« PredošláPokračovať »
In those cases in which there were several Pastors or Bishops in the same church, they were at first perfectly, and in all respects equal. ruled the church,” as Jerome expresses it, “ in common;" and the alternate titles of Bishop and Elder belonged and were equally applied to all. It does not appear, that in the beginning, even a temporary Chairman was found necessary. There was probably little formality in their mode of transacting business. A large portion of the spirit of their Master supplied the place of specific rules, and of energetic government. But towards the close of the first century, when both churches and ministers had greatly multiplied; when it was common to have a number of teaching as well as ruling elders in the same congregation; when with the increasing number, it is most probable that some unworthy characters had crept into the ministry; and when, of course, the preservation of order in their parochial Presbyteries was more difficult, the expedient of appointing a President or Moderator, would naturally and almost unavoidably be adopted. This presiding Presbyter was generally, at first, the oldest and gravest of the number ; but soon after. wards, as we are told, the rule of seniority was laid aside, and the most able, enterprising, and decisive Presbyter, was chosen to fill the chair. After a while, the choice of a President was not made at every meeting of the parochial Presbytery, or Church Session, but was made for an indefinite time, and often for life; in which case the choice usually fell
upon the person who had the most influence, and was supposed to possess the greatest weight of character. This Chairman or Moderator, who presided during the debates, collected the voices, and pronounced the sentences of the bench of Presbyters, was, of course, the most conspicuous and dig. nified of the number. He had no pre-eminence of order over his brethren ; but (to employ the il. lustration of a respectable Episcopal divine, before quoted,) as the chairman of a committee has a more honorable place than the rest of the members, while the committee is sitting ; so a chairman for life, in a dignified ecclesiastical court, was generally regarded with peculiar respect and veneration. In conducting public worship, this chairman always took the lead; as the organ of the body, he called the other Presbyters to the performance of the several parts assigned to them; and usually himself prayed and preached. When the bench of Presbyters was called to perform an ordination, the chairman, of course, presided in this transaction; and in general, in all acts of the Church-session or Consistory, hc took the lead, and was the principal medium of communication.
This practice of choosing a President in the consistorial courts appears to have begun in a short time after the death of the Apostles, and to have been the only kind of pre-eminence that was enjoyed by any of the Bishops, over their brethren, until about the middle, and, in some churches, till the close of the second century. Indeed Jerome des
clares, that this was the only kind of Episcopal préeminence that existed in the church of Alexandria, one of the most conspicuous then in the world, until the middle of the third century. That such was the only superiority which the principal pastor of each church enjoyed in primitive times, and that such was the origin of this superiority, is evident, not only from the direct testimony of antiquity, but also, indirectly, from the names by which this officer is generally distinguished by the early writers. He is not only called emphatically, the Bishop of the church; but, as all his colleagues also had the title of Bishop, he is, perhaps, more frequently styled, by way of distinction, the President, (IIPOESTÁS); the Chairman, (Tipoedpos); and the person who filled the first seat, (IIpwron@bedpa), in the Presbytery. Had we no other evidence in the case, these titles alone would go far towards establishing the origin and nature of his pre-eminence.
The powers of this Chairman were gradually in. creased. In some cases his own ambition, and, in others, the exigencies of particular times and places, at once multiplied his duties, enlarged his authority, and augmented his honors. Not only the ruling Elders, but also his colleagues in the ministry were led insensibly to look upon him with peculiar reverence. His presence began to be deemed necessary, at first to the regularity, and afterwards to the validity of all the proceedings of the bench of Presbyters. And as his office, in those times, was a post of danger as well as of honor, the rest of the Presby
ters would more readily submit to the claims of a man who put his life in his hand to serve the church. This
be called the FIRST STEP in the rise of Prelacy. The example once set in some of the principal cities, was probably soon adopted in the less populous towns, and in the country churches.
This measure led to another equally natural. The Pastors or Bishops who resided in the same city, were led on different occasions to meet to. gether, to consult and to transact various kinds of business. Their meetings were probably at first, attended with very little formality. In a short time, however, as Christianity gained ground, they came together more frequently; had more business to transact; and found it expedient to be more formal in their proceedings. A President or Chairman became necessary, as in the smaller Presbytery, or Church Session. Such an officer was accordingly chosen, sometimes at each meeting, but more frequently for an indefinite period, or for life. Whatever number of congregations and of ministers were thus united under a Presbytery, they were styled, (upon a principle of ecclesiastical unity which was then common,) one church. The standing Moderator or President of this larger Presbytery, was styled the Bishop of the city in which he presided. This was a SECOND STEP towards prelacy. At what precise time it was taken, is difficult to be ascertained. But before the close of the second century, so greatly increased were
the affluence and pride of ecclesiastics, that the President or Moderator of these meetings was seat. ed on a lofty throne in the midst of the assembly, decorated with splendid robes, and loaded with peculiar honors. As he officially superintended the execution of the decrees of the assembly, his power gradually increased; and it was a short transition from the exercise of power in the name of others, to the exercise of it without consulting them.
In the towns where there was but one congregation, and that a small one, there was generally but one teaching Presbyter associated with a number of ruling Presbyters. This was the Pastor or Bishop. When the congregation increased, and the introduction of other teachers was found necessary, the first retained his place as sole Pastor, and the others came in as his assistants ; and although of the same order with himself, yet he alone was the responsible Pastor. In short, the rest of the teaching Presbyters in this case, bore precisely the same relation to the Bishop, on the score of rank, as Curates bear to the Rector in a large Episcopal congre. gation. They were cloathed with the same official power of preaching and administering ordinances with the Pastor, and were capable, without any further ordination, of becoming Pastors in their turn; but while they remained in this situation, their labours - were directed by him. As a con. gregation under these circumstances increased still more, and included a number of members from the neighbouring villages, some of these mem