Opinions of authors of the diocese of Italy, in the fourth century, concerning, matters of faith and worship.


FORASMUCH as the Doctors of the Roman Church generally acknowledge, that the Church of this diocese continued pure until the fourth century, and that it enjoyed the communion of the Pope of Rome; it will not be needful particularly to examine, what was the faith of that diocese about the articles which the Church of Rome rejects or receives in common with Protestants: our business, to speak properly, being only to inquire concerning those articles and ways of worship, which the Church of Rome considers as making a part of their religion, and which the Protestants reject, as being more proper to corrupt, than perfect it. If it be then certain and evident, that the believers of that diocese were either altogether ignorant of, or formally rejected those articles of faith, and that worship, which the Church of Rome prescribes to its people, and which she imposeth on the rest of the world under pain of damnation; it will most evidently appear by this, that these believers were not of the Romish religion, but that, in respect of their faith and worship, they were true Protestants.

And of this it is easy to convince an unprejudiced reader, by examining, century after century, the writings of the ecclesiastical authors of that diocese. I begin with St. Ambrose, who died anno 397, after having possessed the see of Milan twenty-three years. This great man (whose eulogy is set down by Cassiodore in three words, when he calls him virtutum Episcopum, arcera fidei, oratorera cathoticum; “the Bishop of virtues, the castle of faith, the catholic orator”) can inform us, whether or no his diocese embraced those maxims which the Protestants, in conformity with the Waldenses, do condemn in the Church of Rome.

If we desire to know what he believed concerning the fulness and sufficiency of the Scripture, he maintains, that there we are to learn that which makes the object of our faith; because therein the Father, the Son, the Prophets, and the Apostles, satisfy and answer the questions of believers. Lib. 1. de Fide, ad Gratian. e. 4.

Would you know, according to what standard he believed the versions of the Scripture ought to be examined? He will answer you, that it must be by the original. Lib. 2. de Spir. S. cap. 6. et de Incarnat. cap. 8. If the Scripture seems any where obscure, what is to be done in this case, according to his judgment? We are to compare the several passages, et aperietur, saith he, non ab alio, sed a Dei verbo; “and it shall be opened to thee, not from another, but from the word of God,” in Psalm 118. Serm. 8.

See here one of his maxims concerning what is maintained at this day about the succession of the Bishop of Rome to the rights of St. Peter: “Those who have not the faith of Peter, neither can they pretend to the inheritance of Peter” lib 1. de Poe—nit. c. 6. And indeed how could he have spoke otherwise, after the apostasy of Liberius to the heresy of the Arians? Neither do we find him acknowledging any other rock of the Church besides Jesus Christ, or other foundation of the Church but the true faith; for so he expresseth himself in Luc. 1. c. 9. & lib. 5. Epist. 32.

He considers the justification of a sinner as consisting in the remission of sins. De dacob, et Vita beata, lib. 1. c. 6. and in other places. He leaves no room for the merit of works, and maintains, that all our glory consists in the remission of our offenses. De Bono Mortis, c. 2. He maintains, that the alone sufferings of Jesus Christ are the means of our justification, without any concurrence of our own good works: Ecce Agnus Dei, qui tollit peccata mundi, et ideo, emo glorietur in operibus, quia nemo factis suis justificabitur.

“Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sins of the world, and therefore let no man glory in his works, because no man shall be justified by his own doings.” Epist. 71. lib. 9

Would you know, whether St. Ambrose did believe the seven sacraments, as does the Church of Rome? You need only call to mind, that St. Augustin, who had been his disciple, owned only two, viz. Baptism and the Supper of the Lord.

He took care to distinguish that which is visibly done, from that which is invisibly celebrated: so far was he from tying grace to the sacraments themselves, as the Church of Rome does. Epist. 84. et de Spiritu Sancto, lib.3, cap. 11.

Let any one judge, whether he did believe the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, when he wrote these words, in Luc. lib. 10. c. 24. Seek those things which are on high, where Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God? And lest we should believe, that it is rather the duty of the eyes, than of the soul, he here speaks of, he adds, “Savor the things that are on high, and not those that are on the earth.” So then, it is not on the earth, nor in the earth, nor according to the flesh, that we must seek him, if we would find him. Lastly, Stephen did not look for Christ upon earth; Stephen touched him, because he sought him in heaven. Jesus Christ is present, according to the manner of our seeking him.

It is well known, that in his time the Church communicated under two kinds: besides, he overthrows the possibility of a. body existing in more places at once: he maintains, that the Gospel has only the image, and not the truth; and in several places he explodes the carnal manducation, which the Church of Rome admits of.

This makes it very evident, that he knew nothing of the sacrifice of the Mass: indeed, he formally opposes the same, and maintains, lib. 1. de Offic. c. 41. that since his passion, he offers up himself only by way of representation, as being really and in truth in heaven, where, as our advocate, he intercedes for us.

If we read the death of St. Ambrose, related by Paulinus in his Life, we shall find nothing there, either of confession, or of adoration of the Eucharist, when he received it, or of extreme unction practiced there, no more than at the death of a true Protestant.

Would we know his thoughts concerning the religious worship of creatures? He is the author of this maxim, That we may not serve any creature; a foundation to prove that Jesus Christ is God, because the Scripture teaches us, that we ought to worship him. De Fide, ad Gratian. lib. 1. c. 7. And it is with respect to the same that he proves, that the Holy Ghost is God, because he has temples. De Spit. Sancto, lib. ,3. c. 13. As to the use of images in religious worship, see how eloquently he expresses himself, De Fuga Seculi, c. 5.

“Holy Rachel hid the images, that is to say, the Church or wisdom because the Church does not own the vain representations and figures of images.”

He tells you, that Helen worshipped Jesus Christ, and not the wood of his cross, which she had found; for that is a Pagan error, and a vanity of ungodly men. Conc. de Obitu Theodosii. He maintains, that it is pure Paganism to worship stones, and to implore the assistance of images, that have no understanding. Lib. 1. de Offic. c. 26.

Do we suppose he attributed to ministers the power of pardoning sins? We may undeceive ourselves, by hearing him deliver himself like a Protestant, thus:

“Men afford their ministry for the remission of sins, but do not exercise the right of any power; they pray, but God pardons.” L. 3. de Spir. Sancto, c. 18. He asserts, that the ministry may be in the hands of heretics, and this without corrupting the faith of the people, the ears of the people being more wise than the mouth of the preachers; as happened at the time when Arianism seemed to prevail. In Psalm. cxviii. Serm. 17.

He sets down for a certain maxim, that we are bound to separate ourselves from a Church that rejects the faith, and does not possess the foundation of the preaching of the Apostles. Lib. 6. in Lucam, c. 9.

We may see, that he was wholly estranged from that maxim which the Papists have maintained these last six hundred years, that the Church hath the power of deposing a prince who is turned heretic; for he maintains, that the Church has no other. arms but prayers and remonstrances, or at the most excommunications.

I pass on to Philastrius Bishop of Brescia, contemporary with St. Ambrose, from whose writings we may gather these following particulars. He did not believe that the Church of Rome could authorize the Canon of Scripture, as the Gloss maintains; for he asserts, that the Apostles and their successors determined the number of the canonical books, which only ought to be read in the Church. Haer. 40.

It is plain, he did not believe the Church of Rome to be exempt from error, if he minded what he said; because, Haeres. 41. he rejects as heretical the opinion of those who held the Epistle to the Hebrews to have been writ by Barnabas, by Clemens Romanus, or by St. Luke, which had given occasion to make the authority thereof suspected and doubtful in the Roman Church, which rejected the same. As we may see by the testimony of St. Jerome.

He did not believe, that it belonged only to the Church of Rome to condemn heresies, which power she arrogates to herself at this day; because he observes, concerning several heresies, that the particular Bishops or councils of the diocese, where the heresy first appeared, had right to condemn them.

So little did he think, that it was the right of the Church of Rome only to canonize the versions of Scripture by her authority, that he fixeth the brand of heresy upon the opinion of those who did not receive the version of the Septuagint; whereas it was the only version the Church admitted of in his time. Haeres. 89, 90. One may see by this, whether he was like to have rejected the same upon the Pope’s determination.

We cannot find that he believed transubstantiation; for giving an account of the heresy of the Artotyrites, who celebrated the Eucharist with bread and cheese, he doth not, to condemn them, make use of the reasons which a transubstantiator might have alleged, Haeres. 27. And we ought to make the same reflection on the 30th heresy of the Aquarii, who celebrated the Eucharist with water only, which at least they might defend by way of concomitance; but might, on the other hand, be more strongly attacked, by the idolatry which would have been committed by adoring the water in the Sacrament.

He would never have employed, in defense of the real presence, the Acts of St. Andrew, which they nowadays object to us, to establish the carnal presence of Jesus Christ; forasmuch as he maintains, Haeres. 40. that those Acts had been feigned by the Manichees.

We find not, when he speaks of Aetius, Haeres. that he looked upon his opinion against prayers for the dead to be an heresy. It is evident he did not approve of the principles of idol-worshippers, because he calls their opinion an heresy, who thought that man was the image of God, according to his body, and not according to his soul. Haeres. 49.

It appears from Haeres. 53. that he did not admit of the Romish divinity concerning the punishments, properly so called, which God, say they, makes his children to suffer during the course of this life.

He lays it down for a rule, Haeres. 60, 61. that the Christian faith is more ancient than the Jewish; which can no longer now be maintained, since the Church of Rome has been pleased to add so many articles to the Creed, and introduced into its worship so many practices contrary to the law of God.

He declares expressly, that the sacrifice of the Church is a sacrifice of bread in mysterium Christi, to be a mystery of Jesus Christ. Haeres. 96. He was so sensible, with the Protestants, that the children of believers have a right to the covenant, that he maintains, Haeres. 69. that formerly the patriarchs, judges, and other believers, were sanctified in their mothers belly. A doctrine which has so extremely disgusted the Romish censors, that they thought fit to guard the margin with a Caute lege.

He asserts, Haeres. 74. that he who called upon the Father, before Christ’s coming in the flesh, was thereby freed from the condemnation of the wicked; which does not seem to agree very well with the Popish doctrine of a Limbus Patrum; or else it must be owned, that the Limbus must take place as well under the New Testament, as under the Old: because he makes use of the words of Jesus Christ, or, at least, makes a plain allusion to them.

He overthrows the doctrine of merit, in maintaining, Haeres. 77. that it is by the sole mercy of Jesus Christ we are saved, non virtute et justitia condigna, “not by any condign virtue and righteousness of our own.”

It does not appear that he owned a Purgatory, such as the Romanists do, because, Haeres. 73. he saith, that the soul of man, whether good or bad, whether godly or ungodly, is conducted by an angel to its appointed place, there to receive according to what he has done in this life. It is evident from the Epistle of St. Gaudentius to Benevolus, that he believed a fire, through which the most righteous, even the Apostles and blessed Virgin herself, were to pass, at the end of the world: which opinion has been since rejected in the west.

It appears from Haeres. 97. that the number of fasts was very small in his time; he takes notice only of four, that of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, and Whitsuntide, besides that of Lent; the rest were left to the devotion of believers: and there is great probability, that these fasts were only observed on the eves before the Communion.

True it is, that he speaks of a local descent of the soul of our Savior Jesus Christ into hell, Haeres. 22. but in Haeres. 73. he terms their opinion an heresy, who maintain, that after his death he descended into hell, and preached the Gospel, that the souls there receiving the same might be saved: which was the opinion of most of the ancients, both before and after him. Whence we may judge, whether this article, about which so much pains has been taken to explain it in a good sense, was a doctrine which the Apostles had left in the Church; or whether it was not drawn from some passages of Scripture, ill understood in the second century, as we assert, because the Fathers did not at all times, in all places, and with all agree therein; which is the character of a doctrine truly catholic, according to the famous maxim of Vincentius Lirinensis.

And forasmuch as St. Gaudentius succeeded Philastrius, whom he calls a most apostolical man, it is no wonder to find him so closely following his steps; for we find him every where of the same opinion with St. Gaudentius in the points he treats of, as I have already made it appear from his Epistle to Benevolus; for, writing to him a consolatory letter, upon occasion of his sickness, he treats the matter altogether like a Protestant, without mingling any Popish notions therewith, such as are the considering Of the afflictions of believers as punishments and satisfactions God exacts from them as a judge; as may be seen in that Epistle. It is true, that amongst other things he observes, that they serve also to lessen the force of the purgative fire of the last judgment. But I have showed what he meant by that; and the same is acknowledged by the learned of the Roman Church. He lays down two things in the same Epistle; the one is, that the bosom of Abraham signifies eternal life, which does no service to the Popish polemical writers; the other is, that neither angels nor men know the secrets of conscience, that being the privilege of God only; which maxim wholly overthrows the invocation of angels, as well as the authority the priests arrogate to themselves of pardoning sins, as judges. But we will pass on to his Sermons, and instance in some other of his opinions.

He tells us plainly in his first sermon, that we shall not eat the true manna, which is Jesus Christ, till after the resurrection in heaven, where we shall drink of the Rock, which is Jesus Christ, cleaving to the feet of that immaculate Lamb. Is this the: language of a man that believes the carnal presence?

The whole of his second sermon is spent in explaining the doctrine of the Eucharist, where at the first he lays down, that the figure is not the truth, but an imitation of it. He saith, Jesus Christ has suffered death for all men, and that he feeds them in all the Churches: but how? In mysterio panis et vini rescit immolatus, vivifcat creditus;

“He refresheth, being offered up in the mystery of bread and wine; and quickens, being believed on:” so that he is only offered up in figure, and not truly, and only quickens those that believe his word. And he explains himself, by declaring, that the doctrine of Jesus Christ is the flesh of that immaculate Lamb, the whole body of the Scriptures containing the Son of God. He explains that phrase, to receive the body of the Son of God, by receiving with the mouth the mystery of the body and blood of the Lord. He maintains, that it was of the consecrated bread that Jesus Christ said, This is my body; which, according to the doctors of Rome, overthrows transubstantiation. Lastly, he maintains, that Jesus Christ made choice of the bread and wine, to make them the sacraments of his body and blood, that there might be no blood in this new sacrifice, and to figure the body of the Church, which is composed of many believers, as the bread is made up of many grains. Can any thing be said more contrary to the maxims of the Church of Rome? In his third sermon he asserts, that the Church resembles the moon, which increases in times of peace, and decreaseth in times of persecution; that she decreaseth with respect to her fullness, but not with respect to her brightness. He seems after her fulness, to which she was arrived, to foresee her wane and decrease, which he had already had a view of, during the reign of Arianism.


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