The Life of Pope Sylvester  

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He made a regulation for the whole church. Likewise in his time was held a council with his approval in Nicea in Bithynia, and there were gathered together 318 catholic bishops, and 208 others unable to attend sent their signatures.

And they set forth in full1 the holy, catholic and unspotted faith and condemned Arrius and Fotinus and Sabellius and their disciples.

And after consultation with Augustus he assembled 277 bishops in the city of Rome2 and he condemned a second time Calistus and Arrius and Fotinus and Sabellius; and he decreed that an Arian priest who became convinced of his error should not be received except by the bishop of his particular locality; and that the chrism should be consecrated only by the bishops; and he established the privilege of the bishops, that they should anoint those who had been baptised3 to avert the propagation of heresy4.

He furthermore decreed that a priest might anoint with the chrism one who had been baptised and taken from the water, in case of the approach of death.

He decreed that no layman should presume to bring a charge against one of the clergy5.

He decreed that deacons should wear dalmatics6 in church and napkins of mixed wool and linen7 over their left arms.

He decreed that aa no member of the clergy should enter a court for any cause whatever or plead his case before a civil8 judge, unless it were in a church.

He decreed that the sacrifice of the altar should be performed not upon a cloth of hair nor one that was colored, but only upon linen9 sprung from the earth, even as the body of our Lord Jesus Christ was buried in pure linen cloth; thus mass should be celebrated.

He decreed that anyone who wished to advance or make progress in the church must be a reader 30 years10, an exorcist 30 days11, an acolyte 5 years, a subdeacon 5 years, a custodian of the martyrs 5 years12, a deacon 7 years, a priest 3 years; that he must be approved on every hand, even by them who are without, and must have good witness borne to him, the husband of one wife13, who had herself received the blessing of the priest, and that thus he might attain to the rank of bishop; that he must not enter upon a greater or superior office, but accept modestly the order of rank by years, and he must have the goodwill and favor of all the clergy with no one anywhere in the clergy or among the faithful opposed to him. He held 6 ordinations [orders] of priests and deacons in the month of December, 42 priests, 27 deacons at different times in the city of Rome, 65 bishops in divers places.

1. This is, of course, the great Council of Nicea. The idea that Photinus and Sabellius, as well as Arius, were condemned by the council originated with the authors of the popular, unhistorical lives of Sylvester, who were concerned to make their hero crush as many errors as possible.
2. On this Council of Rome see Introduction, p. ix. The records of the council and of the canons promulgated by it and by Sylvester at this time are fabrications of the age of Symmachus, intended to provide sanction for episcopal claims and to exalt the episcopal office in general. They are the oldest set of apocryphal canons in existence dealing with matters of church discipline. Duchesne, op. cit., p. cxxxiv.
3. I.e. administer the sacrament of confirmation.
4. A free translation of an enigmatical clause, "propter hereticam suasionem."
5. On its face an impossible decree. The councils of this and later periods issued stipulations as to the methods to be employed in bringing suit against members of the higher clergy.
6. The dalmatic worn by a Roman deacon as well as by a bishop at this time, a long, flowing tunic with wide sleeves, is pictured in many church frescoes and mosaics. It was, as the name indicates, originally an Oriental garment, introduced into Rome during the second century and worn in public first apparently by the emperor Commodus. It was distinguished by a purple stripe, which ran over each shoulder and down to the bottom of the skirt on both sides and sometimes around the edge of the sleeve. Pope Symmachus (498-519) granted to St. Caesarius of Arles the privilege of clothing his deacons in dalmatics like those worn by the deacons at Rome. Lowrie, op. cit., pp. 394-396.
7. The towel or napkin carried by the deacon for use in his part of the service became in course of time the maniple. Lowrie, op. cit., pp. 410-413.
8. The word translated civil is "cinctum," i.e. clad in official robes. This spurious decree represents an effort to oblige the clergy to bring their suits to the episcopal courts. There is no parallel to it in authentic records. Duchesne, op. cit., p. 190, n. 23
9. Mosaics of the sixth and seventh centuries in the churches of San Vitale and San Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna show the early table altar set with chalice and bread and covered with a white linen cloth.
10. Some manuscripts give, "first a doorkeeper, then a reader," etc. There is much variation in the figures throughout the passage. An authentic decree of Pope Zosimus in 418 states what was undoubtedly the accepted system. A man who had been dedicated to the church from infancy must remain a reader until his twentieth year. If an adult desired to enter the clergy, he must serve as reader and exorcist for five years. Thereafter he must be acolyte and subdcacon four years and deacon five years. From the priesthood he might be elevated to the bishopric if his life were holy and he had been married but once, not to a widow, and had never been a penitent. Duchesne, op. cit., p. 191, n. 25; Mansi, Amplissima Collectio, vol. IV, p. 347; Jaffè, Regesta, vol. I, p.50, 339. Cf. supra, p. 35 and n.1.
11. Two manuscripts read, "afterward an exorcist for the time required by the pontiff;" two others, "afterward an exorcist for the time which the bishop may appoint." Mommsen, Lib. Pont., p. 51, notes.
12. It seems probable that the care of the tombs of the martyrs in the vicinity of Rome was entrusted to subdeacons at the opening of the sixth century. Gregory of Tours often speaks of the "martyrarii" who performed a similar duty in the church of Gaul. Duchesne, ibid., n. 25.
13. Early in the fourth century both popes and councils took the position that no man could be ordained who had been married more than once or had espoused a widow. Duchesne, ibid., n. 26.




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