Money and Mission in the Early Church

There is a lot we can learn from this document concerning mission and the priorities of the Early Church. It was like an atomic chain reaction of love and mercy that shook the empire of Rome. Could we see something like this happen once again?

 

 

Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries

 

CHAPTER 4

THE GOSPEL OF LOVE AND CHARITY248

 

Three passages may be brought forward to show the general activities which were afoot.

In the official writing sent by the Roman to the Corinthian church c. 96 A.D., there is a description of the first-rate condition of the latter up till a short time previously (1 Clem. i., ii.), a description which furnishes the pattern of what a Christian church should be, and the approximate realization of this ideal at Corinth. “Who that had stayed with you did not approve your most virtuous and steadfast faith? Who did not admire your sober and forbearing Christian piety? Who did not proclaim the splendid style of your hospitality? Who did not congratulate you on your perfect and assured knowledge? For you did everything without respect of persons; you walked by the ordinances of God, submitting to your rulers and rendering due honor to your senior men. Young persons also you charged to have a modest and grave mind; women you instructed to discharge all their tasks with a blameless, grave, and pure conscience, and to cherish a proper affection for their husbands, teaching them further to look after their households decorously, with perfect discretion. You were all lowly in mind, free from vainglory, yielding rather than claiming submission, more ready to give than to take; content with the supplies provided by God and holding by them, you carefully laid up His words in your hearts, and His sufferings were ever present to your minds. Thus a profound and unsullied peace was bestowed on all, with an insatiable craving for beneficence. . . . . Day and night you agonized for all the brotherhood, that by means of compassion and care the number of God’s elect might be saved. You were sincere, guileless, and void of malice among yourselves. Every sedition and every schism was an abomination to you. You lamented the transgressions of your neighbors and judged their shortcomings to be your own. You never rued an act of kindness, but were ready for every good work.”

Then Justin concludes the description of Christian worship in his Apology (c. lxvii.) thus: “Those who are well-to-do and 153willing, give as they choose, each as he himself purposes; the collection is then deposited with the president, who succours orphans, widows, those who are in want owing to sickness or any other cause, those who are in prison, and strangers who are on a journey.”

Finally, Tertullian (Apolog. xxxix.) observes: “Even if there does exist a sort of common fund, it is not made up of fees, as though we contracted for our worship. Each of us puts in a small amount one day a month, or whenever he pleases; but only if he pleases and if he is able, for there is no compulsion in the matter, everyone contributing of his own free will. These monies are, as it were, the deposits of piety. They are expended upon no banquets or drinking-bouts or thankless eating-houses, but on feeding and burying poor people, on behalf of boys and girls who have neither parents nor money, in support of old folk unable now to go about, as well as for people who are shipwrecked, or who may be in the mines or exiled in islands or in prison—so long as their distress is for the sake of God’s fellowship—themselves the nurslings of their confession.”

In what follows we shall discuss, so far as may be relevant to our immediate purpose:—

1. Alms in general, and their connection with the cultus and officials of the church.

2. The support of teachers and officials.

3. The support of widows and orphans.

4. The support of the sick, the infirm, and the disabled.

5. The care of prisoners and people languishing in the mines.

6. The care of poor people needing burial, and of the dead in general.

7. The care of slaves.

8. The care of those visited by great calamities.

9. The churches furnishing work, and insisting upon work.

10. The care of brethren on a journey (hospitality), and of churches in poverty or any peril.

1. Alms in general and in connection with the cultus.—Liberality was steadily enjoined upon Christians; indeed, the headquarters of this virtue were to lie within the household, and its proof was to be shown in daily life. From the apostolic counsels 154down to Cyprian’s great work de Opere et Eleemosynis, there stretches one long line of injunctions, in the course of which ever-increasing stress is laid upon the importance of alms to the religious position of the donor, and upon the prospect of a future recompense. These points are already prominent in Hermas, and in 2 Clem. we are told that “almsgiving is good as a repentance from sin; fasting is better than prayer, but almsgiving is better than either” (καλὸν ἐλεεμοσύνη ὡς μετάνοια ἁμαρτίας, κρείσσων νηστεία προσευχῆς, ἐλεεμοσύνη δὲ ἀμφοτέρων). Cyprian develops alms254 into a formal means of grace, the only one indeed which remains to a Christian after baptism; in fact he goes still further, representing alms as a spectacle which the Christian offers to God.255

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It is not our business to follow up this aspect of almsgiving, or to discuss the amount of injury thus inflicted on a practice which was meant to flow from a pure love to men. The point is that a great deal, a very great deal, of alms was given away privately throughout the Christian churches.256As we have already seen, this was well known to the heathen world.257

But so far from being satisfied with private almsgiving,258 early Christianity instituted, apparently from the first, a church fund (Tertullian’s arca), and associated charity very closely with the cultus and officials of the church. From the ample materials at our disposal, the following outline may be sketched:—Every Sunday (cp. already 1 Cor. xvi. 2), or once a month (Tertullian), 156or whenever one chose, gifts in money or kind (stips) were brought to the service and entrusted to the president, by whom they were laid on the Lord’s table and so consecrated to God.259 Hence the recipient obtained them from the hand of Gοd. “Tis God’s grace and philanthropy that support you,” wrote bishop Cornelius (Eus., H.E. vi. 43). The president decided who were to be the recipients, and how much was to be allocated to each, a business in which he had the advice of the deacons, who were expected to be as familiar as possible with the circumstances of each member, and who had the further task of distributing the various donations, partly at the close of worship, partly in the homes of the indigent. In addition to regular voluntary assessments—for, as the principle of liberty of choice was strictly maintained, we cannot otherwise describe these offerings—there were also extraordinary gifts, such as the present of 200,000 sesterces brought by Marcion when, as a Christian from Asia, he entered the Roman church about the year 139.260

Among these methods of maintenance we must also include the love-feasts, or agapæ, with which the Lord’s Supper was originally associated, but which persisted into a later age. The idea of the love-feast was that the poor got food and drink, since a common meal, to which each contributed as he was able, would unite rich and poor alike. Abuses naturally had to be corrected at an early stage (cp. 1 Cor. xi. 18 f.), and the whole affair (which was hardly a copy of the pagan feasts at the Thiasoi) never seems to have acquired any particular importance upon the whole.261

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From the very first, the president appears to have had practically an absolute control over the donations;262 but the deacons had also to handle them as executive agents. The responsibility was heavy, as was the temptation to avarice and dishonesty; hence the repeated counsel, that bishops (and deacons) were to be ἀφιλάργυροι, “no lovers of money.” It was not until a later age that certain principles came to be laid down with regard to the distribution of donations as a whole, from which no divergence was permissible.

This system of organized charity in the churches worked side by side with private benevolence—as is quite evident from the letters and writings of Cyprian. But it was inevitable that the former should gradually handicap the latter, since it wore a superior lustre of religious sacredness, and therefore, people were convinced, was more acceptable to God. Yet, in special cases, private liberality was still appealed to. One splendid instance is cited by Cyprian (Epist. lxii.), who describes how the Carthaginian churches speedily raised 100,000 sesterces (between £850 and £1000).263

In 250 A.D. the Roman church had to support about 100 clergy and 1500 poor persons. Taking the yearly cost of supporting one man at £7, 10s. (which was approximately the upkeep of one slave), we get an annual sum of £12,000. If, however (like Uhlhorn, op. cit., p. 153; Eng. trans., p. 159), we allow sixty Roman bushels of wheat per head a year at 7s. 6d., we get a total of about £4300. It is safe to say, then, that about 250 A.D. the Roman church had to expend from half a million to a million sesterces (i.e., from £5000 to £10,000) by way of relief.

The demands made upon the church funds were heavy, as will appear in the course of the following classification and discussion.

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2. The support of teachers and officials.—The Pauline principle264 that the rule about a “laborer being worthy of his hire” applied also to missionaries and teachers, was observed without break or hesitation throughout the Christian churches. The conclusion drawn was that teachers could lay claim to a plain livelihood, and that this claim must always have precedence of any other demand upon the funds. When a church had chosen permanent officials for itself, these also assumed the right of being allowed to claim a livelihood, but only so far as their official duties made inroads upon their civil occupations.265 Here, too, the bishop had discretionary power; he could 159appropriate and hand over to the presbyters and deacons whatever he thought suitable and fair, but he was bound to provide the teachers (i.e., missionaries and prophets) with enough to live on day by day. Obviously, this could not fail to give rise to abuses. From the Didachê and Lucian we learn that such abuses did arise, and that privileges were misemployed.266

3. The support of widows and orphans.267—Wherever the early Christian records mention poor persons who require support, widows and orphans are invariably in the foreground. This corresponds, on the one hand, with the special distress of their position in the ancient world, and on the other hand with the ethical injunctions which had passed over into Christianity from Judaism. As it was, widows and orphans formed the poor κατ’ ἐξοχήνThe church had them always with her. “The Roman church,” wrote bishop Cornelius, “supports 1500 widows and poor persons” (Eus., H.E. vi. 43). Only widows, we note, are mentioned side by side with the general category of recipients of relief. Inside the churches, widows had a special title of honor, viz., “God’s altar,”268 and even Lucian the pagan was aware that Christians attended first and foremost to orphans and to widows (Peregrin. xii.). The true worship, James had already urged (i. 27), is to visit widows and orphans in their distress, and Hermas (Mand. viii. 10) opens his catalogue of virtues with the words: χήραις ὑπηρετεῖν, ὀρφανοὺς καὶ ὑστερουμένους ἐπισκέπτεσθαι (“to serve widows and visit the forlorn and orphans”).269 It is beyond question that the early 160church made an important contribution to the amelioration of social conditions among the lower classes, by her support of widows.270 We need not dwell on the fact, illustrated as early as the epistles to Timothy, that abuses crept into this department. Such abuses are constantly liable to occur wherever human beings are relieved, in whole or in part, of the duty of caring for themselves.271

4. The support of the sick, the infirm, the poor, and the disabled.—Mention has already been made of the cure of sick people; but where a cure was impossible the church was bound to support the patient by consolation (for they were remembered in the prayers of the church from the very first; cp. 1 Clem. lix. 4), visitation,272 and charitable gifts (usually in kind). Next to the sick came those in trouble (ἐν θλίψει) and people sick in soul (κάμνοντες τῇ ψυχῇ, Herm. Mand. viii. 10) as a rule, 161then the helpless and disabled (Tertullian singles out expressly senes domestici), finally the poor in general. To quote passages would be superfluous, for the duty is repeatedly inculcated; besides, concrete examples are fairly plentiful, although our records only mention such cases incidentally and quite accidentally.273 Deacons, “widows,” and deaconesses (though the last-named were apparently confined to the East) were set apart for this work. It is said of deacons in the Apostolic Constitutions (see Texte u. Unters. ii. 5. 8 f.): “They are to be doers of good works, exercising a general supervision day and night, neither scorning the poor nor respecting the person of the rich; they must ascertain who are in distress and not exclude them from a share in the church funds, compelling also the well-to-do, to put money aside for good works.” Of “widows” it is remarked, in the same passage, that they should render aid to women afflicted by disease, and the trait of φιλόπτωχος(a lover of the poor) is expected among the other qualities of a bishop.274 In an old legend dating from the Decian persecution, there is a story of the deacon Laurentius in Rome, who, when desired to hand over the treasures of the church, indicated the poor as its only treasures. This was audacious, but it was not incorrect; from the very first, any possessions of the church were steadily characterized as poor funds; and this remained true during the early centuries.275 The excellence of the church’s charitable system, the deep impression made by it, and the numbers that it won over to the faith, find their best voucher in the action of Julian the Apostate, who attempted an exact reproduction of it in that artificial creation 162of his, the pagan State-church, in order to deprive the Christians of this very weapon. The imitation, of course, had no success.276

Julian attests not only the excellence of the church’s system of relief, but its extension to non-Christians. He wrote to Arsacius (Sozom. v. 16): “These godless Galileans feed not only their own poor but ours; our poor lack our care.” This testimony is all the more weighty inasmuch as our Christian sources yield no satisfactory data on this point. Cp., however, under (8), and Paul’s injunction in Gal. vi. 10: “Let us do good to all, especially to those who belong to the household of the faith.” “True charity,” says Tertullian (Apol. xlii.), “disburses more money in the streets than your religion in the temples.” The church-funds were indeed for the use of the brethren alone, but private beneficence did not restrict itself to the household of faith. In a great calamity, as we learn from reliable evidence (see below), Christians did extend their aid to non-Christians, even exciting the admiration of the latter.

5. Care for prisoners and for people languishing in the mines.—The third point in the catalogue of virtues given by Hermas is: ἐξ ἀναγκῶν λυτροῦσθαι τοὺς δούλους τοῦ θεοῦ (“Redeem the servants of God from their bonds”). Prisoners might be innocent for various reasons, but above all there were people incarcerated for their faith or imprisoned for debt, and both classes had to be reached by charity. In the first instance, they had to be visited and consoled, and their plight alleviated by gifts of food.277 Visiting prisoners was the regular work of 163the deacons, who had thus to run frequent risks; but ordinary Christians were also expected to discharge this duty. If the prisoners had been arrested for their faith, and if they were rather distinguished teachers, there was no hardship in obeying the command; in fact, many moved heaven and earth to get access to prisoners,278since it was considered that there was something sanctifying about intercourse with a confessor. In order to gain admission they would even go the length of bribing the gaolers,279 and thus manage to smuggle in decent meals and crave a blessing from the saints. The records of the martyrs are full of such tales. Even Lucian knew of the practice, and pointed out the improprieties to which it gave rise. Christian records, particularly those of a later date,280 corroborate this, and as early as the Montanist controversy it was a burning question whether or no any prominent confessor was really an impostor, if, after being imprisoned for misdemeanors, he made out as if he had been imprisoned on account of the Christian faith. Such abuses, however, were inevitable, and upon the whole their number was not large. The keepers, secretly impressed by the behavior of the Christians, often consented of their own accord to let them communicate with their friends (Acta Perpet. ix.: “Pudens miles optio, præpositus carceris, nos magnificare coepit, intelligens magnam virtutem esse in nobis; qui multos ad nos admittebat, 164ut et nos et illi invicem refrigeraremus” (“Pudens, a military subordinate in charge of the prison, began to have a high opinion of us, since he recognized there was some great power of God in us. He let many people in to see us, that we and they might refresh one another”).

If any Christian brethren were sentenced to the mines, they were still looked after, even there.281 Their names were carefully noted; attempts were made to keep in touch with them; efforts were concocted to procure their release,282 and brethren were sent to ease their lot, to edify and to encourage them.283 The care shown by Christians for prisoners was so notorious that (according to Eusebius, H.E. v. 8) Licinius, the last emperor before Constantine who persecuted the Christians, passed a law to the effect that “no one was to show kindness to sufferers in prison by supplying them with food, and that no one was to show mercy to those who were starving in prison.” “In addition to this,” Eusebius proceeds to relate, “a penalty was attached, to the effect that those who showed compassion were to share the fate of the objects of their charity, and that those who were humane to the unfortunate were to be flung into bonds and imprisonment and endure the same suffering as the others.” This law, which was directly aimed at Christians, shows, more clearly than anything else could do, the care lavished by Christians upon their captive brethren, although much may have crept in connection with this which the State could not tolerate.

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But they did more than try to merely alleviate the lot of prisoners. Their aim was to get them ransomed. Instances of this cannot have been altogether rare, but unfortunately it is difficult for us to form any judgment on this matter, since in a number of instances, when a ransom is spoken of, we cannot be sure whether prisoners or slaves are meant. Ransoming captives, at any rate, was regarded as a work which was specially noble and well-pleasing to God, but it never appears to have been undertaken by any church. To the last it remained a monopoly of private generosity and along this line individuals displayed a spirit of real heroism.284

6. Care of poor people requiring burial, and of the dead in general.—We may begin here with the words of Julian, in his letter to Arsacius (Soz., v. 15): “This godlessness (i.e., Christianity) is mainly furthered by its philanthropy towards strangers and its careful attention to the bestowal of the dead.” Tertullian declares (see p. 153) that the burial of poor brethren was performed at the expense of the common fund, and Aristides (Apol. xv.) corroborates this, although with him it takes the form of private charity. “Whenever,” says Aristides, 166“one of their poor passes from the world, one of them looks after him and sees to his burial, according to his means.” We know the great importance attached to an honorable burial in those days, and the pain felt at the prospect of having to forego this privilege. In this respect the Christian church was meeting a sentiment which even its opponents felt to be a human duty. Christians, no doubt, were expected to feel themselves superior to any earthly ignominy, but even they felt it was a ghastly thing not to be buried decently. The deacons were specially charged with the task of seeing that everyone was properly interred (Const. Ap. iii. 7),285 and in certain cases they did not restrict themselves to the limits of the brotherhood. “We cannot bear,” says Lactantius (Instit. 6.12), “that the image and workmanship of God should be exposed as a prey to wild beasts and birds, but we restore it to the earth from which it was taken,286 and do this office of relatives even to the body of a 167person whom we do not know, since in their room humanity must step in.”287 At this point also we must include the care of the dead after burial. These were still regarded in part as destitute and fit to be supported. Oblations were presented in their name and for the welfare of their souls, which served as actual intercessions on their behalf. This primitive custom was undoubtedly of immense significance to the living; it comforted many an anxious relative, and added greatly to the attractive power of Christianity.288

7. Care for slaves. — It is a mistake to suppose that any “slave question” occupied the early church. The primitive Christians looked on slavery with neither a more friendly nor a more hostile eye than they did upon the State and legal ties.289 They never dreamt of working for the abolition of the State, nor did it ever occur to them to abolish slavery for humane or other reasons — not even amongst themselves. The New Testament epistles already assume that Christian masters have slaves (not merely that pagan masters have Christian slaves), and they give no directions for any change in this relationship. On the contrary, slaves are earnestly admonished to be faithful and obedient.290

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Still, it would not be true to assert that primitive Christianity was indifferent to slaves and their condition. On the contrary, the church did turn her attention to them, and effected some change in their condition. This follows from such considerations as these:—

(a) Converted slaves, male or female, were regarded in the full sense of the term as brothers and sisters from the standpoint of religion. Compared to this, their position in the world was reckoned a matter of indifference.291

(b) They shared the rights of church members to the fullest extent. Slaves could even become clergymen, and in fact bishops.292

(c) As personalities (in the moral sense) they were to be just as highly esteemed as freemen. The sex of female slaves had to be respected, nor was their modesty to be outraged. 169The same virtues were expected from slaves as from freemen, and consequently their virtues earned the same honor.293

(d) Masters and mistresses were strictly charged to treat all their slaves humanely,294 but, on the other hand, to remember that 170Christian slaves were their own brethren.295 Christian slaves, for their part, were told not to disdain their Christian masters, i.e., they were not to regard themselves as their equals.296

(e) To set a slave free was looked upon, probably from the very beginning, as a praiseworthy action;297 otherwise, no Christian slave could have had any claim to be emancipated. Although the primitive church did not admit any such claim on their part, least of all any claim of this kind on the funds of the church, there were cases in which slaves had their ransom paid for out of such funds.298 The church never condemned the rights of masters over slaves as sinful; it simply saw in them a natural relationship. In this sphere the source of reform lay, not in Christianity, but in general considerations derived from moral philosophy and in economic necessities.

From one of the canons of the Council of Elvira (c. 300 A.D.), as well as from other minor sources, we learn that even in the Christian church, during the third century in particular, cases unfortunately did occur in which slaves were treated with revolting harshness and barbarity.299 In general, one has to 171recollect that even as early as the second century a diminution of the great slave-establishment can be detected—a diminution which, on economic grounds, continued during the third century. The liberation of slaves was frequently a necessity; it must not be regarded, as a rule, in the light of an act prompted by compassion or brotherly feeling.

8. Care for people visited by great calamities.—As early as Hebrews x. 32 f. a church is commended for having nobly stood the test of a great persecution and calamity, thanks to sympathy and solicitous care. From that time onward, we frequently come across counsels to Christian brethren to show themselves especially active and devoted in any emergencies of distress; not counsels merely, but also actual proofs that they bore fruit. We shall not, at present, go into cases in which churches lent aid to sister churches, even at a considerable distance; these fall to be noticed under section 10. But some examples referring to calamities within a church itself may be set down at this stage of our discussion.

When the plague raged in Alexandria (about 259 A.D.), bishop Dionysius wrote (Euseb., H.E., vii. 22): “The most of our brethren did not spare themselves, so great was their brotherly affection. They held fast to each other, visited the sick without fear, ministered to them assiduously, and served them for the sake of Christ. Right gladly did they perish with them. . . . Indeed many did die, after caring for the sick and giving health to others, transplanting the death of others, as it were, into themselves. In this way the noblest of our brethren 172died, including some presbyters and deacons and people of the highest reputation. . . . . Quite the reverse was it with the heathen. They abandoned those who began to sicken, fled from their dearest friends, threw out the sick when half dead into the streets, and let the dead lie unburied.”

A similar tale is related by Cyprian of the plague at Carthage. He exclaims to the pagan Demetrianus (x.): “Pestem et luem criminaris, cum peste ipsa et lue vel detecta sint vel aucta crimina singulorum, dum nec infirmis exhibetur misericordia et defunctis avaritia inhiat ac rapina. Idem ad pietatis obseqium timidi,300 ad impia lucra temerarii, fugientes morientium funera et adpetentes spolia mortuorum” (“You blame plague and disease, when plague and disease either swell or disclose the crimes of individuals, no mercy being shown to the weak, and avarice and rapine gaping greedily for the dead. The same people are sluggish in the discharge of the duties of affection, who rashly seek impious gains; they shun the deathbeds of the dying, but make for the spoils of the dead”). Cyprian’s advice is seen in his treatise de Mortalitate. His conduct, and the way he inspired other Christians by his example, are narrated by his biographer Pontianus (Vita, ix. f.): “Adgregatam primo in loco plebem de misercordiae bonis instruit. Docet divinae lectionis exemplis . . . . tunc deinde subiungit nun esse mirabile, si nostros tantum debito caritatis obsequio foveremus; cum enim perfectum posse fieri, qui plus aliquid publicano vel ethnico fecerit, qui malum bono vincens et divinae clementiae instar exercens inimicos quoque dilexerit. . . . . Quid Christiana plebs faceret, cui de fide nomen est? distributa sunt ergo continuo pro qualitate hominum atque ordinum ministeria [organized charity, then]. Multi qui paupertatis beneficio sumptus exhibere non poterant, plus sumptibus exhibebant, compensantes proprio labore mercedem divitiis omnibus cariorem . . . . fiebat itaque exuberantium operum largitate, quod bonum est ad omnes, non ad solos domesticos fidei (“The people being assembled together, he first of all urges on them the benefits of 173mercy. By means of examples drawn from the sacred lessons, he teaches them. . . . Then he proceeds to add that there is nothing remarkable in cherishing merely our own people with the due attentions of love, but that one might become perfect who should do something more than heathen men or publicans, one who, overcoming evil with good, and practicing a merciful kindness like to that of God, should love his enemies as well. . . . What should a Christian people do, a people whose very name was derived from faith? The contributions are always distributed then according to the degree of the men and of their respective ranks. Many who, on the score of poverty, could not make any show of wealth, showed far more than wealth, as they made up by personal labor an offering dearer than all the riches in the world. Thus the good done was done to all men, and not merely to the household of faith, so richly did the good works overflow”).

We hear exactly the same story of practical sympathy and self-denying love displayed by Christians even to outsiders, in the great plague which occurred during the reign of Maximinus Daza (Eus., H.E., ix. 8): “Then did they show themselves to the heathen in the clearest light. For the Christians were the only people who amid such terrible ills showed their fellow feeling and humanity by their actions. Day by day some would busy themselves with attending to the dead and burying them (for there were numbers to whom no one else paid any heed); others gathered in one spot all who were afflicted by hunger throughout the whole city, and gave bread to them all. When this became known, people glorified the Christians’ God, and, convinced by the very facts, confessed the Christians alone were truly pious and religious.”

It may be inferred with certainty, as Eusebius himself avows, that cases of this kind made a deep impression upon those who were not Christians, and that they gave a powerful impetus to the propaganda.

9. The churches furnishing work and insisting upon work.—Christianity at the outset spread chiefly among people who had to work hard. The new religion did not teach its votaries “the dignity of labor” or “the noble pleasure invariably afforded 174by work” What it inculcated was just the duty of work.301 “If any will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. iii. 10). Over and again it was enunciated that the duty of providing for others was conditioned by their incapacity for work. The brethren had soon to face the fact that some of their numbers were falling into restless and lazy habits, as well as the sadder fact that these very people were selfishly trying to trade upon the charity of their neighbors. This was so notorious that even in the brief compass of the Didachê there is a note of precautions which are to be taken to checkmate such attempts, while in Lucian’s description of the Christians he singles out, as one of their characteristic traits, a readiness to let cunning impostors take advantage of their brotherly love.302

Christianity cannot be charged at any rate with the desire of promoting mendicancy or with underestimating the duty of work.303 Even the charge of being “infructuosi in negotiis” (of no use in practical affairs) was repudiated by Tertullian. “How so?” he asks. “How can that be when such people dwell beside you, sharing your way of life, your dress, your habits, and the same needs of life? We are no Brahmins or Indian gymnosophists, dwelling in woods and exiled from life. . . . We stay beside you in this world, making use of the forum, the provision-market, the bath, the booth, the workshop, the inn, the weekly market, and all other places of commerce. We sail with you, fight at your side, till the soil with you, and traffic with you; we likewise join our technical skill to that of others, and make our works public property for your use” (Apol., xlii.).304 Even clerics were not exempted from making a175livelihood,305 and admirable sayings on the need of labor occur in Clement of Alexandria as well as in other writers. We have already observed (pp. 155 f.) that one incentive to work was found in the consideration that money could thus be gained for the purpose of supporting other people, and this idea was by no means thrown out at random. Its frequent repetition, from the epistle to the Ephesians onwards, shows that people recognized in it a powerful motive for the industrious life. It was also declared in simple and stirring language that the laborer was worthy of his hire, and a fearful judgment was prophesied for those who defrauded workmen of their wages (see especially Jas. v. 4 f.). It is indeed surprising that work was spoken of in such a sensible way, and that the duty of work was inculcated so earnestly, in a society which was so liable to fanaticism and indolence.

But we have not yet alluded to what was the really noticeable feature in this connection. We have already come across several passages which would lead us to infer that, together with the recognition that every Christian brother had the right to a bare provision for livelihood, the early Christian church also admitted its obligation to secure this minimum either by furnishing him with work or else by maintaining him. Thus we read in the pseudo-Clementine homilies (cp. Clem., viii.): “For those able to work, provide work; and to those incapable of work, be charitable.”306 Cyprian also (Ep., ii.) assumes that if the church 176forbids some teacher of dramatic art to practice his profession, it must look after him, or, in the event of his being unable to do anything else, provide him with the necessaries of life.307 We were not aware, however, if this was really felt to be a duty by the church at large, till the discovery of the Didachê. This threw quite a fresh light on the situation. In the Didachê (xii.) it is ordained that no brother who is able to work is to be maintained by any church for more than two or three days. The church accordingly had the right of getting rid of such brethren. But the reverse side of this right was a duty. “If any brother has a trade, let him follow that trade and earn the bread he eats. If he has no trade, exercise your discretion in arranging for him to live among you as a Christian, but not in idleness. If he will not do this (i.e., engage in the work with which you furnish him), he is trafficking with Christ (χριστέμπορος). Beware of men like that.” It is beyond question, therefore, that a Christian brother could demand work from the church, and that the church had to furnish him with work. What bound the members together, then, was not merely the duty of supporting one another—that was simply the ultima ratio; it was the fact that they formed a guild of workers, in the sense that the churches had to provide work for a brother whenever he required it. This fact seems to me of great importance, from the social standpoint. The churches were also labor unions. The case attested by Cyprian proves that there is far more here than a merely rhetorical maxim. The Church did prove in this way a refuge for people in distress who were prepared to work. Its attractive power was consequently intensified, and from the economic standpoint we must attach very high value to a union which provided work for those who were able to work, and at the same time kept hunger from those who were unfit for any labor.

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10. Care for brethren on a journey (hospitalityand for churches in poverty or peril.308—The diaconate went outside the circle of the individual church when it deliberately extended its labors to include the relief of strangersi.e., in the first instance of Christian brethren on their travels. In our oldest account of Christian worship on Sunday (Justin, Apol., I. lxvii.; see above, p. 153), strangers on their travels are included in the list of those who receive support from the church-collections. This form of charity was thus considered part of the church’s business, instead of merely being left to the goodwill of individuals; though people had recourse in many ways to the private method, while the virtue of hospitality was repeatedly inculcated on the faithful.309 In the first epistle of Clement to the Corinthian 178church, it is particularly noted, among the distinguishing virtues of the church, that anyone who had stayed there praised their splendid sense of hospitality.310 But during the early centuries of Christianity it was the Roman church more than any other which was distinguished by the generosity with which it practiced this virtue. In one document from the reign of Marcus Aurelius, a letter of Dionysius the bishop of Corinth to the Roman church, it is acknowledged that the latter has maintained its primitive custom of showing kindness to foreign brethren. “Your worthy bishop Soter has not merely kept up this practice, but even extended it, by aiding the saints with rich supplies, which he sends from time to time, and also by addressing blessed words of comfort to brethren coming up to Rome, like a loving father to his children” (Eus., H.E., iv. 23. 10). We shall return to this later on; meanwhile it may be 179pointed out, in this connection, that the Roman church owed its rapid rise to supremacy in Western Christendom, not simply to its geographical position within the capital of the empire, or to the fact of its having been the seat of apostolic activity throughout the West, but also to the fact that it recognized the special obligation of caring for Christians in general, which fell to it as the church of the imperial capital. A living interest in the collective church of Christ throbbed with peculiar intensity throughout the Roman church, as we shall see, from the very outset, and the practice of hospitality was one of its manifestations. At a time when Christianity was still a homeless religion, the occasional travels of the brethren were frequently the means of bringing churches together which otherwise would have had no common tie; while in an age when Christian captives were being dragged off, and banished to distant spots throughout the empire, and when brethren in distress sought shelter and solace, the practical proof of hospitality must have been specially telling. As early as the second century one bishop of Asia Minor even wrote a book upon this virtue.311 So highly was it prized within the churches that it was put next to faith as the genuine proof of faith. “For the sake of his faith and hospitality, Abraham had a son given him in his old age.” “For his hospitality and piety was Lot saved from Sodom.” “For the sake of her faith and hospitality was Rahab saved.” Such are the examples of which, in these very words, the Roman church reminds her sister at Corinth.312 Nor was this exercise of hospitality merely an aid in passing. The obligation of work imposed by the Christian church has been already mentioned (cp. pp. 173 f.); if any visitors wished to settle down, they had to take up some work, as is plain from the very provision made for such cases. Along roads running through waste country hospices were erected. The earliest case of this occurs in the Acta Archelai313 (fourth century).

It was easy to take advantage of a spirit so obliging and 180unsparing (e.g., the case of Proteus Peregrinus, and especially the churches’ sad experience of so-called prophets and teachers). Heretics could creep in, and so could loafers or impostors. We note, accordingly, that definite precautions were taken against these at quite an early period. The new arrival is to be tested to see whether or not he is a Christian (cp. 2 and 3 John; Did., xii.). In the case of an itinerant prophet, his words are to be compared with his actions. No brother is to remain idle in any place for more than two days, or three at the very most; after that, he must either leave or labor (Did., xii.). Later on, any brother on a journey was required to bring with him a passport from his church at home. Things must have come to a sad pass when (as the Didachê informs us) it was decreed that any visitor must be adjudged a false prophet without further ado, if during an ecstasy he ordered a meal and then partook of it, or if in an ecstasy he asked for money. Many a traveler, however, who desired to settle down, did not come with empty hands; such persons did not ask, they gave. Thus we know (see above) that when Marcion came from Pontus and joined the Roman church, he contributed 200,000 sesterces to its funds (Tert., de Præscr., xxx.). Still, such cases were the exception; as a rule, visitors were in need of assistance.

Care lavished on brethren on a journey blossomed naturally into a sympathy and care for any distant churches in poverty or peril. The keen interest shown in a guest could not cease when he left the threshold of one’s house or passed beyond the city gates. And more than this, the guest occupied the position of a representative to any church at which he arrived; he was a messenger to them from some distant circle of brethren who were probably entire strangers and were yet related to them. His account of the distress and suffering of his own church, or of its growth and spiritual gifts, was no foreign news. The primitive churches were sensible that their faith and calling bound them closely together in this world; they felt, as the apostle enjoined, that “if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it, while if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. xii. 26). And there is no doubt whatever that the consciousness of this was most vigorous and vital 181in the very ages during which no external bond as yet united the various churches, the latter standing side by side in almost entire independence of each other. These were the ages when the primitive article of the common symbol, “I believe in one holy church,” was really nothing more than an article of faith. And of course the effect of the inward ties was all the stronger when people were participating in a common faith which found expression ere long in a brief and vigorous confession, or practicing the same love and patience and Christian discipline, or turning their hopes in common to that glorious consummation of Christ’s kingdom of which they had each received the earnest and the pledge. These common possessions stimulated brotherly love; they made strangers friends, and brought the distant near. “By secret signs and marks they manage to recognize one another, loving each other almost before they are acquainted”; such is the description of Christians given by the pagan Cæcilius (Min. Felix, ix. 3). Changes afterwards took place; but this vital sense of belonging to one brotherhood never wholly disappeared.

In the great prayers of thanksgiving and supplication offered every Sabbath by the churches, there was a fixed place assigned to intercession for the whole of Christendom throughout the earth. Before very long this kindled the consciousness that every individual member belonged to the holy unity of Christendom, just as it also kept them mindful of the services which they owed to the general body. In the epistles and documents of primitive Christianity, wherever the church-prayers emerge their ecumenical character becomes clear and conspicuous.314 Special means of intercourse were provided by epistles, circular letters, collections of epistles, the transmission of acts or of official records, or by travelers and special messengers. When matters of importance were at stake, the bishops themselves went forth to settle controversial questions or to arrange a common basis of agreement. It is not our business in these pages to describe all this varied intercourse. We shall confine ourselves to the task of gathering and explaining those passages in which one church comes to the aid of another in any case of need. 182Poverty, sickness, persecution, and suffering of all kinds formed one class of troubles which demanded constant help on the part of churches that were better off; while, in a different direction, assistance was required in those internal crises of doctrine and of conduct which might threaten a church and in fact endanger its very existence. Along both of these lines the brotherly love of the churches had to prove its reality.

The first case of one church supporting another occurs at the very beginning of the apostolic age. In Acts xi. 27 f. we read that Agabus in Antioch foretold a famine. On the news of this, the young church at Antioch made a collection on behalf of the poor brethren in Judæa, and dispatched the proceeds to them by the hands of Barnabas and Paul.315 It was a Gentile Christian church which was the first, so far as we are aware, to help a sister church in her distress. Shortly after this, the brotherly love felt by young Christian communities drawn from pagans in Asia and Europe is reported to have approved itself on a still wider scale. Even after the famine had passed, the mother church at Jerusalem continued poor. Why, we do not know. An explanation has been sought in the early attempt by which that church is said to have introduced a voluntary community of goods; it was the failure of this attempt, we are to believe, that left the local church impoverished. This is merely a vague conjecture. Nevertheless, the poverty at Jerusalem remains a fact. At the critical conference in Jerusalem, when the three pillar-apostles definitely recognized Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, the latter pledged himself to remember the poor saints at Jerusalem in distant lands; and the epistles to the Galatians, the Corinthians, and the Romans, show how widely and faithfully the apostle discharged this obligation. His position in this matter was by no means easy. He had made himself responsible for a collection whose value depended entirely on the voluntary devotion of the churches which he founded. But he was sure he could rely on them, and in this he did not deceive himself. Paul’s churches made his concerns 183their own, and money for the brethren far away at Jerusalem was collected in Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia. Even when the apostle had to endure the prospect of all his work in Corinth being endangered by a severe local crisis, he did not fail to remember the business of the collection along with more important matters. The local arrangements for it had almost come to a standstill by the time he wrote, and the aim of his vigorous, affectionate, and graceful words of counsel to the church is to revive the zeal which had been allowed to cool amid their party quarrels (2 Cor. viii. 9). Not long afterwards he is able to tell the Romans that “those of Macedonia and Achaiafreely chose to make a certain contribution for the poor saints at Jerusalem. They have done it willingly, and indeed it was a debt. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, they owe it to them also to minister to them in secular things” (Rom. xv. 26 f.). In this collection Paul saw a real duty of charity which rested on the Gentile churches, and one has only to realize the circumstances under which the money was gathered in order to understand the meaning it possessed for the donors themselves. As yet, there was no coming or going between the Gentile and the Judean Christians, though the former had to admit that the latter were one with themselves as brethren and as members of a single church. The churches in Asia and Europe were imitators of the churches of God in Judæa, (1 Thess. ii. 14), yet they had no fellowship in worship, life, or customs. This collection formed, therefore, the one visible expression of that brotherly unity which otherwise was rooted merely in their common faith. This was what lent it a significance of its own. For a considerable period this devotion of the Gentile Christians to their distressed brethren in Jerusalem was the sole manifestation, even in visible shape, of the consciousness that all Christians shared an inner fellowship. We do not know how long the contributions were kept up. The great catastrophes which occurred in Palestine after 65 A.D. had a disastrous effect at any rate upon the relations between Gentile Christians and their brethren in Jerusalem and Palestine.316—Forty years later the age of persecutions 184burst upon the churches, though no general persecution occurred until the middle of the third century. When some churches were in distress, their possessions seized317 and their existence imperilled, the others could not feel happy in their own undisturbed position. Succor of their persecuted brethren seemed to them a duty, and it was a duty from which they did not shrink. Justin (loc. cit.) tells us that the maintenance of imprisoned Christians was one of the regular objects to which the church collections were devoted, a piece of information which is corroborated and enlarged by the statement of Tertullian, that those who languished in the mines or were exiled to desert islands or lay in prison all received monies from the church.318 Neither statement explains if it was only members of the particular church in question who were thus supported. This, however, is inherently improbable, and there are express statements to the contrary, including one from a pagan source. Dionysius of Corinth (Eus., H.E., iv. 23. 10) writes thus to the Roman Christians about the year 170: “From the very first you have had this practice of aiding all the brethren in various ways and of sending contributions to many churches in every city, thus in one case relieving the poverty of the needy, or in another providing for brethren in the mines. By these gifts, which you have sent from the very first, you Romans keep up the hereditary customs of the Romans, a practice your bishop Soter has not merely maintained but even extended.” A hundred years later Dionysius, the bishop of Alexandria, in writing to Stephen the bishop of Rome, has occasion to mention the churches in Syria and Arabia. Whereupon he remarks in passing, “To them you send help regularly, and you have just 185written them another letter” (Eus., H.E., vii. 5. 2). Basil the Great informs us that under bishop Dionysius (259-269 A.D.) the Roman church sent money to Cappadocia to purchase the freedom of some Christian captives from the barbarians, an act of kindness which was still remembered with gratitude in Cappadocia at the close of the fourth century.319 Thus Corinth, Syria, Arabia, and Cappadocia, all of them churches in the East, unite in testifying to the praise of the church at Rome; and we can understand, from the language of Dionysius of Corinth, how Ignatius could describe that church as the προκαθημένη τῆς ἀγάπης, “the leader of love.”320 Nor were other churches and their bishops behindhand in the matter. Similar stories are told of the church at Carthage and its bishop Cyprian. From a number of letters written shortly before his execution, it is quite clear that Cyprian sent money to provide for the Christians who then lay captive in Numidia (Ep. lxxvi.-lxxix.), and elsewhere in his correspondence there is similar evidence of his care for stranger Christians and foreign churches. The most memorable of his letters, in this respect, is that addressed to the bishops of Numidia in 253 A.D. The latter had informed him that wild hordes of robbers had invaded the country and carried off many Christians of both sexes into captivity. Whereupon Cyprian instituted a collection on their behalf and forwarded the proceeds to the bishops along with the following letter (Ep. lxii.). It is the most elaborate and important document from the first three centuries bearing upon the support extended to one church by another, and for that reason we may find space for it at this point.

“Cyprian to Januarius, Maximus, Proculus, Victor, Modianus, Nemesianus, Nampulus, and Honoratus, the brethren: greeting.

“With sore anguish of soul and many a tear have I read the letter which in your loving solicitude you addressed to me, dear brethren, with regard to the imprisonment of our brothers and sisters. Who would not feel anguish over such misfortunes? 186Who would not make his brother’s grief his own? For, says the apostle Paul: Should one member suffer, all the others suffer along with it; and should one member rejoice, the others rejoice with it also. And in another place he says: Who is weak, and I am not weak? We must therefore consider the present imprisonment of our brethren as our imprisonment, reckoning the grief of those in peril as our grief. We form a single body in our union, and we ought to be stirred and strengthened by religious duty as well as by love to redeem our members the brethren.

“For as the apostle Paul once more declares: Know ye not that ye are God’s temple and that the Holy Spirit dwelleth in you? Though love failed to stir us to succor the brethren, we must in this case consider that it is temples of God who are imprisoned, nor dare we by our procrastination and neglect of fellow-feeling allow temples of God to remain imprisoned for any length of time, but must put forth all our energies, and with all speed manage by mutual service to deserve the grace of Christ our Lord, our Judge, our God. For since the apostle Paul says: So many of you as are baptized into Christ have put on Christ, we must see Christ in our imprisoned brethren, redeeming from the peril of imprisonment him who redeemed us from the peril of death. He who took us from the jaws of the devil, who bought us with his blood upon the cross, who now abides and dwells in us, he is now to be redeemed by us for a sum of money from the hands of the barbarians. . . . . Will not the feeling of humanity and the sense of united love incline each father among you to look upon those prisoners as his sons, every husband to feel, with anguish for the marital tie, that his wife languishes in that imprisonment?” Then, after an account of the special dangers incurred by the consecrated “virgins”—“our church, having weighed and sorrowfully examined all those matters in accordance with your letter, has gathered donations for the brethren speedily, freely, and liberally; for while, according to its powers of faith, it is ever ready for any work of God, it has been raised to a special pitch of charity on this occasion by the thought of all this suffering. For since the Lord says in his gospel: I was sick and ye visited 187me, with what ampler reward for our alms will he now say I was in prison and ye redeemed me? And since again he says I was in prison and ye visited me, how much better will it be for us on the day of judgment, when we are to receive the Lord’s reward, to hear him say: I was in the dungeon of imprisonment, in bonds and fetters among the barbarians, and ye rescued me from that prison of slavery! Finally, we thank you heartily for summoning us to share your trouble and your noble and necessary act of love, and for offering us a rich harvest-field wherein to scatter the seeds of our hope, in the expectation of reaping a very plentiful harvest from this heavenly and helpful action. We transmit to you a sum of a hundred thousand sesterces [close upon £1000] collected and contributed by our clergy and people here in the church over which by God’s mercy we preside; this you will dispense in the proper quarter at your own discretion.

“In conclusion, we trust that nothing like this will occur in future, but that, guarded by the power of God, our brethren may henceforth be quit of all such perils. Still, should the like occur again, for a test of love and faith, do not hesitate to write of it to us; be sure and certain that while our own church and the whole of the church pray fervently that this may not recur, they will gladly and generously contribute even if it does take place once more. In order that you may remember in prayer our brethren and sisters who have taken so prompt and liberal a share in this needful act of love, praying that they may be ever quick to aid, and in order also that by way of return you may present them in your prayers and sacrifices, I add herewith the names of all. Further, I have subjoined the names of my colleagues (the bishops) and fellow-priests, who like myself were present and made such contributions as they could afford in their own name and in the name of their people; I have also noted and forwarded their small sums along with our own total. It is your duty—faith and love alike require it—to remember all these in your prayers and supplications.

“Dearest brethren, we wish you unbroken prosperity in the Lord. Remember us.”

Plainly the Carthaginian church is conscious here of having 188done something out of the common. But it is intensely conscious also of having thus discharged a duty of Christian love, and the religious basis of the duty is laid down in exemplary fashion. It is also obvious that so liberal a grant could not be taken from the proceeds of the ordinary church-collections.

Yet another example of Cyprian’s care for a foreign church is extant. In the case (cp. above, p. 175) already mentioned of the teacher of the histrionic art who is to give up his profession and be supported by the church, if he has no other means of livelihood, Cyprian (Ep. ii.) writes that the man may come to Carthage and find maintenance in the local church if his own church is too poor to feed him.321

Lucian’s satire on the death of Peregrinus, in the days of Marcus Aurelius, is a further witness to the alert and energetic temper of the interest taken in churches at the outbreak of persecution or during a period of persecution. The governor of Syria had ordered the arrest of this character, who is described by Lucian as a nefarious impostor. Lucian then describes the honor paid him, during his imprisonment, by Christians, and proceeds as follows: “In fact, people actually came from several Asiatic townships, sent by Christians, in the name of their churches, to render aid, to conduct the defence, and to encourage the man. They become incredibly alert when anything of this kind occurs that affects their common interests. On such occasions, no expense is grudged. Thus they pour out on Peregrinus, at this time, sums of money which were by no means trifling, and he drew from this source a considerable income.”322 What Lucian relates in this passage cannot, therefore, have been an infrequent occurrence. Brethren arrived from afar in the name of their churches, not merely to bring donations for the support of prisoners, but also to visit them in 189prison, and to encourage them by evidences of love; they actually endeavored to stand beside them in the hour of trial. The seven epistles of Ignatius form, as it were, a commentary upon these observations of the pagan writer. In them we find the keen sympathy shown by the churches of Asia Minor as well as by the Roman church in the fortunes of a bishop upon whom they had never set eyes before: we also get a vivid sense of their care for the church at Antioch, which was now orphaned. Ignatius is being taken from Antioch to Rome in order to fight with beasts at the capital, and meanwhile the persecution of Christians at Antioch proceeds apace. On reaching Smyrna, he is greeted by deputies from the churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles. After several days’ intercourse, he entrusts them with letters to their respective churches, in which, among other things, he warmly commends to the brethren of Asia Minor his own forlorn church. “Pray for the church in Syria,” he writes to the Ephesians. “Remember the church in Syria when you pray,” he writes to the Trallians; “I am not worthy to belong to it, since I am the least of its members.” And in the letter to the Magnesians he repeats this request, comparing the church at Antioch to a field scorched by the fiery heat of persecution, which needs some refreshing dew: the love of the brethren is to revive it.323 At the same time we find him turning to the Romans also. There appears to have been some brother from Ephesus who was ready to convey a letter to the Roman church, but Ignatius assumes they will learn of his fortunes before the letter reaches them. What he fears is, lest they should exert their influence at court on his behalf, or rob him of his coveted martyrdom by appealing to the Emperor. The whole of the letter is written with the object of blocking the Roman church upon this line of action.324 But all that concerns us here is the fact that a stranger bishop from abroad could assume that the Roman church would interest itself in him, whether he was thinking of a legal appeal or of the Roman Christians moving 190in his favor along some special channels open to themselves. A few days afterwards Ignatius found himself at Troas, accompanied by the Ephesian deacon Burrhus, and provided with contributions from the church of Smyrna.325 Thence he writes to the churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna, with both of which he had become acquainted during the course of his journey, as well as to Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. Messengers from Antioch cached him at Troas with news of the cessation of the persecution at the former city, and with the information that some churches in the vicinity of Antioch had already dispatched bishops or presbyters and deacons to congratulate the local church (Philad., x. 2). Whereupon, persuaded that the church of Antioch had been delivered from its persecution through the prayers of the churches in Asia Minor, Ignatius urges the latter also to send envoys to Antioch in order to unite with that church in thanking God for the deliverance. “Since I am informed,” he writes to the Philadelphians (x. 1 f.), “that, in answer to your prayers and love in Jesus Christ, the church of Antioch is now at peace, it befits you, as a church of God, to send a deacon your delegate with a message of God for that church, so that he may congratulate the assembled church and glorify the Name. Blessed in Jesus Christ is he who shall be counted worthy of such a mission; and ye shall yourselves be glorified. Now it is not impossible for you to do this for the name of God, if only you have the desire.” The same counsel is given to Smyrna. The church there is also to send a messenger with a pastoral letter to the church of Antioch (Smyrn., xi.). The unexpected suddenness of his departure from Troas prevented Ignatius from addressing the same request to the other churches of Asia Minor. He therefore begs Polycarp not only himself to despatch a messenger with all speed (Polyc., vii. 2), but to write in his name to the other churches and ask them to share the general joy of the Antiochene Christians either by messenger or by letter (Polyc., viii. 1). A few weeks later the church at Philippi wrote to Polycarp that it also had made the acquaintance of Ignatius during that interval; it requested the bishop of Smyrna, therefore, to forward its letter to the church of Antioch whenever 191he sent his own messenger. Polycarp undertakes to do so. In fact, he even holds out the prospect of conveying the letter himself. As desired by them, he also transmits to them such letters of Ignatius as had come to hand, and asks for reliable information upon the fate of Ignatius and his companions.326

Such, in outline, is the situation as we find it in the seven letters of Ignatius and in Polycarp’s epistle to the Philippians. What a wealth of intercourse there is between the churches! What public spirit! What brotherly care for one another! Financial support retires into the background here. The foreground of the picture is filled by proofs of that personal cooperation by means of which whole churches, or again churches and their bishops, could lend mutual aid to one another, consoling and strengthening each other, and sharing their sorrows and their joys. Here we step into a whole world of sympathy and love.

From other sources we also learn that after weathering a persecution the churches would send a detailed report of it to other churches. Two considerable documents of this kind are still extant. One is the letter addressed by the church of Smyrna to the church of Philomelium and to all Christian churches, after the persecution which took place under Antonius Pius. The other is the letter of the churches in Gaul to those in Asia Minor and Phrygia, after the close of the bloody persecution under Marcus Aurelius.327 In both letters the persecution is described in great detail, while in the former the death of bishop Polycarp is specially dwelt on, since the glorious end of a bishop who was well known in the East and West alike had to be announced to all Christendom. The events, which transpired in Gaul, had a special claim upon the sympathy of the Asiatic brethren, for at least a couple of the latter, Attalus of Pergamum and Alexander, a Phrygian, had suffered a glorious martyrdom in the Gallic persecution. The churches also took advantage of the opportunity to communicate to the brethren 192certain notable experiences of their own during the period of persecution, as well as any truths which they had verified. Thus the Smyrniote church speaks very decidedly against the practice of people delivering themselves up and craving for martyrdom. It gives one melancholy instance of this error (Mart. Polyc., iv.). The churches of Gaul, for their part (in Eus., H.E., v. 2), put in a warning against excessive harshness in the treatment of penitent apostates. They are able also to describe the tender compassion shown by their own confessors. It was otherwise with the church of Rome. She exhorted the church of Carthage to stand fast and firm during the Decian persecution,328 and at a subsequent period conferred with it upon its mode of dealing with apostates.329 Here a special case was under discussion. Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, had fled during the persecution; nevertheless, he had continued to superintend his church from his retreat, since he could say with quite a good conscience that he was bound to look after his own people. The Romans, who had not been at first informed of the special circumstances of the case, evidently viewed the bishop’s flight with serious misgiving; they thought themselves obliged to write and encourage the local church. The fact was, no greater disaster could befall a church in a period of distress than the loss of its clergy or bishop by death or dereliction of duty. In his treatise on “Flight during a Persecution,” Tertullian relates how deacons, presbyters, and bishops frequently ran away at the outbreak of a persecution, on the plea of Matt. x. 23: “If they persecute you in one city, flee unto another.” The result was that the church either collapsed or fell a prey to heretics.330 The more 193dependent the church became upon its clergy, the more serious were the consequences to the church of any failure or even of any change in the ranks of the latter. This was well understood by the ardent persecutors of the church in the third century, by Maximin I, by Decius, by Valerian, and by Diocletian. Even a Cyprian could not retain control of his church from a place of retreat! He had to witness it undergoing shocks of disastrous force. It was for this very reason that the sister churches gave practical proof of their sympathy in such crises, partly by sending letters of comfort during the trial, as the Romans did, partly by addressing congratulations to the church when the trial had been passed. In his church history Eusebius furnishes us with selections from the ample correspondence of Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, and one of these letters, addressed to the church of Athens, is relevant to our present purpose. Eusebius writes as follows (H.E., IV. xxiii. 2 f.): “The epistle exhorts them to the faith and life of the gospel, which Dionysius accuses them of undervaluing. Indeed, he almost says they have fallen away from the faith since the martyrdom of Publius, their bishop, which had occurred during the persecution in those days. He also mentions Quadratus, who was appointed bishop after the martyrdom of Publius, and testifies that by the zeal of Quadratus they were gathered together again and had new zeal imparted to their faith.” The persecution which raged in Antioch during the reign of Septimius Severus claimed as its victim the local bishop of that day, one Serapion. His death must have exposed the church to great peril, for when the episcopate was happily filled up again, the bishop of Cappadocia wrote a letter of his own from prison to congratulate the church of Antioch, in the following terms: “The Lord has lightened and smoothed my bonds in this time of captivity, by letting me hear that, through the providence of God, the bishopric of your holy church has been undertaken by Asclepiades, whose services194to the faith qualify him thoroughly for such a position” (Eus., H.E., VI. xi. 5).

Hitherto we have been gleaning from the scanty remains of the primitive Christian literature whatever bore upon the material support extended by one church to another, or upon the mutual assistance forthcoming in a time of persecution. But whenever persecutions brought about internal crisis and perils in a church, as was not infrequently the case, the sympathetic interest of the church extended to this sphere of need as well, and attempts were made to meet the situation. Such cases now fall to be considered—cases in which it was not poverty or persecution, but internal abuses and internal dangers, pure and simple, which drew a word of comfort or of counsel from a sister church or from its bishop.

In this connection we possess one document dating from the very earliest period, viz., the close of the first century, which deserves especial notice. It is the so-called first epistle of Clement, really an official letter sent by the Roman church to the Corinthian.331 Within the pale of the latter church a crisis had arisen, whose consequences were extremely serious. All we know, of course, is what the majority of the church thought of the crisis, but according to their account certain newcomers, of an ambitious and conceited temper, had repudiated the existing authorities and led a number of the younger members of the church astray.332 Their intention was to displace the presbyters and deacons, and in general to abolish the growing authority of the officials (xl.-xlviii.). A sharp struggle ensued, in which even the women took some part.333 Faith, love, and brotherly feeling were already threatened with extinction (i.-iii.). The scandal became notorious throughout Christendom, and indeed there was a danger of the heathen becoming acquainted with the quarrel, of the name of Christ being blasphemed, and of the church’s security being imperilled.334 The Roman Church stepped in. It had not been asked by the Corinthian church to interfere in the matter; on the contrary, it spoke out of its own accord.335 And it did so with an affection and solicitude equal 195to its candor and dignity. It felt bound, for conscience’ sake, to give a serious and brotherly admonition, conscious that God’s voice spoke through its words for peace,336 and at the same time for the strict maintenance of respect towards the authority of the officials (cp. xl. f.). Withal it never forgets that its place is merely to point out the right road to the Corinthians, not to lay commands upon them;337 over and again it expresses most admirably its firm confidence that the church knows the will of God and will bethink itself once more of the right course.338 It even clings to the hope that the very agitators will mend their ways (cp. liv.). But in the name of God it asks that a speedy end be put to the scandal. The transmission of the epistle is entrusted to the most honored men within its membership. “They shall be witnesses between us and you. And we have done this that you may know we have had and still have every concern for your speedy restoration to peace” (lxiii. 3). The epistle concludes by saying that the Corinthians are to send back the envoys to Rome as soon as possible in joy and peace, so that the Romans may be able to hear of concord regained with as little delay as possible and to rejoice speedily on that account (lxv. 1). There is nothing in early Christian literature to compare with this elaborate and effective piece of writing, lit up with all the brotherly affection and the public spirit of the church. But similar cases are not infrequent. The church at Philippi, for example, sent a letter across the sea to the aged Polycarp at Smyrna, informing him of a sad affair which had occurred in their own midst. One of their presbyters, named Valens, had been convicted of embezzling the funds of the church. In his reply, which is still extant, Polycarp treats this melancholy piece of news (Polyc., ad Phil., xi.). He does not interfere with the jurisdiction of the church, but he exhorts and counsels the Philippians. They are to take warning from this case and avoid avarice themselves. Should the presbyter and his wife repent, the church is not to treat them as enemies, but as ailing and erring members, so that the whole body may be 196saved. The bishop lets it be seen that the church’s treatment of the case does not appear to him to have been entirely correct. He exhorts them to moderate their passion and to be gentle. But, at the same time, in so doing he is perfectly conscious of the length to which he may venture to go in opposing an outside church. When Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, is being conveyed across Asia Minor, he takes the opportunity of writing brief letters to encourage the local churches in any perils to which they may be exposed. He warns them against the machinations of heretics, exhorts them to obey the clergy, urges a prudent concord and firm unity, and in quite a thorough fashion gives special counsels for any emergency. At the opening of the second century a Roman Christian, the brother of the bishop, desires to lay down the via media of proper order and discipline at any crisis in the church, as he himself had found that via, between the extremes of laxity and rigor. His aim is directed not merely to the Roman church but to Christendom in general (to the “foreign cities”); he wishes all to learn the counsels which he claims to have personally received from the Holy Spirit through the church (Herm. Vis. ii. 4). In the days of Marcus Aurelius it was bishop Dionysius of Corinth in particular who sought (no doubt in his church’s name as well as in his own) by means of an extensive correspondence to confirm the faith of such churches, even at a great distance, as were in any peril. Two of his letters, those to the Athenians and the Romans, we have already noticed, but Eusebius gives us the contents of several similar writings, which he calls “catholic” epistles. Probably these were meant to be circulated throughout the churches, though they were collected at an early date and also (as the bishop himself is forced indignantly to relate) were interpolated. One letter to the church at Sparta contains an exposition of orthodox doctrine with an admonition to peace and unity. In the epistle to the church of Nicomedia in Bithynia he combats the heresy of Marcion. “He also wrote a letter to the church in Gortyna, together with the other churches in Crete, praising their bishop Philip for the testimony borne to the great piety and steadfastness of his church, and warning them to guard against the 197aberrations of heretics. He also wrote to the church of Amastris, together with the other churches in Pontus. . . . . Here he adds explanations of some passages from Holy Scripture, and mentions Palmas, their bishop, by name. He gives them long advice, too, upon marriage and chastity, enjoining them also to welcome again into their number all who come back after any lapse whatsoever, be it vice or heresy. There is also in his collection of letters another addressed to the Cnosians (in Crete), in which he exhorts Pinytus, the bishop of the local church, not to lay too heavy and sore a burden on the brethren in the matter of continence, but to consider the weakness of the majority” (Eus., H.E., iv. 23). Such is the variety of contents in these letters. Dionysius seems to have spoken his mind on every question, which agitated the churches of his day, nor was any church too remote for him to evince his interest in its inner fortunes.

After the close of the second century a significant change came over these relationships, as the institution of synods began to be adopted. The free and unconventional communications, which passed between the churches (or their bishops) yielded to an intercourse conducted upon fixed and regular lines. A new procedure had already come into vogue with the Montanist and Quartodeciman controversies, and this was afterwards developed more highly still in the great Christological controversies and in the dispute with Novatian. Doubtless we still continue to hear of cases in which individual churches or their bishops displayed special interest in other churches at a distance, nor was there any cessation of voluntary sympathy with the weal and woe of any sister church. But this gave place more than ever both to an interest in the position taken up by the church at large in view of individual and particular movements, and also to the support of the provincial churches.339 Keen interest was shown in the attitude taken up by the churches throughout the empire (or their bishops) upon any critical question. On such matters harmony could be arranged, but otherwise the provincial churches began to form groups of their 198own. Still, for all this, fresh methods emerged in the course of the third century by which one church supported or rallied another, and these included the custom of inviting the honored teachers of one church to deliver addresses in another, or of securing them, when controversies had arisen, to pronounce an opinion, to instruct the parties, and to give a judgment in the matter. Instances of this are to be found, for example, in the career of the great theologian Origen.340 Even in the fourth and fifth centuries, the material support of poor churches from foreign sources had not ceased; Socrates, in his church history (vii. 25) notes one very brilliant example of the practice.

 

This is from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/harnack/mission.iv.iv.html

 

 

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About Michael Fackerell

The Christian faith is about Jesus. He came to save the lost. About Jesus Christ, Bible teaching, Testimonies, Salvation, Prayer, Faith, Networking.

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  1. FREE Internet download on history of Christianity: Man’s Search For Spirituality by E Christopher Reyes.
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  2. Doubtless we still continue to hear of cases in which individual churches or their bishops displayed special interest in other churches at a distance, nor was there any cessation of voluntary sympathy with the weal and woe of any sister church.

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