Edwin Hatch.

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

. (page 4 of 21)
Online LibraryEdwin HatchThe organization of the early Christian churches : eight lectures delivered before the University of Oxford, in the year 1880 → online text (page 4 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

is impossible to resist the inference that in the divine
economy which governs human life, as it governs the
courses of the stars, by the fewest causes and the
simplest means, the Christian societies, and the con-
federation of those societies which we commonly speak
of in a single phrase as ' the visible Church of Christ,'
were formed without any special interposition of that
mysterious and extraordinary action of the divine voli-
tion, which, for want of a better term, we speak of as
'supernatural.' The inference is a presumption and
not a demonstration. It is of the same kind as all
inferences except those of the purely ideal sciences.

1 E. g. Tertull. Be Anima, 43 ; Acta Petri et Paali, 29, ap. Teschendorf, Acta
Apostolorum Apocrypha, p. 12. The symbolism probably accounts for the frequency
with which the creation of Eve is represented in early Christian art.

I.] The Method of Study. 19

But it is strong enough to throw the onus of proof not
upon those who make, but upon those who deny it.
For those who infer from a group of resembling facts
a relation of identity in kind, have a presumption in
their favour which is not enjoyed by those who infer
from those facts a relation of difference.

There are some, no doubt, who will think that to
account for the organization of the Church in this way
is to detract from the nobility of its birth, or from the
divinity of its life. There are some who can see a
divinity in the thunder-peal, which they cannot see in
the serenity of a summer noon, or in the growth of the
flowers of spring. But I would ask those who think
so to look for a m ment at that other monument of
divine power, and manifestation of divine life, which
we bear about with us at every moment. Out of the
dust of the earth, if we listen to the Hebrew poet who
first sang the inspired song of Genesis ; out of earlier
types of organized beings, if we listen to those who
tell us — or think that they tell us — the story of the
earth from the records which the earth contains : but,
in either view, from antecedent and lower forms, came
into being these human bodies with their marvellous
complexity of structure, with their almost boundless
capacity of various effort, with their almost infinitely
far-reaching faculty of observation. And so, it may
be — nor is it a derogation from its grandeur to say
that it was — out of antecedent and, if you will, lower
forms, out of existing elements of human institutions,
by the action of existing forces of human society,
swayed as you will by the breathing of the Divine

c 2

20 Introductory : [lect.

Breath, controlled as you will by the Providence which
holds in its hand the wayward wills of men no less
than the courses of the stars, but still out of elements,
and by the action of forces, analogous to those which
have resulted in other institutions of society, and other
forms of government, came into being that widest and
strongest and most enduring of institutions which bears
the sacred name of the Holy Catholic Church. The
divinity which clings to it is the divinity of order. It
takes its place in that infinite series of phenomena of
which we ourselves are part. It is not outside the
universe of Law, but within it. It is divine, as the
solar system is divine, because both the one and the
other are expressions and results of those vast laws
of the divine economy by which the physical and the
moral world alike move their movement and live their

It is by these methods, and with, as I believe, these
general results, that I propose to consider the early
organization of the visible Church of Christ.

I propose to begin at the beginning, and to take into
consideration as we go on the conditions of the society
in which the Christian communities grew as well as
the facts of their growth.

But I do not propose to occupy your time by a
preliminary discussion of the ecclesiastical polity of the
New Testament, because I believe that that polity will
be best understood by the light of subsequent history.
At the time when the majority of the sacred books
were written that polity was in a fluid state. It had

I.] The Method of Study. 21

not yet congealed into a fixed form. It seems, as far
as can be gathered from the simple interpretation of the
text, without the interpretation which history has given
it, to have been capable of taking several other forms than
that which, in the divine economy, ultimately established
itself. It has the elements of an ecclesiastical monarchy
in the position which is assigned to the Apostles. It
has the elements of an ecclesiastical oligarchy in the
fact that the riders of the Church are almost always
spoken of in the plural. It has the elements of an
ecclesiastical democracy in the fact, among others, that
the appeal which St. Paul makes to the Corinthians on
a question of ecclesiastical discipline is made neither to
bishops nor to presbyters, but to the community at
large. It offers a sanction to episcopacy in the fact
that bishops are expressly mentioned and their qualifi-
cations described : it offers a sanction to presbyterianism
in the fact that the mention of bishops is excluded from
all but one group of Epistles. It supports the proposi-
tion that the Church should have a government in the
injunctions which it gives to obey those who rule. It
supports on the other hand the claim of the Montanists
of early days, and the Puritans of later days, in the
preeminence which it assigns to spiritual gifts.

Which of these many elements, and what fusion of
them, was destined in the divine order to prevail, must
be determined, not so much by exegesis, as by history.
That history will unfold itself before us in subsequent
lectures. We shall see those to whom the Word of
Life was preached gradually coalescing into societies.
We shall see those societies organizing themselves as

2 2 Introductory : [lect.

charitable associations in the midst of great poverty and
depression 2 . We shall see them organizing themselves
as disciplinary associations, held together by the force
of a strong moral law, in the midst of social disorder
and laxity 3 . We shall see them passing from a con-
dition of oligarchy or democracy to that of virtual
monarchy 4 . We shall see the individual communities
ultimately confederated together into a world-wide as-
sociation 5 . We shall see that world-wide association
and its separate components recognized by the State,
and trace the effect upon it of the close neighbourhood
and the supporting arm of the civil power 6 . We shall
see its officers gradually formed into a class standing
apart from the mass of the Christian community,
invested with attributes of special sanctity, and living,
or supposed to live, by a higher rule of life than that
of those to whom they ministered 7 . We shall see the
heads of the separate organizations exercising juris-
diction outside their proper communities over adjacent
and outlying communities, so as to establish a relation
of subordination between the latter and the former 8 .
We shall pause at length upon the threshold of that
period, alike of glory and of shame, when this grand
confederation of Christian societies, arrogating to itself
the name of that Catholic Church the belief in which
is part of all Christian creeds, became the greatest
corporation upon earth, stronger than the Koman Em-
pire itself in its moral influence upon civilized society
and hardly inferior to it in political power, sitting like

* Lecture II. s Lecture III. * Lecture IV. * Lecture VII.

6 Lecture VI, T Lectures V and VI. * Lecture VIII.

I.] The Method of Study. 23

a queen upon her throne, with her feet upon the necks
of kings, and using the majesty of her sublime con-
solations, and the prestige of her long traditions, and
the wealth of her splendid charities, to enslave rather
than to free the world.

But upon a subject on which misconception is so
easy and so prevalent, it seems necessary to add one
word more, and to draw your attention explicitly and
once for all to that which I have implied throughout,
that the subject which lies before us is not the
Christian faith, but the organization of the Christian
Churches. In whatever I may have to say about the
latter, I do not propose to touch the former. With
doctrine, and with the beliefs which underlie doctrine,
we shall have in these lectures no direct concern.
Out of the tangled mass of truths and tendencies, of
institutions and practices, which make up what we
sometimes speak of collectively as Christianity, I shall
endeavour to extricate a single thread, and to deal
with it as far as possible in isolation. It is true that,
except in the purely ideal sciences of metaphysics
and geometry, the perfect isolation of any subject is
impossible. It is true that there are many points at
which the history of organization links itself almost
inextricably with the history of doctrine. But I will
ask those who listen to me to put upon themselves
the same intellectual self-restraint which 1 endeavour
to put upon myself, and to keep a fixed attention
upon the immediate point in hand, apart from its
innumerable side-issues and its far-reaching relations.

24 Introductory : [lect.

No doubt for all our self-restraint there will loom out
before us continually as we go on the majestic vision
of that stupendous work which these organizations
have effected, and are effecting, in the midst of human
society. We shall be like a student who makes it
his temporary task to explore some great historic
cathedral with a view only to its architecture. At
every step he treads on hallowed ground. On every
side are the memorials of saintly lives, and heroic deeds,
and immortal genius. From their silent tombs there
seem to rise up the shadows of the holy dead, gazing
at him with their beatified faces, and stretching out
hands of ghostly fellowship. He is tempted at every
moment to throw aside his study, and to yield to
the fascination of the place, and to gain some new
hope for his own sad life from the weird and whis-
pered tale of what they did and suffered for Christ
and for the world. But his present concern is with
the architecture, and the soft and solemn voices that
bid him linger in sympathy or in dream fall upon
deafened ears.

And so, in the Lectures that will follow, it will not
be in forgetfulness, but only because their limits are
too brief for even the single subject which they pro-
pose to compass, that we shall turn our eyes from
the saintly souls of these early centuries, and from
the sublime truths they taught, to consider only the
framework of that vast society to which they and
we alike belong, — that society into which for eighteen
centuries have been gathered the holiest and the
noblest of our race, — that society which links together

I.] The Method of Study. 25

the ages by the mystic tie of spiritual communion, —
that society which, though to some men it has seemed
a crushing despotism, has been to you and me and
the world at large a beneficence and a salvation.



Among the many parallels which can be drawn
between the first centuries of the Christian era and
our own times, there is probably none more striking
than that of their common tendency towards the forma-
tion of associations. There were then, as now, associa-
tions for almost innumerable purposes in almost all
parts of the Empire. There were trade guilds and
dramatic guilds ; there were athletic clubs, and burial
clubs, and dining clubs ; there were friendly societies,
and literary societies, and financial societies : if we
omit those special products of our own time, natural
science and social science, there was scarcely an object
for which men combine now for which they did not
combine then 1 .

1 Associations occupy a much larger place in epigraphical monuments than in
literary history : of the kinds mentioned above, i. trade-guilds are found among
almost every kind of workmen and in almost every town of the Empire of which
inscriptions remain ; e.g. among the raftsmen at Geneva (Mommsen, Inscriptiones
Confoederationia Helvetica*, No. 75), among the wool-carders of Ephesus (Wood,
Discoveries at Ephesus, Append, viii. No. 4), among the litter-bearers of a remote
colony in Wallachia (Corpus Inter. Lat. vol. iii. No. 1438), and among the shoe-
makers of a market-town in Spain {ibid. vol. ii. No. 2818) ; ii. dramatic guilds, in

Bishops and Deacons. 27

There was more than one attempt at repression. The
State feared lest the honeycombing of the Empire by
organizations which in their nature were private, and
so tended to be secret, might be a source of political
danger : but the drift of the great currents of society
towards association was too strong for even the Empire
to resist 2 .

The most important among them were the religious
associations. Almost all associations seem to have had
a religious element : they were under the protection of

e.g. Le Bas et Waddington, Inscriptions Grecques et Latines, vol. iii. Nob. 1336,
1619 (cf. Foucart, De Collegiis scenicorum artificum apud Graecos, Paris, 1873;
Liiders, Die dionysiscken Kilnstler, Berlin, 1873): iii. athletic clubs, in e.g.
Inscr. Graze. Nob. 349, 5804, Wilmanns, No. 2202 (cf. Herzog, Gallia Narbonensis.
p. 247): iv. burial clubs, in e.g. Orelli-Henzen, No. 6086= Wilmanns, No. 319 (cf.
Boissier, ittudes sur qiielques colleges funiraires remains in the Revue ArcluSologique,
187a, vol. xxiii, p. 82; De Rossi, I collegii funeraticii famigliari e loro denomina-
zioni in the Commentation es philologicae in honorem Th. Mommsenii, p. 705) : v.
dining clubs, in e.g. Orelli, No. 4073 ; Tertullian, Apol. 39 : vi. friendly societies, in
e.g. Le Bas et Waddington, vol. iii. No. 1687; Plin. Epist. 10. 94; Renier, Inscrip-
tions cTJlgerie, No. 60, 70 = Wilmanns, Exempla Inscr. Lat. Nos. 14S1, 1482 : vii.
literary societies, in e.g. Orelli, No. 4069= Wilmanns, No. 211 2: viii. financial
societies, in e.g. Wilmanns, No. 2 181 (cp. the well-known 'societates publicano-
rum'). The ' Ambubaiarum collegia' of Hor. Serm. I. 2. 1, and the * latronis colle-
gium' of Apul. Metam. 7. 137 may be caricatures: but the extent of the tendency
is shown by the fact that sometimes the slaves on an estate (Corpvs Inscr.
Lat. vol. vi. No. 404), or even in a household (Orelli, No. 2414), formed an asso-

2 The repression began under the Republic, Cic. in Pison. 4 (cf. Asconius ad
loc. ap. M. T. Cic. Schol. ed. Orelli, p. 7); Jos. Ant. 14. 10. 8; Suet. Caes. 42, and
was continued by Augustus, Suet. Octav. 32, and others, e.g. by Trajan, Plin.
Epist. 10. 34 (43). The allegation that they tended to become political clubs is
supported by the inscriptions on the walls of Pompeii, Corpus Inscr. Lat. vol. ir.
N08. 202, 710, 787. For the question of the precise amount of legality which they
had under the Empire, see Huschke in the Zeitsohrift f. geschicht. Eechtswissen-
schaft, Bd. xii, pp. 207, sqq. ; Mommsen, ibid. Bd. xv, p. 353 sqq. ; Lb'ning,
Geschichte des deutschen Kirchcnrechts, Bd. i, pp. 202 sqq. ; and especially Cohn, Zv.m
rihnischen Vereinsrecht, Berlin, 1873. Alexander Severus seems to have been the
first Emperor who saw in them a conservative rather than a revolutionary force,
»nd encouraged instead of repressing them, Lamprid. Alex. Sev. c. 33.

28 Bishops and Deacons. [lect.

a tutelary divinity, in the same way as at the present
day similar associations on the continent of Europe
invoke the name of a patron saint 3 : and their meetings
were sometimes called by a name which was afterwards
consecrated to Christian uses — that of a 'sacred synod 4 .'
But in a considerable proportion of them religion was,
beyond this, the basis and bond of union. Inside the
religion of the State, and tolerated by it, were many
forms of religion and many modes of worship. Then,
as now, many men had two religions, that which they
professed and that which they believed : for the former
there were temples and State officials and public sacri-
fices ; for the latter there were associations : and in
these associations, as is shown from extant inscriptions,
divinities whom the State ignored had their priests,
their chapels, and their ritual 5 .

3 Of the Latin associations some were under the protection of one or more of
the greater gods : e. g. most of the trades-unions at Rome claimed the patronage
of Minerva, Ovid, Fast. iii. 819-832, the physicians of Turin that of Aesculapius
and Hygia, Corpus Inscr. Lat. vol. v. No. 6970 : others had a ' genius ' of their
own, e.g. ibid. vol. iii. 1424, vol. v. No. 7595. Some associations, in even closer
correspondence with modern confraternities, had their banners for fete-days and
processions, ' Vexilla collegiorum/ Vopisc. Aurel. 36; Gallien. 3; Eumen. in Grat.
Act. 8 : and the lodge-room or guild-hall, schola, of almost all associations seems to
have had a chapel, templnm, or at least an altar, ara, e.g. Corp. Inscr. Lat. vol. iii.
No. 633, vol. v. No. 7906 : the fact is the more noteworthy because De Rossi (Bul-
leiino di Arch. Christ. 1864, ann. ii. p. 60, Roma Sotteranea, vol. iii. p. 475) main-
tains that some of the primitive churches were scholae. For the Greek associ-
ations see e.g. Schbmann, Griech. Alterthumer, Bd. i. 3 te Aufl. pp. 541-6, who
rightly says that the religious element was invariable.

4 The expression Upa crvvoSos for an association, or its meeting, is found, e.g. in
Le Bas et Waddington, vol. iii. No. 1336, 1619; Corpus Inscr. Graec. No. 4315 n.

5 The data for the above statements will be found, for the Greek religious asso-
ciations in the inscriptions collected by Foucart, Des Associations religieuses chez
les Grecs, Paris, 1873 : for the Latin associations in Wilmanns, Exempla Inscrip-
tionum Latinarum (see the Index in vol. ii. pp. 631 sqq.). Other inscriptions,
and further details, will be found in Mommsen, De Collegiis et Sodaliciis So-
manorum, Kiel, 1843 ; Wescher, Revue Archiologique, vol. x, 1864, p. 160, vol.

ii.] Bishops and Deacons. 29

When the truths of Christianity were first preached,
especially in the larger towns of the Koman Empire,
the aggregation of those who accepted those truths
into societies was thus not an isolated phenomenon.
Such an aggregation does not appear to have invariably
followed belief. There were many who stood apart :
and there were many reasons for their doing so. The
rule of Christian life was severe. It involved a sharp se-
paration from the common pursuits of ordinary society ;
it sometimes involved also a snapping asunder of the
ties of family and home. A man might wish to be
Christ's disciple, and yet shrink from ' hating father
and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and
sisters, yea and his own life also.' We consequently
find that the union of believers in associations had to
be preached, if not as an article of the Christian faith,
at least as an element of Christian practice. The Epistle
to the Hebrews urges this especially on the ground
that the ' day ' was approaching 6 . The Epistle of St.
J tide condemns those 'who separate themselves/ and
charges them with walking ' after their own ungodly
lusts V The Shepherd of Hermas speaks of those who
were sound in the faith and yet * lived with the Gentiles
and did not cleave to the saints 8 / The Epistle of
Barnabas exhorts Christians not to withdraw them-
selves and five lives apart, but to meet together and

xii, 1865, p. 214, vol. xiii, 1866, p. 345 ; Boissieu, Inscriptions antiques de Lyon,
pp. 373 sqq. ; Boissier, La Religion Romaine, vol. ii, pp. 267 sqq. ; Duruy, Hi*-
toire des Romains, vol. v, pp. 149 sqq.; Marquardt, Romische Staatsverwaltung.
Bd. iii, pp. 76, 131 sqq.

8 Heb. x. 25. 7 St. Jude 19.

* Herni. Sim. 9. 26. 3: so in effect 8. 8. 1 ; 8. 9. 1 ; 9. 20. 2; Vis. 3. 6. 2.

30 Bishops and Deacons. [lectt.

consult about common interests 9 . The Epistles of
Ignatius make the exhortation to association especially
prominent. The chief purpose of those much con-
troverted, and most valuable, monuments of early
Christianity seems to be not, as has sometimes been
supposed, to exalt the episcopate at the expense of the
presbyterate, but, accepting the episcopate as an estab-
lished institution in the Asiatic Churches, to urge those
who called themselves Christians to become, or to con-
tinue to be, or to be more zealously than before, mem-
bers of the associations of which the bishops were the
head 10 . After the sub-apostolic age these exhortations
cease. The tendency to association had become a fixed
habit. The Christian communities multiplied, and per-
secution forged for them a stronger bond of unity. But
to the eye of the outside observer they were in the same
category as the associations which already existed. They
had the same names for their meetings, and some of the
same names for their officers n . The basis of association,
in the one case as the other, was the profession of a com-

' Barn. 4. 10.

10 It is clear from the letters to the communities at Ephesus (c.5,3), at Magnesia
(cc. 4. 7, 1), at Tralles (cc. 2. 7), at Philadelphia (cc. 3. 7), and at Smyrna (c. 7, a),
that there were Christians in those cities who did not come to the general assembly
or recognize the authority of the bishop, presbyters, and deacons : it is also clear
from ao. 2, Philad. 4, Smyrn. 7. 2, that this separation from the assembly
and its officers went to the extent of having separate eucharists : it is consequently
clear that attachment to the organization of which the bishop was the head was
not yet universally recognized as a primary duty of the Christian life.

11 twtXnoia is used of the meeting of an association in e.g. Le Bas et Waddington,
vol. iii. No. 1381, 138a ; Le Bas, vol. iv. No. 1915 =Corp. Inscr. Oraec. No. 2271 :
so awayory^, Corp. Inscr. Oraec. No. 3448, 3069 ; Wescher, Revue Archiologique,
1865, vol. xii, p. ai6: so otvotios, Corpus. Inscr. Oraec. Nos. 126, 3067, 3069;
Le Bas et Waddington, Nos. 1143, 1336, 1619 : so rb tcoivdv, which is in ordinary
use for the general body of an association, is used, e.g. in Euseb. H E. 6. 19. 16 ;
7. 32. 27, for the general body of a church.

ii.] Bishops and Deacons. 31

mon religion. The members, in the one case as in the
other, contributed to or received from a common fund 12 ,
and in many cases, if not universally, shared in a com-
mon meal 13 . Admission was open, in the one case as in
the other, not only to free-born citizens, but to women
and strangers, to freedmen and slaves M . Consequently
when a Eoman governor found the Christian communi-
ties existing in his province he brought them under
the general law which was applicable to such associa-
tions 15 ; and the Greek satirist of the second century

12 The contribution to a common fund was of the essence of a Greek tpavos (cf.
Harpocrat. 8. v. tpaviarfji) : it was payable every month, and was strictly exacted
(Corpus Inscr. Attic, vol. ii. Nos. 610, 630 : cf. Foucart, pp. 42, 599). In the
Roman 'collegia tenuioium' monthly contributions were also of the essence ('sti-
pem menstruam conferre,' Digest, xlvii. 22. 1 ; cf. Mommsen, De Collegiis, p. 87 ;
Marquardt, Rom. Staatsverw. Bd. iii. 139). The fund so formed was the common
property of the association, and a member who left under compulsion could claim
his share (Digest, ibid.). The funds of both Greek and Eoman associations were
frequently increased by benefactions.

,3 The institution of a common meal seems also to have been general : in the
Greek associations it is implied in the constant provision for a sacrifice at the stated
meetings : in the Latin associations regulations respecting it are given at length in
the extant bylaws (which are printed in e.g. Orelli-Henzen, Nos. 4947, 6086; Wil-
manns, Nos. 318, 319). Philo says that at Alexandria the associations, under th«
pretext of religion, were merely convivial meetings (in Flaccum, ii. pp. 518, 537) :
and Varro complains that college-dinners sent up the prices of provisions at Rome
(De Be Eustica, iii. 2. 16). Josephus, Ant. 14. 10. 8, describes the exemption of the
Jewish communities at Home from the general suppression of unauthorized societies
by Julius Caesar, by saying fxSyovs rovrovs ovk tK&/\vatv ovre xpfjpara da<pepcty
ovre avuStiTrua iroietv.

14 The evidence for the admission of these classes into the Greek associations is
collected by Foucart, pp. 6 sqq. For the Latin associations the proofs are, e.g.
i. that in the album of a college of the Cultores Silv<mi at Philippi, almost all the
names are those of freedmen or slaves (Corpus Inscr. Lat. vol. iii. No. 633) : ii.

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryEdwin HatchThe organization of the early Christian churches : eight lectures delivered before the University of Oxford, in the year 1880 → online text (page 4 of 21)