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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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by any member of the community.

The metaphor which seems best to express the relation
of the two classes is one which was frequently used,
and which has survived until our own times. It is
that which is implied in the word ' Pastor.' It came
originally from the shepherd life of Eastern and
Southern Palestine, where a shepherd wandered with
his flocks of almost innumerable sheep over almost
boundless tracts of undulating moorland. It passed
naturally into Hebrew poetry : and three of the great
Hebrew prophets, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah,
use it constantly for both the ecclesiastical and the
civil rulers of the people. It is found in the New
Testament : and it is found in almost all early Christian
literature 25 . Its fundamental idea is that of ruling 2e :
and the Apostolical Constitutions, following chiefly
Ezekiel's address to the rulers of his time, show how it
was understood in regard to all the various functions of
the Christian ministry: the bishop, as a good shepherd,
guards the strong, i. e. those who are sound in the faith,
heals those who are weak, i.e. those whose faith is

45 Hoiixrjv and its correlatives ■noip.vr) and iroinviov are found, e.g. (not including
passages in which the reference is to the relation between the Church and Christ)
1 Pet. 5. 2, 3 : Herm. Sim. 6. 1 : St. Ignat. ad Philad. 2.1: ad Rom. 9. 1 : St. Iren.
4- 33- 1 ! Clem. Alex. Paed. 1. 6, p. 120: Const. Apost. 2. 6, 10, 15, 20. In Latin
' pastor,' e. g. St. Cypr. Epist. 8 (2), p. 486 : 17 (n), p. 522.

86 Cf. Jeremy Taylor, Epizcopacy asserted, Sect. 1. 6 'In Scripture and other
writers to feed and to govern is all one when the office is either political or econo-
mical or ecclesiastical : ' the assertion is capable of being proved by abundant
evidence, e.g. Philo, 1. 196, ed. Mang. 01 Si noipaivovrts &.px6vT<uv nai fryfy.uvwv
tXovres Svvap.iv: Clem. Alex. Strom. 1. 26, p. 421 : St. Greg. Nazianz. Orat. 32, c.
10, p. 586 rafts k&v (KKXrjoiais rb fxiv tlvai t« iroifivtov rb it iroifxivat Stupia*' Kal
rb ftiv dfxtiv to Si apxta$at,

v.] Clergy and Laity. 127

wavering, binds up the wounded, i. e. restores to the
flock those whom the sense of sin has smitten with
contrition, seeks for those who have gone astray, i. e.
brings back to the flock those whom the sense of sin
has driven away in despair 27 .

But although the original conception of ecclesiastical
office ultimately passed away, it passed away only by
slow degrees. Little by little those members of the
Christian Churches who did not hold office were
excluded from the performance of almost all ecclesi-
astical functions. At first a layman might not preach
if a bishop were present : and then not if any Church
officer was present : and finally not at all 2S . At
first a layman brought his own gifts to the altar
and communicated there 29 : and then he could only —
unless he were an Emperor — stand outside the dais

27 Const. ApoBt. 3. 20: so St. Cyprian. Epist. 8 (a), p. 486, (we shall be called
negligent shepherds because) ' perditum non requisivimus et errantem non correxi-
mus et claudum non colligavimus et lactem eorum edebamus et lanis eorum operi-

n The 'gravamen' of Demetrius against Origen was not so much that he had
preached, but that he had done so in the presence of bishops (rb irapuyraiv imoito-
irtav KaiKois dfiiXeiv, Euseb. H. E. 6. 19. 17) : and the Western canon, which was
ultimately superseded by the letters of Leo the Great (see above, note 7), concedes
the point for which the friends of Origen contended : ' laicus praesentibus cleric-is
nisi ipsis jubentibus, docere non atideat ' (Stat. Eccles. Antiq., = 4 Cone. Carth.
c. 98).

*' For the practice of laymen going to the altar see e. g. St. Dionys. Altxandr.
Epist. ad Chrys. ap. Euseb. H. E. 7. 9. 4 : Epist. ad Easilid. ap. Pitra, Jur. Seel.
Gr. Mon. vol. i. p. 544 : Routh, Bel. Sacr. vol. iii. p. 230 : St. Ambros. Be Sacram.
5. 2, 3, vol. ii. p. 374 : St. Augustin. Epist. m (122), ad Victorian. Op. ed. Migne,
vol. ii. 426. The practice seems to have survived longest at Milan, where, until
comparatively late times, the laity went to the altar to make their oft'erings, retired
during the prayer of consecration, and returned to partake of the consecrated ele-
ments (Bona, Be. Rebus Liturgicis, vol. i. p. 184) : it is also fouud in Gaul in the
sixth century (St. Greg. Turon. H. F. 9. 3 : 10. 8).

128 Clergy and Laity. [lect.

upon which the officers sat or stood : and finally, in
the East, he might not even see the celebration of the
' mysteries 30 .' At first the vote of laymen as well as
of officers was taken in cases of discipline, and so late
as the fifth century the existence of the disciplinary
rights of laymen is shown by the enactment of an
African council that a parish must not excommunicate
its clergyman 31 : but finally laymen had no place what-
ever in the ecclesiastical tribunals. By the force of
changing circumstances, and by the growth of new
conceptions, the original difference of rank and order
became a difference of spiritual power : and a mediaeval
theologian, writing of the same officer whom Justin
Martyr describes simply as a president, offering prayers
and thanksgivings in which the congregation take their
part by the utterance of the solemn Amen !, says that
' the orders of the heavenly host, although they enjoy
beatitude and want nothing to the sum of felicity, still
revere the glory of a priest, wonder at his dignity,
yield to him in privilege, honour his power


The question will naturally arise, If the early con-
ception of ecclesiastical office was that to which the
evidence points, and which Tertullian states, what was
the nature and significance of ordination ?

s * The earliest prohibition was a local one, that of the council of Laodicea, c. 19,
44 : the first general prohibition was that of the Trullan council, c. 69, which
excepts kings. The custom of erecting a close screen (ditov6oTa<m) so as com-
pletely to shut out the laity from seeing the altar, probably belongs to a still later
period (see Canon Venables in the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, s. v.

31 Cone. Septimunicense ap. Ferrand. Breviatio Canonum, c. 139 ' Ut non lictat
clericum a populo excommunicari sive praesente sive absente episcopo.'

S4 St. Bernard. Instructio Sace.rd.otis, c. 9, vol. iii, p. 53a.

v.] Clergy and Laity. 129

The answer which, upon the evidence, must be given
to this question strongly confirms the conclusion to
which the evidence leads upon the question which has
been already considered. The evidence is extensive
and various, and can only be briefly recapitulated

t. In the first place, all the words which are
in use to express appointment to ecclesiastical office
connote either simple appointment or accession to
rank 33 .

2. In the second place, all these words were in use
to express appointment to civil office. When other
ideas than those of civil appointment came beyond
question to attach themselves to ecclesiastical appoint-
ment other words were used 34 . The absence of such
words in the earlier period of itself affords a strong
presumption of the absence of the ideas which are
relative to them.

3. In the third place, all the elements of appoint-
ment to ecclesiastical office were also the elements of
appointment to civil office. Those elements were
nomination, election, approval, and the declaration of
election by a competent officer. The conditions of
ordinary appointment to civil office in the Roman
municipalities are known to us from many and unim-

33 The words in use in the first three centuries are \uporov(iv, KaOioravtiv, «Aj/-
povoQai, constituere, ordinare. For instances of their use see my article in tho
Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, s. v. Ordination.

34 After the first three centuries there were not only other words of the same
kind as those mentioned in the preceding note, e.g. irpotKOeiv, irpoafeadat, promo-
veri, praeferri, but also x ft P°^ eTi ^ (I ^ ai > UpaaOat, consecrari, benedici ; for instances
of which, and also for instances of the use of the words in relation to civil appoint-
ments, see ibid.


130 Clergy and Laity. [lect.

peachable sources 35 . Those sources show that, though
election prevailed, it did not of itself constitute an
office, that any one who was so elected had to pass
a preliminary examination as to his possession of the
required qualifications, that the presiding officer might
decline to take account of any one who did not possess
those qualifications, and that, according to the constitu-
tional fiction which we find in Rome itself, especially
during the Republican period, the person appointed
is said to be appointed, not by the people who elected,
but by the officer who presided at the election 36 . These
same conditions were ordinarily necessary at the
appointment of all but the lowest grades of ecclesias-
tical officers : there was a nomination, an election, an
examination into the fitness of the candidate, and the
action of a presiding officer 37 .

4. In the fourth place, the modes in which these
elements of election were combined varied in the

39 In addition to earlier sources, which are best given by Zumpt, Commentat tones
Epigrapkicae, vol. i. p. 4 sqq., we have an almost complete account of the municipal
laws of the early Empire relative to elections in the bronze tablets containing the
laws of two Spanish towns, Salpensa and Malaga, which were discovered in 1851.
They will be found in the Corpus Inscr. Lat. vol. ii. Nos. 1963, 1964, in Haenel,
Corpus Legum ante Justinianum latarum, p. 63 : and with an important commen-
tary by Mommsen in his essay, Dei Stadtreckle der lateinischen Gemeinden Sal-
pensa und Malaca, printed in the Abkandlungen der konigl. sacks Gesellsckaft der
Wissensckaft, Bd. iii (the doubts which were at one time raised as to their genuine-
ness have been disposed of by Giraud, Les Tables de Salpensa et de Malaga, Paris,
1856, and La Lex Malacitana, Paris, 1868). For clear summaries of the existing
evidence in relation to municipal elections see Duruy, Histoire des Romains, vol. v.
pp. 107 sqq.: Marquardt, Romiscke Staatsverwaltung, Bd. i. pp. 472 sqq.

36 ' Creare ' (consulem, praetorem) is strictly used of the action of the presiding
officer : the people are said 'jubere,' i. e. to direct the appointment to be made:
cf. Mommsen, Romisckes StaatsrecM, Bd. i. pp. 157 sqq.

37 For the evidence see the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, 3. v. Ordination,
vol. ii. pp. 1504 sqq.

v.] Clergy and Laity \ 131

Church concomitantly with their variation in the
State. In the State, first at Rome, and afterwards,
though much later, in the municipalities, election by
the people, subject only to the veto of the presiding
officer, passed into election by the senate, subject only
to a formal approval on the part of the people 38 . In
the Church it came to pass that the officers nominated
and the people approved : and ultimately, by steps
which can be definitely traced, the part of the people
was limited to the right of objecting to unsuitable
candidates 39 .

5. In the fifth place, all the modes of admission to
ecclesiastical offices were, with one exception, analogous
to the modes of admission to civil office. A Roman
consul designates dressed himself in his official dress,
went in state to the Capitol, took his seat on the
curule chair, and held a formal meeting of the senate :
by doing this he became consul de facto. A Roman
praetor designates went to the ordinary court-house,
took his seat on the tribunal, heard and decided a
fictitious case, and became thereby praetor de facto 40 .
There was no formal act of admission : what took place
was a usurjpatio juris ; a person duly elected simply
entered upon his office and was in full possession of it
as soon as he had discharged, without let or hindrance,
one of its ordinary duties. If we take the earliest

** For the evidence see e. g. Mommsen, Rom. Staatsrecftt, Bd. ii. 860 sqq. :
Marquardt, Rom. Staatsverwaltung, Bd. i. 474.

s9 See the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, ut supra.

*" See Mommsen, Rom. Staatsrecht, Bd. i. pp. 502 sqq. On the distinction be-
tween this and the ' inauguratio' of a priest see Oldenberg, in the Commeittat tones
Pkilologae in honor em Th. Mommseni, Berlin, 1877, p. 161.

K 2

132 Clergy and Laity. [lect.

Eastern form of what in later times would have been
called the ritual of ' ordination ' or c consecration,' that
which is given in the eighth book of the Apostolical
Constitutions, it is clear that the same theory of ad-
mission to office prevailed in the Church. On the
morning after his election the bishop is escorted to his
chair by the other bishops who took part in the elec-
tion, and at once enters on the active duties of a bishop
by preaching a sermon and celebrating the Eucharist 41
That a similar practice prevailed in regard to other
Church officers must be inferred from the fact that in
some instances it still survives. * In the chief Western
rituals the newly ordained deacon performs the deacon's
function of reading the Gospel : in the Eoman ritual
the presbyter not only takes his place in the presby-
tery but is " concelebrant " with the bishop, i. e. he is
associated with him in the celebration of the Eucharist:
in the Greek ritual the reader performs his proper
function of reading, and the subdeacon — who in early
times was a kind of under-servant — washes the bishop's
hands 42 .'

All this, as far as analogy can guide us, is precisely
what would have happened if the community, instead
of being ecclesiastical, had been civil. The conception
of ordination, so far as we can gather either from the
words which were used to designate it, or from the
elements which entered into it, was that simply of
appointment and admission to office.

But there is one element, which was not present in

** Const. Apost. 8. 4-14. (The date of this is at present quite uncertain.)
** Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, s. v. Ordination, voL ii. pp. 1507 sqq.

v.] Clergy and Laity. 133

admissions to civil office, and to which in later times
great importance has been attached — the rite of the
imposition of hands. It is therefore necessary to con-
sider how far the existence of this rite indicates the
existence of a different theory.

Two points have to be considered : first the existence
of the rite, and secondly its significance.

In regard to the first of these points, there is the
remarkable fact that the passage of the Apostolical
Constitutions which describes with elaborate minuteness
the other ceremonies with which a bishop was admitted
to office, says nothing of this. It is mentioned that
during a prayer after the election the deacons hold the
open Gospels over the newly-appointed bishop's head :
but of imposition of hands the passage makes no men-
tion whatever 43 . Nor is the rite mentioned in the
enumeration which Cyprian gives of the elements
which had combined to make the election of Cornelius
valid : it was of importance to show that no essential
particular had been omitted, but he enumerates only
the votes of the people, the testimony of the clergy, the
consent of the bishops 44 . In entire harmony with this

43 Const. Apost. 8. 4. It has been suggested that imposition of hands is implied
in the word x (t P 0T0V0V l l * V0V > tut this hypothesis is excluded by the express dis-
tinction which is made in the same book, c. 28, between x €l P 0T0Vf ^ v > ' to appoint,'
which is stated to be a special function of the bishop, and to \eipo9iTuv, ' to lay
hands upon,' which is a function common to the bishop and the presbyters.

14 St. Cyprian. Epist. 55 (52), p. 629 * Factus est autem Cornelius episcopus de
Dei et Christi ejus judicio, de clericorum paene omnium testimonio, de plebis quae
tunc adfuit suffragio, et de sacerdotum antiquorum et bonorum virorum collegio,
cum nemo ante se factus esset, cum Fabiani locus, id est, locus Petri et gradus
cathedrae sacerdotalis vacaret.' The small importance which was attached to im-
position of hands, when unaccompanied by the other elements of valid appointment,
is shown by the manner in which the same persons, Cornelius and Cyprian, speak
of a person, Novatian, who had received imposition of hands from three bishops

134 Clergy and Laity. [lect.

is the account which Jerome gives of the admission to
office of the bishop of Alexandria : after the election
the presbyters conduct the elected bishop to his chair :
he is thereupon bishop de facto 45 .

It follows from tins that the rite was not universal :
it is impossible that, if it was not universal, it can have
been regarded as essential.

In regard to the second point, there are two kinds of

without, as was alleged, having been duly elected. Cornelius derides the imposition
of hands in such a case as a ' sham : ' elicoviKfj rtvl ical fiorala. x fl P e ' nl ^ ( ' Tia i ap.
Euseb. H. E. 6. 43. Cyprian says that Novatian ' in ecclesia non est nee episcopus
computari potest,' Epist. 69, c. 3, p. 752, ed. Hart. The belief of a later generation
was that there had been no imposition of hands at all : for Pacian of Barcelona
(circ. A. D. 370) speaks of Novatian as one who had taken his seat upon the
bishop's throne without any ' consecration : ' ' quem consecrante nullo linteata sedes
accepit,' Epist. ii, ad Sympronianum, c. 3, ap. Migne, Patrol. Lat. vol. xiii. 1059.
45 St. Hieron. Epist. 146 (85), ad Evanyel. vol. i. p. 1082 ed. Vail. ' Alexandriae
a Marco evangelista usque ad Heraclam et Dionysium episcopos presbyteri semper
unum ex se electum in excelsiore gradu collocatum episcopum nominabant, quo-
modo si exercitus imperatorem faciat aut diaconi eligant de se quem industrium
noverint et archidiaconum vocent :' (in a similar way Synesius, Epist. 67, p. 210,
bv his use of the phrase a-rroSeigai rt kcu iirl tov Opovov KaOiaai, appears to consider
the announcement of election, followed by enthronization, as the constitutive ele-
ments of the ordination of a bishop). Jerome's account of the Alexandrian rite is
adopted as giving the normal mode of ordaining a bishop in ancient times by the
author of the important treatise De Divinis Officiis, usually, though erroneously,
ascribed to Alcuin (Albinus Flaccus), who, after quoting the Roman rite ( =
Mabillon's Ordo Romanus viii, in his Mug. Ital. vol. ii. p. 59), in which there is
no express mention of imposition of hands, goes on to say of the several ceremonies
of holding the Gospels over the ordinand's head, and of the imposition of the hands
of the bishops present, ' non reperitur in auctoritate veteri neque nova : sed neque
in Romana traditione' (Albin. Flacc. De Div. Offic. c. 37, vol. ii. p. 493, ed. Froben.).
The version of the Alexandrian rite, which was given by the patriarch Eutychius
in the tenth century, though agreeing in other respects with Jerome, adds that the
presbyters laid hands on the newly-elected bishop before conducting him to his
chair (the account of Eutychius was first translated from the Arabic in 1642,
under the title Eutychii Aegyptii Ecclesiae suae Origines, by Selden, who drew at-
tention to it as a clear instance of presbyterian ordination : a better and fuller
translation was made afterwards, in 1658, by Pocock : a reply to Selden was made
by the learned Maronite, Abraham Ecchellensis, whose treatise, Eutychius Patri-
archa Alexandrinus vindicutus, appeared at Rome in 1661, and whose arguments
have often reappeared).

v.] Clergy and Laity. 135

evidence : that of other applications of the rite, and
that of existing statements about it. The rite was
Jewish : it was in use among the Jews on various
occasions : chiefly in the appointment of members of
the local courts, in admitting a scholar to study, and in
giving him authority to teach — in the ceremony, in
other words, which corresponds to our graduation 46 . It
was in use in the Christian Church not only in
admission to office, but also in the admission of an
ordinary member, and in the readmission of a penitent.
It was in all cases when used in the Christian Church
accompanied with prayer. St. Augustine resolves it
into a prayer. ' Quid aliud est manuum impositio quam
oratio super hominem 47 % ' The eighth book of the
Apostolical Constitutions makes the action which is
designated ' imposition of hands' (xeipoOeo-ia) an ordin-
ary accompaniment of morning and evening prayer 48 .
St. Jerome gives as the reason for its use in ordination
simply that if a man were ordained by simple declara-
tion of appointment, without any ceremony, he might
sometimes be ordained clandestinely without his know-
ledge — ' ne scilicet, ut in quibusdam risimus, vocis im-
precatio clandestina clericos ordinet nescientes 49 .'

It can hardly be maintained upon this evidence that

46 See the rabbinical references in Buxtorf, Lexicon Chaldaicum, Talmudicum et
Rabbinicum, p. 1498, ed. 1639 : Morin, Be Sacris Ordinationibus, pars iii. c. 14, p.
141, ed. 1655: Seerup. Dissert, de titulo Rabbi in Ugolini's Thesaurus, vol. xxi.
p. 1091 : Wiinsche, Neue Beitrdge zur Hh'lauterung der Evangelien au8 Talmud u.
Midrasch, Gottingen, 1878, p. 477.

47 St. Augustin. Be Baptism, c. Bonatist. 3. 16. Op. ed. Migne, vol. ix. p. 149.

48 Const. Apos.t. 8. 36, 38. This use of the word probably refers to the bishop's
attitude in praying.

49 St. Hieron. Comm. in Itai. lib. xvi. c. 58, v. 10, vol. iv. p. 694.

1 36 Clergy and Laity. [lect.

the ceremony of imposition of hands establishes a pre-
sumption, which is clearly not established by the other
elements of ordination, that ordination was conceived
in early, as it undoubtedly was conceived in later, times
as conferring special and exclusive spiritual powers.

It may be urged, though this is of course different
from maintaining that such a presumption is estab-
lished, that there is nothing in all this which is incon-
sistent with such a presumption.

But in a judicial review of evidence it is necessary
to consider not only the abstract possibility of a
hypothesis which may be advanced, but also the
difficulties in the way of accepting it. It is there-
fore necessary to point to two sets of facts which
appear to exclude the presumption in question.

1. The first is the fact of silence. The belief in
the possession of exceptional spiritual powers is so
important a fact that it must needs assert itself.
When in later times that belief was undoubtedly en-
tertained it shows itself in a great variety of forms:
it is frequently stated : it is invariably implied. The
fact that the writers of the first two centuries neither
state nor imply it seems inexplicable, except upon the
supposition that they did not hold it 50 .

60 Stress has sometimes been laid on the fact that in 2 Tim. I. 6 the imposition
of hands is mentioned as the means by which Timothy received a x&P'VP"* '■ but
it must be noted (1) that in 1 Tim. 4. 14, it i3 spoken of as an accompaniment, not
a mean ;, the preposition being fiera, not Sia, (2) that the word xfy t<T P- a had a wide
latitude of meaning : it was used of every faculty and privilege which a Christian
possessed : to be a Christian was itself a x&piopa'i *° he orthodox was a x<fy>«0>«»;
and in the same way to hold office in the Church was a x°-P ta . a (Const. Apost.
8. 2). Its nearest modern equivalent is probably the word ' talent.'

v.] Clergy and Laity. 137

2. The second fact is the facility with which
ordinations were made and unmade. When, in
later times, the belief prevailed that ordination
conferred exceptional spiritual powers, it was re-
cognized as a necessary corollary of such a belief
that the grace of ordination, even if irregularly con-
ferred, was inalienable 51 . The non-existence of a belief
in the inalienability of orders affords a strong presump-
tion that they were not conceived to confer the powers
which in later times were believed to attach to them.
Besides this, the trifling nature of some of the causes
which were regarded as rendering an ordination
invalid ah initio, while wholly consistent with the
hypothesis that appointment to ecclesiastical office was
of the same kind as appointment to civil office, cannot
be reconciled with the hypothesis that it was regarded
as conferring exceptional and inalienable powers. If
the person whom a bishop ordained belonged to

81 This idea first appears in the course of the Donatist controversy : St. Augus-
tine considered ordination to be in this respect analogous to baptism, De Baptism.
e. Donatist. I. i. vol. ix. p. 109 : Contra Ep. Parmen. 2. 28, vol. ix. p. 70: cf.

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