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Antiquities of the Christian Church


The subject of Christian Antiquities will be variously regarded by different individuals according to their religious creeds and their intellectual habits and tastes. He who regards the church as the source of religious knowledge, and its doctrines and rites as revelations of the will of God, would, of course, study the history of these doctrines and of these rites with as much earnestness and zeal as he would study the Scriptures themselves. This will best account for the fondness which learned men in the Catholic church have always shown for ecclesiastical antiquities.

Protestants have generally contemplated the subject under quite a different aspect. With them the voice of the church has no authority coordinate with that of the Bible. Their interest in the antiquities of the church arises from other considerations. For them the sentiments and practices of the early church have a theological importance only so far as they serve to illustrate the sentiments and practices of the inspired writers. Hence they have been interested to show the gradual departure of the early church from the purity and simplicity of the apostolic age, and to point out the late origin of many things which others had regarded as descending from the primitive apostolical church.

The English church, occupying intermediate ground between the Catholics and Protestants, in this respect, have leaned quite as much to the former as to the latter; and this is in perfect consistency with the principles of reform originally adopted by that church.

We have alluded to these circumstances for no other purpose than that of tracing out the causes of the obvious diversity that exists among the older writers in their mode of treating this subject. In respect to the end which they have had in view, they may be divided into three general classes according to their ecclesiastical relations. The different, and often opposite considerations which have inspired their zeal, could not fail to give a peculiar feature to their works. While the individual writers of each of the three classes mentioned above have had their individual peculiarities, with an almost endless variety in regard to ability, learning, and candor, they have, in general, been either warm polemics, or laborious apologists for their respective parties. Even where this feature is less obvious, there is a peculiar spirit and manner manifested in the topics selected, and in the relative importance attached to each, betraying the author's ecclesiastical preferences. Hence the solemn awe and tedious minuteness with which the Catholic writer describes the veriest trifles; the belligerent manner in which the Protestant, whether Lutheran or Calvinistic, musters his forces, using the weapons of the antiquary chiefly, perhaps, because others have abused them; and the pleasure with which the English churchman approaches the subject of the clerical orders and the venerable liturgy.

Far be it from us harshly to censure those great men, and profound scholars, of different parties who lived in the age of theological warfare, or to cast reproach upon any one class of them. Still we must maintain that they have all gone out of the way, some from the violence of their own passions, and more, we would hope, from the agitations of the times on which they were cast.

We are happy in the belief that we live in an age when it need not be argued that the zeal of the partizan is worse than useless to the historian. The antiquities of the church, no less than other subjects, must and will be studied with the calm spirit of philosophic inquiry. The spirit of the Magdeburg Centuriators is passing away, at least in the literary and scientific world, and a purer and nobler order of historians is rising up to adorn and bless the church. Impartiality is now the watch-word through all the higher ranks of scientific historical inquirers.

There is at present, especially in some parts of Europe, a greater interest in. the study of Christian antiquities than ever existed before. This is owing to a variety of causes, – to the unparalleled zeal with which every branch of history is cultivated; to the increased and increasing attention bestowed upon the study of the Christian Fathers; to the critical taste of the age, reviewing with rigid scrutiny all the grounds of historical belief; and to the attention given to the philosophy of history, as illustrative of the nature of man. Nor is it strange that reflecting men should be attracted to this study; they are influenced by important considerations, a few of which will here be named with as much brevity as possible.

  1. This branch of study belongs to the history of man. No individual, who is desirous of viewing the character and conduct of his species under all its aspects, and particularly of contemplating the human mind under extraordinary moral influences, – of watching the various experiments of Christianity when combined in a social system with other elements, can consent to be excluded from such a source of instruction as is found in the antiquities of the Christian church.
  2. It is indispensable as a key to many parts of ecclesiastical history. The very same circumstance which renders Greek and Roman antiquities important to the classical student, and Jewish antiquities to the biblical student, renders Christian antiquities important to the ecclesiastical historian. He who supposes that he can find all he needs on this subject in certain chapters in general works on church history, has only to make the trial, and then take up such a work as the following, and compare the results, and the difference will be sufficiently perceptible. Church history itself has gained no less by making this a distinct branch of study than by making the history of Christian doctrines a distinct branch; both have contributed immeasurably to the advancement of the historical branch of theology within a few years past. How much broader and clearer the light which now shines on this whole department of study than at the close of the last century!
  3. A polemic use of this branch of knowledge cannot be safely and profitably made except by him who has previously studied the subject with no other interest than that of truth, aside from all party aims. One of the most grievous evils which has afflicted the church, is that men have been driven into these dark regions by the violence of theological strife. Facts have been guessed at, or seized, at a venture, out of their connections, and a momentary triumph has been gained only to be surrendered again on maturer investigation. Thus with all the controversies that have agitated the church, there has been but little scientific progress, but little won which could be regarded as an earnest of final union in the truth.
  4. Few studies have a more salutary influence in liberalizing the mind than the philosophic study of the religious customs and usages of a Christian people. When we perceive how little the common mind is what it makes itself, and how much it is what descent, hereditary customs, political connections, popular literature, the prevailing philosophy and the spirit of the age make it, we find ourselves almost unconsciously cherishing a feeling of humanity instead of an odium theologicum, towards those whose views we regard as erroneous.
  5. Ecclesiastical antiquities have a special value for men of letters. They stand intimately connected with modern European history, and with the fine arts. Their influence was inconceivably great in forming the character of the Middle Ages, and the Middle Ages were the nursery of modern civilization. Who can entertain any just views of society in the south of Europe, and yet be ignorant of the influence of those ecclesiastical usages which have descended from a venerable and sacred antiquity? History, ancient usages, sacred associations, poetry, painting, sculpture and a thousand nameless things which captivate the imagination and kindle the natural sensibilities, hold the people spell-bound to a religious and social system from which they can be broken off by no mere power of logic.

It is from these and other similar views that the German scholars of the present age have had their attention more particularly directed to the antiquities of the Christian church. The same causes have also led to great improvements in the treatment of the subject. In most of the older works, an account of the rise and progress of ecclesiastical usages and a philosophical view of the internal as well as external causes are almost entirely wanting. Indeed the entire method which characterizes Neander and his school was either unknown to them, or unheeded by them. Though the most important changes were perpetually going on from the time of Justin Martyr to the time of Chrysostom, even such men as Bingham and Pelliccia seem to have written under the impression, that what was true in the fifth century was equally so in the second. The sentiments and usages of a later age are, in numerous instances, imposed upon a preceding age, and witnesses are often brought forward to testify to what occurred centuries before their birth. Thus the philosophical element of history is almost entirely wanting, and with it the greatest charm connected with the study.

But a new era has commenced in the mode of treating history and antiquities. The internal bond which holds all external events together in an organized system, is now a leading object of search; all those phenomena, which were once supposed to be accidental, are now regarded as springing from the life and spirit of a people as naturally as flowers and leaves from their stems. This tracing out of the connections actually existing in nature, gives a truth to the representations of history not otherwise to be obtained.

It must not hence be inferred that the facts of history are less valued, or less scrupulously investigated; directly the reverse. There never was a time when facts were brought to light in greater abundance. The sources of evidence are explored with a most searching criticism; the spurious writings on which the older authors placed so much dependence, are subjected to the severest scrutiny, and estimated according to their proper value; ancient ecclesiastical writers are more rigidly, and by consequence, more safely interpreted; each point of inquiry is investigated in the concentrated light of the entire literature of that age; numerous treatises and even large works, on single topics, are continually issuing from the press, so that every new writer has the advantage of laboring in a highly cultivated field.

To Augusti more than to any other one, belongs the honor of reviving among the learned a taste for ecclesiastical antiquities. His great work Denkwürdigkeiten aus der chrisilichen Archäologie, in twelve octavo volumes, published 1817 – 1831, was the most complete that had appeared since the time of Bingham. However deficient it was in arrangement and in some of its details, still by its rich collection of materials, and by its incorporating for the first time Christian art as a branch of this subject, it aroused the public mind and gave a new impulse and a new direction to the study. The Sinnbilder der alien Christen by Münter, published with plates, in 1825, contributed also much to awaken an interest in Christian art, and from the time of those publications to the present, the subject of ancient art has continued to lend its charm to the antiquities of the church. A manual which should combine scientific arrangement and accuracy with completeness and brevity, was still wanting. This was admirably supplied by Rheinwald, a disciple of Neander, in a single volume with plates, in 1831. The new edition of Pelliccia's Politia, by Ritter and Braun, Cologne, 1829 – 1838, in two octavo volumes, has, indeed, rendered the work very accessible, and corrected the errors of the author; but it contains too little that is new. The work of Binterim, in seven volumes, of which a second edition was commenced in 1838, is but a German translation of Pelliccia, with great additions, made in the spirit of a true son of the Catholic church.

In 1835, Augusti undertook the abridgement of his great work, in such a way as to furnish what was still a desideratum, and in the two following years appeared his Handbuch der christlichen Archäologie, in three volumes, which forms the basis of the present volume. The text of Rheinwald's Manual like that of Gieseler's Church History, was a mere thread for the convenient arrangement of extracts from original documents in the form of notes, and is better adapted to the critical scholar, than to the common reader. The author's Denkwürdigkeiten were too extensive for general use. He, therefore, aimed to unite copiousness with brevity, and .to give, in an improved form, the substance of his larger work. By adopting a plan directly the reverse of Rheinwald's, – by crowding his pages with the facts of Christian archaeology, and making quotations sparingly, he has, in reality, given a new edition of his great work, in a compressed and more convenient form, with a pretty thorough revision of each subject; thus presenting by far the most complete manual now before the public. This work, in a modified form, has already been brought before the English public by the Rev. J. E. Rid die. Though the compiler, or translator appears to have performed his task with ability, yet he who is acquainted with the original, could foresee that the modifications necessary to make it acceptable to the church of England, would be an indifferent recommendation to the American public in general. We do not desire this remark to be understood as disparaging the labors of that learned gentleman, but merely as explaining the reason why the present undertaking was not relinquished, when that work appeared.

We have felt much pleasure in examining another work, entitled Handbuch der christlich-kirchlichen Alterthumer in alphabetischer Ordnung, by C. C. F. Siegel, now lecturer on Christian antiquities in the university of Leipsic. The first volume was published about the same time with the first volume of Augusti's Manual, and the fourth and last, in 1838. These two works, though independent of each other, are very similar in extent and in their critical value. Siegel's production, has, of course, all the advantages and disadvantages of an alphabetical arrangement. The reader will have no occasion to regret the free use that has been made of it in the following pages.

Of W. Böhmer's Christlich-kirchliche Alterthumswissenschaft now in a course of publication and of which only two volumes have appeared (1836 and 1839), we have had no opportunity to form an-opinion of our own. From the scattered hints we have seen in German notices, we should infer that it is in Archaeology what Olshausen's Commentary is in exegesis, distinguished for learning, piety and genius.

Staudenmaier's Geist des Christenthums, dargestellt in den heiligen Zeiten, in den heiligen Handlungen und in der heiligen Kunst, second edition, 1838, though the production of a good scholar, is addressed chiefly to the sensibilities of the heart; and is one of those good books, which lose their value in crossing the Atlantic.

Of these two last works the former could not be obtained in season, and the latter, though obtained, could not be used in preparing the Manual here presented to the public.

In regard to the life and literary character of the author of the volumes from which this work is chiefly compiled, we must limit ourselves to a few words. He was born in Eschenberga, a small town in the Duchy of Saxe-Gotha, in 1772. After pursuing his studies with success under a learned minister by the name of Moller, he entered the university of Jena and devoted his attention to theology. At the age of twenty-six he became a Privatdocent, or tutor in the same place, and rose rapidly to distinction, being made Extraordinary Professor of Philosophy after a period of only two years, and. Ordinary Professor of Oriental Languages in three years from that time. After laboring in this latter department of instruction nine years, he went to Breslau as Professor of Theology, and seven years later to Bonn, where he still remains as professor, though he holds an additional ecclesiastical office, as Oherconsisloridlraih at Coblence. He is the author of several productions in various departments of theological learning. Besides those already mentioned, his Translation of the Bible in conjunction with de Wette, his Introduction to the Old Testament, his History of Christian Doctrines, his System of Theology, and his Symbolical Books of the Reformed Church are best known. The order of his talent and scholarship is characterized by versatility and universality rather than by profoundness of reflection or investigation. His reading is very extensive; his acquisitions are easily and rapidly made; all his ideas assume a definite and tangible form, and the reader follows him with ease and pleasure. He possesses, in short, all the qualities necessary to a high degree of success in such a work as his Manual of Antiquities.

He is a professed believer in the orthodox faith, and has written, in general, with an impartiality becoming a historian. His own countrymen unite in giving him this praise, and the popularity of his Manual with them is one of the surest proofs of its deserving, as it undoubtedly will receive, a similar popularity among us.

The writer of these introductory lines does not hold himself responsible for the sentiments either of the author or of the translator of the following pages. Indeed, on some points, he differs from them both. Yet from the means of judging which have been afforded him, he is fully convinced of the translator's ability, indefatigable labor, and candor, and of the general accuracy of the work. The difficult task of making a judicious selection of the matter, of arranging it and of adapting it to the mass of American readers, appears to have been performed not only with great care, but in the exercise of a sound discrimination.


Newton Theological Institution, April, 1841.


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