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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VII The Early History of Particular Churches.

A Key To The Knowledge Of Church History by John Henry Blunt

CHAPTER VII The Early History of Particular Churches.

A.D.67-A.D.500

Section 1. The Church of England.

[Sidenote: St. Paul's visit to England.]

The CHURCH OF ENGLAND is believed, with good reason, to owe its foundation to the Apostle St. Paul, who probably came to this country after his first imprisonment at Rome. The writings of Tertullian, and others in the second and third centuries speak of Christianity as having spread as far as the islands of Britain, and a British king named Lucius is known to have embraced the Faith about the middle of the second century. [Sidenote: Martyrdom of St. Alban.] The Diocletian persecution made itself felt amongst the British Christians, the conversion of the proto-martyr St. Alban (A.D.303) being followed by that of a large number of his countrymen, many of whom also suffered for their faith.

The persecution ceased (A.D.305) under the influence of Constantius, who, before his accession to the imperial dignity, had been viceroy in Britain. His son and successor Constantine was, if not born in England, at any rate of English parentage on the side of his mother Helen, better known as the Saint and Empress {74} Helena. [Sidenote: English bishops at Councils.] Three English Bishops, those of York, Lincoln, and London, attended the Council summoned by Constantine at Arles, A.D.314, a proof that at this time the Church of England was thoroughly organized and settled. English Bishops were also present at the Councils of Sardica, A.D.347, and of Ariminium, A.D.359.

[Sidenote: English Church depressed by Saxon invasion.]

When the Romans abandoned Britain early in the fifth century, the Saxons took advantage of the defenceless state of the inhabitants to settle in the island, at first as colonists and afterwards as conquerors. The intermingling of these fierce heathens with the Christian population had a depressing influence on the Church; and the Bishops and Clergy, belonging as they did to the weaker and conquered portion of the community, seem to have been unable to do much towards the conversion of the invaders. [Sidenote: Diminution and retreat of Clergy.] Gradually, as the Saxons became more and more powerful in the island, the number of Bishops and Clergy in the accessible portions of of England grew smaller and smaller; and such as remained were at last compelled to take refuge with their brethren, who had retired to the mountain fastnesses, rather than live in slavery. Hence the records of the Church of England in the sixth century are chiefly confined to those dioceses which were situated in what we call Wales, or in other mountainous districts.

Section 2. The Church of Ireland.

The CHURCH OF IRELAND is said by some to have been first founded in the Apostolic age, but this seems doubtful. The first certain information which we have {75} respecting the presence of Christianity in the island, is that in A.D.431, a Bishop named Palladius was sent thither on a mission by Pope Celestine. He appears, however, not to have met with much success, and he soon left the country and died, probably in Scotland. [Sidenote: St. Patrick the Apostle of Ireland.] A few years later, about A.D.440, the celebrated St. Patrick began his mission in Ireland. He is generally considered to have been a native of North Britain, who, at the age of sixteen, was taken prisoner by pirates, and carried as a slave to Ireland. On regaining his liberty, he resolved to devote his life to the conversion of the country of his captivity; and having been consecrated Bishop, he returned to Ireland, and spent fifty years as a missionary in that hitherto heathen land. At the time of his death, A.D.493, the Church was firmly rooted in Ireland, and possessed a native priesthood and a native Episcopate.

[Sidenote: Late development of dioceses and parishes in Ireland.]

It may, however, be mentioned, that neither the diocesan nor the parochial systems were developed in Ireland until a very late period, whilst, from the very large number of Bishops existing there in early times, we are led to infer that in Ireland, as before in the earliest ages of the Church, each missionary was invested with episcopal powers, and that the office of priest, separate from that of Bishop, was at first almost unknown. Gradually there sprang up Cathedral chapters, whose members acted as curates to the Bishop, and to this succeeded the parochial system.

Section 3. The Church of Scotland.

The CHURCH OF SCOTLAND may, perhaps, like the Church of England, trace its foundation to the labours {76} of St. Paul, and seems to be included in Tertullian's mention of the far-off limits to which Christianity had reached in his days. [Sidenote: St. Ninian the first authenticated missionary in Scotland.] Little is, however, known of very early Church history in Scotland until the beginning of the fifth century, when St. Ninian, who is said to have been the son of a British chief, preached to the Southern Picts, A.D.412-A.D.432. We have already seen that St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, was a Scotchman, and the fruits of the benefits thus conferred on the one country were reaped by the other in the next century, when St. Columba went from Ireland and founded the celebrated monastery of Iona in one of the isles of the Hebrides. [Sidenote: Intercourse between Irish and Scotch Churches.] Iona, like the Irish monasteries of the same period, sent out many missionaries, and the monks of the two countries appear to have kept up friendly communications with each other.

Section 4. Continental Churches.

The CHURCH OF ITALY, as we have already seen (pp.42, 43), was founded by the joint labours of St. Peter and St. Paul, but the circumstances of its foundation were very different from those of the Churches of our own islands. [Sidenote: Difficulties encountered by the Church in Italy from high civilization] Christianity in Italy had to make its way amongst a highly civilized people, a nation of deep thinkers and philosophers, whose opposition to the truths of the Gospel was a far more subtle thing than the rude ignorance of barbarians. [Sidenote: and political power.] Besides this, the infant Church in Italy was brought face to face with the might of the Roman emperors who were at that time the rulers of the known {77} world; and though their persecution of their Christian subjects extended more or less to all parts of the empire, yet Italy was the chief battle-field on which the first great contest between the Church and the world was fought. Hence the history of the early Church of Italy is a history of alternating persecutions and times of peace, during which Christianity was constantly taking deeper root and spreading more widely through the country, until the conversion of Constantine, A.D.312, led to the establishment and endowment of the Church. [Sidenote: Decay of the Roman empire.] As the Church was growing stronger and taking deeper root, the worn-out Roman empire was gradually decaying and fading away, and, practically, it came to an end with the division of East and West, A.D.395.

Resistance to the inroads of the barbarians was no longer possible. Rome was sacked successively by different nations of Central Europe, and at length the kingdom of the Goths in Italy was established under Theodoric, A.D.493. [Sidenote: Arianism of barbarian conquerors.] These rude nations, though professing Christianity, had received with it the heretical doctrines of Anus, owing to their teachers having belonged to those eastern portions of Europe, which, from their nearness to Asia, were most infected with this heresy.

The CHURCH OF FRANCE was probably founded by St. Paul, but we have no certain account of its early history. [Sidenote: Asiatic origin of Early French Bishops,] |Trophimus the Ephesian| is believed to have been the first Bishop of Arles, and Pothinus, another Greek Asiatic, occupied the see of Lyons at the time of the persecution under Marcus Aurelius, A.D.161-A.D.180, during which he suffered martyrdom. His {78} successor was St. Irenaeus, a native, probably, of Smyrna, who was martyred under Severus, A.D.202. This long-continued connexion with the Churches of Asia Minor left its traces on the liturgy and customs of the Church of France, and through it of Britain and Ireland, these latter Churches adhering to the Eastern mode of computing Easter even after the Western reckoning had been adopted in France. [Sidenote: and of French Liturgy.] The liturgy used in France, as well as in Britain and Spain, is known to have been founded on that used in Ephesus and in the other Asiatic cities, which was almost certainly that used by St. John himself.

[Sidenote: Intercourse between English and French Churches.]

A Council was summoned by Constantine, A.D.314, at the French city of Arles, and one French Bishop at least was present at the great Nicaean Council, A.D.323. About a century later (A.D.429), St. Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, and St. Lupus, Bishop of Troyes, were sent over to Britain to assist in combating the errors of Pelagius, the neighbour Churches of England and France maintaining apparently very friendly relations. Many of the barbarian tribes who overran France in the beginning of the fifth century, though professing Christianity, were deeply infected with the Arian heresy. The Franks, however, who were heathens at their first entrance into the country, embraced the orthodox faith, and eventually became masters of the kingdom under Clovis, A.D.486.

[Sidenote: St. Paul and St. James in Spain.]

The CHURCH OF SPAIN AND PORTUGAL traces its foundation to St. Paul, who speaks of his intended visit to Spain, Rom. xv.24; and there is also a tradition that St. James the Great preached the Gospel here. This Church, too, is spoken of by St. Irenaeus, and again by Tertullian. {79} Its first known martyr was St. Fructuosus, A.D.259, and its first Council that of Elvira, about A.D.300. The names of nineteen Spanish Bishops are mentioned as present at it. The Council of Nice, A.D.325, was under the presidency of Hosius, the Bishop of the Spanish diocese of Cordova. [Sidenote: Arianism of Visigoths.] About A.D.470, the Visigoths, who were Arians, passed over from France into Spain, and were only gradually converted to the Catholic Faith.

We must look to a later period (see Chapter XI.) for the foundation of other Churches of the West in Northern and Central Europe, that is to say, the SCANDINAVIAN CHURCHES, including NORWAY, SWEDEN, and DENMARK, as well as those contained in the large extent of country to which we often give the comprehensive name of Germany.

The Churches now comprehended in EUROPEAN TURKEY and GREECE were, as we have already seen (pp.37 to 40), the fruits of the labours of St. Paul, and, like the Church of Rome, had wealth and learning to encounter instead of poverty and ignorance. The Book of Acts records very fully the earliest history of these Churches, and a large proportion of St. Paul's Epistles are addressed to them. [Sidenote: Liability of the Greeks to heresy.] The theorizing and philosophical tendencies of the Greeks made them very liable be led away by heretical teachers, and we find that the Church in Greece, from St. Paul's time downwards, was continually disturbed by the presence of those who taught or listened to |some new thing.| Hence all the General Councils, summoned for the authoritative settlement of the faith of the Church, were held either in Greece, or in that part of Asia which had been colonized by Greeks. Arianism in particular, {80} for a long period, caused the most violent dissensions throughout the Eastern world, and these were the occasion of that first Great Council of Nicaea which, though not actually held in Greece, was only separated from it by the narrow strait of the Bosphorus. [Sidenote: Origin of jealousies between Rome and Constantinople.] The building of Constantinople, A.D.330, gave a Christian capital to Greece, and, indeed, to the whole of the Eastern Roman empire; and from this time may be dated the jealousies and struggles for supremacy which took place between the Church in Italy and the Church in Greece, and resulted eventually in the Great schism between East and West.

[Sidenote: St. Andrew in Russia.]

The CHURCH OF RUSSIA is believed to have been founded by the Apostle St. Andrew, who extended his labours northwards from Thrace (which now forms part of Turkey in Europe), to that portion of Scythia lying north of the Black Sea, and now constituting the southern part of European Russia. The bulk of the present Russian empire was, however, converted at a much later period.

Section 5. The Church in Africa.

[Sidenote: St. Simon Zelotes and St. Mark in Africa.]

The first evangelizing of North Africa, including what we now know as Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco, is ascribed to St. Simon Zelotes and St. Mark, the latter of whom founded the CHURCH OF ALEXANDRIA, of which he became the first Bishop. Christianity appears to have {81} made very rapid progress in Africa, since, in the fifth century, the Church numbered more than four hundred African Bishops. [Sidenote: Patriarchate of Alexandria.] Alexandria, from its wealth and importance, as well as from its reputation for learning, was looked up to by the other African Churches, and its Bishops were acknowledged as patriarchs throughout the Christianized portion of the continent. [Sidenote: Its school.] The Alexandrian school of philosophy was very famous, and was at one time presided over by the Christian philosopher Clement of Alexandria, who died about A.D.216. His pupil Origen was, for a while, at the head of the same college, and employed his vast learning both before and after his ordination, in comparing the extant copies of the Old Testament Scriptures, in order to bring the text of the original languages to a state of the greatest possible correctness. He died A.D.253.

[Sidenote: Heresies at Alexandria.]

The Church of Alexandria was much distracted by inward troubles. In A.D.306, the schism of Meletius led many astray, and amongst them the too notorious Arius, who began to publish in Alexandria the heresy since known by his name, about the year A.D.320. [Sidenote: St. Athanasius and Arius.] St. Athanasius, who became Patriarch of Alexandria, A.D.326, was the chief instrument raised up by God for combating the errors of Arius, a work which he carried on unflinchingly both before and after his elevation to the episcopal throne, though his defence of the orthodox faith brought upon him long and severe persecution, including an exile of twenty years from his diocese. The Arian heresy, though checked, was however not exterminated, and long remained a source of trouble and weakness to the whole Church. [Sidenote: St. Cyril and Nestorius.] St. Cyril, {82} who afterwards succeeded to the patriarchate of Alexandria, A.D.412, was also called upon to defend Catholic truth against the errors of Nestorius, whilst his successor, Dioscorus, openly embraced the false teaching of Eutyches, and denied the Manhood, as Arius and Nestorius had before denied the Divinity, of our Blessed Lord. The evil example of the patriarch was followed by a large proportion of African Christians, who refused to receive the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon, A.D.431, or to submit to Catholic Bishops.

[Sidenote: St. Cyprian. St. Augustine.]

Two other well-known names which adorn the records of the Church in North Africa may be mentioned: St. Cyprian, a native of Carthage, and afterwards Bishop of that city, who suffered martyrdom, A.D.258, and St. Augustine, a native of Numidia (or what we now call Algeria), who was educated at Carthage, was consecrated Bishop of Hippo, A.D.393, and died A.D.430. He left behind him a great number of writings, the influence of which has been largely felt by the Church of England.

[Sidenote: St. Matthew in Ethiopia.]

The CHURCH OF ETHIOPIA, now represented by Abyssinia, was planted by St. Matthew, the way having, perhaps, been prepared by that |man of Ethiopia,| the eunuch |under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians,| of whom we read in Acts viii.27-39. Little is clearly known of the early Christian history of this region; but the Ethiopian Church appears to have come under the patriarchal rule of the Bishop of Alexandria towards the beginning of the fourth century. Though keeping clear of Arianism, the Ethiopian Christians became deeply tinged with the Eutychian heresy, by which Dioscorus and his successors were unhappily led away.

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Section 6. The Eastern Church.

Of the Churches now comprehended in Turkey in Asia, the foundation and early history of PALESTINE, as represented by the CHURCH IN JERUSALEM, and of SYRIA, as represented by the CHURCH IN ANTIOCH, have been already related (Chapters I. and II.).

[Sidenote: Death of St. James.]

St. James the Less, first Bishop of Jerusalem, was martyred A.D.63, and succeeded by Simeon, the son of Cleopas, in whose episcopate the destruction of Jerusalem took place, A.D.70. [Sidenote: Flight to Pella.] The Christians, in obedience to the prophetic teaching of their Divine Master, had already fled for safety to Pella, whence they afterwards returned to take up their abode amongst the ruins of the Holy City. In A.D.132, a rebellious outbreak of the Jews, under the leadership of Barchochebas, drew down on them a severe chastisement from the Emperor Hadrian, and the Jewish Christians suffered much from being confounded with their rebellious countrymen. The ruins of the ancient city were completely destroyed, whilst no Jew was allowed to enter the new city of Aelia Capitolina, which was built on its site. [Sidenote: Extinction of Judaism in Church of Jerusalem.] The Jewish Christians now entirely gave up all profession of Judaism, and the first Judaism in Gentile Bishop of Jerusalem was appointed A.D.135.

Julian the Apostate (A.D.361-A.D.363) presumptuously attempted to rebuild Jerusalem, but his attempt was frustrated by a miraculous interposition, a failure which had already been predicted by St. Cyril, the then Bishop of Jerusalem.

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[Sidenote: Double Episcopate at Antioch.]

The CHURCH IN ANTIOCH having been probably founded by St. Peter, that Apostle is believed to have left behind him two Bishops in the city, the one Evodius, having the episcopal care of the Jewish converts, whilst Ignatius was placed in charge of the Gentile Christians; but, on the death of Evodius, A.D.70, Ignatius became sole Bishop. [Sidenote: St. Ignatius.] This holy man is said to have been the child whom our Lord took in His arms and set in the midst of His disciples. He was intimate with some or all of the Apostles, especially with St. John, and was martyred by being thrown to wild beasts at Rome, A.D.107. The synods held at Antioch were very numerous, and far larger than any others, approaching almost in size and importance to General Councils. [Sidenote: St. John Chrysostom.] It was at Antioch that the celebrated and eloquent St. John Chrysostom was born about A.D.347: he became Bishop of Constantinople, and died A.D.407, after undergoing persecutions which almost amounted to a martyrdom.

[Sidenote: St. Paul and St. John in Asia Minor.]

We have already seen (pp.31, 32) that the CHURCHES OF ASIA MINOR owe their foundation chiefly to St. Paul, whilst their perfect organization and development was entrusted to St. John the Divine (pp.49 to 51). The Seven Churches of the Apocalypse seem to have been in a special manner the charge of the latter Apostle, Ephesus, the chief of them, being the home of his later earthly years, and the scene of his decease and burial. [Sidenote: The |Angels| of the Seven Churches.] St. Timothy, the first Bishop of Ephesus, had been succeeded probably by Onesimus; St. Polycarp (martyred A.D.167) had the episcopal charge of Smyrna; {85} Archippus, it is believed, had followed Epaphras at Laodicea. The names of the other |Angels| spoken of in the Apocalypse have not come down to us, but there is no doubt that at the time when the seven inspired Epistles were addressed to these Churches, there was in each of them a firmly established episcopacy, and that this form of government was followed by all other Churches throughout the world. There is little that needs recording of the history of these Churches of Asia Minor, unless we except the Great Council of Ephesus, held in that city, A.D.431, to condemn the heresy of Nestorius (p.71).

[Sidenote: St. Bartholomew in Armenia.]

The CHURCH OF ARMENIA, now included in Asiatic Turkey, is believed to have been first founded by St. Bartholomew. The country is said to have been further evangelized by a mission sent by St. Gregory the Illuminator in the third century. It is known that, in the following century, a flourishing Church existed there.

[Sidenote: Several Apostles in Parthia.]

The CHURCH OF PARTHIA, or PERSIA, embraced the country lying between the Tigris and the Indus, with Mesopotamia and Chaldea; what we now call Persia, Cabul, and Belochistan; as well as part of Arabia and Turkey; and is said to have been planted by St. Peter, St. Bartholomew, St. Jude, St. Matthew, and St. Thomas. The inhabitants of this region were of different races: Greek colonists; many Jews, the residue of the Babylonish Captivity; Arabs, and ancient Persians. Till the fourth century the Parthian Church appears to have flourished in peace. It was beyond the jurisdiction of the persecuting emperors of Rome, and the Parthian monarchs, though not Christians themselves, protected or tolerated their Christian subjects. [Sidenote: Persecution there.] Two Bishops were sent from {86} Parthia to the Council of Nicaea, A.D.323, but shortly afterwards, A.D.330, persecution broke out, occasioned apparently by the jealousy felt by the king towards the now Christian emperors of Rome, and the intercourse kept up between the fellow Christians of the two empires. Sixteen thousand martyrs are said to have shed their blood for their Faith, and amongst them was St. Simeon, the Patriarch of the Church, and Bishop of Seleucia. Another persecution took place in the beginning of the fifth century, and shortly afterwards Persian Christianity became strongly infected with the errors of Nestorius, the Shahs apparently favouring the heresy on account of its having been discouraged by the Roman emperors.

[Sidenote: Uncertainty as to the first conversion of Arabia.]

There is no record of the actual founding of the CHURCH IN ARABIA. We know, from Gal. i.17, that St. Paul |went into Arabia| soon after his conversion, but there is no mention of his having preached the Gospel there at that time, when indeed he was not yet called to be an Apostle; and the Arabia to which he went was probably the northern portion stretching up to the east of Syria, almost to Damascus itself. The Apostle of the Gentiles may probably have revisited this country at a later period; but, at any rate, we know that Christianity was firmly established there early in the third century, and that Origen made two several journeys thither between A.D.220 and A.D.248, to combat heresies which troubled the Arabian Church. The Bishop of Bostra, or Bozrah, was present at the Council of Antioch, A.D.269. [Sidenote: Nestorianism and Eutychianism in Arabia.] In the fifth century the errors of Nestorius, and, a little later, of Eutyches, made great inroads amongst {87} the Christians of Arabia, several even of the Bishops being led away by them.

[Sidenote: St. Thomas and St. Bartholomew in India.]

There is an ancient tradition that St. Thomas and St. Bartholomew laid the foundations of the CHURCH IN INDIA, but very little is known of its early history. Pantaenus is said to have been sent as a missionary from Alexandria to India towards the end of the second century, though it is a matter in dispute whether by India in this case we are to understand the country now known under that name, or Ethiopia, or Arabia Felix.

There are still Christians in India who reverence St. Thomas as their founder, and use a liturgy which goes by his name. Nestorianism spread to India in the fifth century.

The Church is believed to have been planted in CHINA by St. Thomas and St. Bartholomew, and the Chinese are mentioned by Arnobius in the fourth century amongst those nations which had received the Gospel. It does not seem, however, that Christianity existed for any length of time in this country.

See Chap. V.

In speaking of the Greek Church of the present day, we usually understand the whole body of orthodox Eastern Christians, and not merely those dwelling in Greece itself.

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