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human writings and Councils are fallible: their regulations are merely prudential. This the Reformers maintained : this is the true principle of PROTESTANTISM.
However, we shall see whether the boasting of these writers as to the authority of the Fathers, in favour of their scheme, is not vain also. The best writers on this subject mostly confine the purest Christian Antiquity to the FIRST THREE CENTURIES. Now I challenge any man to produce clear evidence of High Church Episcopacy from the Fathers of this period.
There is one very natural mistake into which the advocates of this opinion have fallen. It is this,--that whenever Bishops are mentioned distinctly from Presbyters, in ancient writers, they immediately suppose their point is proved. I say this, to them, is rather a natural mistake ; for such men are so accustomed to use the terms Bishops and Presbyters, in their own times, for what they receive as, by DIVINE Right, two distinct ORDERS, that they easily fall into the persuasion that the ancient writers meant the same as they mean. Bingham has quoted, though for a different purpose, a good observation from Cardinal Bona: “ They deserve very ill of the Sacred rites of the Church, and of their venerable antiquity, who measure all ancient customs by the practice of the present times, and judge of the Primitive Discipline only by the rule and customs of the age they live in; being deceived by a false persuasion, that the practice of the Church never differed in any point from the customs which they learned from their forefathers and teachers, and which they have been inured to from their tender years: whereas we retain MANY WORDS in common with the ancient FATHERS, but in a sense AS DIFFERENT from THEIRS, as our times are REMOTE from the FIRST AGES after Christ.” Bingham's Works, vol 1. pref. p. 2, folio, London, 1726. Henee it is necessary to take care that we neither deceive ourselves nor others by a misapplication of words. For this purpose it will be proper to fix the meaning of the terms, ordo, gradus, &c., order and degree, as used by the Fathers.
1. Order, and Gradus or degree, then, are by the Fathers used PROMISCUOUSLY.” “ It is evident that in all antiquity, Ordo and Gradus (order and degree) were used promiscuously." Bp. Taylor. Bingham says, “ St. Jerome, who will be allowed to speak the sense of the Ancients, makes no difference in these words, Ordo, Gradus, Officium,” (Order, Degree, and Office). Book 2, chap. 1, p. 17.
2. By these words, order, degree, and office, the Fathers only meant distinct classes of persons, without implying any DIVINE Authority for the arrangement. It is not denied by these Dvines, that there were OTHER classes of persons in the Primitive Church, besides Bishops and Presbyters ; THESE classes are also called ORDERS, offices, or degrees, by the Ancients. So, for instance, amongst Clerical Ordinations, “ Ordinationibus CLERICIS,” Cyprian mentions his ordaining Aurelius to the DEGREE “ Gradus” of a
Epistle 33, edit. Pamel. So of Celerinus as to the same office, Ep. 34, p. 58;---of Optatus to that of “SUBDEACON," Ep. 24, p. 42. And Cornelius, Bishop of Rome, in the third century, mentions “ Subdeacons, clerks, exorcists, readers, and janitors." Euseb. Eccles. Hist. L. 6, c. 43. Jerome, who, Bingham grants, will give us the sense of the Ancients, mentions “ QUINQUE ecclesie ORDINES, episcopi, presbyteri, diaconi, fideles, catecumeni ; the FIVE ORDERS of the Church, Bishops, Presbyters, DEACONS, the Faithful, and Catechumens.” Fol. 41, vol. 5, ed. 1516, Basil. And there is a long treatise in Jerome's works, distinctly treating upon SEVEN ORDERS, “ the Fossarius, the Doorkeeper, the Reader, the Subdeacon, the Deacon, the Priest or Presbyter, and the Bishop.” He calls the Fossarius the first degree or order, and the Bishop the seventh; and every where uses order and degree as synonymous. Here, then, if the term order means a distinct superiority by Divine right, there is Divine right for the Gravediggers, Doorkeeepers, Readers, and Subdeacons. If it does not imply Divine right in four or five instances out of the seven, by what logic will it be made to signify Divine right for the order of Bishops as distinct from Presbyters. And this very writer, whether Jerome or not, says, that “ the Ordination of Clergymen, the Consecration of Virgins, the Dedication of Altars or Churches, and the Preparation of the Chrism, were reserved to the Bishop SOLELY for the purpose of giving him authority or honor, lest the discipline of the Church, being separated amongst many, divisions should arise between the Ministers, and should produce general scandal.” And he goes on to shew that Presbyters are, by Divine right, the same as Bishops, and have from God power to perform ALL the duties of the Church; yea, that in a Presbyter is the HIGHEST POINT, and the whole of the Ministry. Ergo in Presbytero SUMMAM SACERDOTII collocari.” Fol. 54, &c., vol. 2, ed. Bas. 1516. He advises, however, to submit to the arrangement made for the honor of the Bishop, and the concord of the Church, only it be used with humility, and not with pride.
Amongst the Canons and Decrees of the British and Anglo-Saxon Churches, are found the Canons of Elfric to Bishop Wulfin. Howell thinks they were both Bishops. Fox, the Martyrologist says, " that Elfric is supposed by Capgrave, and William of Malmsbury, to have been Archbishop of Canterbury about 996; and Wulssinus, or Wulfin, to have been Bishop of Scyrburne or Sherborn. Elfric's two Epistles, in the Saxon Canons and Constitutions, were given by Wulfstane, Bishop of Worcester, as a great jewel to the Church of Worcester.” Fox's Acts and Monuments, vol. 2. p. 376, fol. ed. London, 1684. In the tenth Canon, Elfric numbers seven degrees, or orders, as follows :-“1, Osttiarius or Doorkeeper; 2, Reader; 3, Exorcist; 4, Acolyth; 5, Subdeacon; 6, Deacon; 7, Presbyter.” These are all the orders he mentions in the Church. He does not mention the Bishops as either degree or order. But, under the order of Presbyter, he says, “ There is no more difference between the Mass-Presbyter and the Bishop than this, that the Bishop is appointed to confer Ordinations, and to see to the execution of the laws of God, which, if every Presbyter should do it, would be committed to too many. Both, indeed, are ONE and the SAME ORDER, although the part of the Bishop is the more honourable, Ambo siquidem UNUM EUNDEMQue tenent ORDINEM quamvis sit dignior. illa pars Episcopi." Canones, &c., a Laur. Howel, A. M., p. 66, 67, fol. Londini, 1708.
These passages sufficiently prove, and more might be produced, that the Ancients, by the terms order, degree, or office, only meant CERTAIN CLASSIFICATIONS of
in the Church, without intending to imply any DIVINE AUTHORITY or law for these arrangements. The use of these words alone, then, as applied to any distinction, in their day, between Bishops and Presbyters, will never prove more than a human or Ecclesiastical custom or arrangement. Nay, even the VERY FACT of THIS PROMISCUOUS USE of these terms proves that the Ancients really had not the opinion that that distinction between Bishops and Presbyters was by Divine right, nor that it was such as our High Church Divines maintain ; but, on the contrary, that it was by Ecclesiastical Authority alone. The supposition is absurd, that they should hold the same views as our Divines, and yet, though the matter was constantly before them, should never say so. They mention the fact of the distinction repeatedly, especially in the second and following centuries, BUT NEVER THE Divine Right of Bishops as an order with powers incompatible with Presbyters.
In order to understand the Fathers aright, as to this arrangement of Bishops and Presbyters, Jerome shall, first, according to Bingham, " give US THE SENSE of the ANCIENTS.” In his note on Tit. ch. i. he speaks at large, and unequivocally: “ Presbyters and Bishops," says he,“ were FORMERLY the SAME. And before the Devil incited men to make divisions in Religion, and one was led to say, 'I am of Paul, and I of Apollos', Churches were GOVERNED by the COMMON COUNCIL of the PRESBYTERS.
But AFTERWARDS, when every one iņ baptizing rather made proselytes to himself than to Christ, it was every where decreed that one person, elected from the rest of the Presbyters in each Church, should be placed over the others, that, the chief care of the Church devolving upon him, the seeds of division might be taken away. Should any one suppose this opinion, viz., that Bishops and Presbyters are the same, and that one is the denomination of age, and the other of office, is not determined by the Scriptures, but is only a private opinion, let him read over again, the Apostle's words to the Philippians, saying, “ Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ which are at Philippi, with the Bishops and Deacons : Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.' Philippi is one of the cities of Macedonia; and certainly, as to those who are now esteemed
Bishops, NOT MORE than one at a time can be in one and the same city. * But because Bishops at that time were called the same as Presbyters; therefore the Apostle speaks of Bishops indifferently as being the same as Presbyters. And here it should be carefully observed how the Apostle, sending for the Presbyters' (in the plural) of the SINGLE city of EPHESUS ONLY, afterwards calls the SAME PERSONS Bishops. (Acts, xx. 17, 28.) He who receives the Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews, there finds the care of the Church divided EQUALLY amongst MANY: · Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves : for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account; that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.' And Peter, who received his name from the firmness of his faith, says, in his Epistle, “ The PRESBYTERS who are among you, I exhort, who am also a PRESBYTER, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed; feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof (ETVOXOTOUYTES, i. e. superintending it) not by constraint, but willingly.' These passages we have brought forward to shew, that, with the Antients, PRESBYTERS were the same as Bishops. But that the roots of dissention might be plucked up, a USAGE GRADUALLY took place that the chief care should devolve upon
Therefore, as the Presbyters know that it is by the custom of the Church (Ecclesie consuetudine) that they are to be subject to him who is placed over them; so let the Bishops know that they are ABOVE Presbyters rather by custom than by Divine appointment, and that the CHURCH ought to be RULED in common." His celebrated Epistle to Evagrius treats the same subject through the whole of it. He delivers the same sentiments in several other places of his works. Still he continues to give the Bishops all those titles of respect which Bingham and others have mistaken, or misinterpreted, for marks of a distinct and superior order by Divine right. Jerome gave them “ for the honor of the Church," and because they had obtained, as St. Augustine saith, “by the custom of the Church ;” and, whilst no evil use was made of them, he was justified in so doing.
Now it is very important to keep in mind that this is the judgment and testimony of the MOST LEARNED of the Latin Fathers. Bingham, a high authority with Churchmen, and a truly learned and candid writer, says, as we have seen, that “ St. Jerome will be ALLOWED to speak the SENSE of the ANCIENTS.” Jerome was consulted upon the highest matters of the Church, even by the Bishop of Rome. Saint Augustin declares himself inferior to Jerome; and says, “ Nemo hominum scivit quod Hieronymus ignoravit, Jerome knew every thing known by man.” Jerome's testimony on this
* The reader should keep this remark before his mind in the examples that follow. They not only shew that Bishops and Presbyters are spoken of promiscuously as being the same order; bnt they also shew an irreconcileable difference between Scriptural Bishops, and Ecclesiastical Bishops : of Scriptural Bishops there were frequently, perhaps always, MANY in one and the same city; of Ecclesiastical Bishops there cannot be more than one.
subject, as quoted above, was referred to frequently in succeeding ages of the Church. Gratian, in the 12th century, introduced it into the Canon Law. The REFORMERS repeatedly referred to it. And this they all did with APPROBATION. It NEVER was controverted, denied, nor disputed, that I am aware of, by any writers of weight, nor any authority in the Christian Church, until the 16th century; and then only by a part of the Romish writers, and afterwards by the High Church of England Divines.
Then let us trace, and confirm each of Jerome's positions, from the early Fathers. He says,
First, that “ Presbyters and Bishops were the SAME in the Apostles' times.”
Secondly, that “ Olim," formerly," the Church was ruled by the Common Council of the “
Presbyters ;" Thirdly, that to prevent divisions or schisms, a usage gradually took place that the chief care should devolve upon one. The person who had this chief care was elected from the rest of the Presbyters, and placed over them as a Superintendent. Ambrose calls him “inter Presbyteros primus," (comment in 1 Tim. iii.) or “ Primus Presbyter,” (comment in Ephes. iv.) the chief Presbyter ;—by custom, a Superintendent of Ministers and people, called for distinction's sake a Bishop.
On this point of SUPERINTENDENCY, it is necessary also to be clear. High CHURCHMEN EVIDENTLY MISUNDERSTAND THE FATHERS UPON IT. Indeed, here is the GREAT SOPHISM, designed or undesigned, that runs through all their writings on the subject of Episcopacy, JURE DIVINO. The facts of Superintendency by Bishops, mentioned by the Fathers, are, with these writers, received as proofs of Divine right and law. Every mention of the fact of a Bishop's Superintendency, is, with them, a proof of Episcopacy as a superior order, jure divino. This process is quick, and to them, conclusive. But it is really full of fallacy. Even had the Fathers maintained it, their authority would have decided nothing against the testimony of the Scripture : but they do not. Two of the greatest of the Fathers, Jerome and Augustin, expressly interpret the term Bishop by “ Superintendent." This Superintendency, Jerome tells us, only came in by custom, and not by Divine appointment : So says Augustin also, that a Bishop was above a Presbyter only by the names of honor which had obtained by the CUSTOM of the Church. Now, that Superintendency, as a HUMAN arrangement, is perfectly consistent with EQUALITY of DIVINE RIGHT between him who superintends and those who are superintended, is plain from the FACT of its POSITIVE EXISTENCE, on a large scale in the present Christian Church. The Lutheran Church has the arrangement for one Minister to be placed over other Ministers as their Superintendent. And these are regularly called Bishops and Archbishops in Sweden and Denmark. The Ancient Scotch Kirk had the same Church officers. The Wesleyan Methodists