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rushed in like a flood. And what was worse, the great mass of the people, as well as of the clergy, were gratified with the change. The Jewish proselyte was pleased to see the resemblance which the economy of the Christian church began to bear to the ancient Temple-service. The Pagan convert was daily more reconciled to a system, which he saw approximating to that which he had been long accustomed to behold in the house of his idols. And the artful Politician could not but admire a hierarchy, so far subservient to the interests, and conformed to the model of the Roman Empire. Constantine assumed to himself the right of calling general Councils, of presiding in them, of determining controversies, and of fixing the bounds of ecclesiastical provinces. He formed the Prelatical government after the imperial model, into great prefectures ; in which arrangement, a certain pre-eminence was conferred on the Bishops of Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople; the first rank being always reserved for the Bishop of Rome, who succeeded in gradually extending his usurpation, until he was finally confirmed in it by an imperial decree.
Though an attempt has been made to trace some of the gradations by which ministerial imparity arose from small beginnings to a settled diocesan Episcopacy; yet, from the very nature of the case, the dates of the several steps cannot be precisely ascertained. To definite transactions which take place in a single day, or year, or which are accomplished in a few years, it is commonly an easy
task to assign dates. But, in this gradual change, which was more than three centuries in accomplishing, no reasonable man could expect to find the limits of the several steps precisely defined; because each step was slowly and almost insensibly taken; and more especially, because the practice of all the churches was not uniform. There was no particular time when the transition from a state of perfect parity, to a fixed and acknowledged superiority of order took place at once, and therefore no such time can be assigned. It is evident from the records of antiquity that the titles of Bishop and Presbyter were indiscriminately applied to the same order in some churches, long af. ter a distinction had begun to arise in others. It is equally evident, that the ordaining power of Presbyters was longer retained in the more pure and primitive districts of the church, than where 'wealth, ambition, and a worldly.spirit, bore greater sway. In some churches there were several Bish. ops at the same time; in others, but one. In esome parts of the Christian world, it was the practice to consider and treat all the preaching Presbyters in each church as colleagues and equals; in others, one of the Presbyters was regarded as the Pastor or Bishop, and the rest his assistants. A few early writers mention Ruling-Elders, but the greater part say nothing about them; simply because this class of officers was not found in every congregation, and was early discontinued. Further; when the practice of choosing one of the
Presbyters to be President or Moderator, commence ed, it appeared in different forms in different churches. In one church, at least, according to Jerome, the presiding Presbyter was elected by his colleagues ; in other churches, according to Hilary, the President came to the chair agreeably to a settled principle of rotation. In some cases the presiding Presbyter was vested with greater dignity and authority; in others with less. In short, it is evident, that, in some portions of the church, a difference of order between Bishops and Presbyters was recognized in the third century; in others, and perhaps generally, in the fourth; but in some others, not until the fifth century. We learn from the most authentic records, that Patrick established three hundred and sixty-five Bishops over the same number of congregations, which he formed in Ireland, in the fifth century; while Theodoret, a Bishop in Asia, and contemporary with Patrick, declares, that he had eight hundred congregations under his care ! No wonder, then, that we find a different language used by different Fathers on this subject, for the practice was different; and this fact directs us to the only rational and adequate method of interpreting their different representations.
Such being the case, what reasonable man would expect to find in the records of antiquity, any definite or satisfactory account of the rise and progress of prelacy? If changes equally early and important are covered with still greater darkness ; if the history of the first general Council that ever met,
and which agitated to its centre the whole Christian church, is so obscure that even the place of its meeting is disputed, and no distinct record of its acts has ever reached our times ;-what might be expected concerning an ecclesiastical innovation, so remote in its origin, so gradual in its progress, so indefinitely diversified in the shapes in which it appeared in different places at the same time, and so unsusceptible of precise and lucid exhibition? To this question, no discerning and candid mind will be at a loss for an answer. No; the whole of that reasoning, which confidently deduces the Apostolical origin of Prelacy, from its acknowledged and general, but by no means universal, prevalence in the fourth century, is mere empty declamation, as contradictory to every principle of human nature, as it is to the whole current of early history.
Practical Infuence of Prelacy-Uninterrupted Succes
The practical influence of any doctrine, has been generally considered as a good test of its truth. By their fruits ye shall know them, is a rule which applies to principles as well as to men. Let us apply this rule to the case before us. If Prelacy be of exclusive and unalterable Divine right: If it be so essential, that there is no true church, no authorized ministry, no valid ordinances without it: If Episcopal churches alone are in covenant with Christ, in the appointed road to heaven, and warranted to hope in the promises of God; then we may reasonably expect and demand that all churches of this denomination, should display more of the spirit of Christ than any other classes of professing Christians. The blessing of God, is, beyond all question, most likely to attend those institutions which are most agreeable to his will. But we may go further. All who believe the Bible will ac