(Novatianus) OF ROME, the first antipope, and one of the most noted characters in the Church of the 3d century, and the founder of a sect called after him, SEE NOVATIANS, was, according to Philostorgius — whose statement, however, has not been generally received with. confidence — a native of Phrygia. From the accounts given of his baptism, which his enemies alleged was irregularly administered, in consequence of his having been prevented by sickness from. receiving imposition of hands, it would appear that in early life he was a Gentile; and probably previous to his conversion to Christianity he was devoted to Stoic philosophy, though it does pot appear that this supposition is supported by the testimony of any ancient writer. There can be no doubt that after his conversion he at once devoted himself zealously to the support of the Christian cause, and became a presbyter of the Church at Rome; that as an officer in the Church he insisted upon the rigorous and perpetual exclusion of the Lapsi, the weak brethren who had fallen away from the faith under the terrors of persecution; and that when made aware that Cornelius, a man held in the highest estimation among the Romish presbyters, and also some others, were widely at variance with him on this subject, he headed the most strenuous opposition to the election of this same Cornelius as successor to the departed Fabian in the bishopric of Rome; and that when Cornelius was, notwithstanding his veto, elevated to the pontificate, June, A.D. 251, about sixteen months after. the martyrdom of Fabian, he (i.e. Novatian) disowned the authority of the new pontiff, was himself consecrated bishop by a rival party, was condemned by the council held in the autumn of the. same year; and, after a vain struggle to maintain his position, was obliged to give way, and became the founder of the Novatian sect (see the following article). We are told by the High Church — principle advocates of Rome and England that — Novatian was a man of unsociable, treacherous, and wolf-like disposition; that his ordination was performed by three illiterate prelates in an obscure corner of Italy, whom he gained to his purpose by a most disreputable artifice; that these poor men quickly perceived, confessed, and lamented their error; and that those persons who had at first espoused his cause soon returned to their duty, leaving the schismatic almost entirely alone. We must observe that these adverse representations proceed from his bitter enemy Cornelius, being contained in a long letter from that pope to Fabius of Antioch, preserved in Eusebius; that they bear evident marks of personal rancor; and that they are contradicted by the circumstance that Novatian was commissioned in 250 by the Roman clergy to write a letter in their name to Cyprian, which is still extant; by the respect and popularity which he unquestionably enjoyed after the assumption of the episcopal dignity, even by those who did not recognize his authority; and by the fact that a numerous and devoted band of followers espousing his cause formed a separate communion, which spread over the whole Christian world, and flourished for more than two hundred years. Cornelius indeed inveighs against him with much bitterness in the Epistle to Fabius (preserved in part by Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 1. vi, c. 43, p. 244 etc.), but still he does not impeach the life or moral conduct of Novatian. Indeed, Novatian was not only not accused of any criminal act, but was commended, even by those who viewed him as warring against the interests of the Church, as by Cyprian, Jerome, and others, on account of his eloquence, his learning, and his philosophy. See Cyprian, Epist. lii and 57. Nearly all the charges which Cornelius brings against him, great as they may seem to be, relate to the intentions of the mind, which are known only to God; and some of the charges reflect more disgrace on Cornelius himself than on Novatian. The latter has been accused of ambition; for it is said that he stirred up this great controversy merely because Cornelius received most votes for the vacant bishopric, which he himself coveted. This is an old charge, and-it has acquired so much strength and authority by age that all the moderns repeat it with entire confidence; and they tell us that Cornelius and, Novatian were competitors for the episcopate, and that the latter, failing of an election, disturbed the Church in his lust for office. "But," says Mosheim, "I have no hesitatioin in pronouncing this a false accusation; and I think there is no good proof that Novatian acted in bad faith, or that he made religion a cloak for his desire of distinction. His enemy, Cornelius, does indeed say this (in his Epist. ap. Eusebius, Hist. Eccles.lvi, c. 43, p. 244). But the very words in which he is here accused carry with them his acquittal; for Cornelius clearly shows that he concealed his ambition, which long remained unknown (p. 514). But Cornelius supplies us with still stronger testimony to the innocence of his adversary; for he acknowledges that when they were deliberating at Rome respecting the choice of a bishop, and Novatian declared that he wished some other person than Cornelius might be chosen, he affirmed, with a tremendous oath, that he himself did not wish for the office. Now whoever neither does nor attempts anything that could awaken a suspicion of his being ambitious, and moreover declares on oath that he has no desire for the episcopate, cannot possibly be a competitor for the episcopal office. But some may say, The villain perjured himself; and although he made a great show of modesty, yet he opposed the election of Cornelius in order to secure the appointment to himself. To this many things might be said in reply. I will mention only one. Novatian was not a man to whom a suspicion of perjury can be attached; he was a man whom even his enemies pronounced upright, inflexible, and rigorous, and whom no one ever charged with impiety towards God, or with being of a perverse and irreligious disposition. What, then, could Cornelius have designed by writing to Fabius, and probably to others, that Novatian had long secretly burned with desire for the episcopal office? I answer to confirm a conjecture, and that a very dubious and intangible one. He reasoned in this manner: Novatian, on being expelled from the Church, allowed himself to be created bishop by his adherents; therefore he had long coveted the office of a bishop, although he pretended to the contrary. How fallacious and unworthy of a bishop such reasoning is I need not here show. There would indeed be a little plausibility in it, though very slight, if Novatian, immediately after the election of Cornelius, had wished his friends to create him also a bishop; a thing entirely within his power to effect. But he postponed all movements for erecting a new Church, and patiently awaited the decision of the approaching council. But after he had been condemned and excluded from the Church, together with his adherents, he thought there could be no sin in his taking the oversight of his own company. The invidious representations of this affair by Cornelius cannot at this day be refuted, owing to the want of documents; yet, as they come from an enemy, they are not to be received implicitly by those who would judge equitably" (Hist. of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, 2:60 sq.). From the account Cornelius gives of Novatian, the latter appears to have been of a melancholy temperament, and consequently gloomy, austere, and fond of retirement. Those who forsook him and came back to the Romish Church said they found in the man what Cornelius calls (ap. Eusebium, p. 242) τὴν ἀκοινωνησίαν καὶ λυκοφιλίαν; which Valerius translates, "abhorrentem ab omni societate feritatem, et lupinam quamdanm awicitiam." He therefore shunned society, and was wolfish towards even his friends; i.e. he was harsh, austere, and ungracious in his intercourse (p. 515). That these things were objected to him with truth is reasonable; for manners like these are entirely accordant with his principles. He was led to embrace Christianity by a deep melancholy into which he had fallen, and from which he hoped to be recovered by the Christians. At least so appears what Cornelius has stated (nor will any who are familiar with the opinions and phraseology of the ancient Christians understand Cornelius differently): Α᾿φορμὴ τοῦ πιστεῦσαι γέγονεν ὁ Σατανᾶς, φοιτήσας εἰς ἀυτὸν καὶ οἰκήσας ἐν ἀυτῶ χρόνον ἱκανόν ("Caussam atque initium credendi ipsi Satanas in ipsum ingressus atque in ipso aliquamdiu commoratus"). This, in our style and mode of speaking, would be: "A deep and settled melancholy had fastened on his mind; and the Christians who knew him said that an evil spirit had got possession of him, and that if he would profess Christ the evil spirit would go out of him; so, from a hope of recovering his health, he professed Christianity." Perhaps his melancholy was attended with convulsions. This may strike some as a hasty and unwarrantable construction of the statement; but it is not credible that Novatian himself, being a Stoic philosopher, would refer his malady to an evil spirit. This notion was instilled into him by the Christians; who, undoubtedly, were desirous of bringing a man of such correct morals to become a Christian; and they gradually made him a convert to their faith. Impatient of his malady, Novatian yielded to their exhortations. By the regulations of the ancient Church, he could not, however, be baptized so long as he appeared to be under the power of an evil spirit. Exorcists were therefore sent to him, to expel the foul daemon by their prayers. But they failed of success; and Novatian, at length being seized with a threatening disease while under their operations, was baptized in his bed, when apparently about to die. On recovering from the attack, he seems to have hesitated whether he should in health confirm what he had done in his sickness, and thus persevere in the Christian religion; for, as Cornelius invidiously says of him, he could not be persuaded to submit to the other rites prescribed by the Church, and be confirmed by the bishop, or be signed, as the term used expresses it. For.this pertinacity and disregard of the Christian regulations, unquestionably the only assignable cause must have been that his mind was fluctuating between the philosophy he had before followed and the Christian religion which he had embraced from a hope of recovering his health. Nor can we wonder at this dubitation; for the Christians had assured him of the restoration of his health by the exorcists who had failed in the undertaking. Nevertheless the bishop, Fabius perhaps, a while after, made him a presbyter in his' Church, contrary to the wishes of the whole body of priests and of a large part of the Church. (See Cornelius, ap. Eusebius, 1. c. p. 245.) It was altogether irregular and contrary to ecclesiastical rules to admit a man to the priestly office who had been baptized in bed;' that is, who had been merely sprinkled, and had not (p. 516) been wholly immersed in water in the ancient method. For by many, and especially by the Roman Christians, the baptism of clinics (so they called those who, lest they should die out of the Church, were baptized on a sick-bed) was accounted less perfect, and indeed less valid, and not sufficient for the attainment of salvation. This also was even more strange and unheard of, that a man should be admitted among the teachers and leaders of the Christian people who disregarded the laws of the Church, and pertinaciously rejected the authority and confirmation of the bishop. The belief of that age was that the Holy Spirit was imparted by the confirmation or signing of the bishop; so that all those lacked the Holy Spirit whose baptism had not been approved and ratified by the bishop, by prayers, imposition of hands, and other rites. Ample proof of this is given by Cornelius, who expressly states that Novatian was destitute of the Holy Spirit because he neglected the signing of the bishop. The Roman bishop, therefore, committed a great fault by conferring the honored office of a presbyter on a man who resisted the laws of the Church, and whom he knew to be destitute of the Holy Spirit, unless he did so, as it really appears, to save Novatian from the errors of Stoicism, to which, if neglected by the Church, he was sure to revert. (Comp. Cornelius's [ap. Eusebius, p. 245] statement that Novatian was raised to the rank of a presbyter immediately after receiving baptism: Πιστεύσας κατηξειώθη τοῦ πρεσβυτερίου κατὰ χάριν τοῦ ἐπισκόπον [which is not badly translated by Valesius: "Post susceptum baptismum" — properly, "as soon as he had believed" — "presbyteri gradum fuerat consecutus, idque per gratiam episcopi"], very possibly said to be by the favor of the bishop; for it was an irregular elevation certainly, as Novatian had not yet been made deacon.) The truth, then, it would seem, is rather that Novatian was hurriedly put into places of responsibility, in order to save him from apostasy; and, once in the Church, he contended zealously for her purity; and that in his endeavor to save the Church from irregularities he opposed Cornelius, and was thus driven on against his natural inclination "to contend for what he conceived to be the purity of the Church." Cleared from the imputations of Cornelius and his friends, Novatian rises up before us like some old prophet, solemnly denouncing the hideous corruptions of the Church, yet unable with his small band to make head against that ecclesiastical tyranny which had planted its throne in Italy. "The Catholic Church," he says, "transmitted by the succession of bishops, ceases to be truly catholic as soon as it becomes stained and desecrated through the fellowship of unworthy men." One feels that it is not going too far to affirm that whatever of heavenly vitality there was in the Church in those days was among the "schismatic" Novatianists. Rome's policy was to confound the distinction between the visible and the invisible Church, and so to rule without Christ, and without the Spirit, and without the Gospel. Novatian and his brave few, taught out of the book of God and not by man's traditions, protested against such confusion, and maintained the cause; of the living against the dead. They were suppressed. The attempt to reform failed. The Spirit was quenched; and Rome quietly reseated itself in its old paganism under a Christian nomenclature, having at length succeeded in throwing off as uncongenial the last relics, if not of apostolic faith, at least of apostolic life.
The career of Novatian after the termination of his struggle with Cornelius is unknown; but we are told by Socrates (Hist. Eccles. 4:28) that he suffered death under Valerian; and from Pacianus, who flourished in the middle of the 4th century, we learn that the Novatians boasted that their founder was a martyr. Novatian's distinguishing tenet was the absolute rejection of the efficacy of repentance, and he therefore denied that forgiveness could be granted to any sin. whether small or great; and upon this ground communion was refused to offenders. Socrates (Hist. Eccles. 4:28) represents that Novatian would not admit that the Church had power to forgive and grant participation in her mysteries to great offenders, but that at the same time he exhorted them to repentance, and referred their case directly to the decision of God — views which were likely to be extremely obnoxious to the orthodox priesthood. and might very readily be exaggerated and perverted by the intolerance of his own followers, who, full of spiritual pride, arrogated to themselves the title of KaSapoi, or Puritans — an epithet caught up and echoed in scorn by their antagonists. It is necessary to remark that the individual who first proclaimed such doctrine was not Novatian himself, but an African presbyter under Cyprian named Novatus, who took a most active share in the disorders which followed the elevation of Cornelius. SEE NOVATUS.
The following is the account of Novatian given by the late Mr. Robinson in his Eccles. Res. p. 126. "He was," he says, "an elder in the Church of Rome; a man of extensive learning, holding the same doctrine as the Church did, and published several treatises in defense of what he believed. His address was eloquent and insinuating, and his morals irreproachable. He saw with extreme pain the intolerable depravity of the Church. Christians within the space of- a very few years were caressed by'one emperor and persecuted by another. In seasons of prosperity many persons rushed into the Church for base. purposes. In times of adversity they denied the faith, and reverted again to idolatry. When the squall was over, they came again to the Church, with all their vices, to deprave others by their example. The bishops, fond of proselytes, encouraged all this, and transferred the attention of Christians to vain shows at Easter, and other Jewish ceremonies, adulterated too with paganism. On the death of bishop Fabian, Cornelius, a brother elder, and a violent partisan for taking in the multitude, was just in nomination. Novatian opposed him; but as Cornelius carried his election, and he saw no prospect of reformation, but, on the contrary, a tide of immorality pouring into the Church, he withdrew, and a great many with him. Cornelius, irritated by Cyprian, who was just in the same condition, through the remonstrance of virtuous men at Carthage, and who was exasperated beyond measure with one of his own elders, named Novatus, who had quit Carthage and gone to Rome to espouse the cause of Novatian, called a council, and got a sentence of excommunication passed against Novatian. In the end Novatian formed a Church, and was elected bishop. Great numbers followed his example, and all over the empire Puritan churches were constituted, and flourished through the succeeding two hundred years. Afterwards, when penal laws obliged them to lurk in corners and worship God in private, they were distinguished by a variety of names, and a succession of them. continued till the Reformation." SEE WALDENSES and SEE MENNONITES. The same author, afterwards adverting to the vile calumnies with which the Catholic writers have in all ages delighted to asperse the character of. Novatian, thus proceeds to vindicate him: "They say Novatian was the first and-pope, and yet there was at.that time no pope in the modern sense of the word. They charge Novatian with being the parent of an innumerable multitude of congregations of Puritans all over the empire, and yet he had no other influence over any than what his good example gave him. People everywhere saw the same cause of complaint, and groaned for relief; and when one man made a stand for virtue, the crisis had arrived; people saw the propriety of the cure, and applied the same means to their own relief. They blame this man and all the churches for the severity of their discipline, yet this severe discipline was the only coercion of the primitive churches, and it was the exercise of this that rendered civil coercion unnecessary." Jerome informs us that Novatian composed treatises De Pascha; De Circumcisione; De Sacerdot; De Sabbato; De Oratione; De Cibis Judaicis; De Instantatia; De Attalo; and many others, together with a large volume, De Trinitate, exhibiting in compressed form the opinions of Tertullian on this mystery. Of all these, the following only are now known to exist:
1. De Trinitate s. De Regula Fidei, ascribed by some to Tertullian, by others to Cyprian, and inserted in many editions of their works. That it cannot belong to Tertullian is sufficiently proved by the style and by the mention made of the Sabellians, who did not exist in his time; while Jerome expressly declares that the volume De Trinitate was not the production of Cyprian, but of Noyatian. The piece, however, does not altogether answer his description, since it cannot be regarded as a mere transcript of the opinions of Tertullian, but is an independent exposition of the orthodox doctrine, very distinctly embodied in .pure language and animated style: —
2. De Cibis Judaicis, written at the request of the Roman laity at a period when the author had apparently withdrawn from the fury of the Decian persecution (A.D. 249-257), probably towards the close of A.D. 250. If composed under these circumstances, as maintained by Jackson, it refutes in a most satisfactory manner the charges brought by Cornelius in reference to the conduct of Novatian at this epoch. The author denies that the Mosaic ordinances with regard to meats are binding upon Christians, but strongly recommends moderation and strict abstinence from flesh offered to idols: — 3. Epistolae, two letters, of which the first is certainly genuine, written A.D. 250, in the name of the Roman clergy to Cyprian, when a vacancy occurred in the papal see in consequence of the martyrdom of Fabian on Feb. 13, A.D. 250. The best editions of the collected works of Novatian are those of Welchman (Oxon. 1724, 8vo) and of Jackson (Lond. 1728, 8vo). The latter is in every respect superior, presenting us with an excellent text, very useful prolegomena, notes, and indices. The tracts De Trinitate and De Cibis Judaicis will be found in almost all editions of Tertullian, from the. Parisian impression of 1545 downwards. The work recently discovered in. one of the monasteries of Mount Athos, and published by Mr. Miller at Oxford in 1851, under the title of Origenis Philosophumena, is by some ascribed to Novatian. See Jerome, De Viris III. 10; Philostorgius, Hist. Eccles. 8:15; Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 4:43; Pacian, Ep. 3; Ambrosius, De Pan. 3:3; Cyprian, Epist. 44, 45, 49, 50, 55, 68; Socrates, Hist. Eccles. 4:28; 5:22, and notes of Valesius; Sozomen, Hist. Eccles. 6:24; Lardner, Credibility of Gospel History, cxlvii; Schbnemann, Bibliotheca Patrum Lat. vol. i, § 5; Bahr, Geschichte der Rom. Literatur, suppl. pt. ii,§ 23,24. With regard to Novatus, see Cyprian, Ep. 52; Pluquet, Diet. des heirsies; Fantin Desodoards, Dict. raisosne du gouvernement, des lois, et des usages de l'Eglise, 4:537; Perennes, Diet. de Biographie Chretienne et anti-Chretienne; Alletz, Hist. des Papes, 1:41; Fleury, Hist. Eccles. 2:219; Leclerc, Biblioth. univ. et histor. ann. 1689, p. 274; Langlet Dufresnoy, Tablettes chronologiques, 2:321; Migne, Nouv. Encycl. Theologique, 3:120. See also the literature appended to the article SEE NOVATIANS.