Abbildungen der Seite

which, from the caution and anxiety to conciliate, displayed upon all occasions by them, it is evident that they were superior. In order, however, to guard against any misapprehension of their views as much as possible, this objection was subsequently met by directing, that with each of the consecrated elements, it should be said, “ Preserve thy body and soul." But the most important objection to the new office arose from the manner in which confession was treated in it'. Ever since the Word of God had been unsealed, and enquiring minds in all conditions had anxiously turned over its pages for the purpose of discovering how far the established religion could be traced to any satisfactory source, a belief had been gaining ground that the whole mass of Romish doctrines connected with the confessional were of human origin, and even of pernicious tendency. It was sufficiently plain that those who compiled the new Communion office entertained one or both of these opinions. For although they had interdicted neither confession to a priest, nor absolution, yet they had left it optional with individuals to make or to decline the accustomed disclosures before Communion. Evidently, therefore, it was not believed by the crown's ecclesiastical advisers, that auricular confession and sacerdotal absolution were sacramental acts. This, however, was a fact highly mortifying to such Romanists as understood the nature of their


• Ibid. 104,

Burnet, Hist. Ref. II. 108.

culiar tenets, and were anxious to see these still professed by the English nation. For not only is the Papal Church decidedly atvariance with the Christian world generally, with respect to her penitential doctrines and discipline; but also to these things is she mainly indebted for her hold upon the human mind.

Among the early professors of our holy religion nothing is more remarkable, nothing certainly furnishes a more decisive proof of the comforts experienced by such as have had their hearts softened by the Gospel, than the rigorous penances which offenders underwent. Destitute as was then the Church of civil power, her condemnatory voice was sufficient to impose two, five, fifteen, twenty years, or even a whole life of tears and degradation? Rather than find himself excluded to the end of his mortal course from the pious assemblies which had refreshed his spirits, from the words of eternal life which had solaced and enlightened his mind, from the hallowed sacraments which had curbed his irregular desires and fed his only solid hopes, from the fervent prayers which had raised his soul above the guilt and follies of this lower scene, an unhappy sinner was contented to pass through a long probation of penitentiary suffering. His dress was sackcloth, ashes were sprinkled upon his head, he rigorously abstained from even innocent amusements, intermitted the care of his person. As the first step towards his re-admission into the Christian congregation, he prostrated himself at the church-door bewailing his offence and earnestly supplicating the prayers of those who, not having like himself forfeited their right to enter within the sacred walls, were then proceeding to their public devotions; after a year commonly spent in this kind of humiliation, he was admitted into the church while the Scriptures were read, and the sermon was preached; he was next allowed to remain in the church kneeling while certain prayers were said particularly suited to persons in his unhappy condition; and at length he received leave to stand by, and see the Lord's supper administered to the congregation". It was not until the sinner had passed through all these four stages of humiliation, and had continued in each a time sufficient to mark the enormity of his offence, and to satisfy his fellow Christians as to the sincerity of his repentance, that he was again admitted, after a formal absolution, to claim a share in all the spiritual benefits of his holy profession. These exemplary punishments were usually inflicted in consequence of a lapse into idolatry. Possibly in some cases this grievous sin might be committed from the contagion of an ill example, the fascinations of Paganism, or the persuasions of relatives. But in

' Bingham, II. 226.

" In ecclesiastical history, these four orders of penitents are known by the names of Flentes, Audientes, Substrati, and Consistentes.

most instances the primitive Christians “ denied the Lord who bought them *” under a horror of imminent persecution.

When the infatuated malice of heathen rulers assailed the peaceful community of Jesus, many timid spirits cowered before the storm. There were such as delivered up

their Bibles to destruction. These were called traditors'. Others attended the sacrifices, and partook of the sacrificial feasts celebrated in honour of the departed spirits revered by Pagans, Others offered incense before the images of these deceased personages". Many there were also who avoided these open scandals by bribing the magistrates to give them certificates declaring them to be members of the established religion ; or to excuse their attendance in the temples, on the sight of a certificate to this effect. It was obviously necessary to restrain by checks of great severity a disposition to elude the persecutor's iron grasp by means of such compliances. Had Christians connived at this want of firmness in each other, it can scarcely be doubted, that during the terrific ordeal through which the Church made her way to the general admiration of


2 Pet. ii. 1. y Traditores. “ Diocletian put forth an edict, that Christians should deliver up their Scriptures, and the writings of the Church to be burnt." Cave's Primitive Christianity, 357.

• Hence called Sacrificati, Bingham, II. 70. · Hence called Thurificati, Ibid.

These unhappy dissemblers were styled Libellatici. Jbid.

mankind, she would have enclosed within her pale a large proportion of half-reclaimed heathens, unblushing apostates, and cowardly dissemblers; men whom the Master declares he will disown when he comes to claim his genuine disciples. Not only, therefore, in justice to her own character, but also in mercy to her children did the primitive Church enact her rigorous penitential canons, These were also applied to such cases of notorious immorality as occasionally cast a mournful shade over the bright picture of moral excellence presented by the rising community of Christians. Any unhappy sinner who should have thus disgraced his holy calling was rigidly excluded from the appointed means of grace, until by an exemplary submission to the penitence exacted from unworthy believers, he should have made atonement for the scandal arising from his iniquity, and should have given sufficient reason to believe, that a moral taint no longer rendered him incapable of receiving spiritual benefits". While the eyes of men resorting to the house of God met these painful spectacles of fallen believers condemned for flagrant delinquency to undergo a protracted course of penitential discipline, it struck many Christians of tender consciences, that they had escaped the open shame of their humiliated brethren only because they had never been placed in a situation calculated to bring their lurking depravity to light. Awakened trans

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]
« ZurückWeiter »