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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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especially De Bono Conjugali, 24, vol. vi. p. 394 ' quemadmodum si fiat ordinatio
cleri ad plebem congregandam, etiamsi plebis congregatio non subsequitur, manet
tamen in illis ordinatis sacramentum ordinationis : et si aliqua culpa quisquam ab
officio reinoveatur sacramento Domini semel imposito non carebit, quamvis ad judi-
cium permanente.' But the idea was to a great extent dormant until it reappeared
in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in connexion with the Scholastic theories
of grace: for a convenient modern account of the various ways in which it was
then elaborated see Hahn, Die Lehre von den Salcramenten, pp. 298 sqq. The
difficulties of reconciling the theory of the character indelebilis of orders with the
ancient theory and practice is well illustrated by Card. Hergenrother's essay, Die
Reordinationen der alten Kirche, in the Oesterreichische VierteljahresscJtri/t f.
Kath. Theologie, Bd. i, 1862, pp. 207 sqq. No writer seems hitherto to have
called attention to the important Galatian inscription of a. D. 461, Corp. Inscr.
Graec. No. 9259, which speaks of one who filled the office of presbyter tmce (Sir
ytvofifvos irptafivTtpos).

138 Clergy and Laity. [lect

another church 52 , or if the person ordained were not
designated to some particular church 53 , or if the ordainer
and ordained stood in the relation of father and son 54 ,
the ordination was invalid. These regulations reach a
climax in a Gallican council of the fifth century, which
enacts that all irregular ordinations are invalid except
by arrangement 68 . It is improbable, except upon an
extreme theory of the close correspondence between the
' terrestrial and celestial hierarchies/ that the grace of
the Holy Spirit should so closely follow the details of
ecclesiastical organization as to flow or not to flow, ac-
cording as a bishop stood just within or just without
the geographical limits of his jurisdiction : it is incon-
ceivable, even upon such an extreme theory, that the
same mysterious grace should have been supposed to
come or go, to remain or to vanish away, according as a
person ordained in violation of some local rule did or
did not succeed in making his peace with his superiors.
The difficulty which these facts present is so obvious
that later canonists were compelled to invent a distinc-
tion between 'sacramental' and 'canonical' validity:
but even those who uphold that distinction admit that
there is no trace of its existence in early times 56 .

The existing evidence as to the conception which
was entertained of the nature of ordination thus con-

52 Cone. Nicaen. c. 16, &itvpos iarai rj \nporovia : so Cone. Antioch. c. 32, Cone.
Sardic. c. 15, 1 Cone. Arelat. c. 13.
8 Cone. Chalcedon. c. 6.
M Can. Apost. 76.

55 1 Cone. Turon. A.D. 461, c. 10, ' Ordinationes vero illicitas in irritum devoca-
inus nisi satisfactione quae ad pacem pertinent componantur.'

56 E.g. Hefele, Concilimgeschichte (Eng. Trans.) vol. ii. p. 359: HergenrOther,
ut supra (Note 51), p. 212.

v.] Clergy and Laity. 139

firms the inference which follows from the consideration
of office in itself. The conception of office was that of
order : by virtue of their appointment the officers of
the Christian communities were entitled to perform
functions which in themselves were the functions of
the whole Church or of individual Christians. Ecclesi-
astical office existed, no doubt, by divine appointment,
but by divine appointment only ' for the edifying and
well-governing' of the community. Of the existence
of the idea that ecclesiastical office in itself, and not as
a matter of ecclesiastical regulation and arrangement,
conferred special and exceptional powers, there is
neither proof nor reasonable presumption.

Upon this earlier conception there supervened — in
the order of Providence and in the slow course of years
— a most significant change. Into the history of that
change it is beyond the plan of these Lectures to enter:
but since it has its beginnings even in the period which
we are considering, it is necessary briefly to indicate its
main causes.

1. The first of these causes was the wide extension
of the limits of Church membership which was caused
by the prevalence of infant baptism. In the earliest
times the rules of morality which were binding on
Church officers were binding also on ordinary members :
Tertullian, writing as a Montanist, and endeavouring to
keep up the earlier standard, makes the fact that a
particular rule as to marriage is binding on presbyters
an argument for its being binding also on laymen 57 .

57 Tertull. Be Exhort. Cast. 7 ' vani erimus si putaverimus quod aacerdotibus
non liceat laicis licere.'

140 Clergy and Laity. [lect.

But when infant baptism became general, and men
grew up to be Christians as they grew up to be
citizens, the maintenance of the earlier standard be-
came impossible in the Church at large. Professing
Christians adopted the current morality: they were
content to be no worse than their neighbours. But the
officers of all communities tend to be conservative, and
conservatism was expected of them : that which had
been the ideal standard of qualifications for baptism
became the ideal standard of qualifications for ordination :
and there grew up a distinction between clerical morality
and lay morality which has never passed away.

2. The second cause was the intensity of the senti-
ment of order. The conception of civil order under
the Imperial regime was very different from the concep-
tion of it in modern times, and in Teutonic societies.
The tendency of our own society is to have the greatest
amount of freedom that is compatible with order :
the tendency of the Empire was to have the greatest
amount of order that is compatible with freedom.
Civil order was conceived to be almost as divine as
physical order is conceived to be in our own day. In
the State the head of the State seemed as such by
virtue of his elevation to have some of the attributes
of a divinity : and in the Church the same Apostolical
Constitutions which give as the reason why a layman
may not celebrate the Eucharist that he has not the
necessary dignity (aj/a), call the officer who has that
dignity a ' god upon earth 58 .' When, in the decay of

58 Const. Apost. 3. 10 a\\' ovre \aiicois lviTpiirop.iv itoiuv ti tSiv ItpariKuiv tpytuv.
.... Sta yap rfjs imOiattos tCjv \eipStv rod fTnaicSirov SiSorai if rotavrj) afia : ibid.
2. 16 of the bishop, ovros vp-uiv iniytios Otos ptra 0e6v.

v.] Clergy and Laity. 141

the Empire, the ecclesiastical organization was left as
the only stable institution, it was almost inevita ble that
those who preserved the tradition of imperial rule
should, by the mere fact of their status, seem to stand
upon a platform which was inaccessible to ordinary

3. The third cause was the growth of an analogy
between the Christian and the Mosaic dispensations.
The existence of such an analogy in the earliest limes
was precluded by the vividness of the belief in the
nearness of the Second Advent. The organization of
the Christian churches was a provisional arrangement
until 'the Lord should come.' There was a keen
controversy whether Christianity was inside or out-
side Judaism : but there is no trace of a belief that
the ancient organization was to be replaced, through
a long vista of centuries to come, by a corresponding
organization of the Christian societies. But after
the Temple had long been overthrown and its site
desecrated — after the immediate return of the Messiah
to a temporal reign in Judsea had passed from being
a living faith to be a distant hope — after the Chris-
tian Churches had ceased to circle round Jerusalem
and had begun to take the form of a new spiritual
empire wide as the Roman empire itself, there grew up
a conception that the new Ecclesia Dei, whose limits
were the world, was the exact counterpart, though on
a larger scale, of the old Ecclesia Dei whose limits
had been Palestine. With an explanation in the one
case — which shows that the conception is new, with
a hesitating timidity in the other case — which shows

142 Clergy and Laity.

that it ' had not yet established itself, Tertullian M
and Oiigen 60 speak of Christian ministers as priests.
It was a century and a half after the time of Ter-
tullian and Origen before the analogy came to be
genera ly accepted, or before the corollaries which
flowed from it found general expression in literature:
but, v r hen once established, it became permanent, and
in the course of those weary wastes of years which
stretch between the ruins of the Empire and the
foundation of the modern kingdoms of the West and
N^rth it became not only permanent but universal.

But in earlier times there was a grander faith. For
the kingdom of God was a kingdom of priests. Not
only the 'four and twenty elders 61 ' before the throne,
but the innumerable souls of the sanctified upon whom
' the second death had no power 62 ,' were f kings and
priests unto God.' Only in that high sense was priest-
hood predicable of Christian men. For the shadow had
passed : the Reality had come : the one High Priest of
Christianity was Christ.

M Tertull. Be Baptismo, c. 17 'dandi (sc. baptismum) quidem habet jus summus
Bacerdos qui est episcopus : * the explanation of the meaning of ' suinmus eacerdos '
was not needed a century later, e. g. in St. Ambros. Expos, in Psalm, cxviii. c. 23,
vol. i. p. 989.

60 Origen, Comment, in Joann. torn. 1. 3. vol. iv. p 3 ol 5* avaicufitvoi r<p Oucp
At'7$> itai wpus p.6vrj ry OepaiTtiq tov Qeov fivufitvot .... Atvtrat Kal UptTs ovk dro-
nws KixOrjoovrat : cf. St. Augustin. De Civit. Dei, 20. 10, Op. ed. Migne, vii. 676,
in reference to Eev. 20. 6, ' non utique de solis episcopis et presbyteris dictum eat
qui proprie jam vocantur in ecclesia sacerdotes.'

61 Rev. 5. 10. *> Rev. 20. 6.



The fourth century of our era is not less remarkable
in the history of Christian organization than it is in
the history of Christian doctrine. At the beginning
of that century Christianity was the religion of a
persecuted sect : the prisons and the mines were
thronged with Christian confessors : the executioner's
sword was red with Christian blood ! . In a few years
it was tolerated and favoured : its adherents held
high places in the Empire : its churches rivalled in
splendour the temples of the pagan gods 2 . At the

1 The persecutions of the twelve years immediately preceding the formal tolera-
tion of Christianity, A. D. 300-312, were even more severe than those of earlier
times : they are described in detail by Eusebius, H. E. Bks. viii. & ix. passim,
and by Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum, 11-16, 21-32. The modern litera-
ture which relates to them is considerable, and there is a still unsettled controversy
as to how far they were based on political and how far on religious grounds : see
especially Burckhardt, Die Zeit Constant ins des Grossen, 2*° Aufl., Leipzig, 1880 :
Hunziker, Zur Regierung u. Christenverfolgung des Kaisers Diocletianus u. seiner
Nachfolger, in Max Budinger's Untersuchungen der romischen Kaisergeschichte,
Bd. ii. Leipzig, 1868 : Gbrres in Kraus's Real-Encyclopddie, s. v. Christenverfol-
gungen: and Mason, The Persecution of Diocletian, Cambridge, 1876 (on which,
however, see Harnack, in the Theologische Liter aturzeitung, 1876, pp. 169 sqq.).

3 For the religious policy of Constantine, and the changes which he effected in
the external fortunes of the Christian churches, see Euseb. H. E. 10. 1-6, Vit.
Constant. Bks. 2-4 : and, of modern writers, especially Keim, Der Uebertritt
Constantins der Grossen zum Christenthum, Zurich, 1862 : Loning, GeschicfUe des
deutschen Kirchenrechls, Bd. i., Strassburg, 1878 : Th. Brieger, Constantin der
Grosse als Religionspolitiker, in his Zeitschrift f. Kircltengeschichte, Bd. iv. 1 880-1,
pp. 163 sqq. : Duruy, La Politique religieuse de Constantin, in the Comptes Rendu*
de VAcadtmie des Sciences Morales, 1882, pp. 185 sqq.

144 TA* Clergy as a Separate Class. [lect.

end of the century it was no longer merely tolerated
but dominant: it was the religion of the State: and
heresy was a political crime 3 .

It was inevitable that so great a change in its
external fortunes should be attended witli a great
change in its internal organization. The transition
from a state of subordination to one of supremacy
necessarily affects the conditions under which, in any
society, officers hold their office. Their status is altered
not only in relation to the world outside but also in
relation to their members within. It was so in the
Christian societies: at the beginning of the century,
in spite of the development of the episcopate, the
primitive type still survived : the government of the
Churches was in the main a democracy : at the end of
the century the primitive type had almost disappeared :
the clergy were a separate and governing class.

I propose in the present Lecture to analyse the
complex and heterogeneous causes which operated to
produce a change which, in the great mass of Christian
communities, has been permanent from that time until

i. In the first place, the State conceded to the officers

s The following law of Gratian, Valentinian, aud Theodosius, in A. D. 388, Cod.
Theodos. 16. 5. 15, is one of many proofs that heresy was treated as an offence not
only against the Church, but against the State : ' omnes diversarum perfidaruraque
sectarum quos in Deuni miserae vesania conspirations exercet nullum usquani
sinantur habere conventum, non inire tractatus, non coetus agere secretos, non
nefariae praevaricationis altaria manus impiae officiis impudenter tollere, et myste-
riorum simulationem ad injuriam verae religionis aptare. Quod ut congruum
sortiatur effectum in specula sublimitas tua fidissimos quosque constituat, qui et
cohibere hos possint et deprehensos offerre judiciis, severissimum secundum
praeteritas eanctiones et Deo supplicium daturo3 et legibus.'

vl] The Clergy as a Separate Class. 145

of the Christian Churches those immunities which were
enjoyed by the heathen priesthood and by some of the
liberal professions *. Hitherto Church officers had been
liable to the same public burdens as ordinary citizens.
They might be called upon to hold office as municipal
magistrates or senators, to act as trustees, to serve in
the army. Nor is there any ground for assuming that
the discharge of such duties, except where it involved
the recognition of the State religion, was regarded as
incongruous or derogatory. In some parts of the
Empire the question in relation to civil office would
rather be speculative than practical — the number of
Christians who were rich enough to be eligible for office
being comparatively few. But in the busy commercial
towns of North Africa Christianity gained a hold at
a comparatively early stage upon the wealthier as
well as upon the poorer classes. The number of
Church officers who were liable to public burdens
was therefore proportionately larger : and at the same
time their duties as Church officers were somewhat
greater. It is in North Africa, therefore, that a feeling
seems first to have arisen against combining civil with
ecclesiastical functions 5 . The ground of objection was
not that the two functions were inherently incom-

4 The exempted classes were, with certain limitations as to numbers, chiefly
priests, physicians, professors of literature, philosophy, rhetoric, and law : a full
account is given by Kuhn, Die stadlische u. bilryerliche Verfassung des romischen
Reichs, erster Theil, pp. 83-123.

s The first trace is in Tertull. Be Praf script, c. 41 : and in a later treatise, Be
Corona Militis, 11, he raises the question 'an in totum Christianis militia con-
veniat?' but in the Apology, c. 37, 42, he urges the fact of Christians sharing in
the ordinary life of citizens and serving in the army, as part of his plea against
their being persecuted.


146 The Clergy as a Separate Class. [lect.

patible, but rather that the proper discharge of the
duties of the one did not leave sufficient leisure for
the proper discharge of the duties of the other. ' The
ministers of the Church/ says Cyprian, ' ought to serve
exclusively the altar and sacrifices, and to give their
whole time to supplications and prayers.' Conse-
quently, since one Geminius Victor had named a
presbyter as his executor, he inflicts upon him, as a
deterrent to others, the posthumous punishment of
excluding his name from the list of those for the
repose of whose souls the Church should pray 6 . And
hardly had Christianity been put upon the footing of
a recognized religion when Constantine addressed a
letter to the procoDsul of the African province requiring
him to exempt all who were in the ranks of the Chris-
tian clergy from the ordinary public burdens 7 . The
same exemption was soon granted to the Christians
of other provinces 8 . But it was strongly resisted, and
required frequent repetition 9 . The opposition to it is not
surprising. In our own days, and under our own system

* St. Cyprian. Epist. 1 (66), p. 465.

7 Constantin. Epist. ad Anulinum, ap. Euseb, H. E. 10. 7 : Sozom. 1. 9: incor-
porated in Cod. Theodos. 16. 2. I. The report of Anulinus, to which Constantine's
letter is an answer, is given by St. Augustin. Epist. 88 (68), Op. vol. ii. 302, ed.

8 Cod. Theodos. 16. 1. 2, a.d. 319.

9 Laws of Constantine in Cod. Theodos. 16. 2. 7, a.d. 330 (= Letter quoted from
a MS. of P. Pithou in Baronius ad ami. 316, n. 64) : of Constantius, ibid. 16. 2. 8.
a.d. 343 (= with the omission of the last clause Cod. Justin. 1. 3. 1, cf. Sozom.
H. E. 3. 17): of Constantius and Constans, ibid. 16. 2. 10, a.d. 353 (probably
= Auctor Vitae Spiridionis, ap. Hanel, Corp. Leg. ante Justinian, lot. p. 209), and
ibid. 16. 2. 11, a.d. 354, ibid. 16. 2. 14, a.d. 357, ibid. 16. 2. 15, a.d. 360 (partly
= Cod. Justin. 1. 3. 3) : of Valentin ian .and Valens, ibid. 16. 2. 19, A. D. 370?: of
Valens, Gratian, and Valentinian, ibid. 16. a. 24, A.D. 377 (partly = Cod. Justin.
1. 3- 6).

vi.] The Clergy as a Separate Class. 147

of taxation, municipal magistracies and offices are in
most instances a coveted honour. They entail upon
those who hold them a certain amount of trouble,
but not necessarily any considerable expense. But
under the vicious system of the later Empire they
were an almost intolerable burden. The magistrates
were charged with the collection of the revenue, and,
the quota of each municipality being fixed, they had
to make up the deficit — in days in which deficits were
chronic — out of their private resources 10 . The holding
of office consequently involved in some cases an almost
ruinous expenditure. It was a heavy and unequal tax
upon property. An addition to the number of those
who were exempt from it added to its oppressiveness
and its inequality. It had also another result, it added
to the number of claimants for admission to the privi-
leged class. When the officers of Christian Churches
were exempted, many persons whose fortunes were large
enough to render them liable to the burden of muni-
cipal offices, sought and obtained admission to the
ranks of the clergy, with the view of thereby escaping
their liability. The exemption had barely been half-
a-dozen years in operation before the Emperor found
it necessary to guard it with important limitations u .

10 See e.g. Kuhn, Verfassung etc., i er Theil, p. 245: Walter, Geschlchte des
rdmischen Bechts, i er Theil, § 396: and especially Riidiger, I)e Curialibiis Imperii
Jiomani post Constantinum M„ Wratislaw, 1838.

11 The exemptions were first granted in a. D. 313 : the first law restricting them
is now lost, but it is quoted in a law of a. u. 320, Cod. Theodos. 16. 2. 3 'cum
constitutio emissa praecipiat nullum deinceps decurionem vel ex decurione proge-
nitum idoneis facultatibus atque obeundis publicis muneribus opportunum ad cleri
corum nomen obsequiumque confugere, sed eos de cetero in defunctorum duntaxat
clericorum loca surrogari qui fortuna tenues neque muneribus civilibus teneantur,

L 2

148 The Clergy as a Separate Class. [lect.

These limitations were, for the most part, in the
direction of prohibiting those who were liable to
municipal burdens from being appointed to ecclesias-
tical office. As the Church grew in power the limitations
were evaded, and several times in the course of the
fourth century they had to be repeated 12 : but it is
important in relation to the point in hand to notice
that, in spite of evident abuses, the exemptions them-
selves were never repealed : it is equally important
to notice that, although no doubt the exemption was
claimed in almost all cases in which it could be
claimed, the right to exemption did not constitute
ineligibility. It was not until the Council of Chalcedon
that the holding of civil office by clerks became an
offence against ecclesiastical law ls : and it was not until
eighty years after that Council that the appointment
of a civil officer to ecclesiastical office became an offence
against civil law u .

2. In the second place, the State granted to the
officers of the Christian Church an exemption from
the ordinary jurisdiction of the civil courts. Tt so
far recognized the validity of the consensual juris-

obstricti ....:' there are similar restrictions in a law of a.d 326 Cod Theod. 16.

12 Law of Constantius and Constans, a.d. 360, Cod. Theodos. 16. 2. 15: of Con-
stantius and Julian, a.d. 361, Cod. Theodos. 8. 4. 7 : of Valentinian, Theodosins,
and Arcadius, a.d. 398, Cod. Theodos. 16. 2. 32 : Cod. Justin. 1. 3. 12 : cf. Socrates,
E. E 6. 5 : H. E. 8. 7.

13 Cone. Chalced. A.D. 451, c. 7 tovs arra^ iv KkTjpco Knreikiyiihovs fj nal fiovaffav-
ras wpiaafuv pyre em frrparday nrjrt im d^iav KocriMiiTjv tpxtaQai under penalty of

14 Law of Justinian, a.d. 532, Cod. Justin. 1. 3.53 (52) 6eam^ofitv ftr/re /3ou-
Xtvrfjv ia\Tt Ta£tu/TT}v inioKonov i\ irpta(lvTepov rod AouroG ylvtaOcu : so Novell. 123.
15, A.D. 546.

VI.] The Clergy as a Separate Class. 149

diction to which the members of Christian societies
submitted themselves. That consensual jurisdiction
was to some extent recognized for all members. The
civil law which recognized associations recognized also
the right of such associations to frame and to enforce
their own rules. In the Christian societies matters
of religious dispute, or offences against religion, might
be decided by the individual societies or by the repre-
sentative assembly of a province. The limitation to
such matters was, in the case of ordinary members, a
strict one 15 . The administration of justice would have
come to an end if all those who came soon to constitute
a preponderating majority of the citizens of the Empire
had been exempted from its ordinary operation. But
for Church officers the rule went far beyond this. At
first the rule that all causes in which officers of the
Churches were concerned should be decided by the
Churches themselves was permissive 16 . But at last it
became compulsory 17 . The right of appeal to the
emperor was reserved on the part of the State 18 , but

15 Law of Valens, Gratian, and Valentinian in a. d. 376, Cod. Theodos. 16. 2. 23
' Qui mos est causarum civilium idem in negotiis ecclesiasticis obtinendus est :
ut si qua sunt ex quibusdam dissentionibua levibusque delictis ad religionis obser-
vantiam pertinentia, locis suis et a suae dioeceseos synodis audiantur : exceptis quae
actio criminalis ab ordinariis extraordinariisque judicibus aut illustribus potestati-
bus audienda constituit.'

16 It is spoken of as a permission and not as an obligation: Sozom. H. E. 1. 9.
15 tuiv 5i IniaKoTtcov kfwcakiiodai rtjv xplcrtv iir £t p «if> « rots Suca^oftevois rjv fiov-
Xwvrai roiis tto\itikovs apxovras irapantioOai.

" Law of Honorius and Theodosius, a.d. 412, Cod. Theodos. 16. 2. 41 ' clericos
nonnisi apud episcopos accusari convenit: ' ibid. 16. 2. 47: but a law of Leo, A.D.
459, ap. Theodos. Lector. 1. 14 : Niceph. Callist. 15. 22 (Hanel, Corpus Legum, No.
1320, p. 259) makes clerks amenable only to tS> k-napx<*> t& v rrpanwplwv.

u That the right of appeal existed is shown by the fact that the Council of
Antioch, 0. U, 12, punished with ecclesiastical penalties a clerk who availed bini-

150 The Clergy as a Separate Class. [lect.

fenced round with conditions on the part of the
Churches : and so began that long struggle between
civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Church officers,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21

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