The Ecclesiastical History Of Scholasticus by Socrates Scholasticus
Chapter XIX.--Of the Office of Penitentiary Presbyters and its Abolition.
At this time it was deemed requisite to abolish the office of those presbyters in the churches who had charge of the penitences: this was done on the following account. When the Novatians separated themselves from the Church because they would not communicate with those who had lapsed during the persecution under Decius, the bishops added to the ecclesiastical canon a presbyter of penitence in order that those who had sinned after baptism might confess their sins in the presence of the presbyter thus appointed. And this mode of discipline is still maintained among other heretical institutions by all the rest of the sects; the Homoousians only, together with the Novatians who hold the same doctrinal views, have abandoned it. The latter indeed would never admit of its establishment: and the Homoousians who are now in possession of the churches, after retaining this function for a considerable period, abrogated it in the time of Nectarius, in consequence of an event which occured in the Constantinopolitan church, which is as follows: A woman of noble family coming to the penitentiary, made a general confession of those sins she had committed since her baptism: and the presbyter enjoined fasting and prayer continually, that together with the acknowledgment of error, she might have to show works also meet for repentance. Some time after this, the same lady again presented herself, and confessed that she had been guilty of another crime, a deacon of the church having slept with her. When this was proved the deacon was ejected from the church: but the people were very indignant, being not only offended at what had taken place, but also because the deed had brought scandal and degradation upon the Church. When in consequence of this, ecclesiastics were subjected to taunting and reproach, Eudæmon a presbyter of the church, by birth an Alexandrian, persuaded Nectarius the bishop to abolish the office of penitentiary presbyter, and to leave every one to his own conscience with regard to the participation of the sacred mysteries: for thus only, in his judgment, could the Church be preserved from obloquy. Having heard this explanation of the matter from Eudæmon I have ventured to put in the present treatise: for as I have often remarked, I have spared no pains to procure an authentic account of affairs from those who were best acquainted with them, and to scrutinize every report, lest I should advance what might be untrue. My observation to Eudæmon, when he first related the circumstance, was this: Whether, O presbyter, your counsel has been profitable for the Church or otherwise, God knows; but I see that it takes away the means of rebuking one another's faults, and prevents our acting upon that precept of the apostle, |Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.|' Concerning this affair let this suffice.