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In the case of the Council held in Osrhoëne, no Bishop is mentioned, and we have, therefore, no testimony or date to consider.
The letter of Bacchylus, of Corinth, is mentioned in a way which involves some doubt. The word which we have translated “ in particular,” is idiws; and it certainly may be used to indicate something which distinguished the letter of the Corinthian Bishop. So Jerome understood it, when he wrote, “ Bacchylus, Bishop of Corinth . . . . wrote a wonderful book concerning the Paschal Feast, in the name of all the Bishops who were in Achaia.”*
On the other hand, Eusebius may, possibly, mean to say, that the letter was private, and not Synodical in character.† This interpretation is not, however, very probable or natural : while the mention of Bacchylus, in a previous chapter, as Bishop of Corinth in Hellas, indicates something specific and prominent in the position of Corinth. It should be observed that Hellas and Achaia might here be used interchangeably, and that Corinth was the Metropolis of Achaia.
The Asian Council remains to be considered. The narrative informs us that I Victor, of Rome, had written to Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, requesting him to convene the Bishops of Proconsular Asia-for that is what Asia here means—that Polpcrates did call them together, presided over them, and wrote, in behalf of the great number who assembled, an Epistle in his own name. Why should all this be ? Can any simpler, or, indeed, any other answer be given, than that Ephesus was the Metropolis of the Ecclesiastical Province of Asia, as it was, also, of the civil Province of Proconsular Asia, and that Polycrates was, whatever he may have l een called, the Metropolitan? Can the narrative mean anything else? And is it not childish to be clamoring for names, so long as we find things ?
A contemporary passage of Tertullian throws light on the evidence of these Councils, and is itself, in turn, enlightened by them :
• Jerome de Vir. Ilustr. C. xliv.
Euseb. Lib. V c. xxiv.
“Come now," he says, “you that wish to turn this restlessness to profit, in the search after salvation ; run over the Apostolic churches, in which the very Chairs of the Apostles still preside in their places, in which their authentic letters are recited, uttering the voice and imaging the person of each one of them. Is Achaia nearest to you ? You have Corinth. If you are not far from Macedonia, you have Philippi, you have Thessalonica. If you can reach Asia, you have Ephesus. If you join Italy, you have Rome.
Here is, identically, the same arrangement as that which appears in the accounts of the Councils, save only, that in those Macedonia is not spoken of. But in Achaia, Asia, and Italy, Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome, respectively, “preside” as Apostolic Sees. The history of Eusebius and the passage from Tertullian, precisely fit with each other; and they fit as precisely with the “ Provincial System.” Do they fit with anything else ?
A few years earlier than the time of these Councils, about A. D., 170, Dionysius was Bishop of Corinth ; of whom Eusebiust says:
“ In an Epistle to the Church at Gortyna, and to the other Churches in Crete, he commends their Bishop, Philip. ... He also wrote to the Church at Amastris, together with those in Pontus. . . . . He al. so adds some expositions of the sacred writings, in which he intimates that Palmas was then Bishop.”
Now it is well known that Gortyna was, later on, the Metropolis of Crete, I and the hypothesis that it now occupied the same position, under whatever name, explains the way in which it is mentioned here. We must also call our readers' attention to the confirmation of the account of the Council in Pontus, and of the position of Palmas, which the latter portions of the extract afford.
* De Præscript. Hæret. c. xxxvi.
+ Hist. Eccl. Lib. IV. c: xxiii. Although it is foreign to our immediate topic, we cannot refrain from adding a few words of another, as to the value of the History of Eusebius. “Never was a work of its kind more abundant, in proportion to its size, in extracts and documents. He has handed down an account of the labors of writers, of whose very names we should otherwise have been ignorant. In a word, he established the only Christian history upon the most satisfactory foundation; and set an example of diligence and accuracy, which have never been surpassed, and rarely equaled by his successors." Dowling, Study of Eccl. Hist. p. 16.
#Bingham's Antiquities, Book IX. c. iv. Sec. 11.
A still more venerable witness will carry us back to the very beginnings of the second century, and, indeed, connect us with Apostolic times. In his Epistle to the Romans, Ignatius, of Antioch, calls himself “ Bishop of Syria.” And later on, asking from all Churches their prayers, he speaks of the Church in Syria as having no Bishop on earth after his death. Bishop Pearson's comment says all that is needed here
“Since Antioch was the head and Metropolis of Syria, and he was Bishop of Antioch, he not improperly calls himself Bishop of Syria. For, though the name, Metropolitan, was not yet employed, nevertheless, the Bishop of the Metropolis had some rights over the Churches in other cities, which, by Roman law, was subject to the Metropolis."
And now, to bind all this testimony together, and to give it cohesion and consistency, we have the Apostolic Canon :
“The Bishops of every nation ought to own him who is chief among them, and esteem him as their head, and do nothing extraordinary without his consent, but every one only those things which concern his own See, and the country subject to it. But neither let him (the chief] do anything without the consent of all.”+
The only question as to the translation and meaning of the Canon— apoikia has been spoken of before-grows out of the word nation, in the original Edvovs; a word which cannot, here, signify gentiles, or heathen, or anything of the sort. We may obtain some help in arriving at its meaning from St. Luke's account of the Miracle at Pentecost.”I
“And there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation (Tavroc łóvovs ] under heaven. ... Parthians ,and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians."
The word is used also in the same way in the Martyrdom of Ignatius, where the “Scythians, Dacians, and many other nations [80vn]”S are mentioned.
Now this gives an insight into the Apostolic and sub-A postolic use of the word kövn, when it did not signify the Gentiles,
* Jacobson, Patres Apostolici, Vol. II. pp. 350, 369. | The Canon is variously numbered, xxvii, xxxiii, xxxv. | Acts, 11. 5, 9, 10, 11. & Sec. II.
and was not applied to the Jews. It indicates a people occupying a comparatively small space. It did not include even those who spoke one language. For the Medes and Elamites or Persians spoke the same language, only in different dialects.
It is worthy of note, also, that while there may be some difficulty in placing the Parthians and Medes, yet every other nation and place mentioned by St. Luke, and in the Martyrdom, became one Ecclesiastical Province. * The customary translation, therefore, in the Canon of xüvn by Province, is not, probably wide of the mark. Anyhow, the Canon recognizes the
Provincial System,” and harmonizes exactly with the historical notices which have been brought under consideration.
A word—and our limits forbid more-must be added as to the date of the Apostolic Canons. The general opinion of our own scholars is, we believe, that of Beveridge, that they are all a compilation of laws made, not at one time, or one place, but by various Councils of the second and third centuries; and that they represent the law and practice of the Church for at least a century and a half before the Nicene Council.t
And now, shall we—not pretending to have exhausted it, sum up our evidence ? If we consider it in its relations to time, it runs back from the Nicene Synod, step by step, to at least the second decade of the first century after the Apostles. If we consider it in its relations to the extent of Christendom, it comes from all parts and portions of the Church ; wherever the Church is, it is. If we consider its character, how variously it comes out in historical statements, in Synodical Letters and decisions, in official correspondence, in hints and observations, all of which fit, joint, articulate themselves together, all agreeing in, all adjusting themselves with, all explicable by, and therefore, all witnessing to the “Provincial System.”
Nor is it difficult to see how this System grew naturally and necessarily, on the one hand, out of the growth, the relations, and the circumstances of the Church, just as the Parochial System did, out of different relations and circumstances, on the other hand; having, by the way, no more to do with Popery, than the other had with Congregationalism. When the Apostles, “ beginning at Jerusalem,” went forth to spread the Church and propagåte the Faith, they found the Roman Empire divided into Provinces, in the chief cities of which they first planted the Cross. To see this, we only need to study the records of Missionary effort and journeying, in the Book of Acts; while the very superscriptions of St. Paul's Epistles, when they are carefully considered, help us to understand it.* Then, as from these centres, the Church spead out, as, in its entireness it had done from Jerusalem, and other Sees grew up around the original one in the chief city of the civil Province, and legislation and administration required Synodical consultation and action, the Ecclesiastical Province was formed, coterminous, naturally, with the civil Province. So that we should, a priori, expect just that result which, as we have seen, comes out in the history of the early centuries.
* This is proved by a comparison of the names with the Notitiæ given by Bing. ham, Book IX.
+ See, especially, the work so often quoted above.
As time went on and the Empire became Christian, and the Emperors acquired an influence and a voice in the arrangements of the Church, these Provinces were changed and multiplied. Still, we have a curious proof that their ancient and primitive arrangement was not destroyed. For the twelfth Canon of Chalcedon, reads as follows :
“ It has come to our knowledge, that some persons, contrary to the laws of the Church, having had recourse to the secular powers, have, by means of pragmatic orders, [i. e, imperial rescripts, divided one Province into two, so that there are thus two Metropolitans in one Province. The Holy Synod has therefore determined that no Bishop shall, for the future, dare to do any such thing, and that he who shall attempt such a thing shall be deposed from his own rank. Such cities, however, as have been already honored with the name of Metropolis by royal letters, and the Bishop who has charge of the Church of such a city, shall enjoy the honorary title only, the proper rights being preserved to that which is in truth the Metropolis.”
With this citation we close our first line of inquiry, which, we think, has established the primitive character of the “Provincial System,” and proved that the Nicene Fathers spake
*Beveridge, de Metropolitanis : compare a striking passage in Blunt's First Three Centuries.