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An Ecclesiastical History To The 20th Year Of The Reign Of Constantine by Eusebius

ABOUT this time appeared Novatus, a presbyter of the church of Rome, and a man elevated with haughtiness against these (that had fallen), as if there was no room for them to hope salvation, not even if they performed every thing for a genuine and pure confession. He thus became the leader of the peculiar heresy of those who, in the pomp of their imaginations, called themselves Cathari. A very large council being held on account of this, at Which sixty of the bishops, but a still greater number of presbyters and deacons were present, the pastors of the remaining provinces, according to their places, deliberated separately what should be done; this decree was passed by all: “That Novatus, indeed, and those who so arrogantly united with him, and those that had determined to adopt his uncharitable and most inhuman opinion, these they considered among those that were alienated from the church; but that brethren who had incurred any calamity should be treated and healed with the remedies of repentance.”

There are also epistles of Cornelius, bishop of Rome, addressed to Fabius, bishop of Antioch, which show the transactions of the council of Rome, as also, the opinions of all those in Italy and Africa, and the regions there. Others there are also, written in the Roman tongue, from Cyprian, and the bishops with him in Africa. In these, it is shown that they also agree in the necessity of relieving those who had fallen under severe temptations, and also in the propriety of excommunicating the author of the heresy, and all that were of his party. To these is attached also an epistle from Cornelius on the decrees of the council, besides others on the deeds of Novatus, from which we may add extracts, that those who read the present work may know the circumstances respecting him. What kind of a character Novatus was, Cornelius informs Fabius, writing as follows: “But that you may know,” says he, “how this singular man, who formerly aspired to the episcopate, secretly concealed within himself this precipitate ambition, and made use of those confessors that adhered to him from the beginning, as a cloak for his own folly, I will proceed to relate: Maximus’ a presbyter of our church, and Urbanus, twice obtained the highest reputation for their confessions. Sidonius, also, and Celerinus, a man who, by the mercy of God, bore every kind of torture in the most heroic manner, and by the firmness of his own faith strengthened the weakness of the flesh, completely worsted the adversary. These men, therefore, as they knew him, and had well sounded his artifice and duplicity, as also his perjuries and falsehoods, his dissocial and savage character, returned to the holy church, and announced all his devices and wickedness, which he had for a long time dissembled within himself, and this too in the presence of many bishops; and the same also, in the presence of many presbyters, and a great number of laymen, at the same time lamenting and sorrowing that they had been seduced, and had abandoned the church for a short time, through the agency of that artful and malicious beast.” After a little, he further says: “We have seen, beloved brother, within a short time, an extraordinary conversion and change in him. For this most illustrious man, and he who affirmed with the most dreadful oaths, that he never aspired to the episcopate, has suddenly appeared a bishop, as thrown among us by some machine. For this dogmatist, this (pretended) champion of ecclesiastical discipline, when he attempted to seize and usurp the episcopate not given him from above, selected two desperate characters as his associates, to send them to some small, and that the smallest, part of Italy, and from thence, by some fictitious plea, to impose upon three bishops there, men altogether ignorant and simple, affirming and declaring, that it was necessary for them to come to Rome in all haste, that all the dissension which had there arisen might be removed through their mediation, in conjunction with the other bishops. When these men had come, being, as before observed, but simple and inexperienced in discerning the artifices and villany of the wicked, they were shut up with men of the same stamp with himself, and at the tenth hour, heated with wine and surfeiting, they forced them, by a kind of shadowy and empty imposition of hands, to confer the episcopate upon him; which, though by no means suited to him, he claims by fraud and treachery. One of these, not long after, returned to his church, mourning and confessing his error, with whom also we communed as a layman, as all the people present interceded for him, and we sent successors to the other bishops, ordaining them in the place where they were. This assertor of the gospel then did not know that there should be but one bishop in a catholic church (εν καθολικη εκκλησια). In which, however, he well knew (for how could he be ignorant?) that there were forty-six presbyters, seven deacons, seven sub-deacons, forty-two acoluthi (clerks), exorcists, readers, and janitors, in all fifty-two: widows, with the afflicted and needy, more than fifteen hundred; all which the goodness and love of God doth support and nourish. But neither this great number, so necessary in the church, nor those that by the providence of God were wealthy and opulent, together with the innumerable multitude of the people, were able to recall him and turn him from such a desperate and presumptuous course.”

And, again, after these, he subjoins the following: “Now let us also tell by what means and conduct he had the assurance to claim the episcopate. Whether, indeed, it was because he was engaged in the church from the beginning, and endured many conflicts for her, and encountered many and great dangers in the cause of true religion? None of all this. To him, indeed, the author and instigator of his faith was Satan, who entered into and dwelt in him a long time; who, aided by the exorcists, when attacked with an obstinate disease, and being supposed at the point of death, was baptized by aspersion, in the bed on which he lay; if, indeed, it be proper to speak of such being received. But neither when he recovered from disease, did he partake of other things, which the rules of the church prescribe as duty, nor was he sealed (in confirmation) by the bishop. But as he did not obtain this, how could he obtain the Holy Spirit?” And, again, soon after, he says: “He denied he was a presbyter, through cowardice and the love of life, in the time of persecution. For when requested and exhorted by the deacons, that he should go forth from his retreat in which he had imprisoned himself, and should come to the relief of the brethren, as far as was proper and in the power of a presbyter to assist brethren requiring relief, he was so far from yielding to any exhortation of the deacons, that he went away offended and left them. For he said that he wished to be a presbyter no longer, for he was an admirer of a different philosophy.”

Passing over some other matters, our author again adds:—“This illustrious character abandoned the church of God, in which, when he was converted, he was honoured with the presbytery, and that by the favour of the bishop placing his hands upon him (ordaining him), to the order of bishops; and as all the clergy and many of the laity resisted it, since it was not lawful that one baptised in his sick bed by aspersion as he had been, should be promoted to any order of the clergy, the bishop requested that it should be, granted him to ordain only this one.” After this, he adds another deed, the worst of all the man’s absurdities, thus: “For having made the oblation, and distributed a part to each one, whilst giving this, instead of blessing them, he compelled the unhappy men to swear; holding the hands of the one receiving, with both his own, and not letting them go until he had sworn in these words (for I shall repeat the very words): ‘Swear to me, by the body and blood of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, that you will never desert me, nor turn to Cornelius.’ And the unhappy man was then not suffered to taste until he had first cursed himself; and instead of saying Amen after he had taken the bread, he said, ‘I will never return to Cornelius.’ ” And, after other matters, he again proceeds, as follows: “Now, you must know, that he was stripped and abandoned, the brethren leaving him every day and returning to the church. He was also excommunicated by Moses, that blessed witness, who but lately endured a glorious and wonderful martyrdom, and who, whilst yet among the living, seeing the audacity and the folly of the man, excluded him from the communion, together with the five presbyters that had cut themselves off from the church.”

At the close of the epistle he gives a list of the bishops who had come to Rome, and had discarded the incorrigible disposition of Novatus; at the same time adding the names, together with the churches governed by each. He also mentions those that were not present at Rome, but who, by letter, assented to the decision of the former, adding also the names and the particular cities whence each one had written. Such is the account written by Cornelius to Fabius bishop of Antioch.








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