Part III. Chapter IV.
Heresy a just ground to break off communion.
The last ground which I shall mention, of breaking off, or of being set loose from the communion, either of bishops, or churches, is, though none of the foresaid obstacles can be pleaded against the terms of their communion, if yet,
3. Thirdly, heresy can be justly objected to their persons, and doctrines. Church members, are not bound to keep dependant on the persons of their bishops; nor one church, to keep communion with other churches, if once they defect from the true worship and doctrine of Christ. This worship and doctrine, are the ground and foundation, of Christian society and unity. The church, is a body of men, associated for them. And must be one society, by keeping united under their bishops, or associated with other churches in them. They must keep one, in standing together upon this bottom, not in going off, or departing from it.
For clearing these matters, it is to be observed, that our saviour's first end in coming into the world, was to publish a religion. I am come a light into the world, saith he of himself, John 12. 46. I must preach the gospel, for therefore am I sent. Luke 4. 43. On this account, he calls himself the way, the truth, and the life. John. 14. 6. And tells Pilate, that for this end was he born, and for this cause came he into the world, that he should bear witness unto the truth. John. 18. 37. And this truth or religion, lies in his doctrine of worship, faith, and practice: or, in his teaching all his disciples, what way they are to worship God; what they are to believe concerning him, or other things which concern their eternal salvation; and what they are to do for him.
Now this doctrine, was like to be most advantageously professed, and this worship to be best paid, if it were not left to single persons, or to scattered families, to do it separately by themselves: but had its several professors incorporated, into one regular society and united body, for the joint profession and performance thereof. Such regular society, would hold it out, by more orderly and effectual ministration; and keep men to it, by the authority of discipline; and be a common help and spur, to excite and aid each other mutually, and carry them on; and a cover and shelter, to back and embolden them therein. A regular society, or church incorporated for the profession thereof, St. Paul says is a pillar, and ground, or stay, to publish and support it. Accordingly, when religion was left to be born out by smaller societies, and sometime even by single families, as in the patriarchical age; we see it was sometimes almost lost, and always made a very small progress. But when a whole nation was incorporated into one church, for the profession and payment of it, as it was among the Jews; it spread further in power and influence, and gained more proselytes. And lastly, when all nations, as fast as they turned Christians, were embodied in one society for the same intent, as a light set upon a candlestick, or as a city placed on a hill, it displayed its force far and near, and strengthened incomparably more hearts in it, and drew more eyes after it.
And therefore our Lord intended and ordered in the next place, that all, who embraced this religion, should incorporate or unite together in one church or society, for the profession of it. Accordingly, he has made baptism, wherein every professor takes upon him this religion, to incorporate him, or enter him a member of this church: baptism, as St. Paul notes, uniting us all in one body; and as many, as are baptized into Christ, are all one in Christ Jesus. And requires of every professor of this religion, that he keep on professing it in the unity of this church. And that all of his religion, pay this worship, and profess this doctrine, not separately by themselves; but socially, in joint communion with others. So that all, who come to embrace the Christian religion, must perform the worship and profession thereof in Christian society, or in the unity and communion of Christ's holy catholic church.
But we are first to be all of this religion, and then to profess and perform it in the unity and communion of this church. The doctrine and worship, I say, which makes us Christians, are the foundation of that society and unity, which is to be upheld in the Christian church. Thus, on Peter's confession, our Lord declares he would build his church, Matthew 16. 16, 18. And the uniting of Christians into one temple. St. Paul says, is by their being built on the apostles and prophets, i.e. on their doctrines, about worship, faith, and practice. Ephesians 2. 20. 21. And when our saviour prays so earnestly for the unity of his church, at what time he was about to leave it, he limits it to this, that they may be kept one in God's name. John. 17. 11: and calls the gathering or uniting together of Christians in congregations, wherein he will be in the midst of them, their gathering together in his name, Matthew 18. 20. In his name, that is, in his doctrine, or profession of faith and worship; name, with relation to masters and teachers, being usually put for doctrine. As, to bear my name before the gentiles, is to bear my doctrine, (Acts 9. 16) and teaching in Christ's name, is filling Jerusalem with his doctrine (Acts 5. 28) and verse 41. And the priests and rulers forbidding the apostles to speak to any man in his name, is forbidding them any more to preach his doctrine, Acts 4. 17. 18. And so, when our Lord prays to his father, that his disciples may be kept in his name, to the end that they may be one; he notes the necessity of continuing in his doctrine, to their keeping his so much desired union (John 11. 17). Accordingly he adds, that they may be one, as we are, viz. he and the father. For their unity, is by this way among others, viz. By keeping to the same word or doctrine, he teaching them what he had from his father, v. 8. And this is to be kept one after his departure, as they had been kept one before, as he continues to pray, v. 12. For before, they had been united in his word, which he gave unto them, and which they had received, and kept, v. 6. 8.
Thus also St. Paul tells us, that the giving of pastors and teachers, to edify or compact us all into one body of Christ, is for edifying us in the unity of the faith, and of the acknowledgment of the son of God, Ephesians 4. 11, 12, 13. And that the church is to be one body, in holding to the one faith, Ephesians 4. 4, 5. And this has been the currant sense of the Christian church. The virtue, which keeps the church together, is faith, saith the pastor Hermes, as he is cited by Clemens of Alexandria. We are constituted one body of Christ, and members one of another, by having the same faith with him, and with one another, say the fathers, in the sixth general council. By the joining of charity, and faith, Christ binds us up into one body in himself, saith St. Gregory the Great. And we Christians are a society, says Tertullian, incorporated on a belief of the same religion: or, as he elsewhere expresses it, confederated in the fellowship of the same profession.
As to points of faith, I understand this more particularly of those points, which are more important, and called fundamental, and are all contained in the apostles creed. These, are the necessary and grand points of the Christian religion, and the belief thereof makes us Christians; and accordingly they are all professed in our baptism, when we take this profession upon us. And this faith, is one necessary bond of union, to keep Christians together in one society. Their first care must be, to keep to this faith, which makes them Christians; and in this belief of the Christian religion, their next care must be, to keep to any particular society or Christian church. Other points of belief, which are more remote from the foundation, do not so generally influence men's salvation, nor so necessarily break off communion, but that men may hold on joining in the same offices, notwithstanding their embracing of some erroneous opinions. And under such errors, peace, and one communion, were pressed by the apostles, I conceive, on the churches in their days. But these being more necessary, and essential to the religion; are more necessary also to the keeping of society and communion, which is to be kept up among those, who are united and agreed in this religion.
And since all church association, is to be on this bottom, of Christian worship and doctrine; good Christian's unity or dependence on their bishops, or one churches communion with other churches, is only to be, whilst the bishops and churches themselves keep united to Christian worship and doctrines. It is to their bishops, as to their spiritual teachers, on whom they are to attend as obedient disciples; and so, whilst they instruct and train them up in God's truths, not in ungodly errors. It is to them, as they are Christ's ministers; and so, whilst they minister his word, not their own. As joints (Eph. 4. 16 and Col. 2. 19). And joints, are to compact or pin the materials or members together, whilst they rest upon the ground and bottom, viz. the doctrine; not when they start aside, and go off from it. And of an heretic, St. Paul says, that he is turned aside, or like a corner-stone started out of the building; so that the other parts, are no longer to be knit together into one spiritual house, by him.
When people come at first to be church-members, and to unite under their bishops, the doctrine and worship is first laid, as the groundwork, for both the head and members to stand upon. Thus we see it was, in the first formation of churches, and setting up external union and dependence, under bishops. The Christian doctrine, was first taught, and received, which was the foundation laid. I have laid the foundation, says St. Paul, when he had planted the faith, 1 Corinthians 3. 10. And on the foundation so laid, a church was raised, and bishops chosen out of the first-fruits of the converts, as St. Clemens says, and set over those that believed. And ever since, before men receive baptism to make them church-members, there is a profession made of the doctrine of the apostles, both in faith, or the articles of the creed, and in practice or the commandments.
So that it is bishops heading of this doctrine and worship, which bring members to incorporate, and unite under them. And as their heading it, brings people to them; so their rejecting or defecting from it, loosens the tie, and sets them free to go off again. Their fellowship with the apostles, and our obligation to hold fellowship with them, is tied to their keeping the apostolical declarations, of what they had heard, or seen, 1 John 1. 3. And in the account of the communion of the primitive Christians, the fellowship of the apostles, and of the bishops their successors, is linked to the apostle's doctrine, and to their breaking of bread and prayers, Acts 2. 42.
If a bishop then defects from Christian doctrine and worship, or falls into heresy, or unchristian worship; that is a discharge of his people from their spiritual dependence and relation, and supersedes the obligation of keeping unity under him. If we, the apostles, or even an angel from heaven, should preach any other gospel unto you, than that which we have already preached unto you, let him be anathema, or accursed: that is, have no more communion and commerce with him, than with those, whom the synagogue, or church has cut off; anathema being the word for one excommunicate, both in the scripture, and in the constant language of the church, Galatians 1, 8, 9. And this he says, as St. Chrysostom notes, not only against those, who subvert the whole gospel, but against those who go a little beside it, or overthrow any parts thereof. And if a church defects from the same, it sets other churches loose in like manner from the obligation, of holding on communion with them. Unity of faith, binds them mutually to observe the rules of fraternal communion; and defection in faith, gives discharge from them. Accordingly, this the clergy of Rome put the granting or denying communion upon, in their answer to Marcion: telling him, they could not receive him to communion in their church, without his fathers consent and allowance, because his father the bishop of Sinope, who had cast him out of communion, was of the same faith with themselves.
And this discharge such defection gives, upon the evidence of the fact itself, before synodical cognizance, or judicial sentence and declaration thereof.
As for other crimes, which concern only the persons or conversation of bishops, not their doctrine or ministrations; they give no discharge, to the clergy or people who are subject to them, before the offending bishops are regularly deprived for the same, by judicial sentence. And if before synodical sentence, any clergy or people, break off from their bishops; or bishops, from their metropolitans; or metropolitans, from their patriarchs, on pretence of them; they make a schism, and are censured by the church for so doing. If any presbyter, or deacon, says the Council of Constantinople, on pretence of crimes, (meaning such personal crimes,) shall dare to withdraw themselves from the communion of their bishop; or bishops, from their metropolitan; or presbyters, bishops, or metropolitans from their patriarch, before synodical cognizance and perfect condemnation past upon him: he makes a schism, and shall incur the penalty of deposition.
But as for heresy, or any damnable corruptions of doctrine or ministrations, they give this discharge, as soon as the bishop, &c. is notoriously guilty of them, before any synod has sate, or sentence has passed upon him. Thus, St. Jerome expounds that passage, an heretic is condemned of himself, Titus 3. 10. 11. Which, says he, is therefore said of heretics, because when other offenders, as fornicators, adulterers, murderers, are not cast out, but by the sentence of the bishop or church censures: heretics, on the other hand, pass sentence upon themselves, on their own accord receding from the church, which recession seems to be a condemnation of their own conscience. As many as attempt any thing against those constitutions of the fathers, which concern the faith, thereby without more ado incur, and bring on themselves the censures contained in the canons, says Thalassius bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, in the great Council of Chalcedon. When an offence is only against the canons of the church, the defence of the divine canons we know is proper only to the bishops; but the defence of the right faith, belongs not only to them, but to every orthodox Christian, say the holy monks against the patriarch Anthimus, fallen to the heresy of the Eutychians, in their libel in the Council of Constantinople under Agapetus and Mennas. Though no synod has before condemned him; yet he that has prevaricated and deserted the orthodox faith, as Acacius he says had done by communicating with the Eutychians, has enough for which he ought to be denied communion. As also any one, who before being a catholic, shall fall to communicate with any heresy, is justly thought to be thereby removed from our society, says Pope Gelasius. Though, in case of other crimes, they may not do it before synodical sentence; yet, in case of any heresy condemned by the holy synods, or fathers, they may depart and separate from the communion of their prelate, say the foresaid canons of Constantinople, when once he comes to preach it publicly, and to teach it bare-faced in the church. And then to withdraw from him before synodical cognizance, is not to incur the foresaid canonical pains, but to show themselves worthy of that honour, which belongs to the orthodox. It is not to condemn bishops, say they, but pseudo-bishops their teachers; not to rend the unity of the church by a schism, but to study to free it from schisms and divisions. So that in these cases, when the defection of doctrine and worship is apparent, and plain to their eyes and ears; the people and clergy may judge for themselves, and withdraw from the communion of such heretical or erroneous pastors. And accordingly, the apostolical rules to the people are, without staying for the declaration of a synod, if any turn a bringer of false doctrine, contrary to what they had delivered, without more ado to hold him as anathema, or as one excommunicate, Galatians 1. 8. 9. And not to bid him God speed, 2 John 10. 11.
By such defections then from Christian doctrine, or worship, the ligaments of union are broken towards the governors of any church, or between one church and another; and there accrues a liberty, without any breach of the unity of the church,
1. For people to break off from their own local guides, or for people and clergy to break off from their own bishops. Though they were apostles, or angels from heaven, they are to be held then as anathema, as St. Paul says, that is, not as heads of unity and church-communion, but as excommunicate men. If they cause divisions from the doctrines we have learned, he bids the church mark and avoid them (Romans 16. 17). The people's duty of adhering to, and following them, is no longer, than they continue to be followers of Christ, 1 Corinthians 11. 1. &c. 4. 18. But if they break off from his truth, and turn false prophets, however they come dressed up in soft pretences or in sheep's clothing, he tells us to beware of them, and to fly them as wolves, Matthew 7. 15, 16. To look to them, and avoid them, as St. Paul cautions against the judaizers, Phil. 3. 2. If they become bringers of false doctrine, bid them not God speed, nor receive them into your houses, saith St. John, 2 John 10: 11. Thus when John of Jerusalem fell to err in point of faith, Epiphanius writ to the monks, as St. Jerome says, that till he gave satisfaction in point of faith, none of them should communicate with him. And Jerome himself asks him, where it is required that they should come under his communion, before such satisfaction were given. And tells him, it is because of their difference in point of faith, that they may not communicate with him. A people, says St. Cyprian, that would fear God, and obey his precepts, ought to separate itself from an erring prelate. Such persons, if metropolitans, are no longer to have neither any authority over the bishops of their provinces, nor the communion of the church, as is decreed in the general Council of Ephesus.
They are to leave their guides, when they fall to misguide them; and to stand off from their persons, lest they be corrupted with their tenets. And this is no more, than is needful for them, even in point of caution; being their keeping out of the way of temptations, which our Lord directs us to, for a general guard of all virtues. And standing off thus from heretical leaders, they will approve themselves in the midst of heresies, by being steadfast in the truth (1 Corinthians 11. 19). They will not be tossed to and fro, by the slight of subtle men, with every wind of doctrine, Ephesians 4. 14. Nor carried about, when their teachers fall off, with divers, and strange doctrines: strange, as opposite to the first taught truths; and divers, as contrary to their own former principles (Heb. 13. 19).
2. For the bishops and pastors of one church, to break off from the bishops and pastors of another. A bishop, must hold fast the faithful word, when others fly from it, Titus 1. 9. An heretic, after the first and second admonition, he is bid to reject from his communion, Titus 3. 10. And when any teach otherwise, contrary to wholesome words, and the doctrine which is according to godliness, from such withdraw thyself, 1 Timothy 6. 3. 5. If any teach corrupt, and contrary tenets, it is not fit to mingle and have communion with them, saith St. Chrysostom. If any foreign bishop, or other clergy, come, and bring along with them commendatory letters testifying their orders, let them not be received, or admitted to communion, unless, on examination, they be found preachers of piety, and teach sound and pure doctrine, say the apostolical canons.
And this liberty for both these, is not only in defections from necessary doctrines of faith; but also, (especially in general and professed ones) in defections from grand and necessary doctrines of practice. For we are tied to them, not only as to ministers of prayers, who are to lead and go before us in holy and acceptable devotions, which sets us free to leave them, as I showed before, when they corrupt their liturgies. But also as to teachers, who are to give us true information of all that is necessary in the way to heaven, or to save our souls: they being set over us, and we being ordered to keep subject to them, as pastors, who are to feed us with understanding; and as our guides and teachers, as the scripture says. Now to be taught aright, in necessary points of practice, as well as of mere belief, or fundamentals of faith, is necessary to these purposes: for obedience, is no less necessary in religion, than faith is; and a defection from the true necessary doctrine of either, is most dishonourable to God, and destructive to men's souls. And if teaching us aright, in all grand and necessary points of both these, ties us to them; will not their turning false teachers, or falling, openly, and incurably, to misteach us in either, set us free to go off from them?
Accordingly, St. Paul, treating of servants duties, whose honour, obedience, and fidelity towards their masters, is necessary to prevent the Christian doctrines being evil spoken of, bids timothy, if any teach otherwise, and consent not to the doctrine which is according to godliness, from such to withdraw himself, (1 Timothy 6. 1-3, 5). And thus also, when he gives order to turn away from the false teachers of the later days, the defection of those false teachers, he sets out more particularly, in practical points: such as were a denial of the power of godliness, which lies in practice; though still, as he says, they retained the form thereof, which lies more in speculative professions and opinions. Viz. by being lovers of themselves, or of pleasure more than of God, so throwing off the doctrine, of taking up and bearing crosses; and being disobedient to parents, natural or civil, and traitors to government, so discarding all sober principles of civil obedience; and being truce-breakers, finding out ways to evade, or fly off from the most solemn promises, and oaths; and the like (2 Timothy 3. 1-5).
I speak not of such practical errors, when got only among the people, by means of some false teachers privily creeping in, and dispersing the same; but not among the lawful pastors themselves: as seems to have been the case at Corinth, where some members had imbibed gnostic infusions, and thought it lawful to communicate in idol-feasts. For here, the sound may attend on the ministrations of their orthodox pastors, though they be to meet some unsound members there, or to worship in mixed communions. Their brethrens errors will not drive them to withdraw themselves, but they may leave them to be remedied, or removed by church-censures.
Nor of such others, as have tainted the pastors themselves, if it is not clear of the points objected to them, that they are errors; or, supposing them errors, if they be not of dangerous consequence. The guilt of some, is neither so gross and heinous as to the nature, nor so clear and indisputable as to the proof of it, as it is in others. And these may be born, or remedied other ways, and must not always break communion.
Nor of all other errors in practice imbibed by the pastors, that are clear, and of higher consequence.
For though the practical errors are more clear and important, yet sometimes the guides and pastors abetting them, is not full and bare-faced. They may not be come to teach them publicly and bare-faced in the church, as the Council of Constantinople speaks in the case of heresy, for which the church is to break off from them. They may show connivance, or countenance to them; as the pastors at Corinth seem to have done, in the case of incestuous marriages; and as, perhaps, they did in the case of communicating in idol-feasts: but not doctrinally maintain, and preach them up. And thus also Leontius did, whilst the orthodox kept on meeting in the Arian assemblies under him at Antioch. For though he secretly favored, and encouraged the Arians, who used a derogatory doxology, of glory be to the father, by the Son, in the Holy Ghost; not as the orthodox, to the father, and to the son, and to the Holy Ghost: yet in repeating the doxology at the end of the psalms, he repeated all the first part, wherein they differed, privately to himself; and then only repeated aloud, when it came to in saecula saeculorum, or world without end, wherein both were agreed, as Theodoret reports.
Yea, I may add, that at other times, when the pastors preach them up bare-faced, they may do it generally: so that the people may have none else, but such erroneous teachers, to communicate with. As was the case of the Jews, I think, at our saviour's coming, when the priests, I conceive, generally agreed in preaching up those practical errors and doctrinal salvos, whereby, as our Lord charges them, they made void God's commandments. And in such a corrupt state of the church, till they could have the same from more orthodox ministers; they were to go on communicating in religious offices and sacrifices, whilst there was nothing but good in them, with these otherwise erroneous ministers. And were not to disclaim communion with their ministrations, but to beware of the leaven of their doctrines: or, in other points, where they taught true, to follow their doctrines, not their practices, as our saviour cautions.
But when they saw souls endangered by such salvos, it was the duty of true prophets, and priests among them, and would be so in all other places, on like occasions, by their preaching and ministrations to keep up sound knowledge among the people in these points; yea, though such preaching and ministrations made a breach between them, and those defecting teachers. And it was the people's duty to follow any among them, who would teach them better, when they could have such teachers, as they had in our blessed Lord, and his apostles. Whatever allowance, under the favour of necessity, men may have to keep on with such, of which plea of necessity, I shall say more hereafter; yet, where there is choice of others more orthodox, they are no longer tied to such pastors, as openly and obstinately preach up damnable practices, to disgrace religion, and endanger souls. Bear they may for a time, in hopes of reformation; and, because it is easier, to prevent, than to patch up breaches, wise lovers both of peace and truth, would not be hasty in coming to extremities. But if still they will persist, and go on in such pernicious ways and doctrines; good people and pastors may withdraw themselves from their communion, as St. Paul says in the places already cited.
And the reasons of breaking off, on such defections from necessary points, either of faith or practice, are still more urgent, if there is no liberty left in any churches, for other pastors to stand up ministerially, or exercise their ministry in defence of those necessary points, whilst they continue with, and adhere to them. For then, the concealment and suppression of necessary truths, is made a condition of communion; and other pastors, if they will hold on with them, must suffer that good thing, which has been committed to their trust, to be extinguished, without standing up, according to their duty and solemn undertaking, to minister the same. Which will make it necessary for all, who will choose to stand by Christ and his truths, rather than by such his apostatizing servants and corrupters thereof, to depart from them.
When therefore the bishops and pastors of any church, fall off from ministering necessary Christian doctrine or worship; and especially when they come to allow their communion to none, who will go on administering the same; they thereby loosen the bands of union, and break that spiritual dependence and relation, which the people, and other inferior pastors, ought to have upon them. They are no longer the true joints, to compact the members; nor the head of unity, to keep together the body of the church. And thus it was at the reformation, under queen Elizabeth, with the popish bishops; whose corrupt worship and doctrine, yea, and rigorous exaction of compliance with both from all who expected to hold communion with them, had set their churches at liberty to go off from them, as I formerly observed, and to seek more orthodox bishops in their room. And so it would be in the case of other bishops, especially of those who espouse a schism, and communicate with anti-bishops in opposition to the true bishops, if they fall from ministering necessary Christian truths, whether of faith, or of moral doctrine and worship, as in the fore-mentioned cases.
And when the church is thus loosed of its dependence on their persons, by the defection of such erring bishops; it may be free to unite itself, to other orthodox bishops. Either to receive such an one, for its own local bishop, as was done at the reformation, by substituting orthodox and reformed bishops, into the sees of popish bishops. Or, till it can have that, by receiving the benefit of episcopal and priestly acts, from any other orthodox bishops and clergy, as they can be met with. It may fetch all orthodox ministrations and spiritual functions, from other places, when it cannot have them from an orthodox pastor, or in the unity of the church, at home. This it may do, says St. Cyprian in this case, as well as the mariners, when their own port is sanded, or otherwise insecure, may pass it by, and put in at another. Or, as well as the travellers, when their own inn is beset with thieves, may take up their lodging at another, which is more safe.
And as the people of such defecting bishops and pastors, may seek out, and unite themselves to others, for all necessary ministrations; so may those other orthodox bishops and clergy, who are sought to, be free to receive and supply them. This is plain of both, because the church, whereof the one are members, and the other are bishops or priests, is a catholic church. For being catholic, its baptisms, and ordinations, are catholic; and make, as the one Christians, so the other bishops and priests, that must be owned for such over all the Christian church, and not only in some limited parts, or districts thereof. And betwixt the members of this catholic church, there is to be a communion of saints; so that the one may receive as members, and the other administer all spiritual acts and functions as pastors, as there is opportunity, and as need requires. When the orthodox members of such defecting pastors, come to them; considering the catholicism of the church, though never so far remote in place, they must own them as their brethren: and professing the communion of saints, they must receive them to their communion. When, shunning the rocks in their own defecting church, they seek a more safe harbor in theirs, it is their part to receive them with a prompt humanity, and to give them such reception, as was given to him who had fallen among thieves in the gospel; not only to let them in, but to take all due and needful care of them, saith St. Cyprian.
Yea, and as Christian bishops, they are to look upon this reception, and these ministrations, as one part of their episcopal charge. For they are bishops of the catholic church, as well as of their own sees; and have relation to the whole church, as well as to their own diocese. The administration he has received, is not only for his own flock, but for the church in common, says St. Ignatius, of the bishop of Philadelphia. And Christ has committed to you, not only your own, but the universal church, says Eleutherius to the Gallican bishops. And though, as being more especially bishops of that place, they have more particular obligation to look after their own flocks: yet, as catholic bishops, they must be concerned for the whole church, and look on it, or any destitute parts thereof, as their own, as occasion requires. It behooves us all to extend our care, and watch over the body of the whole church, whose members are disposed through each of the various provinces, say the presbyters and deacons of Rome to Cyprian, on his informing them of the deposition of Privatus Lambesitanus the heretic. And unum gregem pascimus, though we be many pastors, yet we are to look upon all as one flock, says St. Cyprian in this case. Though holding it in partnership, we are several bishops; yet, as there is but one church, so there is but one episcopate, says he again, whereof every particular bishop holds a part; but holds it so, as to stand obliged and answerable, on occasion, not only for his own particular proportion, but, as partners in a bond, each of them pro solido, as the legal phrase is, or for the whole sum.
Thus Eleutherius told the Gallican bishops, that for this very cause Christ had committed to them the universal church, that they should labour for all, and not neglect to afford help to any, as their needs should require. And Simplicius of Rome, told acacius of Constantinople, that to approve himself faithful in his episcopate, he must strive for catholic unity and the decrees of the fathers, not only in that church where he presided, but wheresoever he could. And Chrysostom says, St. Eustathius bishop of Antioch, had well learned by the grace of the Holy Ghost, that a bishop of the church ought to take care, not of that church alone, over which he is specially appointed: but of the universal church through the world. This general care, has appeared conspicuous in the lives and labors of holy and faithful bishops: as of Cyprian, Alexander, and Cyril of Alexandria, Eustathius of Antioch, and Chrysostom. And of the great Athanasius, who took as much care of all other churches, as he did of his own, as St. Basil says.
Nor ought they to be hindered from such ministration, and reception of the members of other churches, by any canonical rules for unity in the church. For, that heresy, or defection from Christian doctrine, whether in faith or practice, and from Christian worship, which sets aside the obligations of unity towards those defecting bishops and pastors, must also of course therewith set aside those canonical rules, which are for maintenance thereof. So that the ecclesiastical rules, of clergy and people doing nothing in church-communion without the allowance of their bishop: and of ones not officiating, or ordaining another's subjects, or intermeddling in another's diocese; are no rules, nor of force towards such persons. And accordingly at Arles, when Marcianus their bishop was fallen to the Novatians, Cyprian thought it behooved him and other bishops, to see the needs of the faithful there supplied, that they might no longer be left a prey for wolves, without all hopes (after the Novatian rigor) of the churches peace and communion after once they had fallen. And under the Arian heretics, the great Athanasius, when out of his own district, held ordinations in other churches, as he passed through them, as Socrates reports. Even the great Council of Constantinople, in that very canon, which forbids bishops to intermeddle, either in ordinations, or in other ecclesiastical administrations, without their own precincts: yet makes an exception of those churches, that are in barbarous nations, for whose relief they might do this: as eminent preachers, when they went among them, might still confirm those they had gained to the faith in other provinces, according to their custom: which, though against the canons, the council still allowed, say Balsamon and Zonaras upon the canon; for the necessity of the thing.
And thus also presbyters and people, may hold assemblies independent on their own defecting bishops, or on any others. The apostolical canons allowing priests to have meetings separate from their bishops, when they do it as condemning them of impiety [in doctrine] or of injustice [in administration, as deposing them for the sake of truth, or of a good thing, &c.] And the Council of Constantinople, though it forbids inferiors, before synodical sentence, to cast off the communion of their superior on pretence of criminal causes, as fornication, simony, or transgression of the canons, as Balsamon comments: yet allows it in case of heresy condemned by former synods, or by the holy fathers, so soon as he begins bare-faced to teach it in the church. And the Council of Carthage, when it condemns presbyters for setting up separate altars from their bishops, makes this exception, unless they have against him a just expostulation. And an allegation of false doctrine, or leading the church wrong, is such a just expostulation, as Balsamon observes upon the canon. These rules, for preserving order and concord among bishops and churches, are binding towards any bishops, who are in the unity of the church, and are orthodox. But if either they are fallen to set up unchristian worship, or doctrine; or, as I observed before, are turned schismatics, or set up as anti-bishops in Christ's church: they bind none towards such bishops. They are no longer heads of union, and so cannot claim the benefit of these rules for unity; which, by their schism, or defection, is at an end towards them.
Thus doth heresy, or a defection from necessary doctrine or worship, discharge church members, from their spiritual and canonical dependence and union, with their defecting bishops and pastors. Priests are no longer tied to such erring bishops, nor the people to either, in such cases. So that a defection to sinful worship, and damnable doctrine, bereaves men of all arguments from scripture or canons, for their subjects to depend on them, or to unite with them.
If therefore in any division of a church, it can truly be objected to one side, that they are fallen from holy and true worship and doctrine; it is not for them to plead the duty of union, or to tell people of their obligations to unite with them. If before they were the true heads, and the regular and canonical bishops of those places; yet would their falling into those unchristian errors, strip them of those claims. The union taught by Christ, and the holy scriptures, and directed by the rules and canons of the church, supposes men orthodox; but is not to unite with such defectors. Nor is any charity, which they can pretend to in seeking to keep all others united to themselves, the charity which he requires. For that charity, which is the end of the commandment, must be out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned, as St. Paul says, 1 Timothy 1. 5. It must be out of a pure heart, and a good conscience: and so is only a seeking to have them one with us, whilst we go together in keeping the commandments, or in the practice of good things; not like the charity or love of thieves, and murderers, that associates and binds them together in the practice of ill things, as St. Chrysostom notes. And it must also be out of faith unfeigned; and so is a seeking to unite them to our selves, not in dangerous errors, but only in orthodox and Christian doctrines. Whereas, the pains that is taken to bring all over to them in the breach of God's laws, and embracing of unchristian doctrine, or to be one with them in error and wickedness; is not charity, but destruction, to those who are seduced by them.
If such defection from pure worship and doctrine is their case, the guilt of making a division lies plainly at their doors. In such breaches, St. Paul notes the dividers from the doctrine, as making the schism; and not the faithful adherers to it, who refuse to break off from it, in order to their keeping on with them. Mark those, as causing the divisions or offences, who go contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, saith he, Romans 16: 17. And divisions made by such defection, are incurable by any thing, but their own repentance and return to their former ways. Their brethren can not heal, or close them, by following them in their defection; because that is to be false to truth, and to their own and others souls, which are all in danger of perishing by straying from the same.
Nay, should they do as they desire, and all come over; that would only be a false and seeming cure, but really make the breach wider. For the whole body of Christians, from the beginning to the end, are but one church. And those Christian societies, which make up this one church, are the several churches of all times and places. All true Christians, which now are, or formerly have been, or hereafter shall be, are all members of one and the same body, as I formerly showed.
So that the unity, which good Christians are to aim at, is to appear of one society and communion, with the whole body of faithful Christians, from first to last: with all the faithful, who have kept to this unity, and are now in heaven; as well as with all, who either now are, or hereafter shall be in earth, doing the same. Or, to be found united, and in the communion of that body, or general collection and assembly of saints, who shall all appear together as one body, that has kept up the faith and unity of the church, in opposition to all heretical or schismatical oppugners thereof, at the last day. And they are lamentably out, and take their aim too narrow, who look only at keeping an external union, with the assemblies and religious societies of their own place and time; though that be in breaking off from the way and communion, of all the faithful Christians of other places at that time, and of all that are gone before them, and will make them appear separately from the general assembly and great collection of saints, at the last day.
Now true doctrine and worship, as I have shown, are among the chief ligaments, in this body of Christ's holy catholic church. And if even any regular bishops, or metropolitans, with their respective societies or churches, break off from any necessary truths, or worship of Christ, they break off at the same time, from all this great body of faithful Christians of all other places and times, who are all united and incorporated in them, and stand upon them. And if these defectors, appear to make the generality, or great number, in their own particular times, and countries; yet are they but a handful, compared to that general body or collection on the other side, whom they have defected and broke from, and who will stand all in one compact body against them, at the last day. Viz. the catholic church of all times and places. So that those few faithful among them, who continue firm, and stand out against their defection, do not go off from the main body, or greatest numbers, but stick to them; the catholic church of all ages and countries, which makes the vast body, and infinitely the greatest number, being in reality with them. The catholic church, consisting of our saviour Christ, of apostles and prophets, martyrs and confessors, and of all the truly faithful, who have gone before us, are now, or shall be after us, when all is done will make the body. And those few faithful Christians sticking to this, when the numerous defectors in those countries start from it, stick to the body. So that, as the Council of Constantinople declares of those, who break off communion with their bishops, yea, before synodical sentence, when once they openly teach any heresy condemned by the holy-fathers or councils; by so doing, they do not rend the unity of the church by schism, but study to free, or defend it, against schisms or divisions. So at such times, they must bespeak their brethren, as St. Cyprian did the confessors, who sided with the schismatic Novatian. Because we can not leave the church, and come over to you, which, instead of patching up, would be to break and divide the churches concord and unanimity: we beseech you, by all the ways we can, that you would return and come back again to your mother the church, and to our fraternity.
By keeping then to the necessary doctrines and worship of Christ, of the catholic church, and of our own church, we keep united to them; and so far, as we break off from these, we answerably break off from them. And therefore the running in of more into such defection, instead of closing up the schism, would increase it. It would only make the more people guilty, of dividing, and standing off from Christ, and from the catholic church, as that contains all orthodox Christians and right churches, who are gone before us, or are now, or shall be after us. Yea, from all their ancestors, during all the successions of them to their unhappy defection, in their own church. And even from themselves, in all their own best days, whilst they stood true to their own pure worship and orthodox principles. Which is such a way of healing schisms, as rebellion is of remedying grievances; that is, instead of taking any off, it brings abundance more upon us.
And this makes the charge of schism stronger, and more aggravated in the fore-mentioned cases, where the corruptions of doctrine and worship make them a corrupt church, as well as the setting up of anti-bishops makes them a schismatical church. There is plainly a schism in making of anti-bishops, which is a setting up of opposite altars. But it is a more wicked and ungodly schism, when these opposite altars are set up for wicked and ungodly purposes, to head sinful and unchristian worship and doctrines. That schism, is complicated with heresy, or other dangerous depravation of religion. It is not only making a breach in the church; but withal, it is forming a party against truth and holiness. It is giving religion a second blow, to maintain a former; and setting up one ill thing, to secure a worse. It seeks to confederate men in the breach of unity, that it may hold them fast in breach of piety, or moral honesty. And a schism so set up to strike at religion, is more impious in the sight of God, and of all good men, and the guilt thereof is more flagrant. And besides, it is incurable by any, but themselves. For the schismatics run into such a breach, to maintain a quarrel against truth and righteousness. And in that, they must go by themselves; for none who will take any due care of their precious souls, ought to bear them company. So, there can be no re-union, till they return from their wicked and ungodly schism, to the way of truth and righteousness, which they had forsaken.