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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Chapter XLIII.--Novatus, his Manner of Life and his Heresy.

Church History by Eusebius Pamphilius

Chapter XLIII.--Novatus, his Manner of Life and his Heresy.

1. After this, Novatus, a presbyter of the church at Rome, being lifted up with arrogance against these persons, as if there was no longer for them a hope of salvation, not even if they should do all things pertaining to a genuine and pure conversion, became leader of the heresy of those who, in the pride of their imagination, call themselves Cathari.

2. There upon a very large synod assembled at Rome, of bishops in number sixty, and a great many more presbyters and deacons; while the pastors of the remaining provinces deliberated in their places privately concerning what ought to be done. A decree was confirmed by all, that Novatus and those who joined with him, and those who adopted his brother-hating and inhuman opinion, should be considered by the church as strangers; but that they should heal such of the brethren as had fallen into misfortune, and should minister to them with the medicines of repentance.

3. There have reached us epistles of Cornelius, bishop of Rome, to Fabius, of the church at Antioch, which show what was done at the synod at Rome, and what seemed best to all those in Italy and Africa and the regions thereabout. Also other epistles, written in the Latin language, of Cyprian and those with him in Africa, which show that they agreed as to the necessity of succoring those who had been tempted, and of cutting off from the Catholic Church the leader of the heresy and all that joined with him.

4. Another epistle of Cornelius, concerning the resolutions of the synod, is attached to these; and yet others, on the conduct of Novatus, from which it is proper for us to make selections, that any one who sees this work may know about him.

5. Cornelius informs Fabius what sort of a man Novatus was, in the following words:

|But that you may know that a long time ago this remarkable man desired the episcopate, but kept this ambitious desire to himself and concealed it, -- using as a cloak for his rebellion those confessors who had adhered to him from the beginning, -- I desire to speak.

6. Maximus, one of our presbyters, and Urbanus, who twice gained the highest honor by confession, with Sidonius, and Celerinus, a man who by the grace of God most heroically endured all kinds of torture, and by the strength of his faith overcame the weakness of the flesh, and mightily conquered the adversary, -- these men found him out and detected his craft and duplicity, his perjuries and falsehoods, his unsociability and cruel friendship. And they returned to the holy church and proclaimed in the presence of many, both bishops and presbyters and a large number of the laity, all his craft and wickedness, which for a long time he had concealed. And this they did with lamentations and repentance, because through the persuasions of the crafty and malicious beast they had left the church for the time.| A little farther on he says:

7. |How remarkable, beloved brother, the change and transformation which we have seen take place in him in a short time. For this most illustrious man, who bound himself with terrible oaths in nowise to seek the bishopric, suddenly appears a bishop as if thrown among us by some machine.

8. For this dogmatist, this defender of the doctrine of the Church, attempting to grasp and seize the episcopate, which had not been given him from above, chose two of his companions who had given up their own salvation. And he sent them to a small and insignificant corner of Italy, that there by some counterfeit argument he might deceive three bishops, who were rustic and very simple men. And they asserted positively and strongly that it was necessary that they should come quickly to Rome, in order that all the dissension which had arisen there might be appeased through their mediation, jointly with other bishops.

9. When they had come, being, as we have stated, very simple in the craft and artifice of the wicked, they were shut up with certain selected men like himself. And by the tenth hour, when they had become drunk and sick, he compelled them by force to confer on him the episcopate through a counterfeit and vain imposition of hands. Because it had not come to him, he avenged himself by craft and treachery.

10. One of these bishops shortly after came back to the church, lamenting and confessing his transgression. And we communed with him as with a layman, all the people present interceding for him. And we ordained successors of the other bishops, and sent them to the places where they were.

11. This avenger of the Gospel then did not know that there should be one bishop in a catholic church; yet he was not ignorant (for how could he be?) that in it there were forty-six presbyters, seven deacons, seven sub-deacons, forty-two acolyths, fifty-two exorcists, readers, and janitors, and over fifteen hundred widows and persons in distress, all of whom the grace and kindness of the Master nourish.

12. But not even this great multitude, so necessary in the church, nor those who, through God's providence, were rich and full, together with the very many, even innumerable people, could turn him from such desperation and presumption and recall him to the Church.|

13. Again, farther on, he adds these words: |Permit us to say further: On account of what works or conduct had he the assurance to contend for the episcopate? Was it that he had been brought up in the Church from the beginning, and had endured many conflicts in her behalf, and had passed through many and great dangers for religion? Truly this is not the fact.

14. But Satan, who entered and dwelt in him for a long time, became the occasion of his believing. Being delivered by the exorcists, he fell into a severe sickness; and as he seemed about to die, he received baptism by affusion, on the bed where he lay; if indeed we can say that such a one did receive it.

15. And when he was healed of his sickness he did not receive the other things which it is necessary to have according to the canon of the Church, even the being sealed by the bishop. And as he did not receive this, how could he receive the Holy Spirit?|

16. Shortly after he says again:

|In the time of persecution, through cowardice and love of life, he denied that he was a presbyter. For when he was requested and entreated by the deacons to come out of the chamber in which he had imprisoned himself and give aid to the brethren as far as was lawful and possible for a presbyter to assist those of the brethren who were in danger and needed help, he paid so little respect to the entreaties of the deacons that he went away and departed in anger. For he said that he no longer desired to be a presbyter, as he was an admirer of another philosophy.|

17. Passing by a few things, he adds the following:

|For this illustrious man forsook the Church of God, in which, when he believed, he was judged worthy of the presbyterate through the favor of the bishop who ordained him to the presbyterial office. This had been resisted by all the clergy and many of the laity; because it was unlawful that one who had been affused on his bed on account of sickness as he had been should enter into any clerical office; but the bishop requested that he might be permitted to ordain this one only.|

18. He adds to these yet another, the worst of all the man's offenses, as follows:

|For when he has made the offerings, and distributed a part to each man, as he gives it he compels the wretched man to swear in place of the blessing. Holding his hands in both of his own, he will not release him until he has sworn in this manner (for I will give his own words):

Swear to me by the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ that you will never forsake me and turn to Cornelius.'

19. And the unhappy man does not taste until he has called down imprecations on himself; and instead of saying Amen, as he takes the bread, he says, I will never return to Cornelius.| Farther on he says again:

20. |But know that he has now been made bare and desolate; as the brethren leave him every day and return to the church. Moses also, the blessed martyr, who lately suffered among us a glorious and admirable martyrdom, while he was yet alive, beholding his boldness and folly, refused to commune with him and with the five presbyters who with him had separated themselves from the church.|

21. At the close of his letter he gives a list of the bishops who had come to Rome and condemned the silliness of Novatus, with their names and the parish over which each of them presided.

22. He mentions also those who did not come to Rome, but who expressed by letters their agreement with the vote of these bishops, giving their names and the cities from which they severally sent them.| Cornelius wrote these things to Fabius, bishop of Antioch.

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