Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

place of GOD, and the Presbyters in the place of the Apostolical senate, and the Deacons most dear to me, as those to whom is committed the ministry of JESUS CHRIST." And in many other places, he exhorts the people to respect them as the ministers of JESUS CHRIST. Tertullian also, in the same age, Cyprian and others in the third century, Jerome and others in the fourth, with several provincial and general councils, considered them in the same light. The care of the poor was but a part of their office; they attended at the altar, delivered the cup to the communicants, presented their offerings to the Bishop, and by his authority alone, without the concurrence of Presbyters, were ordained to read in the Church, to preach, and to baptize, when no Priest was present. All this I learn from the primitive writers.

Further, you say 'It appears from the declaration of several fathers, besides Jerome,' (Jerome is entirely out of the question) 'that some change in the powers and prerogatives of Bishops did actually take place within the first three centuries; and that several things were appropriated to Bishops in the third and fourth centuries, which those writers assert were not appropri· ated to them in the apostolic age.'

It does not appear from a single writer of the first three centuries, that any change took place in the powers and prerogatives of Bishops. They unanimously represent the Bishop as presiding over a plurality of Presbyters and congregations; as the fountain of ecclesiastical authority; as the supreme dispenser of the sacraments; as the principle of unity to all the clergy and laity within his district; as holding the rod of apostolical discipline; as succeeding in the Church to the Apostolical supremacy; as, in short, the vicegerent of CHRIST, to whom all were subject in spiritual matters; and this superiority of power and furisdiction they founded on divine authority. This is the language of the writers of the first three centuries; and stronger language in favour of diocesan episcopacy we do not desire, we cannot possibly have.

Under this head you have a long note, relating to Hilary's saying, "In Egypt, even at this day, the Presbyters ordain (consignant) in the Bishop's absence." On this passage you have two remarks. The first is, that several eminent Episcopal divines, and, among others, Bishop Forbes, have understood Hilary as I do, to be speaking here of ordination.' Let this be exactly as you say, to what does it amount? Just this much-they thought so. But I might oppose to them full as eminent Episcopal divines. And what would the conclusion be? Precisely nothing. But it is of some consequence to us that your own great writers, Blondel and Salmasius, as quoted by Dr. Hammond, do not pretend to determine whether 'consignant' is applicable to confirmation, to ordination, or to the benediction of penitents. Nay, Salmasius thinks, as Bishop Taylor also does, that' consignant' in Hilary should be interpreted by

VOL. I.-7

"In Alexandria,

'consecrant' in St. Austin, as this father says, et per totum Egyptum, si desit Episcopus, consecrat Presbyter." "In Alexandria, and through all Egypt, if the Bishop be absent, a Presbyter consecrates," that is, the eucharist. This is much more probable: at any rate, you can derive no support from it.

Your second remark on this passage is, that :' whatever religious rite it is that Hilary refers to, it is something which the Bishops, in his day, generally claimed as their prerogative; but which had not been always appropriated to them; and which, even in his time, in the Bishop's absence, the Presbyters considered themselves as empowered to perform. This is sufficient for my purpose.'

This is curious reasoning! In the Bishop's absence, the Presbyter might consecrate the Eucharist; therefore, the Bishop was not superior to the Presbyter. In this diocese, when the Bishop is absent, the oldest Presbyter present consecrates the Eucharist; therefore, a Bishop and Presbyter are considered by us as of the same order. Charity is certainly a very good thing; but I cannot carry it so far as to destroy common sense. I cannot be persuaded that you are serious when you talk at this rate.

Nay, Sir, were I even to allow that 'consignant' means ordination, it would be of no manner of service to you. For as Ambrose says, (if this be the meaning of the word)" that Presbyters ordain at Alexandria in the absence of the Bishop," and mentions this as an instance in proof of his assertion, that the order of the Church was not in his day as in the time of St. Paul, it follows, that ordination by Presbyters at Alexandria, when the Bishop was absent, was a novelty, and contrary to apostolic practice; and therefore, a most wretched support to Presbyterian ordination. This observation, which, in my judgment, is per fectly conclusive, was made in my second letter; but you have thought proper not to bring it into view again.

The conclusion of your summary is as follows: 'It appears, from all that has been said, that the writings of the fathers, instead of speaking 'decisively,' and 'unanimously' in favour of prelacy, as some of our high-toned Episcopalian brethren assert, do not produce a single testimony, within the prescribed limits, which gives the least countenance to the prelatical claim.'

I have proved, with a profusion of evidence from the writers of the third century, that they decisively and unanimously place the Bishop at "the top of the priesthood"-that he was the supreme dispenser of the sacraments-that he had a distinct ordination when placed over the Presbyters-that he was the fountain of authority to both Presbyters and Deacons; and that the Bishops, as colleagues, formed a distinct college. These points you have not so much as attempted to disprove; and I defy you, by every effort you can make, to invalidate a single evidence I have produced. I have also shown, that several of your ablest writers acknowledge, that Bishops, as a distinct order,

were evidently established in the Church as early as the middle of the second century, and that some of them carry it up to the very verge of the apostolic age. I have also shown, from several writers of the second century, that diocesan episcopacy was the government of the Church, and that the Bishops held a supremacy over all orders. And, lastly, I have shown that Ignatius, who spent almost the whole of his life in the first century, makes the Bishop the supreme governor of the Church, the fountain of ecclesiastical authority, the vicegerent of CHRIST, the principle of unity, and the person to whom the SAVIOUR would, in an especial manner, look for soundness in doctrine, and strictness in discipline. And, lastly, I have shown that this holy martyr declares this kind of government, and not parity, to have been universally diffused, and to have been of apostolic and divine institution.

And now the inquiry is brought fairly and fully to a conclusion; and I think I may, with great confidence, sum up the whole, as I did in my ninth letter, in the words of Bishop Hoadly "We have as universal, and as unanimous a testimony of all writers and historians, from the Apostles' days, as could reasonably be expected or desired. Every one who speaks of the government of the Church in any place, witnessing that episcopacy was the settled form; and every one who hath occasion to speak of the original of it, tracing it up to the Apostles' days, and fixing it upon their decree; and what is very remarkable, no one contradicting this, either of the friends or enemies of Christianity, either of the orthodox or heretical, through those ages, in which only such assertions concerning this matter of fact could well be disproved. From which testimonies I cannot but think it highly reasonable to infer, that episcopacy was of apostolical institution."

We have now, Sir, brought the inquiry, as to the fathers, to a close; and I am persuaded that no impartial mind can resist their united testimony. Let us next inquire what is the weight of this evidence in favour of diocesan episcopacy. With this I shalĮ begin my next letter.

LETTER VIII.

REV. SIR:

WE are now to inquire, of what weight the testimony of the fathers is, in this dispute. I assert, that it is of immense weight. For if we have brought prelacy up to the apostolic age, at which time, too, one of the Apostles, St. John, was still living, can we suppose that this universal prevalence of episcopacy could have had any other source than apostolic authority? Had

the Apostles founded the Church in parity, could all have conspired to destroy this constitution, in a few years, while too they had St. John to keep them right? Could men of the greatest piety, many of whom had been conversant with the Apostles, concur in a scheme of this kind? Sir, it is absolutely incredible; not only incredible that they would have been guilty of such wickedness, but that they could have effected a change. The universality of parity would have been an insuperable bar to a rapid change; for rapid it must have been, to a degree exceeding all belief, if diocesan episcopacy prevailed in the time of Ignatius. That was a time of great purity, great piety, great sufferings, and great gifts and graces of the HOLY SPIRIT. These things put the idea of a change entirely out of the question, and make the supposition too preposterous to deserve a serious discussion.

But suppose the Scriptures be doubtful on this point, what will the weight of the fathers be then? I answer, absolutely decisive; their testimony removes the doubt at once; for they, and they only are the persons to whom we can appeal. Take the case of the change of the Sabbath. It is, to say the least, very doubtful, if we consult Scripture alone, whether the Apostles altered the day. What then can remove the doubt? Nothing but the testimony and practice of the primitive Church? Why then is this evidence to be admitted in the one case, and not in the other? I can assign no reason; perhaps you can.

What now would an impartial man say? Certainly, that the fathers could not be in an error with respect to the regimen under which they lived, and which they saw descending to them from their forefathers, for no more than a generation or two back. An impartial man would say they who interpret the Scriptures in opposition to this universally attested fact, must be wrong, unless we suppose that, with regard to facts, men who live one thousand seven hundred years after the facts, are better judges than those who lived near the time in which they took place. If this be true, then the further from the fact the clearer the evidence.

But as this assertion would be a great absurdity, we ought to conclude, that the testimony of the fathers to the apostolic origin of episcopacy, and the practice of the whole Church from the age of the Apostles, is the best commentary we can possibly have on those passages of Scripture, which are in dispute between the contending parties. This is not like the testimony of a single father, or of a few fathers, to a point of doctrine, in which they may err. The whole Church, as to a matter of fact of this nature, could not err. In what other case would such testimony be rejected? In none, I will venture to assert, that could ever come under debate. It is on this testimony, and on this alone, that we rely for the canon of Scripture. In the very nature of the case we can have no other; yet by a singular talent for confounding distinct things, you have involved this point in a degree of obscurity. Let us examine what you have said.

In your third letter of the Continuation, you represent me as saying, that'the Scriptures, taken alone, are not a sufficient guide; that we cannot stir a step in the controversy, to any purpose, without the aid of the fathers; and even that we cannot establish the genuineness and authenticity of the Scriptures themselves without the writings of the fathers.' You then observe 'I can only say that I consider it as a declaration unworthy of his character as a divine, and as a Christian. Has Dr. B. no evidence that the Scriptures are from God but what the fathers say? Then he is exceedingly to be pitied; for his hope rests upon a most precarious foundation.' In this last sentiment, Sir, I perfectly agree with you. I am really to be pitied, if you have represented the matter correctly.

First, you represent me as asserting, that we cannot determine the present controversy by Scripture alone, and that we cannot stir a step without the fathers. Now, Sir, there is not such an assertion in my whole publication. On the contrary, I have maintained, and do now maintain, that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to prove the apostolic institution of episcopacy. But as we cannot agree in our interpretation of Scripture, I say, the best way of deciding the dispute, is, to appeal to the testimony and practice of the three ages succeeding the apostolic age. If these ages bear_testimony to parity, then I am willing to give up the cause. But if they bear testimony to imparity, are you willing to do the same? You are not. Indeed, effect you tell us so. Now, this amounts to saying, I am right, and you are wrong, and there is an end of the matter.

Who then puts this debate on the fairest footing? We take every testimony that we can find for three hundred years, in order to throw light on the origin of episcopacy. And when we have given you voluminous evidence in favour of our interpretation of Scripture, you virtually declare, We care nothing about your evidence. If men were to act in this manner with respect to any other matter of fact, you would condemn them as readily as we do. Where there is any doubt, you would say, with respect to a fact, let us avail ourselves of all the light we can possibly get to determine the point. And if this be not reasonable, it is beyond my comprehension what is. If I could possibly think as you seem to do on this point; that is, pay no regard to the history of the Church in the second, third, and subsequent ages, I should be very apt to go a step further, and say, with Lord Orford, "away with history; it is nothing but a pack of lies."

It is now evident that you have misrepresented me with respect to the fathers. When I said that we we could not stir a step without them,' it was not in respect to episcopacy, but to the genuineness and authenticity of the sacred Scriptures. This I have said, and this I now say, pity me who will.

The Doctor misrepresents me much too often.

See

my ninth Letter, p. 234 et seq. [Vol. 1. p. 113-116.]

**

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »