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here or another there among those which have succeeded it, but to the entire harmonious series. Nowhere is it given to man more plainly to trace the progressive dispensations of the Almighty than in the records of His Church, nowhere do we find more abundant tokens of that prescient care which prepares each intricate turn of human affairs for the necessities of the destined future.
During the earlier portion, for example, of the period we are engaged upon, not only does the strictness of adherence to primitive practice produce on the moral condition of the world those results which ever follow the propagation of the true faith, but even in such points as indicate a deviation from early simplicity, and which have formed the most frequent subjects of theologic vituperation, we discern, among apparent present discord, the certain germs of future security. No characteristic of the fourth and fifth centuries has been the subject of more frequent comment and more bitter censure than the accumulation of apparently inordinate power in clerical, and more especially in episcopal, hands : and though it is undeniable that their increased possession of material wealth and political power frequently rendered the priesthood forgetful of more lasting treasures, yet it did likewise, as we shall see, most unquestionably operate in consolidating against outward shocks the vast fabric of the Church.
Nine years after the conversion of Constantine to the Christian faith, he promulgated that great edict*, which,
* Cod. Theodos. Lib. xvi. tit. ii. 1. 4.
more than any other enactment, may be said to have lain at the foundation of clerical power during the ensuing centuries; and relieved the Christian Church from that restriction under which, in common with the Jews, they had so long laboured, the incapacity of profiting by the testamentary liberality of their wealthy proselytes. To convince us of the abundance in which the stream of wealth flowed into the newly-opened channel, and of the influence obtained by the clergy, in those days as in the present, over the piety and pliability of the weaker sex, more especially at Rome, we possess not only the testimony of a Pagan historian* but the less suspicious evidence of an edict published by the Emperor Valentinian † fifty years after that of Constantine, addressed to Damasus Bishop of that city, and imposing a limit to the extravagant donations of females. The clergy, moreover, might look for an increase of worldly substance, not only from the prosperity of their friends, but from the downfall of their enemies; for the Theodosian code contains a series of stringent enactments by the Emperor Honorius , in terms of which not only the deserted temples of Paganism but even the meeting-houses and possessions of Donatists, Manichæan, and other heretical corporations, were made over to the Catholic Church.
Provision, moreover, was made by Constantine for the supply of the wants of the Church from the provincial treasuries. All these sources of revenue, however, we must look upon as subordinate, in seasons of average prosperity, to the support derived from tithes, which appear before the close of the fourth century to have been imposed with considerable regularity on all Christian communities. Such, then, were the main sources of Church revenue during the later Roman Empire; and it will be evident that, much as we may regret that they were so far dependent on the authority exercised by the priesthood over the people, they did tend to elevate every member of the clerical body into a position of considerable estimation in the general social system, and to place the Church, however much it may have been weakened by the disasters of prosperity, on a permanently settled footing. If, again, we consider the distribution of these revenues, we shall find that, in proportion as the sacerdotal order was raised above the laity by the statutes of Constantine and his successors, so were the Bishops elevated above the body of the clergy. Authority was added to the Episcopal office, both by the manner and by the proportions in which the ecclesiastical funds were distributed; for the wealth acquired by the means above specified, instead of being collected by, or appropriated to, every parish, was amassed in the hands of the Bishop of the diocese, and divided among his clergy as might appear to him fit*. This, at least, was the ordinary rule, though we find such eminent exceptions as occurred in the diocese of Hippo, where among the clergy and their illustrious diocesan prevailed a community of goods little less than monastic, and closely resembling the “ Canonic rule” which was produced at Metz by the necessities of a subsequent age. The Church, moreover, usually allotted to the Bishop a portion of the whole amount equal to that divided among his clergy, so that his influence was promoted, not only by such shares as he distributed to his inferiors, but by the preponderance of what he was enabled to devote to the furtherance of his own piety, charity, or ambition.
* Ammian. Marcell. 1. xxvII. c. 3.
Lib. xvi. tit. x. 1. 20, and tit. v. legg. 43, 52, 57, 65.
We have already seen that during the early age of the Church the Bishops owed to their station as the moral leaders of their people a duty often imposed upon them of arbitration in the petty litigations of the faithful; and the code of Justinian contains repeated records of edicts by which an ancient custom was amalgamated into the Imperial system, and the Episcopal authority in arbitrating civil causes was placed on an equality with that of the Prefect. Such a measure is of a piece with those to which we have already referred, and might obtain our ready belief, even had we no more satisfactory authority than the forged decree* in the Theodosian Code, which assigns an even more uncontrolled scope to clerical jurisdiction, and can be interesting to us only as having been
• Usually placed at the end of the Theodosian Code, and proved by abundant evidence, both of matter and style, to be a mere cento of the Ecclesiastical Statutes in Justinian's Code. See Gothofredi Comm. ad locum. [vi. 303–312. ed. Marvill. Lugduni, 1665.]
incorporated into the Capitularies * of Charlemagne, and become the law of Europe from the Ebro to the Oder. The lurking satire of Gibbon has been called forth by the picture of “the venerable Austin enjoying the satisfaction of complaining that his spiritual functions were perpetually disturbed by the invidious labour of deciding the claim or the possession of silver and gold, of lands and cattle!:” and as we shall more distinctly see hereafter, the civil functions of the Bishop before long seemed to depend merely on his distance from the centre of the expiring Empire.
Such were some of the principal steps by which during the fourth and fifth centuries clerical influence was promoted in the society of the faithful. It would be far from a difficult task to point out many instances in which the excessive exaltation of the ministry proved an effectual bar to the full development of spiritual perfection and energy in the minister?; and it would be to repeat an oft-told tale were we to trace from the exorbitant clerical sway among the subjects of Rome or Constan.
* See Capit. Reg. Franc. (Capit. Kar. et Lud.] Lib. vI. c. 366. [t. i. coll. 985, 6. ed. Baluz. Paris. 1677.]
See Augustin. Epp. 33, 40, 83. Sidonius Apollinaris, Epp. ii. 12; iv. 11; vi. 2, 3, 4.
2 In recounting the objections which might be raised to the nomination of a monk, however holy, to a bishopric, Sidonius (Concio post Ep. vii. 9) mentions the following: “Hic qui nominatur, inquiunt, non episcopi sed potius abbatis complet officium; et intercedere magis pro animabus apud cælestem quam pro corporibus apud terrenum judicem potest.”