Part II. Chapter IV.
Of deprivations by synods in the foresaid cases.
And thus, I think it may sufficiently appear, how the manifold obligations, which are shown above to lie on faithful bishops and ministers, not to suppress, but to exercise their spiritual ministrations in the foresaid cases, are not set aside, or barred, by any inhibition or deprivation, though of the most lawful civil state. They will do it with more ease and worldly encouragement, when the state tolerates, and much more when it fortifies and furthers them therein. But they are not at liberty to give it off, but must go on exercising the same, when it is more troublesome, and when the state gainsays, and puts them under persecution for so doing.
And thus it is, where the state will act apart, and proceed without a synod in depriving bishops, and in discharging the ecclesiastical communion, and dependence of the people, spiritually related, and united to them.
But deprivation of bishops, who are spiritual powers; is more ordinarily by a synod of bishops, who are a spiritual judicature. Great reason there is, for the deprivation of bishops, to proceed in this course. The civil-state, indeed, comes in, by reason of civil accessions and endowments, which strengthen and encourage the spiritual ministrations. But these civil accessions, are but accessories and appendages; and their spiritual powers, are the principal in their ministrations, and in church communion and dependence on them. And therefore the removing of their ministrations, and of the communion and dependence of the church thereupon, is never so fitly, and fully attempted, as by spiritual judicatures, who, being spiritual persons, have more directly to do with church communion, and spiritual powers. And accordingly, this has still been the course of the most pious princes, who have reserved the deliberations about religion and church matters, and the depositions of bishops, (which so closely affects church communion,) to convocations and synods of bishops and clergy. And when these proceed to sentence, it more directly affects the concerned parties: church communion, and church governors, being more directly under the churchmen's cognizance; and not only indirectly and by the by, as it may engage the deprived persons, when not bound to it otherwise, to yield and acquiesce in voluntary compliance for civil interests.
But suppose a concurrence of both these powers, and that the deprivation of the rightful state is confirmed by synodical concurrence: yet I observe in the last place, that this deprivation by synods, is not sufficient to bar or discharge bishops or ministers, from the foresaid exercise of their spiritual ministrations, in the above mentioned cases.
Bishops and metropolitans, are not more subject and dependant on synods; than presbyters and people are on their bishops: our Lord himself, and his holy apostles, having appointed bishops in his church, and called for our subjection and obedience to them. But this submission of priests and people to their bishops, is with a salvo to their holy religion, and its articles and interests. And if any bishops go against the truths, or laws of Christ, or against the interests of souls, and of true religion, we are not to follow them, or to depend on them therein. To stick to any necessary Christian doctrines, worship, or practices, Christ's faithful people and ministers must break even with their own bishops; holding even them anathema, as St. Paul directs, when they would lead them contrary to the doctrine of the apostles, as I noted before, and shall show more fully afterwards. And so must they with any other bishops, or number and synods of bishops, in like case.
All exercise and administration, of church authority and jurisdiction, is tied to rules. Not only to rules, of the churches own making, or ecclesiastical canons; but above all, and in the first place, to the rules laid down by Christ himself. And all the validity of church acts in way of external judicature, in synods, or otherwise; is so far, as they go by them, or do nothing against them.
Thus it is, in decreeing rites and ceremonies, or determining controversies of faith; wherein, though the church has authority, yet is it thus limited, and has no authority, as our church declares, to ordain any thing contrary to God's word. Even general councils, are bounded by this limitation, and things ordained by them, say the thirty nine articles again, as necessary to salvation, have neither strength, nor authority, unless it may be declared that are taken out of holy scriptures.
And thus it is also in matter of censures, or ecclesiastical sentences judicially past therein upon persons, whether laics, or ecclesiastics. We, in the exercise of our apostolical power, can do nothing against the truth, or in punishing and censuring any for faithful observance thereof; but all our power is for the truth, and to be exercised in its behalf, by punishing and not sparing, not those who stand to, but those who defect from it, 2 Corinthians 13. 8. When the church speaks to us in external judicatures, we must hear it, as our Lord orders. But we must hear it speaking under Christ, never against him. So that if it excommunicates any, for sticking firm to any part of his holy religion, with whom, for that very adherence sake, he requires his faithful followers, to hold communion; or, if it deprives, or discharge any ministers, from administering the same, in any case where he has charged them to keep on that ministration: its power here, is set up against him, and its acts, have no power to bind those, who are concerned in them.
Thus it is, when it should excommunicate any, for adhering to any necessary Christian doctrines, worship, or practices. For all, who would hold to Christ, must neglect such censures; and, though any church or synod throws such persons out of its communion, they are joyfully to well come and receive them into theirs. For, when our Lord authorizes, and gives validity to church censures, saying they shall be bound in heaven, and bidding us look on all who will not hear the church, as heathens and publicans: he limits this validity to those censures, which pass upon men, not for any parts of righteousness, but for real offences. If thy brother trespass against thee, and will not hear thee, tell it unto the church: so that some real offence or trespass, must still be the ground of the process. Matthew 18. 15. 17. It must be, for not hearing the church, when it calls us to his truths and precepts, not when it sets up to carry us from them. For there, if it use censures, it acts of itself, and not by his commission: it opens, or shuts, by an erring key, and must not expect, that what is so bound or loosed on earth, shall be ratified in heaven. By such perverse censures, the church only deprives itself of the communion of faithful Christians; but doth not deprive them, of communion with Christ, or with one another. The unjust excommunications of the Jewish sanhedrim, when they cast Christ's disciples out of their synagogues, only estranged or cut off themselves, says Photius, but brought those disciples so much nearer to their Lord and master. And so now, says he, when the imitators of the Jews excommunicate the followers of the apostles, they thereby only conjoin and unite them the more to those divine apostles, to whom they are more closely and exactly knit, both in faith and life, by the communion of sufferings. But they miserably cut off themselves, both from their doctrine, and from our orthodox faith.
And therefore, instead of bemoaning themselves, under such excommunications, and seeking to have them take off, by complying with the church; our blessed saviour fortifies his true followers against them, and bids them, not only patiently to rest under them, but triumphantly to rejoice therein. They shall put you out of the synagogues, says he to them, and cautions them not be offended thereat, when it should happen, or not to fall off from him or his ways, to recover the liberty of the synagogues again, Joh. 16. 1. 2. When they shall separate you from their company, by excommunications and anathemas, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil for the son of mans sake; rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy; for, behold! Great is your reward in heaven; for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. Luke 6: 22, 23. And thus, the holy apostles, and faithful adherers to God's truth, and worship, and good Christian practices, did in all times, when, for such adherence, they fell under the anathemas of synods, or the excommunication of churches, during the papal, or any other former, or later persecutions. They joyfully received such sentences, and always owned one another, and held communion in adherence to God's word and ways, among themselves; when they were cast out of the communion, of such corrupt and apostatizing synods, or churches.
And it is the same, when it shall deprive or discharge any faithful bishops and ministers, from supporting such necessary doctrines, worship, and practices, by their ministrations, as Christ requires. For then, notwithstanding such deprivations and discharge, by churches and synods, Christ's faithful ministers must hold on ministering, and his faithful people must hold on communicating, and adhering to them therein. Thus, as our Lord notes, their fathers had separated and cast out the old prophets, from prophesying in their company, or assemblies: who still went on preaching and ministering the word, which they were sent out to publish. And thus the sanhedrin, that great synod of the Jewish church, discharged the apostles from ministering Christianity, or preaching any more in Christ's name; who told them, they could by no means desist thereupon, but must hold on their ministration, being to obey God rather than men (Acts 4: 18-20).
Thus also several synods deprived Athanasius, and the other orthodox bishops, who were the stout asserters and maintainers of the divinity of our Lord, against the Arians. Such was the synod of Tyre. And such also was the synod of Antioch, whose deprivations of Athanasius and the other orthodox bishops, were a blow made at the Nicene faith: though their canons, being good, and according to primitive usage, were by orthodox councils afterwards taken into the book of ecclesiastical canons, out of which, several of them are repeated verbatim in the great Council of Chalcedon, and are there, among the canons of others synods, taken in to be canons of the universal church. And such likewise were the deprivations of other synods, assembled in that cause afterwards.
Now under these synodical deprivations, the great business of those suffering bishops, was to show, that whatever other immoralities or personal crimes were pretended against them, (as several were most impudently pretended, against all ground and reason,) yet in reality and truth, their deprivations were for the cause of the faith, or for their firmness in maintaining the divinity and consubstantiality of Christ with the Father. This, Athanasius, and Paulus, plead for themselves, teaching, that their depositions were not for any other cause, but for the subversion of the orthodox faith, as is related by Socrates and Sozomen. And what they made appear to the emperor Constans, was, that they suffered, not for the crimes or ill lives they were accused of, as the sentence of deposition did contain, but for their thinking, and teaching differently from the synods their deposers, about the faith.
And when it was once clear, to any persons, or churches, that they were deprived for the cause of the faith: they were not hindered by any authority of external judicature, in the synods their deposers; but readily received, and communicated with them, as Christ's true bishops still in those places. For, notwithstanding these synodical deprivations, Athanasius was all the while owned and adhered to by the faithful Egyptians; as Paulus also was by the faithful Constantinopolitans. And when they came to Rome, on their giving full satisfaction in this point, Julius the bishop of Rome received them to communion. Hearing the cause of each, says Sozomen, and finding them all to agree in the Nicene faith, which he saw undermined and struck at by their deprivers, he received them to communion, as being of the same belief with himself.
This reception of Athanasius and others, who stood deprived by the synods of Tyre and Antioch, &c. to his communion, was before the synod of Rome, wherein the orientals should have justified their proceedings, had acquitted and received them. For before the synod was held at Rome, in the cause of Athanasius; Pope Julius, gave notice of the time appointed for it, to the eastern bishops, who had been deposing Athanasius at Antioch, and substituting Gregory in his place; writing to them, to send some of their number, to clear the justice of their sentence and proceedings in that cause. This is plain from Athanasius, who says it was held after the letters sent by Eusebius, and after both the Eusebians, and he himself had been cited to appear at it. And also from Pope Julius's letters to them, on the request, and at the conclusion, of the Roman synod, wherein he mentions the return of his presbyters, Elpidius and Philoxenus, who were sent with the former letter, and the answer they had brought him from Eusebius, and the orential bishops. But before this first letter, to notify the time appointed for the Roman synod to the orientals; Julius, on plain appearance, that their sufferings were not for any other pretended crimes, but only on account of the orthodox faith, had embraced the communion of Athanasius, and the other deposed bishops. For Sozomen relates, that on his receiving them to communion, he writ that letter to the orientals, taxing their unjust sentences and attempts upon the Nicene faith, and calling them to the synod to be held at Rome, there to justify their proceedings against them. And in the letter, which the orientals sent back to him, which he received, as I have now shown, before the sitting of the Roman synod, and which was read to the bishops therein assembled; they complain of his having communicated with Athanasius, and his adherents, which they said was a reproach cast on their synods, and an abrogation of their sentence. So that his disregard of the synodical deprivations of Athanasius, and the other orthodox bishops, deposed in the synods of Tyre or Antioch, was not on account, of their having been regularly reversed, by any superior external judicature. But it was, as having been of no force and effect in themselves, because passing on Christ's faithful pastors, for their fidelity and firmness to the true Christian faith.
Besides, when the synod at Rome sat in the cause of Athanasius, and the other orthodox bishops, and synodically admitted them to communion: I do not see, how, in the regular way of external judicature, this could take off the deprivations by the forementioned synods. For the synod at Rome, was inferior in number of bishops, consisting, as Athanasius says, only of about fifty bishops. Whereas the Synod of Tyre, besides the Egyptians, who came along with Athanasius, consisted of sixty bishops met there from divers places says Socrates; and the synod of Antioch, which again deposed him, and the other orthodox bishops, consisted of ninety seven, as Sozomen reports. And moreover, the synod of Rome, consisted of bishops, who lived more remote and further off, and were subjects of another prince, viz. Constans. Whereas the synods which deprived them, consisted of the neighboring bishops, some of them comprovincials to the accused parties; and were subjects of their own emperor, viz. Constantius, whose censure may seem more concluding on the fellow-bishops of their own empire. So that Julius, and his fifty bishops in the Roman synod, could not reverse the depositions of those former synods, in regular way of outward judicatures.
But yet finding, whatever other things were pretended, that in reality they had been deposed in those synods, for their firmness to the Nicene faith, in prejudice whereof there lies no power of depriving in any synods; before any superior, or more general council had reversed their depositions in regular way of external judicature, they took part, and communicated with Athanasius, and the other deprived bishops. And this, the faithful Egyptians, both clergy and people, had done, without any regard to the deprivation of those synods, all the time of Athanasius's forced absence from them; and are applauded by Pope Julius for the same. For, in his letter to the church of Alexandria, after the synod of Sardica, on the restitution of Athanasius to his see; he extols them, for their firm and constant adherence to the right faith, and to him their bishop, who had been so glorious a confessor and maintainer thereof, all the while he was violently torn from them, and another obtruded on their church in his room.
And like to this, has been the practice, I think, of all times. For still, as errors and corruptions, in doctrine, worship, and practice, prevailed and became general in any places; on any considerable opposition made to them by Christ's faithful ministers, to silence gainsayers, they have had the establishment of synods. And these synods, have anathematized the truth, condemned and deposed the preachers, and excommunicated and cast out the adherents and practicers thereof. But yet the preachers and ministers of God's worship and truth, have still held on their ministrations, and God's faithful people have stuck to them therein: and under all the depositions and excommunications, of councils or churches, they have kept communion with one another, in these necessary truths and ways of God, which corrupt and apostate councils have anathematized. Or else, under that power of error, which has so often tyrannized over the truth, more especially in the Arian persecutions, and in the several steps and advancements of the papal corruptions, the pure worship and doctrine of Christ, had perished, and all face of a true and unadulterated church had long since failed from off the earth.
This I say, in case of depositions, or other censures, for the cause of the necessary truths, or worship of Jesus Christ. In deprivations for other things, or on pretence of mere personal crimes, the case, I grant, may be otherwise. For in them, though the sentence be unjust, it is a personal wrong, and affects the sufferers themselves. And in private sufferings, it is reasonable to bear much for order's sake, and to be tied up to ways of order for redress: so that such sufferers, shall be bound to rest under the judicial injustice, till they can have it reversed in like sort as it was laid on, viz. in way of judicature, or by regular appeals. And accordingly in all depositions, for such private or personal crimes, this is required by the ancient canons. If a bishop, presbyter, or deacon, say the councils of Carthage and Sardica, (and the same determinations, says Balsamon, are to be taken as meant of laymen too,) be deposed, on pretence of his idleness and neglects; let him not dare, say they, to go on, or to assert his former right of communion, during the time of his excommunication, till his cause has had a new cognizance and examination, or been heard over again. And if, before such rehearing, he presume to do otherwise; he shall be judged, say the fathers at Carthage, thereby to have given sentence of condemnation against himself.
But in depositions or excommunications, for doctrinal truths, and spiritual ministrations; there is not only a wrong to themselves, but a wrong to religion. And there they must go on, for the sake of gospel-worship and doctrines, which are Christ's cause; though they would be content to suffer and sit still, so far as it is their own. And accordingly, the Council of Constantinople, entitled, prima and secunda, excepts the case of heretical prelates promoting or pushing on any heresies, when it requires inferiors to stay for a synodical cognizance, before they break off dependence from their prelates, in all other cases.
Though synods therefore, are the most venerable ecclesiastical judicature here on earth; yet is all the obligation and authority, of their decisions or sentences, within this compass. They have no effect, or force, against the truth, as St. Paul says, or against any for adhering to it. So that they are to affect none, who have Christ and his truth plainly on their side. Nor do their judgments and definitions, bar those, who are concerned to take notice of them, from examining and judging for themselves, whether they strike at any part of Christian truth and religion, before they pay obedience to them. I grant, there ought to be great deference to their determination; and all private persons are to use great modesty, and care, in judging after them; and need to look, that the blow and destruction thereby made, to any necessary truth or practice of our holy religion, be very plain, before they over-look and disregard what they order. But still, judge they must, because in all their belief and practice in these things, it is not any implicit dependence on men, or a blind obedience to any humane sentence or decision; but observance of the truth itself, or of what Christ has appointed in his word, that must justify them. And therefore, if on an humble and diligent examination, and by plain evidence, it appear, that in their definitions of articles, or censure of persons, they strike at the truth, and seek the overthrow of any part of religion; their acts are to be esteemed as of no effect, and all concerned parties, both clergy and people, are to go on doing the same, in religious ministration and communion, as if there were no such thing. More just, and authoritative synods, they will be like to seek; and appeal from these, in a regular way, to others more general, which, in external way of humane judicature, shall reverse their unjust sentences. But suffering all in the cause of truth and religion, they will not desist in the mean time; but go on, notwithstanding any such synodical anathema, or deprivation, in true spiritual ministrations and communion.