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measure enhanced. Whatever may be the exact opinion we may form, from the writings of the early Fathers, of the weight of the popular voice in Episcopal elections, we may be assured of this, that in no case did a nomination of so holy an office take place without the consent, more or less formally expressed, of the great body of the people, prior to the consecration of him who had been named, it might be, by the clerical body alone; and whatever may have been the steps of the process, we may well believe that a lively interest was awakened in the minds of the faithful*, regarding one who was thus in a measure their own choice. It is one of the earliest lessons we learn from the experience of life, that self-imposed obligations are the most binding and the most enduring; and we meet, in the chronicles of nations, with perpetually recurring evidences of the fact that men bow down more readily and willingly before an image of their own erection than before one to whose elevation they are strangers, or which they venerate at the beck of a supreme authority. Accordingly, the whole sacerdotal order, and above all the Bishops, of the early Church found themselves in possession of a moral and intellectual sway, resting not only on their own intrinsic claims to respect, but on the self-complacency, as we may style it, of those by whose suffrages they had risen1. The self-love of man often
* See Bingham, Orig. Eccles. B. iv. c. 2.
1 Thus Cyprian (Ep. 14), writing from exile to the presbyters and deacons, professes it to be impossible for him to act alone without the "plebs" in important Church affairs. Compare Ep.
delights in humbling itself before that which he has himself exalted, and in honoring, in the pre-eminence of another, the supremacy of his own judgment: and we can hardly imagine that the enthusiastic multitudes, whose acclamations raised Ambrose and Martin* to the Episcopal seats of Milan and Tours, would be willing to impugn the authority of prelates whose imperfections would have been chargeable solely on the precipitation of their elections.
Such, then, are some of the principal means by which the worthy followers of the Apostles dispensed the blessings of the Gospel to a world lying in wickedness: by which they not only instructed nations long destitute of all religious or moral guidance to look up to purer precepts and higher examples than the earth afforded, but accustomed them to become active members of a vigorous and self-governing community, in the very midst of the most hopeless and aimless society with which the world was ever cursed.
Before we pass to a consideration of our second head, and view the relations of the clerical body to the world without, we may give a few words to a subject which it seems advisable, in this and our future chronological sections, to include under this division—the effect of the
19. "Hoc et verecundise et discipline et vitse ipsi omnium nostrum convenit, ut propositi cum clero convenientes, prceseiite etiam stantium plebe, quibus et ipsis pro fide et timore suo honor habendus est, disponere omnia consilii communis religione possimus."
• Sulpicius Severus, Vita Martini, [c. 7], quoted by Bingham, B. iv. c. 1. Sec. 3.
theological studies and writings of the time on the literature and philosophy of a degenerate age.
To dilate on the merits or demerits of countless ecclesiastical disputants, to particularize each shifting form of ingenious heresy, or to enumerate the goodly catalogue of Champions of the Faith, each armed for his own peculiar warfare, would be far to exceed our present limits or intentions. After the lapse of so many centuries, we may look back on some of these temporary discussions with far other sentiments than those of regret, and rejoice that, as the Church was taught the advantage of watchful discipline by persecutions from without, so she learnt the necessity of a yet more earnest solicitude by what might seem to be tribulation from within. It is assuredly not the least of the many blessings conferred upon humanity by the sacerdotal order of the first three centuries that it produced in the western lands so many stedfast advocates of ecclesiastical discipline and the seemly purity of Christian life, or that in the less practical regions of the East it included within its pale such zealous defenders of true doctrine alike against open enemies and against the more dangerous approaches of scepticism and false philosophy;—that the system of the Truth is maintained by the energetic rhetoric of a Tertullian, and by the learning and exegetical skill of an Origen. It would be an interesting but laborious task to trace, through each succeeding generation of Christians, the good fruit of the seed sown by the penetrating intellects and exemplary integrity of such men as these. And we must not forget that much of the intellectual brilliancy of our own day is to be primarily referred to the torch of Divine Truth, so zealously raised by these the Fathers of our Church, and from them handed down, —through puny and unworthy hands, it may be,—to an age which too often affects to despise the sources whence much of its real greatness flows.
But even to the merely secular student the theological labours of the early clergy, especially in the Eastern portion of the Empire, must be matter of enduring gratitude; for the perusal of the works of Greek philosophy, which in their own land was becoming obsolete with the failing vigour of the nation, and in Rome had long succumbed to the practical tendencies of the people, received a new impulse from the theologic rancour of contending orthodoxy and heterodoxy. It is indeed true that the consequences of excessive religious philosophizing were as baneful in those days as in our own; that the words and arguments of the academic school were travestied at pleasure by contending theorists, that even such a man as Justin* could find in the dialogues of Plato an enunciation of the doctrine of the Trinity, and that the phrases and the philosophy of the Timaeust were looked upon by professing Christians as scarcely below inspiration. But both the so-called Platonists and their opponents,
* See Gieseler, Ch. Hist. [Per. i. Div. ii.] c. 3. § 52, note [6,7.] t See p. 41, where the idea of a Siiniovpydt is introduced; and
p. 36, for the dualistic theory, so prevalent among his Alexandria
though they mangled that great teacher in their own writings, maintained his in all their purity; and the preservation, through so many ages, of the masterpieces of Greek philosophy must be considered as in a great measure owing to their early association with the great fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion.
In conclusion, to the merits of the early clergy we must assign this unrivalled praise, that amid an universally decaying literature, among nations buried in ignorance and indifference save when the weak remnants of the old Pagan schools retained sufficient life to be hostile to the truth, they restored ethical philosophy, and turned the minds of men from the outward things of sense to look upon the realities of this life, and the great features of this our present state as exhibited by the prospective light of that which is to come. Plato and his illustrious disciple had taught the inseparable connexion of ethical and political philosophy: they directed the attention of their worthy disciples to the city whose builder and maker is God; and from materials, to a worldly glance often seemingly rude and discordant, they raised the noblest and most elevating of all sciences, Christian Theology.
We now turn to the second division of our subject, in order to view the relations in which the clergy, during the period preceding the accession of Constantine, stood to the world from which they had separated themselves. It at once appears that the influence of the Christian priesthood on the civil government of the empire was as nothing during these centuries compared to the