Imágenes de página

Peter did not think it necessary to suppress monasteries and nunneries ; but he restricted their number, and enacted laws for their better regulation. Among others, the age before which no person was to be received a monk was fixed at thirty.

Most of the rules that were made for the regulation of monks and monasteries, were, at the same time, meant to extend to nuns and their societies; for which some additional laws were likewise enacted. By these it is determined that no nun sball receive the tonsure before she is sixty years of age ; at least, never before fifty.

The number of monks is supposed to be upwards of 6,000, and of nuns more than 5,000.-The other priests or ecclesiastics belonging to monasteries and cathedrals are to the number of 2,000.

No Christian country has so few sects and such great union in religious sentiment and practice, as Russia.


With regard to the other independent Greek churches, viz. those of the Georgians and Mingrelians, or, as they were anciently called, the Iberians and Colchians, I have not as yet been able to learn any thing authentic, and of much importance, further than what is told us by Dr. Mosheim, who observes, that the light of the gospel was introduced into Iberia by means of a female captive, in the fourth century, under Canstantine the Great, and that they have declined so remarkably since tbe Mahonetan doininion has been established in these countries, that they can scarcely be ranked in the number of Christians.

Such, in a more especial manner, is the depraved state of the Mingrelians, who wander about in the woods and mountains, and lead a savage and undisciplined life ; for, among the Georgians, or Iberians, there are yet some remains of religion, morals, and humanity.

Each of these nations has a pontiff at their head, whom they call The Catholic, who is obliged to pay a certain tribute to the patriarch of Constantinople, but is, in every other respect, independent on any foreign jurisdiction. They have also bishops and priests ; but these spiritual rulers, says Dr. Mosheim, " are a dishonour to Christianity, by their ig. norance, avarice, and profligacy; they surpass almost the populace in the corruption of their manners, and grossly ignorant themselves of the truths and principles of religion, they never entertain the least thought of instructing the people. If, there. fore, it be affirmed, that the Georgians and Mingrelians, at this day, are neither attached to the opinions of the Monta. physites, nor to those of the Nestorians, but embrace the doctrine of the Greek church, this must be affirmed rather in consequence of probable conjecture, than of certain knowledge, since it is imposible almost to know, with any degree of precision, what are the sentiments of a people who seem to be in the thickest darkness. Any remains of religion that are observable among them, are entirely comprehended in certain sacred festivals and external ceremonies, of which the former are celebrated, and the latter are performed, without the least appearance of decency ; so that the priests administer the sacraments of baptism and of the Lord's supper with as little respect and devotion as if they were partaking of an ordinary repast." Yet Richard Simon, in his Critical History of the Religions and Customs of the Eastern Nations, endeavours to remove, at least, a part of the reproach under which the Georgians and Mingrelians labour on account of their supposed ignorance and corruption,


The Monophysites first made their appearance in the fifth century, and Jacob Albardai, or Baradæus, as he is called by others, who flourished about A. D, 530, restored the sect, then almost expired, to its former vigour, and modelled it anew ; hence they were called Jacobites from him.*

This denomination is commonly used in an extensive sense, as comprehending all the Monophysites, excepting the Armenians; it however more strictly and properly belongs only to the Asiatic Monophysites, of which Jacob Albardai was the restorer and the chief ; and as these differ in some points from the Copts and Abyssinians, I here propose to consider the Jacobites in this last sense, as limited by Dr. M‘Laine.

The head of the Jacobites is the Jacobite patriarch of Antioch, who, from the fifteenth century downwards, has always taken the name of Ignatius, with a view to shew that he is the lineal successor of St. Ignatius, who was bishop of Antioch in the first century, and consequently the lawful patriarch of An: tioch.

In the seventeenth century, a small body of the Jacobites abandoned, for some time, the doctrine and institutions of their ancestors, and embraced the communion of the church of Rome. This step was owing to the suggestions and intrigues of Andrew Achigian, who had been educated at Rome, where he imbibed the principles of Popery ; and, having obtained the title and dignity of patriarch from the Roman Pontiff, as

* Some of the most violent agents in the French Revolution were Jacobites, from which the term Jacobin has become a political appellation,

sumed the denomination of Ignatius the XXIV. After the death of this pretended patriarch, another usurper, whose name was Peter, aspired to the same dignity, and taking the title of Ignatius XXV. placed himself in the patriarchal chair : but the lawful patriarch of the sect had credit enough with the Turks to procure the deposition and banishment of this pretender : and thus the small congregation which acknowledged his jurisdiction, was entirely dispersed.

Since then, the Jacobites have ever persevered in their refusal to enter into the communion of the Church of Rome, not. withstanding the earnest entreaties and alluring offers that have been made, from time to time, by the Pope's legates, to conquer their inflexible constancy.


This name has long been used to comprehend all the Christians in Egypt, who do not belong to the Greek Church, but are Monophysites, and in most respects Jacobites. Some families of Copts are to be found in the Delta ; but they chiefly inbabit the Said, or Upper Egypt, where, in some instances, they occupy whole villages. History and tradition attest their descent from the people whom the Arabs conquered, i. e. from that mixture of Egyptians, Persians, and particularly Greeks, who, under the Ptolemies and Constantines, were so long masters of Egypt.

The gospel was preached early in Egypt ; tradition says by St. Mark, and the patriarch of Alexandria is still considered successor to St. Mark there, as the Pope is to St. Peter at Rome. Before the incursions of the Saracens, the vulgar tongue of tbe Egyptians was called Coptic; hut, since the sixteenth century, the Arabic is generally spoken in Egyrt. The Christian liturgy is however said to be still in Coptic, though “ the priests understand little of it ; get prayers by heart, and pray without understanding.” The Copts are said to be very fond of the bustle of rites and ceremonies that succeed each other with rapidity. They are always in motion during the tiine of service : the officiating priest, particularly, is in continual motion, incensing the saints, pictures, books, &c. every moment ; and they have many monastaries where the monks bury themselves froin society in reinote solitudes. Their nunneries are properly hospitals; and few enter them but widows reduced to beggary. They have a patriarch, whose jurisdiction extends over both Egypts, Nubia, and Abyssinia, and who resides at Cairo, but he takes his title from Alexandria. He has eleven or twelve bishops under him, besides the Abuna, or bishops of the Abyssinians, whom he nominates and consecrates.

[ocr errors]

. Next to the patriarch is the bishop or titular patriarch of Jerusalem, who also resides at Cairo, because there are but few Copts at Jerusalem; he is, in effect, little more than the bishop of Cairo, except that he goes to Jerusalem every Easter, and visits some other places in Palestine near Egypt, which own his jurisdiction. To him belongs the governinent of the Coptic church, during the vacancy of the patriarchal see. The ecclesiastics are said to be in general of the lowest ranks of the people, and hence that great degree of ignorance that prevails among them. The patriarch makes a short discourse to the priests once a year ; and the latter read Homilies, or rather legends, from the pulpit on great festivals, but seldom preach.

As greater error in regard to religion no where prevailed than in Egypt before the Christian æra, so no country ever exhibited more sincere or greater Christian piety than Egypt, and the north of Africa in general, for the first three ages of the church. We read of synods of 200 bishops assembled there ; of 164 bishops under one métropolitan, in one province alone, viz. Zengitana, where Carthage stood ; and of some hundreds of bishops expelled from thence by Gensericus, king of the Vandals. “And whereas, in times of persecution, the Christians of various other countries were apt to return to idolatry, the Africans were kept in the true religion, by the blessing of God, on the zeal and diligence of St. Cyprian, Arnobius, Tertullian, Origen, St. Augustine, and other able and pious men in that quarter of the world. * But now, how amazing the change ! little more than the mere shadow of Christianity can be seen in Egypt, and in point of numbers, there are not to be found there more than 50,000 Christians in all.



As to the Abyssinian Christians, they surpass considerable the Copts, both in their numbers, their power, and their opu. lence ; nor will this appear surprising, when it is considered that they live under the dominion of at least a nominal Christian Einperor. They, nevertheless, consider the Coptic Alexandrian pontiff as their spiritual parent and chief, and instead of choosing their own bishop, receive from that prelate a primate, whom they call Abuna, (i. e. our father and, according to some, Catholic, whom they acknowledge as their spiritual ruler, and who, as well as the patriarch himself, is generally of the order of St. Anthony. But the emperor has a kind of supremacy in ecclesiastical matters. He alone takes cognizance of all ecclesiastical causes, except some smaller ones reserved

to the judges , and he confers all benefices, except that of the Abuna. · The first conversion of the Abyssinians, or inhabitants of Ethiopia Superior, to Christianity, is attributed by some to the famous prime minister of their queen Candace, mentioned in the 8th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles; but however that may be, it is probable that the general conversion of that great empire was not perfected before the middle of the fourtha century, when Frumentius, son of a Tyrian merchant, consecrated bishop of Axuma by Athanasius, exercised his ministry among them with the most astonishing success. They were esteemed a pure church before they embraced the sentiments of the Monophysites in the seventh century, or sooner; and Dr. M'Laine ventures to say, that“ even since that period, they are still a purer church than that of Rome.” All accounts, however, concerning them are doubtful.

They boast themselves to be of Jewish extraction, and prea tend to imitate the service of the Tabernacle and Temple of Jerusalem ; so that their doctrines and ritual form a strange compound of Judaism, Christianity, and superstition. They practice circumcision, and are said to extend the practice to females as well as males. They observe both Saturday and Sunday Sabbaths, and eat no meats probibited by the law of Moses. They pull off their shoes before they enter their church. es and sit upon the bare floor, and their divine service is said wholly to consist in reading the Scriptures, administering the Eucharist, and hearing some homilies of the Fathers. They read the whole of the four Evangelists every year in their churches, beginning with St. Matthew, and then proceeding to St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John, in order; and when they speak of any event, they say “ It happened in the days of St. Mat- . thew,'' i. e. while they were reading St. Matthew's Gospel in their churches,


· Thus these Monophysites, both Asiatic and African, differ from other Christian societies, whether of the Greek or Latin communion, and from each other, in several points, both of doctrine and worship ; though the principal reason of their separation lies in the opinion which they entertain concerning the nature and person of Jesus Christ. Following the doctrine of Dioscorus, Barsuina, Xenias, Fullo, and others, whom they consider as the heads, or chief ornaments of their sect, they maintain that in Christ the divine and human nature were reduced into one, and consequently reject both the decrees of the council of Chalcedon, and the famous letter of Leo the Great.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »