Chapter VIII.—The Heterodoxy of Novatus.
“For with good reason do we feel hatred toward Novatian, 2198 who has sundered the Church and drawn some of the brethren into impiety and blasphemy, and has introduced impious teaching concerning God, and has calumniated our most compassionate Lord Jesus Christ as unmerciful. And besides all this he rejects the p. 297 holy baptism, 2199 and overturns the faith and confession which precede it, 2200 and entirely banishes from them the Holy Ghost, if indeed there was any hope that he would remain or return to them.” 2201
The majority of the mss. have Νοουατιανῷ, a few Ναυατιανῷ. This is the only place in which the name Novatian occurs in Eusebius History, and here it is used not by Eusebius himself but by Dionysius. Eusebius, in referring to the same man, always calls him Novatus (see above, Bk. VI. chap. 43, note 1). Upon Novatian and his schism, see the same note.297:2199
λουτρόν. That Novatian re-baptized all those who came over to him from the Church is stated by Cyprian in his epistle to Jubaianus, §2 (No. 72, al. 73). His principle was similar to that which later actuated the Donatists, namely, that baptism is valid only when performed by priests of true and approved Christian character. Denying, then, that those who defiled themselves and did despite to God s holy Church by communing with the lapsed were true Christians, he could not do otherwise than reject their baptism as quite invalid.297:2200
It was the custom from a very early period to cause the candidate for baptism to go through a certain course of training of greater or less length, and to require him to assent to a formulated statement of belief before the administration of the sacred rite. Thus we learn from the Didache that even as early as the very beginning of the second century the custom of pre-baptismal training was already in vogue, and we know that by the third century the system of catechetical instruction was a highly developed thing, extending commonly over two to three years. Candidates for baptism were then known as catechumens. So far as a baptismal creed or confession of faith is concerned, Caspari (see his great work, Studien zur Gesch. des Taufsymbols) has shown that such a creed was in use in the Roman church before the middle of the second century, and that it formed the basis of what we know as the Apostles Creed, which in the form in which we have it is a later development.
Inasmuch as Novatian, so far as we can learn, was perfectly orthodox on matters of faith, he would not have cared to make any alteration in such a creed as the present Apostles Creed. Exactly what Dionysius means in the present case is not certain. It is possible that he is simply speaking in general terms, assuming that if Novatian does not accept the Church baptism, he must overturn and pervert with it the instruction which had preceded; or it may be that he is thinking of that form of confession to which the candidate was required to give his assent, according to Cyprian, Ep. 69 (al. 70): credis in vitam æternam et remissionem peccatorum per sanctam ecclesiam? “Dost thou believe in eternal life and remission of sins through the holy Church?” The latter is the view of Valesius, who is followed by all others that have discussed the passage so far as I am aware. Of course Novatian could not put the last clause of this question to his converts, and hence Dionysius may have been thinking of this omission in using the words he does. At the same time I confess myself unable to agree with others in interpreting him thus. In the first place, it is, to say the least, very doubtful whether the question quoted above from Cyprian formed an article in the baptismal confession of the Church in general. It does not appear in the Apostles Creed, and can therefore hardly have formed a part of the earlier Roman formula which underlay that. And so far as I am aware there are no traces of the use of such an article in the church of Alexandria. In the second place, Dionysius language seems to me too general to admit of such a particular application. Had he been thinking of one especial article of the confession, as omitted or altered by Novatian, he would, in my opinion, have given some indication of it. I am, therefore, inclined to take his words in the most general sense, suggested as possible just above.297:2201
These last clauses are, according to Valesius, fraught with difficulty. He interprets the αὐτῶν (“entirely banished from them”) as referring to the lapsi, and interpreted thus I find the passage not simply difficult, as he does, but incomprehensible. But I confess myself again unable to accept his interpretation. To me the αὐτῶν seems not to refer to the lapsi, to whom there has been no direct reference in this fragment quoted by Eusebius, but rather to Novatians converts, to whom reference is made in the previous sentence, and who are evidently in the mind of the writer in referring to Novatians baptism in the first clause of the present sentence. It seems to me that Dionysius means simply to say that in rejecting the baptism of the Church, and the “faith and confession which precede it,” Novatian necessarily drove away from his converts the Holy Spirit, who works in and through right confession and true baptism. The meaning of the words “if, indeed, there was any hope,” &c., thus becomes very clear; Dionysius does not believe, of course, that the Holy Spirit would remain with those who should leave the Church to go with Novatian, but even if he should remain, he would be driven entirely away from them when they blasphemed him and denied his work, by rejecting the true baptism and submitting to another baptism without the Church.