« PreviousContinue »
sion that It can no longer be doubted then that Constantine
directly interfered with the internal, as well as the external discipline of the Church,' (p.
46) * is, in our judgement, 'a sad waste of time and labour. For were the proof of this conclusion as clear and as well established as the demonstration of. any geometrical theorem, what end can be promoted by it? What should we think of an author who should fill page after page with accounts of persons who had interfered with the property of other men, and should allege them as precedents for us to surrender our money to any one that might have the hardihood to demand it, without establishing the equity of his claim ? What should we say of a writer who should gravely assert at the conclusion of a copious recital of incidents relative to the practice of the Barbary States, that it is impossible to doubt their taking possession of the persons and property of European navigators? The commanders of slave-ships on the coast of Africa have interfered in the control and regulation of thousands of mankind: but what then? Had they a right so to do? This is the question. Let it therefore be assumed as incontrovertible, that "Constantine interfered in the concerns of the Church, and that other secular magistrates bave interfered in the affairs of the Church : is it not indispensable to inquire by what right they did so, and to satisfy the mind of an honest inquirer, that in so doing they were exercising an authority correctly vested in them? It can,' to use Mr. Brown's words, no longer be
doubted,' that papal power has interfered to give religious law to the world ; nor does it admit of question that it has actually compelled the nations of Europe, for long periods of time, to receive the prescriptions of its authority, and to do homage to its will. Has it not asserted its control over the concerns of the Church, and exercised at its pleasure the power of binding and loosening all mankind, forbidding them to buy or sell, unless they bore in their forehead its mark and the number of its name? What kind of speculation then, shall we call it, to examine the records which contain the evidences of these facts, and after days and nights of uninterrupted research and
* - but whether in so doing he acted prudently or otherwise, it * is not my business to attempt to decide. These words complete the sentence, part of which is extracted above. We have thought proper to supply them in a note, to preclude the appearance of unfairness 'in quotation, though, as will very satisfactorily be manifest, they make no change in the ground of our remarks. The external discipline of the Church was not more the business of Constantine, than the internal. It is besides impossible to keep them separate. Our objections are to the jurisdiction assumed in any and in every form and not to any particular branch of its exercise.
toil, to put down, as the result of our labour, the statement, that papal power, as to the fact of its extensive prevalence and rule, is established beyond all doubt? Yet is this precisely similar to the business in which Mr. Brown has been engaged, only he has set down the opposite.conclusion of secular interference in the concerns of the Church. Botha conclusions are alike valid. But what do they prove? Absolutely nothing as to the right by which either imperial or papal power presumed to rule the human conscience; for interfering in the concerns of the Church, is only another phrase for denying the right af private or individual judgement iu religion. And as to the priority of exercising such authority, that is not worth a moment's attention. It is just like an attempt to determine whether the slave trade, or the Barbary piracies, took the preeedence in point of time.
Mr. Brown, in several of his notes, seems to triumph over Baronius and other abettors of the papacy, who contend for the independence of the ecclesiastical on the secular power of the State during the earlier ages of Christianity, because he finds that Constantine exercised a supreme ecclesiastical jurisdietion. Is be not aware that there are ages of Christianity still earlier than that in which Constantine lived? Does he not perceive that if he is entitled to triumph over Baronius, others may for the same kind of reason triumph over him? Is it not a more important inquiry, to ascertain the nature of Christianity, and its relation to men from the spirit of its laws and from the design of its author? We must not suffer such a delusion to be put upon us, as to look to Constantine for a model of Christian discipline. For what purpose have we received the Gospels? There are unquestionably reasons which may justify our attention to inquiries similar to this on which Mr. Brown lias been employed; but in our times, and in the circumstances and for the purposes which connect themselves with the claims of secular magistrates to interpose in religious matters, it is altogether futile and ridiculous to direct our view to Constantine, surrounded by his courtiers and the Bishops of thre Nicene council, judging the Donatists, and passing septence in the Arian controversy. The question to be determined, is the question of right. It is not who have interfered in the concerns of the Church, nor when, and where, magistrates have exercised jurisdiction in the Church'; but, by what title and authority they have presumed to order and control the faith and practice of men professing religion. Compared with this, Mr. Brown's inquiry is absolutely puerile.
These are not the times to make a demand of unenlightened deference to authority, or to hold up the proceedings of religious dictators as precedents. sen must be instruóted irr the knowledge of the obligations on which their duties are founded, as well as in the duties themselves which they owe to the guardians of society. Every means which may aid man in his endeavours to act worthily as a rational agent, is entitled to consideration ; but we cannot regard the productions of even wise and good men, as entitled to that character, if they assign political duties to the same class of obligations as those wbich are religious. Custom is frequently a good reason with respect to the former ; bat it is without meaning as applied to the latter. We cannot therefore perceive the propriety of the method by which it is now proposed to challenge the submission of mankind to human authority in any matter of a religious naturé. Constantine may have played the tyrant over men's consciences; and so may Henry the Eighth, and Queen Mary, and other sovereigos: but why are we not to repel a prescriptive argument founded of their acts and deeds, apart from the sanctions of Divine law, without which they can be regarded as acts only of impiety and cruelty?
It is then, we think, but a very partial and unsatisfactory method of proceeding in a business so great and weighty, to merge the question of right, and to 'urge on our consideration the facts brought forward in this Inquiry. The reasons on which their force as laws is implied, must be argued, and they must stand or fall by the sentence of the proper judge. On the subject which Mr. Brown has taken in hand, there is another question which must be distinctly met, and one much more important than that which he has represented as the ulterior question, to the exposition of the practice of Catholic States. Before we proceed farther in the discussion of the main point, we shall extract à sentence or two from the work before us, for the purpose of more fully disclosing to our readers the object and opinions of its Author.
• It must not be concluded because I contend that in the earlier ages of christianity, the strong coercive jurisdiction of the crown over the affairs of the church is every where manifest, that I should, therefore, be prepared to contend for the propriety, or even the right of exercising that jurisdiction to the extent to which it was then carried: for it has been my sole business to show what that jurisdiction was ; and if I have in any degree succeeded in placing that point in a clearer light than that in which it has yet been exhibited, I shall readily leave to others the more difficult but not more laborious task of shewing what that jurisdiction ought to have been.' Preface, p. xiii.
The following paragraph contains one of Mr. Brown's deductions from the facts detailed by him in his narrative of the Donatist Schism, which is certainly very correctly inferred from those proceedings which he has recorded. We quote it to shew the intent and bearings of the Author's mind in this work. Had he satisfied himself with assigning to the whole transaction its proper character, as an instance of misdirected authority, and of direct persecution, we should not have withheld our suffrage in his behalf ; but when the only use to be made of such a sentence, is to assert the jurisdiction of the Crown in religious affairs, we should fail in our duty by forbearing to mark it with Onir censure.
The Author is referring to the decision of Constantine on the appeal of the Numidian bishops agaiost Cecilian, in the affair of the Donatists.
Tenth: That having acquitted the respondent (Cecilian,) on this appeal of the breach of ecclesiastical discipline laid to his charge, the emperor punished the appellant bishops (the leaders of the Donatists) for their irregular and schismatical conduct, (for there was no pretence to charge them with a violation of any civil law of the empire,) by confiscating their goods ; confining them in prison; or sending them into exile, as a commutation of the punishment of death, with which, previously to entering on the appeal, he had threatened to visit whichever party he should find disturbing the peace of the church.' p. 20.
We wish our readers to attend carefully to this passage, and to judge of the design of a work into which such a sentence can be introduced otherwise than for the purpose of receiving the severest reprobation. Persons against whom there is no pretence to charge them with a violation of any civil law, punished by the supreme magistrate of a State, presents such a subject to the thoughts of all mankind in whom reason is not extinguished, as inay well rivet their attention. We say, it should not be hastily dismissed from the consideration of our readers; and we repeat, that the condemnation of such conduct is not necessary to the design of the present work. . To the jurisdiction itself then Mr. Brown has nothing to oppose. His scruples and objections attach only to the manner in which it might be exercised. The coercive power of the Crown, or, in other words, the arbitrary will of Constantine, may have gone too far to receive Mr, Brown's approbation; deeds may have been perpetrated by its order, which he may feel disposed to condemn; but that Constantine should be the ruler of the Church, is clearly admitted. In conformity with this sentiment, we find the Author, speaking of the secular magistrate's interference in the Church, as an original and general • rule, Preface, p. vii.-as an established rule,' p. ix.--as " the ancient rights of the crown,' p. X.--and in p. xiii. he speaks of the proper ascendency of the established religion.'
We cannot pass by language of this kind, but feel ourselves bound to expose its injustice. As we shall endeavour to prove that the principles on which Mr. B.'s whole argument is constrasted, are erroneous and mischievous, we have felt it to be our duty to state them with as much precision as possible. He assumes, that the interference of Constantine, in the affairs of the Church, was a legitimate interference, which could be wrong only by accident, as it might be carried to an undue extent; and, as he states the question of right, it imports not the possible injustice of the interference, but merely its improprieties in particular instances; he leaves to others the task of shew
ing;' not whether such an interference ought to be admitted, or the contrary, but what that interference ought to have • been ;' a mode of expression which certainly assumes the question of right as already determined.
If then such a jurisdiction be acknowledged, who is to determine the limits within which it ought to have been confined? Who is to be the judge of its proper range ? Are the boundaries according to which this interference shall be restricted or enlarged, any others than those which the mind of the party interfering will assign? Clearly not; for he himself is, to the exclusion of every party, the judge of what shall be proper. He alone is to determine when bis interference shall be exerted, and when it shall be suspended or withdrawn. Who was to judge the acts of Constantine exercising ecclesiastical jurisdiction? And by whom was its extent to be defined ? By the bishops ? Certainly not; fòr this would be to concede their superiority over the monarch. By the laws of the empire? No; for the laws of the empire had no direct reference to Christianity, previously to Constantine's time, and such as were then enacted in relation to it, were purely the expression of Constantine's own mind. The acknowledgement then of Constantine's right to interfere in the affairs of the Church, amounts to nothing short of admitting his authority to do as he himself might please.
No other account, therefore, it is evident, can be given why Constantine ruled over the Church, than that he was pleased so to do.. But if Constantine ruled the Church, because he possessed the means of coercing its members, every person, capable of exerting the same force, must be considered as possessing a title to ecclesiastical dominion equally legitimate. Galerius, the predecessor of Constantine, published an edict, in which he commanded the subjects of the empire, who had embraced Christianity, to return, on pain of death, to the religion of their pagan ancestors. Now it undeniably follows, that if Constantine was right, as the supreme secular magistrate of the State, in interfering with religion, Galerius could not be wrong in his interference. Interference in religion, even in respect of the Christian religion, did not commence with Constantine; and we certainly expect some better answer from a