Concerning the faith of the Churches of the diocese of Italy during the fifth century.
ONE of the most illustrious witnesses we have of the belief of the Churches of Italy, at the beginning of the fifth age, is Rufinus, Presbyter of Aquileia.
As for the rule of faith, which is the Scripture, Rufinus sets down a catalogue of the books of holy Writ, the same that is at present received by the Protestants, calling the books that we reject apocryphal, apud Cyr. p. 552 and 553. which is an evident mark, that the Church of Italy made a more accurate distinction of the canonical books from the apocryphal, than the Church of Rome at that time did. So that Rufinus, in this respect, knew more than Innocent I. who began to confound the canonical writings, by a mixture of the apocryphal.
As for the Creed, which is an abridgment of the articles of our belief, we cannot meet with a more orthodox explication of it than is that of Rufinus; and would to God the Church of Rome would keep to that, for then we should be soon agreed; at least, in so doing she would not propose any thing to Christians which was not owned for the Creed of the ancient Church; whereas since she has added new articles, altogether unknown to Rufinus and the Bishops of that diocese. In a word, we may say, it is most certain, that there is as much difference between this treatise of Rufinus and the Catechism of the Council of Trent, as there is between the Catechism of the Protestants and that of the Papists.
I own, that Rufinus, in this explication of the Creed, asserts a local descent of Jesus Christ into hell: but we are to observe, that though already in his time this was looked upon as an article of faith; yet the Fathers, as well those that went before, as those that followed after, had such different notions concerning it, that the Church of Rome, which at this day follows one of those opinions, but had not that article in her Symbol in Rufinus’s time, can scarcely draw any advantage from thence, except only against those who hold, that this article is only an allegorical explication of the article, He was buried.
But, however, we may observe, that Rufinus expressly notes, at the beginning of this his exposition of the Creed, that believers received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with an extraordinary respect, maxima cure observantia, but not worshipping it, as the Church of Rome does at this day.
Though we have no remains of St. Chromatius, Bishop of Aquileia, save only some commentaries and homilies; yet from thence we are sufficiently informed, how far his divinity differed from that which is now professed by the Church of Rome. He plainly asserts the perspicuity of the Scriptures, when he accuses the heretics and Jews of darkening it by their perverse explications. Serra. 2. p. 162. Accordingly he also maintains, that the Lord’s Prayer contains all things necessary to salvation, p. 175. which is not very agreeable to the palate of the doctors of Rome, who furnish us with a far greater number. He asserts, that the prison from whence there is no coming out until the last farthing be paid, is hell, which does not at all suit with Popish purgatory, 166. Conformably to this, he lays down, that the afflictions which happen to the faithful, are either to correct their defects, or to try their faith, or to prepare them for glory; not a word concerning the use the Roman Church puts them to, viz. for the expiation of sin, and for a satisfaction properly so called. He acknowledges indeed, that the Christian Church is typified by a city situated upon a mountain; but we do not find him concluding from thence its equal visibility, no more than St. Ambrose. We are not to forget here, that St. Chromatius had so little deference for the authority of the Church of Rome, that Rufinus having been condemned by Pope Anastasius, because he seemed to favor the Origenists, St. Chromatius took no notice of this proceeding, but received him to his communion, as before; an abundant testimony that the thunderbolts of Rome, at that time, reached no further than the ten provinces in subjection to the Pope, St. Chromatius’s bishopric being without them, and consequently, that he did not own the Pope for the head of the Church, out of whose communion salvation was not to be hoped for.
He plainly asserts, that marriage is so wholly dissolved by adultery, that it is lawful for the innocent party to marry again: which was the opinion of the Romish Church till after the tenth century, p. 168. A.B. He maintains it to be a piece of impiety, to swear by any creatures; which is not the faith of Rome at this day, p. 169. A. He owns no other union in the Church, but the unity of the Catholic faith, ibid. p. 158. We find, by all his expressions, that the carnal presence was unknown to him: First, he proposeth Jesus Christ as the meat and drink of the believer, that comes hungry to it. Cortc. 2. p. 157. Secondly, he holds, that a change is made when ex eo quod fuit in aliam speciem generatur; “out of that which was before, a thing of another kind is generated.”
Thirdly, he applies, p. 174. our daily bread to the body of Jesus Christ, but he considers it spiritually, which makes it appear what notion he had of the manducation or eating of it, and that the expression he useth of a cotpore Domini separari, signifies nothing else but the exclusion from the Sacrament.
Moreover, if we find that he has been a guide of the Waldenses towards truth, it will not be amiss withal to observe, that he seems to have suggested to them a wrong understanding of the Scripture. For this great man maintains, that the Gospel absolutely forbids swearing, p. 168. and the letter of Scripture so far imposed upon him, that he pretends we are obliged, according to the law of Jesus Christ, to offer the other cheek to him that has already struck us, p. 169, 170.
Niceas Bishop of Aquileia, who lived anno 420. has a very remarkable expression in his book ad Virginem lapsam, which we find in the works of St. Ambrose.
“Stick close to the exercise of repentance, till the end of thy life, and never think of obtaining pardon ab humano die, because he who has made thee make this promise has deceived thee. As thou hast properly sinned against the Lord, so seek thy remedy only at his hands.”
It is evident, that these words either are the expressions of a downright Novatian, which we cannot suspect him of, after the many testimonies we have of his soundness in the faith, or that they represent a very different notion from what has been entertained at Rome, since their espousing the secret of auricular confession, and the priestly power of pardoning sins, as judges properly so called.
The remaining part of this century was terribly agitated by the disputes raised upon occasion of Nestorianism and Eutychianism, insomuch as the Bishops were all divided, and the Council of Chalcedon was unable to appease their differences. The diocese of Italy was at the same time ravaged by the Huns. Attila rased Aquileia, destroyed Milan, Pavia, and diverse other places. Some years after, Odoacer invaded the said diocese; and not long after, the Goths marched through it under the command of Theodoric, so that scarcely was there any place left for learned men to write, during the inundation of these barbarous nations. Proceed we therefore to the following century.