Reflections upon some practices of the Churches of the diocese of Italy.
WHAT I have already represented in the foregoing chapters makes it evident, as far as can be desired, that the diocese of Italy, in faith as well as worship, had the purity necessary to constitute a true Christian Church. I own that we find in it some errors and some superstitions; the account I have already given being a full proof thereof. But I have farther to observe,
First, That their Liturgy contains nothing that favors these errors or superstitions; now we know, that we ought to judge of a Church by the public writings of religion.
Secondly, That though several private men, or even some of the Clergy, were involved in these errors or superstitions, this must not be made use of to the prejudice of the whole diocese.
Thirdly, We find that at that very time the ablest and learnedest men amongst them did vigorously set themselves against these errors and these superstitions of a blind people and an ignorant Clergy.
These general remarks ought in particular to be applied to these following articles.
The first is, Prayer for the Dead.
2. Doting on the relies of saints.
3. The custom of praying to saints.
4. The too rigorous injunction of fasts, fixed to certain days.
5. The too great esteem they had of the celibacy imposed upon Ecclesiastics.
These are the most ancient of their superstitions. We find also, that in process of time the use of images, and some gross notions of the carnal presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament, were introduced into this diocese.
I own that prayer for the dead was used in this diocese even before the fourth century; but withal I find it was practiced there under another notion than it is in the Church of Rome, which since Gregory I. has founded the belief of it wholly upon the doctrine of purgatory, is unknown to all the Churches of the East.
First, They prayed to God in general, that he would be pleased to make those partakers of the resurrection whom he had taken out of this world, which we approve of, and which we do as often, as by the kingdom of God, the coming of which we pray for, we understand the kingdom of glory, which is to destroy death, the last enemy of believers.
Secondly, They begged of God another kind of resurrection, which they conceived that God had promised to some believers, who particularly had the privilege of being admitted into the kingdom of Jesus Christ upon earth. This was nothing else but a consequence of the opinion of the most ancient Christians concerning the millennium.
Thirdly, They joined to this, the notion of the deliverance from the fire of the last judgment, through which many of the ancients were of opinion that all believers, the blessed Virgin and Apostles not excepted, were to pass.
The state of souls before the resurrection being very uncertain in ancient times, and the Fathers taking unto themselves the liberty to philosophize upon that subject, in a very different manner, as the learned of the Romish Church do confess: these things have given occasion to the rise of prayers for the dead; and though their opinions in this matter have been very different, yet they are all of them furnished with essential marks to distinguish them from those of the Church of Rome, in respect of their opinions; as those of the Church of Rome differ much in regard of their opinions from the words of the ancients which they make use of on this occasion, and which are, for the most part, of a considerable antiquity.
I own likewise, that the veneration of relics appeared in this diocese from before the end of the fourth century, and since that, by little and little, got strength there, as it is customary for human inventions to attain to their full growth by degrees. The piety of the primitive Christians contented themselves with burying the bodies of believers and martyrs, and at their interment solemnly blessed God that he had taken them to his peace and refreshment. When the Church found themselves under persecution, they met together in the churchyards, or burying-places which gave occasion to the Pastors to discourse to the faithful, concerning the constancy of the martyrs: afterwards they celebrated the Eucharist upon their very tombs: and some time after, towards the end of the fourth century, they brought in a custom, not to consecrate any church, without putting first some relies of martyrs under the altar. This is what we find was practiced by St. Ambrose, with so much pomp, in reference to the relics of St. Gervasius and St. Pro-tasius, and which he believed founded upon a revelation. In process of time, they took care to fill the churches with the bodies of martyrs, those of whom no relics were to be found being in a manner quite forgot. They followed herein a Pagan opinion, which supposeth the souls of the deceased to be tied to their graves. They took occasion to consider the prayers made to God in the presence of these tombs, as being made in the communion of the martyrs there present. They wished that these believers, being delivered from temptations, might intercede, together with them, by an act of their first charity: and so, by little and little, they began to address their prayers to them themselves. Matters stood thus, when the famous Bishop of Turin set himself against these innovations with a great deal of vigor and zeal, founded upon the doctrine of Scripture, and upon the opinions of St. Austin.
As for what concerns their fasts, I do own, that besides that fast which was anciently observed before Easter, from the fourth century, there have been some other fasts fixed to certain days, as were those that were kept on the same account with the former, for the solemn Baptism of the Catechumeni; those which accompanied the ordination of the Ministers of the Church, and some others. But, first, we are to observe, that the Church in those times did not make a meritorious and satisfactory work of fasting, as it has been made some ages since. Secondly, We cannot deny but that they were kept then in good earnest, they consisting in a total abstinence from eating or drinking; whereas at present they consist only in a distinction of meats. Thirdly, That after all that can be said, the Church then considered fasting only as an indifferent action, which was to be backed and seconded by the motion of a true contrition and humility, without which it could not be well pleasing to God; which is quite contrary to what has been conceived of it in these later times.
We cannot deny, but that a single state was observed by the Clergy of Milan, in the time of St. Ambrose: this appears from his first Book of Offices, chap. 50, where he expressly tells us, that those to whom he speaks had received Orders, being, alieni ab ipso consortio conjugali, “strangers to conjugal fellowship.” But we are to take notice, first, that in the same place he owns, that in most other places of less renown, the Priests and Bishops were married, and had children. Secondly, that they maintained this custom in imitation of the Priests under the law, who were not bound to forbear the company of their wives, save only during the time of their ministry. Thirdly, That they maintained, that the people of old were also obliged to abstain from their wives for some few days, in order to their partaking of the sacrifices. The words of St. Ambrose on this occasion are these: Ouod eo non praeterii, fuia in plerisque abditioribus locis, cure mi-nisterium gererent, vel etiam sacerdotium, flios susceperunt, et id tanquam usu veteri defndunt, quando per intervalla dierum sacrifcium offerebatur: et tamen castigabatur etiam populus per biduum vel triduum, ut ad sacrifeturn purus accederet, ut in Feteri Testamento leglinus, et lavabat vestimenta sua. Si in Sgura tanta observantia, quanta in veritate,
“Which, therefore I did not pass by, because in more retired places, those that discharged the office of Levites or Priests did beget children; and this they maintain from what was in use under the old law, when they offered sacrifices with some intervening distance of time; and yet even the people themselves were to use abstinence for two or three days, that they might with the greater purity come to the sacrifice, according as we read in the Old Testament, and to wash their garments. If so strict an observance were used in the figure, how much more in the truth itself!”
Whence it appears, first, That the greater part of the Clergy of the diocese of Milan were not bound to observe the law of celibacy, which Paphnutius had hindered the Council of Nice from imposing upon the Bishops and other ministers. Secondly, That though the Clergy of Milan lived in a single state, yet this was not by virtue of any law, but of their own choice, and without any necessity. Thirdly, That the cause of St. Ambrose’s so highly recommending the celibacy of ministers, was the high esteem he had for the single state. Fourthly, That it was a gross imposture of Petrus Damianus, to maintain, as he did before the Clergy of Milan, that St. Ambrose not being able to reduce his Clergy to a single state, had been obliged to implore the assistance of Syricius, to bring it about, and that he had declared he would follow the Church of Rome in that particular, as being his mistress. I know very well that he cites for this the book De Sacerdotali Dignitate; which he attributes to St. Ambrose, but with so little justice, that that alone is sufficient to lay open the impudence wherewith he abused the credulity of the people of Milan.
This we may clearly gather from his 82nd Epistle, written to the Church of Verceil, where alter having given the sense of the words of St. Paul, which concern the virtues of Ministers, he adds, Haec posui quae cavenda acceperim. Virtutum autem magister Apostolus est, qui cure patientia redarguendos doeeat contradicentes, qui unius uxoris virum prcipiat esse, non quo ewsortem excludat conjugii, ham hoc supra legem precepti est, sed ut conjugali castimonia server ablutionis suae grafJam. Neque irerum ut flios ereare Apostolica invitefur auctoritate, habentern enim dixit flios, non facientem.
“I have here set down what I understand ought to be avoided. Now the Apostle is a master of virtue, who teacheth, that gainsayers ought to be reproved with patience, who commands a Presbyter to be husband of one wife, not as if he would thereby exclude those that live in a single state; for that is something above the command of the law; but that in conjugal chastity he might preserve the grace received in Baptism; nor, as if thereby the Apostle would invite him by his authority to beget children, for the words of the Apostle are, having children, not begetting them.”
Which expressly proves, first, That the Bishop or Priest, who continues with his wife in the conjugal band, does not therefore cease to keep his baptismal purity. Secondly, That, according to him, the Apostle did no more deny Bishops the liberty of marrying, than he granted it to them.
It is difficult to determine what were the opinions of Servatianus and Barbatianus, of whom St. Ambrose makes mention in that 82nd Epistle. He tells us, that they came out of the monastery of Milan, whence they betook themselves to Vetceil; he accuseth them for asserting, that virginity and fasting did not deserve any greater praise than the state of marriage and the ordinary way of living. He aggravates this indictment, by accusing them of permitting fornication, and asserting it not to be inferior to the state of virginity or lawful marriage; whereupon he endeavours to prove the contrary, as being the doctrine of the Church, and of the Scripture. But in all this we may perceive something of immoderate zeal, wherewith the love of celibacy is apt to inspire those that maintain it. I will not accuse St. Ambrose for imitating the extravagance of Syricius, in his Epistle to Himerius, Bishop of Tarragon, writ in 385, where he makes use of these words of St. Paul, Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. As if all married people, were in the flesh, according to the Apostle’s meaning. But I cannot avoid observing, first, That St. Ambrose seems to have imputed to Servatianus and Barbatianus, as their true opinions, the consequences which he himself had drawn from them, this being a method which an ungoverned zeal does often put men upon, against those whom they believe to be out of the way. Secondly, I say, that it the case were otherwise, St. Ambrose would scarce have been excusable, for having acted so mildly against Servatianus and Barbatianus. How could he have done less than excommunicate them, and represent them to the Church of Verceil, as such who ought to be excommunicated, for opposing the principles of Christianity, or as those who ought to be rejected, for having been justly excommunicated at Milan. Indeed, whosoever shall be pleased to make an unprejudiced reflection upon this history, will hardly be able to persuade themselves otherwise, but that there is a great deal said only to aggravate, in this discourse of St. Ambrose; but at the same time, whatsoever he might have alleged, they will conceive, that these Monks were offended to see men begin to set too high an esteem upon the state of virginity and abstinence, and that this had obliged them to speak of them with a kind of undervaluing and indifference, and to oppose themselves against the prejudice that was then beginning to take root and be established.
I say, that this prejudice began then to be established; for we find that the Council of Turin, celebrated a little after St. Ambrose’s death, doth absolutely forbid the promoting of a married Deacon to the priestly office, or a married Priest to that of a Bishop. True it is, that it seems that this Canon was not exactly observed; for we find several examples of Priests and Bishops, who probably had passed through these first orders, their marriage proving no obstacle to their promotion.
However it be, in process of time, this rigor, which concerned only the Clergy, was slackened in this diocese, as I have made it appear. As also there happened no considerable change, till about the tenth century, when the barbarous nations having overwhelmed that diocese, as well as the greatest part of the west, the Bishops were found to be stupid enough to admit the false Decretals of the Pope, which some impostor had published as a means to overthrow the ancient discipline, and to subject the west to the Romish see. In the time of Alexander II. and Gregory VII. who could afford no better names to married Priests than that of Nicolaitans, Servatianus and Barbatianus would have been handled quite after another manner than they were by St. Ambrose; which makes it evident enough, what the opinion of the Church was at the time when this question first appeared. It is well known, that in succeeding times the Monks that had broken their vows and renounced their oath were obliged to do penance; but we find nothing like this in St. Ambrose’s time. The reason is, because a convent at that time was a matter of choice, which might be quitted without any other punishment, but the imputation of imprudence, for not having sufficiently considered fully of that kind of life, before they engaged themselves therein.
Furthermore it is good to observe, that the rashness and imprudence of those, who thus quitted this state, seemed the less pardonable, because they did not admit persons to sacred Orders that were very young, as we do now, but only men of an age sufficient to know their own constitution, and to know whether they were able to observe that kind of life which they voluntarily had taken upon them.
But what I have already observed may suffice to make it evident, that the state of religion in the diocese of Italy was not so far corrupted, but that we may own it to be a Church pure enough, and which, in respect of the most understanding of its members, and that in public too, had preserved the true faith and the true worship which the Christian religion prescribes to us.
Our business at present is to show, that this Church was independent on the power of the Pope of Rome; after which, we shall consider its separation from the Pope, when he endeavored to subject it to his authority.