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Chapter XIX.—Of the Office of Penitentiary Presbyters and its Abolition.

At this time it was deemed requisite to abolish the office of those presbyters in the churches who had charge of the penitences:751751    On account of which he was called the Penitentiary. Cf. Bingham, Christ. Antiq. XVIII. 3. this was done on the following account. When the Novatians separated themselves from the Church because they would not communicate with those who had lapsed during the persecution under Decius, the bishops added to the ecclesiastical canon752752    ‘The sacerdotal catalogue or order, clerical order, the clergy in general.’ See Sophocles, Greek Lex. of the Rom. and Byzant. Periods. a presbyter of penitence in order that those who had sinned after baptism might confess their sins in the presence of the presbyter thus appointed.753753    On the discipline of the ancient church, see Bennett, Christ. Archæl. p. 380 seq. And this mode of discipline is still maintained among other heretical institutions by all the rest of the sects; the Homoousians only, together with the Novatians who hold the same doctrinal views, have abandoned it. The latter indeed would never admit of its establishment:754754    See Euseb. H. E. VI. 43. and the Homoousians who are now in possession of the churches, after retaining this function for a considerable period, abrogated it in the time of Nectarius, in consequence of an event which occured in the Constantinopolitan church, which is as follows: A woman of noble family coming to the penitentiary, made a general confession of those sins she had committed since her baptism: and the presbyter enjoined fasting and prayer continually, that together with the acknowledgment of error, she might have to show works also meet for repentance. Some time after this, the same lady again presented herself, and confessed that she had been guilty of another crime, a deacon of the church having slept with her. When this was proved the deacon was ejected from the church:755755    The regulation of the earliest church was expressed as follows: ‘If any bishop, presbyter, or deacon be found guilty of fornication…let him be deposed.’ Apostol. Can. 25. but the people were very indignant, being not only offended at what had taken place, but also because the deed had brought scandal and degradation upon the Church. When in consequence of this, ecclesiastics were subjected to taunting and reproach, Eudæmon a presbyter of the church, by birth an Alexandrian, persuaded Nectarius the bishop to abolish the office of penitentiary presbyter, and to leave every one to his own conscience with regard to the participation of the sacred mysteries:756756    Although the plural is used here, the reference is, no doubt, to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper only. The mysteries recognized by Theodorus Studites, Epist. II. 165, are six; i.e. baptism, eucharist, unction, orders, monastic tonsure, and the mystery of death or funeral ceremonies. The Greek Church of modern times enumerates seven: baptism, unction, eucharist, orders, penitence, marriage, and extreme unction. for thus only, in his judgment, could the Church be preserved from obloquy. Having heard this explanation of the matter from Eudæmon I have ventured to put in the present treatise: for as I have often remarked,757757    Cf. I. 1; II. 1. I have spared no pains to procure an authentic account of affairs from those who were best acquainted with them, and to scrutinize every report, lest I should advance what might be untrue. My observation to Eudæmon, when he first related the circumstance, was this: ‘Whether, O presbyter, your counsel has been profitable for the Church or otherwise, God knows; but I see that it takes away the means of rebuking one another’s faults, and prevents our acting upon that precept of the apostle,758758    Eph. v. 11. Valesius rightly infers from this answer of Socrates to Eudæmon that the former was not a Novatian. For he disapproves of the abolition of the penitentiary bishop’s office, whereas as a Novatian he would have been against its institution before it was established, and in favor of its abolition afterwards. The Novatians never admitted either of penitence or of the penitentiary bishop. “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”’ Concerning this affair let this suffice.


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