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13. Veneration in which churches were held, and privileges attached

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER IX. Of Churches and Sacred Places

13. Of the veneration in which churches were held, and the privileges attached to them. 

The primitive Christians like the Jews, manifested a profound veneration for the house of God, and zealously guarded it not only against the intrusion of the profane, but against secular and sacrilegious uses. Their own attendance upon its ordinances was marked with every demonstration of religious awe. "Let both men and women," says Clemens of Alexandria, "come to church in comely apparel, with a serious gait, with modest silence, and love unfeigned; chaste both in body and mind, so that they may be duly prepared to offer prayer to God." "They came into the church as into the palace of the Great King. Before going into the church, they used to wash at least their hands, carrying themselves there with the most profound silence and devotion. Nay, so great was the reverence which they bore to the church, that the emperors themselves, who otherwise never went without their guard about them, when they came to go into the church, used to lay down their arms – to leave their guard behind them, and to put off their crowns." 

The churches, however, were occasionally the scenes of disorder and sacrilege; especially in the fourth and fifth centuries, during the Arian controversy. To prevent these, Honorius decreed, A. D. 398, the sentence of scourging and banishment upon any one who should enter the church and disturb the bishop or minister in the discharge of his duties. If he interrupted the religious services, or offered violence to the litany, he was to be sentenced to death by any court civil or military. 

The following were some of the rules by which the church was guarded from secular and sacrilegious uses,

  1. Neither churches nor any of their utensils or implements could be sold, mortgaged or assessed for taxes; to this rule however there were occasional exceptions,
  2. churches could not be used for courts of either civil or criminal cases, nor for popular elections, or legislative assemblies, but they might be opened for the accommodation of ecclesiastical councils, and for the coronations of princes
  3. No marketing, or exchanges in buying or selling of any kind was allowed in the church, much less were annual fairs permitted in the neigborhood of a church,
  4. No convivial assemblies were in any instance to be held in the churches. And even the love-feasts, the abuses of which in the Corinthian church were so severely censured by the apostle Paul, 1 Cor. 11:18 seq. were not allowed in the churches
  5. Neither were they to be opened for the entertainment of strangers and travellers
  6. It was also an high offence to speak irreverently of the house of God, or unworthily lo engage in any official act of public worship. 

All who entered into the church were first required to wash their hands, and for this purpose water was constantly kept in the front part of the church as has been already stated, (Of the narthex, or ante-temple). This rite as explained by Tertullian and others, was emblematical of that purity of heart with which the worshipper ought to engage in his public religious duties. In some of the Eastern churches, particularly in Abyssinia, it was customary also for Christians to put off their shoes on entering the church, after the example of Moses, Exod. 3:5. Kings and princes, and military commanders reverently laid aside their badges of honor and of office on entering the church, a custom which even Julian the apostate commends as worthy of imitation. It was moreover an ancient and very general usuage to kiss the threshold of the doors and the altars of the churches, as another token of reverence. Afterwards it became usual to kiss the paintings and utensils. 

Of the same general character were the numerous directions given respecting a quiet, devout and becoming demeanor in the church, in the time of religious worship, and during the celebration of the sacrament. These directions required the worshipper to appear in decent apparel, to kneel or stand in prayer, to keep the head uncovered, to fold the hands, and to refrain from gazing about. All noise and bustle, shrieking, clapping, hemming and spitting, was expressly forbidden, together with all irreverent gesticulation, reading, and mimicking; all which serves to show, how fully the christian church, at all times participated in the sentiment of the pious Israelite, "Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honor dwelleth."

Jac. Lobbetii, Liber de religioso templorum cultu. Leod. 1641. 4 Jo. Fabricii, Dissert, de reverentia erga sacra. Helmst. 1706. 4 J. H. Boehmer, De sanctitate ecclesiarum. Halae, 1722. 4 Henr. Lynckeri, Dissert, de jtiribus templorum. Francofurti, 1698. 4: Jo. Moebii, *, s. de Ebraeorum, Gentilium et Christianorum asylis. Lips. 1673. 4: Ge. Goetzii, Dissert, de Asylis. Jen. 1660. 4: Gust. Cartholm, De Asylis. Upsal, 1682. 8.

Paedag. 1. 8. c. 11. p. 255: Comp. Cave, Prim. Christ. 285.

Prim. Christ. 156–7.

Justin. Novell. 133. c. 31.

Concil. Gangrense, c. 5, 6.

Tertullian, De Orat. c. 11: Euseb. h. e. x. c. 4: Sefv. 11. c. 38: Chrysost. Horn. 52. in Math.: 72. in Joann.: 3. in Eph.

Chrysost. tom. iv. p. 847: Cod. Theodos. lib. ix. tit. xlv. 1. 4.

Julian, Ep. 49. ad Arsac. p. 431: Sozomen, h e. lib. v. c. 16.

Ambros. ep. 33.: Prudent, hymn 2. in S. Laur. v. 519,520: Paulin. Nol. natal, vi.: Chrysost. Hom. 29. in apud Cor.: Manas, tom. ii. p. 304: Cassiolor. Hist.: tripart. lib. x. c. 30: Dionys. Areop. de hier eccl. c. 2. § 4.

The rite of kissing the pope's toe, was probably derived from those acts of prostration and humiliation to which penitents were subjected

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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