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CHAPTER VII. Of the revenue of the church and maintenance of the clergy

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER VII. Of the revenue of the church and maintenance of the clergy

CHAPTER VII. Of the revenue of the church and maintenance of the clergy

Nothing like the provisions of the levitical law, for the maintenance of the priesthood was known in the primitive church. Neither was there any distinction between the property of the church and of the parish. But the duty of the church to maintain her religious teachers is presupposed and implied in the writings of the New Testament. The workman is worthy of his meat, says Christ, to which the apostle appeals. Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live by the gospel, 1 Cor. 9:14, which he had previously shown to be not only an obvious conclusion from the words of Christ, but from the common understanding of men, and from the Mosaic laws, vs. 7–13. All this he is careful to show is said, not for his own sake, vs. 15–18, for he uniformly preached the gospel and served the church gratuitously; Acts 20:33-35, 2 Thess. 3:7 seq. 2 Cor. 11:7, 8, 2 Cor. 12:13, Phil. 4:16–18, 1 Tim. 6:6, Tit. 1:11, Acts 18:3, 24:17, etc., but to exhibit the duty of the church towards her teachers. The example of the apostle was the general rule of the apostolic age. The church possessed no property, and exacted no tithes; but her wants were supplied by voluntary offerings and contributions.

The ordinary maintenance of the clergy consisted merely in the supply of their personal wants, 2 Thess. 3:8, 1 Cor. 11:20, 22:33, Jude:11, 12. For this end the priests were accustomed to retain a due portion of the contributions which were made at the agapae, or love feasts of the church. But Tertullian severely censured this custom, together with other abuses connected with this festival. 

Whatever was given for the relief of the poor and for the support of religious worship, was altogether voluntary on the part of the church. Acts 11:29, Rom. 15:26, 1 Cor. 16:1 seq. Tertullian particularly informs us that they were accustomed once a month, or at any time, to deposit in a charity box whatever any one was able and willing to give, and adds. Nam nemo compellitur, sed sponte confert. These charities were expended in providing for the support and burial of the poor; of orphans, of aged domestics, of the disabled and infirm; and for their brethren in bonds. It is worthy of remark that in all this, no mention is made of the clergy, as a distinct class; but they are included among the aged and the poor.

Such collections were at all times voluntary in the church, and when at length specific provision was made for the support of the clergy, and of religious worship, it was not by any ordinance of the church, but by the law of the state. Cases growing out of voluntary or stated contributions and compensations made to clergymen, were frequently submitted to the decision of councils. Fees paid to the clergy for services rendered, were called sportae, sportellae, and sportulae; probably in allusion to the bringing of the first fruits in a basket, sportula, Deut. 26:1–12. They surely were not the same as the jura stolae, stol-gebühren, surplice fees, which were totally unknown in the primitive church. It was an established rule that no fees should be received for religious services. The council of Illibiris, c. 48, forbade the custom of dropping a piece of money into the baptismal basin as a gratuity to the minister for administering the ordinance. Another strictly prohibited the receiving of anything from communicants at the Lord's table, alleging that the grace of God was not an article of merchandize, neither was the sanctification of the spirit imparted for money. Neither was it lawful to receive any fee for performing the burial service. 

The first departure from the voluntary principle above mentioned, began with the celebration of religious ordinances in a private manner, in which the individual, at whose request this private celebration was performed, was required to pay something as an equivalent for the public and voluntary oblations which would otherwise have been made. For the sake of increasing the treasury of the church, a dispensation of the primitive usage was also introduced in the case of penance, which shortly led on to a wider departure from the rules of the church. Still when the payment of surrogate and surplice fees became common, they were not paid to the officiating priest, but into the public treasury of the church. The payment of fees and perquisites as now practised, is an abuse of later date than the above mentioned, which, like the penance-fees so often and so justly censured, still has found supporters even in the protestant churches of Europe. 

So far as the clergy of the primitive church can be said to have had any salary, it was paid, either according to their necessities, or according to some general rule, from the treasury of the church, or of the society. The treasury was supplied only from incidental sources, and chiefly from voluntary contributions. The amount paid to servants of the church, and for the poor, must have been more or less, according to the receipts of the treasury. The revenue of the church was submitted to the direction of the bishops, who employed the deacons and the oeconomi, or stewards to disburse it.

Various rules were from time to time given for the distribution of funds. One required that they should be divided into three equal parts, one of which was to be paid to the bishops, another to the clergy, and the third was to be expended in making repairs and providing lights for the house, etc. Another orders a fourfold division, to be equally appropriated to the bishop, the clergy and the poor, and in repairs of the churches and their furniture. 

In the fourth century the church and the clergy came into the possession of property, personal and real. As early as the year 321, Constantine granted the right of receiving the donations and bequests of pious persons. This right was often renewed and defined to prevent unjust exactions and other abuses. According to Eusebius, he granted at one time more than seventy thousand dollars from his treasury for the support of the ministry in Africa; which is only one instance among many of his liberal donations. The laws of Julian confiscating this property were themselves either quickly abrogated, or but partially enforced, without producing any lasting effect. 

The liberality of Gratian, Theodosius the Great, Theodosius the Younger, and other emperors, we must pass in silence; but there were certain other ordinances for enriching the revenue of the church which are worthy of notice.

  1. On the demolition of heathen temples and the dispersion of their priests by Theodosius and his sons, some of the spoils were secularized to enrich the treasury of the state; but the greater part were applied to the benefit of the clergy, or appropriated to religious, uses. 
  2. On the same principle the property belonging to heretics was sequestrated to the true catholic church. 
  3. The estates of the clergy who died intestate and without heirs, and of all those who left the ministry for unworthy reasons, became the property of the church. 
  4. The church was the heir at law of all martyrs and confessors who died without near relations. 
  5. The revenue of the church was increased by tithes and first fruits. The primitive church might be expected to have introduced this ordinance of the Jews from the beginning. But it was wholly unknown until the fourth and fifth century. Irenaeus, indeed, speaks of first fruits at an earlier period, but it is a disputed passage, and only relates to the wine and the bread of the eucharist as the first fruits of Christ. Besides Irenaeus, Chrysostom, Gregory Nazianzen, Hilary, Augustine, and others, all enjoin the paying of tithes as a duty, and not in imitation of the Jews. These tithes and first fruits the primitive Christians gave as a freewill offering, and not by constraint of law, of which there appears no indication in the first five centuries. The council of Macon, in the year 585, ordered the payment of tithes in the church, as the restoration of an ancient and venerable custom. They directed the clergy to urge the duty in their public addresses, and threatened with excision from the church all who should refuse compliance. This it will be observed is merely an ecclesiastical law. No mention is made of any enactment of the state.

Charlemagne first required the payment of tithes by statute law, and enforced the duty by severe penalties. That emperor himself paid tithes from his private property and his Saxon possessions. His successors confirmed and completed the system of tithe by law, which was subsequently introduced into England and Sweden. 

In the Eastern church the support of religion was never legally enforced, but it was urged as a religious duty, and tithes were paid as a voluntary offering. In the Western, under the general name of offerings, the ancient system of contributions and almsgivings was perpetuated in connection with the tithes and first fruits. These offerings were made, in some instances, in money, and in provisions, and in live stock – cattle, swine, lambs, geese, fowls, etc. The avails of these were applied to the treasury of the church, or presented particularly to the parson, vicar, chorister, or warden. Similar offerings are still common in the protestant churches.

The payment of a stipulated salary to the clergy, in money, parsonages, tithes, interest, and other rents, and the distribution of regular salaries and occasional perquisites, is an institution of the middle ages, and too extensive and complicated to be discussed in this place.

De Jejuii. c. 17.

Apolog. c. 39.

Can. Apost. c. 3. Cyprian, ep. 28. 34. 66: Euseb. h. e. lib. v. c. 18.

Cyprian ep. i. Plin. Ep. lib. x. p. 114: Cod. Theodos. lib. v. tit. 5: Adam's Antiq. 74 et 415.
(No tag #4 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Gelas. ep. i. al 9. c. 5: Gregor. Naz. Orat. 40. p. 655: Gratiani Deer. c. 1. qu. 1. c. 8.

Coneil. Trullan. ii. c. 23.

Hieron. quaesi. hebr. in Gen. 23.

Pahls K. Recht. S. 344.

Bracar. I. c. 25. II. c. 7. Galesii ep. 1. al. 9.c. 27: Simplic. ep.3. ad Florent.: Gregor. M. p. lib. iii. ep 11.

Concil. Bracar. I. c. 25.

Gales, ep. I. c. 27.

Cod. Theodos. lib. xvi. tit. 2, 1. 4: Cod. Justin, lib. i. tit. 2, 1. 1.

Euseb. h, e. lib. x. c. 6: Euseb. Vit. Const, lib. iv. c. 28. 38. 39: lib. iii.c. 21. 58: Sozofnen h. e. lil). v. c. 5: Theodos. h. e. lib. iv. c. 4: Gieseler's Lehrb. de K. Gesch. I. B. 2. Ausg. S. 204–205. S. 308.

Cod. Theodos. lib. ix. tit. 17, 1. 5: Cod. Justin, lib. i. tit. 2, I. 12.

Cod. Theodos. lib. xvi. tit. 10, 1. 19-21: Sozom. h. e. lib. v. c. 7. 16.

Cod. Theodos. lib. xvi. tit. 5, 1. 52: Socrat. h. e. lib. vii. c. 7.

Cod. Theodos. lib. v. tit. 3, 1. 1: Cod. Justin, lib. i. tit. 3, 1.20.53: Nov. 5, c. 4. 123, c. 42.

Euseb. Vit. Const. M. lib. ii. c. 36.

Irenaeus, adv. haeres. lib. iv. 17, 18.

Chr. M. PfafF. Irenaei A need. Frag.

Adv. haeres. lib. iv. c. 8. 13. IS.

Horn. 4, in Ep. ad Ephes. H. 14, in Act.: Horn. 74, in Matt.

Orat. 5.

In Ps. 118:. et Matt. 24:.

In Ps. 146. Serin, de temp. 166, 219.

Concil. Matiscon, II. c. 5: Cabilon, 11. c. 19: Mogunt, c. 3: Rothonia;, c. 7.

Capitul. Caroli M. A.D. 779, c. 7: Capitul. Caroli de part. Saxon. A. D. 789. c. 17: Capit. Francpf. A. D. 779. c. 23.

Capit. VI. Ludov. A. D. 819. c.9. A. D. 823. c. 21: Capit A. D. 829. sect. i. c. 7, 10: Walter's Lehrb. des K. R. S. 367–69, 461–69.

Can. Apost. c. 4: Constit. A post. viii. c. 40.


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