« السابقةمتابعة »
but their service (which is called Stakovía) was such as has always been associated with the office of deacon. Moreover, tradition favors the supposition that the election of the seven was the beginning of the order. Irenæus was fully persuaded that this was the proper account of the matter.1 Such, too, was plainly the belief of the Church at Rome near the middle of the third century, when it adhered to the number seven for its deacons, though its presbyters at the same time were no less than forty-six.2 Even at a considerably later date, as appears from the testimony of Sozomen,3 the Roman Church felt bound to follow the primitive model, and allowed but seven on its board of deacons. The council of Neo-Cæsarea, about 315, took a like view of the subject, assuming that the seven appointed under the apostles were veritable deacons, and that their number was not to be transcended in any congregation.
A vocation similar to that of the deacons was fulfilled by an order of women. Paul applies the name of deacon to Phebe (Rom. xvi. 1), and mentions in several instances women who had labored in the Lord (Rom. xvi. 12; Phil. iv. 3). From the instructions given in the First Epistle to Timothy (v. 9, 10), some have inferred that the apostle regarded aged widows as among the most suitable candidates for the position of deaconess. But the reference here may be simply to the standing of widows entitled to receive support, and rendering certain services in return. That others than widows were early received into the office of deaconess,
1 Cont. Hær., i. 26. 3; iii. 12. 10; iv. 15. 1. 8 Hist. Eccl., vii. 19.
2 Euseb., vi. 43.
is sufficiently certain. Those holding this office supplemented the work of the deacons, carrying to the women of the congregations ministrations which men could not appropriately render, or even render at all, under the social conditions largely prevalent in Greek and Oriental communities.
STRUGGLE OF CHRISTIANITY WITH HEATHENISM.
I. SPREAD OF CHRISTIANITY IN THE HEATHEN
WITH the freshness and vigor of a divine youth Christianity made its way in the world. Weak in all outward respects, it had that matchless strength which comes from newness of life. Hence, we find it growing in spite of every obstacle, establishing its new creation on the decaying empire of heathenism. The generation succeeding the apostles had hardly passed away before Christian apologists could appeal to the world-wide extension of Christianity as a token of its divine origin. "There is not one single race of men," said Justin Martyr, about the middle of the second century, "whether barbarians or Greeks, or whatever they may be called, nomads, or vagrants, or herdsmen living in tents, among whom prayers and giving of thanks are not offered through the name of the crucified Jesus."1 "We are but of yesterday," exclaimed Tertullian, "and we have filled every place among you, cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum; we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods." 2 1 Dial. cum Tryph., cxvii. 2 Apol., xxxvii.
The religion of Christ, he states in another place, has invaded "the varied races of the Gætulians, and manifold confines of the Moors, all the limits of the Spains, and the diverse nations of the Gauls, and the haunts of the Britons, and of the Sarmatians and Dacians and Germans and Scythians, and of many remote nations, and of provinces and islands, many to us unknown, and which we can scarce enumerate.” 1 These rhetorical passages contain, indeed, an element of hyperbole; still, they supply a clear indication of the remarkable rapidity and energy of Christian evangelism in the first centuries. Another evidence in the same direction is found in the action of the Roman Government. That the most prudent and enlightened emperors of the second century deemed it necessary to repress Christianity in order to guard the integrity of the Empire, shows that the new religion was already looked upon as a formidable power.
The large cities were the first to receive the gospel. This accorded with the obvious demands of missionary enterprise. The Greek language, the language of the first missionaries to the Gentiles, was much more prevalent in the large cities than in the country districts, at least in the West. These cities, moreover, were the centres of communication in the different provinces, and were naturally fixed upon as missionary headquarters, from which Christian laborers were to be sent forth in every direction. The gospel was, no doubt, preached very soon to the rural population; but its progress was less rapid among this class, both because they were less accessible and received less attention, 1 Adv. Judæos, vii. Compare Ad Nationes, i. 1.
and because they were more stubbornly attached to the old heathenism. Among the evidences of their relative backwardness to receive Christianity is the name of "pagans," which became ultimately a current designation of the heathen party.
During the first three centuries the proper seat of Christianity in Asia was Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor. In other countries of the continent, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Parthia, Media, Persia, and Bactria, it obtained only a sporadic existence. Its introduction into India within this period, though possible, is more matter of tradition than of history. The indefinite geographical sense in which the ancients used the name India adds much to the uncertainty of the subject. Little or no reliance can be placed upon the report that the Apostles Thomas and Bartholomew labored in India proper, and doubt may also be entertained whether Pantænus reached that country in the eastward tour which he made near the end of the second century.1
The Church in Egypt was founded in the apostolic age; Alexandria, with its inquiring and cultured population, naturally serving as the starting-point and headquarters. Tradition is unanimous in naming the evangelist Mark the pioneer in this region. Of the introduction of Christianity into North, or proconsular, Africa, no exact account can be given. The connection of the province with Rome points to the latter as the probable source of the first missionary efforts. In no region, probably, was a more rapid advance made by the Church than in this. As early as 258, Cyprian was able to assemble a North African council of eighty1 Euseb., Hist. Eccl., v. 10.