An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine
Part 2, Chapter 9: Application of the Fourth Note of a True Development
APPLICATION OF THE FOURTH NOTE OF A TRUE DEVELOPMENT.
Logical Sequence has been set down above as a fourth test of fidelity in development, and shall now be briefly illustrated in the history of Christian doctrine. That is, I mean to give instances of one doctrine leading to another; so that, if the former be admitted, the latter can hardly be denied, and the latter can hardly be called a corruption without taking exception to the former. And I use "logical sequence" in contrast both to that process of incorporation and assimilation which was last under review, and also to that principle of science, which has put into order and defended the developments after they have been made. Accordingly it will include any progress of the mind from one judgment to another, as, for instance, by way of moral fitness, which may not admit of analysis into premiss and conclusion. Thus St. Peter argued in the case of Cornelius and his friends, "Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?"
Such is the series of doctrinal truths, which start from the dogma of our Lord's Divinity, and again from such texts of Scripture as "Thou art Peter," and which I should have introduced here, had I not already used them for a previous purpose in the Fourth Chapter. I shall confine myself then for an example to the instance of the developments which follow on the consideration of sin after Baptism, a subject which was touched upon in the same Chapter.
§ 1. _Pardons._
It is not necessary here to enlarge on the benefits which the primitive Church held to be conveyed to the soul by means of the Sacrament of Baptism. Its distinguishing gift, which is in point to mention, was the plenary forgiveness of sins past. It was also held that the Sacrament could not be repeated. The question immediately followed, how, since there was but "one Baptism for the remission of sins," the guilt of such sin was to be removed as was incurred after its administration. There must be some provision in the revealed system for so obvious a need. What could be done for those who had received the one remission of sins, and had sinned since? Some who thought upon the subject appear to have conceived that the Church was empowered to grant one, and one only, reconciliation after grievous offences. Three sins seemed to many, at least in the West, to be irremissible, idolatry, murder, and adultery. But such a system of Church discipline, however suited to a small community, and even expedient in a time of persecution, could not exist in Christianity, as it spread into the _orbis terrarum_, and gathered like a net of every kind. A more indulgent rule gradually gained ground; yet the Spanish Church adhered to the ancient even in the fourth century, and a portion of the African in the third, and in the remaining portion there was a relaxation only as regards the crime of incontinence.
Meanwhile a protest was made against the growing innovation: at the beginning of the third century Montanus, who was a zealot for the more primitive rule, shrank from the laxity, as he considered it, of the Asian Churches;[385:1] as, in a different subject-matter, Jovinian and Vigilantius were offended at the developments in divine worship in the century which followed. The Montanists had recourse to the See of Rome, and at first with some appearance of success. Again, in Africa, where there had been in the first instance a schism headed by Felicissimus in favour of a milder discipline than St. Cyprian approved, a far more formidable stand was soon made in favour of Antiquity, headed by Novatus, who originally had been of the party of Felicissimus. This was taken up at Rome by Novatian, who professed to adhere to the original, or at least the primitive rule of the Church, viz. that those who had once fallen from the faith could in no case be received again.[385:2] The controversy seems to have found the following issue,--whether the Church had the _means_ of pardoning sins committed after Baptism, which the Novatians, at least practically, denied. "It is fitting," says the Novatian Acesius, "to exhort those who have sinned after Baptism to repentance, but to expect hope of remission, not from the priests, but from God, who hath power to forgive sins."[385:3] The schism spread into the East, and led to the appointment of a penitentiary priest in the Catholic Churches. By the end of the third century as many as four degrees of penance were appointed, through which offenders had to pass in order to a reconciliation.
§ 2. _Penances._
The length and severity of the penance varied with times and places. Sometimes, as we have seen, it lasted, in the case of grave offences, through life and on to death, without any reconciliation; at other times it ended only in the _viaticum_; and if, after reconciliation they did not die, their ordinary penance was still binding on them either for life or for a certain time. In other cases it lasted ten, fifteen, or twenty years. But in all cases, from the first, the Bishop had the power of shortening it, and of altering the nature and quality of the punishment. Thus in the instance of the Emperor Theodosius, whom St. Ambrose shut out from communion for the massacre at Thessalonica, "according to the mildest rules of ecclesiastical discipline, which were established in the fourth century," says Gibbon, "the crime of homicide was expiated by the penitence of twenty years; and as it was impossible, in the period of human life, to purge the accumulated guilt of the massacre . . . the murderer should have been excluded from the holy communion till the hour of his death." He goes on to say that the public edification which resulted from the humiliation of so illustrious a penitent was a reason for abridging the punishment. "It was sufficient that the Emperor of the Romans, stripped of the ensigns of royalty, should appear in a mournful and suppliant posture, and that, in the midst of the Church of Milan, he should humbly solicit with sighs and tears the pardon of his sins." His penance was shortened to an interval of about eight months. Hence arose the phrase of a "_pœnitentia legitima, plena, et justa_;" which signifies a penance sufficient, perhaps in length of time, perhaps in intensity of punishment.
§ 3. _Satisfactions._
Here a serious question presented itself to the minds of Christians, which was now to be wrought out:--Were these punishments merely signs of contrition, or in any sense satisfactions for sin? If the former, they might be absolutely remitted at the discretion of the Church, as soon as true repentance was discovered; the end had then been attained, and nothing more was necessary. Thus St. Chrysostom says in one of his Homilies,[387:1] "I require not continuance of time, but the correction of the soul. Show your contrition, show your reformation, and all is done." Yet, though there might be a reason of the moment for shortening the penance imposed by the Church, this does not at all decide the question whether that ecclesiastical penance be not part of an expiation made to the Almighty Judge for the sin; and supposing this really to be the case, the question follows, How is the complement of that satisfaction to be wrought out, which on just grounds of present expedience has been suspended by the Church now?
As to this question, it cannot be doubted that the Fathers considered penance as not a mere expression of contrition, but as an act done directly towards God and a means of averting His anger. "If the sinner spare not himself, he will be spared by God," says the writer who goes under the name of St. Ambrose. "Let him lie in sackcloth, and by the austerity of his life make amends for the offence of his past pleasures," says St. Jerome. "As we have sinned greatly," says St. Cyprian, "let us weep greatly; for a deep wound diligent and long tending must not be wanting, the repentance must not fall short of the offence." "Take heed to thyself," says St. Basil, "that, in proportion to the fault, thou admit also the restoration from the remedy."[387:2] If so, the question follows which was above contemplated,--if in consequence of death, or in the exercise of the Church's discretion, the "_plena pœnitentia_" is not accomplished in its ecclesiastical shape, how and when will the residue be exacted?
§ 4. _Purgatory._
Clement of Alexandria answers this particular question very distinctly, according to Bishop Kaye, though not in some other points expressing himself conformably to the doctrine afterwards received. "Clement," says that author, "distinguishes between sins committed before and after baptism: the former are remitted at baptism; the latter are purged by discipline. . . . The necessity of this purifying discipline is such, that if it does not take place in this life, it must after death, and is then to be effected by fire, not by a destructive, but a discriminating fire, pervading the soul which passes through it."[388:1]
There is a celebrated passage in St. Cyprian, on the subject of the punishment of lapsed Christians, which certainly seems to express the same doctrine. "St. Cyprian is arguing in favour of readmitting the lapsed, when penitent; and his argument seems to be that it does not follow that we absolve them simply because we simply restore them to the Church. He writes thus to Antonian: 'It is one thing to stand for pardon, another to arrive at glory; one to be sent to prison (_missum in carcerem_) and not to go out till the last farthing be paid, another to receive at once the reward of faith and virtue; one thing to be tormented for sin in long pain, and so to be cleansed and purged a long while by fire (_purgari diu igne_), another to be washed from all sin in martyrdom; one thing, in short, to wait for the Lord's sentence in the Day of Judgment, another at once to be crowned by Him.' Some understand this passage to refer to the penitential discipline of the Church which was imposed on the penitent; and, as far as the context goes, certainly no sense could be more apposite. Yet . . . the words in themselves seem to go beyond any mere ecclesiastical, though virtually divine censure; especially '_missum in carcerem_' and '_purgari diu igne_.'"[389:1]
The Acts of the Martyrs St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas, which are prior to St. Cyprian, confirm this interpretation. In the course of the narrative, St. Perpetua prays for her brother Dinocrates, who had died at the age of seven; and has a vision of a dark place, and next of a pool of water, which he was not tall enough to reach. She goes on praying; and in a second vision the water descended to him, and he was able to drink, and went to play as children use. "Then I knew," she says, "that he was translated from his place of punishment."[389:2]
The prayers in the Eucharistic Service for the faithful departed, inculcate, at least according to the belief of the fourth century, the same doctrine, that the sins of accepted and elect souls, which were not expiated here, would receive punishment hereafter. Certainly such was St. Cyril's belief: "I know that many say," he observes, "what is a soul profited, which departs from this world either with sins or without sins, if it be commemorated in the [Eucharistic] Prayer? Now, surely, if when a king had banished certain who had given him offence, their connexions should weave a crown and offer it to him on behalf of those under his vengeance, would he not grant a respite to their punishments? In the same way we, when we offer to Him our supplications for those who have fallen asleep, though they be sinners, weave no crown, but offer up Christ, sacrificed for our sins, propitiating our merciful God, both for them and for ourselves."[390:1]
Thus we see how, as time went on, the doctrine of Purgatory was brought home to the minds of the faithful as a portion or form of Penance due for post-baptismal sin. And thus the apprehension of this doctrine and the practice of Infant Baptism would grow into general reception together. Cardinal Fisher gives another reason for Purgatory being then developed out of earlier points of faith. He says, "Faith, whether in Purgatory or in Indulgences, was not so necessary in the Primitive Church as now. For then love so burned, that every one was ready to meet death for Christ. Crimes were rare, and such as occurred were avenged by the great severity of the Canons."[390:2]
An author, who quotes this passage, analyzes the circumstances and the reflections which prepared the Christian mind for the doctrine, when it was first insisted on, and his remarks with a few corrections may be accepted here. "Most men," he says, "to our apprehensions, are too little formed in religious habits either for heaven or for hell, yet there is no middle state when Christ comes in judgment. In consequence it is obvious to have recourse to the interval before His coming, as a time during which this incompleteness may be remedied; as a season, not of changing the spiritual bent and character of the soul departed, whatever that be, for probation ends with mortal life, but of developing it in a more determinate form, whether of good or of evil. Again, when the mind once allows itself to speculate, it will discern in such a provision a means, whereby those, who, not without true faith at bottom, yet have committed great crimes, or those who have been carried off in youth while still undecided, or who die after a barren though not an immoral or scandalous life, may receive such chastisement as may prepare them for heaven, and render it consistent with God's justice to admit them thither. Again, the inequality of the sufferings of Christians in this life, compared one with another, leads the mind to the same speculations; the intense suffering, for instance, which some men undergo on their death-bed, seeming as if but an anticipation in their case of what comes after death upon others, who, without greater claim on God's forbearance, live without chastisement, and die easily. The mind will inevitably dwell upon such thoughts, unless it has been taught to subdue them by education or by the fear or the experience of their dangerousness.
"Various suppositions have, accordingly, been made, as pure suppositions, as mere specimens of the capabilities (if one may so speak) of the Divine Dispensation, as efforts of the mind reaching forward and venturing beyond its depth into the abyss of the Divine Counsels. If one supposition could be hazarded, sufficient to solve the problem, the existence of ten thousand others is conceivable, unless indeed the resources of God's Providence are exactly commensurate with man's discernment of them. Religious men, amid these searchings of heart, have naturally gone to Scripture for relief; to see if the inspired word anywhere gave them any clue for their inquiries. And from what was there found, and from the speculations of reason upon it, various notions have been hazarded at different times; for instance, that there is a certain momentary ordeal to be undergone by all men after this life, more or less severe according to their spiritual state; or that certain gross sins in good men will be thus visited, or their lighter failings and habitual imperfections; or that the very sight of Divine Perfection in the invisible world will be in itself a pain, while it constitutes the purification of the imperfect but believing soul; or that, happiness admitting of various degrees of intensity, penitents late in life may sink for ever into a state, blissful as far as it goes, but more or less approaching to unconsciousness; and infants dying after baptism may be as gems paving the courts of heaven, or as the living wheels of the Prophet's vision; while matured Saints may excel in capacity of bliss, as well as in dignity, the highest Archangels.
"Now, as to the punishments and satisfactions for sin, the texts to which the minds of the early Christians seem to have been principally drawn, and from which they ventured to argue in behalf of these vague notions, were these two: 'The fire shall try every man's work,' &c., and 'He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.' These passages, with which many more were found to accord, directed their thoughts one way, as making mention of 'fire,' whatever was meant by the word, as the instrument of trial and purification; and that, at some time between the present time and the Judgment, or at the Judgment.
"As the doctrine, thus suggested by certain striking texts, grew in popularity and definiteness, and verged towards its present Roman form, it seemed a key to many others. Great portions of the books of Psalms, Job, and the Lamentations, which express the feelings of religious men under suffering, would powerfully recommend it by the forcible and most affecting and awful meaning which they received from it. When this was once suggested, all other meanings would seem tame and inadequate.
"To these may be added various passages from the Prophets, as that in the beginning of the third chapter of Malachi, which speaks of fire as the instrument of judgment and purification, when Christ comes to visit His Church.
"Moreover, there were other texts of obscure and indeterminate bearing, which seemed on this hypothesis to receive a profitable meaning; such as our Lord's words in the Sermon on the Mount, 'Verily, I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing;' and St. John's expression in the Apocalypse, that 'no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book.'"[393:1]
When then an answer had to be made to the question, how is post-baptismal sin to be remitted, there was an abundance of passages in Scripture to make easy to the faith of the inquirer the definitive decision of the Church.
§ 5. _Meritorious Works._
The doctrine of post-baptismal sin, especially when realized in the doctrine of Purgatory, leads the inquirer to fresh developments beyond itself. Its effect is to convert a Scripture statement, which might seem only of temporary application, into a universal and perpetual truth. When St. Paul and St. Barnabas would "confirm the souls of the disciples," they taught them "that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." It is obvious what very practical results would follow on such an announcement, in the instance of those who simply accepted the Apostolic decision; and in like manner a conviction that sin must have its punishment, here or hereafter, and that we all must suffer, how overpowering will be its effect, what a new light does it cast on the history of the soul, what a change does it make in our judgment of the external world, what a reversal of our natural wishes and aims for the future! Is a doctrine conceivable which would so elevate the mind above this present state, and teach it so successfully to dare difficult things, and to be reckless of danger and pain? He who believes that suffer he must, and that delayed punishment may be the greater, will be above the world, will admire nothing, fear nothing, desire nothing. He has within his breast a source of greatness, self-denial, heroism. This is the secret spring of strenuous efforts and persevering toil, of the sacrifice of fortune, friends, ease, reputation, happiness. There is, it is true, a higher class of motives which will be felt by the Saint; who will do from love what all Christians, who act acceptably, do from faith. And, moreover, the ordinary measures of charity which Christians possess, suffice for securing such respectable attention to religious duties as the routine necessities of the Church require. But if we would raise an army of devoted men to resist the world, to oppose sin and error, to relieve misery, or to propagate the truth, we must be provided with motives which keenly affect the many. Christian love is too rare a gift, philanthropy is too weak a material, for the occasion. Nor is there an influence to be found to suit our purpose, besides this solemn conviction, which arises out of the very rudiments of Christian theology, and is taught by its most ancient masters,--this sense of the awfulness of post-baptismal sin. It is in vain to look out for missionaries for China or Africa, or evangelists for our great towns, or Christian attendants on the sick, or teachers of the ignorant, on such a scale of numbers as the need requires, without the doctrine of Purgatory. For thus the sins of youth are turned to account by the profitable penance of manhood; and terrors, which the philosopher scorns in the individual, become the benefactors and earn the gratitude of nations.
§ 6. _The Monastic Rule._
But there is one form of Penance which has been more prevalent and uniform than any other, out of which the forms just noticed have grown, or on which they have been engrafted,--the Monastic Rule. In the first ages, the doctrine of the punishments of sin, whether in this world or in the next, was little called for. The rigid discipline of the infant Church was the preventive of greater offences, and its persecutions the penance of their commission; but when the Canons were relaxed and confessorship ceased, then some substitute was needed, and such was Monachism, being at once a sort of continuation of primeval innocence, and a school of self-chastisement. And, as it is a great principle in economical and political science that everything should be turned to account, and there should be no waste, so, in the instance of Christianity, the penitential observances of individuals, which were necessarily on a large scale as its professors increased, took the form of works, whether for the defence of the Church, or the spiritual and temporal good of mankind.
In no aspect of the Divine system do we see more striking developments than in the successive fortunes of Monachism. Little did the youth Antony foresee, when he set off to fight the evil one in the wilderness, what a sublime and various history he was opening, a history which had its first developments even in his own lifetime. He was himself a hermit in the desert; but when others followed his example, he was obliged to give them guidance, and thus he found himself, by degrees, at the head of a large family of solitaries, five thousand of whom were scattered in the district of Nitria alone. He lived to see a second stage in the development; the huts in which they lived were brought together, sometimes round a church, and a sort of subordinate community, or college, formed among certain individuals of their number. St. Pachomius was the first who imposed a general rule of discipline upon the brethren, gave them a common dress, and set before them the objects to which the religious life was dedicated. Manual labour, study, devotion, bodily mortification, were now their peculiarities; and the institution, thus defined, spread and established itself through Eastern and Western Christendom.
The penitential character of Monachism is not prominent in St. Antony, though it is distinctly noticed by Pliny in his description of the Essenes of the Dead Sea, who anticipated the monastic life at the rise of Christianity. In St. Basil, however, it becomes a distinguishing feature;--so much so that the monastic profession was made a disqualification for the pastoral office,[396:1] and in theory involved an absolute separation from mankind; though in St. Basil's, as well as St. Antony's disciples, it performed the office of resisting heresy.
Next, the monasteries, which in their ecclesiastical capacity had been at first separate churches under a Presbyter or Abbot, became schools for the education of the clergy.[396:2]
Centuries passed, and after many extravagant shapes of the institution, and much wildness and insubordination in its members, a new development took place under St. Benedict. Revising and digesting the provisions of St. Antony, St. Pachomius, and St. Basil, he bound together his monks by a perpetual vow, brought them into the cloister, united the separate convents into one Order,[397:1] and added objects of an ecclesiastical and civil nature to that of personal edification. Of these objects, agriculture seemed to St. Benedict himself of first importance; but in a very short time it was superseded by study and education, and the monasteries of the following centuries became the schools and libraries, and the monks the chroniclers and copyists, of a dark period. Centuries later, the Benedictine Order was divided into separate Congregations, and propagated in separate monastic bodies. The Congregation of Cluni was the most celebrated of the former; and of the latter, the hermit order of the Camaldoli and the agricultural Cistercians.
Both a unity and an originality are observable in the successive phases under which Monachism has shown itself; and while its developments bring it more and more into the ecclesiastical system, and subordinate it to the governing power, they are true to their first idea, and spring fresh and fresh from the parent stock, which from time immemorial had thriven in Syria and Egypt. The sheepskin and desert of St. Antony did but revive "the mantle"[397:2] and the mountain of the first Carmelite, and St. Basil's penitential exercises had already been practised by the Therapeutæ. In like manner the Congregational principle, which is ascribed to St. Benedict, had been anticipated by St. Antony and St. Pachomius; and after centuries of disorder, another function of early Monachism, for which there had been little call for centuries, the defence of Catholic truth, was exercised with singular success by the rival orders of Dominicans and Franciscans.
St. Benedict had come as if to preserve a principle of civilization, and a refuge for learning, at a time when the old framework of society was falling, and new political creations were taking their place. And when the young intellect within them began to stir, and a change of another kind discovered itself, then appeared St. Francis and St. Dominic to teach and chastise it; and in proportion as Monachism assumed this public office, so did the principle of penance, which had been the chief characteristic of its earlier forms, hold a less prominent place. The Tertiaries indeed, or members of the third order of St. Francis and St. Dominic, were penitents; but the friar himself, instead of a penitent, was made a priest, and was allowed to quit cloister. Nay, they assumed the character of what may be called an Ecumenical Order, as being supported by begging, not by endowments, and being under the jurisdiction, not of the local Bishop, but of the Holy See. The Dominicans too came forward especially as a learned body, and as entrusted with the office of preaching, at a time when the mind of Europe seemed to be developing into infidelity. They filled the chairs at the Universities, while the strength of the Franciscans lay among the lower orders.
At length, in the last era of ecclesiastical revolution, another principle of early Monachism, which had been but partially developed, was brought out into singular prominence in the history of the Jesuits. "Obedience," said an ancient abbot, "is a monk's service, with which he shall be heard in prayer, and shall stand with confidence by the Crucified, for so the Lord came to the cross, being made obedient even unto death;"[399:1] but it was reserved for modern times to furnish the perfect illustration of this virtue, and to receive the full blessing which follows it. The great Society, which bears no earthly name, still more secular in its organization, and still more simply dependent on the See of St. Peter, has been still more distinguished than any Order before it for the rule of obedience, while it has compensated the danger of its free intercourse with the world by its scientific adherence to devotional exercises. The hermitage, the cloister, the inquisitor, and the friar were suited to other states of society; with the Jesuits, as well as with the religious Communities, which are their juniors, usefulness, secular and religious, literature, education, the confessional, preaching, the oversight of the poor, missions, the care of the sick, have been chief objects of attention; great cities have been the scene of operation: bodily austerities and the ceremonial of devotion have been made of but secondary importance. Yet it may fairly be questioned, whether, in an intellectual age, when freedom both of thought and of action is so dearly prized, a greater penance can be devised for the soldier of Christ than the absolute surrender of judgment and will to the command of another.
[385:1] Gieseler, Text-book, vol. i. p. 108.
[385:2] Gieseler, ibid. p. 164.
[385:3] Socr. Hist. i. 10.
[387:1] Hom. 14, in 2 Cor. fin.
[387:2] Vid. Tertull. Oxf. tr. pp. 374, 5.
[388:1] Clem. ch. 12. Vid. also Tertull. de Anim. fin.
[389:1] Tracts for the Times, No. 79, p. 38.
[389:2] Ruinart, Mart. p. 96.
[390:1] Mystagog. 5.
[390:2] [Vid. Via Media, vol. i. p 72.]
[393:1] [Via Media, vol. i. pp. 174-177.]
[396:1] Gieseler, vol. ii. p. 288.
[396:2] Ibid. p. 279.
[397:1] Or rather his successors, as St. Benedict of Anian, were the founders of the Order; but minute accuracy on these points is unnecessary in a mere sketch of the history.
[397:2] μηλωτής, 2 Kings ii. Sept. Vid. also, "They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins" (Heb. xi. 37).
[399:1] Rosweyde, V. P. p. 618.
Chapter 10: Application of the Fifth Note of a True Development
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine - Part 1: Doctrinal Developments Viewed in Themselves
Chapter 1: On the Development of Ideas
Chapter 2: On the Antecedent Argument in Behalf of Developments in Christian Doctrine
Chapter 3: On the Historical Argument in Behalf of the Existing Developments
Chapter 4: Instances in Illustration
An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine - Part 2: Doctrinal Developments Viewed Relatively to Doctrinal Corruptions
Chapter 5: Genuine Developments Contrasted with Corruptions
Chapter 6: Application of the Seven Notes to the Existing Developments of Christian Doctrine
Chapter 7: Application of the Second Note of a True Development
Chapter 8: Application of the Third Note of a True Development
Chapter 9: Application of the Fourth Note of a True Development
Chapter 10: Application of the Fifth Note of a True Development
Chapter 11: Application of the Sixth Note of a True Development
Chapter 12: Application of the Seventh Note of a True Development
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