The Church Usurps the Civil AuthorityTHE events related in the five chapters immediately preceding this, abundantly demonstrate that the promise of the unity of the faith, which the bishops made to Constantine, was a fraud; and that the blessings which were promised and expected to accrue to the State by the union with the Church, proved a continual and horrible curse to the State and to society in general.
In tracing the faith of the Catholic Church, it has been necessary to deal most largely with society and the State in the East. But bad as it was in the East, it was worse in the West. The reason is that in the Eastern empire the imperial authority held its place above the church -- the civil power remained superior to the ecclesiastical; whereas in the Western empire, the church exalted itself above the State -- the ecclesiastical was made superior to the civil power. To trace the course, and to discover the result, of the workings of the Western system, that is, of the papacy in fact, is the purpose of the present chapter.
In the sketch of the bishops of Rome from Melchiades to Leo, given in the foregoing chapter, we have seen the working of the episcopal spirit in exalting the bishopric of Rome to the place of supremacy in religion. In the controversies which we have traced, it is clearly seen that in order to secure the weight of the influence of the bishop of Rome, each one to his particular side of the question, the parties to the innumerable controversies which kept everything in a ferment , were always ready to bestow every sort of flattering title and token of distinction upon him to whom they appealed. Then when the controversy had culminated in the inevitable council, the victorious party, if in harmony with the bishop of Rome, added to its flattering unction on him the weight of the council in whatever dignities and honors it might choose to bestow. In fact, there was never a controversy in which there was not an appeal to the bishop of Rome by one or both parties, and almost always by both. And there never was a general council that agreed with the bishop of Rome, by which there was not some special honor or dignity conferred upon him.
On the other hand, there was a curious train of political events which conspired to the same result, and which yet more fully opened the way for the church to usurp the civil power, and for the bishop of Rome to encroach upon the imperial authority.
Diocletian established his capital at Nicomedia, and Maximian his at Milan, A. D. 304; and with the exception of Maxentius and Constantine, during brief periods,never afterward was there an emperor who made Rome his capital: and even while Constantine did so, instead of detracting from the dignity of the bishop of Rome, it added to it; for as we have seen, the bishop of Rome bore a leading part in the formation of the union of Church and State, and the moment that that union was consummated, "the bishop of Rome rises at once to the rank of a great accredited functionary. . . . So long as Constantine was in Rome, the bishop of Rome, the head of the emperor''s religion, became in public estimation, . . . in authority and influence, immeasurably the superior, to all of sacerdotal rank . . . As long as Rome is the imperial residence, an appeal to the emperor is an appeal to the bishop of Rome." -- Milman.1
Thus the presence of Constantine in Rome redounded to the importance and dignity of the bishopric of Rome, but it was not until Constantine had moved his capital to Constantinople, that the way was opened for the full play of that arrogant spirit that has ever been the chief characteristic of that dignitary. "The absence of a secular competitor allowed the papal authority to grow up and to develop its secret strength" Milman);2 and under the blandishments of necessitous imperial favor he did as he pleased, and more rapidly than ever his power grew.
In the sketch of the hierarchy, given on page 390, it will be noticed that in the gradation of the church dignitaries the ascent was only so far as corresponded to the four prefects in the State. There was not above the four patriarchs a bishop over all, as above the prefects the emperor was over all. The one great reason for this is that Constantine was not only emperor but bishop, and as "bishop of externals" in the church, he held the place of chief bishop, supreme pontiff -- over the four patriarchs precisely as he held as emperor the chief authority over the four prefects.
Yet, in the nature of things, it was inevitable and only a question of time when the bishop of Rome would assert as a matter of right, his supremacy over all others, and when this should be accomplished, the matter of the supremacy would then lie between him and the emperor alone, which would open the way for the bishop of Rome to encroach upon the civil and imperial authority. This spirit showed itself in the action of the bishop of Rome in studiously avoiding the title of "patriarch," "as placing him on a level with other patriarchs." He always preferred the title of "papa," or "pope" (Schuff3): and this, because "patriarch" bespeaks an oligarchical church government, that is, government by a few; whereas "pope" bespeaks a monarchical church government, that is, government by one.
Again: in all the West there was no rival to the bishop of Rome. Whereas in the East there were three rivals to one another, whose jealousies not only curbed the encroachments of one another, but built up the influence and authority of the bishop of Rome.
In addition to all these things, both the weakness and the strength of the imperial influence and authority were made to serve the ambitious spirit of the bishopric of Rome. After Constantine''s death, with the exception of Valentinian I, there never was a single able emperor of the West; and even Valentinian I was the servant of the bishop of Rome to the extent that he "enacted a law empowering the bishop of Rome to examine and judge other bishops." -- Bower.4 When Constantius exercised authority over the West, the bishop of Rome openly defied his authority; and although Liberius afterward changed his views and submitted, the example was never forgotten. And when Theodosius for a brief period exercised authority in the West, it was not only as the servant of the bishop of Rome, but as the subject of the bishop of Milan. It is true that the power of Ambrose in that particular case was exercised in a just cause. But a power that could be carried to such extremes in a cause that was just, could as easily be carried to the same extreme in a cause that was unjust. So it had been exercised before this on several occasions, and so it was exercised afterward on numberless occasions, and by others than Ambrose.
All these things conspired to open the way for the exaltation of the ecclesiastical above the civil power; and the ecclesiastics walked diligently in the way thus opened. The seed which directly bore this evil fruit, was also sown in that dark intrigue between Constantine and the bishops, which formed the union of Church and State, and created the papacy. That seed was sown when Constantine bestowed upon the bishops the right of judgment in civil matters.
It is a doctrine of Christianity, first, that there shall be no disputes among Christians, and, second, if any such do arise, then Christians must settle such differences among themselves, and not go to law before unbelievers. 1 Cor. VIA, 1-7.
This order was faithfully followed in the church at the beginning; but as the power and influence of the bishopric grew, this office was usurped by the bishop, and all such cases were decided by him alone. Until the union of Church and State, however, every man had the right of appeal from the decision of the bishop to the civil magistrate.
Very shortly after the establishment of the Catholic Church, "Constantine likewise enacted a law in favor of the clergy, permitting judgment to be passed by the bishops when litigants preferred appealing to them rather than to the secular court; he enacted that their decree should be valid, and as far superior to that of other judges as if pronounced by the emperor himself; that the governors and subordinate military officers should see to the execution of these decrees; and that sentence, when passed by them, should be irreversible." -- Sozomen5.
This was only in cases, however, where the disputants voluntarily appeared and submitted their causes to the decision of the bishops. Yet as the bishops were ever ready to "extend their authority far beyond their jurisdiction, and their influence far beyond their authority" (Milman),6 they to worked this power as to make their business as judges occupy the principle portion of their time. "To worldly-minded bishops it furnished a welcome occasion for devoting themselves to any foreign and secular affairs, rather than to the appropriate business of their spiritual calling; and the same class might also allow themselves to be governed by impure motives in the settlement of these disputes." -- Neander.7
Some bishops extended this right into what was known as the right of intervention, that is, the right of interceding with the secular power in certain cases. "The privilege of interceding with the secular power for criminals, prisoners, and unfortunates of every kind, had belonged to the heathen priests, and especially to the vestals, and now passed to the Christian ministry, above all to the bishops, and thenceforth became an essential function of their office." -- Schaff.8
This office was first assumed by the heathenized bishops for this purpose, but soon instead of interceding they began to dictate; instead of soliciting they began to command; and instead of pleading for deserving unfortunates, they interfered with the genuine administration of the civil magistrates. As early as the Council of Arles, A. D. 314, the second council that was held by the direction of Constantine, the church power began to encroach in this matter upon the jurisdiction of the State. Canon 7 of this council, charged the bishops to take the oversight of such of the civil magistrates within their respective sees, as were church members; and if the magistrates acted inconsistently with their Christian duties, they should be turned out of the church.9
This was at once to give to the bishops the direction of the course of civil matters. And the magistrates who were members of the church, -- and it was not long before the great majority of them were such, -- knowing that their acts were to be passed upon for approval or disapproval by the bishop, chose to take counsel of him beforehand so as to be sure to act according to "discipline," and avoid being excommunicated. Thus by an easy gradation and extension of power,the bishopric assumed jurisdiction over the jurisprudence of the State.
Further, as the empire was now a religious State, a "kingdom of God," the Bible was made the code of civil procedure as well as of religion. More than this, it was the Bible as interpreted by the bishops. Yet, more than this, it was the Bible as interpreted by the bishops according to the Fathers. "The Bible, and the Bible interpreted by the Fathers, became the code, not of religion only, but of every branch of knowledge." -- Milman.10 And as the Fathers themselves, necessarily, had to be interpreted, the bishops became the sole interpreters of the code, as well as the censors of the magistracy, in all the jurisprudence of the empire.
The advice which one of the model bishops in the church -- in the estimation of some, a model even to this day11 -- gave upon a certain occasion to a magistrate who had consulted him in regard to the performance of his duty, well illustrates the workings of this system as a system. A certain officer consulted Ambrose, bishop of Milan, as to what he would better do in a certain criminal case. Ambrose told him that according to Romans xiii, he was authorized to use the sword in punishment of the crime; yet, at the same time, advised him to imitate Christ in his treatment of the woman mentioned in John viii, who had been taken in adultery, and forgive the criminal; because if the criminal had never been baptized, he might yet be converted and obtain forgiveness of his sin: and if he had been baptized, it was proper to give him an opportunity to repent and reform.12
With the Bible as the code, this was the only thing that could be done, and this the only proper advice that could be given. For Christ distinctly commands: "Judge not;" "Condemn not." And he does directly command that when a brother offends and is reproved, if he repents, he is to be forgiven; and if he does it seven times in a day and seven times in a day turns and says "I repent," so often is he to be forgiven. Therefore, with the Bible as the code, the advice which Ambrose gave was the only advice which could properly be given. But it was destructive of civil government. And this is only to say that it was an utter perversion of the Bible to make it the code of civil procedure. Such procedure therefore in civil government where there was no possible means of knowing that repentance was genuine or reformation sure, was to destroy civil government, and substitute for it only a pretense at moral government which was absolutely impotent for any good purpose, either moral or civil. In other words, it was only to destroy the State, and to substitute for it, in everything, the church.
This is not saying anything against the Bible, nor against its principles. It is only exposing the awful perversion of its principles by the church in exalting its authority above the State. God''s government is moral, and he has made provision for maintaining his government with the forgiveness of transgression. But he has made no such provision for civil government. No such provision can be made, and civil government be maintained. The Bible reveals God''s method of saving those who sin against his moral government. civil government is man''s method of preserving order, and has nothing to do with sin, nor the salvation of sinners. Civil government prosecutes a man and finds him guilty. If before the penalty is executed he repents, God forgives him; but the government must execute the penalty.
And this authority was carried much further than merely to advise. The monks and clergy went so far at last as actually to tear away from the civil authorities, criminals and malefactors of the worst sort, who had been justly condemned. To such an extent was this carried that a law had to be enacted in 398 ordering that "the monks and the clergy should not be permitted to snatch condemned malefactors from their merited punishment." -- Neander.13 Yet they were still allowed the right of intercession.
This evil led directly to another, or rather only deepened and perpetuated itself. Ecclesiastical offices, especially the bishoprics, were the only ones in the empire that were elective.
As we have seen, all manner of vile and criminal characters had been brought into the church. Consequently these had a voice in the elections. It became therefore an object for the unruly, violent, and criminal classes to secure the election of such men as would use the episcopal influence in their interests, and shield them from justice.
"As soon as a bishop had closed his eyes, the metropolitan issued a commission to one of his suffragans to administer the vacant see, and prepare, within a limited time, the future election. The right of voting was vested in the inferior clergy, who were best qualified to judge of the merit of the candidates; in the senators or nobles of the city, all those who were distinguished by their rank or property; and finally in the whole body of the people who, on the appointed day, flocked in multitudes from the most remote parts of the diocese, and sometimes silenced by their tumultuous acclamations, the voice of reason and the laws of discipline. These acclamations might accidentally fix on the head of the most deserving competitor; of some ancient presbyter, some holy monk, or some layman, conspicuous for his zeal and piety.
"But the episcopal chair was solicited, especially in the great and opulent cities of the empire, as a temporal rather than as a spiritual dignity. The interested views, the selfish and angry passions, the arts of perfidy and dissimulation, the secret corruption, the open and even bloody violence which had formerly disgraced the freedom of election in the commonwealths of Greece and Rome, too often influenced the choice of the successors of the apostles. While one of the candidates boasted the honors of his family, a second allured his judges by the delicacies of a plentiful table, and a third, more guilty than his rivals, offered to share the plunder of the church among the accomplices of his sacrilegious hopes." -- Gibbon.14
The offices of the church, and especially the bishopric, thus became virtually political, and were made subject to all the strife of political methods. As the logical result, the political schemers, the dishonest men, the men of violent and selfish dispositions, pushed themselves to the front in every place; and those who might have given a safe direction to public affairs, were crowded to the rear, and in fact completely shut out of office by the very violence of those who would have office at any cost.
Thus by the very workings of the wicked elements which had been brought into the church by the political methods of Constantine and the bishops, genuine Christianity was separated from this whole Church and State system, as it had been before from the pagan system. The genuine Christians, who loved the quiet and the peace which belong with the Christian profession, were reproached by the formal, hypocritical, political religionists who represented both the Church and the State, or rather the Church and the State in one, -- the real Christians were reproached by these with being "righteous overmuch."
"It was natural, however, that the bad element, which had outwardly assumed the Christian garb, should push itself more prominently to notice in public life. Hence it was more sure to attract the common gaze, while the genuinely Christian temper loved retirement, and created less sensation."
"It was natural, however, that the bad element, which had outwardly assumed the Christian garb, should push itself more prominently to notice in public life. Hence it was more sure to attract the common gaze, while the genuinely Christian temper loved retirement, and created less sensation."
"At the present time, the relation of vital Christianity to the Christianity of mere form, resembled that which, in the preceding period, existed between the Christianity of those to whom religion was a serious concern, and paganism, which constituted the prevailing rule of life. As in the earlier times, the life of genuine Christians had stood out in strong contrast with the life of the pagan world, so now the life of such as were Christians not merely by outward profession, but also in the temper of their hearts, presented a strong contrast with the careless and abandoned life of the ordinary nominal Christians. By these later, the others . . . were regarded in the same light as, in earlier times, the Christians had been regarded by the pagans. They were also reproached by these nominal Christians, just as the Christians generally had been taunted before by the pagans, with seeking to be righteous overmuch." -- Neander.15
In the episcopal elections, "Sometimes the people acted under outside considerations and the management of demagogues, and demanded unworthy or ignorant men for the highest offices. Thus there were frequent disturbances and collisions, and even bloody conflicts, as in the election of Damasus in Rome. In short all the selfish passions and corrupting influences which had spoiled the freedom of the popular political elections in the Grecian and Roman republics, and which appear also in the republics of modern times, intruded upon the elections of the church. And the clergy likewise often suffered themselves to be guided by impure motives." -- Schaff.16
It was often the case that a man who had never been baptized, and was not even a member of the church, would be elected a bishop, and hurried through the minor offices to this position. Such was the case with Ambrose, bishop of Milan, in A. D. 374, and Nectarius, bishop of Constantinople, in 381, and many others. In the contention for the bishopric, there was as much political intrigue, strife, contention, and even bloodshed, as there had formerly been for the office of consul in the republic in the days of Pompey and Caesar.
It often happened that men of fairly good character were compelled to step aside and allow low characters to be elected to office, for fear they would cause more mischief, tumult, and riot if they were not elected than if they were. Instances actually occurred, and are recorded by Gregory Nazianzen, in which certain men who were not members of the church at all, were elected to the bishopric in opposition to others who had every churchly qualification for the office, because "they had the worst men in the city on their side."17 And Chrysostom says that "many are elected on account of their badness, to prevent the mischief they would otherwise do."18 Such characters as these elected to office by such characters as those, and the office representing such authority as that did, -- nothing but evil of the worst kind could accrue either to the civil government or to society at large.
More than this, as the men thus elected were the dispensers of doctrine and the interpreters of Scripture in all points both religious and civil; and as they owed their position to those who elected them, it was only the natural consequence that they adapted their interpretations to the character and wishes of those who had placed them in their positions. For "when once a political aspirant has bidden with the multitude for power, and still depends on their pleasure for effective support, it is no easy thing to refuse their wishes, or hold back from their demands." -- Draper.19
Nectarius, who has been already mentioned after he had been taken from the praetorship and made bishop by such a method of election as the above -- elected bishop of Constantinople before he had been baptized -- wished to ordain his physician as one of his own deacons. The physician declined on the ground that he was not morally fit for the office. Nectarius endeavored to persuade him by saying, "Did not I, who am now a priest, formerly live much more immorally than thou, as thou thyself well knowest, since thou wast often an accomplice of my many iniquities?" -- Schaff.20 -- The physician still refused, but for a reason which was scarcely more honorable than that by which he was urged. The reason was that although he had been baptized, he had continued to practice his iniquities, while Nectarius had quit his when he was baptized.
The bishops'' assumption of authority over the civil jurisprudence did not allow itself to be limited to the inferior magistrates. It asserted authority over the jurisdiction of the emperor himself. "In Ambrose the sacerdotal character assumed a dignity and an influence as yet unknown; it first began to confront the throne, not only on terms of equality, but of superior authority, and to exercise a spiritual dictatorship over the supreme magistrate. The resistance of Athanasius to the imperial authority had been firm but deferential, passive rather than aggressive. In his public addresses he had respected the majesty of the empire; at all events, the hierarchy of that period only questioned the authority of the sovereign in matters of faith. But in Ambrose the episcopal power acknowledged no limits to its moral dominion, and admitted no distinction of persons." -- Milman.21
As the Church and the State were identical, and as whoever refused to submit to the dictates of the bishopric was excommunicated from the church, this meant that the only effect of disobedience to the bishop was to become an outcast in society, if not an outlaw in the State. And more than this, in the state of abject superstition which now prevailed, excommunication from the church was supposed to mean consignment to perdition only. "The hierarchical power, from exemplary, persuasive, amiable, was now authoritative, commanding, awful. When Christianity became the most powerful religion, when it became the religion of the many, of the emperor, of the State, the convert or the hereditary Christian had no strong pagan party to receive him back into its bosom when outcast from the church. If he ceased to believe, he no longer dared cease to obey. No course remained but prostrate submission, or the endurance
of any penitential duty which might be enforced upon him." -- Milman.22
When the alliance was made between the bishops and Constantine, it was proposed that the jurisdiction of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities should remain separate, as being two arms of the same responsible body. This was shown in that saying of Constantine in which he represented himself as a "bishop of externals" of the church, that which pertained more definitely to its connection with civil society and conduct; while the regular bishops were bishops of the internal, or those things pertaining to the sacraments, ordination, etc. "Constantine . . . was the first representative of the imposing idea of a Christian theocracy, or of a system of policy which assumes all subjects to be Christians, connects civil and religious rights, and regards Church and State as the two arms of one and the same divine government on earth. This idea was more fully developed by his successors, it animated the whole Middle Age, and is yet working under various forms in these latest times." -- Schaff.23
To those who conceived it, this theory might have appeared well enough, and simply in theory it might have been imagined that it could be made to work; but when it came to be put into practice, the all-important question was, Where was the line which defined the exact limits between the jurisdiction of the magistrate and that of the bishop? between the authority of the Church and that of the State? The State was now a theocracy. The government was held to be moral, a government of God; the Bible the supreme code of morals, was the code of the government; there was no such thing as civil government -- all was moral. But the subject of morals is involved in every action, yea, in every thought of man. The State then being allowed to be moral, it was inevitable that the church, being the arbiter of morals and the dispenser and interpreter of the code regulating moral action, would interpose in all questions of human conduct, and spread her dominion over the whole field of human action.
"In ecclesiastical affairs, strictly so called, the supremacy of the Christian magistracy, it has been said, was admitted. They were the legislators of discipline, order, and doctrine. The festivals, the fasts, the usages, and canons of the church, the government of the clergy, were in their exclusive power. The decrees of particular synods and councils possessed undisputed authority, as far as their sphere extended. General councils were held binding on the whole church. But it was far more easy to define that which did belong to the province of the church than that which did not. Religion asserts its authority, and endeavors to extend its influence over the whole sphere of moral action, which is, in fact, over the whole of human life, its habits, manners, conduct.
"Christianity, as the most profound moral religion, exacted the most complete and universal obedience; and, as the acknowledged teachers and guardians of Christianity, the clergy continued to draw within their sphere every part of human life in which man is actuated by moral or religious motives. The moral authority, therefore, of the religion, and consequently of the clergy, might appear legitimately to extend over every transaction of life, from the legislature of the sovereign, which ought, in a Christian king, to be guided by Christian motive, to the domestic duties of the peasant, which ought to be fulfilled on the principle of Christian love. . . .
"But there was another prolific source of difference. The clergy, in one sense, from being the representative body, had begun to consider themselves the church; but, in another and more legitimate sense, the State, when Christian, as comprehending all the Christians of the empire, became the Church. Which was the legislative body, -- the whole community of Christians? or the Christian aristocracy, who were in one sense the admitted rulers? -- Milman.24
To overstep every limit and break down every barrier that seemed in theory to be set between the civil and ecclesiastical powers, was the only consequence that could result from such a union. And when it was attempted to put the theory into practice, every step taken in any direction only served to demonstrate that which the history everywhere shows, that "the apparent identification of the State and Church by the adoption of Christianity as the religion of the empire, altogether confounded the limits of ecclesiastical and temporal jurisdiction." -- Milman.25
The State, as a body distinct from the Church, was gone. As a distinct system of law and government the State was destroyed, and its machinery existed only as the tool of the Church to accomplish her arbitrary will and to enforce her despotic decrees.
1 [Page 484] "History of Latin Christianity," book i, chap. ii, par. 1.
2 [Page 485] "History of Christianity," book iii, chap. iii, par. 1.
3 [Page 485] "History of the Christian Church," Vol. iii, section 55, par. 1, note.
4 [Page 486] "History of the Popes," Damasus, par. 8.
5 [Page 487] "Ecclesiastical History," book i, chap. ix, par. 2.
6 [Page 487] "History of Christianity," book iv, chap. 1, par. 49.
7 [Page 487] "History of the Christian Religion and Church," Vol. ii, Section Second, part i, div. i, par. 12.
8 [Page 488] "History of the Christian Church," Vol, iii, section 16, par. 5.
9 [Page 488] Neander, "History of the Christian Religion," Vol. ii, Section Second, part i, div. i, par. 14; and the canon itself in Hefele''s "History of the Church Councils."
10 [Page 489] "History of Christianity," book iv, chap. v, par. 17.
11 [Page 489] See Schaff, "History of the Christian Church," Vol, iii, section 175.
12 [Page 489] Neander, "History of the Christian Religion," Vol. ii, Section Second, part i, div. i, par. 14.
13 [Page 490] Id., par. 17, note.
14 [Page 491] "Decline and Fall," chap. xx, par. 22.
15 [Page 493] "History of the Christian Religion," Vol. ii, Section Third, part i, div. i, par. 5, 6.
16 [Page 493] "History of the Christian Church," Vol. iii, section 49, par. 2.
17 [Page 494] Neander''s "History of the Christian Religion," Vol. ii, Section Second, part i, div. ii, par. 9, note.
18 [Page 494] Schaff''s "History of the Christian Church," Vol. iii, section 49 par. 2, note 5.
19 [Page 494] "Intellectual Development of Europe," Vol. i, chap. x, par. 6.
20 [Page 494] "History of the Christian Church," Vol. iii, section 59, par. 2.
21 [Page 495] "History of Christianity," book iii, chap. x, par. 2.
22 [Page 496] Id., book iv, chap. i, par. 35.
23 [Page 496] "History of the Christian Church," Vol. iii, section 2, par. 3.
24 [Page 497] "History of Christianity, book iv, chap. i, par. 53-56.
25 [Page 498] "History of Latin Christianity," book ii, chap. iii, par. 40.