SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Looking for free sermon messages?
Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video

SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER V. THE CHURCH OF ROME IN THE THIRD CENTURY.

The Ancient Church by William Dool Killen

CHAPTER V. THE CHURCH OF ROME IN THE THIRD CENTURY.

Though very few of the genuine productions of the ministers of the ancient Church of Rome are still extant, [343:1] multitudes of spurious epistles attributed to its early bishops have been carefully preserved. It is easy to account for this apparent anomaly. The documents now known as the false Decretals, [343:2] and ascribed to the Popes of the first and immediately succeeding centuries, were suited to the taste of times of ignorance, and were then peculiarly grateful to the occupants of the Roman see. As evidences of its original superiority they were accordingly transmitted to posterity, and ostentatiously exhibited among the papal title-deeds. But the real compositions of the primitive pastors of the great city supplied little food for superstition; and must have contained startling and humiliating revelations which laid bare the absurdity of claims subsequently advanced. These unwelcome witnesses were, therefore, quietly permitted to pass into oblivion.

It has been said, however, that Truth is the daughter of Time, and the discovery of monuments long since forgotten, or of writings supposed to have been lost, has often wonderfully verified and illustrated the apologue. The reappearance, within the last three hundred years, of various ancient records and memorials, has shed a new light upon the history of antiquity. Other testimonies equally valuable will, no doubt, yet be forthcoming for the settlement of existing controversies.

In A.D.1551, as some workmen in the neighbourhood of Rome were employed in clearing away the ruins of a dilapidated chapel, they found a broken mass of sculptured marble among the rubbish. The fragments, when put together, proved to be a statue representing a person of venerable aspect sitting in a chair, on the back of which were the names of various publications. It was ascertained, on more minute examination, that, some time after the establishment of Christianity by Constantine, [344:1] this monument had been erected in honour of Hippolytus -- a learned writer and able controversialist, who bad been bishop of Portus in the early part of the third century, and who had finished his career by martyrdom, about A.D.236, during the persecution under the Emperor Maximin. Hippolytus is commemorated as a saint in the Romish Breviary; [344:2] and the resurrection of his statue, after it had been buried for perhaps a thousand years, created quite a sensation among his papal admirers. Experienced sculptors, under the auspices of the Pontiff, Pius IV., restored the fragments to nearly their previous condition; and the renovated statue was then duly honoured with a place in the Library of the Vatican.

Nearly three hundred years afterwards, or in 1842, a manuscript which had been found in a Greek monastery at Mount Athos, was deposited in the Royal Library at Paris. This work, which has been since published, [345:1] and which is entitled |Philosophumena, or a Refutation of all Heresies,| has been identified as the production of Hippolytus. It does not appear in the list of his writings mentioned on the back of the marble chair; but any one who inspects its contents can satisfactorily account for its exclusion from that catalogue. It reflects strongly on the character and principles of some of the early Roman bishops; and as the Papal see was fast rising into power when the statue was erected, it was obviously deemed prudent to omit an invidious publication. The writer of the |Philosophumena| declares that he is the author of one of the books named on that piece of ancient sculpture, and various other facts amply corroborate his testimony. There is, therefore, no good reason to doubt that a Christian bishop who lived about fifteen miles from Rome, and who flourished little more than one hundred years after the death of the Apostle John, composed the newly discovered Treatise. [345:2]

In accordance with the title of his work, Hippolytus here reviews all the heresies which had been broached up till the date of its publication. Long prior to the reappearance of this production, it was known that one of the early Roman bishops had been induced to countenance the errors of the Montanists; [345:3] and it would seem that Victor was the individual who was thus deceived; [345:4] but it had not been before suspected that Zephyrinus and Callistus, the two bishops next to him in succession, [345:5] held unsound views respecting the doctrine of the Trinity. Such, however, is the testimony of their neighbour and contemporary, the bishop of Portus. The witness may, indeed, be somewhat fastidious, as he was himself both erudite and eloquent; but had there not been some glaring deficiency in both the creed and the character of the chief pastor of Rome, Hippolytus would scarcely have described Zephyrinus as |an illiterate and covetous man,| [346:1] |unskilled in ecclesiastical science,| [346:2] and a disseminator of heretical doctrine. According to the statement of his accuser, he confounded the First and Second Persons of the Godhead, maintaining the identity of the Father and the Son. [346:3]

Callistus, who was made bishop on the death of Zephyrinus, must have possessed a far more vigorous intellect than his predecessor. Though regarded by the orthodox Hippolytus with no friendly eye, it is plain that he was endowed with an extraordinary share of energy and perseverance. He had been originally a slave, and he must have won the confidence of his wealthy Christian master Carpophores, for he had been intrusted by him with the care of a savings bank. The establishment became insolvent, in consequence, as Hippolytus alleges, of the mismanagement of its conductor; and many widows and others who had committed their money to his keeping, lost their deposits. When Carpophorus, by whom he was now suspected of embezzlement, determined to call him to account, Callistus fled to Portus -- in the hope of escaping by sea to some other country. He was, however, overtaken, and, after an ineffectual attempt to drown himself, was arrested, and thrown into prison. His master, who was placable and kind-hearted, speedily consented to release him from confinement; but he was no sooner at large, than, under pretence of collecting debts due to the savings bank, he went into a Jewish synagogue during the time of public worship, and caused such disturbance that he was seized and dragged before the city prefect. The magistrate ordered him first to be scourged, and then to be transported to the mines of Sardinia. He does not appear to have remained long in exile; for, about this time, Marcia procured from the Emperor Commodus an order for the release of the Christians who had been banished to that unhealthy island; and Callistus, though not included in the act of grace, contrived to prevail upon the governor to set him at liberty along with the other prisoners. He now returned to Rome, where he appears to have acquired the reputation of a changed character. In due time he procured an appointment to one of the lower ecclesiastical offices; and as he possessed much talent, he did not find it difficult to obtain promotion. When Zephyrinus was advanced to the episcopate, Callistus, who was his special favourite, became one of the leading ministers of the Roman Church; and exercised an almost unbounded sway over the mind of the superficial and time-serving bishop. The Christians of the chief city were now split up into parties, some advocating the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, and others abetting a different theory. Callistus appears to have dexterously availed himself of their divisions; and, by inducing each faction to believe that he espoused its cause, managed, on the death of Zephyrinus, to secure his election to the vacant dignity.

When Callistus had attained the object of his ambition, he tried to restore peace to the Church by endeavouring to persuade the advocates of the antagonistic principles to make mutual concessions. Laying aside the reserve which he had hitherto maintained, he now took up an intermediate position, in the hope that both parties would accept his own theory of the Godhead. |He invented,| says Hippolytus, |such a heresy as follows. He said that the Word is the Son and is also the Father, being called by different names, but being one indivisible spirit; and that the Father is not one and the Son another (person), but that they both are one and the same.... The Father, having taken human flesh, deified it by uniting it to Himself,... and so he said that the Father had suffered with the Son.| [348:1]

Though Callistus, as well as Hippolytus, is recognised as a saint in the Romish Breviary, [348:2] it is thus certain that the bishop of Portus regarded the bishop of Rome as a schemer and a heretic. It is equally clear that, at this period, all bishops were on a level of equality, for Hippolytus, though the pastor of a town in the neighbourhood of the chief city, did not acknowledge Callistus as his metropolitan. The bishop of Portus describes himself as one of those who are |successors of the apostles, partakers with them of the same grace both of principal priesthood and doctorship, and reckoned among the guardians of the Church.| [348:3] Hippolytus testifies that Callistus was afraid of him, [348:4] and if both were members of the same synod, [348:5] well might the heterodox prelate stand in awe of a minister who possessed co-ordinate authority, with greater honesty and superior erudition. But still, it is abundantly plain, from the admissions of the |Philosophumena,| that the bishop of Rome, in the time of the author of this treatise, was beginning to presume upon his position. Hippolytus complains of his irregularity in receiving into his communion some who had been |cast out of the Church| of Portus |after judicial sentence.| [348:6] Had the bishop of the harbour of Rome been subject to the bishop of the capital, he would neither have expressed himself in such a style, nor preferred such an accusation.

Various circumstances indicate, as has already been suggested, that the bishop of Rome, in the time of the Antonines, was chosen by lot; but we may infer from the |Philosophumena| that, early in the third century, another mode of appointment had been adopted. [349:1] It is obvious that he now owed his advancement to the suffrages of the Church members, for Hippolytus hints very broadly that Callistus pursued a particular course with a view to promote his popularity and secure his election. It is beyond doubt that, about A.D.236, Fabian was chosen bishop of Rome by the votes of the whole brotherhood, and there is on record a minute account of certain extraordinary circumstances which signalised the occasion. |When all the brethren had assembled in the church for the purpose of choosing their future bishop, and when the names of many worthy and distinguished men had suggested themselves to the consideration of the multitude, no one so much as thought of Fabian who was then present. They relate, however, that a dove gliding down from the roof, straightway settled on his head, as when the Holy Spirit, like a dove, rested upon the head of our Saviour. On this, the whole people, as if animated by one divine impulse, with great eagerness, and with the utmost unanimity, exclaimed that he was worthy; and, taking hold of him, placed him forthwith on the bishop's chair.| [349:2]

Some time after the resurrection of the statue of Hippolytus, another revelation was made in the neighbourhood of Rome which has thrown much light upon its early ecclesiastical history. In the latter part of the sixteenth century, the unusual appearance of some apertures in the ground, not far from the Papal capital, awakened curiosity, and led to the discovery of dark subterranean passages of immense extent filled with monuments and inscriptions. These dismal regions, after having been shut up for about eight hundred years, were then again re-opened and re-explored.

The soil for miles around Rome is undermined, and the long labyrinths thus created are called catacombs. [350:1] The galleries are often found in stories two or three deep, communicating with each other by stairs; and it has been thought that formerly some of them were partially lighted from above. They were originally gravel-pits or stone-quarries, and were commenced long before the reign of Augustus. [350:2] The enlargement of the city, and the growing demand for building materials, led then to new and most extensive excavations. In the preparation of these vast caverns, we may trace the presiding care of Providence. As America, discovered a few years before the Reformation, furnished a place of refuge to the Protestants who fled from ecclesiastical intolerance, so the catacombs, re-opened shortly before the birth of our Lord, supplied shelter to the Christians in Rome during the frequent proscriptions of the second and third centuries. When the gospel was first propagated in the imperial city, its adherents belonged chiefly to the lower classes; and, for reasons of which it is now impossible to speak with certainty, [350:3] it seems to have been soon very generally embraced by the quarrymen and sand-diggers. [350:4] Thus it was that when persecution raged in the capital, the Christian felt himself comparatively safe in the catacombs. The parties in charge of them were his friends; they could give him seasonable intimation of the approach of danger; and among these |dens and caves of the earth,| with countless places of ingress and egress, the officers of government must have attempted in vain to overtake a fugitive.

At present their appearance is most uncomfortable; they contain no chamber sufficient for the accommodation of any large number of worshippers; and it has even been questioned whether human life could be long supported in such gloomy habitations. But we have the best authority for believing that some of the early Christians remained for a considerable time in these asylums. [351:1] Wells of water have been found in their obscure recesses; fonts for baptism have also been discovered; and it is beyond doubt that the disciples met here for religious exercises. As early as the second century these vaults became the great cemetery of the Church. Many of the memorials of the dead which they contained have long since been transferred to the Lapidarian Gallery in the Vatican; and there, in the palace of the Pope, the venerable tombstones testify, to all who will consult them, how much modern Romanism differs from ancient Christianity.

Though many of these sepulchral monuments were erected in the fourth and fifth centuries, they indicate a remarkable freedom from superstitions with which the religion of the New Testament has been since defiled. These witnesses to the faith of the early Church of Rome altogether repudiate the worship of the Virgin Mary, for the inscriptions of the Lapidarian Gallery, all arranged under the papal supervision, contain no addresses to the mother of our Lord. [352:1] They point only to Jesus as the great Mediator, Redeemer, and Friend. It is also worthy of note that the tone of these voices from the grave is eminently cheerful. Instead of speaking of masses for the repose of souls, or representing departed believers as still doomed to pass through purgatory, they describe the deceased as having entered immediately into the abodes of eternal rest. |Alexander,| says one of them, |is not dead, but lives beyond the stars, and his body rests in this tomb.| |Here,| says another, |lies Paulina, in the place of the blessed.| |Gemella,| says a third, |sleeps in peace.| |Aselus,| says a fourth, |sleeps in Christ.| [352:2]

We learn from the testimony of Hippolytus that, during the episcopate of Zephyrinus, Callistus was |set over the cemetery.| [352:3] This was probably considered a highly important trust, as, in those perilous times, the safety of the Christians very much depended on the prudence, activity, and courage of the individual who had the charge of their subterranean refuge. [352:4] The new curator seems to have signalised himself by the ability with which he discharged the duties of his appointment; he probably embellished and enlarged some of these dreary caves; and hence a portion of the catacombs was designated |The Cemetery of Callistus.| Hippolytus, led astray by the ascetic spirit beginning so strongly to prevail in the commencement of the third century, was opposed to all second marriages, so that he was sadly scandalized by the exceedingly liberal views of his Roman brother on the subject of matrimony; and he was so ill-informed as to pronounce them novel. |In his time,| says he indignantly, |bishops, presbyters, and deacons, though they had been twice or three times married, began to be recognised as God's ministers; and if any one of the clergy married, it was determined that such a person should remain among the clergy, as not having sinned.| [353:1] We cannot tell how many of the ancient bishops of the great city were husbands; [353:2] we have certainly no distinct evidence that even Callistus took to himself a wife; but we have the clearest proof that the primitive Church of Rome did not impose celibacy on her ministers; and, in support of this fact, we can produce the unimpeachable testimony of her own catacombs. There is, for instance, a monument |To Basilus the Presbyter, and Felicitas his wife;| and, on another tombstone, erected about A.D.472, or only four years before the fall of the Western Empire, there is the following singular record -- |Petronia, a deacon's wife, the type of modesty. In this place I lay my bones: spare your tears, dear husband and daughters, and believe that it is forbidden to weep for one who lives in God.| [353:3] |Here,| says another epitaph, |Susanna, the happy daughter of the late Presbyter Gabinus, lies in peace along with her father.| [353:4] In the Lapidarian Gallery of the papal palace, the curious visitor may still read other epitaphs of the married ministers of Rome.

Though the gospel continued to make great progress in the metropolis, there was perhaps no city of the Empire in which it encountered, from the very first, such steady and powerful opposition. The Sovereign, being himself the Supreme Pontiff of Paganism, might be expected to resent, as a personal indignity, any attempt to weaken its influence; and the other great functionaries of idolatry, who all resided in the capital, were of course bound by the ties of office to resist the advancement of Christianity. The old aristocracy disliked everything in the shape of religious innovation, for they believed that the glory of their country was inseparably connected with an adherence to the worship of the gods of their ancestors. Thus it was that the intolerance of the state was always felt with peculiar severity at the seat of government. Exactly in the middle of the third century a persecution of unusual violence burst upon the Roman Church. Fabian, whose appointment to the bishopric took place, as already related, under such extraordinary circumstances, soon fell a victim to the storm. After his martyrdom, the whole community over which he presided seems to have been paralysed with terror; and sixteen months passed away before any successor was elected; for Decius, the tyrant who now ruled the Roman world, had proclaimed, his determination rather to suffer a competitor for his throne than a bishop for his chief city. [354:1] A veritable rival was quickly forthcoming to prove the falsehood of his gasconade; for when Julius Valens appeared to dispute his title to the Empire, Decius was obliged, by the pressure of weightier cares, to withdraw his attention from the concerns of the Roman Christians. During the lull in the storm of persecution, Cornelius was chosen bishop; but after an official life of little more than a year, he was thrown into confinement. His death in prison was, no doubt, occasioned by harsh treatment. The episcopate of his successor Lucius was even shorter than his own, for he was martyred about six months after his election. [355:1] Stephen, who was now promoted to the vacant chair, did not long retain possession of it; for though we have no reliable information as to the manner of his death, it is certain that he occupied the bishopric only between four and five years. His successor Xystus in less than twelve months finished his course by martyrdom. [355:2] Thus, in a period of eight years, Rome lost no less than five bishops, at least four of whom were cut down by persecution: of these Cornelius and Stephen, by far the most distinguished, were interred in the cemetery of Callistus.

There is still extant the fragment of a letter written by Cornelius furnishing a curious statistical account of the strength of the Roman Church at this period. [355:3] According to this excellent authority it contained forty-six presbyters, seven deacons, seven sub-deacons, forty-two acolyths, fifty-two others who were either exorcists, readers, or door-keepers, and upwards of fifteen hundred besides, who were in indigent circumstances, and of whom widows constituted a large proportion. All these poor persons were maintained by the liberality of their fellow-worshippers. Rome, as we have seen, was the birthplace of prelacy; and other ecclesiastical organisms unknown to the New Testament may also be traced to the same locality, for here we read for the first time of such officials as the acolyths. [355:4] We may infer from the details supplied by the letter of Cornelius, that there were now fourteen congregations [355:5] of the faithful in the great city; and its Christian population has been estimated at about fifty thousand. No wonder that the chief pastor of such a multitude of zealous disciples all residing in his capital, awakened the jealousy of a suspicious Emperor.

A schism, which continued for generations to exert an unhappy influence, commenced in the metropolis during the short episcopate of Cornelius. The leader of this secession was Novatian, a man of blameless character, [356:1] and a presbyter of the Roman Church. In the Decian persecution many had been terrified into temporary conformity to paganism; and this austere ecclesiastic maintained, that persons who had so sadly compromised themselves, should, on no account whatever, be re-admitted to communion. When he found that he could not prevail upon his brethren to adopt this unrelenting discipline, he permitted himself to be ordained bishop in opposition to Cornelius; and became the founder of a separate society, known as the sect of the Novatians. As he denied the validity of the ordinance previously administered, he rebaptized his converts, and exhibited otherwise a miserably contracted spirit; but many sympathised with him in his views, and Novatian bishops were soon established in various parts of the Empire.

Immediately after the rise of this sect, a controversy relative to the propriety of rebaptizing heretics brought the Church of Rome into collision with many Christian communities in Africa and Asia Minor. The discussion, which did not eventuate in any fresh schism, is chiefly remarkable for the firm stand now made against the assumptions of the great Bishop of the West. When Stephen, who was opposed to rebaptism, discovered that he could not induce the Asiatics and Africans to come over to his sentiments, he rashly tried to overbear them by declaring that he would shut them out from his communion; but his antagonists treated the threat merely as an empty display of insolence. |What strife and contention hast thou awakened in the Churches of the whole world, O Stephen,| said one of his opponents, |and how great sin hast thou accumulated when thou didst cut thyself off from so many flocks! Deceive not thyself, for he is truly the schismatic who has made himself an apostate from the communion of the unity of the Church. For whilst thou thinkest that all may be excommunicated by thee, thou hast excommunicated thyself alone from all.| [357:1]

When the apostle of the circumcision said to his Master -- |Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,| Jesus replied -- |Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.| To this emphatic acknowledgment of the faith of His disciple, our Lord added the memorable words -- |And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.| [357:2] As the word Peter signifies a stone, [357:3] this address admits of a very obvious and satisfactory exposition. |Thou art,| said Christ to the apostle, |a lively stone [357:4] of the spiritual structure I erect; and upon this rock on which thy faith is established, as witnessed by thy good confession, I will build my Church; and though the rains of affliction may descend, and the floods of danger may come, and the winds of temptation may blow, and beat upon this house, it shall remain immoveable, [358:1] because it rests upon an impregnable foundation.| But a different interpretation was already gaining wide currency; for though Peter had been led to deny Christ with oaths and imprecations, the rapid growth and preponderating wealth of the Roman bishopric, of which the apostle was supposed to be the founder, had now induced many to believe that he was the Rock of Salvation, the enduring basis on which the living temple of God was to be reared! Tertullian and Cyprian, in the third century the two most eminent fathers of the West, countenanced the exposition; [358:2] and though both these writers were lamentably deficient in critical sagacity, men of inferior standing were slow to impugn the verdict of such champions of the faith. Thus it was that a false gloss of Scripture was already enthralling the mind of Christendom; and Stephen boldly renewed the attempt at domination commenced by his predecessor Victor. His opponents deserved far greater credit for the sturdy independence with which they upheld their individual rights than for the scriptural skill with which they unmasked the sophistry of a delusive theory; for all their reasonings were enervated and vitiated by their stupid admission of the claims of the chair of Peter as the rock on which the Church was supposed to rest. [358:3] This second effort of Rome to establish her ascendancy was, indeed, a failure; but the misinterpretation of Holy Writ, by which it was encouraged, was not effectively corrected and exposed; and thus the great Western prelate was left at liberty, at another more favourable opportunity, to wrest the Scriptures for the destruction of the Church.

From the middle of the third century, the authority of the Roman bishops advanced apace. The magnanimity with which so many of them then encountered martyrdom elicited general admiration; and the divisions caused by the schism of Novatian supplied them with a specious apology for enlarging their jurisdiction. The argument from the necessity of unity, which was urged so successfully for the creation of a bishop upwards of a hundred years before, could now be adduced with equal plausibility for the erection of a metropolitan; and, from this date, these prelates undoubtedly exercised archiepiscopal power. Seventy years afterwards, or at the Council of Nice, [359:1] the ecclesiastical rule of the Primate of Rome was recognised by the bishops of the ten suburbicarian provinces, including no small portion of Italy. [359:2]

For the last forty years of the third century the Church was free from persecution, and, during this long period of repose, the great Western see enjoyed an unwonted measure of outward prosperity. Its religious services were now conducted with increasing splendour, and distressed brethren in very distant countries shared the fruits of its munificence. In the reign of Gallienus, when the Goths burst into the Empire and devastated Asia Minor, the bishop of Rome transmitted a large sum of money for the release of the Christians who had fallen into the hands of the barbarians. [359:3] A few years afterwards, when Paul of Samosata was deposed for heresy, and when, on his refusal to surrender the property of the Church of Antioch, an application was made to the Emperor Aurelian for his interference, that prince submitted the matter in dispute to the decision of Dionysius of Rome and the other bishops of Italy. [360:1] This reference, in which the position of the Roman prelate was publicly recognised, perhaps for the first time, by a Roman Emperor, was calculated to add vastly to the importance of the metropolitan see in public estimation. When Christianity was established about fifty years afterwards by Constantine, the bishop of the chief city was thus, to a great extent, prepared for the high position to which he was suddenly promoted.

None of the early bishops of Rome were distinguished for their mental accomplishments; and though they are commonly reputed the founders of the Latin Church, it would appear that, for nearly two hundred years, they all wrote and spoke the Greek language. The name Pope, which they have since appropriated, was now common to all pastors. [360:2] For the first three centuries almost every question relating to them is involved in much mystery; and, as we approach the close of this period, the difficulty of unravelling their perplexed traditions rather increases than diminishes. Even the existence of some who are said to have now flourished has been considered doubtful. [360:3] It is alleged that the see was vacant for upwards of three years and a half during the Diocletian persecution in the beginning of the fourth century; [360:4] but even this point has not been very clearly ascertained. The Roman bishopric was by far the most important in the Church; and the obscurity which overhangs its early history, cannot but be embarrassing to those who seek to establish a title to the ministry by attempting to trace it up through such dark annals.

On looking back over the first three centuries, we may remark how much the chairman of the Roman eldership, about the time of the death of the Apostle John, differed from the prelate who filled his place two hundred years afterwards. The former was the servant of the presbyters, and appointed to carry out their decisions; the latter was their master, and entitled to require their submission. The former presided over the ministers of, perhaps, three or four comparatively poor congregations dispirited by recent persecution; the latter had the charge of at least five-and-twenty flourishing city churches, [361:1] together with all the bishops in all the surrounding territory. In eventful times an individual of transcendent talent, such as Pepin or Napoleon, has adroitly bolted into a throne; but the bishop of Rome was indebted for his gradual elevation and his ultimate ascendancy neither to extraordinary genius nor superior erudition, but to a combination of circumstances of unprecedented rarity. His position furnished him with peculiar facilities for acquiring influence. Whilst the city in which he was located was the largest in the world, it was also the most opulent and the most powerful. He was continually coming in contact with men of note in the Church from all parts of the Empire; and he had frequent opportunities of obliging these strangers by various offices of kindness. He thus, too, possessed means of ascertaining the state of the Christian interest in every land, and of diffusing his own sentiments under singularly propitious circumstances. When he was fast rising into power, it was alleged that he was constituted chief pastor of the Church by Christ himself; and a text of Scripture was quoted which was supposed to endorse his title. For a time no one cared to challenge its application; for meanwhile his precedence was but nominal, and those, who might have been competent to point out the delusion, had no wish to give offence, by attacking the fond conceit of a friendly and prosperous prelate. But when the scene changed, and when the Empire found another capital, the acumen of the bishop of the rival metropolis soon discovered a sounder exposition; and Chrysostom of Constantinople, at once the greatest preacher and the best commentator of antiquity, ignored the folly of Tertullian and of Cyprian. |Upon the rock,| says he, |that is, upon the faith of the apostle's confession,| [362:1] the Church is built. |Christ said that he would build His Church on Peter's confession.| [362:2] Soon afterwards, the greatest divine connected with the Western Church, and the most profound theologian among the fathers, pointed out, still more distinctly, the true meaning of the passage. |Our Lord declares,| says Augustine, |On this rock I will found my Church, because Peter had said: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. On this rock, which thou hast confessed, He declares I will build my Church, for Christ was the rock on whose foundation Peter himself was built; for other foundation hath no man laid than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus.| [362:3] In the Italian capital, the words on which the power of the Papacy is understood to rest are exhibited in gigantic letters within the dome of St Peter's; but their exhibition only proves that the Church of Rome has lost the key of knowledge; for, though she would fain appeal to Scripture, she shews that she does not understand the meaning of its testimony; and, closing her eyes against the light supplied by the best and wisest of the fathers, she persists in adhering to a false interpretation.

<<  Contents  >>





©2002-2019 SermonIndex.net
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Privacy Policy