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would result from the restoration of discipline, it would especially tend to correct that most dangerous error which the perversion of the doctrine of Justification by Faith has rendered so prevalent, of supposing that repentance is to be an easy and painless work, that the sins of baptized Christians are to be remitted as readily and immediately as those of persons who have never been enlightened and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. At any rate, we might hope to see and hear no more of those awful profanations of the Gospel, by which penitents still reeking from a course of sin, instead of passing through “the several degrees of penance,” are exalted at once into the place and privileges of the “faithful” and “perfect;" and even venture to speak with contempt of others who still feel the memory of their former sins a sore burden, and who go mourning all their life, not in despair or doubt of God's mercy, but from a recollection of their own vile ingratitude, and abuse of the grace which was given them.
There are some persons, however, who are disposed to deprecate all attempts at restoring the ancient discipline of the Church, from a fear that it would have the effect of increasing the number of dissenters, or of driving men altogether from the profession of religion. But as regards the first of these objections, our own sense must tell us, that a convert would be received by any class of dissenters with very different feelings if he were cast out of the Church for his offences, from those with which he is hailed now when he himself casts off the Church; and as regards the other objection, it is best answered by the plain historical fact, that the blessing of Church communion was never so highly valued, and so earnestly sought, as when the Canons of the Church were most rigorously enforced, when the necessary condition of retaining that communion was a strictness of life which we do not now pretend to, and when the means of regaining it, if lost, was a course of penitential discipline maintained for five, or ten, or twenty, or more years, with a severity such as we should be unable to bear. But this again is a subject of far too great importance, and requiring too much consideration, to be discussed in this Preface. I shall not therefore attempt to enter any further upon it.
It only then remains for me now to mention, for the information of any persons who may wish to compare any passages in this work with the original documents, that the translation of the Canons is made from the copy printed by Bishop Beveridge, in his Synodicon, or Collection of Canons received in the Greek Church. A translation of the Canons contained in the present work, with an abridgment of others, was published by Johnson in the early part of the last century, in the second volume of the Clergyman's Vade Mecum; but although I have availed myself of his translation in correcting my own, yet as the design of his work did not lead him to include the other documents contained in this publication, I preferred making a fresh translation of the Canons also to reprinting his. The other documents are translated from the originals, which are to be found in any of the Collections of Councils, The edition which I have used is that of Binius, Cologne, 1618; which, although it has been
generally superseded as a book of reference by the later editions of the Councils, is, I believe, equally correct in the text of the documents, and has the advantage of being the edition generally referred to by our old divines. The notes which I have added are mostly selected and abridged from well-known authors; almost all those upon the Canons, when not otherwise specified, are taken from the Annotations of Bishop Beveridge, in the work mentioned above; indeed the reader may conclude this to be the case when there are no particular names or authorities referred to. These notes are placed at the end of the several documents, as interfering less with the text in that position.
I have added the Collection of Canons commonly called Apostolical ; because, although of uncertain origin and date, they are certainly of very great antiquity, and appear to be recognized and referred to by the early Councils, very many of whose Canons seem clearly to have been copied from them, or framed upon them.
THE COUNCIL OF NICE.
The first Ecumenical Council was assembled by Constantine, at Nice, or Nicæa, in Bithynia, A. D. 325, for the purpose of terminating the dissensions which had been excited in the Church by Arius and his followers. It consisted of 318 Bishops; and the Presbyters Vitus and Vincentius attended it as representatives of Sylvester, Bishop of Rome. The Presidents of the Council were Alexander, Bishop of Alexandria, Eustathius of Antioch, and Hosius of Corduba.
Arius was permitted to state his opinions before the Council, which condemned them as heretical ; and drew up the Nicene Creed, as a summary of the true doctrine upon the points in controversy.
The Council next considered the case of Meletius and his followers, and passed a decree for their readmission into the Catholic Church upon certain conditions, which are stated in the Synodal Epistle.
The Council also settled the dispute respecting the proper time of the observance of Easter, which some of the Eastern Churches continued to keep at the same time as the Jews did their Passover: and they also made other rules for various matters of ecclesiastical discipline.