Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

bers, finding it inconvenient to attend the church in which the Bishop officiated every Lord's day, began to lay plans for forming separate congregations nearer home. To this the Bishop consented, on condition that the little worshipping societies thus formed, should consider themselves as still under his pastoral care, as amenable to the parent church, and as bound to obey him as their spiritual guide. When the Pastor agreed to this arrangement, it was generally understood, that there should be but one Communion table, and one Baptistery in the parish; and, of course, that when the members of these neighbouring societies wished to enjoy either of the sealing ordinances, they were to attend at the parent church, and receive them from the hands of the Pastor or Bishop himself. At ordinary seasons they were supplied by his Curates or Assistants, who, in labouring in these little Oratories or Chapels of Ease, were subject to his control. This was laying a foundation for the authority of one Bishop or Pastor over several congregations, which was not long afterwards claimed and generally yieided. This proved a THIRD STEP in the rise of Prelacy.

The progress of the church towards prelacy was further aided by the practice of convening Synods and Councils. This practice began at an early period, and soon became general. The Latins styled these larger meetings of the clergy, Councils, the Greeks, Synuds; and the laws which were enacted by these bodies, were denominated Canons, i. e. Rules « These Councils,” says Dr. Mosheim,

changed the whole face of the church, and

gave it a new form." The order and decorum of their business required that a President should be appointed. The power lodged in this officer scarcely ever failed to be extended and abused. These Synods were accustomed to meet in the capital cities of the district or province to which the members belonged, and to confer the presidency upon the most conspicuous Pastor, for the time being, of the city in which they met. And thus, by the gradual operation of habit, it came to be considered as the right of those persons, and of their successors in office. “ Hence," says the learned historian just quoted, “ the rights of Metropolitans derive their origin.” The order of the church required, at first, the presence of the presiding Bishops, to give regularity to the acts of Synods and Councils. In a little while their presence was deemed necessary to the validity of these acts; and, in the third century, it began to be believed that without them nothing could be done. Such is the ordinary progress of human affairs. The increase of wealth, the decay of piety, the corruption of morals, and the prevalence of heresy and contention, were all circumstances highly favorable to the progress of this change, and concurring with Jewish prejudices, pagan habits, and clerical ambition, hurried on the growing usurpation.

That the Synods and Councils which early began to be convened, were, in fact, thus employed

by the ambitious clergy, to extend and confirm their power, might be proved by witnesses almost numberless. The testimony of one shall suffice. It is that of the great and good Bishop, Gregory Nazianzen, who lived in the fourth century, and who, on being summoned by the Emperor to the general Council of Constantinople, which met in 381, addressed a letter to Procopius, to excuse himself from attending. In this letter he declares, “ that “ he was desirous of avoiding all Synods, because “ he had never seen a good effect, or happy con“clusion of any one of them ; that they rather in

creased than lessened the evils they were design“ed to prevent; and that the love of contention, " and the lust of power, were there manifested in “.instances innumerable." Greg. Naz. Oper. tom. I. p. 814. Epist. 55. And, afterwards, speaking of that very Council, this pious Father remarks :“ These conveyers of the Holy Ghost, these “ preachers of peace to all men, grew bitterly out“ rageous and clamorous against one another, in 56 the midst of the church, mutually accusing each “ other, leaping about as if they had been mad, un“ der the furious impulse of a lust of power and do"minion, as if they would have rent the whole - world in pieces.” He afterwards adds, “ this was

not the effect of piety, but of a contention for u thrones." Tom. II. 25, 27. In short, so great was the disgust of Gregory at the ambitious and grasping spirit manifested by the clergy of his day, that we find him speaking on the subject in the fol.

lowing warm language. “Would to God there

were no prelacy, no pre-eminence of place, no ty. “ rannical privileges ; and that we might be dis“ tinguished by virtue alone. This right and left “ hand, and this middle place, these higher and " lower dignities, and this state-like precedency, “ have caused many fruitless contests and bruises, “ have cast many into the pit, and carried away “ multitudes to the place of the goats.” Oper. tom. I. Orat. 28. Would an eminently learned and pious Bishop have spoken thus, if he had considered prelacy as of Divine appointment? Or would he have suffered himself to use this language concerning the prelates of his day, and also concerning their predecessors*, if their ambition and usurpations had not been altogether intolerable ?

In the third century, the title of Bishop was seldom applied to any other of the Presbyters, than the different classes of Presidents before mentioned. The only shadow which now remained of its former use was in the case of the pastors of country parishcs, who still maintained the parochial Episcopacy, under the name of Chorepiscopi. The ordaining power, originally vested in all Presbyters alike, was in the third century seldom exercised by Presbyters, unless the presiding Presbyter, or Bishop, was present. About this time, the name of Presbyter was changed into that of Priest, in conse

* He speaks with nearly equal severity of the unprincipled ambition, and shameful conduct of the clergy at the Council of Nice, which mct in 325.

quence of the unscriptural and irrational doctrine coming into vogue, that the Christian ministry was modelled after the Jewish priesthood. About this -time also the office of Ruling Elder appears to have been laid aside; and a part of the ministry of the word bestowed upon Deacons, contrary to the original design of their office, which was to superintend the maintenance of the poor.

The Presbytery sunk into the Bishop's council. The Synod subserved the pretensions of the Metropolitan; and there was only wanting a General Council, and a Chief Bishop, to complete the hierarchy. Both of these the next äge compliantly furnished. In the mean time, the few humble admirers of primitive parity and simplicity, who dared to remonstrate against these usurpations, were reviled as promoters of faction and schism, and either thrust out of the church, or awed into silence.

When Constantine came to the imperial throne, in the fourth century, he confirmed the usurpation of the Bishops by his authority, and bestowed upon them a degree of wealth and power to which they had before been strangers.

He conferred new splendor on every part of the ecclesiastical system. He fostered every thing which had a tendency to convert religion from a spiritual service into a gaudy, ostentatious, dazzling ritual; and its ministers into lords over God's heritage, instead of examples to the flock. Old Testament rites, heathen ceremonies, and institutions of worldly policy, which had long before begun to enter the church, now

« PredošláPokračovať »