The Ecclesiastical History Of Scholasticus by Socrates Scholasticus
Chapter XXI.--Peculiar Schism among the Novatians.
Of the Novatian church at Constantinople Agelius was the bishop for the space of forty years, viz. from the reign of Constantine until the sixth year of that of the emperor Theodosius, as I have stated somewhere previously. He perceiving his end approaching, ordained Sisinnius to succeed him in the bishopric. This person was a presbyter of the church over which Agelius presided, remarkably eloquent, and had been instructed in philosophy by Maximus, at the same time as the emperor Julian. Now as the Novatian laity were dissatisfied with this election, and wished rather that he had ordained Marcian, a man of eminent piety, on account of whose influence their sect had been left unmolested during the reign of Valens, Agelius therefore to allay his people's discontent, laid his hands on Marcian also. Having recovered a little from his illness, he went to the church and thus of his own accord addressed the congregation: After my decease let Marcian be your bishop; and after Marcian, Sisinnius.' He survived these words but a short time; Marcian accordingly having been constituted bishop of the Novatians, a division arose in their church also, from this cause. Marcian had promoted to the rank of presbyter a converted Jew named Sabbatius, who nevertheless continued to retain many of his Jewish prejudices; and moreover he was very ambitious of being made a bishop. Having therefore confidentially attached to his interest two presbyters, Theoctistus and Macarius, who were cognizant of his designs, he resolved to defend that innovation made by the Novatians in the time of Valens, at Pazum a village of Phrygia, concerning the festival of Easter, to which I have already adverted. And in the first place, under pretext of more ascetic austerity, he privately withdrew from the church, saying that he was grieved on account of certain persons whom he suspected of being unworthy of participation in the sacrament.' It was however soon discovered that his object was to hold assemblies apart. When Marcian understood this, he bitterly censured his own error, in ordaining to the presbyterate persons so intent on vain-glory; and frequently said, That it had been better for him to have laid his hands on thorns, than to have imposed them on Sabbatius.' To check his proceedings, he procured a Synod of Novatian bishops to be convened at Angarum, a commercial town near Helenopolis in Bithynia. On assembling here they summoned Sabbatius, and desired him to explain the cause of his discontent. Upon his affirming that he was troubled about the disagreement that existed respecting the Feast of Easter, and that it ought to be kept according to the custom of the Jews, and agreeable to that sanction which those convened at Pazum had appointed, the bishops present at the Synod perceiving that this assertion was a mere subterfuge to disguise his desire after the episcopal chair, obliged him to pledge himself on oath that he would never accept a bishopric. When he had so sworn, they passed a canon respecting this feast, which they entitled indifferent,' declaring that a disagreement on such a point was not a sufficient reason for separation from the church; and that the council of Pazum had done nothing prejudicial to the catholic canon. That although the ancients who lived nearest to the times of the apostles differed about the observance of this festival, it did not prevent their communion with one another, nor create any dissension. Besides that the Novatians at imperial Rome had never followed the Jewish usage, but always kept Easter after the equinox; and yet they did not separate from those of their own faith, who celebrated it on a different day.' From these and many such considerations, they made the Indifferent' Canon, above-mentioned, concerning Easter, whereby every one was at liberty to keep the custom which he had by predilection in this matter, if he so pleased; and that it should make no difference as regards communion, but even though celebrating differently they should be in accord in the church. After this rule had been thus established, Sabbatius being bound by his oath, anticipated the fast by keeping it in private, whenever any discrepancy existed in the time of the Paschal solemnity, and having watched all night, he celebrated the sabbath of the passover; then on the next day he went to church, and with the rest of the congregation partook of the sacraments. He pursued this course for many years, so that it could not be concealed from the people; in imitation of which some of the more ignorant, and chiefly the Phrygians and Galatians, supposing they should be justified by this conduct imitated him, and kept the passover in secret after his manner. But Sabbatius afterwards disregarding the oath by which he had renounced the episcopal dignity, held schismatic meetings, and was constituted bishop of his followers, as we shall show hereafter.