Изображения страниц

The origin of these, and many other customs, cannot be ascertained, nor can the dates of their introduction be definitely fixed. It is probable that most of them were introduced about the latter end of the second century, and that they originated in Africa.

Some were borrowed from Jewish observances; some from Paganism. Tertullian's explanation, to say the least, is ingenious, although it discloses a very unsatisfactory state of affairs among professing Christians.

If she says) for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom as their strengthener, and faith as their observer. That reason will support tradition, and custom, and faith, you will either yourselves perceive, or learn from some one who has. Meanwhile, you will believe that there is some reason to which submission is due.'


The government of the churches had also undergone alteration. At first, a plurality of elders prevailed everywhere. The number might be greater or less, according to the size of the church ; but whatever the number, they were all equal,—all elders, all bishops, but no lord-bishop. On a sudden, a new arrangement presents itself. In the epistles of Ignatius we meet with constant references to the bishops, the presbyters, and the deacons, as three distinct orders, differing in powers and duties; and very strong language is employed by way of enhancing the honors and privileges of the bishops. “You are subject to the bishop,” says Ignatius, “as to Jesus Christ."' 2

“He who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience."S "Do nothing without the bishop."" "Let no man do anything connected with the church, without the bishop.” “It is not lawful, without the bishop, either to baptize or to celebrate a love feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.”: “It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honors the bishop, he is honored by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does, in reality, serve the devil.”. It is hardly necessary to observe that there is nothing like this in the New Testament. There is nothing like it in any other writers for a long time afterwards. It is a singular thing that the word " bishop " does not once occur in Justin Martyr's Apology; it is always “the president,” and that epithet might apply to any minister who took the lead of the meeting at the time. The distinction became more frequent towards the close


1 Ibid. c. 4. Ad. Trall., c. 2. SIb. "Ad. Philadelph. c. 7. Ad. Smyrna, c. 8. • Ib. c. 9.


of the century. But the bishop was not then master; he was only primus interpares,-chairman at the meetings of the church,—and representative or correspondent in the transaction of all matters of business, and he was confined to one church or congregation ; diocese, in the modern acceptation of the word, was unknown.

The probability is, that when the elders met for consultation, one of them was called to the chair; and it soon became convenient that the same person should generally occupy that position. The permanent chairman exercised the episcopocy, or overseership, in the name of the rest, and the title " bishop" was attached to his office; but the business of the church, when the church itself was in session, was conducted by the whole body of elders, for whom the chairman, or bishop, acted in the intervals of the meetings. We have an instance of this in the case of Noetus, as late as the year 245. Notus was charged with heresy. “The blessed presbyters," it is said, "summoned him before the church," and after examination and conviction, expelled him.' There is no mention of the bishop, who might be absent at the time, but his absence did not prevent the exercise of discipline at Smyrna. It was long before such assumption of power was ventured on as appears in the epistles of Ignatius. In fact, those epistles are destitute of authority. In the larger recansion, they have been shamefully interpolated, as is now very generally confessed. In the shorter, corrupt editions are numerous. The only form that deserves credit is the Syrian version, discovered and published by Dr. Cureton, in 1845; and even that cannot be implicitly relied on. The primitive episcopacy seems to have originated at Antioch, where Ignatius was pastor. His is a celebrated name among martyrs, and deservedly revered ; yet it cannot be concealed that, with all his good qualities, he was a weak, vain, self-conceited man, proud of being called " bishop," and he “magnified his office" in an unapostolical way.

It is an indubitable fact that, at the first, the affairs of Christian churches were managed by themselves. They chose their officers, disciplined offenders under the advice and direction of their officers, according to the laws of the New Testament, and exercised their own gifts for mutual edification and general usefulness. But episcopacy wrought a change. The Christian ministry gradually came to be considered a distinct order,—the clergy,—to whom the people, the laity, were to be subject in all things. The clergy assumed the entire control of the teaching department, and the bishops soon learned to lord it over both clergy and people. Definite dates cannot

1 Hippolytus. See Anto-Nicene Library-writings of Hippolytus, ii. 52.


be assigned to all ecclesiastical changes. Church historians did not compile their records till after those changes had taken effect; and 80 they wrote as if the then existing order of things had been the primitive order; but “from the beginning it was not so.” The universal priesthood of believers is the doctrine of the New Testament; the Christian ministry is Christ's institution; but at the close of the second century sacerdotalism was looming up in the distance, and the clergy sought dominion over faith and practice.

This introduction o the element of power was a dangerous experiment, sure to work mischief. When the Lord's words, “One is your master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren" (Matt. xxiii. 8.), were forgotten or rejected, and the spirit of rule crept into the church, corruption soon gained the ascendant. Pride and ambition first appeared offensively at Rome. But in the early part of the century, the bishop of that city possessed no more power than any other bishop. The supposed primacy of Peter had not been thought of. Ignatius wrote a letter to the Roman church, on his journey from Antioch, and some of his friends published a narrative of his martyrdom at Rome; but in neither document is there any reference to the bishop of the imperial city. Whatever explanation may be given of these omissions, it is at least evident that in those times no such views of the power and authority of the bishop of Rome were entertained, as have been promulgated in later ages.

During the pastorate of Pius I (who died A. D. 157), Marcion the Gnostic visited Rome. He applied to the elders of the church for communion. They refused his request, because he had been expelled from fellowship by his own father, bishop of Sinope, for gross immorality. It would be unlawful, they told him, to act in opposition to another church, and thus to sin against Christian unity. In the account of this transaction, there is no reference to Pius. The elders do not even mention him.'

Justin Martyr lived several years at Rome, and suffered martyrdom there. His house was the resort of Christians who were anxious to avail themselves of the privilege of listening to the discourses of a man of so much learning and celebrity: but neither in his extant works, nor in the account of his examination before the magistrate who condemned him, is there any notice of the Roman bishop.

Towards the end of the century, the church of Rome began to acquire a large increase of influence. The establishment of that church by the joint labors of the apostles Peter and Paul, though it was totally destitute of historic foundation, was early asserted and

1 Epiphan. Hæres. 42, c. 1., quoted in Bower's History of the Popes. Vol. i. p. 25.


generally believed. In addition to this, Rome being the metropolis of the empire and the seat of government, the bishop of that city was likely to be treated with a deference which no other bishop could claim. Men had been accustomed for ages to regard Rome as the centre of communication, the place of final appeal. It was not difficult to transfer those views and feelings to ecclesiastical affairs. What the emperor was in things temporal, the bishop of his capital would aspire to be in things spiritual.

Victor I (A. D. 192-202) made the trial. A controversy respecting the time for observing Easter had raged for several years. The Asiatic churches held that Easter should be kept on the fourteenth day of the month Nisan, on whatever day of the week it might occur, by which arrangement Easter and the Jewish passover would synchronise, which appeared to be desirable, and, as some thought, necessary. The Western churches maintained that as Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week, the anniversary of that event should be celebrated on the Lord's day, and that the Lord's day after the full moon following the spring equinox should be Easter Sunday. A council of the neighborirg bishops had been held at Rome, when a decree to that effect was unanimously passed. The Asiatics, however, were not inclined to change their opinions or their practice. They met at Ephesus, under the presidency of Polycrates, bishop of that city, who transmitted their decision to Victor. Their practice, he said, had been sanctioned by the apostles Philip and John. But Victor was not to be persuaded. He resolved to hold no fellowship with the Quarto-decenians (the fourteenth-day men, as those on the opposite side were designated), and wrote to that effect, excluding them from the communion of his church. This arrogant and unChristian proceeding drew upon him the displeasnre of his brethren, many of whom warmly remonstrated with him on the subject. The letter sent by Irenæus on that occasion has been preserved. He held the same sentiments as the Roman bishop, but he held them in charity. It appeared to him a monstrous thing to excommunicate a brother on such slight grounds. Diversity of celebration, he observed, had existed from the very first. Some fasted one day before Easter, some two, some for a longer period; but no one had yet ventured to maintain that diversity was inconsistent with fellowship. He wrote in the same strain to other bishops. The Quarto-decenians retained their peculiarities, in spite of Victor's harmless thunder. "

This was the first attempt of the bishop of Rome to impose his sentiments on other churches, and it signally failed. It would have been well if thoughtful men had been put upon their guard. But by sanctioning appeals to the existing practices of apostolic churches, instead of directing inquirers and disputants to the Word of God, the Christians of those days admitted the authority of tradition. When that authority was once admitted, no one could tell where the mischief would end.

1 Euseb. Hist. Lib. v. c. 23, 25.

The introduction of synods is traceable to the second century. They originated in Greece, where self-government in civil matters had been carried to the highest perfection for many ages, and the people were accustommed to public legislative assemblies. But it was forgotten that whereas in things civil and political all manner of discussion was allowable, and there was full liberty to repudiate old modes of policy, or to vary them at discretion, nothing of the kind can be lawfully permitted in the Christian church. The important fact was overlooked, that the government of the church is already provided for, and the sufficiency of Scripture was practically denied. When Christian pastors met together in synods (bishops only were members of those synods,-presbyters were excluded), and promulgated decrees, whether relating to faith or practice, which the churches they represented were expected to receive and obey, they laid profane hands on the ark of God. They usurped authority which had not been entrusted to them. They deprived the churches, in these respects, of the right to administer their own affairs. Their decrees were unwarranted additions to the sacred code, and the tendency of the movement was to substitute the human for the divine. Uniformity may have its advantages, but if it be the fruit of synodical legislation, it is the badge of an inglorious and unchristian slavery.

Church discipline was vigorous. If a Christian fell into sin, he was required to make public confession of his guilt, and to satisfy the church that his repentance was sincere. If he refused, he was punished by expulsion. If he submitted, he had to pass through a very humiliating process. Bishop Kaye describes it in the following words, adducing the authority of Tertullian for his statements :

[ocr errors]

The penitent was clothed in the meanest apparel; he lay in sackcloth and ashes; he either fasted entirely, or lived upon bread and water; he passed whole days and nights in tears and lamentations; he embraced the knees of the presbyters as they entered the church, and entreated the brethren to intercede by their prayers on his behalf. In this state of degradation and exclusion from the communion of the faithful, he remained a longer or a shorter period, according to the magnitude of his offence; when that period was expired, the bishop publicly pronounced

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »