The Course Of The Church Through The Centuries
350 to 800 AD
When the persecution of the powers of state and of the organized church of that time violently rooted out not only the Arianists of the Eastern Kingdom but also the Donatists and Novatianists of the Western Kingdom, then perished also many churches who had held fast to the teaching of the mountain land of Galilee and to the ordinances of the times of the apostles; they perished before the fanaticism and officiousness of the persecutors. These persecutors classed the genuine and sincere Christians who were striving to remain with the Old Paths right along with the heretics who were after money. In Syria, for instance, genuine disciples were burned to death along with dualistic Marcionites or Manicheansóin Armenia and Northeast Asia Minor that bordered on Armenia. They rooted out their churches under the pretext that their churches had succumbed to the sun-worship of the Avards. The persecutors hunted them out on the Galatian plateau at the same time as the Antinomianist of Messalism and stoned them to death or burned them alive along with these heretics. Yet no power could stop the course of the church of the living God. By families and by groups Christians who were concealing themselves from the executioners settled the inaccessible oases of Northwest Arabia, concealed themselves in the almost waterless wadis of the Sinaitic Peninsula, fled into the chaotic cities of the Nile delta that were heated by the Arian and Meletian controversies, they emerged in the hinterland of Cyrenaika, on the island of Djerba near the Tunisian coast, and in the High and Lower Atlas mountains.
About the middle of the fourth century we find the traces of the New Testament mission in the northern part of the Pyrenees Peninsula. A very influential merchant Priscillianus followed the advice which Jesus gave the rich young man for he sold his possessions, distributed the proceeds among the poor, and preached the good news of our deliverance from death and from the power of the devil with such success that the Catholic diocese of Avila called upon him to serve it as bishop. Two bishops of the state church became his zealous followers. In the year 380 he was banished along with his faithful followers. The supreme authority of the state seized him, he was brought in chains to Trier and there, after terrible torturings whose aim it was to extract from him the confession that he was a magician and Manichean, he and five of his followers were beheaded. Traces of churches founded and influenced by him are still to be found after centuries in northern Portugal, in western France, in Galicia, and Traz-oz-Montez.
Out of the Celtic district of Galacia and Gaul messengers of the New Testament gospel must have entered the British Isles for the first time, for even as early as the year 422 the Catholic bishop Germanus, who had been sent there on inspection, wrote that numerous Christians in Britain had rejected Agustineís doctrine of the original sin, practiced the immersion of adults only, did not follow the Roman ritual in their divine service, and did not recognize the hierarchy of Rome, especially the spiritual jurisdiction of the Pope. It was not asserted that these British Christians were Manicheans. That would not have been believed even in Rome; the blame was placed rather on the schismatic churches of Arianism. The conquest of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons and the later so-called Christianization of the tribes by Roman bishops and by abbots educated in Rome led to the rapid disappearance of these churches. In the bold missionary spirit of the Irish-Scottish church, in their endeavor to keep the doctrine of Jesus pure from the foreign range of thinking, in their opposition to the arrogant authority of the Roman episcopate and in their ever-newly undertaken attempts to check the worldliness of the church, there is certainly to be observed a legacy of those churches which gave Germany a Kilian, a Clement, and a Vergilius. In the workroom of that Kilian who was murdered at the command of the duke of the Franks, in the so-called "Cloister" at Wurzburg, there is still preserved a parchment out of the middle of the eighth century, a Greek copy of the Letter to the Romans (Book of Romans). On chapter three there stands the Irish marginal note: "Creitem hi cridiu in folgni firiam" (Faith, hid in the heart, makes man just), a clear testimony of a genuine New Testament Christianity in contrast to the institutionalism of the papal church. About the year 700 there began in Ireland itself the gradual assimilation of the national church, which was free from Rome, into the type of the western great church. At about the year 800 the Scottish kings broke the strength of the clans, and with the old constitution of blood relationship brushed aside the last remains of the Scottish-Irish missionary churches; but even as late as 1390 A.D. a New Testament church in Celtic Hill Cliff in Wales built a room for worship with a great basin for immersion of adults in baptism upon confession of faith.
We get our first knowledge of the continuation of New Testament churches in Syria from Mananalis where the pious widow Kallinike raised her public protest in the year 375 on the one hand against the terror of the majority of the state church and on the other hand against the Arian heresy of the minority by appealing to the teaching and deeds of the apostle Paul in those provinces. Along with her two sons Paulus and Johannes, she was banished from the region as a follower of Manichaeism on the cheapest pretext, since the adherents of the blending of the Gnostic, Parsee and Buddhist religion of Mani also took a stand against forced "conversions", against the use of the sword, and against the use of oaths, against Mammonism in church and state, and who declared that the Law of the Old Testament was made without power through Christ. To be branded as followers of Manichaeism was dangerous, since this religion was held to be especially hostile to state and culture and its followers were exposed to the funeral pile.
In spite of this, some 250 years later there was extended out from Mananalis a wave of building of churches after the New Testament order in Asia Minor. A Marcionite sectarian, Constantine, was converted by the study of the four gospels and of Paulís epistles and joined with the small church of true Christians in the Catacombs. Around the middle of the seventh century persecution drove him and his fellow believers to Kibossa in northern Armenia where he was cordially received by the church of Christ which was located there and existed in somewhat freer circumstances. From now on he wandered and preached and led the life of a true follower of Christ, keeping in touch with all the churches of the dispersion either personally or by letter. In doing this he made use of code names for persons or places in order to make the work of informers difficult. Thus, for example he speaks of himself as "Silvanus", of Kibossa as "Macedonia". But he did not escape from his fate for, seized by the soldiers of the Byzantine Governor Simeon, he was condemned to death and stoned to death as "adulterer" caught in the very act of leading astray the church, Christís pure bride, with the "Marcionite false lover".
However, his steadfast death so impressed the governor that he involuntarily drew parallels with the death by stoning of the martyr Stephen and began to study intensively the teachings of the New Testament, that is to say of the church, and then a few years later, under the code name of "Titus", became one of the most successful messengers of the gospel in Galatia and Cappadocia. In the year 694 he was likewise ferreted out and led to the funeral pile. But his work and his predecessorís work did not perish. The epoch of the iconoclast emperors granted to the churches of Asia Minor a little time for recovery before the great storm of persecution which was to be hurled upon them after the martyrís death of Simon-Titus. In this "golden time" of comparative peace there was great growth of those who turned away from the confused teachings of those who were following the great denominations and were added by God to his church. The people and the authorities called the followers of the Lamb "Paulicians" because these followers knew how to answer their opponents in all their discussions with well-aimed arguments of the great apostle to the Gentiles, while they called themselves exclusively "Christians" and among each other as "brothers" and "sisters". A Byzantine monk of this time reports concerning a religious debate with them:
Only the New testament was accepted among them as rule for faith and church practice; they rejected the worship of the Mother of God and of the saints, even of the great martyrs George and Sergius; they do not consecrate a special worship to the Archangels or to Elias, have no church feasts at all; each Sunday they assemble in places of prayer which are not worthy to be named thus, since they have neither altar nor wall for pictures of the saints, nor a place for keeping the holy vessels; they use neither incense nor chrism oil. They despise and scorn the baptism of the church and say that infants have no faith. They recognize neither the jurisdiction of the Patriarch at Constantinople nor of the Patriarch of Antioch and Jerusalem and have no respect for the schismatic church of the Armenians. They are proud of the fact that their churches are small and poor and that their evangelists live only from what sheltering believers give them voluntarily. They do not accept the false accusation that the heretic Paulus is said to have founded their sect, and say that they are not Paulicians, but Christians, and chosen of God.
The Course Of The Church Through The Centuries
800 to 1071 AD