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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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(253), in Append, ad St. August. Op. vol. v. p. 2172.

35 E. g. the Church is compared to Eve, as being the ' mater vivorum,' St.
Augast. De Genesi, 2. 24, vol. ii. p. 215, Enarr. in Psalm, cxxvi. c. 8, vol. iv. p.
1673 : St. Maxim. Taurin. Hom. 55, p. 172, Serm. 34, p. 486 ; to Sarah, St. Atubros.
De Abraham, lib. i. c. 4, vol. i. p. 294 : to Rachel, ' diu sterilis, nunc vero fecunda'
St. Hilar. Pictav. Comm. in Matt. c. 1.7, vol. i. p. 672 : St. Greg. M. Moral, lib. xxx.
c. 25, vol. i. p. 988 : to Rebecca, St. Ambros. De Jacob, lib. 1, c. 2, vol. i. p. 461 : St.
August. Enarr. in Psalm, cxxvi. c. 8, vol. iv. p. 1673 ('quamdiu parturit ecclesia
ipsi sunt intus et boni et mali,' as Esau and Jacob struggled in the womb of
Rebecca), Serm. 4 (44), c. II, vol. v. p. 39 : St. Greg. M. Moral, lib. xxxv. c. 16, vol.
i. p. 1 1 60: to Jephthah's daughter, St. August. Quaest. in Heptateuch, lib. 7, c.
51 : to Bathsheba, St. August. In Faust. Manich. 23. 87, vol. viii. p. 459, Cassiodor.
Expos, in Psalm. I. ed. Garet, vol. ii. p. 169 : to Esther, St. Hieron. Epist. 53 (103),
c. 7, vol. i. p. 279 : to Judith, St. Hieron. Epist. 79 (9), vol. i. p. 508.

vii.] Councils and the Unity of the Church. 185

this confederation, and no other, is the Church of Christ
in its visible and earthly form — we shall find that
assumption attended with difficulties which do not
readily admit of solution.

(1) In the first place, there is no proof that the con-
federation was ever complete in the sense of embracing
all the communities to which by common consent the
name Christian was in its fullest sense applicable. For
the most part the Christian Churches associated them-
selves together upon the lines of the Roman Empire 36 :
and, so far, just as there were gradations of dioceses,
provinces, and municipalities in the one, so were there
gradations of exarchs or patriarchs, metropolitans, and
bishops in the other. But some Churches remained
independent. They were not subordinate to any other
Church. Their bishops had no superior. They were
what the Notitiae, or lists of orthodox Churches, call
avroKe(pa\ot 3 \ They were in the position which Cyprian

96 It is important to notice, as corroborating this general view, that when the
ecclesiastical organization passed outside the network of the imperial organization,
it changed its character : in Ireland, for example, ' the spiritual jurisdiction of the
bishopB was coextensive with the temporal sway of the chieftain* (Reeves, Ecclesi-
astical Antiquities of Down, Connor, and Dromore, Append, p. 303) : the limits of
both the one and the other were continually shifting, and dioceses in the ordinary
sense did not exist until the Synod of Rath Breasail in a.d. 1141 {ibid. pp. 135,


37 Nilus Doxapatrius, Notitia Patriarchatuum, ed. Parthey, p. 284, tlal Si
iirap\icu rives at ov TtKovai bird rcbv pLtyiorcuv Gpovcuv woirtp leal f) vtjoos Kvirpos $
ipnivtv avTOKt<pa\os iravTeXus teal (irjStvl 6p6vq> tuiv pteyiaraiv vTTOKetpiivrj d\\
avregovoios ovaa Sid. rd (vptOrjvat iv avrrj rbv diroffToXov Bapv&pav l\ovra tmarr]6iov
to Kara MapKov aytov EvayytXtov : so also of Cyprus in the Notitia compiled by tho
authority of the Emperor Leo Sapiens, ed. Parthey, p. 93: and of Armenia, ibid. p.
90. In the same way, though the fact is not recognised in the Notitiae, there is
no proof whatever either that the early British Churches were subordinate as ;v
whole to any other church, or that their bishops recognised any gradation of rank
among themselves.

1 86 Councils and the Unity of the Church, [lect.

had in earlier times asserted to be the true position of
all bishops : their responsibility was to God alone.

(2) In the second place, there is no proof that the
terms of confederation were ever settled. The fact that
the State did not tolerate any Churches which were not
recognized by the confederation is not pertinent to the
purely ecclesiastical question. There is no proof that
it was not possible for any Church to refuse to admit
to communion the members of other Churches, with as
little formality as it had accepted them. There is no
proof that intercommunion ever changed its original
character of a voluntary contract — a corollary of the
goodwill and amity which one Christian community
should have towards another — so as to become an in-
dissoluble bond. It would be a strong assertion to say
that God is always on the side of the majority: and
that, when the confederation was once formed, whatever
the majority of its members resolved upon was binding
de jure divino upon the minority. But this is the only
tenable position if it be asserted, as it sometimes is
asserted, that individual Churches which at any one
time sent deputies to the general council of the con-
federation, or admitted an appeal to such an assembly,
or admitted the other constituent members of such
an assembly to Church privileges, thereby forfeited for
all time to come their original right to independent

(3) In the third place, there is no proof that the
words of Holy Scripture in which the unity of the
Church is expressed or implied refer exclusively, or at
all, to unity of organization. There is, on the other

vii.] Councils and the Unity of the Church. 187

hand, clear proof that they were in early times applied
to another kind of unity.

There have been in fact three forms which the con-
ception of unity has taken.

In the earliest period the basis of Christian fellowship
was a changed life — ' repentance toward God and faith
toward our Lord Jesus Christ 38 .' It was the unity of
a common relation to a common ideal and a common
hope. The contention of those who looked upon Chris-
tians as a whole was that they were 'not under the law
but under grace' — that they were, as one of the earliest
Christian writings phrases it, a rplrov yevos — neither
Jews nor Gentiles, but a class apart 39 . The word
' Church' is used for the aggregate of Christians, ' the
general assembly of the firstborn,' but the hypothesis of
its use for that aggregate conceived as a mass of organ-
izations seems to be excluded by its having been said
to have existed before the world, and to have been
1 manifested in the body of Christ 4 V

38 Acts 20. 31.

s!1 Kripvyiia Tlerpov ap. Clem. Alex. Strom. 6. 5, p. 650 ; Hilgenfeld, Novum Te.%-
tamentum extra canonem receptum, Fasc. iv. p. 58: so Tertull. Scorpiace to 'usque
quo genus tertium.' This separate existence of Christianity is strongly asserted
by St. Ignatius, e. g. Ad Magnet. 9. 10, Ad Philad. 6. 8.

40 2 Clem. Rom. 14 'So then, brethren, if we do the will of God our Father, we
shall be of the first, the spiritual, Church, which was created before the sun and
moon : but if we do not the will of the Lord, we shall fall under the Scripture
which says ' ; My house became a den of robbers." So then let us choose to be of
the Church of Life, that we may be saved. But I think that ye are not ignorant
that the living Church is the Body of Christ : (for the Scripture says, " God made
man male and female : " the male is Christ, the female is the Church), and that
the Scriptures and the Apostles tell us not only that the Church exists but that it
is from above (avwBtv). For it was spiritual, as also was our Jesus, and was mani-
fested in the last days to save us. Now the Church, being spiritual, was mani-
fested in the flesh of Christ, showing us that if any of us keep it in the flesh and
corrupt it not, he will receive it in the Holy Spirit.' Similarly, Herm. Vis. 2. 4. 1

1 88 Councils and the Unity of the Church, [lect.

In the second period, the idea of definite belief as
a basis of union dominated over that of a holy life 41 .
The meshes of the net were found to be too wide. The
simple creed of primitive days tended to evaporate into
the mists of a speculative theology. It became necessary
to define more closely the circle of admissible beliefs.
The contention of those who looked upon Christians as
a whole was that they were held together by their
possession of a true and the only true tradition of
Christian teaching. ' There is one body of Christ,'
says Origen, ' but it has many members : and those
members are individual believers 42 .' Not until the
dispute between Cyprian and Novatian does the ques-
tion appear to have been raised whether those who
held the Catholic faith were bound to be members of
particular associations, or whether they had the right
to form associations for themselves 43 .

In the third period, insistence on Catholic faith had led
to the insistence on Catholic order — for without order
dogma had no guarantee of permanence. Consequently
the idea of unity of organization was superimposed
upon that of unity of belief. It was held not to be

Bays that the Church ' was created first of all things, and for her sake the world
was framed.'

41 The phrase ^ tvoiais ttjs litKXrjaias first appears in Hegesippus : but he uses
it in antithesis to alpiatts, and evidently implies that kind of unity which consisted
in adherence to the Catholic tradition of ApostoKc teaching : drrd rovraiv [i. e. the
heresiarchs whom he had just mentioned] iptv56xpi<fTot, tf/(vSonpo<pTJTai, xptvtiairo-
OtoXoi, oiTives e [x.( pi<rai> rrjv tvcoatv t??s (icic\T)aias (pOopifxaiots \6yois KarSi
tov Qeov nal /caTcl rod Xpiarov avrov (Hegesipp. ap. Euseb. H. 12. 4. 22. 5). In
the following chapter Eusebius describes the letter of Dionysius of Corinth to the
Lacedaemonians as dp0o8o£ias «aT7?x , ? T " f '7> «»/"7 , ' ! ? J Tf " a ' ivwotius vnoBfTtitf].

12 Origen, c. Cels. 6. 48.

13 See above, Lecture IV, pp. 102-104.

vii. j Councils and the Unity of the Church. 189

enough for a man to be living a good life, and to hold
the Catholic faith and to belong to a Christian asso-
ciation : that association must be part of a larger
confederation, and the sum of such confederations
constituted the Catholic Church 44 .

This last is the form which the conception of unity
took in the fourth century, and which to a great extent
has been permanent ever since.

But both in the fourth century, and afterwards, it did
not gain its position of dominance without a struggle.
The same difficulty presented itself in early times
which has presented itself again and again in modern

41 This view is clearly expressed by the great Latin Fathers : e. g. St. August.
De Baptism, c. Donat. lib. 4, c. 18, vol. ix. p. 270 'Constituamusergo aliquem castum,
continentem, non avarum, non idolis servientem, hospitalem indigentibus minis-
trantem, non cujusquam inimicum, non contentiosum, patientem, quietum, nullum
aemulantem, nulli invidentem, sobrium, frugalem, sed haereticum : nulli utique
dubium est propter hoc solum quod haereticus est regnum Dei non possessurum:'
id. Serm. ad Caesar. Eccles. plehem, c. 6, vol. ix. p. 695 ' extra ecclesiam catholicam
totum potest haberi praeter salutem. Potest habere honorem, potest habere
aacramentum, potest can tare Alleluia, potest respondere Amen, potest evangeliura
tenere, potest in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti fidem et habere et
praedicare : sednusquam nisi in ecclesia catholica salutem potest invenire.' St. Leon.
M. Serm. 79 (77), c. 2, vol. i. p. 31 7 ' extra ecclesiam catholicam nihil est integrum,
nihil castum, dicente Apostolo ' omne quod non est ex fide peccatum est :' cum
divisis ab unitate corporis Cbristi nulla similitudine comparamur, nulla conimu-
nione miscemur.* St. Greg. M. Moral, lib. 14, c. 5. 5, vol. i. p. 457 'Sancta autem
universalis ecclesia praedicat Deum veraciter nisi intra se coli non posse, asserens
quod omnes qui extra ipsam sunt minime salvabuntur.' (It is important to note the
wide difference of opinion on this point between the third century and the fifth :
Cyprian held, see supra, p. 171, the independence of particular churches : Augustine
advocated the subordination of particular churches to a confederation. A con-
venient modern account of Augustine's theory, which is the more important because
it has been the dominant theory on the subject ever since, will be found in two
Augustinuche Studien by H. Reuter in the Zeilschrift f. hirchl. Geschichte £d. iv,
1880, (1) Zur Frage nach dem Vcrhallniss der Lehre von der Kirche zu der Lekre
von der pradestinutionischen Gnwle, pp. 210 sqq., (a) Die Kirche das Reich Gottes,
pp. 506 sqq.)

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

times. How can an organization be said to be identical
with the Church of Christ when some of both its mem-
bers and its officers are in reality living unholy lives ?
The difficulty first took form in the time of Cyprian,
when the puritan party in the Church of Eome declined
to recognize the election of Cornelius. It was renewed
with a longer and more important struggle in the fourth
century by the great section of the African Churches of
which I have already spoken, and who were known as
Donatists. 'Above all other things,' said the Donatists,
' the Church of Christ should be pure, and we defend
its purity 46 .' Their opponents, chiefly St. Augustine,
pointed to the parable of the wheat and the tares. * The
field is the world,' they said, 'and the good and the bad
grow together until the harvest.' ' The field is the
world,' replied the Donatists, 'and not the Church: it is
in the world and not in the Church that the good and
the bad are to grow together 46 .' ' Your Catholic Church,'
they said to their opponents, ' is a geographical expres-
sion : it means the union of so many societies in so
many provinces or in so many nations : our Catholic
Church is the union of all those who are Christians in
deed as well as in word : it depends not upon inter-
communion, but upon the observance of all the divine
commands and Sacraments : it is perfect, and it is
immaculate 47 .'

45 Gesta Collationis Carthag. iii. c 258. ed. Dupin, p. 313.

46 Ibid. p. 314.

47 Gaudentius, a Donatist Bishop, says in the Gesta Collat. Carthag. iii. c. 102
' Catholicum nomen putant [sc. Catholici] ad provincias vel ad gentes referendum,
cum hoc sit catholicum nomen quod sacramentis plenum est, quod perfectum, quod
immaculatum, non ad gentes,' cf. St. Augustin. Epist. 93 (48), Op. ed. Migne, vol.
ii. 333 ' Acutum autem aliquid tibi videris dicere cum Catholicae nomen non ex

vil] Councils and the Unity of the Church. 191

The Donatists were crushed : but they were crushed
by the State. They had resisted State interference :
Quid Imperatori cum ecclesia f they asked 48 . But the
Catholic party had already begun its invocation of the
secular power: and the secular power made ecclesias-
tical puritanism a capital crime 49 .

The fame of the great theologian who, with somewhat
less of Christian charity than might have been expected
from so good a man, opposed the Donatists, and the
fact that as a matter of history they ultimately passed
out of existence, have caused the name of schism which
was given by their opponents to their movement to be
unquestioned by most historians. But though they were
crushed the question which they raised was not thereby
solved — At what point did voluntary intercommunion
become an indissoluble bond % In other words, assum-
ing that, in the opinion of a Church or group of
Churches, the dominant majority of an association to
which that Church or group of Churches has hitherto
been attached are lax in discipline or unsound in faith,

totius orbis communione interpretaris sed ex observatione praeceptorum omnium
divinorum atque omnium sacramentorum.' At the same time, although the ac-
counts which their opponents have transmitted to us may be exaggerated, there
can be little doubt that the Donatists counted among their followers many who
were far from realizing the ideal purity of their leaders.

18 The expression is that of the Donatist bishops at the Council of Carthage in
a.d. 348 (St. Optat. De Schismat. Donatist. 3.3, p. 55, Monumenta Vetera ad Dona-
listarum historiam pertinentia, Migne, Patrol. Lat. vol. viii. 776).

49 After the conference between the Catholic and Donatist bishops in ad. 411,
Marcellinus, the imperial tribune who presided, pronounced his sentence in which
he ordered all persons to join in putting down the Donatist assemblies, and the
Donatists themselves to hand over their buildings to the Catholics (Sententia Cog-
vitoris in the Append, ad Opp. S. Optati, ed. Dupin, p. 325) : as this did not prove
to be sufficient it was enacted three years later that the Donatists should lose the
privileges of Christians (Cod. Theodos. 16. 5. 54), and in the following year that
they should be punished with death (Cod. Theodos. 16. 5. 56).

IQ2 Councils and the Unity of the Church, [lect.

do the dissentients cease to be Catholic, or cease to be
Christian, when they decline any longer to be bound by
the resolutions of the association \

And there are some no doubt who will think that
even this is but part of a larger question, and that the
real point at issue is not so much the terms of associa-
tion as its necessity. There are some who will look
back with lingering eyes at that earlier time in which
there was no formal association of Churches, but only
what Tertullian calls the ' communication of peace, the
appellation of brotherhood, the token of hospitality,
and the tradition of a single creed 50 .' There are some
who will think that the effect of the enormous power
which the Roman Empire in the first instance, and the
fall of the Eoman Empire in the second instance, gave
to the association has been to exaggerate its importance,
and to make men forget that there is a deeper unity
than that of external form.

For the true communion of Christian men — the
'communion of saints' upon which all Churches are
built — is not the common performance of external acts,
but a communion of soul with soul and of the soul with
Christ. It is a consequence of the nature which God
has given us that an external organization should help
our communion with one another : it is a consequence
both of our twofold nature, and of Christ's appointment
that external acts should help our communion with
Him. But subtler, deeper, diviner, than anything of
which external things can be either the symbol or the

60 Tertull. De Praescr. Haeret. ao.

vil] Councils and tfie Unity of the Church. 193

bond is that inner reality and essence of union — that
interpenetrating community of thought and character —
which St. Paul speaks of as the ' unity of the Spirit,'
and which in the sublimest of sublime books, in the
most sacred of sacred words, is likened to the oneness*
of the Son with the Father and of the Father with the
Son 61 .

81 St. John if. 11, n.



In preceding Lectures I have endeavoured to trace
the successive steps by which the simple communities
of Apostolic times resulted in the vast and complex
confederation which we find in existence at the fall of
the Western Empire. How that confederation deve-
loped into the still more complex system which we find
in the Middle Ages, is a problem so intricate, so in-
teresting, and in many respects so important, as to
deserve more attention than it has hitherto received
from those who make historical problems their study.
And although the complete solution of that problem
is beyond alike my province and my powers, and
although in the short compass of a single Lecture
I cannot do more than draw the rough outlines of
a great picture, yet I cannot so far leave the general
subject incomplete as to refrain from pointing out the
chief links which connect the organization of the
early Churches with the organization of inediseval,
and thereby virtually of modern, times.

The two chief links are the Parish, and the

The Parish, as we see it in Western Christendom,

The Parish and the Cathedral. 195

owes its origin to several causes, and is the final result
of several earlier forms. The irapoiKla of early days was
neither a parish nor a diocese, but the community of
Christians living within a city or a district, regarded
in relation to the non-Christian population which sur-
rounded it ! . Every such community seems to have had
a complete organization, and there is no trace of the
dependence of any one community upon any other.
But, as time went on, there were several groups of
circumstances which modified in various ways this
original completeness and autonomy.

(1) The first of these circumstances were those of
the great cities, in which a single building was not
large enough to contain the whole assembly of the
faithful. In them the tradition of unity, the analogy
of the municipal corporations, and possibly also the
personal predominance of the bishop, seem to have
prevented the multiplication of organizations. The
most important instance is that of Home, which in this,
as in some other respects, preserved for many centuries
an exceptional simplicity. For eleemosynary and disci-
plinary purposes that city was divided into districts
('regiones'), each of which was entrusted to a deacon,
who reported to the bishop the temporal wants, or the
moral delinquencies, of those Christians who resided
in them 2 . For purposes of worship congregations seem
to have been gathered together wherever convenience

1 See Lecture III, note 15, and my article ' Parish ' in the Dictionary of Chris-
tian Antiquities, vol. ii. p. 1554.

2 Liber Pontificalis, Vit. Gait, p. 29 : Ordo Romanus I, p. 3, ap. Mabillon, Mus.
Ttal. vol. ii. Cf. ibid. Comm. praev. in Ord. Rom. p. xvii. See also Gregorovius,
Geschichte derStadt Rom. Bd. i. p. 78, 2 te Aufl. : Nardini, Roma Antica, ed. Nibby,
vol. i. p. 124 sqq. : De Kossi, Roma Solteraneu, vol. iii. p. 515.

O 2

196 The Parish and the Cathedral. [lect.

suggested or the law allowed — in public buildings, in
private houses, and in the catacombs 3 . When the
altered relations of Christianity to the State permitted
the same congregation to meet regularly in the same
place, one or more presbyters seem to have been
temporarily or permanently detached from the bishop's
council to preside over it : but the theory that the
church of the city was one, though locally divided, was
preserved by a practice of which there is no clear trace
elsewhere. There continued to be, as there had pro-
bably been in the infant community of Apostolic days,
only one consecration of the Eucharistic elements. The
bishop and his clergy consecrated in one of the churches
enough bread and wine for all the faithful in the city,
and sent the consecrated elements round by the hands
of messengers to the several presbyters and congre-
gations 4 . In this way they were all literally ' partakers
of that one bread,' and so realized with a vividness
which later usage weakened that they were ' one body.'

(2) Another group of circumstances was that of
suburban or rural districts and their outlying hamlets.
In the civil government two systems prevailed in such

3 Cf. De Rossi, Roma Solteranea, vol. i. pp. 199 sqq., vol. ii. pp. 478 sqq., and
Kraus's article in his Real-Encyclopddie, s. v. Basiliken.

4 St. Innocent I. Epist. ad Decent, c. 5 ' De fermento [sc. the consecrated elements]
vero quod die dominico per titulos [sc. the parishes within the city] mittimus
superflue nos consulere voluistis quod omnes ecclesiae vestrae intra civitatem sint
constitutae. Quarum presbyteri quia die ipso propter plebem sibi creditam nobis-
cum convenire non possunt, idcirco fermentum a nobis confectum per acolythos
accipiunt ut se a nostra communione maxime ilia die non judicent separates :' (he
goes on to disallow the practice in the case of cemeteries and outlying parishes on
the ground that ' non longe portanda sunt sacramenta'). See also Liber Pontif.
Vit. Melchiad. p. 33, Vit. Siric. p. 55 : Mabillon, Comm. praev. in Ord. Rom. p.
xxxviii. in Mas. Ital. vol. ii: Bona, De Rebus Liturgicis vol. ii. p. 205 : Baronius
ad ann. 313, xlix.

viii.] The Parish and the Cathedral. 197

cases : sometimes such districts were within the juris-
diction of the magistrates of a neighbouring city 5 , and
sometimes they had magistrates of their own 6 . There
were, similarly, two systems of ecclesiastical govern-
ment. In Syria and some parts of Asia Minor the sub-
urban and rural communities seem to have had a com-
plete organization : but the bishop of such a community
was held not to be of the same rank as the bishop of
a city, and had a special name — ex/<r/f07ro? twv aypwv, or
Xw/)e7r/a-/co7ro? 7 . This system gradually fell into disuse,
though not complete disuse, in the East, and does not
appear to have existed in early times in the West 8 . In

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21

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