Lecture III. The Sacred Ministry
"No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." Hebrews v. 4.
THE Sacred Ministry is a subject that comes home to us very closely. We have been called, or are about to be called, to a holy office. What does our Church tell us with regard to its Ministry? It lays down as one of its fundamental principles that its Ministry is of Divine origin; that it holds its commission, and authority from our Lord Jesus Christ, and that by uninterrupted succession from the Apostles its Bishops, priests, and deacons have received the Office, and administration to which they have been called.
In the XXVI. Article of Religion the Church declares "that its Ministers of the Word, and Sacraments, act not in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by His commission and authority." In the XXIII. Article of Religion it forbids anyone to take on him the office of public preaching, or ministering of the Sacraments, before he be lawfully called, and sent, to execute the same. And it adds, that those persons are lawfully called, and sent, who have been chosen and called to the work of the Ministry by those to whom public authority has been given, in the Church, to call and send ministers into the Lord's vineyard.
In the preface to the Ordinal it appeals to Holy Scripture, and to history. "It is evident," it says, "unto all men, diligently reading Holy Scripture, and ancient authors, that from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of ministers in Christ's Church: Bishops, Priests, and Deacons." It goes on to say that no man was permitted to execute any of those offices, who had not been tested as to his qualifications for the Ministry, and then ordained with imposition of hands, by lawful authority. It forbids men to execute any of the functions of a Bishop, priest, or deacon, who has not had Episcopal Consecration, or Ordination.
It seems unnecessary to add to this testimony by quoting the language of Ember Collects, and of the various Offices of the Prayer Book to indicate the mind of the Church regarding the Sacred Ministry. In considering the fundamental principles of the Church, we must be guided by the voice of the Church alone. Where it speaks to us, through its authorized formularies in the Prayer Book, or through its Articles of Religion, or through its canonical legislation, we may be sure we are listening to the voice of the Church.
This is a very different thing from the private opinions or practices of its servants. Its ministers may often be unfaithful; they may betray the trust committed to them, but their disobedience does not invalidate the testimony of the Church.
We know, for example, the mind of the Church regarding marriage. It is plainly set forth, in the Marriage Service, and canonical enactments have declared the re-marriage of divorced persons, saving the innocent person, where the divorce is granted for adultery, unlawful. But a clergyman might, and I fear sometimes does, marry such persons and admit such persons to the sacraments. But the act of the unfaithful servant, be he Bishop, priest, or deacon, does not change the mind of the Church regarding the law of Marriage.
So, also, the individual opinion of any Churchman, or any lax custom, that may have obtained in any period of the Church's history, does not alter its mind regarding the Sacred Ministry.
It plainly declares that its Ministry holds a Divine commission, that it speaks in the name of Christ, and with His authority and credentials. It declares that from the days of the Apostles, the Ministry has consisted of the three Orders, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons; ordained always with imposition of hands, by those having authority in the Church to call men to labor in the vineyard of the Lord. And it adds that "no man shall be taken or accounted a lawful Bishop, priest, or deacon of this Church, or suffered to execute any of the said functions, except he hath had Episcopal Consecration or Ordination."
The fundamental principle of the Christian Ministry is that it is derived from our Blessed Lord Himself, from whom it is perpetuated by Episcopal Ordination. Our Lord Jesus Christ, having overcome death, and him that hath the power of death, has received all power in heaven and on earth. He is the King of kings, and in Him are all the gifts and graces needful for the up-building of His Church. He is the true Vine, and has every office of salvation in Himself.
He is the one Apostle or Messenger of His Father. He is the High Priest of our profession, the Bishop and Shepherd of our souls, and the one true Deacon, who came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His soul a ransom for many.
Being thus endowed, He was pleased to choose men to continue His personal ministry in the Church which He had purchased with His own Blood, and these persons He solemnly commissioned, and to them and their successors He promised His Presence to enable them to accomplish His Will, until the end of the world. "As My Father hath sent Me even so send I you." "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."
It was evident, from the very first, that ministerial agency was a leading principle of His Kingdom. He had many disciples. St. Paul tells us that there were more than five hundred of these, who could personally bear witness of His resurrection, having seen Him themselves, after He rose from the dead.
But it was not His will that the general assembly of His disciples should be His chosen witnesses. From the first, He made that fact evident. Calling together His disciples, He chose twelve, whom also He named Apostles. From that day they were His ministers. By them He baptized, by their hands He fed the multitudes, and to them He said, "I have chosen you, and ordained you." To them alone, at the outset, He gave authority to preach, to baptize, to absolve, to administer the Holy Communion. "He, through the Holy Ghost, had given commandment to the Apostles, whom He had chosen."
It was evidently His will that something analogous to Apostolic Succession should be the principle on which Church authority should be transmitted. He did not act on the theory that all ecclesiastical power is vested in the whole body of the disciples, and that ministers, when performing the duties of their office, are simply the delegates of the people, doing what the whole body of believers could not conveniently do.
He could easily have ordered matters so that the principle of popular rights should be maintained, had He so willed. He might have chosen the twelve Apostles by popular election; controlling the whole body of His disciples to choose them, for the hearts of men are in His hand, but He did not do so. He selected them personally, and committed the supreme control of the entire Church into their hands.
The first act of the Apostles was to fill the place of Judas, the traitor, not by popular election, but by lot; and so far as the sacred history informs us, these Apostles were the only Ministers, until the selection and ordination of the "Seven"; although it is probable that elders and deacons al-Teady existed. It would be strange if the "Seventy," whom our Lord appointed, should all have ceased to exercise their ministry, and the fact that the names of the "Seven" indicate that they were selected as the representatives of the interests of the Hellenists, seems to imply that the Hebrew portion of the Church was already fully represented.
The "Seven" were designated for an office of a secular character, the administration of the funds of the Church; yet they were set apart for it, by the imposition of the hands of the Apostles. It is the first Christian ordination, after our Lord's Ascension, and it teaches us that, according to Apostolic rule, every Minister of the Church required this imposition of Apostolic hands.
If it was necessary to lay hands on these men to consecrate them to serve in a comparatively secular office, surely, none would be suffered to administer the Word and Sacraments without ordination.
Next in order we read of the Confirmation of the Samaritans, whom Philip had converted, and baptized. Although this Minister of the Church could preach the Gospel with such power that many among the Samaritans believed on oiir Lord Jesus Christ, although he had authority to baptize, although he had power to work miracles, yet there were ministerial functions that he had not been empowered to perform. Two of the Apostles had to go to the Samaritans, and by prayer and the laying on of hands confer on them the gift of the Holy Ghost.
It was, therefore, the will of God that in the Christian Ministry there should be an order of men empowered to perform some spiritual functions, without power to perform all. The Acts of the Apostles records, in the nineteenth Chapter, another Confirmation; where, after Christian Baptism, an Apostle lays his hands on the disciples and they receive the Holy Ghost. It indicates that it was the rule in Apostolic days, and St. Paul's question to the Ephesian disciples, "Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?" shows how carefully Confirmation was observed in all cases.
We learn, also, from the Confirmation of the Samaritans, that no ability to judge the spiritual fitness of the disciple rested in the Apostles and Evangelists of the first age of the Church. Neither Peter nor Philip could say whether a man was rightly prepared for baptism or Confirmation. They could only judge by external appearances. They possessed none of the attributes of infallibility.
We also see that it made all the difference in the world whether a man was rightly prepared or not. In the one case he received the Holy Ghost, in the other he received nothing but greater condemnation. Simon, the sorcerer, is baptized by Philip and confirmed by Peter and John, but they confer no blessing on him; he remains in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity, and has neither part nor lot in the heritage of the saints, because his heart had not been right in the sight of God, when he confessed the Faith in baptism.
How strongly does this tragedy enforce the Apostolic precept, "Judge yourselves, brethren, that ye be not judged of the Lord." The faithfulness of the Ministry cannot supply moral sincerity in the disciple.
The statement of the inspired writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, that the Laying on of Hands is one of the principles of the doctrine of Christ, as universal in its obligation, as repentance, faith, and baptism, of itself teaches that it is God's will that successors of the Apostles should ever remain in the Church, to confer this grace which He had reserved to the Apostolic Order.
While the Church was confined to the little city of Jerusalem, the permanent population of which was probably not more than 50,000, the Christian Ministry might practically remain in the Apostolate, as in a germ; but when, as the consequence of persecution, it began to spread abroad throughout the world, a delegation of ministerial powers to other men became necessary.
Presently we find other Apostles mentioned, besides the Twelve: James, the brother of the Lord; Paul, Barnabas, and others; and at the same time we observe that, instead of the one centre of Christian activity at Jerusalem, churches have sprung up throughout all Judea, and Galilee, and Samaria. The control of the Church at Jerusalem by the twelve Apostles, acting as one body, is ended. One of their number attains the crown of martyrdom, and probably the rest were dispersed among the different churches, to avoid bitter persecution.
At all events, the headship of the Church in Jerusalem devolves on one man, James, the brother of the Lord. He was not one of the Twelve, but had been added to the company of the Apostles; and we find him, for years, ruling the Church at Jerusalem as its ecclesiastical head.
When Peter escapes from prison, he asks that notice be sent to James and the brethren. When the first Council is held at Jerusalem, James sums up the debate, and his powerful influence determines the policy of the Church on the burning question that then was troubling the peace of many.
Long years after, when St. Paul comes to Jerusalem, after his third journey, he is reported to have had an audience with James, all the elders being present. St. Paul, in mentioning those who seemed to be pillars of the Church, puts this man James before Peter and John, and he refers to the Jewish Christians who gave him so much trouble at Antioch as certain persons, "who had come from James"; doubtless because they had letters commendatory from the head of the Church at Jerusalem. All these notices substantiate the ancient tradition, that James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem.
About the time that James was appointed the head of the Church at Jerusalem, we hear of another order of Church officers, the Elders. When were first appointed, or what was their office, we are not told. The first notice of them is the statement that the alms for the relief of the poor Christians at Jerusalem was sent by the hands of Barnabas and Saul, from Antioch, to the Elders. They are mentioned with the Apostles and brethren in connection with the Council at Jerusalem, and we are told they were present when St. Paul had his audience with James, after his third missionary journey. But of their authority and ministry we are told nothing whatever.
Many questions regarding the Apostolic Church at Jerusalem wait in vain for an answer. Whether the elders were the pastors of the different congregations of the city, or a sort of senate under James, the Bishop; what the relations were between the authority of James and the other Apostles; why the elders and brethren of the local Church at Jerusalem joined with the Apostles in laying down the law for the Gentile Christians of Cilicia; and how the Jewish and Christian systems were reconciled, so that men were Christians and yet zealous for the law--for even St. Paul walked orderly and kept the law, while protesting against its imposition on the Gentiles--these questions, and many others, we cannot answer.
No doubt much pertaining to the organization of the Church at Jerusalem was temporary, owing to the Jewish element pervading it, and so is not mentioned in Holy Scripture, as it could not be the rule of the Church in after ages. But, plainly, the Ministry was Apostolic, merging into an Episcopal rule, under James, as the permanent Bishop.
If we turn to St. Paul, we find an Apostle whose mission was from the Lord, and whose jurisdiction was designated by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost said, "Separate Me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." With an earnest service of benediction, the Apostles were sent forth on the new errand, to the Gentile heathen.
From that day began the wonderful work of the Apostle to the Gentiles. In many lands he planted the Church, and everywhere ruled it with absolute authority, which he never permitted anyone to dispute. In all his letters there is not a hint that in any of the churches founded by him there was any ministerial organization which would remove it from his supervision, or render it independent of his authority. He ordained elders in every city; he told his converts, plainly, to submit themselves to this appointed Ministry; but the control of all matters he reserved in his own hands. Attached to him there was a staff of Ministers, the most prominent of whom were Timothy, Titus, Silas, Epaphras, Luke, Erastus, Demas, Aristarchus, and Tychicus, by means of whom he kept up constant communication with the churches under his jurisdiction. Again and again he commands his converts and the whole membership of some particular church, ministers and people, to receive these envoys, or Vicars-Apostolic, and obey them as his representatives.
For example, he says to the Corinthian Church, "I have sent unto you Timotheus, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways, which be in Christ as I teach everywhere in the Church"; and again, "Now, if Timotheus come, see that he may be with you, without fear; for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do. Let no man, therefore, despise him, but conduct him forth in peace, that he may come unto me."
He sends Titus to this troublesome, insubordinate church on another occasion, and notes that his representative had been received "with fear and trembling." In sending him to them again, he designates him his "partner, and fellow laborer"; and with him he sends another vicar whom he describes as "our brother whom we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things." Tychicus he sends to the Colossians, "that he may know their state."
Such was the oversight or episcopacy exercised by this Apostle over all the churches he had planted. They were all closely watched and controlled, either by himself or by men who were in his confidence, who were attached to his person, as his companions, and consequently knew how he would act, under any circumstances that might arise.
What provision did he make for the government of these churches after his death? We have full information given, in three Epistles, written not very long before his martyrdom, and these give us his determination respecting the supply of the Church's needs.
They contain a solemn transmittal of his Apostolical authority, to these two men, through whom, as his ministers, he had so long acted, and they fail to give any intimation that this authority was to cease, and be superceded by any more democratic form of government. They provide for the exercise of Apostolic authority through individuals, and they make no provision for the government of the Church by Synods of presbyters, all officially equal and deciding their differences by a majority of votes. They assume the continuance of Apostolic authority in the persons of Timothy and Titus.
Timothy is invested with authority over ministers and teachers. He is to charge that they teach no other doctrine. He is told the qualifications of Bishops and deacons, as if he alone was to choose them and ordain them. He is the judge regarding elders and widows, as if discipline had been fully committed to him. Again, in his second letter, the Apostle gives directions to Timothy regarding ordination, and he is told how he must deal with heresies and those who fomented them.
So, also, Titus is left in Crete to set in order things that are wanting, and to ordain elders in every city, and he is reminded what the qualifications of the ministry are, as if he alone was responsible for appointment and ordination. Discipline is committed to him fully. He is to rebuke sharply, to rebuke with all authority, and to reject or excommunicate the heretic, after the first or second admonition. It is clear, then, that the Apostle committed to these two men authority over these churches, and all their ministers and teachers.
These three pastoral epistles are the only letters in the New Testament in which there are any directions regarding the government of the churches. In no other epistle is there a word respecting the choice, qualifications, or ordination of ministers, and these three epistles are written to individuals, men who had long acted as the Vicars-Apostolic of St. Paul, and they are not written to churches. Surely, if it had been God's will that His Church should be ruled after some democratic model, directions would have been sent to the churches themselves.
If the people were to be the source of Church power, or if the authority hitherto exercised by the Apostles was to be vested in a Board of Presbyters, would not these letters have been directed to the churches of Ephesus, and of Crete, or to the presbyters living and working there? Would they not have been told that the power and the responsibility of Church government now devolved on them, and that they must beware, lest any companion or fellow-helper of the Apostle should usurp the power and authority which was now committed to them?
But no such warnings were given. They are not bidden to guard their rights and liberties in this matter of Church government, but are told to submit themselves. Nor is there a hint in these letters that the authority committed to Timothy and Titus was abnormal and temporary, and was to be succeeded by a new kind of Church government, in which there would be no head of the local Church, such as the people hitherto had been accustomed to.
Not a word is said to Titus or Timothy about constituting the elders of Ephesus and Crete into synods and presbyteries, with independent power to ordain and to govern. On the contrary, Timothy is to see that he lays hands suddenly on no man, and Titus is responsible for the ordination of elders in every city.
In the last of the Books of the New Testament we have messages sent to the Angels, or Messengers of the Seven Churches, who, beyond any serious question, were men occupying the place and responsibility of the Chief Pastor. It is noticeable that the various epithets, "dead, cold, hot, poor, rich, blind, naked," characterizing the condition of the different churches, do not agree in gender with Ecclesia, but with the masculine noun, Angelos. So that, as far as the New Testament testimony is concerned, the Church is represented always as controlled and ordered by Episcopal authority, received from the Apostles. The Ministry was developed, not from below, but from above; not by elevation from the people, but by devolution from our Lord, through His Apostles.
Necessity was the law which governed this development. When the rapid growth of the Church rendered the Apostles unequal to the discharge of certain secular duties, they appointed and ordained seven men to execute this function. This was succeeded by the delegation of the duties of teaching, government, and discipline, to presbyters or elders, in congregations over which the Apostles could not exercise any continuous personal superintendence, and these, in turn, were controlled by the Apostles themselves, or by vicars appointed by them for this purpose. Provision is made, so far as we have any knowledge, throughout the Church for the continuance of this Episcopal form of government, by men who have received their commission and authority from the Apostles.
The last glimpse we have of the state of the Church in the Revelation shows that it is everywhere ruled by one man, whom the Apostle recognizes as the head of the Church, and to whom he addresses his letter of rebuke or of encouragement.
When we pass from the New Testament to the records of ecclesiastical history, an impenetrable cloud seems to cover the closing years of the first and the beginning of the second century. But as soon as the cloud lifts, and discloses the state of the Church to our view, before the middle of the second century, in every Christian community we observe there was a chief functionary, uniformly styled its Bishop, with two inferior orders of ministers under him, known as presbyters and deacons.
The Sacred Ministry.
Under what circumstances did this form of government arise, and with what amount of authority was it invested? Was Episcopacy an institution of Divine origin, absolute and indispensable, or was it destitute of Apostolic sanction and authority? Was it merely an office, desirable, perhaps, to secure good government, which men invented in troublous times, but not at all essential to the existence of Apostolic order?
Whether our Lord, in speaking to His Apostles concerning the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God, outlined the orders of the Christian Ministry, as He knew it was about to take shape in His Church, or whether He left these details to the hour when necessity would demand them, we cannot say. Nothing is recorded. But, probably, the Apostles were left free to act, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as the welfare of the Church might seem to require, and the Orders of the Church, as they constituted them, have that Divine sanction which the commission implies, "As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you." They rest on the same ground as Infant Baptism, Confirmation, and the observance of the Lord's Day.
We have seen how the institution of the Christian Ministry developed under the Apostles themselves, and, as soon as the light of history breaks in and shows us the state of the Church some fifty years after the fall of Jerusalem, wherever we hear of a local Church, we find it, without exception, under the government of a Bishop, and that without any indication that there ever was a time when it was otherwise. In the interval between these two dates there is not much information at our disposal, but it distinctly upholds the contention that Episcopacy was the form of government in the Church from the days of the Apostles.
The first Epistle of Clement was, no doubt, written from Rome to the Corinthians, shortly before the close of the first century. He mentions the Ministry there as composed of presbyters and deacons, but he also speaks of the Church there as "obedient to those who have the rule over you, and giving all fitting honor to the presbyters among you"; and he distinctly states that the Ministry is perpetuated by ordinations of the Apostles and their successors in the Episcopal office.
He uses the word "Episcopate" to denote the office of presbyter, and "Bishop" to designate the presbyter, for at that early day the titles of the Ministry had not assumed definite form. Things being always, as Hooker says, "ancienter than their names," and only after the thing has been adopted for a time does general use agree as to the name.
And the word "bishop," or overseer, was, in the first age of the Church, used to designate the overseer of a vast diocese, and the overseer of a handful of people assembling for worship in some garret.
Bearing that in mind, let us observe the testimony of Clement. "Our Apostles," he says, "knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the Episcopate. For this reason, therefore, they appointed those ministers already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in the ministry. We are of opinion, therefore, that those appointed by them, or afterwards by other eminent men, * * * cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry. Blessed are those presbyters, who, having finished their course, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure" (Clement ad. Cor. C. 44).
Here we observe that the presbyters have not been ordained by their fellow presbyters, but by Apostles, or other eminent men. Apparently the local Church at Corinth, as in St. Paul's day, was superintended by an itinerant episcopate, and either the person whose duty it was to care for it had died, or had proved unfaithful, as was the case with some of the vicars whom St. Paul employed, as he tells us in the pathetic letters written from his Roman prison. But all the presbyters at Corinth had been ordained by Apostles and other eminent men, and Clement evidently had no idea that any other ordination was possible.
Another fragment from that early age is the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, written, scholars think, by some Jewish Christian for his countrymen in a remote part of Syria. His theology was very inadequate, and his doctrinal instruction very meagre. But he throws some light on the Church organization in the place where he lived. There is a local ministry of Bishops (that is, presbyters) and deacons, but over them we find a ministry of Apostles, prophets, and teachers, not yet localized in any particular Church, but like that ambulatory Episcopate by which St. Paul governed the Churches. The functions of that higher ministry the writer does not mention, being concerned merely with the duties of the presbyters and deacons; but he implies its right to settle in the local Church when it sees fit to do so.
Next in order comes the disputed testimony of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, against which those who have lost the episcopate and find it necessary to justify themselves have fought so desperately. I presume it is practically settled that the shorter version of the seven Epistles of Ignatius, and not the Syriac version of three of these Epistles, is the authentic utterance of this writer. But, in any case, his testimony with regard to the three orders of the Sacred Ministry is distinct and unequivocal.
In the Syriac version of the Epistle to Polycarp (C. C.), he says, "Look ye to the Bishop that God also may look upon you." "I will be instead of the souls of those who are subject to the Bishop, and the presbyters, and the deacons." And, at great length, he dwells on the office of Bishops, in the shorter form of the seven Greek Epistles, his theme being, first, the Incarnation, and secondly, the visible organization of Bishops, presbyters, and deacons, in the Church of God. He gives no hint whatever that in the brief interval between the time of the rule of the Apostles themselves and the date of his Epistles, there had been a period when the presbyters exercised functions now reserved to the Bishop.
The testimony of Ignatius explains, also, the letter of Polycarp to the Philippians. For the occasion of the letter of the Bishop of Smyrna rose woe of the request of Ignatius, that the Philippian Christians would send a letter to the bereaved Church of Antioch. The distance was so great that the Philippians could not send a messenger to Antioch, and they wrote to Polycarp, asking him to forward their message to the sorrowing flock of Ignatius.
The letter of Polycarp, in assent to this request, has been preserved. He writes as a Bishop (Ignatius tells us he was Bishop of Smyrna), the style of his address being, "Polycarp and the presbyters with him"; but he only speaks of elders and deacons, at Philippi. No Bishop is mentioned as living or ruling there. Were, then, the presbyters and deacons the only Church authorities at that time, recognized at Philippi? If the letter of Polycarp stood alone, we might be tempted to answer this question in the affirmative. But it does not stand alone. We read it with the letters of Ignatius, written at that time.
From these we learn that Episcopacy was extended to the ends of the earth. In the 3d Chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians Ignatius speaks of the "Bishops settled everywhere, to the utmost bounds of the earth." In the 3d Chapter of his Epistle to the Trallians he says: "Let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the Bishop as Jesus Christ, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrim of God. Apart from these there is no Church." After writing in this style at Smyrna, he goes his way to Philippi, enjoyed cordial intercourse with the Christians there, and departed, leaving behind him a venerated name and an earnest desire to carry out his wishes.
There is no sign that he rebuked them or remonstrated with them. And yet it is impossible that the man who had declared that without the three orders of the Ministry there could be no Church should suddenly have become indifferent to the absence of a Bishop at Philippi. Probably the true explanation of the state of the Church at Philippi was this: As in the case of the Churches of Asia, in the age of St. Paul, as in the case of the Corinthians, when Clement addressed his Epistle to them, there was no localized Bishop, but they were ruled, and their clergy were ordained by vicars Apostolic, who from time to time visited them, and took order for their spiritual welfare. In fact, it is not unlikely that Ignatius himself was not the localized Bishop of Antioch, but the representative of Apostolic authority in the region of Syria.
Another voice that comes to us out of the mist that covers the period between the Apostolic age and the middle of the Second Century, is the Shepherd of Hermas. Its exact date is uncertain. Some think it was written about the close of the first century. Some would date it as late as the year 140. Hermas speaks of deacons and of presbyters, or those who occupy the chief seat; and he also mentions rulers as distinguished from those occupying the chief seat; so that he seems to suggest the same orders in the Church that are mentioned in the Epistle of Clement.
Such is the tendency of the fragmentary evidence at our disposal down to the middle of the second century. Beyond question there was then established in every part of Christendom a Ministry of Bishops, priests, and deacons, claiming to be Apostolic in its origin, and in its authority. The Ministry was everywhere recognized as having this character, and nowhere is there a trace of dissent or dissatisfaction on the ground that it was a usurpation of authority, which at one time had been exercised by presbyters and not by Bishops.
Hegesippus was born early in the second century, and he wrote not later than A. I). 175 a collection of memoirs or reminiscences of the Apostolic and post-Apostolic ages. Eusebius had this book under his eye when he wrote his ecclesiastical history, and he quotes from it. We learn that Hegesippus journeyed westward from Syria to Italy, A. D. 145-150. He met a great many Bishops, and received the same doctrine from all. In the course of his journey he abode many days at Corinth, and mentions Primus, the Bishop of the Corinthian Church. Afterwards, when in Rome, he made a succession (a catalogue) of the Bishops down to Anicetus. He adds, "Now, in each succession, and in each city, it is as the law proclaims, and the prophets, and the Lord." As an illustration of the meaning of Hegesippus in using the word dia dochen (succession) we might refer to the work of notion on the "successions" or the successive chiefs of the Philosophic Schools. The title of the work is Hai Diadochai.
Hegesippus then had found a succession of bishops in every city.
Such was the state of the Church A. D. 150. The same writer also speaks of the Episcopal succession of the See of Jerusalem, mentioning Symeon as the second Bishop, after the death of James, the brother of the Lord. Contemporary with Hegesippus was Irenaeus, born between the years A. D. 120-130. He was a disciple of Polycarp; of whom he says (III. iii. 4.), that he was instructed by Apostles; and also, by Apostles in Asia, appointed Bishop of the Church in Smyrna. He goes on to say that Polycarp taught the things which he had learned of the Apostles, and which alone are true, and which the Church has handed down. "To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp, down to the present time."
Irenaeus became a presbyter in Gaul, under the Bishop Pothinus, and after the martyrdom of that confessor, he succeeded him. In his contest with heretics, he lays emphasis on the rule of faith, handed down from the Apostles; and the keepers of this sacred tradition are, he tells us, the Bishops of the Church.
He says, "True knowledge is the doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient system of the Church in all the world, and the character of the Body of Christ, according to the successions of the Bishops, to whom they delivered the Church in each separate place (Bk. IV., xxxiii. 8). He says, "The path of those belonging to the Church, circumscribes the whole world, as possessing the sure tradition of the Apostles, and gives unto us to see that the faith of all is one and the same, since all receive one and the same 'God,' the Father, and believe in the same dispensation regarding the Incarnation of the Son of God, and are cognizant of the same gift of the Spirit, and preserve the same form of that ordination which belongs to the Church, and expect the same coming of the Lord, and await the same salvation of the whole man, both soul and body" (Bk. V., xx. 1).
There is, we see, in the mind of Irenaeus, a picture of the Universal Church spread all over the world, handing down the truth as delivered by the Apostles; and the bond of union, that connects the generations in the Church, is the Episcopal Succession, to whom, he says, the Apostles delivered the Church, in each separate place. He knows of no exception to this form of Church government. In this day, the terminology by which the offices of the sacred ministry were designated, was still in process of formation. He calls the Bishops, Presbyters in several places, but he makes it plain that he means to designate Bishops ruling the Church as the successors of the Apostles. For example, in his letter to Victor, Bishop of Rome, as quoted by Eusebius (H. E. V. 24-. 14), he says, "Among these were the presbyters before Soter, who presided over the Church which thou now rulest. We mean Anicetus, and Pius, and Hyginus, and Telesphorus, and Xystus."
Again (Bk. IV. xxiv. 2). He says: "It is incumbent to obey the presbyters, who are in the Church, those who, as I have shown, have the succession from the Apostles, those who, together with the succession of the Episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth." In Bk. III. ii. 2., he says: "We refer them to that tradition which originates from the Apostles, which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches." Then, in the third chapter, he goes on to demonstrate that succession: "We are in a position," he says, "to reckon up those who were by the Apostles instituted Bishops in the Churches, and the succession of those men to our own times."
Since it would be tedious to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, "we indicate the tradition derived from the Apostles of the Church organized at Rome by the two Apostles, Peter and Paul, as also the faith preached to men, which comes down to our own time by means of the succession of Bishops. For, to this Church, on account of its special pre-eminence, all Churches must needs come together, and in her the Apostolic tradition has been always preserved by those who are from all parts. The blessed Apostles then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the Episcopate. To him succeeded Anacletus, and, after him, Clement was allotted the Bishopric."
And so he goes on to enumerate the succession of the Bishops at Rome to his own day. The Succession of presbyters therefore, was, in the language of Irenaeus, simply the succession of Bishops.
There were many presbyters, or elders, in Rome, but one man alone held among them the succession from the Apostles, as the ruler of the Church, to whom had been committed the Episcopate.
Tertullian, who was born, about A.D. 150, and became a Montanist, probably at the close of the second century, reproduces the argument of Irenaeus, in his contest with heresy. He has two questions for the heretic. "Does he hold the rule of faith?" "Has he the Apostolic succession?" "Let them," he says, "produce the origins of their churches. Let them unroll the line of their Bishops, running down in such a way from the beginning, that their first Bishop shall have had for his authorizer and predecessor one of the Apostles, or of the Apostolic men who continued to the end in their fellowship. This is the way in which the Apostolic Churches hand in their registers, as the Church of the Smyrnaeans relates, that Polycarp was installed by John. So, in like manner, the rest of the Churches exhibit the names of men appointed to the Episcopate by the Apostles, whom they possess as transmitters of the Apostolic seed" (Ter. De. Praescp. 32).
The unchanging rule of faith in Tertullian's mind, is connected with the steadfast Apostolic succession. While the lists of names, which Irenaeus and Tertullian and others, their contemporaries, quoted by Eusebius, may be uncertain, when they mention the succession of the Bishops of a particular Church--for they probably were handing on an oral tradition--yet their testimony establishes these facts: that the Church in their day possessed a ministry of three orders; that it was ruled everywhere by Bishops; that these Bishops were regarded as the successors of the Apostles; and, in ordaining, confirming, and ruling, they exercised those spiritual gifts, which the Apostles had transmitted to them.
As they openly challenged the heretics to produce the accounts of the origins of their Churches, and to unroll the line of their Bishops in such a way, from the beginning, that their first Bishop shall have had for his authorizer and predecessor one of the Apostles, there cannot have been, at that time, anywhere in the Church, in Asia, Europe, or Africa, any ministry not of this Apostolic character; nor can there have been anywhere a tradition, that there had been a period when the ministry was not Episcopal. For how quickly would the heretic have retorted, that the Episcopate was not Apostolic in its origin, if there was the faintest trace of a tradition that it was a usurpation of powers, originally committed to the presbyters of the Church.
And when we reflect that Irenaeus was born not later than A.D. 130, that he was the disciple of Polycarp, that he was trained in the East, and exercised his ministry and died in the Western Church, his opportunities of knowing the tradition of the Church, everywhere, as regards the origin and character of its ministry, qualifies him to bear witness of the highest value.
He declares that the three-fold ministry of the Church is Apostolic in its origin, and that the Bishops are the successors of the Apostles. He knows of no counter tradition anywhere, and so confident is he in his position, that he cites the Apostolic authority of the Bishops as the guarantee of the faith of the Church. The one, undying Episcopate, with its direct descent from the Apostles, was the assurance of the permanence of Apostolic truth. The Bishop, as the successor of the Apostles, was the depository of primitive truth, the inheritor of Apostolic tradition.
Now, if any where there had been a suspicion that this assertion of the Apostolic origin of the Episcopate was false; if there had been a time when everywhere in the Church there had been a usurpation, by one man, of powers which hitherto had belonged to all the presbyters, and a denial to these men of the authority to ordain, to confirm, and to rule the Church, which they had formerly possessed; why had it left no trace in any Christian community during that brief interval of thirty years which separated the last of the Apostles from Irenaeus?
But no witness of the second century rises up to call the testimony of Irenaeus in question. That was reserved for men, safely removed by the distance of ages from the facts which they disputed. We may see, then, how temperate is the language of the Church, when it asserts that "it is evident unto all men, diligently reading Holy Scriptures, and ancient authors, that from the Apostles' time, there have been these orders of ministers in Christ's Church: Bishops, Priests, and Deacons."
The New Testament declares that the twelve Apostles were the depositories of Christ's Commission, as the founders, and governors of His Church. At first, the ministry was within the apostolate; but as necessity required, that ministry was developed, by the creation of the orders of presbyters, and deacons, and the commitment to them of functions of teaching, of worship, and of discipline, where the Apostles could not personally act.
These ministers were always commissioned for their work by the laying on of the hands of the Apostles. As the work of the Church grew, and time went on, the powers lodged with the Apostles were delegated to other men as their substitutes, and their successors.
In Apostolic days, a localized Episcopate began to take the place of the itinerant oversight of the Apostles, James, the Lord's brother, becoming the first Bishop of Jerusalem, having under him elders, and deacons. St. Paul, during his whole career, as the Apostle of the Gentiles, ruled the many churches he had founded, reserving to himself the power of ordination to the Sacred finis-try, and the right to control with absolute authority. He maintained his constant superintendence by means of a staff of some twenty vicars-apostolic attached to him, who personally visited the churches as he required, and acted as his representatives, and with his authority. In his last days he appointed men, so far as we have any knowledge, to ordain, to rule, and to watch over the churches with full apostolic jurisdiction. Whether the commission of these men for the churches to which they were sent, was permanent or temporary, whether their authority was that of diocesan Bishops or vicars-apostolic, they certainly acted as the substitutes of the Apostle, and their duties were, in essence, identical with those of the episcopate.
So far, then, as the New Testament is concerned, we are taught that there was no supreme government, except the apostolic oversight, and no principle for transmitting this is recognized, except apostolic succession by laying on of hands. St. John, in the Revelation, addresses his letters to the Angels, or Messengers of the Churches, as if he recognized that everywhere the Church was under Episcopal oversight.
Clement alludes to rulers, presbyters and deacons, as the Ministry of the Church, and takes it for granted that every presbyter at Corinth had, as a matter of course, been ordained by an Apostle, or other eminent men. The obscure writer in some remote part of Syria who gives us his crude conception of Christianity in the "Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," evidently has in mind a ministry similar to that to which Clement refers at Corinth; a local ministry of presbyters and deacons, with an itinerant episcopate, exercising occasional and general superintendence, similar to the government of the Asiatic churches under St. Paul.
About the time of St. John's death, this itinerant rule of apostolic men became localized, as a diocesan episcopacy; not suddenly, but gradually, so that within ten or fifteen years after the death of the last of the Apostles, Ignatius could speak of it as a settled part of the regimen of Church government. And in the next generation, when from the pen of Hegesippus, of Irenaeus, of Tertullian, we have a distinct account of the state of the Church, we find over all Christendom this episcopal form of Church government, and the Bishops, everywhere acknowledged, as deriving their authority in direct succession from the Apostles, and exercising by virtue of the Divine commission entrusted to them, full apostolic powers.
From that far off past, there comes no tradition that this episcopal authority was a usurpation, although the fullest opportunity is given, for these writers throw down the challenge to the heretics, that the Bishops are the successors of the Apostles. If the enemies of the faith could have denied it, they would have overturned the argument of these champions of the Church. But there was no denial. It was a fact patent to all men in that age of the Church.
In reading the testimony concerning the early government of the Church, we must remember, to quote the words of Hooker, that "things are ancienter than their names." We do not first coin a name, and then invent a thing to fit it; but, having invented a new thing, we try one title, and another, to designate it, until by common consent, we at length agree on a name.
We have not yet decided whether the permanent name of the metal road is "railroad," or "railway," whether the railway carriage is a "car" or a "carriage," whether the stopping place is a "station" or a "depot," and often times we wait a very considerable time before a felicitous designation is adopted by the unanimous consent of men.
So, also, it was with the orders of the Christian ministry. The names, apostle, prophet, bishop, presbyter, deacon, were not used accurately, in the New Testament, and among early ecclesiastical writers, as we would use them now We speak of the ordination of the "seven deacons," yet the word "deacon" is not used to designate them in the New Testament.
St. Paul calls the Saviour a deacon (Rom. 15, 8). He designates himself and Apollos deacons, and yet the deacons mentioned in the first epistle to Timothy (I Tim iii) are beyond doubt an order of ministers below the presbyters, whereas St. Paul was the Apostle in absolute authority, over the presbyters. Of course, the word was used in the indefinite way, in which the term minister is now employed, to designate bishop, priest, or deacon; and many other offices.
So also the words bishop, and elder, are used indefinitely. The bishop or overseer, was sometimes the man whose business it was to oversee a dozen persons, gathered together in a loft, for worship, and sometimes the name was applied to an officer, like Titus, deputed to oversee all the congregations of the Church, in a large island, with all their ministers of all grades, to ordain these ministers, to rebuke them, if necessary, to try them, to depose them.
Peter, also, calls himself a presbyter, or elder, and, in Acts, he applies the title to elderly lay people. "Your old men," literally "your presbyters," "shall dream dreams." Yet Peter was siirely an Apoatle, and belonged to a different class from those elders who met with the Apostles and brethren in the council at Jerusalem. The presbyters, or elders, of Ephesus, summoned to meet Paul at Miletus, are designated by him bishops, or overseers of the flock; and on the other hand Irenacus speaks of the succession of bishops at Rome as presbyters. He designates them in his letter to Victor as "the presbyters who presided over the Church which thou now rulest," and then goes on to name them, although he has no idea whatever, of confusing their office with that of the presbyters under their jurisdiction.
Other early ecclesiastical writers, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Firmilian, use the same indeterminate language in referring to the episcopate; for while the office was distinct, and the one Bishop in every diocese was held to be the successor of the Apostles, the name by which that office was designated had not yet been fixed by that common consent and usage which afterwards obtained in the Church.
We could easily add to the volume of the testimony concerning the character of the sacred Ministry in the second century. The Clementine forgeries, probably the work of some unbelieving Jew, and the nidus from which was hatched the Petrine claims, began some time about the year A. D. 150, and they take it for granted, that episcopacy is the rule of government in the Church, and that it derives its succession from the Apostles.
Clement of Alexandria, born about the middle of the second century, only knew of a Church which had a ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons. Hegesippus was the personal friend of the Bishop of Corinth before A.D. 150, and speaks of him as the latest of a succession of bishops there.
But nothing could be added to the positiveness of the testimony we have already considered, that, by unanimous consent over all the world, the sacred Ministry was episcopal, and derived its power and authority by direct succession from the Apostles.
There is no record, I believe, in the history of the early ages of the Church, of a single ordination by presbyters. A Bampton lecturer, who had his limitations as a defender of the Faith of the Church, inasmuch as he seemed to deny that the Acts of the Apostles and the Pastoral epistles were part of the Canon of the New Testament, has tried to make out a case of ordination by presbyters in the early ages of Christianity. He has told us of a presbyter-abbot who promoted one of his companions to the diaconate, and the presbyter-ate. But when we read the account we find nothing to justify the assertion that the abbot ordained his friend, but simply that he used his influence to have him ordained.
Again, he tells us, that the presbyter Novatus appointed Felicessimus deacon, from which he infers that he ordained him. But Felicessimus was not the only person appointed to a holy office by Novatus. He also appointed a bishop. The same expression exactly is used, Novatus appointed Novatian Bishop. But in this case we are told how he made the appointment. He did not ordain him, but as Cornelius, Bishop of Rome, writes "He compelled three bishops, boorish and most foolish men, to give him the episcopate by a vain and shadowy imposition of hands." No doubt, he appointed Felicessimus a deacon in the same way.
The lecturer also cites the case of Colluthus, a presbyter of Alexandria, who ordained one Ischyras. It is an unfortunate illustration. For, in the first place, when Calluthus ordained this man, he pretended to be a bishop. In the second place, the ordination was pronounced null and void, and Ischyras was accounted only a layman, because the person who ordained him was a presbyter.
Two writers, in the fourth century, the unknown person designated Ambrosiaster, and the illustrious Jerome, have contended that originally Christ instituted only one order of presbyter-bishops, and that it was the exigency of Church life, which led to its being divided into the episcopate, and the presbyterate, under apostolic sanction. These writers, observing that the names, bishop and presbyter, are used in the New Testament to designate the same officers, seem to argue that originally the presbyters were also bishops, and that because of the clangers of rivalry, and division, it was determined that only one person in a particular church should have the authority, and exercise the functions, of the bishop, the rest of the clergy receiving the limited commission which was void of authority, to rule, and to ordain.
The grounds for the view taken by these writers, are merely philological. They bring no historical proof for their theory, except Jerome's assertion regarding the ancient mode of selecting a bishop at Alexandria. It is well to note, however, what it is that they assert. They teach that all presbyters were at first ordained with episcopal functions, that they were bishops in fact, as well as presbyters, but that after a time, only one person in the Church was so ordained, and became the bishop, while all others received a limited commission, which did not include the authority to ordain, or confirm.
And they dwell on the fact, that all orders are in the bishop, that now, none but he can ordain; that none of the clergy who has not been ordained to it, should take to himself any office which he knows not to have been intrusted to him; that it never was lawful, or permitted, that an inferior should ordain a superior, for nobody gives what he has not received. Whatever they may have thought of this imaginary order of presbyter-bishops, they were agreed that it had passed away, and that no authority to ordain was now vested in the elders of the Church.
But it is doubtful if Jerome ever imagined that there had been an order of presbyter-bishops. He was in a temper, and ready to carry an argument to any length.
He wished to rebuke the deacons of Rome, and exalt his own order. The dignity of the bishops, also was a thorn in his side. And so, he goes on to tell how much greater is the position of a presbyter, than that of a deacon, and to insist that a presbyter could do all that belonged to the position of the bishop, except to ordain.
In fact presbyters, and bishops, he goes on to say, practically were the same, at first, for does not St. Peter call himself, your fellow-presbyter?
The argument is a feeble one. Irenaeus calls the bishops of Rome, even Victor, presbyters. But no one is so simple as to suppose that Victor was merely one of the elders of the Church at Rome, and not universally recognized as the one bishop of that diocese.
Jerome cites, as his historical proof, an ancient custom of the Church at Alexandria. For a considerable length of time, he says, from the days of St. Mark, down to the episcopate of Heraclas, "the presbyters of Alexandria used always to appoint as bishops one chosen out of their number, and placed upon a higher grade; just as if an army were making a general, or deacons were choosing one of themselves, whose diligence they knew, and calling him archdeacon." "For what, except ordination, does a bishop do, which a presbyter cannot?"
The language is ambiguous. But if Jerome means, that no consecration or ordination was necessary, to make a presbyter a bishop, there is no support for his statement, in Latin, or Greek literature.
Origen, who lived in the days of Hereclas, has not a word to say of any such custom, and Athanasius, writing sixty years earlier than Jerome, and knowing far more thoroughly the history of the Church in Alexandria, virtually denies that any such custom ever existed. For he tells us of the presbyter Colluthus, who pretended to be a bishop, and ordained one Ischyras. And at a council of Egyptian bishops, A.D. 340, we are told by Athanasius, the ordination was pronounced worthless. Here is the ancient record:
"How then is Ischyras a presbyter? Who appointed him? Colluthus, was it not? This is the only plea left. But that Colluthus died a presbyter, and that his every ordination is invalid, and all who were appointed by him, in his schism, have come out laymen, and are so treated, is plain, and no person doubts it" (Athan. cont. Arians. 12).
If there had been any ancient tradition in favor of ordination by presbyters, why did Colluthus pretend to be a bishop when he ordained, and why does this Egyptian council declare that all his ordinations are void, and all his ministers only laymen, because the person appointing them was only a presbyter?
Jerome, in his anger, finds no support therefore, for his argument in the history of the Church at Alexandria. We see then how strong is the statement that from the days of the Apostles there have been these orders in Christ's Church, Bishops, priests, and deacons.
I pass by the attacks that have been made on the validity of our orders, by Romanists. I confess they have no interest for me. When opponents can stoop to lies like the Nag's Head fable, in their desperate effort to make out a case, they put themselves out of court. The reply of the English Archbishops to the late papal condemnation of our orders, is final, and conclusive, for any fair-minded man.
In considering the nature of the Sacred Ministry, the question in our mind should be, "What is the Will of God?" What is the ministry which He has appointed in His Church? I think there can be but one answer. If the Apostles were acting with Divine authority, and under Divine guidance, if, in the gradual unfolding of the ministry, committed to them, as necessity required, until it assumed the form of the three orders, bishops, priests, and deacons, they were acting under Christ's commission, "As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you;" if, in requiring before a man assumed any of the duties of this ministry, that he should receive from them, or from their successors, power, and authority, by the laying on of hands in ordination, they were guided by the Divine will, then is it not plain, that the reunion of Christendom must imply the recognition and adoption of this Sacred Ministry, which God has instituted in His Church?
"The various Presbyterian, Congregational, and Methodist organizations, however worthy of our deep regard, have, in dispensing with the episcopal succession, violated a fundamental law of the Church's existence. The acts of ordination, by which presbyters in the sixteenth century, or since that time, originated the ministries of these societies, were not authorized by their commission, and did not belong to the office of presbyter which they had received. No such powers were committed to them, when they were ordained. They assumed them, and they did not possess them.
"It is riot proved, it is not probable, there is no record, that any presbyter, in any age of the Church, ever had the right to ordain. On the other hand, it is absolutely certain, that for many centuries it had been understood, beyond all question, that only bishops could ordain, and that no presbyter possessed episcopal powers.
"No exceptional dignity, even the exalted position of a presbyter-abbot, ever tempted a minister to transcend the limitations of his office. We do not for a moment deny that God's grace has wrought through the irregular ministries, which, with sincere intention, have striven to serve our Lord; but we insist that a ministry not episcopally ordained is violating a fundamental rule of the Church's existence, and working outside the covenant, where security is assured. If this fact is accepted, it has its immediate bearing on the obligations of individuals, who are members of religious denominations, devoid of the Apostolic Ministry.
"But it also should appeal to non-episcopal Christian Societies. The Christian experience of these societies may abundantly testify that the grace of God has wrought effectually among them, and they may be able to show plainly, that their present position has been forced upon them by the unhappy necessities of the past. But it is their evident duty to face the problems of the present, and of the future. They are confronted with the fact, that a divided Christendom is an intolerable reproach to the disciples of our Redeemer, and that its results have been disastrous to the interests of true religion." [The passage in quotation marks is partly from Canon Gore, but as it is not his wording exactly I do not like to make him responsible for it, so it seems best to insert the quotation marks but not specify the source.]
We are bound to seek organic unity, that the will of Christ may be accomplished; and the results of past experience plainly testify that there is something fundamentally wrong in the old conceptions of Christian liberty, and in the sacredness of individualism. New moral and doctrinal perils urge us, at the same time, to reconsider the basis of Christian life, and order. And the first step in this inquiry should be, "What is God's will with regard to the Christian ministry?" I think there can be but one answer: The apostolic succession of bishops, and priests, and deacons, is the ministry He has appointed for the edification of His Church.
This Sacred Ministry embodies the historical continuity of the Church, and affords a practical basis of union.
It is the one ministry which the Churches possessing it cannot be asked to abandon; for it is, with them, not one merely of many permissible forms of Church regimen, but the Will of God, for the government, and edification of His Church.
It, alone, expresses the mind of Christ regarding a universal spiritual society, in which the apostolic succession of bishops constitutes, by Divine appointment, a visible link, from generation to generation.
It, alone, witnesses to that real spiritual continuity, from age to age, and from century to century, and holds and hands on the authoritative benediction; "As My Father hath sent Me, so send I you." "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."