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some form of internal policy, and to appoint a sufficient number of ministers, intrusted not only with the spiritual functions, but even with the temporal direction, of the Christian commonwealth. The safety of that society, its honour, its aggrandizement, were productive, even in the most pious minds, of a spirit of patriotism, such as the Romans had felt for the republic; and sometimes, of a similar indifference, in the use of whatever means might probably conduce to so desirable an end. The ambition of raising themselves or their friends to the honours and offices of the church was disguised by the laudable intention of devoting to the public benefit the power and consideration, which, for that purpose only, it became their duty to solicit. In the exercise of their functions, they were frequently called upon to detect the errors of heresy or the arts of faction, to oppose the designs of perfidious brethren, to stigmatize their characters with deserved infamy, and to expel them from the bosom of a society, whose peace and happiness they had attempted to disturb. The ecclesiastical governors of the Christians were taught to unite the wisdom of the serpent with the innocence of the dove; but as the former was refined, so the latter was insensibly corrupted, by the habits of government. In the church as well as in the world, the persons who were placed in any public station rendered themselves considerable by their eloquence and firmness, by their knowledge of mankind, and by their dexterity in business; and while they concealed from others, and perhaps from themselves, the secret motives of their conduct, they too frequently relapsed into all the turbulent passions of active life, which were tinctured with an additional degree of bitterness and obstinacy from the infusion of spiritual zeal, its primi- The government of the church has often been d'n/anci the subject, as well as the prize, of religious conequality. tention. The hostile disputants of Rome, of Paris, of Oxford, and of Geneva, have alike struggled to reduce the primitive and apostolic modelTM to the respective standards of their own policy. The few who have pursued this inquiry with more candour and impartiality are of opinion," that the apostles declined the office of legislation, and rather chose to endure some partial scandals and divisions, than to exclude the Christians of a future age from the liberty of varying their forms of ecclesiastical government according to the changes of times and circumstances. The scheme of policy, which, under their approbation, was adopted for the use of the first century, may be discovered from the practice of Jerusalem, of Ephesus, or of Corinth. The societies which are instituted in the cities of the Roman empire were united only by the ties of faith and charity. Independence and equality formed the basis of their internal constitution. The want of discipline and human learning was supplied by the occasional assistance of the prophets,0 who were called to that function without distinction of age, of sex, or of natural abilities, and who, as often as they felt the divine impulse, poured forth the effusions of the Spirit in the assembly of the faithful. But these extraordinary gifts were frequently abused or misapplied by the prophetic teachers. They displayed them at an improper season, presumptuously disturbed the service of the assembly, and by their pride or mistaken zeal they introduced, particularly into the apostolic church of Corinth, a long and melancholy train of disorders.11 As the institution of prophets became useless, and even pernicious, their powers were withdrawn, and their office abolished. The public functions of religion were solely intrusted to the established ministers
• The aristocratical party in France, as well as in England, has strenuously maintained the divine origin of bishops. But the Calvinistical presbyters were impatient of a superior , and the Roman pontiff refused to acknowledge an equal. See Fra Paolo.
• In the history of the Christian hierarchy, I have, for the most part, followed the learned and candid Mosheim.
q For the prophets of the primitive church, see Mosheim, Dissertationes ad Hist. Fx:cles. pertinentes, tom. 2. p. 132—X08.
i- See the epistles of St. Paul, and of Clemens, to the Corinthians.
of the church, the bishops and the presbyters; two appellations, which, in their first origin, appear to have distinguished the same office and the same order of persons. The name of presbyter was expressive of their age, or rather of their gravity and wisdom. The title of bishop denoted their inspection over the faith and manners of the Christians who were committed to their pastoral care. In proportion to the respective numbers of the faithful, a larger or smaller number of these episcopal presbyters guided each infant congregation with equal authority and with united counsels.q institution But the most perfect equality of freedom reof bishops quires the directing hand of a superior magisdents of trate; and the order of public deliberations
the college . .. /*»
ofpresby- soon introduces the office of a president, in
vested at least with the authority of collecting the sentiments, and of executing the resolutions, of the assembly. A regard for the public tranquillity, which would so frequently have been interrupted by annual or by occasional elections, induced the primitive Christians to constitute an honourable and perpetual magistracy; and to choose one of the wisest and most holy among their presbyters to execute, during his life, the duties of their ecclesiastical governor. It was under these circumstances that the lofty title of bishop began to raise itself above the humble appellation of presbyter; and while the latter remained the most natural distinction for the members of every Christian senate, the former was appropriated to the dignity of its new president/ The advantages of this episcopal form of government, which appears to have been introduced before the end of the first century,8 were so obvious and so important
i Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, lib. 7.
'See Jerome ad Titum, c. 1. and Epistol. M. (in the Benedictine edition, 101.) and the elaborate apology of Blondel, pro sententia Hieronymi. The ancient state, as it is described by Jerome, of the bishop and presbyters of Alexandria, receives a remarkable continuation from the patriarch Kutychius, (Annal. tom. 1. p. 330. Vers. Pocock.) whose testimony I know not how to reject, in spite of all the objections of the learned Pearson in his V indicia e Ignatianae, part 1. c. 11.
• See the introduction to the Apocalypse. Bishops, under the Dame of angels.
for the future greatness, as well as the present peace, of Christianity, that it was adopted without delay by all the societies which were already scattered over the empire, had acquired in a very early period the sanction of antiquity,' and is still revered by the most powerful churches, both of the east and of the west, as a primitive and even as a divine establishment." It is needless to observe, that the pious and humble presbyters, who were first dignified with the episcopal title, could not possess, and would probably have rejected, the power and pomp which now encircles the tiara of the Roman pontiff, or the mitre of a German prelate. But we may define in a few words, the narrow limits of their original jurisdiction, which was chiefly of a spiritual, though in some instances of a temporal, nature." It consists in the administration of the sacraments and discipline of the church; the superintendency of religious ceremonies, which imperceptibly increased in number and variety; the consecration of ecclesiastical ministers, to whom the bishop assigned their respective functions ; the management of the public fund; and the determination of all such differences as the faithful were unwilling to expose before the tribunal of an idolatrous judge. These powers, during a short period, were exercised according to the advice of the presbyterial college, and with the consent and approbation of the assembly of Christians. The primitive bishops were considered only as the first of their equals, and the honourable servants of a free people. Whenever the episcopal chair became vacant by death, a new president was chosen among the presbyters by the suffrage of the whole congregation, every member of which supposed himself invested with a sacerdotal character.7
were already instituted in the seven cities of Asia. And yet the epistle of Clemens (which is probably of as ancient a date) does not lead us to discover any traces of episcopacy either at Corinth or Rome.
'Nulla Ecclesia sine Episcopo, has been a fact as well as a maxim since the time of Tertullian and Irenaeus.
"After we have passed the difficulties of the first century, we find the episcopal government universally established, till it was interrupted by the republican genius of the Swiss and German reformers.
* See Mosheim in the first and second centuries. Ignatius (ad Smymaeos, c. 3. &c.) is fond of exalting the episcopal dignity. Le Clerc, (Hist. Eccles. p. 569.) very bluntly censures his conduct. Mosheim, with a more critical judgment (p. 161.), suspects the purity even of the smaller epistles.
VOL. II. M
Provincial Such was the mild and equal constitution by councils, which the Christians were governed more than a hundred years after the death of the apostles. Every society formed within itself a separate and independent republic; and although the most distant of these little states maintained a mutual as well as friendly intercourse of letters and deputations, the Christian world was not yet connected by any supreme authority or legislative assembly. As the numbers of the faithful were gradually multiplied, they discovered the advantages that might result from a closer union of their interest and designs. Towards the end of the second century, the churches of Greece and Asia adopted the useful institutions of provincial synods, and they may justly be supposed to have borrowed the model of a representative council from the celebrated examples of their own country, the Amphictyons, the Achaean league, or the assemblies of the Ionian cities. It was soon established as a custom and as a law, that the bishops of the independent churches should meet in the capital of the province at the stated periods of spring and autumn. Their deliberations were assisted by the advice of a few distinguished presbyters, and moderated by the presence of a listening multitude." Their decrees, which were styled canons, regulated every important controversy of faith and discipline; and it was natural to believe that a liberal effusion of the Holy Spirit would be poured on the united assembly of the delegates of the Christian people. The institution of synods was so well suited to private
i Nonne et Laici sacerdotes sumus? Tertullian, Exhort. ad Castitat . c. 7. As the In 111 urn heart is still the same, several of the observations which Mr. Hume has made on enthusiasm (Essays, vol. 1. p. 76, quarto edit.) may be applied even to real inspiration.
1 Acta Concil. Carthag. apud Cyprian. Edit. Fell. p. 158. The council was composed of eighty-seven bishops from the provinces of Mauritania, Numidia, and Africa; some presbyters and deacons assisted at the assembly; prasente plebis maxima parte.