It is hard to determine whether it was in the first century that these apostolical men planted the Christian religion at Milan, and the diocese there-unto belonging; or whether it were done in the second century; forasmuch as Milan was a considerable city in those primitive times, and we find that the Church es of Lyons and Vienna were already famous in the second age, by reason of their martyrs, apostolic men having first of all preached in the capital cities, that the Gospel from thence, as the head spring, might diffuse itself throughout the whole diocese, and so facilitate the propagation thereof.
I do not think any man can precisely define the time of their preaching, those first disciples having been much more careful to preach the Gospel, than to write the history of it.
Concerning the state of the Christian religion in the diocese of Italy, until the end of the fourth century. [It will be recognized by the reader that the church in Italy was in more or less a state of apostasy even in the second century, but nonetheless, several ancient customs still remained as follows]
Neither did they, without doubt, own any other tradition, besides that of St. Irenaeus, that nothing ought to be laid down for certain truth, but what Jesus Christ hath taught, or the Apostles written, and left to the apostolical Churches as a sacred depositum.
They had Deacons, who expounded also the Gospel, who distributed the Eucharist, who carried it to those that were absent, who baptized, and who sometimes, in less considerable places, had the oversight of Churches. They were ordinarily those that visited the sick and prisoners, and that took care of the temporal concerns of the Church.
The Diaconesses, who were of apostolical institution, and received the imposition of hands, and who, together with the virgins and widows, made, as it were, a part of the Clergy, were employed to instruct the women in their houses, to visit the prisoners, and to prepare and dispose those of their own sex for the reception of Baptism.
In the fourth century images began to be introduced into some churches, viz. The pictures of martyrs: but they knew nothing yet of painting the Deity, or of giving the images any religious worship.
In the fourth century they consecrated churches but to God alone, they read only in the churches the canonical Scriptures, with the respect due unto the word of God; to which they afterwards joined some hymns composed by some men of great renown.
They celebrated fasts that were very different as to their duration. Some of these fasts were kept every week, on Wednesday and Friday; the church of Rome fasted also on Saturday. These days of fasting having not been instituted by the authority of the Apostles, according to the general consent of ancient Christians, and every one using them with great liberty.
The body of Christian Churches continued united together by the bond of one and the same faith, and by the mutual care which every Bishop took to keep up the same zeal for the purity of manners, as for that of faith. If there happened any difference, the Bishops and the Priest of the same province assembled, and determined the matter, without any appeal: and it was not till the midst of the fourth century, when the dioceses were better formed, that the Council of Sardica granted to Pope Julius, Bishop of Rome, the privilege of examining afresh all causes that had been determined in the provincial synods; which however never took full effect, all the Greeks, and a great part of the Latins having rejected that Canon. The Bishops of Rome endeavored to attribute and preserve to themselves this authority, though they could never bring it about, but by means of the favor of the Emperors Gratian at the end of the fourth age, and of Valentinian the Thire in the midst of the fifth age.
This was the general state of the Church, whilst under the heathen persecutions, and after having endured the furies of Arianism, which almost wholly laid her waste, during the fourth century.
The opinions amongst the ancient Christians upon many questions of divinity being very different, they made use of great forbearance one with another, as long as they did but agree in matters of faith.
Every diocese was looked upon as being independent of all other authority: so that what respect soever they might have for apostolical Churches, [churches founded by one of the apostles] yet did not they think themselves obliged to follow them, in case they were persuaded that they had violated the purity of the faith.
[In the early part of the ninth century a great reformer arose in Turin by the name of Claudius, who was made bishop of Turin. He wrote voluminous commentaries on various parts of the Bible. He is referred to by Ellen White. She said, “The first question which arises in my mind as we enter one after another of these large cities, is, Would not this be a good place to present the truth? But here, [Turin] as in Milan, we are told that the people are nearly all Catholics. The time was, however, when this was not the case. It was here in the ninth century that Claudius contended so valiantly for the doctrines of the Christian Church. The mantle of Ambrose, archbishop of Milan, descended upon him, and, grasping the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, he waged a battle which did much to delay, although it could not prevent, the final overthrow of his church. The influence of his pen was felt where his voice could not be heard, and was a mighty instrumentality in preserving, even in the Waldensian valleys, then a part of his diocese, the first principles of the Christian religion.” Review and Herald, June 1, 1886.]
[Claudius Bishop of Turin] overthrows the doctrine of merits, pronounces anathema’s against traditions in matter of religion: maintains, that faith alone saves us, holds the church to be subject to error, denies, that prayers after death may be of any use to those that have demanded them; broke down images throughout his diocese, and [wrote a defense] against the adoration if images, the worship of saints, pilgrimages, the worship of relics, with other such like superstitions.
God commands us to bear our cross, and not to worship it.
He only is apostolic, who is the keeper and guardian of the Apostle’s doctrine, and not he who boasts himself to be seated in the chair of the Apostle, and in the mean time doth not acquit himself of the charge of the Apostle; for the Lord saith, that the Scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses chair.
Ellen White writes, “Our visit to the Waldensian Valleys was one of special interest on account of the close connection which this locality has with the history of the people of God in past ages. It was in the friendly shelter of the surrounding rocky peaks that they found protection when the fierce persecutions of the Roman church drove them from the fertile plains of Northern Italy. In these plains they had succeeded in maintaining their independence of Rome many years after others had yielded to her power.
Indeed, up to the eleventh century, the diocese of Milan is said to have greatly exceeded in extent that of Rome. But the very fact that her authority was disregarded on what might be called her own territory, was very humiliating to a power to whom all the world was then bowing down; and, after repeated unsuccessful attempts to induce the bishops of Milan to yield their independence, they were finally forced to submit.
“The submission, however, was by no means universal. Many refused to yield their rights, and fled, some to one country, some to another, while many retired to the Piedmontese Alps. ‘Behind this rampart of mountains, Which Providence, foreseeing the approach of evil days, would seem to have reared on purpose, did this remnant of the early apostolic church of Italy kindle their lamp, and here did that lamp continue to burn all through the long night which descended upon Christendom.’ ” Historical Sketches, 239.
Excerpts from Some Remarks upon the Ecclesiastical History of the Ancient Church of Piedmont, (The Waldenses) by Peter Allix (1821) (First edition published in 1690.)