Edwin Hatch.

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

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the original theory of his relation to the council of presbyters did
not wholly pass away. It was the theory of church writers that
he had only priority of rank : it was the rule of Councils that he
must not act without his clergy : and it was in accordance with
these views that the early Churches were constructed pp. 109-111



What was, in primitive times, the relation between Church officers
and ordinary members ? The answer to this question may be
gathered from two groups of facts :

(i) (a) The collective terms for Church officers, (6) the abstract
terms for their office, (c) the extant testimony as to the relations
between the two classes,

(2) The fact that all the particular designations of Church officers
were in use in contemporary organizations,

lead to the inference that not only was the relation one of presi-
dency or leadership, but also that the presidency or leadership was
the same in kind as that of non-Christian associations pp. 113-114

But may there not have been other relations, and had not the officers

Synopsis of Contents. xix

certain functions which an ordinary member could in no case
discharge 1 ? ........ pp. 114-116

On the contrary, the existing evidence tends to show that laymen, no
less than officers, could, upon occasion,

(1) teach or preach . . . . . . . p. 116

(2) baptize p. 117

(3) celebrate the Eucharist p. 118

(4) exercise discipline . . . . . . . p. 119

The inference is that although the officers had, as such, a prior right,
they had not an exclusive right, to the performance of any ecclesi-
astical function ....... pp. 1 20-1 2 1

This inference is in harmony (1) with the fact that in these early days
the standard of membership of a Christian community was higher
than it has since been, (2) with the wider and perhaps exceptional
diffusion of ' spiritual gifts.' It was not until the communities grew
in size that the position of their officers began to acquire its subse-
quent importance, or that the idea arose of their possessing exclusive
powers ......... pp. 121— 122

Against this increase in their importance and this claim to exclusive
powers, there came a great reaction. The Montanists reasserted the
pre-eminence of spiritual gifts over official rule, and the equality of
all Christians, except so far as the well-oi'dering of the community
required a division of functions . . . . pp. 122-125

The reaction failed : but the fact of its existence is an important cor-
roboration of the inference which is drawn from more direct evidence
that the original conception of ecclesiastical office was that only of
priority of order, and that its most exact metaphorical expression
is that which underlies the word 'Pastor' . . pp. 125-127

Nor did that original conception pass away all at once : the final
exclusion of ordinary members from those functions which have
in later times been exclusively claimed by Church officers was
gradual . pp. 127-128

But, if all this be true, what was meant by ' ordination ' 1 The answer

to this question may be gathered from several kinds of evidence :

(1) All the words which are used for ordination connote either

simple appointment or accession to rank . . . p. 129
b 2

xx Synopsis of Contents.

(2) They are all in use to express appointment to civil
office p. 129

(3) The elements of appointment to ecclesiastical office are also
the elements of appointment to civil office . . . p. 1 29

(4) The modes of the one varied concomitantly with the modes
of the other . p. 1 30

(5) The modes of admission to ecclesiastical office were also the
modes of admission to civil office . . . pp. 131-132

The inference is that ordination meant appointment and admission to
office, and that it was conceived as being of the same nature with
appointment and admission to civil office . . . . p. 132

But if this was the meaning of ordination in general, what was the
meaning of the rite of imposition of hands ?

Two kinds of consideration must be taken into account :

(1) The fact that the rite was not a universal, and that con-
sequently it could not have been a necessary, element in
ordination ....... pp. 133-134

(2) The facts (a) that it was in use among the Jews on various
occasions, some of which were more secular than sacred,
(6) that early writers regard the rite, not as being in itself a
means of the communication of special powers, but as a symbol
or accompaniment of prayer .... pp. 134-135

The inference is that the existence of this rite does not establish a
presumption that ordination was conceived to confer exclusive
spiritual powers . . . . . . . . p. 135

But it may be urged that nothing has been adduced which is incon
sistent with such a presumption. On the other hand, such a pre-
sumption seems to be excluded by two considerations :

(1) The fact of silence : no writer of the first two centuries, in
writing of chui'ch officers, either states or implies that they had
such exclusive powers . . . . . . p. 136

(2) The facility with which ordinations were made and un-
made pp. 137- 138

The result of the enquiry into the nature of ordination thus confirms
the inference which was drawn from the enquiry into. the nature of
ecclesiastical office in itself ..... pp. 138-139

Synopsis of Contents. xxi

But in course of time various causes operated to produce a change in

the conception of ecclesiastical office : these causes were, mainly,

(i) The prevalence of infant baptism, which opened the doors of

the Church to those who were not Christians by conviction, and

introduced a difference between the moral standard of ordinary

members and that of church officers . . . . p. 139

(2) The intensity of the statement of order, which, especially in
the decay of the Empire, tended to exaggerate the importance
of all office, whether ecclesiastical or civil . . pp. 1 40-1 41

(3) The growth of a belief that the Christian ministry had suc-
ceeded to the place, and revived the attributes, of the Levitical
priesthood pp. 1 41-14 2



The fourth century is important in the history of Christian organiza-
tion as being the period in which Church officers lost their primitive
character and became a separate class . . . pp. 143-144

For this change there were two chief causes, (1) the recognition of
Christianity by the State, (2) the influence of Monasticism.

I. The recognition of Christianity by the State.
This affected Church officers chiefly in two ways :

(1) The State gave them a distinct civil status : since

(a) It gave them an immunity from ordinary public burdens,
especially from the discharge of those municipal duties
which formed an oppressive and unequal tax upon all who
were possessed of real property : the considerable effect of
this immunity is shown by the measures which were taken
to limit the extent of its operation . . pp. 144-148

(6) It gave them an exemption from the ordinary jurisdic-
tion of the civil courts .... pp. 148- r jo

(2) The State tended to give them social independence, by alter-
ing their original dependence upon voluntary offerings ->r upon

b 3

xxii Synopsis of Contents.

their own exertions as traders or artisans : it effected this by
twomeans: ....... pp. 150-152

(a) It allowed the Churches to acquire and hold property :
and the extent to which this operated is shown by the
existence of restraining enactments . . pp. 152-153

(b) It endowed Church officers with money, and the Churches
themselves with buildings and lands . . pp. 153-154

II. T/ie influence of Monasticism.

Monasticism is the combination of two elements, (1) asceticism, (2)
total or partial isolation from the world . . . . p. 155

(1) Asceticism belongs to the beginnings of Christianity: but
for three centuries it was exceptional and for the most part
dormant pp. 155-156

(2) Isolation, whether total or partial, from society, was already
a prevailing tendency in the non-Christian religions of Egypt and
India, and its prevalence in the Church has sometimes been as-
cribed to a direct influence of one or other of them pp. 156-158

But it is more natural to ascribe that prevalence to causes
within Christianity itself which were especially operative in the
fourth century pp. 159-16 1

The effect of Monasticism upon Church officers was to compel them to
live a more or less ascetic life, and thereby to create for them a
code of morals different from that which was allowable to ordinary
members pp. 1 61-162

They soon became the objects of exceptional legislation, especially in
regard to (1) marriage, (2) social life . . . . p. 162

These two groups of concurrent causes, the influence of the State and
of Monasticism, seem adequate to account for the change which
passed over the relations of Church officers to the rest of the com-
munity : and the operation of these causes was intensified by the
decay and fall of the Eoiuan Empire . . . pp. 163-164

In some parts of the West the primitive Church officers had never
been known : and the separation of officers of the later type from
the rest of the community was further marked by two circum-
stances . ........ pp. 164-165

Synopsis of Contents. xxiii

(i) The tonsure, the importance of which is shown in the early dis-
putes between the Romish and the British Churches pp. 165-166

(2) The practice of living together in clergy-houses, which tended
still more to isolate them from ordinary society pp. 166-167



The practice of meeting in representative assemblies which had
a semi-religious character, prevailed in most provinces of the
Empire . . p. 169

In the course of the second century a similar practice began to prevail
among the Christian communities . . . . . p. 170

At first the meetings were held irregularly and informally : the results
of their deliberations were expressed in a resolution, or in a letter
to another Church, but they had no binding force upon a dissentient
minority ........ pp. 170-172

But when Christianity was recognized by the State, it being obviously
to the advantage of the State that the Christian societies should be
homogeneous, the principle of meeting in common assembly for the
framing of common rules was adopted by Constantine, who sum-
moned representatives of all the Churches of Christendom to a meet-
ing at Aries . . . . . . . . . p. 1 7 2

The resolutions of this meeting, being accepted by the great majority
of Churches, became the basis of a confederation . . p. 173

The organization of the confederation followed strictly the organization
of the Empire : the Churches of each province formed a unity, with
its provincial officers and its regular provincial assemblies : and
when from time to time questions were raised which affected the
whole body of Churches, there were representative assemblies of the
whole body of Churches, whose resolutions affected the entire con-
federation ........ pp. 174-175

So far, the confederation was the voluntary 1 ct of the Churches which
composed it : its existence strengthened not only the power of the
majority of Churches over a minority, but also the power of single

xxiv Synopsis of Contents.

Churches over recalcitrant members : for it enforced a rule that
exclusion from one Church should imply exclusion from all the
confederate Churches, and ultimately from all Christian society

pp. 1 75-1 7 8
But though this rule was a powerful instrument, it would probably
not have been sufficient to ensure uniformity, unless the State had
interfered, because the dissentient minorities of single Churches, or
a dissentient minority of the Churches of a province, might have
formed fresh combinations. In one case this was actually done :
the puritan party in Africa, differing from the majority on a
point not of belief but of practice, formed an association of their
own pp. 178-179

But the State interposed : three measures were sufficient to render the
independent existence of minorities impossible :

(1) The State recognized the decisions of the representative
assemblies of the confederated Churches . . . p. 180

(2) It recognized the validity of deposition from office, or exclu-
sion from membership of the confederated Churches . p. 180

(3) It prohibited the formation of new associations outside the
confederated Churches . . . . . . p. 180

In this way, by the help of the State, the confederation became a great
unity, which survived the power that had welded it together, and
which was conceived as being the visible realization of the ideal
Church : and to it, accordingly, were applied the metaphors in which
the Church of Christ had been pictured . . . pp. 182-184

But it is doubtful whether this assumption of the identity of the con-
federation with the Church of which the New Testament had spoken
can be justified :

(1) From the absence of proof that the unity of organization was
ever in fact realized, and from the presumption to the conti'ary
which is afforded by the acknowledged independence of certain
Churches pp. 185-186

(2) From the absence of proof that the terms of the confederation
were ever settled, and that intercommunion ever changed its
character of a voluntary and revocable agreement . p. 186

(3) From the absence of proof that the unity of the Church was
ever meant to be a unity of organization, and from the pre-

Synopsis of Contents. xxv

gumption to the contrary which is afforded by the fact that the
primitive conceptions of unity were different . . p. 186

la) In the first period the basis of Christian union was a
changed life . p. 187

(6) In the second period the basis of Christian union was
the acceptance of the Catholic tradition of Apostolic
teaching p. 188

(c) In the third period the two former bases were held to be
insufficient : a Christian must be a member of one of the
confederated societies . . . . . p. 188

The ultimate prevalence of the conception of the identity of the mass
of confederated Churches with the Church of Christ was in fact the
result of a long struggle, in which the State took part and in which
also the defeated party were crushed less by argument than by the
operation of penal laws pp. 1 89-1 91

The question must be considered to be still open, At what point, if
any, did the original voluntary intercommunion become an indis-
soluble bond 1 p. 19 1

And beyond it is the still wider question, How far is external associa-
tion necessary 1 pp. 192-193



The links which connect the primitive with the modern organization
of the Christian Churches are mainly the Parish and the Cathedral.

I. The Parish.

The theory of the primitive organization was that each community

was complete in itself: but this theory was modified in various

ways by various groups of circumstances . . . . p. 195

(1) In the great cities where a single building was not large

enough for the whole community, instead of multiplying

organizations, one or more presbyters were detached from the

central organization to preside over congregations, meeting

separately for purposes of worship. At Rome the theoretical

xxvi Synopsis of Contents.

unity of organization was still further preserved by having only
one consecration of the Eucharistic elements . pp. 195-196

(2) In suburban or rural districts there was the same variety in
the ecclesiastical as in the civil organization, (a) Sometimes
the communities of such districts had a complete and inde-
pendent organization: but the officers of such organizations
were regarded as being of lower rank than corresponding
officers in the cities. (There was an attempt in the eighth
century to revive this system in the West, but it did not long
succeed.) (6) Sometimes such communities were regarded as
being under the direct control of a city community : an
example of this is Alexandria and its dependent district of
Mareotis ....... pp. 196-199

(3) In some parts of the East the communities were so small and
scattered that, although they had presbyters and deacons of
their own, their bishop was itinerant . . . p. 199

(4) In the great estates the free coalescence of Christians into
communities was probably rendered difficult by the nature of
the relation of the coloni to the owner. The owners probably
appointed officers at their own discretion : but the State inter-
fered to compel them to require the approval of a neighbouring
bishop ........ pp. 200-201

(5) In Spain and Gaul the original Churches were probably con-
fined to the Roman municipalities : the greater part of the
country was divided into districts of which those municipalities
were the administrative centres. When the Celts who occu-
pied these districts began to be converted, the primitive or-
ganization was not altered : the newly-formed communities
were for ecclesiastical purposes, as the districts in which
they were formed had been for judicial purposes, regarded
as being under the jurisdiction of the bishop of the central
municipality ....... pp. 201-202

It is mainly to this last system that the modern parish owes its origin.
At first the officers of these outlying communities were only tem-
porarily detached, and were liable to recall. Endowments not only
made them permanent but also threatened to make them inde-
pendent. But the Carolingiau legislation restored the jurisdiction
and authority of the bishop ...... 203-205

Synopsis of Contents. xxvii

II. The Cathedral.

The bishop's church long preserved its original constitution. Its
worship was conducted, and its affairs administered, by the bishop,
advised by his council of presbyters and assisted by the deacons.
This type is still preserved at Rome, although the proper places
of the city clergy are occupied by dignitaries from all parts of
Christendom ........ pp. 205-206

But the original constitution of the bishop's church was modified by
the practice of the clergy living together in the bishop's house. In
course of time the clergy so living together, who had been
originally dependent on allowances made by the bishop from the
ordinary church offerings, came (a) to have funds of their own, and
ultimately to form an independent corporation (6) to live under a
semi-monastic rule of life ...".. pp. 206-210

The theory that all the presbyters under the bishop's control, whether
they ministered in the bishop's church or in detached churches,
formed part of his council, still remained : but although the de-
tached clergy were still bound at certain periods to take their
places in that council, the detachment became so great that at last
the ' chapter ' of the cathedral took the place and functions of the
original council ....... pp. 210-211

The difference between the parochial and cathedral clergy was still
further widened by the separate organization of the former under
their own archpresbyters and archdeacons : and the organization
which was so formed has lasted until modern times . pp. 2 1 1-2 1 3

The main propositions in which the foregoing Lectures may be
summed up are

(1) That the development of the organization of the Christian
Churches was gradual,

(2) That the elements of which that organization was composed
were already existing in human society . . . p. 213

In other words, the Lectures tend to establish the view that in the
organization of the Christian Church, as in the formation of the
natural world, Grod has been pleased to act by an economy of slowly-
operating causes. Nor is it legitimate to allow an a priori theory

xxviii Synopsis of Contents.

of what He was likely to do to override the conclusions which follow
from an examination of what He has actually done . pp. 2 1 3-2 1 6

The establishment of this view would diminish the importance of some
past and existing controversies respecting ecclesiastical organization.
Those controversies have usually turned on the minor premiss of
the main argument, i. e. on the question whether this or that insti-
tution is or is not primitive. But the point at issue is rather the
major premiss, i.e. the question whether all that was primitive
was intended to be permanent .... pp. 2 1 6-2 j 7

To this latter question the probahle answer is negative : in ecclesi-
astical, as in all organizations whether natural or social, though the
type remains, the form changes : fixity of form from age to age is
impossible. Form there must be ; but the Christian Church has
shown at once its vitality and its divinity by readjusting its form
in successive ages ....... pp. 218-219

That form was originally a democracy; circumstances compelled it to
become a monarchy : and possibly the limit of its modifications is not
yet reached : the circumstances of the present time differ so widely
from all that have preceded as to suggest the question whether the
constitution which was good for the past will be, without modifica-
tion, good also for the future . . . • pp. 219-223



I propose in these Lectures to examine the history
of the organization of the Christian Churches from the
times of the Apostles until the fall of the Western
Empire. How that organization began, and what
causes gave it shape, are questions of extreme ob-
scurity: and in the uncertainty of many of the data
upon which the answers have to be based, some of the
answers themselves must be more or less problematical.
Nor is it easy to enter upon the consideration of these
questions with an unbiassed judgment, because the fierce
heats of the controversies which once raged round them
have not even now sufficiently cooled down to enable
the data to be dealt with, as we should deal with data
that were wholly new, by the simple canons of either
logical inference or literary criticism. Nor should I
feel justified in approaching a subject which is in itself
so complicated, and which before now has divided
kingdoms, and overthrown dynasties, and sent theo-
logians to the stake, if it were not for the strong
conviction that the time has come at which the area

2 Introductory : [lect.

of disputable points may be lessened by the discovery
of new facts and the use of a more certain method
of enquiry.

For we have seen the growth in our own day, and to
no slight extent in our own community, of a method of
treating historical questions which, if it does not abolish
controversy, at least limits it. We have seen the growth
of a method which deals with the facts of history by
processes analogous to those which have been applied
with surpassing success to the phenomena of the phy-
sical world, and which have there vindicated their
accuracy as methods of research by proving to be
methods of discovery. We have seen the growth, in
short, of historical science. We have seen the growth,
as the result of the pursuit and application of that
science, of a habit of mind which stands in the same
kind of relation to the facts of history as the habit of
mind of a practised judge in relation to evidence in a
court of law, and which estimates the several items not
by some roughly generalized rule, but in the subtle
balances of a matured experience. We have seen the
growth, in short, not only of historical science, but also
of the historical temper.

Hitherto that science and that temper have been
applied almost exclusively, in this country at least, to
the facts of civil history : but if we assume, as I pro-
pose to assume, that — at least for purposes of study —
the facts of ecclesiastical history, being recorded in the
same language, and in similar documents, and under
the same general conditions of authorship, belong to
the same category as the facts of civil history, it is

I.] The Method of Study. 3

not too much to maintain the existence of a pre-
sumption that the application of historical science and
the historical temper to a field of historical phenomena
which they have hitherto left comparatively unexplored,
may be followed by new results.

I propose therefore, in dealing with the great ques-
tions which I have indicated, to deal with them by the
help of modern methods. It is not necessary for me to
vindicate those methods. On the comparatively neutral
ground of civil history scholars are virtually agreed as
to the kind of evidence for which they should look, and
as to the manner in which they should deal with it.
On the assumption which I have made that the phe-
nomena are cognate, the methods will presumably be
cognate also.

But since every field of research has its special dif-
ficulties, and since this particular field has been often

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Online LibraryEdwin HatchThe organization of the early Christian churches : eight lectures delivered before the University of Oxford, in the year 1880 → online text (page 2 of 21)