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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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VAcacUmie des Inscriptions, vol. xxviii, 1 partie, pp. 54 sqq., speaks with both force
and truth of ' cette immense soif de mort, cette indomptablc passion de souffrir,
ressentie par les ames ardentes ; ' cf. Euseb. H. E. 7. 1 3, of some martyrs at
Caesarea, iroOov fXixo/itvois ovpaviov.

45 St. Basil. M. Horn, in XL Martyrcs, Op. ed. Garn. vol. ii, p. 149.

vi.] The Clergy as a Separate Class. 161

those to whom life was thought, and thought was the
contemplation of God, and the contemplation of God
was the love of Him, and the love of Him was absorp-
tion in Him — as the morning mist floats upwards from
some still mountain tarn, and rests for a while in
embodied glory in the sunlight, and is lost in the pure
infinity of noon.

To those who have studied the history of great social
movements it will not be surprising that these various
elements should have combined together, in the course
of a single generation, to form an enthusiasm or a
fanaticism. The movement began in the East, but it
spread rapidly to the West: and wherever, in East
or West, the stream of life ran strong, there were
crowds of men and women who were ready to forsake
all, and follow John the Baptist into the desert rather
than Christ into the world.

Monasticism became henceforward a permanent factor
in Christian society. Its first result was to give a
new meaning to the antithesis between the Church
and the world. That antithesis in its original form
was an antithesis between the new chosen people and
the Gentiles outside. But monasticism transferred the
distinction to the Church itself, between those who
stood within the sanctuary and followed 'counsels of
perfection,' and those who were content with the
average morality of Christian men 46 . The result of

** ' Religion ' came to mean the monastic life and rule : e. g. i Cone. Aurel. A.D.
511, c. 11 ; 5 Cone. Paris, a.d. 615, c. 13; 4 Cone. Tolet. a.d. 633, c. 55; 10 Cone.
Tolet. a.d. 656, c. 6. ' Secular ' came to mean whatever was outside the monastic


1 62 The Clergy as a Separate Class. [lect.

this upon ecclesiastical organization was practically to
compel the clergy to live what was thought to be the
higher — that is, the more ascetic — life. This result
was not effected without resistance. For asceticism had
in some cases been the protest of heresy against catho-
licity 47 : but when the Arians set themselves to perse-
cute monasticism, by a remarkable rebound of feeling,
monasticism became a protest of catholicity against
Arianism 48 . Henceforth there was for the clergy that
which is an infallible mark of an exceptional status,
exceptional legislation.

That legislation affected chiefly marriage and social
life. The legislation which affected marriage varied
widely, not only from century to century, but between
East and West. In the East the ascetic rule prevailed
for bishops 49 : in the West it came ultimately to prevail
for all the higher orders of clergy. At first they might
not marry after ordination, and then ' they that had
wives were to be as though they had none,' and lastly,

life and rule : and 'conversion' was no longer the turning * from the power of Satan
unto God,' but the adoption of the monastic habit: e.g. Cone. Agath. a.d. 506, a
16 ; I Cone. Aurel. A. D. 51 1, c. 21 ; 4 Cone. Arelat. a.d. 524, c. 2 ; 5 Cone. Aurel.
a.d. 529, c. 9 ; 2 Cone. Arvern. A.D. 549, c. 9 : also so ' poenitentia : ' e.g. 2 Cone.
Arelat. A.D. 451? c. 22. Even Clement of Alexandria had regarded those who
lived an ascetic life as raiv iicKtKT&v (fcAfKrorepoi {Quia. Div?s Salv. c. 36, p. 945
ed. Pott.).

47 E.g. in the second century it had prevailed among the Marcionites, who ad-
mitted no married person to baptism unless he consented to a divorce, Tertull. Adv.
Marc. 1. 29 : 5. 7.

48 The violence of theArian reaction against the Catholic institution of perpetual
virginity is shown by e.g. St. Athanas. Epist. Encycl. 3, vol. i. p. 90, ed. Ben.;
Socrat. H. E. 2. 28 ; St. Hil. Pictav. Ad Constant. Aug. 1. 6 : Pragm. Hist. 2. 3 ;
3. 9: St. Greg. Naz. Orat. in laud. Basil. M. c. 46, vol. i. p. 805, Orat. c. Avian.
c. 3, vol. i. p. 605 : so also against monks, St. Basil M. Epist. 256 (200), vol. iv.
P- 39°-

* Cone. Trull, c. 48.

vi.] The Clergy as a Separate Class. 163

though not until prevalent practice had rendered a law
almost needless, they might not marry at all 50 .

The legislation which affected social life began by
excluding clergy from the amusements of life, and went
on gradually to exclude them from its ordinary pursuits,
and at last, though not for some centuries, clenched the
distinction by requiring them to wear a special dress 61 .

If we add these various causes together, we shall see
that the isolation of the clergy as a separate class of
the community became at length inevitable. They
had a separate civil status, they had separate emolu-
ments, they were subject to special rules of life. The
shepherd bishop driving his cattle to their rude pastur-
age among the Cyprian hills, the merchant bishop of
North Africa, the physician presbyter of Rome, were
vanished types whose living examples could be found
no more.

60 The evidence upon which the above paragraph is based ir altogether too exten-
sive and intricate to admit of being stated within the limits of a note : it will be
found at length in the excellent work of J. A. and A. Theiner, Die Einfiihrung der
erzivungenen Ehelosigkeit bei den christlichen Geistlichen und ihre Folgen, Altenburg,
1828: for a more concise, but even more scientific, account see Hinschius, Das
Kirchenrecht Bd. i, pp. 144-159: a complete account of the literature of the
subject will be found in de Roskovany, Coelibatus et Breviarium, Pest, 1861.

S1 There are many injunctions to the clergy in earlier centuries to use modest
and becoming dress : but there is probably no direct enactment as to the form of
dress which the clergy should wear in ordinary life earlier than the Capitulary of
Karloman in 742, c. 7 (Pertz, Legum, vol. i, p. 17, = Cone. German, c. 7, Mansi,
Concilia, vol. xii, p. 365), which prohibited clerks from wearing the ' sagum,' or
short cloak, and required them to wear the ' casula ' (for the meaning of which see
the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, s. v.), and the Capitulary of Pippin two years
later (Capit. Sucssion. A.D. 744, c. 3, Pertz, Legum, vol. i, p. 21) which enacts that
'omnes clerici fornication era non faciant, et habitu laicorwm non portent nee apud
canes venationes non faciant nee acceptores non portent.' For the disputed ques-
tions when and whether church officers had a distinctive dress in church in early
times, reference may be made to W. B. Marriott, Vestiarium Christ ianum, London,
1868, and for a contrary view Hefele, Die liturgischen Gtwiinder in his Beitriiye
zur Kircfiengeschiclde, Arehaologie, u. Liturgik, Bd. ii. Freiburg, 1864.

M 2

164 The Clergy as a Separate Class. [lect.

All this was intensified by the decay and fall of
the Roman Empire. When the surging tides of bar-
barian invasion swept over Europe, the Christian organi-
zation was almost the only institution of the past which
survived the flood. It remained as a visible monument
of what had been, and, by so remaining, was of itself
an antithesis to the present. The chief town of the
Roman province, whatever its status under barbarian
rule, was still the bishop's see. The limits of the old
'province/ though the boundary of a new kingdom
might bisect them, were still the limits of his diocese.
The bishop's tribunal was the only tribunal in which
the laws of the Empire could be pleaded in their
integrity. The bishop's dress was the ancient robe
of a Roman magistrate. The ancient Roman language
which was used in the Church services was a standing
protest against the growing degeneracy of the ' vulgar
tongue.' These survivals of the old world which was
passing away gave to the Christian clergy a still more
exceptional position when they went as missionaries
into the villages which Roman civilization had hardly
reached, or into the remote parts of the Empire where
Roman organization had been to the masses of the
population only what English rule is to the masses
of the population of India. To the 'pagani' of Gaul
and Spain, to the Celtic inhabitants of our own islands,
and, in rather later times, to the Teutonic races of
Central Europe, they were probably never known
except as a special class, assuming a special status,
living a special life, and invested with special

VI.] The Clergy as a Separate Class. 165

There were two usages which, though they were
not without significance even in the seats of the older
civilization, became in the great mass of the nations
of the West circumstances of great significance.

1 . The first is one which might seem trivial, if we
did not bear in mind that a dispute concerning it
constituted a principal cause why the British Churches
refused to combine with the organization which was
introduced into the English kingdoms by Augustine 62 .

Part of the protest which had been made by early
preachers against the current effeminacy had been a
protest against the elaborate fashion of dressing the
hair 53 . The first book of the Apostolic Constitutions
exhorts all Christians to trim their hair becomingly 5i :
Clement of Alexandria lays down minute rules in this
respect for both men aud women 65 ; and Chrysostom
repeatedly quotes the Apostolic injunction against
* broided hair ' in his appeals to the court-ladies of Con-
stantinople 56 . But, as in other cases, that which had
been a primitive rule for all Christians became in time
a special rule for the clergy. They must not either
shave their heads like the priests of Isis ", nor let their
hair grow long like heathen philosophers. Then came
a more exact and stringent rule : they must not only

5i Bede, E. R. 4. 1 ; 5. 21 ; see Haddan and Stubbs, Councils, etc. vol. i.

P 154-

53 Compare the address of Epictetus to the young rhetorician who caine to him

Tr(pi(p"f6Ttpov ^(ncrj/iivov rfjv n6p.rjv, Diss. 3. I. I.

84 Const. Apost. I. 3.

M Clem. Alex. Paeday. 3. II, p. 290, ed. Pott.

56 St. Chrys. e. g. Horn. ix. in Ep. ad Horn. vol. ix. 742, Horn. xxri. in Ep. i. ad
Corinth, vol. x. 235, Horn. viii. in Ep. i. ad 'Tim. vol. xi. 590.

n St. Hieron. Coram, in Ezech. lib. 13, c. 44.

1 66 The Clergy as a Separate Class. [lect.

trim their hair but trim it in a particular way. The
trimming of the hair in this particular way became one
of the ceremonies of admission to ecclesiastical office:
and, throughout both East and West, clerks became
differentiated from laymen by the 'tonsure 68 .'

2. The second usage is one which was partly primi-
tive and partly monastic.

In the earliest times, the living of all those who
shared in the Church offerings at a common table had
probably been one of those simple economies by which
the resources of the infant Churches had been hus-
banded 69 . When, long after this primitive practice had
passed away, monasticism asserted its place in Christian
life, a pious bishop of the West, Eusebius of Vercelli,
began the practice of gathering together his clergy in a
common building 60 . St. Augustine followed his example,
and instituted in Africa what he calls, by a kind of
paronomasia considering the antithesis between monks

8 " The direction of Pope Anicetus {Lib. Pontif. p. a) and of the Statuta Eccletiae
Anliqua, c. 44, is simply ' clericus nee comam nutriat nee barbam : ' and it is clear
that for some time there was a diversity of usage as to the manner in which the
hair was trimmed. The earliest direction on this point which has conciliar
authority is probably that of the fourth Council of Toledo, a.d. 633, c. 41, 'omnes
clerici vel lectores sicut levitae et sacerdotes detonso superius toto capite inferius
.solain circuli coronam relinquant.' This was known as the ■ coronal tonsure : ' its
adoption seems to have been at least partly due to mystical reasons, as symbolizing
the crown of thorns (see e.g. St. Aldhem. Epist. I, ap. Jaffe\ Monnmenta Moguntina,
p. 27, and pseudo-Alcuin, De Divinis Officiis, c. 35) : but when once adopted it
became a badge of orthodoxy, and as such became universal.

59 Epist. ad Diognet. 5. 7 rpavt^av koo>j)v irapariOivTai d\\' ov koivtjv. The
fourth Apostolical Canon directs those offerings which could not properly be
placed upon the altar to be taken tfc olnov for the use of the bishop and clergy.
It is conceivable that, this oikos was a kind of clergy-house, or at least a common

60 St. Maxim. Serm. 23, ap. Muratori, Anecdota Latina, vol. iv. ; St. Ambros.
63, c. 66, 82, vol. ii, p. 1038.

vi.] The Clergy as a Separate Class. 167

and clerks, a ' monasterium clericorum 61 . Hence grew
the practice, to which I must refer again in a subsequent
Lecture 62 , of the clergy living together — a practice which
in the country districts of the West became as much a
practical necessity as it is for the missionaries of our
modern Churches to live by themselves in mission-
stations. But the practice served still further to em-
phasize, especially in those districts, the difference
between clergy and laity : for the former not only had
a distinctive personal mark, but also lived an isolated

So grew the Christian clergy. They came to be what
they were by the inevitable force of circumstances, that
is to say, by the gradual evolution of the great scheme
of God's government of the world which, though present
eternally to His sight, is but slowly unfolded before
ours. But of what they came to be it is difficult to speak
with a calm judgment, because the incalculable good
which they have wrought in the midst of human society
has been tempered with so much of failure and of sin.
One point at least, however, seems evident, that that
incalculable good has been achieved rather by the
human influence which they have exercised than by the
superhuman power which they have sometimes claimed.
The place which they have filled in human history has
been filled not by the wielding of the thunderbolts of
heaven, but by the whispering of the still voice which
tells the outcast and the sad of divine mercy and divine

* l St. Augustm. Serm. 355 = ^6 Divers. 49, Op. ed. Migne, Patr. Lat. vol. v.
p. 1570.
w See Lecture VIIT.

1 68 The Clergy as a Separate Class.

consolation. And if it be possible to draw from the past
an augury of the future, they will have their place in
the days that are to come, whether those days be a reign
of chaos or a reign of peace, not by living in the isolation
which the decay of the Empire forced upon the clergy of
the middle ages, but by recurring to the earlier type,
by being within society itself a leaven of knowledge and
of purity, of temperance and of charity. In this way
will their influence be as permanent as human need : in
this way will they, and not others in their stead, be the
channels and the exponents of those spiritual forces
which underlie all faiths and all civilizations, which,
whoever be their ministers, live in themselves an ever-
lasting life, and of which, as of the deepest of human
emotions, though the outward form perishes and the
earthly voices die, the * Echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever/



An important feature of the Koman imperial admin-
istration was the respect which it showed to local
liberties. For many important purposes a municipality
was independent : the reality, as well as the form, of
republican government lingered in the towns long after
it had become extinct at Eome l . For certain other
purposes a province was independent: and the form
which its independence assumed anticipated in a re-
markable way those representative institutions which
have sometimes been regarded as the special product
of modern times. Every year deputies from the chief
towns of a province met together in a deliberative
assembly 2 . This assembly had to some extent a re-

1 This is shown by the general regulations as to municipal administration in the
Lex Julia municipalis (Corp. Inscr. Lat. vol. i. No. 206), and in the Lex Malaci-
tana (ibid. vol. ii. Nos. 1963, 1964; see supra, Lect. V, note 35). An interesting
account of the independent municipal regime of Gaul is given by Fustel de Coulanges,
Jlistoire des Institutions politiques de Vancienne France, i re partie, pp. 121 sqq.,
Paris, 1875.

8 For these provincial councils see Marquardt, Be Proxinciarum Bomanarum
Conciliis et Sacerdotibus in the Ephemeris Epigraphica, vol. i. pp. 200-214, and also
his Bomische Staatsverwaltung, Bd. i. pp. 365-377, where references will be found
to almost all the existing literature on the subject. It is important to note that
they are found in full activity during the imperial period in all the provinces in
which Christian councils came to exist : viz. Greece (see, in addition to Marquardt,
Herzberg, Geschichte Qriechenlands, Bd. ii. 465 ; Dittenberger, Cor put Inscr. A tt.
vol. iii. No. 18); Syria (coins of Trajan and Caracalla, Mionet, vol. v. no, 334);

1 70 Councils and the Unity of the Church, [lect.

ligious character. Its meeting-place was the altar of
Augustus : its deliberations were preceded by a sacrifice :
its president was named High Priest 3 .

In the course of the second century the custom of
meeting in representative assemblies began to prevail
among the Christian communities. There were points
of practice — for example, the time of keeping Easter —
on which it was desirable to adopt a common line of
action 4 : there were questions as to Christian teaching
— for example, those which grew out of Montanism — on
which individual Churches were divided, and on which
they consequently desired to consult with their neigh-
bours 5 : there were questions of discipline which affected
more than one community — especially the question,
which for a time assumed a great importance, as to the
terms upon which those who had renounced Christianity
under pressure of persecution should be received back
again 6 .

At first these assemblies were more or less informal.
Some prominent and influential bishop invited a few
neighbouring communities to confer with his own : the

Asia Minor (Kulin, Verfassung des rom. Reichs, i. 107 sqq.) ; Africa (Hirschfeld,
Annali di instit. Archeol. Rom. vol. xxxviii, 1866, p. 70) ; Spain (Hiibner, Corpus
Inter. Lat. vol. ii, p. 540; Hermes, vol. i, p. Ill); and Gaul (Boissieu, Inscrip-
tions Antiques de Lyon, p. 84).

3 For this title see the epigraphical evidence collected by Marquardt, Ephem.
Epigraph, vol. i, pp. 207-214; Rom. Staatsvrrw. Bd. 1, p. 367.

4 Councils were held on this point in Asia Minor before the close of the second
century, Euseb. H. E. 5. 23. 2.

5 Councils were held on this point in Asia Minor about a.d. 160-170, Eimeb.
H. E. 5. 16. 10.

fi Councils on this point are frequently mentioned in Cyprian : cf. the Sentential
Epi*coporum de Hereticis baptizandis ap. St. Cyprian. Op. p. 435, ed. Hartel, and
Epist. 17 (n), p. 523; 20 (14), p. 529 ; 32, p. 565 ; 43 (40), p. 59a ; 55 (52), p.
626 ; 56 (53), c. 3, p. 649 ; 70, p. 766 ; 71, c. 1, p. 771 ; 73. c. 1, p. 778.

vii.] Councils and the Unity of the Church. 171

result of the deliberations of such a conference was ex-
pressed sometimes in a resolution, sometimes in a letter
addressed to other Churches 7 . It was the rule for such
letters to be received with respect : for the sense of
brotherhood was strong, and the causes of alienation
were few. But so far from such letters having any
binding force on other Churches, not even the resolu-
tions of the conference were binding on a dissentient
minority of its members. Cyprian, in whose days
these conferences first became important, and. who was
at the same time the most vigorous of early preachers
of catholic unity — both of which circumstances would
have made him a supporter of their authoritative
character if such authoritative character had existed —
claims in emphatic and explicit terms an absolute in-
dependence for each community. Within the limits of
his own community a bishop has no superior but God.
1 To each shepherd,' he writes, ' a portion of the Lord's
flock has been assigned, and his account must be
rendered to his own Master.' The fact that some
bishops refused to readmit to communion those who
had committed adultery is no argument, he contends,
for the practice of other bishops ; nor is the fact that
a number of bishops meeting in council had agreed to

7 These had been preceded by letters written by one church to another, in its
own name and without conference with other churches. That the First Epistle of
Clement of Rome is an example of such a letter is shown, chiefly on the evidence
afforded by the newly-discovered portion, by Harnack in the Theologizche Lilcratur-
zeitung, Bd. i. 1876, p. 102, and in the prolegomena to the letter in his Patrum
Apost. Opera, ed. alt. p. lxi. Of letters addressed by more than one church to
another church or group of churches, examples will be found in the letters of the
churches of Vienne and Lyons, Euseb. H. E. 5. 1. 2, and of the African to the
Spanish churches, St. Cyprian. Bpist. 67 (68), p. 736.

172 Councils and the Unity of the Church, [lect.

admit the lapsed a reason why a bishop who thought
otherwise should admit them against his will 8 .

But no sooner had Christianity been recognized by
the State than such conferences tended to multiply,
to become not occasional but ordinary, and to pass
resolutions which were regarded as binding upon the
Churches within the district from which representatives
had come, and the acceptance of which was regarded
as a condition of intercommunion with the Churches
of other provinces. There were strong reasons of
imperial policy for fostering this tendency. It was
clearly advisable that the institutions to which a new
status had been given should be homogeneous. It was
clearly contrary to public policy that not only status
but also funds should be given to a number of com-
munities which had no other principle of cohesion than
that of a more or less undefined unity of belief 9 .
Consequently, when the vexed question of the ordi-
nation of Caecilian threatened to divide the African
Churches, Constantine summoned all the bishops of
Christendom — each with representative presbyters from

8 St. Cyprian. Epist. 59 (55), c. 14, p. 683 'cum . . . singulis pastoribus portio
gregis sit adscripta quam regat unusquisque et gubernet, rationem sui actus Domino
redditurus : ' id. Epist. 55 (52), c. 21, p. 639 ' non tamen a coepiscoporum suorum
collegio recesserunt aut catholicae ecclesiae unitatem vel duritiae vel censurae suae
obstinatione ruperunt, ut quia apud alios adulteris pax dabatur, qui non dabat de
ecclesia separaretur : manente concordiae vinculo et perseverante catholicae eccle-
mae individuo saeramento actum suum disponit et dirigit unusquisque episcopus
rationem propositi sui Domino redditurus.' On this point see the important treatise
of Keinkens, Die Lehre des heil. Cyprian von der Einheit der Kirche, Wiirzburg,


* A law of Constantine in A.D. 326, Cod. Theodos. 16. 5. I, confines the privi-
leges and immunities which had been granted to Christians to 'catholicae legis ob-

vii.] Councils and the Unity of the Church. 173

his Church — to a conference or council at Aries 10 . It
was an obvious condition of such a conference that
its decisions should be binding on those who so far
took part in it as to subscribe to its acts. And since
those who did so take part in it were the most im-
portant bishops in Christendom, a confederation was
thereby established, which placed dissentients at a
great disadvantage. The main points of agreement
which were arrived at in this conference have con-
stituted the basis of the confederation of Christian
Churches ever since. It was resolved that those
who had been appointed to minister in any place
should remain in that place and not wander from
one place to another u ; that a deacon should not
offer the Eucharistic sacrifice 12 ; that bishops should

10 The mandate of Constantine to the bishop of Syracuse is preserved, doubtless
as a typical form, by Euseb. JET. E. 10. 5. 21-24: it gives him the right to convey-
ance at the public cost (SrjfiScriov oxm*a). There is also a letter of Constantine to
Aelafius (or Ablabius) the vicar of Africa (ap. Mansi, Concilia ii. 463, and Migne,
Patr. Lat. viii. 483) requiring him to give the bishops of both parties tractoriae,

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