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national churches; and that the supreme bishops in these districts (where there were such bishops) had generally sufficient influence in latter ages, to cause their own liturgies to be universally received by their suffragans; I thought it advisable, in the first place, to examine the liturgies of such supreme churches, and inquire whether they appear to be derived from primitive antiquity. If it seem that some other liturgy was used before the existing formulary, I have endeavoured to trace it out. And finally, I have consulted the writings of those Fathers who lived in the immediate neighbourhood, and by means of them endeavoured to ascertain the extent of country through which each liturgy was used, and the antiquity to which we can trace its order and substance. This plan I have followed in all instances, except where there was no supreme church to guide me in the investigation; and I have
we do not find it mentioned by that name till the council of Chalcedon, A. D. 451. However, it certainly existed long before that time, as it seems that the bishop of Alexandria had this sort of jurisdiction in the third century. See Bingham, book ii. c. 16, § 3. In fact, every bishop, as a successor of the apostles, had a certain degree of influence and authority in the whole church; and they who joined to this, the importance which was derived from the dignity, power, and opulence of the metropolitan or capital cities over which they presided, acquired such a degree of weight and influence, that bishops and metro
politans voluntarily admitted their jurisdiction. The Roman empire about the time of Constantine was divided into thirteen civil dioceses, each of which was ruled by a governor called exarch, vicar of the empire, or prefect. It does not appear that there was a supreme bishop or patriarch in each of these dioceses. The exarchs or patriarchs of the church in the fourth century, were those of Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, Ephesus, Constantinople,Thessalonica, Rome, Milan, and Carthage. To which were added afterwards Jerusalem and Justiniana. See Bingham, Antiq. book ix. Basnage, Hist. de l'Eglise, tome i.
then had recourse to those remains which appear with reason to represent the original local liturgy. After a careful examination of the primitive liturgies of the Christian church, it appears to me, that they may all be reduced to four, which have been used in different churches from a period of profound antiquity. The first may be entitled the great Oriental Liturgy, as it seems to have prevailed in all the Christian churches from the Euphrates to the Hellespont, and from the Hellespont to the southern extremity of Greece. The second was the Alexandrian, which from time immemorial has been the liturgy of Egypt, Abyssinia, and the country extending along the Mediterranean sea towards the west. The third was the Roman, which prevailed throughout the whole of Italy, Sicily, and the civil diocese of Africa. The fourth was the Gallican, which was used throughout Gaul and Spain, and probably in the exarchate of Ephesus until the fourth century. These four great liturgies appear to have been the parents of all the forms now extant, and indeed of all which we can in any manner discover; and their antiquity was so very remote, their use so extensive in those ages when bishops were most independent, that it seems difficult to place their origin at a lower period than the apostolic age. The liberty which every Christian church plainly had and exercised, in the way of improving its formularies, confirms the antiquity of the four great liturgies; for where this liberty existed, it could have been scarcely anything else but reverence for the apostolical source from which the original liturgies were derived, that prevented an infinite variety of formularies, and preserved the
substantial uniformity which we find to have prevailed in vast districts of the primitive church. There can be little, if any, doubt that Christian liturgies were not at first committed to writing, but preserved by memory and practice. However, this did not prevent a substantial uniformity from being continually kept up. Each church might very easily preserve uniformity in its own liturgy; and if all who had originally received the same followed this plan, a general uniformity would be the result. That each church preserved continually the same liturgy is certain. It is impossible to peruse the notices supplied by the Fathers, without perceiving that the baptized Christians were supposed to be familiar with every part of the service; and continual allusions are made to various particulars as well known, which it would be impossible to explain, except by referring to the liturgies still extant. The order of the parts was always preserved, the same rites and ceremonies continually repeated, the same ideas and language, without material variation, transmitted from generation to generation. The people always knew the precise points at which they were to repeat their responses, chant their sacred hymn, or join in the well-known prayer. If, then, each church preserved uniformity in its own liturgy, a general substantial uniformity would be found after the lapse of some centuries, in the liturgies of those churches which had originally received the same order. Thus, when we compare the liturgies of the patriarchates or exarchates of Antioch, Caesarea, and Constantinople, as used in the fourth and fifth centuries, we find a substantial uniformity pervading them all. Those parts which are common to all, are found arranged in the same order in all. The principal rites are identical. They agree in their principal ideas. Every thing, therefore, concurs to prove the original identity of all three. Nearly the same may be said of the liturgies of Rome, Milan, and Africa; and of those of Gaul and Spain. We have therefore the best reasons for affirming, that the Catholic church from the beginning has always preserved an uniform order of liturgy. But this uniformity did not exclude improvement and variety. The bishop of each church appears plainly to have possessed the authority of improving his own liturgy by the addition of new ideas and rites: and the exercise of this power, either individually or collectively, accounts for the variations which we find in those liturgies now extant, originally derived from the same model. Nor does it seem that variety of expression, under certain regulations, was excluded at any time by the Christian church. When we examine the remains of the Roman, Italian, Gallican, and Spanish liturgies, we find that they all permitted a variety of expression for every particular feast; always retaining, however, more or less of fixed and permanent matter, and uniformly preserving an identity of order, and the same series of parts. It appears to me that the practice of the western churches during the fifth and fourth centuries, in permitting the use of various “missae” in the same church, affords room for thinking that something of the same kind had existed from a more remote period. For it does not seem that the composition of new “missae” for the festivals excited any surprise in those ages, or was viewed as any thing novel in principle. Hence I
think it probable, that it had been the early custom of many western bishops, to use more or less variety of expression and idea on each particular festival; while they carefully preserved the primitive and well-known order and substance, which had been delivered to them by their predecessors. This sort of variety is still visible in the English Liturgy, where different collects and prefaces are used for different festivals, while the main order and substance still remains. The period when liturgies were first committed to writing is uncertain, and has been the subject of some controversy. Le Brun contends that no liturgy was written till the fifth century; but his arguments seem quite insufficient to prove this, and he is accordingly opposed by Muratori and other eminent ritualists. It seems certain, on the other hand, that the liturgy of the Apostolical Constitutions was written at the end of the third, or beginning of the fourth century; and there is no reason to deny that others may have been written about the same time, or not long after. Whoever compares the account which Cyril, in his fifth mystical Catechesis, gives of the thanksgiving in the liturgy of Jerusalem, with those of St. James's liturgy in Greek and Syriac, will be strongly inclined to think, that St. James's liturgy was already committed to writing in the time of Cyril, or before the middle of the fourth century. Various obstacles are to be surmounted, before we can form a correct judgment of the value of existing liturgies. As these formularies were in continual use, they necessarily received various additions and changes, to adapt them to the circumstances of