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Chapter XXVIII.—Of Novatus and his Followers. The Novatians of Phrygia alter the Time of keeping Easter, following Jewish Usage.

About this time the Novatians 649 inhabiting Phrygia changed the day for celebrating the Feast of Easter. How this happened I shall state, after first explaining the reason of the strict discipline which is maintained in their church, even to the present day, in the provinces of Phrygia and Paphlagonia. Novatus, 650 a presbyter of the Roman Church, separated from it, because Cornelius the bishop received into communion believers who had sacrificed during the persecution which the Emperor Decius 651 had raised against the Church. Having seceded on this account, on being afterwards elevated to the episcopacy by such bishops as entertained similar sentiments, he wrote to all the churches 652 that ‘they should not admit to the sacred mysteries those who had sacrificed; but exhorting them to repentance, leave the pardoning of their offense to God, who has the power to forgive all sin.’ Receiving such letters, the parties in the various provinces, to whom they were addressed, acted according to their several dispositions and judgments. As he asked that they should not receive to the sacraments those who after baptism had committed any deadly sin 653 this appeared to some a cruel and merciless course: but others received the rule as just and conducive to the maintenance of discipline, and the promotion of greater devotedness of life. In the midst of the agitation of this question, letters arrived from Cornelius the bishop, promising indulgence to delinquents after baptism. Thus as these two persons wrote contrary to one another, and each confirmed his own procedure by the testimony of the Divine word, as it usually happens, every one identified himself with that view which favored his previous habits and inclinations. Those who had pleasure in sin, encouraged by the license then granted them, took occasion from it to revel in every species of criminality. Now the Phrygians appear to be more temperate than other nations, and are seldom guilty of swearing. The Scythians, on the other hand, and the Thracians, are naturally of a very irritable disposition: while the inhabitants of the East are addicted to sensual pleasures. But the Paphlagonians and Phrygians are prone to neither of these vices; nor are the sports of the circus and theatrical exhibitions in much estimation among them even to the present day. And for this reason, it seems to me, these people, as well as others of the same character, so readily assented to the letters then written by Novatus. Fornication and adultery are regarded among them as the grossest enormities: and it is well known that there is no race of men on the face of the earth who more rigidly govern their passions in this respect than the Phrygians and Paphlagonians. The same reason I think had force with those who dwelt in the West and followed Novatus. Yet although for the sake of stricter discipline Novatus became a separatist, p. 113 he made no change in the time of keeping Easter, 654 but invariably observed the practice that obtained in the Western churches. For they celebrate this feast after the equinox, according to the usage which had of old been delivered to them when first they embraced Christianity. He himself indeed afterwards suffered martyrdom in the reign of Valerian, 655 during the persecution which was then raised against the Christians. But those in Phrygia 656 who are named after him Novatians, about this period changed the day of celebrating Easter, being averse to communion with other Christians even on this occasion. This was effected by means of a few obscure bishops of that sect convening a Synod at the village of Pazum, which is situated near the sources of the river Sangarius; for there they framed a canon appointing its observance on the same day as that on which the Jews annually keep the feast of Unleavened Bread. An aged man, who was the son of a presbyter, and had been present with his father at this Synod, gave us our information on this matter. But both Agelius, bishop of the Novatians at Constantinople, and Maximus of Nicæa, as also the bishops of Nicomedia and Cotyæum, were absent, although the ecclesiastical affairs of the Novatians were for the most part under the control of these bishops. How the church of the Novatians soon after was divided into two parties in consequence of this Synod, shall be related in its proper course: 657 but we must now notice what took place about the same time in the Western parts.



On the Novatians and their schism, see Schaff, Hist. of the Christ. Ch. Vol. I. p. 450, 451; Neander, Hist. of Christ. Ch. Vol. I. p. 237–248. On Socrates’ attitude toward Novatianism, see Introd. p. ix. Cf. also Euseb. H. E. VI. 43.


His right name was Novatian, although the Greek writers call him uniformly Navatus, ignoring or confusing him with another person whose name is strictly Novatus. Cf. Jerome, Scriptor. Eccles. LXX.; also Smith and Wace, Dict. of Christ. Biog.


This was the great Seventh Persecution, and the first which historians agree in calling strictly ‘general.’ It took place in 249–251 a.d., and consisted in a systematic effort to uproot Christianity throughout the empire. Many eminent Christians were put to death during its course, and others, among whom was Origen, were tortured. Cf. Origen, Contra Celsum, III.; Gregory of Nyssa, Vita Gregori Thaumaturg. III.; Euseb. H. E. VI. 40–42.


Cf. I. 10.


1 John 5:16, 17.


Cf. I. 8 and note.


The accuracy of this statement is disputed by Valesius, who asserts that the Novatians wrote a book entitled The Martyrdom of Novatian, but that this book was full of false statements and fables, and had been disproved by Eulogius, bishop of Alexandria in the sixth book of his treatise Against the Novatians. Besides, in this Martyrdom of Novatian the founder of the sect was not represented as suffering martyrdom, but simply as being a ‘confessor.’ Cf. I. 8, note 12.


Let it be noted that Novatian was a native of Phrygia and naturally had many followers in that province.


V. 21.

Next: Damasus ordained Bishop of Rome. Sedition and Loss of Life caused by the Rivalry of Ursinus.