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A History Of The Church In Seven Books by Socrates

ABOUT this time the Novatians inhabiting Phrygia changed the day for celebrating the Feast of Easter. How this happened I shall state, after first explaining the reason of the strict discipline which is maintained in their church, even to the present day, in the provinces of Phrygia and Paphlagonia. Novatus a presbyter of the Roman Church, separated from it, because Cornelius the bishop received into communion believers who had sacrificed during the persecution which the Emperor Decius had raised against the church. Having seceded on this account, on being afterwards elevated to the episcopacy by such prelates as entertained similar sentiments, he wrote to all the churches insisting that they should not admit to the sacred mysteries those who had sacrificed; but exhorting them to repentance, leave the pardoning of their offence to God, who has the power to forgive all sin. These letters made different impressions on the parties in the various provinces to whom they were addressed, according to their several dispositions and judgments. The exclusion from participation in the Lord’s Supper of those who after baptism had committed any deadly sin appeared to some a cruel and merciless course: but others thought it just and necessary for the maintenance of discipline, and the promotion of greater devotedness of life. In the midst of the agitation of this important question, letters arrived from Cornelius the bishop, promising indulgence to delinquents after baptism. On these two persons writing thus contrary to one another, and each confirming his own procedure by the testimony of the divine word, as it usually happens, every one identified himself with that view which favoured his previous habits and inclinations. Those who had pleasure in sin, encouraged by the licence thus granted them, took occasion from it to revel in every species of criminality. The Phrygians however appear to be more temperate than other nations, and are seldom guilty of swearing. The Scythians and Thracians are naturally of a very irritable disposition: while the inhabitants of the East are addicted to sensual pleasures. But the Paphlagonians and Phrygians are prone to neither of these vices; nor are the sports of the circus nor theatrical exhibitions in much estimation among them even to the present day. And this will account as I conceive, for these people, as well as others of a similar temperament and habit in the West, so readily assenting to the letters then written by Novatus. Fornication and adultery are regarded among the Paphlagonians and Phrygians as the grossest enormities: and it is well known that there is no race of men on the face of the earth who more rigidly govern their passions in this respect. Yet although for the sake of stricter discipline Novatus became a separatist, he made no change in the time of keeping Easter, but invariably observed the practice that obtained in the Western churches, of celebrating this feast after the equinox, according to the usage which had of old been delivered to them when first they embraced Christianity. He himself indeed afterwards suffered martyrdom in the reign of Valerian, during the persecution which was then raised against the Christians. But those in Phrygia who from his name are termed Novatians, about this period changed the day of celebrating Easter, being averse to communion with other Christians even on this occasion. This was effected by means of a few obscure bishops of that sect convening a Synod at the village of Pazum, which is situated near the sources of the river Sangarius; for there they framed a canon appointing its observance on the same day as that on which the Jews annually keep the feast of Unleavened Bread. I obtained my information on this point from an aged man who was the son of a presbyter, and had been present with his father at this Synod. But both Agelius bishop of the Novatians at Constantinople, and Maximus of Nice, were absent, as also the bishops of Nicomedia and Cotuœum, although the ecclesiastical affairs of that sect were for the most part under the control of these prelates. How their church soon after was divided into two parties in consequence of this Synod, shall be related in its proper course: but we must now notice what took place about the same time in the Western parts.








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