Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Novatianus and Novatianism
Novatianus and Novatianism (Novatianus; Cyprian, Ep. xliv.; Νοουάτος, Eus. H. E. vi. 43; Ναυάτος, Socr. H. E. iv. 28. Lardner (Credibility, c. 47, note) seeks to prove that Eusebius and the Greeks in general were correct in calling the Roman presbyter Novatus, not Novatianus. He attributes the origin of the latter name to Cyprian, who called the Roman presbyter Novatianus, as being a follower of his own rebellious priest, Novatus of Carthage. Novatian, the founder of Novatianism, is said by Philostorgius to have been a Phrygian by birth, a notion which may have originated in the popularity of his system in Phrygia and its neighbourhood (Lightfoot's Colossians, p. 98). He was, before his conversion, a philosopher, but of what sect we cannot certainly determine, though from a comparison of the language of Cyprian in Ep. lv. § 13, ad Antonian., with the Novatianist system itself, we should be inclined to say the Stoic. The circumstances of his conversion and baptism are stated by pope Cornelius in his letter to Fabius of Antioch (Eus. l.c.), but we must accept his statements with much caution. His narration is evidently coloured by his feelings. The facts of the case appear to be these. He was converted after he had come to manhood, and received clinical baptism, but was never confirmed, which furnishes Cornelius with one of his principal accusations. He was, nevertheless, admitted to the clerical order. His talents, especially his eloquence, to which even Cyprian witnesses (Ep. lx. 3), rapidly brought him to the front, and he became the most influential presbyter of the Roman church. In this character, the see being vacant, he wrote Ep. xxx. to the Carthaginan church, touching the treatment of the lapsed, while the anonymous author of the treatise against Novatian, written a.d. 155 and included by Erasmus among Cyprian's
works, describes him as "having been a precious vessel, an house of the Lord, who, as long as he was in the church, bewailed the faults of other men as his own, bore the burdens of his brethren as the apostle directs, and by his exhortations strengthened such as were weak in the faith." This testimony sufficiently disposes of the accusation of Cornelius that Novatian denied the faith in time of persecution, declaring himself "an admirer of a different philosophy." In 250 he approved of a moderate policy towards the lapsed, but later in the year changed his mind and took such extreme views that the martyr Moses, who probably suffered on the last day of 250, condemned them. In Mar. 251 Cornelius was consecrated bp. (Lipsius, Chron. d. röm. Bisch. p. 205). This roused the stricter party to action (Cyp. Ep. xlvi.). NOVATUS, the Carthaginian agitator, having meanwhile arrived at Rome, joined them and urged them to set up an opposition bishop. He made a journey into distant parts of Italy, and brought back 3 bishops who consecrated Novatian. After his consecration Novatian dispatched the usual epistles announcing it to the bishops of the chief sees, to Cyprian, Dionysius of Alexandria, Fabius of Antioch. Cyprian rejected his communion at once. Dionysius wrote exhorting him to retire from his schismatical position (Eus. H. E. vi. 45). Fabius, however, so inclined to his side that Dionysius addressed him a letter on the subject; and two bishops, Firmilianus of Cappadocia and Theoctistus of Palestine, wrote to Dionysius requesting his presence at the council of Antioch, to restrain tendencies in that direction (ib. 44, 46). In the latter part of 251 Novatian was formally excommunicated by a synod of 60 bishops at Rome. He then began to organize a distinct church, rebaptizing all who came over (Cyp. Ep. lxxiii. 2) and dispatching letters and emissaries to the most distant parts of the East and West (Socr. H. E. iv. 28). [CYPRIAN; NOVATUS.] His subsequent career is unknown, save that Socrates informs us that he suffered martyrdom under Valerian (ib.). He was a copious writer, as we learn from Jerome (de Vir. Ill. c. lxx.), who gives as his works, " de Pascha, de Sabbato, de Circumcisione, de Sacerdote, de Oratione, de Instantia, de Attalo, de Cibis Judaicis, et de Trinitate," only the last two being now extant. (An ed. of de Trin. by W. Y. Fausset was pub. in 1909 in the Camb. Patr. Texts.) His work on Jewish meats was written at some place of retreat from persecution. The Jewish controversy seems to have been then very hot at Rome, and Novatian wrote to refute their contention about distinction of meats. Jerome describes his work on the Trinity as an epitome of Tertullian's, and as attributed by some to Cyprian (Hieron. Apol. cont. Rufin. lib. ii. Opp. t. iv. p. 415). It proves Novatian to have been a diligent student, as its arguments are identical with those of Justin Martyr in his Dialog. cum Tryph. c. cxxvii.; Tertull. adv. Prax. cc. xiv.–xxv.; Clem. Alex. Strom. ii. 16, v. 11, 12. He deals first with the absolute perfection of the Father, His invisibility, etc., then discusses the anthropomorphic expressions of the Scriptures, laying down that "such things were said about God indeed, but they are not to be imputed to God but to the people. It is not God Who is limited, but the perception of the people." In c. vii. he declares that even the terms Spirit, Light, Love, are only in an imperfect degree applicable to God. In cc. ix.–xxviii. he discusses the true doctrine of the Incarnation, explaining, like Clement and others, the theophanies of O.T. as manifestations of Christ, and refuting the doctrine of the Sabellians, or Artemonites, according to Neander (H. E. ii. 298), which had just then been developed. He ends by explaining the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, wherein he is thought by some to have fallen into error. He was quoted by the Macedonians of the next cent. as supporting their view (cf. Fabric. Bibl. Graec. xii. 565 and references noted there; Bull's Def. of Nicene Creed, ii. 476, Oxf. 1852; Judg. of Cath. Ch. pp. 9, 137, 291, Oxf. 1855). Lardner (Credib. c. 47, t. iii. p. 242) shews that Novatian did not accept Hebrews as Scripture, since he never quotes any texts out of it, though there were several which favoured his cause, notably Heb. vi. 4–8. His followers, however, in the next cent. did use them. Some have even thought Novatian to be the author of the Refutation of all Heresies (Bunsen, Christ. and Mankind, i. 480). A trans. of his works is in the vol. of Clark's Ante-Nicene Lib. which contains pt. ii. of St. Cyprian's writings (Edinb. 1869). Jackson's ed. is the best.
Novatianism.— The members of this sect called themselves Καθαροί (Eus. H. E. vi. 43). They were called by others Novatiani (Pacian. Ep. i. § 1).
Novatianism was the first great schism in the church on a pure question of discipline. In Montanism questions of discipline were involved as side issues, but did not constitute its essential difference. All sects previous to Novatianism had erred on the doctrine of the Trinity. The Novatianists alone were orthodox thereupon. The church therefore baptized even Montanists, but admitted Novatianists by imposition of hands (Conc. Laodic. can. vii. viii.; Hefele, Councils, ed. Clark, t. ii. 303, 332 ; Conc. CP. can. vii. in Hefele, l.c.; Pitra, Jur. Eccles. Graec. Hist. i. 430, 576).
The principles which Novatian formulated into a system, and to which he gave a name, existed and flourished long before him. The origin of the Novatianist schism must be sought in the struggle which, originating with the Shepherd of Hermas (Baur, Church Hist. trans. Menzies, 1879, t. ii. p. 50 note; cf. Ritschl, Entstehung der Altkath. Kirche, 2nd ed. p. 529), had been raging at Rome for 70 years, at first with the Montanists and the followers of Tertullian, and then between Hippolytus and Callistus. Every one of the distinctive principles of Novatianism will be found advocated by some or all of them (Baur, l.c. p. 270, note). The Montanists rejected the lapsed, and in fact all guilty of mortal sins, Tertullian rejected second marriages, as also did the strict discipline of the 2nd cent. (Ambr. de Viduis, c. ii.; Lumper, Hist. SS. PP. iii. 95; de S. Athenag.; Aug. Ep. ad Julian. de Viduit.). Hippolytus held, in a great degree, the same stern views. This identity in principle between Montanism and
Novatianism has been noted by many, both ancients and moderns, e.g. Epiph. Haer. 59; Hieron. Opp. Migne, Patr. Lat. t. i. 188, Ep. ad Marcellam, 457, Ep. ad Oceanum; t. vii. 697 cont. Jovinian. lib. ii.; Gieseler, H. E. t. i. pp. 213–215, 284, ed. Clark; Neander, Anti-Gnostic, t. ii. p. 362; Bunsen, Christ. and Mankind, t. i. 395, 428; Pressensé, Life and Pract. of Early Ch. lib. i. cc. 6, 7; Baur, l.c. pp. 124–126. With Donatism Novatianism is also allied, for the treatment of the lapsed underlay that schism too. Other points of similarity between the three may be noted. They all sprang up, or found their most enthusiastic supporters, in Africa. Each arose simultaneously with great persecutions. The two earliest, at least, proved their essential oneness, uniting their ranks in Phrygia in the 4th cent. Novatianism may be regarded as a conservative protest on behalf of the ancient discipline against the prevalent liberalism of the Roman church (Baur, l.c. p. 271). The sterner treatment of the lapsed naturally found favour with the more enthusiastic party, who usually give the tone to any religious society. Thus Eleutherus, bp. of Rome, in the latter part of 2nd cent. was inclined to take the Puritan view (Eus. H. E. lib. v. c. 3). Ozanam (Hist. of Civilization in 5th Cent. t. ii. p. 214, Eng. trans.) has noted an interesting proof of the prevalence of this view in Rome. Archaeologists have often been puzzled by the symbol of a Good Shepherd carryings a kid, not a lamb, on his shoulders, found in the cemetery of St. Callistus. Ozanam explains it as a reference by the excavators of the cemetery to the prevalent Montanist doctrine, which denied the possibility of a goat being brought back in this life. Novatianism thus fell upon ground prepared for it, and found in every quarter a body of ready adherents. But Novatian was the first to make the treatment of the lapsed the express ground of schism. In fact, many continued to hold the same view within the church during the next 150 years (cf. Hefele, Councils, t. i. p. 134, Clark's ed.; Innocent I. Ep. iii. ad Exuperium, in Mansi, iii. 1039). This fact accounts for the rapid spread of the sect. In Africa they established themselves in many cities within the course of the two years subsequent to Novatian's consecration in the spring of 251. [CYPRIAN.] In S. Gaul Marcian, bp. of Arles, joined them (Cyp. Ep. lxviii.; Greg. Turon. Hist. Francor. lib. i. in Migne, Patr. Lat. lxxi. 175). In the East they made great progress. Between a.d. 260 and the council of Nice we hear scarcely anything about them. The controversies about Sabellianism and Paul of Samosata, together with the rising tide of Arianism, occupied the church during the concluding years of the 3rd cent., while the peace it enjoyed prevented the question of the lapsed becoming a practical one. During this period, however, Novatianist doctrine became harder and sterner. Obliged to vindicate their position, they drew the reins tighter than Novatian had done. With him idolatry was the one crying sin which excluded from communion. During the long peace there was no temptation to this sin, therefore his followers were obliged to add all other deadly sins to the list (Socr. H. E. vii. 25; Ambr. de Poenit. lib. i. cc. 2, 3; Ceill. v. 466, 467) At the council of Nice we find them established far and wide, with a regular succession of bishops at the principal cities of the empire and of the highest reputation for piety. The monk Eutychian, one of their number, was a celebrated miracle-worker, reverenced by Constantine himself, who also endeavoured to lead one of their bishops, ACESIUS, to unite with the Catholics (Socr. H. E. i. 10, 13). During the 4th cent. we can trace their history much more clearly in the East than in the West, for Socrates gives such copious details as to lead some (Nicephorus, Baronius, and P. Labbaeus) to suspect that he was a member of the sect. In the East their fortunes were very varying. Under Constantine they were tolerated and even favoured (Cod. Theod. ed. Haenel, lib. xvi. tit. v. p. 1522). Under Constantius they were violently persecuted, together with the rest of the Homoousian party, by the patriarch Macedonius. Socrates (ii. 38) mentions several martyrs for the Catholic faith whom they then furnished, especially one Alexander, a Paphlagonian, to whose memory they built a church at Constantinople existing in his own day. Several of their churches, too, were destroyed at Constantinople and Cyzicus, but were restored by Julian upon his accession, and Agelius their bishop was banished. "But Macedonius consummated his wickedness in the following manner. Hearing there was a great number of the Novatian sect in the province of Paphlagonia, and especially at Mantinium, and perceiving that such a numerous body could not be driven from their homes by ecclesiastics alone, he caused, by the emperor's permission, four companies of soldiers to be sent into Paphlagonia that, through dread of the military, they might receive the Arian opinion. But those who inhabited Mantinium, animated to desperation by zeal for their religion, armed themselves with long reaping-hooks, hatchets, and whatever weapons came to hand, and went forth to meet the troops, on which, a conflict ensuing, many indeed of the Paphlagonians were slain, but nearly all the soldiers were destroyed." This persecution well-nigh brought about a union between the Catholics and the Novatianists, as the former frequented the churches of the latter party during the Arian supremacy. The Novatianists, however, as in Constantine's time, obstinately refused to unite with those whose church-theory was different from their own, though their faith was alike. Under Valens, seven years later, a.d. 366, they suffered another persecution and Agelius was again exiled. Under Theodosius their bp. at Constantinople, Agelius, appeared in conjunction with the orthodox patriarch Nectarius as joint defenders of the Homoousian doctrine at the synod of 383, on which account the emperor conferred on their churches equal privileges with those of the establishment (Socr. H. E. v. 10, 20). John Chrysostom's severe zeal for church discipline led him to persecute them. When visiting Ephesus to consecrate a bishop a.d. 401, he deprived them of their churches, an act to which many attributed John's subsequent misfortunes. An expression
uttered by Chrysostom in reference to their peculiar views about sin after baptism, "Approach [the altar] though you may have repented a thousand times," led to a literary controversy between him and the learned and witty Sisinnius, Novatianist bp. of Constantinople (vi. 21, 22). About 374 a schism occurred in their ranks concerning the true time of Easter. Hitherto the Novatianists had strictly observed the Catholic rule. A few obscure Phrygian bishops, however, convened a synod at Pazum or Pazacoma, and agreed to celebrate the same day as that on which the Jews keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This canon was passed in the absence of Agelius of Constantinople, Maximus of Nice, and the bishops of Nicomedia and Cotyaeum, their leading men (iv. 28). Jewish influence was also at work, as Sozomen (vii. 18) tells us that a number of priests, converted by the Novatianists at Pazum during the reign of Valens, still retained their Jewish ideas about Easter. To this sect was given the name Protopaschitae (Cod. Theod. u.s. p. 1581, where severe penalties are denounced against them as worshippers of a different Christ because observing Easter otherwise than the orthodox). This question, when raised by a presbyter of Jewish birth named SABBATIUS, some 20 years later, caused a further schism among the Novatianists at Constantinople, under the episcopate of Marcian, a.d. 391; whence the name Sabbatiani. These finally coalesced with the Montanists, though we can trace their distinct existence till the middle of the 5th cent. (Socr. H. E. v. 21; Soz. H. E. vii. 16; Cod. Theod. u.s. pp. 1566, 1570, 1581.) Many particulars of the customs of the Eastern Novatianists and as to their reflex influence on the church as regards auricular confession are in Socr. H. E. v. 19, 22, who in c. 19 ascribes the original establishment of the office of penitentiary presbyter and secret confession to the Novatianist schism. [NECTARIUS (4).] The succession of Novatianist patriarchs of Constantinople during the 4th cent. was Acesius, Agelius, Marcianus, Sisinnius (Socr. H. E. v. 21, vi. 22 ; Soz. H. E. vii. 14). During the 5th cent. the Novatianists continued to flourish notwithstanding occasional troubles. In Constantinople their bishops during the first half of the cent. were Sisinnius, d. 412, Chrysanthus, d. 419, Paul, d. 438, and Marcian. They lived on amicable terms with the orthodox patriarch Atticus, who, remembering their fidelity under the Arian persecution, protected them from their enemies. Paul enjoyed the reputation of a miracle-worker, and died in the odour of universal sanctity, all sects and parties uniting in singing psalms at his funeral (Socr. H. E. vii. 46). In Alexandria, however, they were persecuted by Cyril, their bp. Theopemptus and their churches plundered; but they continued to exist in large numbers in that city till the 7th cent., when Eulogius, Catholic patriarch of Alexandria, wrote a treatise against them (Phot. Cod. 182, 208; Ceill. xi. 589). Even in Scythia their churches existed, as we find Marcus, a bp. from that country, present at the death of Paul, Novatianist bp. of Constantinople, July 21, 438. In Asia Minor they were as widely dispersed as the Catholics. In parts of it, indeed, the orthodox party seem for long to have been completely absorbed by those who took the Puritan view, e.g. Epiphanius tells us that there were no Catholics for 112 years in the city of Thyatira (Haer. li.; Lumper, Hist. SS. PP. viii. 259). They had established a regular parochial system. Thus (in Boeckh, Corp. Gr. Inscriptt., iv. 9268) we find at Laodicea in Lycaonia an inscription on a tombstone erected by one Aurelia Domna to her husband Paul, deacon of the holy church of the Novatianists, while even towards the end of the preceding century St. Basil, though hesitating on grounds similar to those of Cyprian to recognize their baptism, concludes in its favour on the express ground that it was for the advantage and profit of the populace that it should be received (Basil, Ep. clxxxviii. ad Amphiloch.; cf. R. T. Smith's Basil the Great, p. 119). After the close of the 5th cent. we find few notices of their history. Their protest about the lapsed became obsolete and their adherents fell away to the church or to sects like the Montanists. A formal notice of their existence in the East occurs in the 95th canon of the Trullan (Quinisext) Council a.d. 692. In the West we have no such particular details of their history as in the East. Yet there is clear evidence of their widespread and long-continued influence. Already we have noted their extension into S. Gaul and Africa in their very earliest days. In Alexandria also we have noted its last historical manifestation. Between the middle of 3rd cent., when it arose, and the close of the 5th, we find repeated indications of its existence and power. Constantine's decree (Cod. Theod. XVI. v. 2, with Gothofred's comment), giving them a certain restricted liberty, was directed to Bassus, probably vicarius of Italy. Towards the close of the 4th cent. we find a regular succession of Novatianist bishops existing—doubtless from Novatian's time—at Rome, and held in such high repute for piety that the emperor Theodosius granted his life to the celebrated orator Symmachus on the prayer of the Novatianist pope Leontius, a.d. 388. Early in the 5th cent., however, pope Celestine persecuted them, deprived them of their churches, and compelled Rusticula their bishop to hold his meetings in private, an act which Socrates considers another proof of the overweening and unchristian insolence of the Roman see (H. E. vii. 11). In the Code several severe edicts were directed about the same time against the Novatianists (Cod. Theod. ed. Haenel, lib. xvi. tit. v. legg. 59, 65, cf. vi. 6). In S. Gaul, N. Italy, and Spain the sect seems to have taken as firm root as in Phrygia and central Asia Minor. Whether the original religious teaching of the people whose Christianity may have been imported from Africa but a short time before by MARCELLINUS, or the physical features, e.g. the mountainous character of these countries, may not have inclined them towards its stern discipline is a fair question. The treatises which Pacian of Barcelona and Ambrose of Milan felt necessary to direct against them are couched in language which proves the sect to have been then an aggressive one and a real danger to the church by the assertion of its superior sanctity and purity.
Ambrose evidently wrote in answer to some work lately produced by them (de Poenit. lib. ii. c. x.). The Separatist tendency begotten of Novatianism in this district and continued through Priscillianism, Adoptionism, and Claudius of Turin (Neander, H. E. t. vi. 119–130, ed. Bohn; cf. esp. note on p. 119) may be a point of contact between the Novatianists of primitive times and the Waldenses and Albigenses of the middle ages. Their wide spread in Africa in Augustine's time is attested by him, cont. Gaudent. in Opp. ed. Bened. (Paris), ix. 642, 794.
The principal extant controversial works against the sect beside those of Cyprian are the epistles of St. Pacian of Barcelona, the de Poenitentia of St. Ambrose, and the Quaestiones in Nov. Testam. No. cii. wrongly attributed to St. Augustine and found in the Parisian Ben. ed. t. iii. pars. ii. 2942–2958, assigned by the editor to Hilary the deacon who lived under pope Damasus. The work of Pacian contains many interesting historical notices of the sect. From it we find they refused to the Catholics the name of a church, calling them Apostaticum, Capitolinum, or Synedrium, and, on their own behalf, rejected the name Novatianists and styled themselves simply Christians (Ep. ii. § 3). The following were some of the texts relied on by them, to the consideration of which the writers on the Catholic side applied themselves: I. Sam. ii. 25; Matt. x. 33, xii. 31, xiii. 47–49; I. Cor. vi. 18; II. Tim. ii. 20; Heb. vi. 4–7; I. John v. 15. Novatianism in the tests which it used, its efforts after a perfectly pure communion, its crotchety interpretations of Scripture, and many other features, presents a striking parallel to many modern sects. In addition to authorities already quoted, see Ceillier, ii. 427, et passim; Walch, Ketzerhist. ii. 185; Natal. Alex. ed. Mansi, saec. iii. c. iii. art. iv.; Tillem. Mém.; Bingham, Opp. t. vi. 248, 570, viii. 233 (ed. Lond. 1840); Gieseler, H. E. i. 284 (ed. Clark); Neander, H. E. (ed. Bohn), i. 330–345. For an account of recent literature on the subject see Bardenhewer's Patrology, p. 220.