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of Priscillian and his adherents in Spain ; with other not less deplorable instances of that confusion between the provinces of spiritual and secular power, equally contrary to the pure standard of early practice and to the scrupulous liberality so prevalent in our own day. We must ever regret that the first examples of ecclesiastical legislation should have proceeded from a people who had so lately experienced the combination of the subtilizing and theorizing propensities of Greece with the sterner practical tendencies still attached to the very shadow of the Roman name.
The sceptical historian has gloated with characteristic eagerness over the zealous excesses of great and holy men in a good cause ; his admiration for an Ambrose, an Athanasius, or a Hilary, is lost in his philosophic antipathy to the order they adorned :—to us is assigned the more pleasing task of discovering—what is indeed more or less patent to every observer-the many lofty and noble traits, with the many glorious and permanent results, which we must attribute to the clergy of the later Roman Empire. This we have already in part accomplished; and from many an event in the history of the Church might be traced the workings of an ever-guarding Ruler in turning even the excessive zeal of His ministers to the ultimate profit of His people and of the world at large. We have already seen that during the age of persecution
ticum factum currere videret in præceps, nonne tum potius malum pro malo redderet, si eum sic currere permitteret, quam si corripiendum ligandumque curaret ?”
the lofty moral standard by which the obedience of the laity was tested was yet far inferior to that which secured the purity of the clergy. The ministers of the truth were supposed not only to have subdued the evil propensities of the world around them, but to stand forth as burning and shining lights to the Christian flock. Whatever such distinction may have existed then, was at least maintained, and in some instances seemingly widened, during the period of ecclesiastical ascendancyl. We learn from the canons of the early Councils how truly the heads of the Church appreciated the necessity of a moral as well as an intellectual elevation above their people, and how sedulously they strove to raise the body to which they belonged not only above corruption but above even the suspicion of error. The clerical order was preserved from the attractions of debased interests and from the calumnies of malignity by excluding from all participation in its privileges slaves? and such as exercised degrading trades : -a salutary regulation of which we are painfully reminded
Compare Augustine, Epp. 60, 65, 77, 78. 2 Thus at a later period the 73d canon of the 4th Council of Toledo [anno 633], quoted by Ducange in v. Manumissio Directa. “Quicunque libertatem a dominis suis [ita) percipiunt, ut nullum sibimet obsequium Patronus retentet, isti, si sine crimine sunt, ad clericatus ordinem [libere] suscipiantur, quia directa manumissione absoluti noscuntur. Qui vero retento obsequio manumissi sunt; pro eo quod adhuc a patrono servituti tenentur obnoxii, nullatenus sunt ad ecclesiasticum ordinem promovendi, ne, quando voluerint eorum domini, fiant ex clericis servi." [Mansi. Conc, x. 636.]
in subsequent centuries by its open and frequent violation'. It is indeed true that such scrupulous strictness too often degenerated into self-sufficiency and spiritual pride, and that we can early discern the first steps of that fatal process by which priestly independence and political power were secured at the expence of so much that had been cherished and admired by the simplicity of primitive Christianity. Clerical celibacy, the fruitful source of so many corruptions, was beyond all question but one out of many tokens of that striving after some exalted purity, some esoteric ethical code, concealed from the uninitiated vulgar, which the vain philosophy of Greece erected on the foundation of Apostolical traditions.
But although we can neither ignore the existence nor the source of such errors, yet an impartial survey of the moral condition of Europe during the fourth and succeeding centuries, as compared with the depravity of expiring polytheism, must induce us to forget the inevitable abuses while we review the countless benefits of the system to which they clung. We must ever rejoice that clerical influence was effective, not only in raising the moral tone of Imperial legislation, and so transmitting to the states founded on the ruins of Rome a truer theory and practice of justice, but in establishing a pervading strictness of principle, without which mere strictness of jurisprudence must ever be unavailing. We must never
1 “Rerum omnium lege perversa * * fænerantur clerici, Syri psallunt,” says Sidonius Apollinaris (Ep. i. 8) in describing the anomalous state of things at Ravenna in his time.
forget that the early Christian canons, by imposing on the pastors of the Church a standard of duty and an elevation of sentiment to which even the noblest among their flocks were strangers, made ready for the troublous times to come a bulwark of religion and civilization, destined to survive, though not, alas! unscathed, each succeeding onset of heathendom and barbarism. Indeed, in considering the moral as well as the political influence of the sacerdotal order, we shall find scarce any more interesting view of that subject than that which teaches us to discover in the earliest stages of ecclesiastical history the providential preparation for those mighty convulsions by which so many ancient thrones were to be transferred from Roman or Grecian sceptics to uneducated but plastic barbarians.
The clergy will thus ever appear to be undergoing, even amid the abuses of a degenerate age, such a discipline as may fit them to preserve, through innumerable changes and catastrophes of the external world, those vital truths of which they are the depositaries.
Nowhere do we observe more striking illustrations of this position than in the chronicles of the Church during the decline of the Roman power. It is beyond all question that in the fourth century were laid many of those first seeds of corruption, destined to be so perniciously prolific in after ages. Roman Catholic historians have found it as hopeless a task to establish the unvarying purity of the Church system under Theodosius, as they have to deduce its unswerving rectitude down to the age of Charles the Fifth. But although it would be a violation of historic accuracy to conceal such errors as too prominently present themselves, it would be no less a violation of historical logic to imagine that the most zealous of reformers could have predicted the ultimate results from the incipient faults; or to consider the period in question, as too many disputants are inclined to do, solely with reference to the subsequent ages of political or religious reformation. The most superficial theological student of our own day, trained by the accumulated experience of so many centuries, can discover and condemn the weaknesses of systems which would have excited the unprejudiced admiration of Ambrose or of his greater disciple. He can trace every inch of the stream of wrong, from the fountain-head of unnoticed error to the overwhelming flood of subsequent corruption. Rejoicing as he does in an often misplaced acuteness, he is apt to refer the whole consequences of every system to its remote origin, and wondering at the comparative blindness of his forefathers he teaches himself to scorn those whom bygone generations have reverenced. And yet how many do we meet with, who, judging by the prejudices of their own times, forget that the works of the Almighty are no disjointed operations, but connected portions of one great design, raised one above the other in faultless proportion to the furtherance of the welfare of man and the glory of his Maker, who are willingly ignorant of the fact that a true idea of the scheme of Divine government is to be formed by considering every age in reference, not to one