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Chapter 7

THREE HUNDRED TO FOUR HUNDRED A.D.

 Continued Persecution

  The church enjoyed freedom of worship for almost another hundred years, but when Diocletian consulted with Gallienus Caesar, after returning victorious from the Persian Wars, they formulated plans for the extermination of Christians. The edict obtained stated that churches, and all Christian writings, should be destroyed, and all their rights and privileges annulled. Furious persecutions raged. Some were broiled to death on gridirons after being cruelly scourged, and their wounds washed in brine. Others were thrown to wild beasts, and some starved to death.

These persecutions lasted approximately ten years. This is the period of persecution prophesied by our Savior, in Revelation 2:9, 10, where He said they would have tribulation ten days (ten years) and admonished them to be faithful unto death and He would give them a crown of life. This Smyrna period corresponds to the time of Diocletian. A dreadful and loathsome disease fell upon the emperor, causing him to cease his persecutions of Christians, about the year 310, and the empire was abdicated.

 

Constantine

  At this time Constantine, the pagan emperor, came to the throne, who from beholding, as he claimed, a luminous cross in the sky, with the inscription, "By This Conquer," he embraced Christianity, and was baptized by Eusebius. In 313 an edict was issued from Milan favoring the church, and peace was enjoyed for twenty-four years, until his death.

During this time, at the council of bishops and prelates, assembled at Nice, 321, among other ecclesiastical laws, one was passed relative to the Sabbath, stating that all townspeople should rest from their labors on the venerable day of the sun. This was the first of a series of laws passed wherein the bishops of the numerous cities and districts tried to compromise with the pagan sun worshipers.

 

Popes

  There were bishops presiding over each of the following cities, having jurisdiction over the surrounding territory as well: Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Corinth, Ethiopia, Damascus, Sardis, Constantinople, Rome, Caesarea, Nicomedia, and Tyre. The bishops were recognized as superior church prelates, and called "papa," or "pope." This title was widely used in both the Eastern and Western churches, being ascribed to all of the bishops, during the third and fourth centuries. Many doctrinal divisions were apparent among the bishops, and rivalry as to authority and power. The bishop of Jerusalem was at first given the greatest honor and respect, but later a strong rivalry arose between the pope at Constantinople and the pope, or bishop, of Rome. Because of the advantage given the Roman bishop, in being near the emperor of Rome, and both together struggling for peace and power, they early conceived of the advantage to both, in a united policy. The bishop of Rome was soon placed at the head of the clerical order, as superior bishop, and he maintained his claim of superiority by immense splendor and magnificence. His authority had, however, before the close of the fourth century, a formidable rival in the bishop of Constantinople, who at a council in that city was elevated to bishop of second clerical rank. The powers which had been invested in the people of choosing their bishops became productive of great scandal, which right was withdrawn at the council of Nice 321. -- See Hugh Smith's Church History, p. 100.

All bishops were called "papa," or pope, which title was later applied to the bishops of Constantinople, and Rome only, and much later to the bishop of Rome alone.

For a long period the pope at Constantinople regulated the affairs for the professed followers of Christ in the East, while the pope or bishop of Rome ruled the West.

 

Doctor Arius

  Dr. Arius, the most talented, intellectual, and spiritual power of the fourth century was the central figure against which the evil and polluted minds of western Roman bishops were directed. He was indeed a man of God, in whom the truth found its most consecrated and able defender. Like the Apostle Paul, he traversed the then known world, propagating truth, and denouncing error. He was a staunch observer of the seventh day Sabbath; he held the Lord's Supper once a year on the 14th of Abib, as did all the Jewish Christians, and most of the members and bishops of the Eastern churches. He believed in the one God, and Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, and contended that the Holy Spirit was a power sent forth from God, entering into hearts and lives of Christians, transforming them into servants of God, of which he himself was a living example.

 

Nicean Council

  In the year 325 A.D., the first general church council was called by Constantine to convene at Nice in which 318 bishops are said to have participated. At this council the doctrine of Arius was discussed and settled, resulting in the banishment of the old man, and of Eusebius of Nicomedia. Dr. Arius sponsored the truth of the sonship of Jesus, claiming that he was truly the son of God, begotten by the Holy Spirit, and was not God Himself, in the sense as taught by the western bishops. This contention finally resulted a hundred years later in the three Arian Kingdoms, the Burgundians, Vandals, and Ostrogoths, being plucked up, as set forth in the prophecy of Daniel 7:8, 25.

At this council, the Passover was placed on the Sunday after the Jewish passover, which fell on the Fourteenth of Nisan, or Abib. This made Easter a fixed festival, instead of falling on any day of the week, according to the day of the fourteenth of this month. The Eastern churches to this time had celebrated the passover once a year on the fourteenth of Abib. -- From Eusebius, also Encyclopadia Britannica, and Mosheim's History of the Church.

It was also at this council where the first edict was made in favor of the "Venerable day of the sun," being observed as a day of rest. Up to this time Jewish and Gentile Christians observed the Sabbath according to the commandment, with the exceptions of a number of bishops in the west, in the sphere of the Roman church, who observed both days.

Wharey says, "A dispute arose at an early period between the Eastern and Western (Roman) churches about the time of celebrating Easter. The Asiatic churches kept it on the same day that the Jews kept their Passover which was the fourteenth day of the full moon, of the first Jewish month, which might fall on any day of the week. The Latin (Western, or Roman) churches kept Easter always on that Sunday which was the first after that same fourteenth day of the first new moon of the new year. The Jews began their ecclesiastical year with the new moon of March. This difference in the time of holding Easter was the cause of much contention between the East and West until it was finally settled by the council of Nice in favor of the Latin mode, A.D. 325." -- Wharey's Church History, p. 37. Published by the Presbyterian Board of Publications.

Brother Arius, with a large company of other bishops, was banished upon islands of the sea, following this council, and his writings wherever found consigned to the flames. This was the first victory over the truth by civil legislation. While the three hundred and eighteen bishops attending this conference were representatives of churches, still Constantine the emperor of Rome presided over the meeting, and the decisions made by these church bishops were endorsed and given sanction by civil law, and backed by military power.

The Christian churches, which were flourishing in worldly wealth, were those mainly represented at this council, the humble companies of the poor, not being financially able to travel hundreds and even thousands of miles, were thus prevented from being there. The humble devoted Christians will always be found in larger numbers among the poor than the rich, consequently the voice of the council of Nice was the voice of the churches clothed in wealth and splendor, catering to the popular trend of the time.

"It has been already stated how, following the council of Nice 321 A.D., that Dr. Arius was banished, and his writings committed to the flames. A company of bishops who secretly favored Dr. Arius were discovered and banished into Gaul. One of the followers of Brother Arius, who, by the dying words of his Sister Constantina, had been recommended to the emperor of Rome, had the address to persuade him that the sentence of Dr. Arius was unjust. The emperor consequently recalled him, and endeavored to have him received into the church at Alexandria, but the bishop refused his admittance, but Arius and his adherents were received into the communion of the church at Jerusalem." -- Hugh Smith's History, p. 114.

After Dr. Arius had been released from banishment, and received into membership in the church at Jerusalem, he passed away, but "his works followed him." Like the ministry of Paul, the seeds of truth that he had both sown and watered were growing, flourishing, and bearing an abundant harvest of fruit. His banishment and death by no means checked the spread of the truth, but rather scattered it abroad, and inflamed hearts with renewed zeal. The church, called by the world Nazarenes, Waldenses, Puritans, Arians, etc., was shining brightly in many darkened places of Europe, causing the enactment of civil laws, and the waging of bitter persecution against them.

The harvest resulting from the seed sowing of Dr. Arius had brought into existence three nations known as the "Arian Kingdoms," viz., the Burgundians, the Vandals and Ostrogoths. The pope was raised to spiritual power over the Roman state, and by the consent and agreement of Emperor Justinian of Rome, church and state were united in the year 538 A.D. War against these powerful adherents of Dr. Arius, known as the Arian Kingdoms, resulted in their overthrow. Three crowns thus fell, and three kings were plucked up by the roots, in fulfillment of Dan.7:8- 25. The last one of these three, viz., the Ostrogoth kingdom, fell in the year 538. Thus we have the final overthrow of the true church, and the woman driven into the wilderness. When the 1260 days (or years) prophetically announced for her sojourn there are completed, reaching to 1798, we find her at that date coming forth again, and given religious liberty to proclaim the truth, which for so many centuries had been trampled under the feet of tyrants, who themselves had become drunk of the wine of Babylon, from the golden cup of the mother of harlots. -- Revelation 17.

 

Sunday

  "It is a remarkable fact that the first instance upon record which the bishop of Rome attempted to rule the Christian church was by an edict in behalf of Sunday. It had been the custom of all the churches to celebrate the Passover, but with this difference; that while the Eastern churches observed it upon the fourteenth day of the first month, no matter what day of the week this might be, the Western churches kept it upon the Sunday following that day, or rather, upon the Sunday following Good Friday. Victor, bishop of Rome, in the year 196 (Bower's History of the Popes, vol. 1, pp. 18, 19; Rose's Neander, pp. 188-190; Dowling's History of Romanism, book 1, chap. 2, sec. 9), took upon him to impose the Roman custom upon all the churches; that is, to compel them to observe the Passover upon Sunday." "This bold attempt," says Bower, "we may call the first essay of papal usurpation" (History of the Popes, vol. 1, p. 18). Dowling terms it the "earliest instance of Romish assumption" (History of Romanism, heading of page 32). The churches of Asia Minor informed Victor that they could not comply with his lordly mandate. Then, says Bower:

"Upon the receipt of this letter, Victor, giving the reins to an ungovernable passion, published bitter invectives against all the churches of Asia, declared them cut off from his communion, sent letters of excommunication to their respective bishops; and, at the same time, in order to have them cut off from the communion of the whole church, wrote to the other bishops, exhorting them to follow his example, and forbear communicating with their refractory brethren of Asia." -- History of the Popes, vol. 1, p. 18.

The victory was not obtained for Sunday in the struggle, as Heylyn testifies:

"Till the great council of Nicaea (A.D. 321) backed by the authority of as great an emperor (Constantine), settled it better than before; none but some scattered schismatics, now and then appearing, durst oppose the resolution of that famous synod." -- History of the Sabbath, part 2, chap. 2, secs. 4, 5.

Constantine, by whose powerful influence the council of Nicaea was induced to decide this question in favor of the Roman bishop, that is, to fix the Passover upon Sunday, urged the following strong reason for the measure:

"Let us, then, have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews." -- Boyle's Historical View of the Council of Nice, p. 52, ed. 1842.

"The retention of the old Pagan name of `Dies solis,' or Sunday, for the weekly Christian festival, is in great measure owing to the union of pagan and Christian sentiment, with which the first day of the week was recommended by Constantine to his subjects, pagan and Christian alike, as the `venerable day of the sun.' His decree regulating its observance has been justly called a new era in the history of the Lord's Day. It was his mode of harmonizing the discordant religions of the empire under the common institution." -- Dean Stanley, Eastern Church, p. 193.

"The first day of the week was proclaimed as a day of rest and worship, and its observance soon became general throughout the empire. In 321 A.D. Constantine forbade the courts to be held on Sunday, except for the purpose of giving freedom to slaves; and on that day soldiers were commanded to omit their daily military exercises. But the public games were continued on Sunday, tending to make it more a holiday than a holy day." -- Hurlbut's Story of the Christian Church, p. 77.

"As a protest against Jewish observance of the seventh day, the practice of fasting, on Saturday arose in the West, but never in the East. Later the Roman Catholic fast-day was changed to Friday." -- Idem, p. 127.

"Originally, labor did not cease on the first day of the week; but seems to have been gradually discontinued as circumstances permitted. At what time cessation from it became general, if it became so before the time of Constantine, when it was enjoined by law, except in agricultural districts, where sowing and reaping, and tending the vine, were allowed, it is impossible to ascertain." -- Footnote, page 379, Church of the First Three Centuries, Lamson, Edition 1873.

Among the festivals, considered simply as voluntary memorials of the Redeemer, Sunday had very little preeminence; for it is well stated by Heylyn:

"Take which you will, either the fathers or the moderns, and we shall find no Lord's day instituted by any apostolic mandate; no Sabbath set on foot by them upon the first day of the week." -- History of the Sabbath, part 2, chap. 1, sec. 10.

A Catholic claim follows: "It was the Roman Catholic church that changed the Sabbath from Saturday, the seventh day of the week, to Sunday, the first day, and at the council of Laodicea, we anathematized those who kept the Sabbath, and urged all persons to labor on the seventh day of the week under penalty of anathema," -- Father Enright, Catholic Priest, deceased, Kansas City, Missouri from a lecture at Harlan, Iowa, published in the Harlan Weekly Paper.

From "Faith of Our Fathers," by Cardinal Gibbons, page 89, edition of 1917, we glean the following illuminating information, as to Rome's attitude toward the Holy Scriptures:

"A rule of faith, or a competent guide to heaven, must be able to instruct all the truths necessary for salvation. Now the Scriptures alone do not contain all the truths which a Christian is bound to believe, nor do they explicitly enjoin all the duties which he is obliged to practice. Not to mention other examples, is not every Christian obliged to sanctify Sunday and to abstain on that day from unnecessary servile work? Is not the observance of this law among the most promising of our sacred duties? But you may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify."

William James, in his "Sermons on the Sacraments and Sabbath," pp. 122, 123, says, "When the practice of keeping Saturday Sabbaths, which had become so general at the close of this century (the fourth), was evidently gaining ground in the Eastern church, a decree was passed in the Council of Laodicea (A.D. 364), `That members of the church should not rest from work on the Sabbath like Jews.'"

 

The Sabbath

  In the history of the first century by Eusebius, he says on page 243, "The Sabbath was not dropped by the church at Laodicea until the year 363." On page 188, he says, "The Jewish Christians also observed the Sabbath."

"At the council of Laodicea, held the year 364, where several hundred bishops gathered, a law was passed prohibiting Christians to Judaize, i. e., to rest from their work on Saturday, as do the Jews. This law was thought by the bishops necessary because of the rapid gain throughout the Eastern church of Saturday observance." -- William James, On Sacraments and Sabbath, pp. 122, 123.

By Judaism, Neander meant the observance of the seventh day as the Sabbath. Dr. Charles Hase, of Germany, states the object of the Roman church in very explicit language:

"The Roman church regarded Saturday as a fast day in direct opposition to those who regarded it as a Sabbath. Sunday remained a joyful festival in which all fasting and worldly business was avoided as much as possible, but the original commandment of the decalogue respecting the Sabbath was not then applied to that day." -- Ancient Church History, part 1, div. 2, A.D. 100-312, sec. 69.

 

False Doctrines

  Concerning Christianity established by law under Constantine: "Now they began to new model the Christian church, the government of which was, as far as possible, arranged conformable to the government of the state."

The working of the mystery of iniquity in the first centuries of the Christian church is thus described by recent writers:

"About the year 379 the apostate church began to seek Scriptures to teach the erroneous doctrine of the deity of the Holy Ghost" -- Townsend's Abridgment, p. 203.

Hurlbut says, "It was two generations after Constantine when images began to appear in the churches; the early Christians having a horror of all that might lead to idolatry." -- Story of the Christian Church, p. 75.

Under Constantine, "This constitution of things was an entire departure from the order of worship established, under divine direction, by the apostles of Christ in the primitive churches. In fact, scarcely any two things could be more dissimilar than was the simplicity of the gospel dispensation from the hierarchy established under Constantine the Great. `Let none say,' says Dr. Mosheim, alluding to the first and second centuries, `confound the bishops of this primitive and golden period of the church, with those of whom we read in the following ages. For though they were both designated by the same name, yet they differed extremely in many respects. A bishop, during the first and second centuries, was a person who had the care of the Christian assembly, which, at that time, was, generally speaking, small enough to be contained in a private house. In this assembly, he acted, not so much with the authority of a master, as with the zeal and diligence of a, faithful servant." Jones' Church History, p. 131.

The bishop of Rome claiming more honor and dignity than other bishops, because of his close association with the Roman emperors, living as he did in the same city, his decisions on doctrine were favorably received because of his distinguished position, and that his influence became felt and his decrees esteemed. Thus the Roman church became strong and popular, and the name "catholic," or universal, applied to it.

There were the Macedonians of the fourth century, known also as semi-Arians, being the strongest sect among them, and who finally signed the Nicean Creed.

In the fourth century there was also a distinguished man by the name of Priscillian, who founded a sect known as the Priscillianists, who differed in some respects from the bishop of Rome.

Practically all of the above sects, signed the "Nicean Creed," following the council of Nice 321 A.D., and gradually became lost, as they were submerged into the Roman Catholic church, which so rapidly gained the ascendancy at Rome, with the assistance of civil power.

As Doctor Arius was the leader in defense of the true faith at this council, we herewith enter some historical extracts, further showing the conditions as they were, in this period.

"It is happy for simply Christians that their rule of duty is plain, though, unfortunately, not sanctioned by either the catholic or the reformed church. It is `Not to admit into worship of God anything which is either not expressly commanded, or plainly exemplified, in the New Testament.' This was evidently the principle upon which Arius proceeded in opposing the superstitions of his time, and for which he deserves to be held in perpetual remembrance. It is the only principle which evinces a becoming deference to the wisdom and authority of God in the institution of his worship; and, it may be added, which secures uniform regard of his people to the institutions of his kingdom to the end of time." -- Idem, p.154.

"From the time of the establishment of Christianity under Constantine, to the end of the fourth century, a period of more than seventy years, the disciples of Jesus were highly privileged. They were in general permitted to sit under their own vine and fig tree, exempt from the dread of molestation. The clergy of the Catholic church, indeed, persisted in waging a sanguinary and disgraceful contest with each other about church preferments, and similar objects of human ambition; but, notwithstanding the squabbles of those men of corrupt minds, it must have been a season of precious repose and tranquillity to the real churches of Christ, which stood aloof from such scandalous proceedings, and kept their garments unspotted from the world." -- Idem, p. 162.

 

Julian the Apostate

  "In 361 Julian the apostate obtained possession of the whole Roman empire. He was educated in the Christian religion, but turned away and made every attempt possible to deprive the clergy of their privileges, and discredit the claims of the church for the divinity of the Holy Scriptures.

"He showed much partiality to the Jews and granted them the privilege of rebuilding the temple at Jerusalem, in order to contradict and falsify the predictions of the Scripture. This the Jews attempted, but were obliged to desist before even the foundation was laid: for balls of fire issued from the ground, accompanied with a great explosion and tremendous earthquake, which disbursed both the materials that were collected and the workmen." -- Wharey's Church History, p. 53.

 

The True Church

  "The type of Christianity which first was favored, then raised to leadership by Constantine was that of the Roman Papacy. But this was not the type of Christianity that first penetrated Syria, northern Italy, southern France, and Great Britain. The ancient records of the first believers in Christ in those parts, disclose a Christianity which is not Roman but apostolic. These lands were first penetrated by missionaries, not from Rome, but from Palestine and Asia Minor. And the Greek New Testament, the Received Text, they brought with them, or its translation, was of the type from which the Protestant Bibles, as the King James in the English, and the Lutheran in German, were translated." -- Dr. T. V. Moore, The Culdee Church, chapters 3 and 4, and Wilkinson, Our Authorized Bible Vindicated, pp. 25, 26.

In the midst of all the turmoil and the wrangling caused by ambitious bishops, each trying to gain the ascendancy over the others, there dwelt a people untouched by the worldliness of the apostate church, this was the true Church of God, known, it is true, by various man-made names, but among themselves holding to the true name, and the pure unadulterated doctrines advocated by the disciples of the first century.

President Edwards says of this people, later called Waldenses, Puritans, etc.:

"Some of the popish writers themselves own that this people never submitted to the church of Rome. One of the popish writers, speaking of the Waldenses, says, `The heresy of the Waldenses is the oldest heresy in the world. It is supposed that they first betook themselves to this place among the mountains, where they existed before Constantine the Great, and thus the woman fled into the wilderness, from the face of the serpent (Revelation 12:6, 14). `And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.' The people being settled there, their posterity continued (there) from age to age; and being, as it were, by natural walls, as well as by God's grace, separated from the rest of the world, they never partook of the overflowing corruption.'" -- Edward's History of Redemption, period 3, part 4, sec. 2.

The following historical sketch tells of a body of believers who fled out of Judaea late in the fourth century, and who by their faith were evidently the Church of God.

The Bishop of Ely names these also as a body of Sabbath-keepers whose heresy was condemned by the church. Joseph Bingham, M.A., gives the following account of them:

"There was another sect, . . . `Hypsistarians,' that is, worshipers of the most high God, whom they worshiped as the Jews only in one person. And they observed their Sabbaths, and used distinction of their meats, clean and unclean, though they did not regard circumcision, as Gregory Nazianzen whose father was one of this sect, gives the account of them." -- Antiquities of the Christian Church, book 16, chap. 6, sec. 2.

It is not strange that the church which fled out of Judaea at the word of Christ should long retain the Sabbath, as it appears that they did, even as late as the fourth century. Morer mentions these Sabbath-keepers in the

following language: "About the same time were the Hypsistarii, who closed with these as to what concerned the Sabbath, yet would by no means accept circumcision as too plain a testimony of ancient bondage. All these were heretics, and so adjudged to by the Catholic church. Yet their [sincerity] and industry were such as gained them a considerable footing in the Christian world." -- Dialogues on the Lord's Day, p. 67.

"Gradually the first day of the week came into prominence as an added day, but finally by civil and ecclesiastical authority as a required observance. The first legislation on the subject was the famous law of Constantine, enacted 321 A.D. The acts of various councils during the fourth and fifth centuries established the observance of the first day of the week by ecclesiastical [Roman Catholic] authority, and in the great apostasy which followed, the rival day [Sunday] observed the ascendancy. During the centuries which followed, however, there were always witnesses for the true Sabbath, although under great persecution. And thus in various lands, the knowledge of the true Sabbath has been preserved." -- Wharey's Church History, p. 37, Presbyterian.

 
 
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