Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume VII/Constitutions of the Holy Apostles/Book II/Sec. VI
Sec. VI.—The Disputes of the Faithful to Be Settled by the Decisions of the Bishop, and the Faithful to Be Reconciled.
Do thou therefore, O bishop, together with thy subordinate clergy, endeavour rightly to divide the word of truth. For the Lord says: “If you walk cross-grained to me, I will walk cross-grained to you.” And elsewhere: “With the holy Thou wilt be holy, and with the perfect man Thou wilt be perfect, and with the froward Thou wilt be froward.” Walk therefore holily, that you may rather appear worthy of praise from the Lord than of complaint from the adversary.
That the Deacon is to Ease the Burden of the Bishops, and to Order the Smaller Matters Himself.
XLIV. Be ye of one mind, O ye bishops, one with another, and be at peace with one another; sympathize with one another, love the brethren, and feed the people with care; with one consent teach those that are under you to be of the same sentiments and to be of the same opinions about the same matters, “that there may be no schisms among you; that ye may be one body and one spirit, perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment,” according to the appointment of the Lord. And let the deacon refer all things to the bishop, as Christ does to His Father. But let him order such things as he is able by himself, receiving power from the bishop, as the Lord did from His Father the power of creation and of providence. But the weighty matters let the bishop judge; but let the deacon be the bishop’s ear, and eye, and mouth, and heart, and soul, that the bishop may not be distracted with many cares, but with such only as are more considerable, as Jethro did appoint for Moses, and his counsel was received.
That Contentions and Quarrels are Unbecoming Christians.
XLV. It is therefore a noble encomium for a Christian to have no contest with any one; but if by any management or temptation a contest arises with any one, let him endeavour that it may be composed, though thereby he be obliged to lose somewhat; and let it not come before an heathen tribunal. Nay, indeed, you are not to permit that the rulers of this world should pass sentence against your people; for by them the devil contrives mischief to the servants of God, and occasions a reproach to be cast upon us, as though we had not “one wise man that is able to judge between his brethren,” or to decide their controversies.
That Believers Ought Not to Go to Law Before Unbelievers; Nor Ought Any Unbeliever to Be Called for a Witness Against Believers.
XLVI. Let not the heathen therefore know of your differences among one another, nor do you receive unbelievers as witnesses against yourselves, nor be judged by them, nor owe them anything on account of tribute or fear; but “render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” as tribute, taxes, or poll-money, as our Lord by giving a piece of money was freed from disturbance. Choose therefore rather to suffer harm, and to endeavour after those things that make for peace, not only among the brethren, but also among the unbelievers. For by suffering loss in the affairs of this life, thou wilt be sure not to suffer in the concerns of piety, and wilt live religiously, and according to the command of Christ. But if brethren have lawsuits one with another, which God forbid, you who are the rulers ought thence to learn that such as these do not do the work of brethren in the Lord, but rather of public enemies; and one of the parties will be found to be mild, gentle, and the child of light; but the other unmerciful, insolent, and covetous. Let him, therefore, who is condemned be rebuked, let him be separated, let him undergo the punishment of his hatred to his brother. Afterwards, when he repents, let him be received; and so, when they have learned prudence, they will ease your judicatures. It is also a duty to forgive each other’s trespasses—not the duty of those that judge, but of those that have quarrels; as the Lord determined when I Peter asked Him, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?” He replied, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times, but until seventy times seven.” For so would our Lord have us to be truly His disciples, and never to have anything against anybody; as, for instance, anger without measure, passion without mercy, covetousness without justice, hatred without reconciliation. Draw by your instruction those who are angry to friendship, and those who are at variance to agreement. For the Lord says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
That the Judicatures of Christians Ought to Be Held on the Second Day of the Week.
XLVII. Let your judicatures be held on the second day of the week, that if any controversy arise about your sentence, having an interval till the Sabbath, you may be able to set the controversy right, and to reduce those to peace who have the contests one with another against the Lord’s day. Let also the deacons and presbyters be present at your judicatures, to judge without acceptance of persons, as men of God, with righteousness. When, therefore, both the parties are come, according as the law says, those that have the controversy shall stand severally in the middle of the court; and when you have heard them, give your votes holily, endeavouring to make them both friends before the sentence of the bishop, that judgment against the offender may not go abroad into the world; knowing that he has in the court the Christ of God as conscious of and confirming his judgment. But if any persons are accused by any one, and their fame suffers as if they did not walk uprightly in the Lord, in like manner you shall hear both parties—the accuser and accused; but not with prejudice, nor with hearkening to one part only, but with righteousness, as passing a sentence concerning eternal life or death. For says God: “He shall prosecute that which is right justly.” For he that is justly punished and separated by you is rejected from eternal life and glory; he becomes dishonourable among holy men, and one condemned of God.
That the Same Punishment is Not to Be Inflicted for Every Offence, But Different Punishments for Different Offenders.
XLVIII. Do not pass the same sentence for every sin, but one suitable to each crime, distinguishing all the several sorts of offences with much prudence, the great from the little. Treat a wicked action after one manner, and a wicked word after another; a bare intention still otherwise. So also in the case of a contumely or suspicion. And some thou shalt curb by threatenings alone; some thou shalt punish with fines to the poor; some thou shalt mortify with fastings; and others thou shalt separate according to the greatness of their several crimes. For the law did not allot the same punishment to every offence, but had a different regard to a sin against God, against the priest, against the temple, or against the sacrifice; from a sin against the king, or ruler, or a soldier, or a fellow-subject; and so were the offences different which were against a servant, a possession, or a brute creature. And again, sins were differently rated according as they were against parents and kinsmen, and those differently which were done on purpose from those that happened involuntarily. Accordingly the punishments were different: as death either by crucifixion or by stoning, fines, scourgings, or the suffering the same mischiefs they had done to others. Wherefore do you also allot different penalties to different offences, lest any injustice should happen, and provoke God to indignation. For of what unjust judgment soever you are the instruments, of the same you shall receive the reward from God. “For with what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged.”
What are to Be the Characters of Accusers and Witnesses.
XLIX. When, therefore, you are set down at your tribunal, and the parties are both of them present (for we will not call them brethren until they receive each other in peace), examine diligently concerning those who appear before you; and first concerning the accuser, whether this be the first person he has accused, or whether he has advanced accusations against some others before, and whether this contest and accusation of theirs does not arise from some quarrel, and what sort of life the accuser leads. Yet, though he be of a good conscience, do not give credit to him alone, for that is contrary to the law; but let him have others to join in his testimony, and those of the same course of life. As the law says: “At the mouth of two or three witnesses everything shall be established.” But why did we say that the character of the witnesses was to be inquired after, of what sort it is? Because it frequently happens that two and more testify for mischief, and with joint consent prefer a lie; as did the two elders against Susanna in Babylon, and the sons of transgressors against Naboth in Samaria, and the multitude of the Jews against our Lord at Jerusalem, and against Stephen His first martyr. Let the witnesses therefore be meek, free from anger, full of equity, kind, prudent, continent, free from wickedness, faithful, religious; for the testimony of such persons is firm on account of their character, and true on account of their mode of life. But as to those of a different character, do not ye receive their testimony, although they seem to agree together in their evidence against the accused; for it is ordained in the law: “Thou shalt not be with a multitude for wickedness; thou shalt not receive a vain report; thou shalt not consent with a multitude to pervert judgment.” You ought also particularly to know him that is accused; what he is in his course and mode of life; whether he have a good report as to his life; whether he has been unblameable; whether he has been zealous in holiness; whether he be a lover of the widows, a lover of the strangers, a lover of the poor, and a lover of the brethren; whether he be not given to filthy lucre; whether he be not an extravagant person, or a spendthrift; whether he be sober, and free from luxury, or a drunkard, or a glutton; whether he be compassionate and charitable.
That Former Offences Do Sometimes Render After Accusations Credible.
L. For if he has been before addicted to wicked works, the accusations which are now brought against him will thence in some measure appear to be true, unless justice do plainly plead for him. For it may be, that though he had formerly been an offender, yet that he may not be guilty of this crime of which he is accused. Wherefore be exactly cautious about such circumstances, and so render your sentences, when pronounced against the offender convicted, safe and firm. And if, after his separation, he begs pardon, and falls down before the bishop, and acknowledges his fault, receive him. But neither do you suffer a false accuser to go unpunished, that he may not calumniate another who lives well, or encourage some other person to do like him. Nor, to be sure, do ye suffer a person convicted to go off clear, lest another be ensnared in the same crimes. For neither shall a witness of mischiefs be unpunished, nor shall he that offends be without censure.
Against Judging Without Hearing Both Sides.
LI. We said before that judgment ought not to be given upon hearing only one of the parties; for if you hear one of them when the other is not there, and so cannot make his defence to the accusation brought against him, and rashly give your votes for condemnation, you will be found guilty of that man’s destruction, and partaker with the false accuser before God, the just Judge. For “as he that holdeth the tail of a dog, so is he that presides at unjust judgment.” But if ye become imitators of the elders in Babylon, who, when they had borne witness against Susanna, unjustly condemned her to death, you will become obnoxious to their judgment and condemnation. For the Lord by Daniel delivered Susanna from the hand of the ungodly, but condemned to the fire those elders who were guilty of her blood, and reproaches you by him, saying: “Are ye so foolish, ye children of Israel? Without examination, and without knowing the truth, have ye condemned a daughter of Israel? Return again to the place of judgment, for these men have borne false witness against her.”
The Caution Observed at Heathen Tribunals Before the Condemnation of Criminals Affords Christians a Good Example.
LII. Consider even the judicatures of this world, by whose power we see murderers, adulterers, wizards, robbers of sepulchres, and thieves brought to trial; and those that preside, when they have received their accusations from those that brought them, ask the malefactor whether those things be so. And though he does not deny the crimes, they do not presently send him out to punishment; but for several days they make inquiry about him with a full council, and with the veil interposed. And he that is to pass the final decree and suffrage of death against him, lifts up his hands to the sun, and solemnly affirms that he is innocent of the blood of the man. Though they be heathens, and know not the Deity, nor the vengeance which will fall upon men from God on account of those that are justly condemned, they avoid such unjust judgments.
That Christians Ought Not to Be Contentious One with Another.
LIII. But you who know who our God is, and what are His judgments, how can you bear to pass an unjust judgment, since your sentence will be immediately known to God? And if you have judged righteously, you will be deemed worthy of the recompenses of righteousness, both now and hereafter; but if unrighteously, you will partake of the like. We therefore advise you, brethren, rather to deserve commendation from God than rebukes; for the commendation of God is eternal life to men, as is His rebuke everlasting death. Be ye therefore righteous judges, peacemakers, and without anger. For “he that is angry with his brother without a cause is obnoxious to the judgment.” But if it happens that by any one’s contrivance you are angry at anybody, “let not the sun go down upon your wrath;” for says David, “Be angry and sin not;” that is, be soon reconciled, lest your wrath continue so long that it turn to a settled hatred, and work sin. “For the souls of those that bear a settled hatred are to death,” says Solomon. But our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ says in the Gospels: “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift to God.” Now the gift to God is every one’s prayer and thanksgiving. If, therefore, thou hast anything against thy brother, or he has anything against thee, neither will thy prayers be heard, nor will thy thanksgivings be accepted, by reason of that hidden anger. But it is your duty, brethren, to pray continually. Yet, because God hears not those which are at enmity with their brethren by unjust quarrels, even though they should pray three times an hour, it is our duty to compose all our enmity and littleness of soul, that we may be able to pray with a pure and unpolluted heart. For the Lord commanded us to love even our enemies, and by no means to hate our friends. And the lawgiver says: “Thou shalt not hate any man; thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy mind. Thou shalt certainly reprove thy brother, and not incur sin on his account.” “Thou shalt not hate an Egyptian, for thou wast a sojourner with him. Thou shalt not hate an Idumæan, for he is thy brother.” And David says: “If I have repaid those that requited me evil.” Wherefore, if thou wilt be a Christian, follow the law of the Lord: “Loose every band of wickedness;” for the Lord has given thee authority to remit those sins to thy brother which he has committed against thee as far as “seventy times seven,” that is, four hundred and ninety times. How oft, therefore, hast thou remitted to thy brother, that thou art unwilling to do it now, when thou also hast heard Jeremiah saying, “Do not any of you impute the wickedness of his neighbour in your hearts?” But thou rememberest injuries, and keepest enmity, and comest into judgment, and art suspicious of His anger, and thy prayer is hindered. Nay, if thou hast remitted to thy brother four hundred and ninety times, do thou still multiply thy acts of gentleness more, to do good for thy own sake. Although he does not do so, yet, however, do thou endeavour to forgive thy brother for God’s sake, “that thou mayest be the son of thy Father which is in heaven,” and when thou prayest, mayest be heard as a friend of God.
That the Bishops Must by Their Deacon Put the People in Mind of the Obligation They are Under to Live Peaceably Together.
LIV. Wherefore, O bishop, when you are to go to prayer after the lessons, and the psalmody, and the instruction out of the Scriptures, let the deacon stand nigh you, and with a loud voice say: Let none have any quarrel with another; let none come in hypocrisy; that if there be any controversy found among any of you, they may be affected in conscience, and may pray to God, and be reconciled to their brethren. For if, upon coming into any one’s house, we are to say, “Peace be to this house,” like sons of peace bestowing peace on those who are worthy, as it is written, “He came and preached peace to you that are nigh, and them that are far off, whom the Lord knows to be His,” much more is it incumbent on those that enter into the Church of God before all things to pray for the peace of God. But if he prays for it upon others, much more let himself be within the same, as a child of light; for he that has it not within himself is not fit to bestow it upon others. Wherefore, before all things, it is our duty to be at peace in our own minds; for he that does not find any disorder in himself will not quarrel with another, but will be peaceable, friendly, gathering the Lord’s people, and a fellow-worker with him, in order to the increasing the number of those that shall be saved in unanimity. For those who contrive enmities, and strifes, and contests, and lawsuits, are wicked, and aliens from God.
An Enumeration of the Several Instances of Divine Providence, and How in Every Age from the Beginning of the World God Has Invited All Men to Repentance.
LV. For God, being a God of mercy from the beginning, called every generation to repentance by righteous men and prophets. He instructed those before the flood by Abel and Sem, and Seth, also by Enos, and by Enoch that was translated; those at the flood by Noah; the inhabitants of Sodom by hospitable Lot; those after the flood by Melchizedek, and the patriarchs, and Job the beloved of God; the Egyptians by Moses; the Israelites by him, and Joshua, and Caleb, and Phineas, and the rest; those after the law by angels and prophets, and the same by His own incarnation of the Virgin; those a little before His bodily appearance by John His forerunner, and the same by the same person after Christ’s birth, saying, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;” those after His passion by us, the twelve apostles, and Paul the chosen vessel. We therefore, who have been vouchsafed the favour of being the witnesses of His appearance, together with James the brother of our Lord, and the other seventy-two disciples, and his seven deacons, have heard from the mouth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by exact knowledge declare “what is the will of God, that good, and acceptable, and perfect will” which is made known to us by Jesus; that none should perish, but that all men with one accord should believe in Him, and send unanimously praise to Him, and thereby live for ever.
That It is the Will of God that Men Should Be of One Mind in Matters of Religion, in Accord with the Heavenly Powers.
LVI. For this is that which our Lord taught us when we pray to say to His Father, “Thy will be done, as in heaven, so upon earth;” that as the heavenly natures of the incorporeal powers do all glorify God with one consent, so also upon earth all men with one mouth and one purpose may glorify the only, the one, and the true God, by Christ His only-begotten. It is therefore His will that men should praise Him with unanimity, and adore Him with one consent. For this is His will in Christ, that those who are saved by Him may be many; but that you do not occasion any loss or diminution to Him, nor to the Church, or lessen the number by one soul of man, as destroyed by you, which might have been saved by repentance; and which therefore perishes not only by its own sin, but also by your treachery besides, whereby you fulfil that which is written, “He that gathereth not with me, scattereth.” Such a one is a disperser of the sheep, an adversary, an enemy of God, a destroyer of those lambs whose Shepherd was the Lord, and we were the collectors out of various nations and tongues, by much pains and danger, and perpetual labour, by watchings, by fastings, by lyings on the ground, by persecutions, by stripes, by imprisonments, that we might do the will of God, and fill the feast-chamber with guests to sit down at His table, that is, the holy and Catholic Church, with joyful and chosen people, singing hymns and praises to God that has called them by us to life. And you, as much as in you lies, have dispersed them. Do you also of the laity be at peace with one another, endeavouring like wise men to increase the Church, and to turn back, and tame, and restore those which seem wild. For this is the greatest reward by His promise from God, “If thou fetch out the worthy and precious from the unworthy, thou shalt be as my mouth.”
- Lev. xxvi. 27, 28.
- Ps. xviii. 26.
- 1 Cor. i. 10; Eph. iv. 4.
- Ex. xviii.
- 1 Cor. vi. 1, etc.
- Matt. xxii. 21.
- Matt. xvii. 24, etc.
- One V. ms. reads “God” instead of “Christ.”
- Matt. xviii. 21, 22.
- Matt. v. 9.
- [i.e., Saturday.]
- Deut. xix. 17.
- Deut. xvi. 20.
- Matt. vii. 2.
- Deut. xix. 15.
- Susanna 28.
- 1 Kings xxi.
- Matt. xxvi.
- Acts vi. and vii.
- Ex. xxiii. 2.
- Prov. xxvi. 17.
- Susanna 48.
- Matt. v. 22.
- Eph. iv. 26.
- Ps. iv. 4.
- Prov. xii. 28, LXX.
- Matt. v. 23, 24.
- Lev. xix. 17.
- Deut. xxiii. 7.
- Ps. vii. 4.
- Isa. lviii. 6.
- Matt. xviii. 22.
- Zech. viii. 17.
- Matt. v. 45.
- Matt. x. 12.
- Isa. lvii. 19; Eph. ii. 17; 2 Tim. ii. 19.
- One V. ms. inserts, “of the Holy Spirit and.”
- Matt. iii. 2.
- Rom. xii. 2.
- Matt. vi. 10.
- “And adore him with one consent” is omitted in one V. ms.
- Matt. xii. 30.
- Jer. xv. 19.