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populous, and let three delegates be sent to ascertain with care who is worthy to undertake this office.'"1
Already, in the infancy of the episcopate, began the second stage of development, that of express emphasis upon its importance. Ignatius of Antioch was the first to represent this stage. Again and again, in his epistles, he urges
obedience to the bishop, warns against doing any thing without the bishop, represents the bishop as standing to the congregation as the vicegerent of Christ. At the same time, he regarded each bishop as limited to his own congregation, and recognized no essential distinctions within the episcopal body. Ignatius, however, appears to have been an exception to his age, in the degree of emphasis which he put upon the episcopal dignity. He stands so nearly alone in this respect, that some have been disposed to question the genuineness of the epistles attributed to him. Baur declares it impossible that any writer of so early an age could have uttered such high episcopal notions as appear in the socalled Ignatian Epistles. But this is extreme. Ignatius, though not a representative of his age as a whole in this matter, was no impossible phenomenon for that era. He was a man of vigorous personality, naturally in favor of strong rule and centralized power. The churches in his region were threatened, to an alarming degree, by the spirit of heresy and schism. No better antidote against this spirit seemed to him available, than an obedient temper toward that central authority which in each church was vested in the bishop. Where all the members of a congregation obey one person, there is little chance for schism in that congregation. Church unity was his great motive in emphasizing the importance of the bishop. He was not interested to disparage the presbyters, and, indeed, speaks of the honor due to them in conjunction with the bishop. “Do nothing,” he writes, “without the bishop and presbyters.”] Among later writers, Irenæus and Cyprian, the latter in particular, were conspicuous for the advocacy of the episcopal dignity. The motives with them were the same as with Ignatius. They were lovers of law and order. Disrupting forces were at work in the Church. By a natural reaction, they emphasized the elements of central control. In this they were, to a degree, exponents of the tendencies of their times. The reaction awakened by Gnosticism and Montanism contributed much to the growth of the hierarchy.
i Christian Life and Practice, Book I., chap. ii.
The third stage, the rise of archbishops, was effected by obvious causes, but required a considerable time for its completion. Since the gospel was first preached in the large cities, these became centres of evangelization for the surrounding districts. Naturally, a very close relation subsisted between the mother church and the congregations organized by her missionary efforts. The high responsibilities of the episcopal office in the great cities tended to bring to such positions men of stamp and reputation. Apart from their personal qualities, their very position would give them a certain authority. Nothing was more natural, then, than to appeal to them in case of dispute. Prerogatives, awarded in the first instance by mere custom, could easily acquire in time a constitutional force. Hence, a kind of jurisdiction
1 Epist. ad Magnes., vii.
over the surrounding territory became attached to the bishops of large cities, and the rank of archbishop more or less definitely established.
The patriarchal system was only a further illustration of the tendencies just described. Among the large cities, a few held by far the superiority, and their bishops were able to claim in course of time a corresponding importance and breadth of jurisdiction. Of the five patriarchates that were ultimately acknowledged, three had become established by the year 325; namely, those of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch.
To complete the hierarchical scheme, it only remained to fix upon an episcopal centre, to assign to one bishop a constitutional supremacy over all the rest. This result was not reached in the first centuries, and, indeed, has never been reached. While the theory of such a supremacy was finally worked out, and asserted in behalf of the Roman bishop, Christendom has at no time been united in its acceptance. As regards the first three centuries, we have to deal only with tendencies toward this species of episcopal supremacy.
We shall find here no pope, in the later sense of that term. The claim for that dignity, and the acknowledgment of it, are both wanting.
By the close of the second century, the Roman bishops began to magnify their position. An endeavor was made, in case of controverted questions, to force their preferences upon the Church at large. Somewhat later, there are indications that they took pride in call. ing themselves the successors of Peter. All this, however, was far from a claim to universal sovereignty of a constitutional sort. To be a successor of Peter in that age, by no means implied a constitutional supremacy over the whole Church. As applied to the Roman bishop, it ascribed to him a peculiar prestige in virtue of his following the great apostle in the government of the church of the imperial city. The language of Chrysostom at a later day, when he spoke of the Bishop of Antioch as possessing the chair of Peter, is not a little significant of the sense in which similar terms were primarily applied to the Bishops of Rome. Even in their highest assumptions in the first centuries, they confessed, in effect, their lack of constitutional sovereignty over Christendom. For example, Victor, in contrast with the moderation of his predecessors, assumed to excommunicate the churches of proconsular Asia and its neighborhood, on account of their position on the Easter question. He “endeavored," says Euse
1 It is quite obvious that this might transpire apart from any theory of constitutional prerogatives. Even were the bishops constitutionally on a precise equality, one favored with outward means of superior influence would be very likely, especially if he were by nature of an aggres. sive temper, to press his views upon his colleagues. Indeed, no more instances of this kind are on record for the Roman bishops of the second and third centuries than might have been expected on any view of their constitutional powers.
, bius, “ to cut off the churches of all Asia, together with the neighboring churches, as heterodox, from the common unity. And he publishes abroad by letters, and proclaims, that all the brethren there are wholly excommunicated." 2 But what did this excommunication imply? In the absence of the acquiescence and corroboration of other churches, it simply denied to the churches of Asia Minor communion with the local church of Rome. Victor may have presumed upon the acquiescence of the other churches, whose views were like his upon the Easter question. If so, he presumed wrongly. Other churches felt free to maintain communion with those from whom Victor had withdrawn. When matters were brought to the test, the Roman bishop found that he could decide only for himself on the policy of excommunication, and, so far as can be judged, ceased to press the case. The outcome indicates that he was by no means assured of his right and competency to exercise sovereign authority over the whole Church.
1 Epist., lxxiv. (in works of Cyprian), by Firmilian. 2 Hist. Eccl., v. 24.
While some concessions were made to the dignity of the Roman bishop, none of these, when taken in their connections, reveal a conviction that any constitutional supremacy was inherent in him. Among the early writers, Irenæus and Cyprian used the terms most flattering to Rome. Tertullian, to be sure, in one instance applied to the Roman bishop higher epithets than are anywhere else found in the literature of the first three centuries, calling him the “sovereign pontiff, the bishop of bishops.” But he used these terms in bitter irony, and with reference to a decree of the Roman prelate which he declared could not be posted with propriety, except “on the very gates of the sensual appetites."1
The most emphatic concession from Irenæus is expressed in the following language: Ad hanc enim ecclesiam propter potiorem principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam. The proper translation of the phrase, propter potiorem principalitatem, is rendered 1 De Pudicitia, i.
2 Cont Hær., iii. 3. 2.