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JULY 1, 1838.
THE SOURCES OF ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY.-No. II.
THE second class of the sources of ecclesiastical history differs in its very nature from that which has been already noticed. The one consists of testimony, the other of actual facts. Both indeed are equally indispensable. Without the aid of private testimony, documents and monuments would often be unintelligible; and without these public sources of history, we should want what is sometimes absolutely necessary to confirm the information communicated by individual writers. In assigning a high rank to the class which we are now to review, I do not intend to detract from the value which properly belongs to the one to which in my last paper I called the attention of your readers. It must be confessed, however, that the testimony of individuals, who usually feel a deep interest of some kind or other in the transactions which they relate, is likely to be affected by the prejudices and passions of the witnesses. Whereas when we have before us a genuine document or monument, we have an undoubted fact. The information which it communicates may not perhaps be great, but, as far as it goes, it must be true. It places us, with respect to the subject to which it refers, in the situation of contemporaries. And thus these remains of antiquity not only appeal to our senses, and give a substance and reality to the past, but themselves afford the purest and most satisfactory materials of history.
II. The public sources of church-history are naturally divided into documents and monuments—i. e., official writings and works of art. The former of these divisions-namely, documents,—will afford a subject sufficiently extensive for the present paper.
1. The relation in which the church has stood to the state has led from time to time to the production of an important kind of informa tion in the successive enactments of political legislation. For three centuries the government of the Roman empire maintained a fierce conflict with the gospel, and the edicts of the Caesars rarely spoke to VOL. XIV.-July, 1838.
their Christian subjects any other language than that of threatening and denunciation. When Constantine submitted to the power of the cross, and began the long succession of Christian princes, a different state of things arose, and we trace in the civil law* the public establishment of Christianity on the ruins of paganism. As the supremacy of Rome was overthrown, and new kingdoms arose in the Western world, the laws of the several states continue to illustrate ecclesiastical history. And not merely the statutes of the Christian nations, but their customs and usages throw light upon the condition and constitution of the church. But the jealousy of rival professions, the interests of conflicting jurisdictions, and the opinions of contending sects, have introduced embarrassment and uncertainty into some of the most interesting subjects connected with this branch of ecclesiastical antiquities; and candour and acuteness are not less requisite than legal and historical learning, for the successful study of this department of the sources of church-history.
2. From a very early period we find the church in the possession of real property; and after the divine authority of Christianity had been recognised by the state, princes, cities, and wealthy individuals, vied with each other in the magnificence of their liberality towards the favoured members of the spiritual estate. The legal instruments† which conveyed the munificence of founders and benefactors, and marked the conditions on which they extended their bounty, reflect much light on the external and internal history of the church. The grants, statutes, charters, and documents of every kind connected with endowments, deserve the attentive examination of the ecclesiastical student. They illustrate in a very interesting manner the opinions and feelings prevalent in society on religious subjects, and often explain and communicate important facts. But they must be studied cautiously. Ambitious individuals and selfish communities have sometimes not scrupled to aggrandize themselves or their orders by the base arts of fabrication and corruption. The student of muniments needs an extensive acquaintance with diplomatic, and a sagacious critical sense. And if he be not in a high degree unprejudiced and impartial, he will inevitably be the victim of credulity or scepticism.
3. The governors of the churches assembled in council form the venerable senate of the Christian commonwealth; and the proceedings of the chief pastors of the church publicly convened for solemn deliberation command the respectful attention of the historical student. I am not concerned with the authority of these assemblies in a theological point of view, nor called upon to express an opinion how far we are bound to acquiesce in their decisions. But it is at once evident that, historically regarded, the councils are of the utmost importance. The opinions expressed in the debates of which an account has been
The Theodosian code, and the later portions of the civil law, exhibit in a compact form the legislation of the empire.
+ Immense stores of documents of this kind have been published in various collections, such as those of D'Achery, Martene, Baluze, and Ludewig.
The following will, I hope, be found a correct list of the editions of the