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The organization of the early Christian churches : eight lectures delivered before the University of Oxford, in the year 1880 online

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for themselves exceptional powers, and that the rela-
tion of primacy ultimately changed into a relation
of supremacy.

The causes of that important change seem to lie
in a wholly different set of facts, into which it is ne-
cessary to enter at somewhat greater length.

Before the close of the Apostolic age Christianity
had come into contact with various large tendencies
of contemporary thought. Its first contact was with
the great school of fantastic syncretism which had
grown up within Judaism itself, and which has left
a considerable monument in the works of Philo. To
that school all facts past and present were an allegory.
Nothing was what it seemed to be, but was the symbol
of the unapparent. The history of the Old Testament
was sublimated into a history of the emancipation of
reason from passion. If Abel was described as a keeper
of sheep, the meaning was that moral wisdom keeps
the irrational impulses under control 14 . If Israel was
described as warring against Amalek, the meaning was
that when reason lifts itself up away from earth, as
Moses lifted up his hands, it is strengthened by the
vision of God 15 . If Abraham was described as migrating
from Chaldaea to Canaan, the meaning was that wisdom

" Philo, i. p. 1 70, ed. Mang. u Hid. p. 1 24.

92 The Supremacy of the Bishop. [lect.

leaves the prejudices and crude ideas of its original
state, and seeks a new home among the realities of
abstract thought 16 . To those who thought thus, the
records of the Gospels were so much new matter for
allegorical interpretation. To the lower intelligence,
to the eye of sense, Christ was a Person who had
lived and died and ascended : and the Christian com-
munities were the visible assemblies of His followers :
and the Christian virtues were certain habits of mind
which showed themselves in deeds. But to the spiritual
mind, to the eye of reason, all these things were like the
phantasmagoria of the mysteries. The recorded deeds
of Christ were the clash and play of mighty spiritual
forces : the Christian Church was an emanation from
God : the Christian virtues were phases of intellectual
enlightenment which had but slender, if auy, links with
deeds done in the flesh. Before long the circle widened
in which Christian ideas were rationalized. Chris-
tianity found itself in contact not merely with mys-
teries but with metaphysics. But they were the meta-
physics of ' wonderland.' Abstract conceptions seemed
to take bodily shape, and to form strange marriages,
and to pass in and out of one another like the dissolving
scenery of a dream. There grew up a new mythology,
in which Zeus and Aphrodite, Isis and Osiris, were
replaced by Depth and Silence, Wisdom and Power.
Christianity ceased to be a religion and became a
theosophy. It ceased to be a doctrine and became

,e Philo, i. pp. 436, 437, ed. Mang. For the best modern accounts of this
allegorizing tendency see Siegfried, Philo von Alexandria, Jena, 1875, pp. 160 sqq.,
Gratz, Geschichte tier Juden, Bd. iii., 3 te Aufl., Leipsig, 1878, pp. 406 sqq.

iv.] The Supremacy of the Bishop. 93

a Platonic poem. It ceased to be a rule of life and
became a system of the universe. It was transferred
from the world of human action in which it had seemed
to have its birth into a supersensuous world of unim-
aginable vastness, and its truths were no longer fixed
facts of faith and life, but the gorgeous, and shift-
ing, and unsubstantial pageantry of the clouds of an
autumn sky 17 .

The transfer seems to us as paradoxical as the
attempt of some philosophers of our own day to con-
struct a Church Catholic, with a priesthood and a
ritual, upon the basis of a negation of the religious
idea. But it was an age of paradoxes : and for a time
the paradox seemed likely to triumph. The contact

17 The evidence for the opinions of the various schools of Gnostics has mostly to
be gathered from the quotations of their writings by their opponents, especially
Irenaeus and Hippolytus : the only complete Gnostic treatise which has come down
to modern times is a late Valentinian work entitled Titans "Sofia, of which the
Coptic text, with a Latin translation, was published by Schwartz and Petermann
in 1851. The modern literature of the subject is extensive: the first clear view
was given by Baur, Die christliche Gnosis, rind Gischichte dcr christlichm Kirche.
Bd. i. (Eng. Trans, published in the Theological Translation Fund Library, 1878,
pp. 184 sqq.) : the best general view is that of Lipsius in Ersch and Gruber's
Allgem. Encyclopddie, s. v. Gnosticismus, vol. lxxi. pp. 230 sqq. (since printed
separately) : accurate shorter summaries, with valuable bibliographical references.
will be found in Ueberweg, Grundriss der Geschichle der Philosophic (Eng. Trans,
in the Theological and Philosophical Library, vol. i. pp. 280-290), and in Jacobi's
revised article, s. v. Gnosis, in the second edition of Herzog's Eeal- Encyclopadie,
Bd. v. The general view which is implied above, that a sufficient explanation
of Gnosticism is found in the contact of Judaism and Christianity with Greek
philosophy, is supported by a recent interesting essay by Joel, Jllicke in die
Religionsgeschichtc, Excurs. ii., Die Gnosis, Breslau, 18S0. But two short essays
(Weingarten, Die Umwandlung dcr urspriinglichen chrislliclun Gcmeindcorgan
isation zur Icatholischni Kirche in von Sybel's IJistorische Zeitschrift,Hd. xlv., 1881,
pp.441 sqq., and Koffmane, Die Gnosis, Braslau, 1881), which have appeared since
these Lectures were published, promise to give in some respects a new direction
to the study of the subject, by connecting Gnosticism with the Greek mysteries,
and by showing that the Gnostic, like the Christian societies, had a practical rather
than a philosophical aim.

94 The Supremacy of the Bishop. [lect.

of Christianity with philosophy raised, in short, a pro-
blem which was not less fundamental in its bearing
upon Christian organization than it was in its bearing
upon Christian teaching. It was admitted on all sides
that Christianity had its starting-point in certain facts
and certain sayings : but if any and every interpre-
tation of those facts and those sayings was possible,
if any system of philosophy might be taught into
which the words which expressed them could be woven,
it is clear that there could be but little cohesion
between the members of its communities. It was
practically impossible to form, at least on any con-
siderable scale, an association which should have for
its intellectual basis free speculation about the un-
knowable, and for its moral basis a creed which should
embrace all possible varieties from the extreme of
asceticism to absolute indifference 18 . The problem
arose and pressed for an answer — What should be the
basis of Christian union \ But the problem was for
a time insoluble. For there was no standard and no
court of appeal. It was useless to argue from the
Scriptures that this or that system of philosophy was
inconsistent with them, because one of the chief ques-
tions to be determined was whether the Scriptures
did or did not admit of allegorical or philosophical
interpretation. In our own day, it is true, the answer

18 Gnostic morality, like the morality of all systems which press to an extreme
the antithesis between the material and the spiritual elements of human nature,
necessarily took a double direction : on the one hand it tended to repress the
material element and so became ascetic (an extreme which is found in the Encra-
titae), on the other it tended to regard the material element as indifferent and bo
became antinomian (an extreme which is found in the Antitactae).

iv.] The S2ipremacy of the Bishop. 95

to such a question seems easy : but in those days the
temper of many men was towards allegorizing, and
mysticism was a prevailing attitude of mind. If
Homer could furnish texts and proofs for Platonic
lectures, the Gospels could furnish texts and proofs
for Gnostic sermons. So hopeless was this kind of
controversy that Tertullian deprecates it : ' incerta est
victoria aut par incertae 19 .' It was equally useless to
appeal to a rule of faith — to the rudimentary form
of creed which entered into the ritual of baptism :
for those who admitted a rule of faith claimed the
same liberty in its interpretation which they claimed
in the interpretation of the Scriptures: Carpocrates,
Basilides, and Valentinus all traced back their opinions
to an esoteric and transmitted teaching, which was
both more valuable than any written formula, and
more authoritative 20 .

19 Tertull. Be Praescr. Haeret. 19.

20 There were three main points at issue : i. the determination of the canon of
the Christian Scriptures : Basilides (Origen, Horn. 1 in Lac. vol. iii. p. 933, ed. De
La Rue : Apelles (St. Hieron. Prolog, in Matt. vol. vri. p. 3, ed. Vail.) : Valentinus
St. Iren. 3. 11. 9): Marcion (Tertull. adv. Maroion., passim), all admitted some
Gospel or other, but not, at least in their integrity, our canonical Gospels : ii. the
determination of the terms of the ' regula fidei : ' Marcion (Tertull. adv. Marcion.
1. 1), and other Gnostics (St. Iren. 3. 1 1. 3) had their 'regulae fidei' (that of Apelles
ia preserved by Hippolytus, 7. 9), which differed not only from the orthodox rule
but from one another (St. Iren. 1. 21. 5, Tert. De Praescr. Haeret. 42) : iii. the de-
termination of the true and the false tradition of Apostolic teaching : Carpocrates
(St. Iren. 1. 25. 5) : Basilides (St. Clem. Alex. Strom. 7. 17, p. 900, ed. Pott.) : the
Valentinians (Ptolemaeus, Epist. ad Floram, ap. S. Epiphan. Haeres. 33. 7), and
others (St. Iren. 3. 2. 1 : Anon. ap. Euseb. H. E. 5. 28. 3 : Justin M. c. Tryph. 48 :
Tertull. adv. Prax. 3 : see especially Xliaris 2ocj>ia, p. 1, which makes great account
of the teaching of Christ after His resurrection), maintained that what they
taught had been transmitted to them from the Apostles. The difficulty of this
latter controversy was even greater than that of the other two, because the prin-
ciple of an esoteric, and therefore unverifiable, fvwcris was admitted by some orthodox
writers, especially by Clement of Alexandria (cf. e.g. Dahne, Be ^vuau dementis
Alexandrini, Leipsig, 1831).

g6 The Supremacy of the Bishop. [lect.

The crisis was one the gravity of which it would
be difficult to overestimate. There have been crises
since in the history of Christianity, but there is none
which equals in importance this upon the issue of
which it depended, for all time to come, whether
Christianity should be regarded as a body of revealed
doctrine, or the caput mortuum of a hundred philo-
sophies — whether the basis of Christian organization
should be a definite and definitely interpreted creed,
or a chaos of speculations. But great crises give birth
to great conceptions. There is a kind of unconscious
logic in the minds of masses of men, when great
questions are abroad, which some one thinker throws
into form. The form which the ' common sense,' so to
speak, of Christendom took upon this great question
is one which is so familiar to us that we find it difficult
to go back to a time when it was not yet in being.
Its first elaboration and setting forth was due to one
man's genius. With great rhetorical force and dia-
lectical subtlety, Irenaeus, the bishop of the chief
Christian Church in Gaul, maintained that the standard
of Christian teaching was the teaching of the Churches
which the Apostles had founded, — which teaching he
held to be on all essential points the same 21 . He main-
tained the existence, and he asserted the authority, of
a fides catholica — the general belief of the Christian
Churches — which was also the fides ajpostolica — the
belief which the Apostles had taught 22 . To that fides

21 The argument runs through the whole of the treatise ; reference may be made
especially to Bk. 3. 2 : 4. 26.

22 The phrases ' fides catholica ' and ' fides apostolica ' are probably later than
Irenaeus : but they came to be adopted as the technical expressions for that for

iv.] The Supremacy of the Bishop. 97

catholica et ajpostolica all individual opinions and in-
terpretations were to be referred : such as were in
conformity with it were to be received as Christian,
such as differed from it were alperiKal — not the general
or traditional belief of the Christian Churches, but
the belief of only a sect or party. In this view, which
was already in the air, the Christian world gradually
acquiesced : henceforth there was a standard of appeal :
henceforth there was a definite basis of union.

Thus were the Christian communities saved from
disintegration. Upon the basis of a Catholic and Apo-
stolic faith was built the sublime superstructure of a
Catholic and Apostolic Church 23 . But in the building
of that superstructure there arose a concurrent and not
less important question, — how was the teaching of the
Churches to be known, and who were its conservators t
Already in the Eabbinical schools stress had been laid
upon the fact that there had been a succession of
Eabbis from Moses downwards, who had handed on
from generation to generation the sacred deposit of
divine truth 24 . It might reasonably be supposed that
in the Christian Churches there had been a similar tra-

whicli he contended. The former of the two phrases seems to be first used in the
martyrologies : 'catholica fides et religio,' Mart. Plon. 18, ap. Ruinart, p, 137 :
'fides catholica,' Mart. Epipod. et Alex. 3, ap. Ruinart, p. 149: cf. Gorres in the
Zeilschrift f. wissenschaftl. Theologie, 1S79, Bd. xxii, p. 74 sqq.

23 The phrase r) /«i0o\ik») (KKKrjaia occurs first in St. Ignat. ad Smyrn. %. 2,
though probably in a different sense from that which it afterwards acquired ; it is
also found in Mart. Polyc. 19. 2, and in the Muratorian Fragment, lines 61, 66.
It is not found in Irenaeus, though equivalent phrases are frequent, but it is found
in both Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria : see Harnack on the Symbolmn
Ecclesiae Romanae in Gebhardt and H.'s Patrum Apost. Op. ed. ii. part i. fane, j,
p. 141 : and Keim, Aus dem Urchristenthum, p. 115.

24 Pirqc Abotk, e.g. 1. 1 (ed. Taylor, cf. Excursus, ii. p. 124V


98 The Supremacy of the Bishop. [lect.

dition from one generation of officers to another : that,
in other words, the Apostles had definitely taught those
whom they had appointed, or recognized, as officers,
and what had been so taught had been preserved by
those who had succeeded those officers. But those
officers were in all, or, if not in all, at least in a great
majority of Churches, more than one in number : and
it is evident, from the nature of the case, that there
was an element of danger in thus entrusting the sacred
deposit of Apostolic teaching in each community to a
plurality of persons, and that as the number of officers
multiplied in a community the danger would be pro-
portionately greater. The necessity for unity was
supreme : and the unity in each community must be
absolute. But such an absolute unity could only be
secured when the teacher was a single person. That
single person was naturally the president of the com-
munity. Consequently in the Clementines, for the
first time, the president of the community is regarded
in the light of the custodian of the rule of faith —
in express distinction from the presbyters who are
entrusted only with that which is relative to their
main functions — the teaching of the maxims of Chris-
tian morality 25 . The point was not at once universally
conceded ; but in the course of the third century it
seems to have won its way to general recognition.
The supremacy of the bishop and unity of doctrine
were conceived as going hand in hand : the bishop was
conceived as having what Irenaeus calls the ' charisma
veritatis 26 ; ' the bishop's seat was conceived as being,

15 Clementin. Recoq. \. 65. M St. Ireo. 4. 26. a.

iv.] The Supremacy of the Bishop. 99

what St. Augustine calls it, the ' cathedra unitatis 27 ; '
and round the episcopal office revolved the whole vast,
system, not only of Christian administration and Chris-
tian organization, but also of Christian doctrine.

If I may now recall your attention to the problem
which was originally proposed, I venture to think that
adequate causes have been found not only for the
existence of a president, but also for his supremacy,
without resorting to what is not a known fact, but only
a counter-hypothesis — the hypothesis of a special insti-
tution. The episcopate grew by the force of circum-
stances, in the order of Providence, to satisfy a felt
need. It is pertinent to add that this view as to the
chief cause which operated to produce it has not the
merit or demerit of novelty. Although the view must
rest upon its own inherent probability as a complete
explanation of the known facts of the case, it has the
support of the earliest and greatest of ecclesiastical
antiquaries. St. Jerome, arguing against the growing
tendency to exalt the diaconate at the expense of the
presbyterate, maintains that the Churches were origin-
ally governed by a plurality of presbyters, but that in
course of time one was elected to preside over the rest
as a remedy against division, lest different presbyters,
having different views of doctrine, should, by each of
them drawing a portion of the community to himself,
cause divisions in it 28 .

27 St. August. Epist. 105 (166) c. 5, Op. ed. Migne, vol. ii. 403, 'neque enim
sua sunt quae dicunt sed Dei qui in cathedra unitatis doctrinam posuit veritatis ; '
bo in the Clementines Peter entrusts to Clement rty tfi^v ruiv \6-ywi> na6£8pav, and
afterwards speaks of him as tov a\i)6eias ■npoKaOt^ufxtvov, Epist. Clem, ad Jacob, c. 2.

'■* St. Hieron. Epist. 146 (85) ad Bhang, vol. i. p. 1082, ed. Vail. : so also Dial c.

H 2

ioo The Supremacy of the Bishop. [lect.

The supremacy of a single officer which was thus
forced upon the Churches by the necessity for unity
of doctrine, was consolidated by the necessity for unity
of discipline.

Early in the third century rose the question of re-
admission to membership of those who had fallen into
grievous sin, or who had shrunk from martyrdom. For
many years there had been comparative peace. In
those years the gates of the Church had been opened
wider than before. The sterner discipline had been
relaxed. Christianity was not illegal, and was tending
to become fashionable. On a sudden the flames of
persecution shot fiercely forth again. The professors
of Christian philosophy defended the policy of sub-
mission on the theological ground that Christ did not
call on all men to be partakers of His sufferings in
the flesh 29 . The fashionable church-goers accepted the
easy terms which the state offered to those who were
willing to acknowledge the state religion. Those who
did not actually offer incense on heathen altars made
friends with the police, purchased false certificates of
having complied with the law, or bribed the officers of
the courts to strike their names out of the cause-list 30 .

Lua'f. c. 9, vol. ii. p. 181 'Ecclesiae salus in summi sacerdotis dignitate pendet,
cui si non exsors quaedam et ab omnibus detur potesfcas, tot in ecclesiis efficientur
schismata quot sacerdotes :* cf. Comni. in Ep. ad Tit. c. i. vol. vii. p. 694.

29 The Gnostic schools, with the exception of the Marcionites (Euseb. S. E. 4.
15. 46 : 5. 16. 21 : 7. 12 : De Mart. Pal. 10. 2), discouraged martyrdom on both
the ground mentioned above and other grounds: see e.g. Heracleon ap. Clem. Al.
Strom. 4. 9. p. 595, ed. Pott. : Origen, Horn, in Ezech. 3. vol. iii. p. 366 : St. Iren.
1. 24. 6 : 3. 18. 5 : Tertull. Scorpiace passim.

30 Tertull. De Fuga in Persec. 1 2 ' Tu autem pro eo pacisceris cum delatore vel
milite vel furunculo aliquo praeside : ' ibid. 13 'nescio dolendu-m an crubescendum
sit cum in matricibus beneficiariorum [i. e. court officers] et curiosioruiu [i. e. detec-

iv.] The Supremacy of the Bishop. 101

When the persecution was over, many of the ' lapsed,'
as they were called, wished to come back again. The
path had become easy : for martyrdom was a new
beatitude 31 . The baptism of blood seemed to have
vicarious merit : and even those who stood upon the
lower steps of that sure stairway into heaven seemed
entitled to claim some remission of the sins of a weaker
brother 32 . The privilege, like the ' indulgences ' of the
Roman Church in later times, was singularly abused.
Some of those who had undergone the bare minimum
of imprisonment which entitled them to be ranked as
confessors gave ' libelli,' or certificates of exemption, by
wholesale. At one time, as we learn from Cyprian, the
confessors in a body gave them to the whole body of
the lapsed 33 . The scandal of the practice was increased
by an innovation upon the mode of readmission. In
earlier days each separate case came for judgment before
the whole Church. The certificate of a confessor was
of the nature of an appeal which the Church might

tive police] inter tabernarios et lenios et fures balneorum et aleones et lenones,
Christiani quoque vectigales continentur.' For the ' libelli,' or false certificates,
cf. e.g. St. Cyprian, Epist. 30 (31), c. 3, p. 550 : De Lapsis, 27, p. 256.

31 Cf. e. g. Origen. Exhortatio ad Martyriam, Op. ed. De la Rue, i. 274 sqq. :
the treatise De Laude Martyrii, sometimes, erroneously, ascribed to Cyprian and
printed with his works (ed. Hartel, Appendix, pp. 26 sqq.) : and the expressions
of martyrs themselves in e.g. St. Cyprian. Ejpixt. 31 (26), c. 3, p. 559. It was
regarded as cleansing a man from sin (e.g. Clem. Alex. Strom. 4. 9, p. 597), as
the true 'cup of salvation' (Origen. Exhort, ad Mart. 28), and as opening heaven
('sanguini nostro patet coelum . . . et inter omnium gloriam pulchrior sanguinis
titulus est et integrior corona signatur,' Auct. De Laude Mart. 9).

32 Cf. Origen. Exhort, ad Mart. 30 vol. 1. p. 293 ; 50 vol. 1. p. 309, where the
sufferings of martyrs are represented as having, though in a less degree, the same
kind of efficacy as the sufferings of Christ : Tertull. De Pudic. 22. represents
' moechi ' and ' fomicatores ' as going to one who has been recently imprisoned, ' ex
oonsensione (al. confessione) vincula induit adhuc mollia,' to obtain his intercession.

33 St. Cyprian. Epid. ?$ ( 16), p. 536 : so Epist. 20 (14), p. 528, ' thousands of cer-
tificates were given every day.'

102 The Supremacy of the Bishop. [lect.

upon occasion reject 34 . But persecution sometimes
rendered it impossible for the Church to be gathered
together. The Church-officers took it upon themselves
to act for the general body. They readmitted the
lapsed without consulting the assembly 35 . That which
had begun in a time of emergency tended to become
a rule in a time of peace. The sterner sort looked
on with dismay. The pure spouse of Christ was in
peril of her virginity. The Churches for which some
of them had sacrificed all they had were beginning to
be filled with the weak brethren who had preferred
dishonour to death. They were like Noah's ark, into
which unclean as well as clean had entered 36 . There
was a long and determined controversy. The extreme
party maintained that under no circumstances was one
who had lapsed to be readmitted 37 . At one time this
view tended to prevail : but, as in almost all contro-
versies, that which did prevail was the spirit of com-
promise. It was agreed on all sides that readmissions
must not be indiscriminate : if the earlier usage of

84 This is implied in St. Cyprian. Epist. 36 (30), p. 574: 15 (io\ p. 513: 17
(11), p. 521 : 43 (40). p. 592 : but the form of the appeal which Celerinus makes
to Lucianus, ibid. 21 (20), p. 532, implies that there was also a tendency to treat
the martyrs' certificate as a final remission.

35 This is shown by the strong remonstrances of Cyprian against the practice :
e.g. Epist. 15 (io),p. 514: 16(9). V-W- ] 7 (11), P- 522: 41 (38), p. 588: 59
(55), p. 682 : 61 (58), p. 730.

36 St. Hippol. Refut. omn. Ilacres. 9. 12, p. 460, cd. Dunck. et Schneid.

37 There was at first the compromise that although one who had ' lapsed ' should
be excluded from communion during his active lifetime, he might be readmitted at
the point of death : but at last the party at Rome, of which Novatian was the head,
refused even this concession (St. Cyprian. Epist. 55 (56), 57 (54) : Eu^eb. H. E. 6.
43, and, withdrawing from the main body, formed new societies on a stricter basis,
whose members were known as KaOapoi, or 'Puritans : ' (St. Hieron. Comm. in Owe,
lib. iii. c. 14, vol. vi. p. 156, ed. Vail. ; see below, note 41.)

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