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THE RISE AND PROGRESS OF THE PAPAL SYSTEM.
It is impossible to maintain too zealously the sufficiency and sole authority of the scriptures. They declare to us the “mind of the Spirit,” the will of God. It would be an impeachment of his wisdom to suppose that they are • imperfect or deficient in the slightest degree. We are not left to the uncertainties of tradition. The Christian code is complete, comprising full statements of all that we are bound to believe, with ample directions how “ to walk, and to please God.” It is a profitable for all things; for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.” In regard to the knowledge of God, it is a revelation, a discovery of those things which “ eye hath not seen, nor ear heard.” As the truths which it contains are manifestly of divine origin, they are to be received with unreserved submission. We have no right to inquire whether they agree with opinions we have held before, but to embrace them at once, without gainsaying. Here, and here only, is authority. Again, in regard to the worship and service of God, the scriptures are a rule, strict adherence to which is essential to the maintenance of Christian purity. He who dislikes the unadorned ritual of the New Testament, and thinks to improve it by additions of his own, virtually impugns the wisdom of our divine Lawgiver, and opens the door to numberless evils. The service enjoined upon us, by the Lord Jesus Christ, is such as he has judged most suitable to a spiritual dispensation. He is our master, and he has not delegated his power to any of his servants. It is ours to obey, not to alter, add, or omit. If we deviate from the path marked out by the statute, it behoves us to shew that we have received authority to do so, and power to enforce the change; otherwise we are guilty of an invasion of the prerogatives of the King of kings. And this is not a crime of trifling magnitude. It involves an assumption which is destructive to Bible Christianity, and strikes at the root of all spiritual religion. If we step over the threshold of scripture, we expose ourselves to innumerable perils. We must either have “ the Bible, and the Bible only," or admit the principle from which are derived the monstrous abominations of the papacy.
“ There is a circumstance in the early history of the apostles," a judicious writer remarks, " which, though little considered, is in itself sufficient to
account for many of those mistakes as to the spirit and requisitions of the gospel which were so soon observable among the primitive believers. For reasons which, no doubt, were abundantly proper, the apostles appear to have confined their labours within the limits of Judea until at least twelve years subsequent to our Lord's ascension. And it was not until some two years later that Paul commenced his travels, as a preacher of the gospel to the Gentiles. During these years, however, the gospel had spread itself through many distant provinces of the Roman empire; and being destitute, in such places, of any immediate apostolic superintendence, it was but feebly protected against the injuries which threatened it, not only from Jewish prejudices, but from a tendency in the age, which was everywhere disposing men to employ themselves in forming new systems made up of selections from the most discordant sources.”*
The “tendency” alluded to in the preceding extract was decidedly adverse to the claims of Christianity. A new sect of philosophers, the Eclectics, had recently appeared, and acquired considerable influence over public opinion. Their leading principle was very plausible. Professing to be dissatisfied with the existing systems of philosophy, they selected from each those opinions which seemed most consonant with reason, and thus formed a new system out of the ruins of the whole. They did well, as far as philosophy, properly so called, was concerned. But when they applied their distinctive principle to Christianity, they greatly erred. Philosophical systems were confessedly human; they could not demand belief and sub. mission. Christianity took higher ground. It was an authoritative theology composed in words “ which the Holy Ghost teacheth.” Men were not asked for their opinions respecting it, but were called upon to yield implicit credence and absolute subjection. While the philosopher was at full liberty to institute inquiries and frame theories respecting the world of nature, or the weal of society, religion was expressly excluded. Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle, must be renounced, when God himself condescends to be the teacher. Here the selecting process cannot be adopted. The words of God are o pure words," there is no dross to be cleansed away, no base metal to be rejected. Nor, to continue the figure, is it lawful to mix with the gold and silver of scripture any earthly alloy of human opinion. Therefore, when the philosopher became a Christian, it was his duty to renounce the religious sentiments embodied in his philosophy, and submit himself entirely to divine instruction. This, however, was a requirement which ill accorded with the pride of the sophists of those days. It was “a bitter draught to them, to drink the waters of humility and self-denial ;" to " renounce their superiority in religion, and unite themselves with the multitude, whom they despised, in one faith ;” to “limit their love of speculation by the definite facts of a revelation ;” and “ to find pure truth in one only religion, and give up their fanciful heathenism, open as it was to speculation, and decked with all the graces of poetry and rhetoric.”+ Hence, instead of receiving Christianity as
* Dr. Vaughan's Lectures on the Causes of the Corruption of Christianity,
† Neander's History of the Church, vol. i. p. 165
a divine system, possessing exclusive claims, they chose to place it on a level with the rest. If conscience compelled them to embrace the gospel, self-love was gratified by the retention of their philosophy. Innumerable mischiefs resulted. The alliance between the divine and the human could not be sustained without doing violence to the records of inspiration, and the authority of the heavenly author. The religion of all the philosophical systems then in vogue was so full of errors and absurdities that no attempt to adjust them to Christianity could succeed without inflicting severe injury and paving the way for fearful disorders: the methods of interpretation which were adopted, in order to blend philosophy and the gospel, were pregnant with corruption; and gross insult was offered to the Saviour when he was placed on the same seat with Plato and Aristotle, and allowed only a co-ordinate authority with them. Who can wonder that the Apostle Paul so seriously warned the Colossians to beware of“ philosophy and vain deceit" ?
Both Jews and Gentiles had been accustomed to numerous and complex ceremonies, and splendid religious rites, attractive to the senses. A rigid regard to apostolic precedent would have completely revolutionized their respective systems, and introduced a style of worship hitherto unknown. So violent a change shocked their prejudices. They clung with tenacity to the pomp and circumstances to which they had been accustomed. Christianity, too, appeared to the multitude a mean and meagre religion. There was nothing to amuse them. Something was wanted to set it off to advantage. At first, the reproaches of their adversaries on this point were met in a becoming spirit; but in the issue their force was tacitly admitted, and measures were taken to evade the ridicule which had been unsparingly heaped upon the new religion for its barrenness of forms and uninviting exterior. This could only be done by assuming a right to borrow ceremonies from other sources, and adapt them to Christian worship, in the spirit and manner of the Eclectics. The early Christians would have spurned at the proposal. But long before the close of the third century, love had waxed cold. The terms of communion were becoming gradually less strict. To be instructed in Christianity was considered as tantamount to being a Christian, and by this means many were introduced into the church who had little or no spiritual taste, and to whom the simplicity of the New Testament was extremely uncongenial. Such persons, aided by those who were tinctured with the philosophizing spirit, soon acquired sufficient influence to accomplish important changes. It is not easy to ascertain the precise date of every innovation, but it is an indubitable fact that the church of the third century differed much, in some important respects, from the church of the apostolic age.
One declension led on to another. The alterations made in Christian worship marked a low tone of sentiment which they, in their turn, encouraged and fostered. Evangelical truth suffered great injury. The doctrines of justification and sanctification, for instance, were very early obscured by clouds of error. Instead of depending solely on the sacrifice of the Saviour for pardon and acceptance with God, converts thought to secure those blessings by their baptism, which was identified with regeneration, and was, on that account, often delayed till the latest possible period. A certain mysterious efficacy was supposed to be attached both to that ordinance and
to the Lord's supper--an efficacy entirely apart from all consideration of the truths embodied in them. They were held to be essential to salvation, and too frequently, there is reason to believe, substituted for “repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is painful to observe what stress was laid on bodily service and human inventions. Abstinence was lauded more than all the fruits of the spirit. Celibacy was a proof of extraordinary holiness, and those who professed it (it is to be feared that it was often only a profession) were regarded with childish reverence as beings of a superior order. But one of the most fruitful sources of superstition was the honour paid to those who had suffered for the gospel. Relics of the martyrs, which were at first collected and preserved as memorials of the dead, were soon treated with reverence, bordering on adoration; the anniversaries of their martyrdom were kept; religious services were celebrated at their graves ; festivals were instituted to honour them. Thus, “days, and months, and times, and years,” were observed. The transition from this to creature-worship was neither difficult nor forced.
For some time there was much diversity of customs. The churches of Africa were more encumbered with observances than those of Europe. The eastern churches differed from the western. Uniformity was not at first thought of. The power which all assumed, all exercised. But there was another power secretly rising up to control and regulate the whole.
The influence of the Christian ministry gradually increased during the period now under review. By the same transforming process to which the entire system was subjected, the ministry began to be assimilated to the priesthood ; and those whose sole duty it was to preach Christ crucified, and govern the churches in love, learned to assume authority and to require from their converts the same kind and degree of reverence which had been before paid to Jewish or pagan priests. The new opinions respecting the sacraments mainly contributed to strengthen these assumptions and rivet the chains of bondage.
The same effect was produced by the institution of provincial synods, afterwards followed by general councils. When heresies crept in or difficulties arose in churches, the bishops resident in the district were convened on the occasion, and their decision was submitted to as the dictate of the Holy Spirit. This was obviously an expedient, however desirable under some circumstances, highly favourable to priestly ambition. Bishops learned to legislate without the people. When they had once tasted the sweetness of uncontrolled rule, they studiously aimed to excite great reverence for synods, and to increase their number. Their efforts were successful. Instead of applying the plain precepts of the New Testament to cases as they arose, the churches submitted them to these assemblies, and the decree of a synod served instead of a text of scripture. How detrimental this was to the interests of true Christianity must be evident to all.
At first, all bishops possessed equal power, and were independent of each other. But this equality was gradually destroyed. The bishop of a metropolitan city was usually called upon to preside in the provincial synods, and thence acquired by degrees an increase of respect and authority. Rome Alexandria, and Antioch, being the chief cities of the empire, their bishops
early laid claim to some pre-eminence among their brethren. This was the germ of subsequent usurpations.
The foregoing observations will convince the reader that at the time of the accession of Constantine, the Christian church had fallen into great corruption, and was but ill-prepared to encounter the temptations which imperial favour was about to put in her way. The beginnings of Antichrist were plainly visible. Nothing was wanted but the fuller development of its principles, sagacity to adapt them to a more completely organized system of government, and sufficient power to compel obedience.
Under the Christian emperors, as they are termed, religion enjoyed outward prosperity. But it was purchased at too dear a rate. For wealth, honour, and power, the church bartered away the little spirituality she still possessed, and lost her independence into the bargain. As human inventions gained credit, the authority of the ecclesiastics, who introduced and patronised them, increased. Frequent councils were summoned to allay contention or impose conformity. By all such events the bishops of Rome profited. Presiding over one of the largest churches in the empire, and that church situated in the metropolis, they soon perceived the advantage thus accidentally bestowed upon them, and skilfully availed themselves of every opportunity to improve it. Other bishops frequently applied to them for advice : this was construed as an appeal to a higher power. Synods transmitted to them their decrees, as it was then custoinary to do, from district to district, for the sake of information, and to secure some approach to uniformity of government: this was interpreted as a request for the confirmation of those decrees. It became a common thing to refer disputes between bishops or churches to the arbitration of the Roman bishop, and such cases were often sent to them by the emperors, who exercised a superintending control over the church, as their predecessors had done over pagan worship. To these considerations must be added the fact that those churches wliich could trace their foundation to an apostle claimed, on that account, peculiar respect; and as the opinion began pretty generally to prevail in the third century, that the church at Rome was founded and governed by Peter, the bishops of that city were not slow to put forward on all occasions the most arrogant pretensions, and to assume absolute lordship. They were, indeed, stoutly resisted by many other bishops, and for a long time were obliged to confess the general equality of Christian pastors. But their influence steadily increased; one district after another was brought under their superintendence; and at length Valentinian III. passed a decree (A.D. 445), constituting the Roman bishop head of the whole western church. Six years afterwards, the Council of Chalcedon declared the Bishops of Constantinople and Rome to be equal in power, each being bishop of a metropolis; and to the former the same deference was for some time paid in the east as was shewn to the latter in the west.
The removal of the seat of empire from Rome to Constantinople tended greatly to increase the power and influence of the bishops of the former city. Their wealth and the growing authority they exercised (the bulk of the population being now nominally Christian) gave them political importance, and constituted them the natural protectors of the city. The absence of the emperor, too, enabled their prelates to perfect their schemes of dominion