatest part of whom had no other view than the enjoyment of a lazy and inglorious repose. As to doctrine, the sacred and venerable simplicity of primitive times was fast departing; superstition, the natural fruit of ignorance, grew apace, and difficulties, disputes, and schisms, mark the declining character of general Christianity. The images of those who during their lives had been celebrated for sanctity, were now honoured with a particular worship, and the bones of martyrs, and the figure of the cross, were looked upon as objects of protection against danger, and as charms against the machinations of Satan. Another feature in the changing aspect of religion, is that of the institution of monastic orders; the monks, who had formerly lived only for themselves, were looked upon
sacerdotal order, and took the first place, or at any rate a very eminent place, in the ranks of the clergy; from this monastic system sprang forth every sort of superstition and austerity. The class or sect called Stylites or Pillarmen are of all the most extraordinary, persons who stood motionless upon the top of pillars, expressly raised for a trial of their
* Mosheim, vol. ii. p. 26, 27, 28, 8vo. edit.
patience, and there remaining for years amidst the admiration and applause of the stupid populace.*
Amid this general depravation of morality, the clergy declining in virtue, the people sinking in ignorance, no wonder that the sacrament of the Eucharist should begin to be clouded over in the universal darkness which prevailed. Rites and ceremonies were multiplied with every possible ingenuity, and the pomp and outward splendour of the church increased in proportion to its inward corruption. The Agapæ, or love-feasts, which had so intimate a connexion with the Eucharist, were now discontinued, and the Eucharist itself was looked upon as a superstitious act between the priest and God, rather than an act of devotion, or a communion between Christ and his church. Still, however, no outward or public act of the church had changed its nature; no bull or edict of any bishop or council had spoken out upon the subject; it was merely the general tone of depravity, ignorance, and superstition, which as yet affected it: for this we have the testimony of the following writers :
* The most extraordinary of these fanatics was Simeon, who is described as dwelling upon a column raised to the height of sixty feet from the ground: there he existed, through summer and winter, for thirty years, making his devotions by various inflexions of the body, sometimes with outstretched arms in the figure of the cross, sometimes bending down his head so as to reach the feet. And thus he thought to please God !-See Theod. Vita Patrum. book ix.
Such practices and opinions may be justly brought forward to display the growing darkness which threatened the Christian world, and will diminish our surprise when we find other parts of Christian duty, such as the Eucharist, similarly perverted.
First, Theodoret,* in his dialogue between Eranistes the Eutychian, † and Orthodoxus, on the divine mysteries, the subject of the Eucharist is accidentally introduced. I
“Orth. The mystic symbols which are offered by the priest to God; tell me of what are they the symbols?
“ Er. Of the body and blood of the Lord.
“ Orth. Of the body which is really so, or not really so?
“ Er. Really so.'
“ Er. It happens, opportunely, that you are speaking of the divine mysteries; for from this
THEODORET, born at Antioch, appointed bishop of Cyrus, a remote district of Syria, A.D. 423. He was principally celebrated in taking the part of Nestorius against Cyril. He died about the year 457.
+ Eranistes in this dialogue is supposed to represent the opinions of heretics, and principally the followers of Eutyches, while Orthodoxus represents the catholic faith of the church. The heresy of Eutyches consisted in teaching that there was only one nature in Christ, that of the Incarnate Word. And in the dialogue above cited, Eranistes is contending that as in the sacrament the bread was changed into Christ's body, in the ascension the humanity was turned into the divinity. † Theod. Dial. 2. t. 4. p.
very thing I will shew you that the body of the Lord is changed into another nature. Answer, therefore, my questions. What do you call the gift which is brought before the invocation of the priest?
“ Orth. That which is made a nutriment from seeds.
“Er. How do you call the other sign? “ Orth. A sort of draught.
“ Er. After the consecration, how do you call them?
“ Orth. The body of Christ and the blood of Christ.
“Er. And do you believe that you are made partaker of the body and blood of Christ?
« Orth. I so believe.
“ Er. As therefore the symbols of the body and blood of our Lord are one thing before the consecration of the priest, but are changed after the consecration, and are another thing, so the body of the Lord after his assumption is changed into a divine substance.
“ Orth. You are caught in the net which you yourself have made. For the mystic signs do not recede from their nature after consecration, for they remain in their former substance, and figure, and form, and can be seen and touched as before ; but they are understood to be those things which they have been made, and are thought so, and are worshipped as the things which they are thought.”