< Previous
Next >

6. Of Believers, or, the Faithful

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER II. Names and classes of christians

6. Of Believers, or, the Faithful

This term is used to designate the constituents of the christian community, that body or assembly which was appropriately denominated the church.* Persons of this description were distinguished by various names, designed in a measure to illustrate the true nature and peculiar constitution of the church.

  1. They were styled the faithful*, as has already been mentioned. This is the favorite and universal name which has uniformly been used to denote such as have been duly instructed in the fundamental principles of the christian religion; and received, by baptism, into the communion of the church. By this name they are distinguished on the one hand from th[os]e such as are not Christians, and heretics*, and on the other, from the clergy and from the catechumens, penitents, energumens, and ascetics. It is worthy of remark, that the disciples of Christ use the active form*, while the fathers uniformly use the passive*. The latter, however, occurs occasionally in the New Testament, Acts 15:1, 2 Cor. 6:15, Tim. 4:12, Tim. 5:16, but in a sense more unlimited than that in which it is used by the fathers.
  2. Illuminati, the enlightened*. This name they received upon being baptized, baptism being by them denominated* or illumination*. It is a curious fact, that the baptized are denominated*, and candidates for baptism*, while on grammatical principles precisely the reverse might have been expected. The usage of* is supposed to be derived from Heb. 6:4, as the most proper to denote such as were suitably enlightened to be received into the church.
  3. The initiated*. This appellation was most in use in the fourth and fifth centuries, when so much was said of the arcani disciplina, the secret mysteries of the christian religion. It denotes such as have been initiated into these mysteries, a privilege belonging exclusively to members of the church. The phrase the initiated know, occurs about fifty times in Augustine and Chrysostom alone. The terms* are also often used, and, in short, almost all the phraseology which profane writers use respecting an initiation into their mysteries. Indeed the rite of baptism itself has an evident relation, as Cyril of Jerusalem represents, to the initiatory rites of Eleusis, Samothrace, etc.
  4. The perfect*. This name, like the foregoing, has a relation to their sacred mysteries. It is adopted from the New Testament, where it is used, not indeed in the same, but in a kindred meaning in relation to christian perfection. To join the church was styled to attain unto perfection*; and the participation of the sacrament, which in the ancient church invariably followed baptism, was denominated. perfection of perfections*.
  5. The titles, brethren, saints, elect, beloved, sons of God, etc. have ever been applied as the special prerogative of believers, or professing Christians.

The foregoing titles also conveyed to those who bore them exclusively, certain rights and privileges.

  1. They were permitted to be present at all religious assemblies without exception, – to take part in the missa catechumenorum, the first religious service of public worship, designed especially for the catechumens, as well as in the missa fidelium, the after-service, which was particularly designed for them, and which none but the initiated were permitted to attend. To this service neither catechumens, nor any other, were permitted to be present, not even as spectators.
  2. It was another special privilege of the faithful, that they were permitted to hear and join in the rehearsal of the Lord's prayer. None but believers were permitted, in any case, audibly to adopt the language of this prayer and say. Our Father who art in heaven; though it might be used in silent prayer. In the worship of the faithful, on the contrary, it might be rehearsed aloud, or sung by them, or repeated in responses.
  3. As another prerogative, they were allowed to seek an explanation of all the mysteries of the christian religion. Origen and Gregory of Nyssa often allege, in commendation of Christianity, that it has refined mysteries*, which no vulgar mind can comprehend. By which is understood, among other things, the rites and doctrines of the church, and the subtleties of their faith. All these were cautiously concealed from catechumens, and taught to believers only, because "by God's gift they were made partaker of these mysteries, and therefore qualified to judge of them." To the uninitiated, the ancient fathers discoursed only on obvious points of morality; and if, at any time, they were led to touch upon their profound mysteries, they dismissed them with the expression, To the initiated it is given to know these things*. 
  4. The most important religious privilege of believers, is that of partaking of the eucharist, which has always comprehended a right to participate in all the sacred mysteries, and hence has derived the significant name of communion*.
  5. In close connection with this communion stands also that important right which, as a member of the church, each communicant had of taking part in all the transactions of that body, especially in the choice of the clergy (Wahl der Geistlichen), and in the discipline of the church.

In view of the importance of this right, we are surprised to observe that it is passed over in entire silence by Bingham, and but briefly touched upon by other writers on this subject. In treating of rules for electing a bishop. Book IV. Ch. 2, Bingham has indeed much to say respecting the rights of suffrage enjoyed by the people, but that relates only to the form of the election. This, however, is the proper place distinctly to assert this right of suffrage which the faithful enjoyed, although it is of necessity implied and included in the general privileges of church membership. That the church, i.e. the united body of believers has had a part in the election of their pastor, from the earliest period downward, is certain, not merely from the testimony of Scripture, but also from the most ancient of the fathers; and has never been denied even by those who, in this respect, have been most anxious to abridge the privileges of the people. All they assert is, that the original usage has been changed, because of its manifold abuses, and of necessity abrogated. Hence has arisen the question whether, in the election of a pastor, the church is entitled to a valid, elective vote, or whether their suffrage should be testimonial only, or negative. Then again arises another question, of equal importance, relating to the method of voting by proxy and by a body of electors which, so far as is known, appears to have been first practised by the church in Africa. 

The participation of the church in church-discipline discovered itself especially in the excommunication of penitents, and reception of them again, which, although administered by the bishop, could not be ratified except by the concurrence of the church. 

Cyril, Hierosol. Procatech. et Catech. mystagog. 5 etseq.

S. Concil. Ancyr. c. 4, 5; Dionys. Areop. de hier. eccl. c. 3.

De moralibus quotidianum sermonem habuimus, cum vel Patriarcharura gesta, vel provexbiorum legerentur praecepta: ut his informati atque instituti assuesceretis majorum ingredi vias eorumque iter carpere, ac divinis obedire mandatis, quo renovati per baptismum ejus vitae usum teneretis, quae ablutos deceret. Nunc dc mysteriis dicere admonet atque ipsam sacramentorum rationem edere: quam ante baptismum si putassemus insinuandum nondum initiatis, prodidisse potius, quam edidisse, aestimaremur. AmBROS., De his qui mysteriis initientur, c, 1. – Dimissis jam catedhumenis, yog tantum ad audiendum retinuimus: quia, praeter ilia, quae omnes Christianos convenit in commune servare, specialiter de caelestibus mysteriis locuturi sumus, quae audire non possunt, nisi qui ea donante jam Domino perceperunt. Tanto igitur majore reverentia debetis audire quae dicimus, quanto majore ista sunt, quae solis baptizatis et fidelibus auditoribus coramittuntur, quam ilia, quae etiam catechumeni audire consueverunt. August. Serm. 1 ad JVeoph.*

Boehmer, jus. eccl. Protest, tom. i. p. 269 etseq.

In ordinationibus clericis, fratres carissimi, solemus vos ante consalere, et mores ac merita singulorura communi consilio ponderare. Cyprian, ep. 33. ad der. et pleb. Carth. Plebs ipsa maximam habet potestatera vel eligendi dignos sacerdotes, vel indignos recusandi. Cyp. ep. G8.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


search 🔍



privacy policy