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§ 104. The Consecration of Churches.


New churches were consecrated with great solemnity by prayer, singing, the communion, eulogies of present bishops, and the depositing of relics of saints.11301130   I This last was, according to Ambrose, Epist. 54, the custom in Rome, and certainly wherever such relics were to be had. This service set them apart from all profane uses, and designated them exclusively for the service and praise of God and the edification of his people. The dedication of Solomon’s temple,11311131   2 Chron. c. 5-7. as well as the purification of the temple after its desecration by the heathen Syrians,11321132   Macc. iv. 44 ff. furnished the biblical authority for this custom. In times of persecution the consecration must have been performed in silence. But now these occasions became festivals attended by multitudes. Many bishops, like Theodoret, even invited the pagans to attend them. The first description of such a festivity is given us by Eusebius: the consecration of the church of the Redeemer at the Holy Sepulchre,11331133   Vita Constant. iv. 43-46. and of a church at Tyre.11341134   Hist. Eccl. x. 2-4. Eusebius speaks here in general of the consecration of churches after the cessation of persecution, and then, c. 4, gives an oratio panegyriea, delivered probably by himself, in which he describes the church at Tyre in a minute, but pompous way.

After the Jewish precedent,11351135   Τὰ ἐγκαίνια, in memory of the purification of the temple under the Maccabees, I Macc. iv. 59; John x. 22. it was usual to celebrate the anniversary of the consecration.11361136   Sozomen, H. E. ii. 25 (26). Gregory the Great ordered: “Solemnitates ecclesiarum dedicationum per singulos annos sunt celebrandae.”

Churches were dedicated either to the holy Trinity, or to one of the three divine Persons, especially Christ, or to the Virgin Mary, or to apostles, especially Peter, Paul, and John, or to distinguished martyrs and saints.

The idea of dedication, of course, by no means necessarily involves the superstitious notion of the omnipresent God being inclosed in a definite place. On the contrary, Solomon had long before said at the dedication of the temple at Jerusalem: “Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded.” When Athanasius was once censured for assembling the congregation on Easter, for want of room, in a newly built but not yet consecrated church, he appealed to the injunction of the Lord, that we enter into our closet to pray, as consecrating every place. Chrysostom urged that every house should be a church, and every head of a family a spiritual shepherd, remembering the account which he must give even for his children and servants.11371137   Hom. vi. in Gen., § 2 Ἐκκλησίαν ποίησόν σου τὴν οἰκίαν καὶ γὰρ καὶ ἐπεύθυνος εἶ καὶ τῆς τῶν παιδίων καὶ τῆς οἰκετῶν σωτηρίας . Not walls and roof, but faith and life, constitute the church,11381138   Serm. in Eutrop.:Ἡ ἐκκλησία οὐ τεῦχος καὶ ὄροφος , ἀλλὰ πίστις καὶ βίος . and the advantage of prayer in the church comes not so much from a special holiness of the place, as from the Christian fellowship, the bond of love, and the prayer of the priests.11391139   De incomprehensibili: Ἐνταῦθα ἐστί τι πλέον, οἷον ἡ ὁμόνοια καὶ ἡ συμφωνία καὶ τῆς ἀγάπης ὁ σύνδεσμος καὶ αἱ τῶν ἱερέων εὐχαί. Augustine gives to his congregation the excellent admonition: “It is your duty to put your talent to usury; every one must be bishop in his own house; he must see that his wife, his son, his daughter, his servant, since he is bought with so great a price, continues in the true faith. The apostle’s doctrine has placed the master over the servant, and has bound the servant to obedience to the master, but Christ has paid a ransom for both.”11401140   Serm. 94.



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