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What, therefore, the Nicene Canon did, was to set forth, by written enactment, an ancient, unwritten privilege, which had been interfered with and infringed upon, The Canon is in no sense creative; it is simply declarative. Its very wording shows that the privilege or right recognized and secured by it, was of ancient date and long standing. No new order of things is introduced ; one long in existence is reëstablished and protected.
We pass to an earlier period, and turn to the Church of Africa. And by Africa, we must remind our readers, we do not mean the Continent, nor yet Proconsular Africa, but that strip of country bordering the Mediterranean Sea, and stretching,to use modern names from the Atlantic Ocean and the Straits of Gibraltar on the West, to the neighborhood of the Gulf of Sidra on the East. It comprised the three ancient civil Provinces of Proconsular Africa, Numidia, and Mauretania. This is the sense in which the word is generally used by the early Christian writers.
Seventy-five years before the Nicene Council, Cyprian, the great early theologian of the West, was Bishop of Carthage, the chief city of this region. Writing to Cornelius, Bishop of Rome, he uses this very striking language ;t “our Province is more widely spread out, for it has Numidia and Mauretania attached to it.” Besides, he assembled a Synod at Carthage, A. D., 256, the acts of which begin with words that precisely accord with and explain the letter to Cornelius ; setting forth, that on a given day, “many Bishops assembled from the Province of Africa, Numidia and Mauretania.”Here, then, in the middle of the third century, is, plainly enough, a Province and a chief Bishop over it.
But, indeed, Cyprian's position, as a Metropolitan, comes out, naturally and indisputably, in his correspondence. He writes precisely as one occupying such a position would write, and as no other one could ; affording thus the most satisfactory evidence that could possibly be given. It is difficult to present this evidence, on account of its abundance, the way in which it enters into the very texture of his Epistles, and the incidental, and therefore all the more striking, manner in which —we are not sure whether the phrase is slang or scientific—it all along crops out.
* Münter, Primordia Eccl. Afr., C. I.
7 Epistle xlv. Beveridge, as above; compare Baluzius' Note on Cyprian's xlvth Epistle.
A very considerable part of his correspondence is with African Bishops, who appear to have gone to him with all sorts of applications. One writes to ask his advice about a Presbyter, who, he thinks, had been restored too hastily ; and also to know how soon afier birth infants should be baptized. Another asks whether a stage-player is to be allowed to communicate, so long as he continues his profession. Another lays before him the case of a recalcitrant Deacon. Others consult him about the baptism of heretics. And he replies, as a matter of course, just as a diocesan Bishop would, to letters of his own Clergy, not writing as if he were answering an application made on any personal ground, but treating it as a thing in the ordinary routine of duty and official business. It is all perfectly inexplicable on any other supposition than that of an official position, which occasioned such applications, and warranted such replies. It is all explained—can anything else explain it ?—by that little sentence in his letter to Cornelius, “our Province (Africa] has Numidia and Mauretania attached to it."
But Cyprian's testimony carries us back to a period much earlier than his own. We learn from his letter to Jubianus, that many years before his time, [multi jam anni sint et longa ætas] Agrippinus, a “man of holy memory,” had held a Council of African Bishops on the subject of heretical baptism.“ He alludes to this Council in two other epistles, † in one of which occurs this
passage : "Which thing Agrippinus, also, a man of holy memory, with his other co-bishops who then governed the Church of God in the Province of Africa and Numidia, settled and determined, after careful deliberation, and with common consent.”
The exact date of this Council is unknown, nor is it of special importance. It is admitted that Agrippinus was a contemporary of Tertullian, so that we are carried back to the close of the second, or beginning of the third century; and find, to use the words of Münter, that,
* Ep. lxxiii.
7 Ep. Ixx, lxxi.
“Proconsular Africa and Numidia, in the time of Agrippinus, constituted one Province, under the Bishop of Carthage, the sole Primate of all Africa.”*
Let it be also observed, in passing, that the omission of all notice of Mauretania, in Cyprian's mention of the “Province of Africa and Numidia," is significant. The African Church began-probably early in the second century-in Proconsular Africa, and its course was westward. The omission of Mauretania would, therefore, indicate that, in the time of Agrippinus, the easternmost Province had not yet been reached, and thus confirm the idea of the comparatively early date of his Synod.
And now we must leave the West, and turn to far distant portions of Christendom.
Towards the close of the second century, the Paschal controversy, which, about forty years earlier, the good sense and Christian moderation of Polycarp and Anicetus had prevented from breaking bounds, was revived, with acrimony and violence. Councils in relation to it were held, not only at Rome, but also in Gaul, Greece, and the East. With the question itself we are, here, nowise concerned. But we propose to follow out the line of Councils, and see what help they give us in the matter in hand.
For the general statement, we may take the words of Euse
“Wherefore, there were Synods and Convocations of Bishops on this question. . . There is extant, even now, an Epistle of those who assembled in Palestine, over whom Theophilus, Bishop of the Diocese of Cæsarea presided, and Narcissus, Bishop of Jerusalem. There is, also, another Epistle of those in Rome, bearing the name of Victor, the Bishop; one also of the Bishops in Pontus, over whom Palmas, as the most ancient, presided; another of the Dioceses in Gaul, over which Irenæus presided; another, of those in Osrhoëne, and the cities there; and, in particular, one of Bacchylus, Bishop of the Church of the Corinthians, as, also, of many others.”
• Primordia, fc. p. 44. Compare also pp. 26 and 154. + Tertullian confirins his statement, De Jejuniis, c. xiii.
He elsewhere adds, that the Bishop of Asia, “over whom Polycrates presided,” held a Council, and that Polycrates addressed an Epistle to Victor, Bishop of Rome. Seven Councils then will come under review. *
In the notice of the Council in Palestine, two Bishops are. named, Theophilus, of Cæsarea, and Narcissus, of Jerusalem.. At the first blush, this strikes one strangely, and, if anything;. seems to make against the Provincial principle. For, why should two be named ? Let us turn to the seventh Nicene : Canon :
“Since a custom and ancient tradition has provided, that the Bishop of Ælia (Jerusalem) should be honored, let him have the second place of honor saving to the Metropolis (Cæsarea) the authority due to it."
What an exact agreement there is here. How completely do the Canon and the account of the Council fit with and explain each other. How clearly it appears that, in forming the Canon, the Nicene Fathers confirmed an arrangement more than a century old, and, therefore, well named by them an "ancient tradition.” Authority belonged, of old, to Cæsarea ; honorary precedence—such as London has in the Province of Canterbury,t—had, of old, been given to Jerusalem. Theophilus presided in the Council ; honorary mention is made of: Narcissus. It is the very state of things on which the Nicene Fathers rest their action, and by which they justify it. I
Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. Lib. v. cc. xxiii. xxiv. We have translated mapotkia by the word Diocese. On this point there is no dispute among those for whom wo write. But see Suicer on the word, and Bingham, Antiquities, Book ix. c. ii., Sec. 1. It is curious to find the Romish author of the Life of Irenæus, in the Benedic- . tine Edition, (p. lxxxiii.] making common cause with the advocates of Parity, and' insisting that hapotkia does not mean a Diocese. He seems to feel, instinctively, that any Metropolitical character allowed to Irenæus is in the way of the claims of the Papacy; as instinctively, indeed, as those with whom, for the moment, he sides do, that a Diocesan Episcopacy is in the way of their theory. We may add, for reference, Pearson Vindiciæ Ignatianæ, c. xiii. + See Hammond's Note on the Canon.
It may be noticed—though the point need not be over-pressed—that the word presided, in Eusebius, is in the singular, agreeing with Theophilus; as we have endeavored to show in our translation. The “more worthy" position of Theophiluswould bring this under a well-known rule of Syntax. VOL. XVII.
As to the Council in Rome, the way in which Victor is mentioned, is explained by the Metropolitical position, recognized at Nice, as belonging, of old, to his See. Bishop Beveridge points out how the same consideration explains the fact, “that before Victor, and for a considerable time afterwards, no other Bishops of Italy than those of Rome are mentioned, though, doubtless, there were many others.” Much the same line of remark would apply to the Provinces of Alexandria and Antioch.
In the case of Pontus, a rule different from that which obtained in other cases, and, therefore, specially noticed, seems to have prevailed. Palmas presided there, as the most ancient. The meaning of this phrase is doubtful. Palmas may have been the oldest in years, or in consecration; or the antiquity of his See may be indicated. He was Bishop of Amastris, which was not a Metropolis. His position, however, was, clearly, one of authority and rule.
Next in order come the Dioceses of Gaul, under Irenæus, Bishop of Lyons. The testimony of Eusebius must, here, be taken chronologically. The first notice which appears is in connection with the persecution in Gaul, under M. Aurelius, [A. D., 177,] when Lyons and Vienne are spoken of as “Metropoles.”+ In the account quoted above, of the Council, mention is made of the Dioceses in Gaul over which Irenæus presided. We said, in a note, a few words as to the translation of rapoikia by Diocese ; but it may be well to add here, that Eusebius himself interprets the word—as in many other places
-so especially when he says that Irenæus “received the Episcopate of the raporría, the Diocese, of Lyons," I after Pothinus. And, lastly, Eusebius, in his account of the troubles between Polycrates, of Ephesus, and Victor, of Rome, states that Irenæus wrote a letter to Victor “ in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided."'S Let us put the statements together. Irenæus is Bishop of Lyons, a Metropolis, presides over the Dioceses of Gaul, signs a conciliar act, and writes an Epistle in the name of his brethren-namely, in all probability, Bishops—to the Bishop of Rome. If this is not the “Provincial System,” what is it?
* Eusebius, Lib. IV. c. xxiii.
+ Euseb. Lib. V. c. i.