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and while any reasonable prospect still existed, of those means availing to produce the desired effect-the restoration of the faith, the purity, and the order of the society. The only instance, in which no discretion appears to have been left to Christians with regard to separation from church, is that of the great apostasy—the spiritual Babylon—when she had filled up the measure of her iniquities, being drunken with the blood of the saints, and of the martyrs of Jesus ;' so as to call forth from heaven that awful command : • Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.''
The first separations, from the primitive church, on the grand scale, of which we have any account, neither arose from disorders which might be remedied by discipline ; nor in consequence of diversity in rites; nor through the changes which took place in church-government;--great as these changes were—from the associate bishops of Ephesus and Philippi, 3 in the apostolic age; and the leading pastor-bishop, or primus inter pares, of the second century, whose diocese was his con1 Rev. xvii. 6. xviii. 4.
Or, as literally rendered into Saxon, in our version, overseers. Acts xx. 28. Philipp. i. 1.
gregation—to the hierarchs, and metropolitans of the third.
It would seem, we must allow, but an ill augury for denominational distinctions, that the first bodies of professed adherents to the religion of Christ, who bore any other name beside that of • Christians,' were corrupters of the gospel. Such were the Gnostic and Ebionite heretics; who fatally marred the purity of the truth, by the false philosophy of the Gentiles; or by a mixture of the Jewish kabbalah, and extreme views of the efficacy of the Mosaic law, with deeply erroneous notions respecting the person of Christ. The subsequent extensive separations, or 'schisms' of the Novatians and the Donatists, however, were not attended with any departure from the christian doctrine ; but related to the grand controversy respecting the manner of dealing with the · Lapsed, and to the question—what constitutes the idea of a true church?
The separation which took its name from Novatian, at Rome, most probably originated in the honest design of restoring the discipline of the church, which he regarded as decayed; and not, as his enemies alleged, in any oblique, unworthy views, towards ecclesiastical elevation. It is not unlikely that Novatian was much calumniated.*
See Neander's Kirchengeschichte.
On the other hand, however, it cannot be doubted, that he was disposed to carry his ideas on the subject of purity of communion, to an austere, uncharitable, and unscriptural excess. But though he was accused by some, of heresy, as well as of schism; it does not appear that he,or his followers, held any opinions that were contrary to the general faith of the gospel; or that, judging from their morals, the name Cathari, or Puritans, which the Novatians adopted, was not a perfectly sincere expression of their good wishes for the church. A living writer remarks, that, though they were stigmatized both as schismatics and heretics, they may perhaps be more properly considered as the earliest body of ecclesiastical reformers. . . This endeavour to revive the spotless moral purity of the primitive faith, was found inconsistent with the corruptions even of that early age : it was regarded with suspicion by the leading prelates, as a vain and visionary scheme; and these rigid principles, which had characterized and sanctified the Church, in the first century, were abandoned to the profession of schismatic sectaries, in the third.'* Milner takes less favourable views of the Novatians; chiefly fixing his attention on the
* A History of the Church; by the Rev. G. Waddington, M.A. Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Prebendary of Chichester. 1833. p. 70.
circumstance, that 'the unity of the church was now broken for the first time;' and on the “irregular manner in which Novatian contrived to be elected bishop of Rome, in opposition to Cornelius ;' though the fact appears to have really been, that his election was contrary to his own will. ' Thus was formed,' adds Milner, ‘ the first body of Christians, who, in modern language, may be called Dissenters; that is, men who separate from the general church, not on the grounds of doctrine, but of discipline.'
The Donatian Schism appears to have been more strongly marked, in its origin, by personal feelings; as it broke forth on occasion of a dispute, respecting the rights and privileges of the bishops of Numidia, which was mixed up with the Donatian views of discipline. Whatever may have been the errors of their opponents, the Donatists carried their sectarianism so far, as to reject all communion with the African churches, and with all others who did not do the same; declaring that their own community contained the only “true churches' of Christ; that all the rites and ordinances of other Christians were null and void; and that none were to be received, but those who
See the account of Novatian, in Neander's Kirchengeschichte. Bd. i.
? Milner's History, 1812. Vol. I. pp. 372, 373.
submitted to be re-baptized; and, if ministers, either to be re-ordained, or to relinquish the sacred function. The Donatists, in their quarrel with Cæcilianus, bishop of Carthage, appealed to the emperor Constantine :thus exhibiting the first public example of the humiliating spectacle, of professing Christians calling the civil power into the church, to settle questions of discipline, which they themselves were unable, or unwilling, to determine by the laws of Christ! The consequences were- severe political measures, followed by armed resistance, and bloody tumults; which, though they were allayed by Constantine’s adoption of a milder and wiser policy, in repealing certain laws which had been enacted against the Donatists,--led, in the reign of his successor Constans, to scenes of persecution and massacre, which did not cease during thirteen years. Such was one of the earliest instances of the mischievous effects which result from summoning human passions, and the secular power, into the field of religious controversy!
But much as the separations which have taken place among orthodox Christians, have, unhappily, been blended with strife and faction; it will scarcely be contended that a breach of charity must necessarily arise from their differences of opinion. If the all-wise Head of the Church has been pleased to leave many points, so treated of