THE ORIGIN OF THE BAPTISTS
By S. H. Ford
We have seen that the Paulicians were Baptists; that they arose in an early period of the Christian Church; and that their opposition to the dominant party, whose aim was to blend Jewish elements and rites with the doctrines and ordinances of the gospel; and we find that Sylvanius learned the truth which he afterward propagated with such earnestness and success, from a Syrian who was returning from captivity among the Saracens. This was in the year six hundred and fifty-seven.
We have, therefore, clearly traced these Baptists to Syria and Armenia. We have paused on those heights and looked out on the sleeping earth, with here and there a company of pilgrims anxiously inquiring, What of the night? We have seen Baptists at every step of our journey. and now we ask, Where did these Baptists of Syria and Armenia come from?
Now, it is a fact, that about the very time that Sylvanius received the copy of the Scriptures from the returning Syrian, Pope Gregory the First issued Papal mandates condemning and urging the persecution of certain heretics, whom he called "Montenses and other Anabaptists." He describes them as the advocates of a spiritual church, composed of regenerated persons only, and as rebaptizers of those whom they received from others societies. (Gregorii, I Papea, Lib, iii: "De herese Donatistarum pullutanta. Multos insuper quibus regenerationis qua prabuerat rebaptizonte."). They are spoken of as a multitude, and as the descendants of the Donatists.
At the same period another class of dissenters were found in Armenia, and also in Phrygia, who, like those called Donatists, were denounced as heretics and Anabaptists, because they contended for a pure church. They were known as Novatians. Not that either of these classes of Dissenters, among whom there was a complete agreement, were the followers of the men whose names had been given to them as a term of reproach, not even that they held the same principles or adopted the practices advocated by Novatian or Donatus; but the sweeping censures and anathemas of the Greek and Roman Catholics confounded all Dissenters under one head, designating them by whatever epithet was the most odious at the time. The Montenses, or Mountaineers, were made up of those two classes of Dissenters, Novatians and Donatists. Among them also mingled what were called by the Greeks Melchedecians. "They had neither beginning nor end," said a Greek father; "neither head nor tail." (Epiphanii Heris, 70. Neque principium, neque finis; neque caput, neque radix).
The Eucharites (prayers) and Messalians, names given to the very same people by different writers, were found in the mountains of Armenia during the seventh century, whither they had sought refuge from their merciless persecutors.
Socrates Scholasticus, in his church history, written in the early part of this century, says:
"The Phrygians are a nation far more temperate and modest than others; for at this day they use no running a tilt; no such warlike exercises; neither do they use to pastime themselves with spectacles and stage- plays. Wherefore these kind of men, in mine own opinion, draw nearest to the drift and disposition of Novatian's letters. It is well know that the Phrygian way of life is more modest, more chaste and contented, than any other heretical sect whatever. I conjecture that they aimed at the same modest (humble) way of life which inhabited the West parts, (Europe,) and leaned toward Novatians's opinion, who varied from the Church of Rome by reason of a severe way of living." ( Socrates Scholasticus, Eccl. His., lib, iv, chap. 23. I quote from an old translation in my possession, printed in London, 1584).
Here, then, is a key to the character of the Asiatic Montenses, furnished by a contemporary historian. It shows that these were not exactly Novatians, but resembled them; and that, in piety and discipline, they carried out the principal advocated in the Novatian's letters. What were those principles? We answer, such as now characterize the Baptist Churches. Of this we shall have occasion to speak again. But let it be noted here, as an incontrovertible historic fact, that in regard to the doctrines of grace, of Christ's deity, vicarious atonement, and intercession; of spiritual regeneration, and the resurrection of the body, and eternal rewards and punishments, the orthodoxy of the Novatians was never questioned. The independency and purity of the churches, and the rebaptism of all who came from the other organizations, was their "heresy." And it was from a people resembling them, and carrying out their principles and practices, scattered through Syria, Phrygia, and Armenia, that the Paulicians descended. According to the Catholic historian, they were chaste, modest, with a severe or rigorous discipline, suffering the loss of all things for the truths they cherished. They were Baptists. The Minuteness, made up of Novatians and Donatists, and called Eucharites, Messalians, Melchedecians, Anabaptists, were the true churches of Jesus Christ, which have witnessed in every age against corruption, innovation, Jewish rites, and clerical rule.
We will ascend a step farther in the world's history, we will turn over another page in the records of the struggles of Christ's soldiery, and, marking the mountains of Phrygia and Armenia as points in our path where we have found Baptists, we will investigate where these scattered Montenses came from.