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authority in respect to the church at large, but such as was common to all.
The churches of the several cities were in like manner equal in right and authority, and wholly independent of each other, and neither they nor the presbyters had any legislative power either over themselves or others.
Before however the close of the second century, strifes for distinction and power arose among the presbyters, each one claiming a peculiar right to his own congregation, or those whom he introduced into the church, and endeavoring to retain them under his control independently of the other presbyters and congregations. And to remedy this evil, it was decreed through the church generally, by the councils doubtless which began to be held at that period, that one chosen by the presbyters of their own number and invested with the requisite powers, should be placed over the others, and denominated their bishop. The new Office, however, thus instituted, instead of a check to ambition, was a contrivance to gratify it, by creating a power and dignity greatly surpassing any to which mere presbyters could before aspire ; and accordingly inflamed in a proportional degree in both orders the desire of conspicuity, honor, wealth, and influence, and soon gave rise to intrigues, rivalries, and contests, that were fatal to the peace of the church and the empire, and has continued to generate them through every subsequent age.
That such was the origin of the order, is asserted or implied by several of the most distinguished writers who flourished soon after the nationalization of the church. Thus Jerome : “A presbyter therefore is the same as a bishop, and before by the instigation of the devil religious parties were formed, and it was said among the people, I am of Paul, I of Apollos, and I of Cephas, the churches were governed by the common council of the presbyters. But afterwards when every one regarded those whom he baptized as his own, not Christ's, it was decreed through the whole world, that one chosen from the presbyters should be placed over the others, that he might be charged with the whole care of the church, and the occasions of schism removed. Does any think it is merely our opinion, not the representation of the Scriptures, that bishop and presbyter are one, the one being the title of age, and the other of office. Let him read the words of Paul to the Philippians : Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons, grace to you and peace. Philippi is a city of Macedonia, and there surely cannot have been in one city many bishops of the kind now denoted by that title. But as at that time bishops were the same as those who were called presbyters, he denominated them indifferently bishops and presbyters. If this still seem doubtful to any one, let it be confirmed by another proof. It is written in the Acts of the apostles, that when Paul had reached Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and called the presbyters of the church of that city, to whom on their arrival among other things he said, Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit placed you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood. Here notice carefully, that those whom he calls presbyters of the single city Ephesus, he afterwards denominates bishops.”
“These things we have quoted that we might show that among the ancients presbyters and bishops were the same, but that gradually, in order that the germs of dissensions might be extirpated, the whole care was devolved on one. As therefore the presbyters know that it is by the custom of the church that they are subjected to him who is placed over them, so the bishops should know that it is rather by custom than a veritable divine appointment, that they are superior to presbyters, and ought to govern the church in common."
* Idem est ergo presbyter, qui episcopus, et antequam Diaboli instinctu studia in religione fierent, et diceretur in populis: Ego sum Pauli, ego Apollo, ego autem Cephe, communi presbyterorum consilio ecclesiæ gubernabantur. Postquam vero unusquisque eos quos baptizaverat, suos putabat esse, non Christi, in toto orbe decretum est, ut unus de presbyteris electus superponeretur cæteris, ad quem omnis ecclesiæ cura pertineret, et schismatum semina tollerentur. Putat aliquis non scripturarum sed nostram esse sententiam, episcopum et presbyterum unum esse, et aliud ætatis, aliud esse nomen officii, relegat Apostoli ad Phillippenses verba dicentis : Paulus et Timotheus servi Jesu Christi, omnibus sanctis in Christo Jesu, qui sunt Phillippis cum episcopis et diaconis, gratia vobis et pax et reliqua. Phillippi una est urbs Macedoniæ, et certe in una civitate plures, ut nuncupantur, episcopi esse non poterant. Sed quia eosdem episcopos illo tempore quos et presbyteros appellabant, propterea indifferentur de episcopis quasi de presbyteris est locutus. Adhuc hoc al. icui videatur ambiguum, nisi altero testimonio comprobetur. In Actibus apostolorum scriptum est, quod cum venisset apostolus Miletum, emiserit Ephesum et vocaverit presbyteros ecclesiæ ejusdem, quibus postea inter cætera sit locutus : Attendite vobis, et omni gregi, in quo vos Spiritus Sanctus posuit episcopos, pascere ecclesiam Domini, quam acquisivit per sanguinem suum. Et hic diligentius observate, quomodo unius civitatis Ephesi presbyteros vocans, postea eosdem episcopos dixerit.-Hæc propterea ut ostenderemus apud veteres eosdem fuisse presbyteros quos et episcopos ; paulatim vero ut dissensionum plantaria evellerentur, ad unum omnem 80licitudinem esse delatam. Sicut ergo presbyteri sciunt se ex ecclesiæ consuetudine ei qui sibi præpositus fuerit esse subjectos, ita episcopi noverint so magis consuetudine quam dispositionis dominicæ veritate presbyteris esse majores, et in commune debere ecclesiam regere.-Comment. in Epist. ad Titum cap. I.
Other passages might be added from Jerome, Chrysostom, and Theodoret, indicating the identity of the primitive bishops and presbyters, and asserting or implying that the institution of diocesans was the work of a later age.
The order thus had its origin as the symbol indicates, in a disposition of the ministers of the church to make their office the instrument of ambition, and appropriate the flock of Christ to themselves. Instead however of restraining, it gratified and inflamed in a tenfold degree the passions it was designed to check, and led soon not only to the usurpation of powers that belong properly to presbyters, but to the assumption of the prerogatives of God. Thus in place of acting as the representatives and agents of the presbyters, which was originally their office, they soon arrogated an absolute jurisdiction over them, and assumed the sole right of ruling and of ordaining to sacred offices.
But by far the most momentous of their usurpations, was their assumption of power to legislate over the church, and thence over the will and rights of God. This usurpation was involved in their arrogation of authority to define or determine what the doctrines are of the Scriptures, to institute rites of worship, and to enforce their legislative acts as obligatory on the church. They therein treated the rights and laws of God as subject to their will
, as wholly without validity when not in accordance with their enactments, and as indebted therefore for whatever authority they possessed, to their concurrence and sanction. No arrogation could indeed be more unauthorized and impious. The proper sphere of human rulers is the relations of men to one another, not their relations to God. When they extend their laws over their relations to him, they in fact legislate over his rights and him, as truly as over their fellow men. But no assumption can be more solecistical than that a subject has the right to legislate over the laws of his legitimate and supreme ruler, and enlarge, diminish, modify, contradict or rescind them as he may think proper. It is to assume not only that he is equal, but superior to his lawgiver. Yet such was their arrogation. Otherwise their dictation could have been nothing but advice or the expression of opinion, and could have had no influence on the duty of the church to regard God as the only religious lawgiver, and receive his will as of itself and alone supremely obligatory. They accordingly imposed their definitions and canons on the church, as of absolute authority. “Let all who dare to disannul the decree of the great and hóly synod assembled at Nicæa in the presence of the emperor Constantine respecting the feast of the passover, be debarred from communion and excommunicated from the church !" They treated a dissent from them as of the same guilt, as the rejection or violation of the known will of God. “The violators of the canons are severely sentenced by the pious fathers, and condemned by the Holy Spirit by whose inspiration and gift they were dictated; for they who not of necessity but spontaneously transgress or impeach them, or concur with their violators, are not improperly regarded as blaspheming the Holy Spirit.""*' “ Like the four vol- . umes of the holy gospel, I receive and venerate the four councils, the Nicene in which the dogma of Arius was overthrown, the Constantinopolitan in which the error of Eunomius and Macedonius was censured, the first Ephesian in which the impiety of Nestorius was condemned, and that of Chalcedon which denounced the depravity of Eutyches." "I receive the six holy general councils and their godlike dogmas and doctrines as delivered to us by divine inspiration." They denied or abrogated all the great moral laws which he has imposed, and important doctrines of his word, substituted other doctrines and laws in their place, and introduced innumerable other beings, real or imaginary, and material forms as objects of worship. The second council of Nicæa sanctioned the invocation of saints and the worship of images.
Thus Tarasius the patriarch of Constantinople whose creed was approved by the synod. “I invoke the intercessions of the most holy and spotless queen mother of God, and ever virgin Mary, of the holy angels also, and most holy apostles, prophets, martyrs, confessors and teachers, and salute their venerable images." Theodore of Jerusalem also : “We receive
Synodi Antioch. Can. I. Labbei Concil. tom. ii. p. 1307. ? Violatores voluntarii canonum graviter a sanctis patribus judicantur et a Spiritu Sancto cujus instinctu ac dono dictati sunt, damnantur; quoniam blasphemaro Spiritum Sanctum non incongrue videntur qui contra eosdem sanctos canones, non necessitate compulsi, ut præfixum est, aliquid aut proterve agunt, aut loqui præsumunt, aut facere volentibus sponti consentiunt.—Labbei Con. tom. iii. p. 423. Gra. tiani Decret., Causa xxv. C. v.
• Sicut sancti evangelii quatuor libros, sic quatuor concilia suscipere et venerare me fateor, Nicænum scilicet in quo perversum Arii dogma destruitur ; Constantino. politanum quoque in quo Eunomii et Macedonii error convincitur ; Ephesinum etiam primum in quo Nestorii impietas judicatur ; Chalcedonense vero in quo Eutychis ot Dioscorique pravitas reprobatur.—Gratiani Decret. Dist. xv. c. 2.
* Labbei Concil. tom. xii. p. 1124. The creed also of Theodore patriarch of Jerusalem which, like the profession of Tarasius from which the preceding extract is ta. ken, was ratified by the synod. “The six holy general councils which were assembled through the Holy Spirit in opposition to every heresy of whatever place or time, we also receive and confirm, in proclaiming which the churches of the orthodox throughout the world are established in their accurate and inspired dogmas, receiving what they received, and rejecting what they rejected.”-p. 1138, 1139.
Labbei Concil. tom. xii. p. 1123.
and embrace the apostolical traditions of the church by which we are taught to salute, honor and worship the saints, venerating them as the servants, friends and children of God.” So likewise the fourth Lateran council and the council of Trent. “The holy synod commands all bishops and others sustaining the office of teachers, that according to the usage of the Catholic and apostolic church from the earliest ages of the Christian religion, the consent of the holy fathers and decrees of sacred councils, they instruct the faithful in respect to the intercession and invocation of the saints, the honor of relics, and the legitimate use of images; teaching them that the saints reigning with Christ offer their prayers for men to God; that it is proper and useful suppliantly to invoke them, and to have recourse to their
for aid, in order to the benefits which are to be obtained from God through his son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is our only Redeemer and Saviour; and that they entertain an impious sentiment who deny that they are to be invoked, or assert that they do not pray for men, or that to ask their prayers for us as individuals is idolatry, or contrary to the word of God, adverse to the honor of Jesus Christ the only mediator between God and men, or foolish. Also that the sacred bodies of the holy martyrs and others living with Christ, which were his living members and the temple of the Holy Spirit, and are to be raised by him to eternal life and glory, are to be venerated by the faithful, many benefits being thereby procured from God : and that they are altogether to be condemned who affirm that homage and honor are not due to their relics, that no benefit arises from honoring them or other sacred monuments, or that it is vain to celebrate their memory in order to obtain their aid ; as the church has heretofore condemned and now denounces them again. That images moreover of Christ, of the virgin mother of God, and of other saints, are to be kept and continued in temples especially, and due honor and homage paid to them; not that it should be believed there is any divinity or virtue in them for which they should be worshipped, or that any thing is to be sought from them, or that trust is to be placed in them, as was formerly done by the pagans who put their hope in idols; but because the honor shown them is referred to the prototypes which they represent, so that we adore Christ through the images which we kiss and before which we uncover the head and kneel, and pay homage to the saints whose similitude they bear.” They denied that the Scriptures are the only legitimate rule of faith and worship, exalted the canons of councils, the opin* Labbei Concil. tom. xii. p. 1143. · Concil. Trident, Sess. XXV.