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§ 51. Moral Character of the Clergy in general.


Augustine gives us the key to the true view of the clergy of the Roman empire in both light and shade, when he says of the spiritual office: “There is in this life, and especially in this day, nothing easier, more delightful, more acceptable to men, than the office of bishop, or presbyter, or deacon, if the charge be administered superficially and to the pleasure of men; but nothing in the eye of God more wretched, mournful, and damnable. So also there is in this life, and especially in this day, nothing more difficult, more laborious) more hazardous than the office of bishop, or presbyter, or deacon; but nothing in the eye of God more blessed, if the battle be fought in the manner enjoined by our Captain.”446446   Epist. 21 ad Valerium Nihil esse in hac vita et maxime hoc tempore facilius et laetitius et hominibus acceptabilius episcopi aut presbyteri aut diaconi officio, si perfunctorie atque adulatorie res agatur: sed nihil apud Deum miserius et tristius et damnabilius. Item nihil esse in hac vita et maxime hoc tempore difficilius, laboriosius, periculosius episcopi aut presbyteri aut diaconi officio, sed apud Deum nihil beatius, si eo modo militetur, quo noster imperator jubet.” This epistle was written soon after his ordination to the priesthood, a.d.391. See Opera, ed. Bened. tom. ii p. 25. We cannot wonder, on the one hand that, in the better condition of the church and the enlarged field of her labor, a multitude of light-minded and unworthy men crowded into the sacred office, and on the other, that just the most earnest and worthy bishops of the day, an Ambrose, an Augustine, a Gregory Nazianzen, and a Chrysostom, trembled before the responsibility of the office, and had to be forced into it in a measure against their will, by the call of the church.

Gregory Nazianzen fled into the wilderness when his father, without his knowledge, suddenly consecrated him priest in the presence of the congregation (361). He afterward vindicated this flight in his beautiful apology, in which he depicts the ideal of a Christian priest and theologian. The priest must, above all, he says, be a model of a Christian, offer himself a holy sacrifice to God, and be a living temple of the living God. Then he must possess a deep knowledge, of souls, and, as a spiritual physician, heal all classes of men of various diseases of sin, restore, preserve, and protect the divine image in them, bring Christ into their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and make them partakers of the divine nature and of eternal salvation. He must, moreover, have at command the sacred philosophy or divine science of the world and of the worlds, of matter and spirit, of good and evil angels, of the all-ruling Providence, of our creation and regeneration, of the divine covenants, of the first and second appearing of Christ, of his incarnation, passion, and resurrection, of the end of all things and the universal judgment, and above all, of the mystery of the blessed Trinity; and he must be able to teach and elucidate these doctrines of faith in popular discourse. Gregory, sets forth Jesus as the perfect type of the priest, and next to him he presents in an eloquent picture the apostle Paul, who lived only for Christ, and under all circumstances and amid all trials by sea and land, among Jews and heathen, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in freedom and bonds, attested the divine power of the gospel for the salvation of the world. This ideal, however, Gregory found but seldom realized. He gives on the whole a very unfavorable account of the bishops, and even of the most celebrated councils of his day, charging them with ignorance unworthy means of promotion, ambition, flattery, pride, luxury, and worldly mindedness. He says even: “Our danger now is, that the holiest of all offices will become the most ridiculous; for the highest clerical places are gained not so much by virtue, as by iniquity; no longer the most worthy, but the most powerful, take the episcopal chair.”447447   Orat. xliii. c. 46 (Opera, ed. Bened. tom. i. p. 791), in the Latin translation: “Nunc autem periculum est, ne ordo omnium sanctissimus, sit quoque omnium maxime ridiculus. Non enim virtute magis, quam maleficio et scelere, sacerdotium paratur; nec digniorum, sed potentiorum, throni sunt.” In the following chapter, however, he represents his friend Basil as a model of all virtues. Though his descriptions, especially in the satirical poem “to himself and on the bishops,” composed probably after his resignation in Constantinople (a.d. 381), may be in many points exaggerated, yet they were in general drawn from life and from experience.448448   Comp. Ullmann: Gregor von Nazianz, Erste Beilage, p. 509-521, where the views of this church father on the clerical office and the clergy of his time are presented at large in his own words. Also Gieseler, i., ii. § 103, gives copious extracts from the writings of Gregory on the vices of the clergy.

Jerome also, in his epistles, unsparingly attacks the clergy of his time, especially the Roman, accusing them of avarice and legacy hunting, and drawing a sarcastic picture of a clerical fop, who, with his fine scented clothes, was more like a bridegroom than a clergyman.449449   Hieron. ad Eustochium, and especially ad Nepotianum, de vita clericorum et monachorum (Opera, ed. Vall. tom. i. p. 252 sqq.). Yet neither does he spare the monks, but says, ad Nepot.: “Nonnulli sunt ditiores monachi quam fuerant seculares et clerici qui possident opes sub Christo paupere, quas sub locuplete et fallaci Diabolo non habuerant.” Of the rural clergy’, however, the heathen Ammianus Marcellinus bears a testimony, which is certainly reliable, to their simplicity, contentment, and virtue.450450   Lib. xxvii. c. 3, sub ann. 367.

Chrysostom, in his celebrated treatise on the priesthood,451451   Περὶ ἱερωσύνης, or De Sacerdotio libri sex. The work has been often published separately, and several times translated into modern languages (into German, for example, by Hasselbach, 1820, and Ritter, 1821; into English by Hollier, 1740, Bunce, 1759; Hohler, 1837; Marsh, 1844; and best by B. Harris Cowper, London, 1866). Comp. the list of twenty-three different separate editions and translations in Lomler: Joh. Chrysost. Opera praestantissima Gr. et Lat. Rudolph. 1840, p. viii, ix. written probably, before his ordination (somewhere between the years 375 and 381), or while he was deacon (between 381 and 386), portrayed the theoretical and practical qualifications, the exalted duties, responsibilities, and honors of this office, with youthful enthusiasm, in the best spirit of his age. He requires of the priest, that he be in every respect better than the monk, though, standing in the world, he have greater dangers and difficulties to contend with.452452   De Sacerdotio, lib. vi. cap. 2-8. He sets up as the highest object of the preacher, the great principle stated by, Paul, that in all his discourses he should seek to please God alone, not men. “He must not indeed despise the approving demonstrations of men; but as little must he court them, nor trouble himself when his hearers withhold them. True and imperturbable comfort in his labors he finds only in the consciousness of having his discourse framed and wrought out to the approval of God.”453453   Πρὸς ἀρέσκειαν τοῦ Θεοῦ, lib. v. c. 7. Nevertheless the book as a whole is unsatisfactory. A comparison of it with the “Reformed Pastor” of Baxter, which is far deeper and richer in all that pertains to subjective experimental Christianity and the proper care of souls, would result emphatically in favor of the English Protestant church of the seventeenth century.454454   Comp. also the remarks of B. H. Cowperin the introduction to his English translation, Lond. 1866, p. xiii.

We must here particularly notice a point which reflects great discredit on the moral sense of many of the fathers, and shows that they had not wholly freed themselves from the chains of heathen ethics. The occasion of this work of Chrysostom was a ruse, by which he had evaded election to the bishopric, and thrust it upon his friend Basil.455455   Not Basil the Great (as Socrates supposes), for he was much older, and died in 379; but probably (as Montfaucon conjectures) the bishop of Raphanea in Syria, near Antioch, whose name appears among the bishops of the council of Constantinople, in 381. To justify this conduct, he endeavors at large, in the fifth chapter of the first book, to prove that artifice might be lawful and useful; that is, when used as a means to a good end. “Manifold is the potency of deception, only it must not be employed with knavish intent. And this should be hardly called deception, but rather a sort of accommodation (οἰκονομία), wisdom, art, or sagacity, by which one can find many ways of escape in an exigency, and amend the errors of the soul.” He appeals to biblical examples, like Jonathan and the daughter of Saul, who by deceiving their father rescued their friend and husband; and, unwarrantably, even to Paul, who became to the Jews a Jew, to the Gentiles a Gentile, and circumcised Timothy, though in the Epistle to the Galatians he pronounced circumcision useless. Chrysostom, however, had evidently learned this, loose and pernicious principle respecting the obligation of truthfulness, not from the Holy Scriptures, but from the Grecian sophists.456456   Even the purest moral philosopher of antiquity, Plato, vindicates falsehood, and recommends it to physicians and rulers as a means to a good end, a help to the healing of the sick or to the advantage of the people. Comp. De republ. iii. p. 266, ed. Bipont.: Εἰ γὰρ ὀρθῶς ἐλέχγομεν ἄρτι, καὶ τῷ ὄντι θεοῖς μὲν ἄχρηστον ψεῦδος ἀνθρώποις δὲ χρήςιμον, ὡς ἐν φαρμάκου εἴδει, δῆλον ὅτι τὸ γε τοιοῦτον ἱατροῖς δοτέον, ἰδιώταις δὲ οὐχ ἁπτέον. Δῆλον, ἔφη. Τοῖς ἄρχουσι δὴ τῆς πόλεως , εἴπερ τισὶν ἄλλοις, προσήκει ψεύδεσθαι ἢ πολεμίων ἢ πολιτῶν ἕνεκα, ἐπ ̓ ὠφελείᾳτῆς πόλεως· τοῖς δὲ ἄλλοις πᾶσιν οὐχ ἁπτέον τοῦ τοιούτου. . The Jewish philosophizing theologian, Philo, had a similar view, in his work: Quod Deus sit immutabilis, p. 302. Besides, he by no means stood alone in the church in this matter, but had his predecessors in the Alexandrian fathers,457457   Clemens Alex., Strom. vi. p. 802, and Origen, Strom. vi. (in Hieron. Apol. i. Adv. Ruf. c. 18), where he adduces the just cited passage of Plato in defence of a doubtful accommodation at the expense of truth. See the relevant passages in Gieseler, i. § 63, note 7. and his followers in Cassian, Jerome, and other eminent Catholic divines.

Jerome made a doubtful distinction between γυμναστικῶςscribere and δογματικῶςscribere, and, with Origen, explained the severe censure of Paul on Peter in Antioch, for example, as a mere stroke of pastoral policy, or an accommodation to the weakness of the Jewish Christians at the expense of truth.458458   Epist. 48 (ed. Vall., or Ep. 30 ed. Bened., Ep. 50 in older editions), ad Pammachium, pro libris contra Jovinianum, and Comm. ad Gal. ii. 11 sqq. Also Johannes Cassianus, a pupil of Chrysostom, defends the lawfulness of falsehood and deception in certain cases, Coll. xvii. 8 and 17. But Augustine’s delicate Christian sense of truth revolted at this construction, and replied that such an interpretation undermined the whole authority of Holy Scripture; that an apostle could never lie, even for a good object; that, in extremity, one should rather suppose a false reading, or wrong translation, or suspect his own apprehension; but that in Antioch Paul spoke the truth and justly censured Peter openly for his inconsistency, or for a practical (not a theoretical) error, and thus deserves the praise of righteous boldness, as Peter on the other hand, by his meek submission to the censure, merits the praise of holy humility.459459   Comp. the somewhat sharp correspondence of the two fathers in Hieron. Epist. 101-105, 110, 112, 115, 134, 141, in Vallarsi’s ed. (tom. i. 625 sqq.), or in August. Epist 67, 68, 72-75, 81, 82 (in the Bened. ed. of Aug. tom. ii. 161 sqq.); August.: De mendacio, and Contra mendacium; also the treatise of Möhler mentioned above, 41, on this controversy, so instructive in regard to the patristic ethics and exegesis.

Thus in Jerome and Augustine we have the representatives of two opposite ethical views: one, unduly subjective, judging all moral acts merely by their motive and object, and sanctioning, for example, tyrannicide, or suicide to escape disgrace, or breach of faith with heretics (as the later Jesuitical casuistry does with the utmost profusion of sophistical subtlety); the other, objective, proceeding on eternal, immutable principles and the irreconcilable opposition of good and evil, and freely enough making prudence subservient to truth, but never truth subservient to prudence.

Meantime, in the Greek church also, as early as the fourth century, the Augustinian view here and there made its way; and Basil the Great, in his shorter monastic Rule,460460   Regul. brev. interrogate 76, cited by Neander in his monograph on Chrysostom(3d ed.) i. p. 97. Neander there adduces still another similar testimony against the lawfulness of the lie, by the contemporaneous Egyptian monk, John of Lycopolis, from Pallad. Hist. Lausiaca. rejected even accommodation (οἰκονομία) for a good end, because Christ ascribes the lie, without distinction of kinds, exclusively to Satan.461461   John, viii. 44. In this respect, therefore, Chrysostom did not stand at the head of his age, but represented without doubt the prevailing view of the Eastern church.

The legislation of the councils with reference to the clergy, shows in general the earnestness and rigor with which the church guarded the moral purity and dignity of her servants. The canonical age was, on the average, after the analogy of the Old Testament, the five-and-twentieth year for the diaconate, the thirtieth for the priesthood and episcopate. Catechumens, neophytes, persons baptized at the point of death, penitents, energumens (such as were possessed of a devil), actors, dancers, soldiers, curials (court, state, and municipal officials),462462   The ground on which even civil officers were excluded, is stated by the Roman council of 402, which ordained in the tenth canon: “One who is clothed with a civil office cannot, on account of the sins almost necessarily connected with it, become a clergyman without previous penance.” Comp. Mansi, iii. 1133, and Hefele; ii. 75. slaves, eunuchs, bigamists, and all who led a scandalous life after baptism, were debarred from ordination. The frequenting of taverns and theatres, dancing and gambling, usury and the pursuit of secular business were forbidden to clergymen. But on the other hand, the frequent repetition of warnings against even the lowest and most common sins, such as licentiousness, drunkenness, fighting, and buffoonery, and the threatening of corporal punishment for certain misdemeanors, yield an unfavorable conclusion in regard to the moral standing of the sacred order.463463   Comp. the decrees of councils in Hefele, ii. 574, 638, 686, 687, 753, 760, &c. Even the Can. Apost. 27, 65, and 72, are directed against common crimes in the clergy, such as battery, murder, and theft, which therefore must have already appeared, for legislation always has regard to the actual state of things. The Pastoral Epistles of Paul contain no exhortations or prohibitions of this kind. Even at the councils the clerical dignity was not seldom desecrated by outbreaks of coarse passion; insomuch that the council of Ephesus, in 449, is notorious as the “council of robbers.”

In looking at this picture, however, we must not forget that in this, period of the sinking empire of Rome the task of the clergy was exceedingly difficult, and amidst the nominal conversion of the whole population of the empire, their number and education could not keep pace with the sudden and extraordinary expansion of their field of labor. After all, the clerical office was the great repository of intellectual and moral force for the world. It stayed the flood of corruption; rebuked the vices of the times; fearlessly opposed tyrannical cruelty; founded institutions of charity and public benefit; prolonged the existence of the Roman empire; rescued the literary treasures of antiquity; carried the gospel to the barbarians, and undertook to educate and civilize their rude and vigorous hordes. Out of the mass of mediocrities tower the great church teachers of the fourth and fifth centuries, combining all the learning, the talent, and the piety of the time, and through their immortal writings mightily moulding the succeeding ages of the world.



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