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2. Immunities, Prerogatives, and Privileges of the Priesthood

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER VI. Of the Rank, Rights and Privileges and Costume of the Clergy

2. Immunities, Prerogatives, and Privileges of the Priesthood

Reference is here had to these privileges only as they have existed since the fourth century, when the priesthood were duly acknowledged by the civil authorities as a distinct body. Previous to his conversion Constantine gave to the clergy of the christian church, equal privileges with the Pagan and Jewish priests. These acts of toleration were followed by others conferring upon the clergy of the church certain specific privileges which were confirmed and increased by his sons. And what was lost by the intervention of Julian the apostate, was fully regained under the propitious reigns of Valentinian III, Gratian, Theodosius the Great, Honorius, etc. For a full account of the several grants of the early emperors, see references. 

The principal rights and privileges of the priesthood were as follows:

  1. Exemption from all civil offices and secular duties to the state. Such exemption was granted by Constantine, A. D. 312; and in 319 and 330, it was extended to the inferior order, and the reason assigned for conferring this privilege was, that "the clergy might not, for any unworthy pretence, be called off from their religious duties," ne sacrilego livore quorundam a divinis ohseqiiiis avocentur, or as Eusebius expresses it, "that they might have no false pretence or excuse for being diverted from their sacred calling, but rather might rightfully prosecute it without molestation."
    By this right they were excused from bearing burdensome and expensive municipal offices. The Jewish patriarchs and Pagan priests enjoyed a similar exemption. 
  2. Exemption from all sordid offices, both predial and personal. This right was also granted by Constantine and confirmed by Theodosius the Great, and Honorius. The right relieved them from the necessity of furnishing post-horses, etc. for public officers, and sometimes from that of constructing and repairing public highways and bridges. 
  3. Exemption from certain taxes and imposts, such as the census copitum – analogous to poll-tax; but the learned are not agreed respecting the precise nature of it – the aurum tironium – an assessment for military purposes, a bounty paid as a substitute for serving in the army, – the equus canonicus, the furnishing and equipping of horses for military service, – chrysargyrum*, commerce-money, duties on articles of trade assessed every five years, and paid in silver and gold, – the metatum, tax levied for the entertainment of the emperor and his court as he travelled, or for judges and soldiers in their journeys, – the collatio superindicta et extraordinaria, a direct tax levied on special emergencies. Certain taxes on real estate they were required to pay." 
  4. Exemption from military duty. This right is not expresslystated, but fairly inferred from many considerations. The maxim, ecdesia non sitit sanguinem, was always recognized by the state.
  5. Exemption in certain civil and criminal prosecutions. They were not required to give testimony under oath . Neither were they required to make oath to affidavits, but instead thereof, they attested the truth of them on the Bible at home. Sacerdotes, ex levi causa, jurare non debent.
  6. No ecclesiastical matters were to he tried before secular courts. Of this nature were all questions of faith and practice which came appropriately under the cognizance of presbyteries, bishops, or synods, together with all such acts of discipline as belonged to individual churches in which the clergy were allowed a controlling influence.

    The primitive church had originally no other authority than that of deposing from office, excommunicating, and pronouncing their solemn anathema. But after the church became dependent upon the civil authority, that power was often exercised to redress the offences of the church. Heretics especially were thus brought before courts of justice. For it is undeniably evident that heresy was regarded as an actionable offence, deserving severe punishment. Offences of a graver character were at all times punishable, not in ecclesiastical, but in secular courts of justice.

  7. Bishops, like the Jewish patriarchs, were often requested to settle disputes and act as arbitrators and umpires in civil matters. They were also common intercessors in behalf of criminals for their reprieve or pardon when condemned to death. 

Cod. Theodos. lib. xvi. tit. ii. 1. 1, 2, 8, 10, 12: tit. i – ii: tit. vi. 15, 36, 39, 13: tit. i. x: Cod. Justin, lib. i. tit. iii. 1. 7, 8, 25: Novell. 12, 79, 83, 123. item.: Gothofredus: Riiter: Planck's Gesch. der. Kirchl. Gessellschafis-Verfassimg, Th. i. 1. 289.

Euseb. h. e. lib. x. c. 7: Augustin. Ep. 63: Collat. Carthag. cl. iii. c. 216.

Codex Theodos. lib. xvi. tit. ii. 1. 1,2: lib. xii. tit. i. 1. 75: lib. xvi. tit. viii. 1. 3, 4: Sym.mach. lib. x. ep. 54.

Codex Theodos. lib. ii. tit. xvi. 1. 1.5, 21, 24: lib. xv. tit. iii. 1.6: Codex Justin, lib. i. tit. ii. 1. 7, 11.

Codex Justin, lib. i. tit. ii. 1.7: Nov. Justin, xxxi. c. 5.

Nov. Justin. 131. c. 5. Cod. Justin, lib, x. tit. xviii.

Athanas. Apol. 2: Sozomen, h. e. lib. ii. c. 24: Theodor. h. e. lib. iv. c. 7: Augustin. Serm. 49: Cod. Theodos. lib. ii. til. i: tit. xxiv. lib. xvi. til. ii: Bingham, bk. v. c. 3.

Cod. Justin, lib. ix. tit. xli. 1. tit. iii: Cod. Theodos. lib. ii. tit. xxxix.

Cod. Justin, lib. i. tit. iii: Nov. Justin, cxxiii. c. 7: Concil. Carthag. 5c. 1: Coucil. Tribur c. 21: Cod. can. Afric. c. .59.

Cod. Theodos. lib. xvi. tit. xii: xxiii. 11: Novel. Valent. xii. ad Cod. Theod. Nov. Justin. 86. c. 1: Ambrose, ep. 32.

Cod. Theodos. lib. ii. tit.i.

Concil. Sardic. c. 8: Ambrose, De offic. minist. lib. ii. 29: August. Ep. 153: Bingham, l)k. ii. c. 7, 8: Thomassin. Discipl. eccles. P. 2. lib. iii. c. 87, 95, 96: H. M. Helmstreit. Histor. jurisdictionis eccl. Dissert. 3: Fred. Walters, Lehrbuch des K. Rechts, S. 328. 62

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


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