Some Remarks Upon the Ecclesiastical History of the Ancient Churches of Piedmont
Concerning the first rise and original of the Churches of Italy.
BY Italy, I do not understand here the several countries which, at this day, bear that name, but only the seven provinces to which that name was given, by way of distinction, and which constituted a particular government, being particularly under the care of the lieutenant of the western Praetorian Prefect. These provinces were Liguria, Aemilia, Flaminia, Venetia, the Alps, both Cottian and Greek, and Rhaetia, or the country of the Grisons. There were three legions amongst the troops of the empire, which peculiarly had the name of Italic, because probably at first they had been raised in that diocese; whereof Milan was the capital city, and the place of residence of the lieutenant we have just now mentioned.
Baronius takes it for an undoubted truth, that St. Barnabas, the famous companion of St. Paul in the work of the ministry, was the first founder of the Church of Milan, and of the Churches of Liguria, which he refers to the year 51 of our Savior Jesus Christ; that is, to the forty-ninth year, if we rectify his chronology. In defending this his opinion, he grounds himself on very sure traditions, as he reckons upon the records of the Church of Milan, and upon the testimonies of many authors. Ughellus is of the same mind, and Ripamontius, who hath written the history of that Church, from the beginning thereof, and sets down all he could get together for support of this opinion. But to speak my sense plainly concerning this opinion of Baronius, and those that follow him therein; I believe they have abused themselves by following late authorities, and such as cannot make out so ancient a matter. All this so sure tradition, and these monuments of the Church of Milan, owe their rise to the foolish vanity, which the emulation of the western Prelates, for precedency and jurisdiction, has given birth to, since the eighth century- indeed, since that time, there is scarcely a considerable church in Italy, France, Spain, or England, that did not challenge some Apostle, or disciple of the Apostles, for their founder. I acknowledge that the Liturgy, which bears the name of St. Ambrose, supposes St. Barnabas to have been the first Bishop of Milan; but that alone is sufficient to make it appear, that that Liturgy, as well as others of the same nature, hath suffered great alterations since its first reception in that diocese. The later ages have made a great part of their piety to consist in inventing these fables, and the ignorance and blind zeal of people hath prompted them to entertain impertinent legends as articles of faith, whereof the least footstep is not to be found in the first monuments of antiquity. The learnedest men of the Church of Rome have, in a manner, wholly banished these apostolical originals into the land of fables, from whence they all proceeded at first; though some sooner, others later, yet all of them since the eighth century, as we have hinted. Baronius therefore ought to have called to mind here that judicious maxim, with reference to history, which he himself allegeth elsewhere, Quod sine antiquo authore dicitur, contemnitur;
“Whatsoever is asserted without the testimony of some ancient author ought to be despised.” Though it is plain, I might draw some advantage in the sequel of my discourse, from the confession of Baronius and other authors that have written the originals of the Churches of Liguria; yet I shall take heed of making use of it, my aim being not to gain any tiling by the ignorance or fabuloushess of our adversary, but exactly to search out truth.
Accordingly I find,
1. That the ancient ecclesiastical history doth not give us the least, hint, that ever St. Barnabas preached in Italy, properly so called. Several authors, as Origen and St. Chrysostom, give not him the same allotment that the later historians of Milan have done.
2. I find it was a thing wholly unknown in the time of St. Ireneeus and Tertullian, as also to Pope Innocent the First, in the beginning of the fifth century.
3, I do not find that any of the authors who lived in that diocese, as St. Ambrose, St. Maximus, and others, have ever set forth the glory of this apostolical foundation of the Church of Milan by St. Barnabas.
4, Petrus Damianus might alone have served to correct this erroneous opinion of Baronius: for being sent to persuade the Church of Milan to submit to that of Rome, he doth not at all take notice of the Clergy of Milan, pretending to descend from St. Barnabas; but maintains to their face, that they had received the Gospel from the Bishops of the Church of Rome. There is no man of any judgment, who is never so little versed in the history of the Church, on whom these remarks will not make a greater impression, than all those fables on which Baronius, and others like him, have built, in order to establish their pretended tradition.
I am not ignorant, that since the thirteenth century, Raynerius reports, that the Churches of the Waldenses maintained, that they were apostolical Churches: but the word apostolical must then be taken in the sense Tertullian gives it in his book of Prescriptions, which I have just now alleged, Nascentes ex matricibus apostolicis dcputantur ut sobdes apostolicarum Ecclesiarum. Indeed, they are never the less apostolical, because they did not receive the doctrine of the Gospel immediately from the Apostles themselves. It is sufficient to make them deserve the name of apostolical, that they received the doctrine of the Apostles, as a pledge from the hand of their first disciples, which they preserved so very tenderly throughout the following ages.
It is hard to determine whether it was in the first century that these apostolical men planted the Christian religion at Milan, and the diocese thereunto belonging; or whether it were done in the second century; forasmuch as Milan was a considerable city in those primitive times, and we find that the Churches of Lyons and Vienna were already famous in the second age, by reason of their martyrs, apostolic men having first of all preached in the capital cities, that the Gospel from thence, as the head spring, might diffuse itself throughout the whole diocese, and so facilitate the propagation thereof. I am very much inclined to believe, either that the same preachers who came from Greece, out of the bosom of the apostolic Church, to plant the faith amongst the Gauls, did also cultivate the diocese of Milan, that belonged to Gallia Cisalpina: or, that the disciples of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, who for their master Jesus Christ had conquered the cities neighboring to Borne, pursued their victories as far as Milan and its diocese.
I do not think any man can precisely define the time of their preaching, those first disciples having been much more careful to preach the Gospel, than to write the history of it. For, we cannot rely much upon what they tell us concerning the first successors of St. Barnabas at Milan, no more than we can upon that which they assert, that St. Barnabas was the founder of that Church. Lastly, I do not think it necessary to show, (as some reformed Divines do,) that the Bagaudae, of whom mention is made in the time of Dioclesian, were the predecessors of the Waldenses, and that they were both Christians and martyrs. It is true that they build this their opinion upon the martyrdom of St. Maurice, and of the Thebaean legion, which seems to be confirmed by the life of St. Babolenus, published by Chiffietius at the end of Bede. But this foundation is of no strength. The martyrdom of the Thebaean legion is no more than a ridiculous fable, unknown to all the ancient historians of the Church; published by some impostor, under the name of St. Eucherius: and the life of flit. Babolenus is a ridiculous legend, being no ways fit to confirm so great an action of that antiquity. We need only read what is set down by those ancient authors, who make mention of these Bagaudae, and it will be found, that we cannot with reason make Christians of them.
But, however it may be, and though we should acknowledge, that the Church of Milan was founded by the care of the successors of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome; yet it is of importance to observe, that this can give no right to the Bishop of Rome over him of Milan, no more than St. Polycarp acquired any right over the several dioceses amongst the Gauls, whose churches were founded by those whom he had sent abroad to preach the Gospel. Pope Innocent the First complains, in his Epistle to Decentius, that the Bishops of his own province did not follow the customs of the Church of Rome. If this happened in his own province, which without doubt had been converted by the endeavors of his predecessors, we may very well judge, that the first preachers of Milan and its diocese had not subjected Milan to the Bishop of Rome. This is acknowledged by Pope Pius the Second, who owns, in his Apology for the Romish Church, written in the year 1457, that before the Council of Nice small regard was had to the Bishop of Rome. It is very necessary that this truth should be solidly proved, which accordingly I design to do in the sequel of this work; and to show the independence of that diocese on the Bishops of Rome: my business at present is to lay down the belief and worship of those Churches which were planted by the disciples of the Apostles, and will be the subject of the following chapters.