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Chapter XXIV.—Concerning St. Ambrose and his Elevation to the High Priesthood; how he persuaded the People to practice Piety. The Novatians of Phrygia and the Passover.

The clergy of the West having thus anticipated the designs of those who sought to introduce innovations among them,14781478    Ruf. H. E. ii. 11; Soc. iv. 28, 30. Cf. Theodoret, H. E. iv. 6, 7. carefully continued to preserve the inviolability of the faith which had from the beginning been handed down to them. With the solitary exception of Auxentius and his partisans, there were no individuals among them who entertained heterodox opinions. Auxentius, however, did not live long after this period. At his death a sedition arose among the people concerning the choice of a bishop for the church of Milan, and the city was in danger. Those who had aspired to the bishopric, and been defeated in their expectations, were loud in their menaces, as is usual in such commotions.

Ambrosius, who was then the governor of the province, being fearful of the movement of the people, went to the church, and exhorted the people to cease from contention, to remember the laws, and to re-establish concord and the prosperity which springs from peace. Before he had ceased speaking, all his auditors at once suppressed the angry feelings by which they had been mutually agitated against each other, and directed the vote of the bishopric upon him, as a fulfillment of his counsel to harmony. They exhorted him to be baptized, for he was still uninitiated, and begged him to receive the priesthood. After he had refused and declined, and unfeignedly fled the business, the people still insisted, and declared that the contention would never be appeased unless he would accede to their wishes; and at length intelligence of these transactions was conveyed to the court. It is said that the Emperor Valentinian prayed, and returned thanks to God that the very man whom he had appointed governor had been chosen to fill a priestly office. When he was informed of the earnest desires of the people and the refusal of Ambrosius, he inferred that events had been so ordered by God for the purpose of restoring peace to the church of Milan, and commanded that Ambrosius should be ordained as quickly as possible.14791479    a.d. 374, December. He was initiated and ordained at the same time, and forthwith proceeded to bring the church under his sway to unanimity of opinion concerning the Divine nature; for, while under the guidance of Auxentius, it had long been rent by dissensions on this subject. We shall hereafter have occasion to speak of the conduct of Ambrosius after his ordination, and of the courageous and holy manner in which he discharged the functions of the priesthood.

About this period, the Novatians of Phrygia, contrary to their ancient custom, began to celebrate the festival of the Passover on the same day as the Jews. Novatius, the originator of their heresy, refused to receive those who repented of their sins into communion, and it was in this respect alone that he innovated upon the established doctrine. But he and those who succeeded him celebrated the feast of the Passover after the vernal equinox, according to the custom of the Roman church. Some Novatian bishops, however, assembled about this time at Pazi, a town of Phrygia, near the source of the river Sangarus, and agreeing not to follow, in this point of discipline, the practice of those who differed in doctrine from them, established a new law; they determined upon keeping the feast of unleavened bread, and upon celebrating the Passover on the same days as the Jews. Agelius, the bishop of the Novatians at Constantinople, and the bishops of the Novatians at Nicæa, Nicomedia, and Cotyæum, a noted city of Phrygia, did not take part in this Synod, although the Novatians consider them to be lords and colophons, so to speak, of the transactions affecting their heresy and their churches. How for this reason, these innovators advanced into divergence, and having cut themselves off, formed a separate church, I will speak of at the right time.


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