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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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practice by Julian, see his Epist. 49 : Sozom. 5. 16.

61 We find mention of voooit6p.oi, 6p<pavoTp6<pot, f$pt<poTp6(poi, ytpovroKu/xot,
nra>xoTp6<poi, and £tvo86xot in connexion with the several institutions mentioned
in the preceding note : some of these officers were bishops (Sozom. H. E. 6. 34),
some presbyters (S. Greg. Naz. Epist. 211 : it is probable from Pallad. Lausiac. c.
i, that at Alexandria this was always the case), some monks or laymen (Justin.
Cod. 1. 3. 33, § 7). There is no trace in the East of any special connexion with
the diaconate. In Italy, on the contrary, similar institutions were originally called
diaconiae, which are found not only at Rome, but also at Pesaro (St. Greg. Max.
Epist. 5. 28, vol. ii. 756), and at Naples (ibid. 10, 21, vol. ii. p. 1054: the use of
the word in Cassian. Collat. xxi. 1, 8 in the history of the Egyptian monk Theonas
is probably an accommodation to Western usage). Mabillon (Mas. Ital. vol. ii.
Comm. praev. p. xvii) advances the probable view that at Rome there was one of
these diaconiae in each of the seven ecclesiastical districts, and that it was originally
under the charge of the deacon of that district (see infra, Lect. VIII) : but it is
clear from the Liber Pontijicalis (Vit. Greg. IT 7 , p. 464, Vit. Steph. II, p. 229), that
by the time of those popes tlie diaconiae had come to be rather churches than
poor-houses : and it also appears from the Ordo Romanus I (ap. Mabillon, Mu$.
Ital. vol. ii. p, 7) that the ' pater diaconiae ' might be not even a clerk-

54 BisJiops and Deacons. [lect.

to have had any special relations to them in the East,
nor permanently in the West. Their outdoor work
was thus narrowed ; they gradually lost their ancient
share in discipline ; and the main conception of their
functions which came to exist was that they were
subordinate officers of public worship. But they were
still conceived, as they had been conceived in primitive
times, to be in a closer relation to bishops than to
presbyters : and when, like each of the other grades of
officers, they came to form a college, with a president,
or arcMeacon, at its head, that officer was conceived
to be, in an especial sense, the bishop's assistant in
ecclesiastical administration, and, sometimes, to be next
to him in rank. These functions and this status were
so important that in time, though probably not until
the ninth century, it was found inconvenient to limit
them to deacons, and the earlier rule, which enacted
that an archdeacon on becoming a presbyter ceased to
be an archdeacon, fell into disuse. But the presbyter-
archdeacon of later times has preserved in some im-
portant respects the original conception of the deacon's
office, and is still, as in primitive days, the bishop's
' eye ' and ' heart.'

Such, in respect of their primary functions, were the
bishops and deacons of the early Churches, and such,
in outline, were the relations of the early Churches
to the social strain in the midst of which they grew.
It is the task rather of the economist than of the
historian to enquire how far the Christian Churches
themselves increased the evils which thev tended to

II.] Bishops and Deacons. 55

cure, and how far the vast system of organized men-
dicity which they fostered was an inevitable result
of the conditions of society, or the spurious offspring
of a deceived philanthropy. This enquiry has not yet
been made by scientific investigators. But it may be
permitted so far to anticipate their verdict as to advance
the assertion that the apparent and admitted evils
which were wrought were counterbalanced, even from
the economical point of view, by the forces which
Christian organization kept in motion. Those forces
have been among the strongest conservative forces of
society. They have arrested decay. They have pre-
vented the disintegration, and possibly the disin-
tegration by a vast and ruinous convulsion, of the
social fabric. Of those forces the primitive bishops
and deacons were the channels and the ministers.
They shone through the darkness of social distress as
lights of solace and of sympathy. They bridged over
the widening interval between class and class. They
lessened to the individual soul the weight of that awful
sadness of which, then as now, to the mass of men, life
was the synonym and the sum.



The patriarchal state of society, in which families
lived apart, and the head of the family was its ad-
ministrator and judge, was succeeded in many parts of
the world by the communal system, in which the
government of an aggregation of families was in the
hands of a council of heads of families — the elders of
the commune. And just as the patriarchal system
survived through many modifications of social circum-
stances, as an underlying theory of domestic govern-
ment which has not wholly passed away even from
modern society, so the communal system survived
through many varieties of political organization as a
system of local administration.

It is found, for example, on the banks of the Nile :
long after Egypt had been so far Hellenized that
official documents were drawn up in Greek, we find
from an extant papyrus that the presence of the elder
of a village is necessary to the validity of an adminis-
trative act 1 . It is found also in Palestine, and its

1 Leemans, Papyri Qraeci Mus. Ant. publ. Lugdmii-Batavi, Leyden, 1843, p. 3 :
Corpus J user. Graec. vol. iii. p. 294: possibly the same officers may be intended in
the Thelian inscription, C. I. G. No. 4717.

Presbyters. 5 7

presence there had so important a bearing upon the
early organization of the Christian Churches as to
render some account of it a necessary preliminary to
the further consideration of that organization.

It is recognized both in the Mosaic legislation and
throughout the Old Testament history. It is the elders
of a city who are to deliver up a wilful murderer to the
avenger of blood : and it is into their ears that an un-
witting homicide is to declare his cause 2 . It was the
elders of the city who thrust out Jephthah as ' the son
of a strange woman ' from his father's house 3 . It was
before the elders of the city sitting in the city gate
that the kinsman refused, and Boaz took, the redemp-
tion of Elimelech's inheritance 4 . It was to the elders
of Jezreel that Jezebel wrote and procured the condem-
nation of Naboth for blasphemy 6 . It was also to the
elders of Jezreel that Jehu wrote to cause the slaying
of Ahab's sons 6 . The elders of those early times were
probably like the sheykhs who have continued to the
present day both among the Bedouins of the desert and
in the settled villages of the Arabian peninsula. Their
tenure of office rested rather upon general consent than
upon formal appointment, and the limits of their
authority were but loosely defined. But in the interval
between the close of the Old Testament and the be-
ginning of the New, a more definite form seems to have
been given to this primitive institution. It may be
gathered from the Talmud that out of the elders or
chief men of every community a certain number had

9 Dent. 19. 12; Jos. 20. 4. s Judges n. 5, 7.

• Ruth 4. 2. e 1 Kings 21. 8. * 2 Kings 10. I.

58 Presbyters. [lect.

come to be officially recognized, and that definite rules
were laid down for their action. Side by side with the
synagogue of a town, but distinct from it, was the
crweSpiov or local court. The former was the general
assembly or ' congregation ' of the people : the latter
was the ' seat ' of the elders. The two institutions were
so far in harmony with one another that the meetings
of the local court were held in the synagogue, and that
in the meetings of the synagogue for its own proper
purposes the elders of the local courts had seats of
honour — the ir pwroKaOeSplas which our Lord describes the
Pharisees as coveting 7 : and hence the word synagogue
is sometimes used where the word synedrion would be
more exact: but the distinction between the two is
clearly established and is of great importance 8 .

So firm was the hold which this system obtained
upon the Jews that they carried it with them into the
countries of the dispersion. In those countries they
lived apart from the rest of the community. Then,
as now, they were a separate class. They preserved,
and were so far privileged as to be allowed to
preserve, not only their own usages and their own
forms of worship, but also their own administration 9 .

7 St. Matth. 23. 6 ; St. Mark ia. 39 ; St. Luke 1 1. 43 ; 20. 46.

9 For the Rabbinical and other authorities for the above statements see Herzfeld,
Geschichte des Volkes Jisrael, 2** Aufl. Bd.ii. pp. 391 sqq. ; Leyrer in Herzog, Eeal-
Encyclopadie, s. vv. Synagogen der Juden and Synedrium ; Derenbourg, Essai sur
I'Histoire et Giographie de la Palestine, c. 6; Jost, Geschichte des Judenthums, erste
Abth. pp. 270-287; Schurer, Lehrbuch der neutcttamentlichen Zeit geschichte, pp.
402-418, 468-471 ; Hausrath, Neutestatnentliche Zeitgeschichte (Eng. Trans, vol.
i. pp. 83 sqq.).

• Strabo, ap. Joseph. Ant. 14. 7. 2, says that at Cyrene there were four division*
of the population, citizens, farmers, metoeci, and Jews : Philo, ii. 568, speaks of the
Jews as forming a separate colony in the Traatevere at Rome. In each colony they

in.] Presbyters. 59

At Alexandria, for example, they had their own governor
and council 10 : and at Rome the recent discovery of the
Jewish cemeteries on the Appian Way enables us to
gather from the unimpeachable records of inscriptions
a detailed account — which singularly confirms what is
more vaguely known from other sources — of their in-
ternal organization n .

It seems certain upon the evidence that in these
Jewish communities, to which in the first instance the
Apostles naturally addressed themselves, there existed
a governing body of elders whose functions were partly
administrative and partly disciplinary. With worship
and with teaching they appear to have had no direct
concern. For those purposes, so far as they required
officers, another set of officers existed. In other words,
the same community met, probably in the same place,

were subdivided into smaller communities, 'synagogues,' which were recognized by
the State under the ordinary designation of Qiaooi, or religious associations, and
allowed by Julius Caesar to exist when similar associations were dissolved (Jos. Ant.
14. 10. 8). In the same way other Semitic settlers preserved their nationality and
their religion by forming associations : the Syrians at Puteoli had a subvention from
Tyre, like an English chaplaincy abroad, Corpus Inscr. Graec. No. 5853, cf. Momm-
sen in the Berichte der Icbnigl. sacks. Gesellschaft der Wixsensch. phil. hist. Klasse,
i8fo, Bd. ii. p. 57 : so, also at Puteoli, the settlers from Berytus, Mommsen, Inscr.
Begn. Neap. 2488, 2476, Wilmanns, 2002, 2003: so the Syrians at Malaga, Corpus
Inscr. Lat. vol. ii. p. 252 : so the Gazaeans at Portus Trajani, C. I. G. No. 5892 :
so the Tyrians at Delos, ibid. No. 2271.

10 Strabo, ap. Joseph. Ant. 14. 7. 2 (writing of the Jews of Alexandria), KaQioTaran
5J Kal kOvapxris avraiv os SioiKfi to edvo<; Kal Siairq Kpiarets Kal ov[il3o\a'i.a>v inip-ektirai
Kal irpoorayparcov dis av iroKirtias ap\cov avrortKovs. (On the title Alabarch, which
is sometimes, erroneously, given to the Jewish ethnarch, see Schurer, Die Ala-
barchen in Aegypten in the Zeitschrift f. wissenschaftl. Theologie, 1875, Bd. xviii.
pp. 13 sqq.)

11 These inscriptions, with some others, have been collected and published (chiefly
after Garrucci) by Schurer, Die Gemeindeverfassung der Juden in Rom in der
Kaiserzeit, Leipsig, 1879. Some of them will also be found in the Corpus Inscr.
Qraec. Nos. 9902 9910.

60 Presbyters. [lect.

in two capacities and with a double organization. On
the sabbath there was an assembly presided over by
the apyicrvvayonyos or ap^ta-vvdyioyoi for the purpose of
prayer and the reading of the Scriptures and exhorta-
tion : on two other days of the week there was an
assembly presided over by the yepova-idpx^ or apxovres or
TrpeafivTepot for the ordinary purposes of a local court 12 .
Each community, whether assembling for the one class
of purposes or the other, appears to have been in most
cases independent. At Alexandria, where the State
gave the Jewish colony exceptional privileges, the
separate synagogues seem to have been all subject to
the ethnarch : but at Rome and elsewhere there are
no signs of their having been linked together by any
stronger tie than the fellowship of a common creed and
a common isolation from the Gentiles 13 .

Consequently, when the majority of the members of
a Jewish community were convinced that Jesus was
the Christ, there was nothing to interrupt the current
of their former common life. There was no need for
secession, for schism, for a change in the organization.
The old form of worship and the old modes of govern-
ment could still go on. The weekly commemoration
of the Resurrection supplemented, but did not supersede,
the ancient sabbath. The reading of the life of Christ
and of the letters of Apostles supplemented, but did

12 'Apxtow&ycuyos (apxoiv tj}s avvayajyrjs St. Luke 8. 41) in the singular, St. Mark
5. 35, 36, 38 ; St. Luke 8. 49 ; 13. 14 ; Acts 18. 8, 17 : in the plural, St. Mark 5.
22; Acts 13. 15; Mischna Joma 7. 1, Sota 7. 7; St. Justin M. Dial. c. Tryph.
137 ; Acta Pilati I. ap. Teschendorf, Ecang. Apocryph. p. 221, 270; St. Epiphan.
Uaeres. 30. 11. 18 ; Cod. Theodos. 16. 8. 4, 13, 14.

13 See Schiirer, Die Gemeindeverfassung, etc. pp. 18-24.

in.] Presbyters. 6 1

not supersede, the ancient lessons from the prophets,
and the ancient singing of the psalms ,4 . The community
as a whole was known by the same name which had
designated the purely Jewish community. It was still
a TrapoiKta — a colony living as strangers and pilgrims
in the midst of an alien society : and even when the
sense of alienation lessened, the word was retained,
though it was used in a new relation to signify that
upon earth none of us has an abiding city 16 . The same
names were in use for the court of administration and
for the members of that court 16 : and even the weekly

w The Apostolical Constitutions (2. 57) direct the reading of two lessons from the
historical books of the O. T. and from the Prophets, the antiphonal singing of the
Psalms of David, and the reading of the Acts, the Epistles of Paul, and the
Gospels: cf. Justin. M. Apol. 1.67.

15 TlapoiKia, irapoiKos, and napoiKtiv are used in the sense of 'sojourning,' or 'a
colony of sojourners ' in the LXX. : e, g. Gen. 37. 1 KaryKti Si 'ItiKwp \v ttj 7;"; ov
napcyicTjatv 6 TraTrjp aiirov, ' Jacob dwelt as an inhabitant in the land where his
father had dwelt as a sojourner :' Ezra 8. 35 viol 1-77? irapoiKtas, of those who had
returned from the captivity. So in the N. T. Act* 7. 29; Ephes. 2. 19 ; Heb. 11.
9, and in early patristic Greek, e. g. 1 Clem. Rom. inscr. ; Polycarp, Epist. ad Phil.
inscr., Epist. Eccles. Smyrn. ap. Euseb. H. E. 4. 15. 3. The relation to contem-
porary and civil society which this implies is important : cf. Origen, c. Cds. 8 fjfAth
kv (Kaarv ito\ei d\Ko avcrrrj/ia TrarpiSos ktio~Q\v \6yq> ®eov imarapevoi : and Le
Blant, Le Ddtachment de la Patrie in the Comptes rendus de I'Acaddmie dcs Inscrip-
tions, 1872, Tom. i. p. 388. In the other sense mentioned above the words are
also found in early times, e.g. 2 Clem. R. 5. 1 ; Testam. xii. Patr. Levi 11 ; and in
later times they are sometimes found on tombstones, C. I- G. 9474> 9683.

16 Hvvedpiov is used, i. of the Jewish local councils and of the chief council at
Jerusalem, St. Matt. 10. 17; 26. 59; St. Mark 13. 9; Joseph. Ant. 14. 9. 3; 15.
6. 2 ; 20. 9. 6 ; Mischna Sanhedrim, 1 : ii. of the Christian councils, St. Ignat.
ad Philad. 8. 1 ; ad Magncs. 6. 1 ; ad Trail. 3. 1, and by the Fathers of the
fifth and sixth centuries, e.g. St. Greg. Naz. Oral. 42. 11. vol. I. p. 756; St. Basil.
M. Epist. 28, vol. iv. p. 107, ed. Ben. TlpeafivTepiov is similarly used, i. of the Jewish
councils, St. Luke 22. 26; Acts 22. 5: ii. of the Christian councils, 1 Tim. 4. 14,
and frequently in Ignatius and later writers. Tlpeafivrepoi is used of the members
of the Jewish councils in e.g. Judith 6. 16, 21 ; 7. 23; 1 Mace. I. 26 : it is not
found in the Jewish inscriptions which are collected by Schiirer : but it occurs
in those of the catacombs at Venosa which are printed by Ascoli, Iscrizioni di
nntichiSepolcri Giudaici, IV. A. No. 17 in the Atti del IVcongresso internazionale
degli Orientalisti, vol. i. p. 292, Florence, 1880 (since printed separately).

62 Presbyters. [lect.

court-days remained the same 17 . There is no trace of
a break in the continuity : and there is consequently a
strong presumption, which subsequent history confirms,
that the officers who continued to bear the same names
in the same community exercised functions closely
analogous to those which they had exercised before ;
in other words, that the elders of the Jewish commu-
nities which had become Christian were, like the elders
of the Jewish communities which remained Jewish,
officers of administration and of discipline.

The origin of the presbyterate in those Christian
communities which had been Jewish is thus at once
natural and simple : its origin in those communities of
which the members or a majority of the members were
Gentiles is equally natural, though rather more complex.
Two elements have to be accounted for: (i) the fact of
government by a council or committee, (2) the fact
that the members of such council or committee were
known by a name which implies seniority.

(1) In regard to the first of these elements, the
evidence shows that government by a council or com-
mittee was all but universal in the organizations with
which Christianity came into contact. The communal
idea which underlay the local government of Palestine

17 The weekly court-days of the local synechia were Monday and Thursday (Bab.
Talmud, Baba Kamma 82 a, Mischna Kethubuth i. i, Jerue. Talmud, Megilla,
iv. 1), which were perhaps chosen as being also the usual market-days. There is
a further point of similarity in the fact that the minimum number of presby-
ters in a church was originally two, forming with the bishop a court of three:
Ambrosiast. in Epid. 1 ad Tim. c. 3, vv. 12, 13, vol. ii. p. 295 ' aliquantos presbyteros
(esse oportet) ut bini sint per ecclesias et unus in civitate episcopus.' So also the
minimum number of the members of a local syuedrium was three, of whom one
was the president (Bab. Talmud, SanJtedrin 1 ).

in.] Presbyters. 63

had in fact survived in the Graeco-Boman world. Every
municipality of the Empire was managed by its curia
or senate 18 . Every one of the associations, political or
religious, with which the Empire swarmed had its
committee of officers 19 . It was therefore antecedently
probable, even apart from Jewish influence, that when
the Gentiles who had embraced Christianity began to
be sufficiently numerous in a city to require some kind
of organization, that organization should take the pre-
vailing form ; that it should be not wholly, if at all,
monarchical, nor wholly, though essentially, democra-
tical, but that there should be a permanent executive
consisting of a plurality of persons. It was as natural
that this should be so as that the management of a
new society in our own day should be entrusted not
wholly to an irresponsible chairman or president, nor
on the other hand to periodical meetings of the whole
body of members, but to a council or committee. And
this we find to have been the case. The names of the
governing body varied : but they all imply presidency
or government, and they are always used in the
plural 20 .

(2) In regard to the second element, we find the idea
of respect for seniority in many places and in many
forms. So strong was this idea that the terms which

18 I. e. all provincial municipalities in the West were organized on the model of
Rome, and those of the East on that, which in this respect did not differ from
Rome, of Athens or of Sparta : for the details see Marquardt, R'&mitche Staatg-
werwaltung, Bd. i. pp. 501, 518.

19 This statement is in fact a corollary from the preceding one : the associations
were organized on the model of the States within which they existed,

20 See below, Lecture V.

64 Presbyters. [lect.

were relative to it were often used as terms of respect
without reference to age. In the philosophical schools
the professor was sometimes called 6 TrpecrPurepo? 21 . In
the ascetic communities of Egypt and Palestine respect
for seniority was strongly marked, not only in the
common usages of life, but also and especially in the
assemblies — where the members sat in ranks, the
younger beneath the elder, and where it was the task
of the eldest and most experienced to discourse about
divine things 22 . Within the Christian communities
themselves respect for seniority was preached from the
first as an element of Christian order 23 . Both in the
Epistles of the New Testament, and in the extra-
canonical Epistle of Clement of Rome, the submission
of the younger to the elder is enjoined, and the idea of
age and the idea of rank so pass into one another as to
make it sometimes difficult to determine which of the
two was the more prominent in the writer's mind 24 .

11 Schweighauser ad Epictet. Diss. I. 9. 10.

M Philo, ii. 458, says of the Essenes that at their weekly meetings they sat
according to age, the younger below the elder, and, ii. 476, that the eldest and
most experienced discoursed : elsewhere, ii. 481, he explains that the word 'elder'
was used in reference not to length of years, but to mental and moral develop-

3J It seems probable that, in at least some Christian communities in the earliest
stages of their existence, the word elder was used in its proper rather than in its
acquired meaning, and that the governing body, i.e. the elders in the official sense,
consisted of a section of the elders in the natural sense. Hence the defining
phrases in 1 Tim. 5. 17, 'that rule well,' and in Herm. Vis. 2. 4, 'that preside
over the Church,' mark off not so much senior from junior members of the com-
munity, as those elders who formed part of the governing body from those who
did not.

24 See e.g. 1 Pet. 5.1-4: 1 Clem. Rom. 1.3: 3. 3 : 21.6: so in Clem. Alex. ii.
p. 958, ed. Pott, (quoted by Euseb. H. E. 3. 23), npta^vrfpos at the beginning of
the narrative is equivalent to npia^vTijs later on, and both are interchanged with
iirifficowot. The MSS. sometimes interchange irptofivTtpos and irpeffffvTrjs, e. g. in
Theodot ion's text of the story of Susanna.

in. J Presbyters. 65

There was thus an antecedent probability, apart from
Jewish influence, not only that the Christian com-
munities, when organized, would be governed by a
council, but also that in the appointment of the
members of such a council seniority would be a prime
qualification. And this we find to have been in fact
the case. Out of the several names which the members
of the Christian councils bore one ultimately survived
the rest : they continue to be known to modern times
as 'presbyters/

There is a remarkable contemporary parallel to this
drift of Christian organization, which both confirms the
antecedent probability and illustrates the fact. It is
well known that the councils or senates of the Greek
cities, though they sometimes still retained the name
yepova-ia, had come, like other senates, to be councils of
'old men' only in name. But it appears from some
inscriptions which have been found within recent years
that there was in some states of Asia Minor a tendency
to revert to the original theory of a senate. The yepova-ia
was distinct from the fiovkrj 25 : the evidence points to
the inference that the yepovala was the committee of
the fiovkr], standing to it in something like the same
relation as that in which the Cabinet stands to the
Privy Council in England 26 , and that the members of

85 This is proved by the fact of their being mentioned separately, e.g. at Strato-
nicea in Caria, 6 5rjpios nal 97 jSot/A.?) /ecu 17 ftpovaia, Corpus Inscr. Grace. No. 2724,
at Aphrodisias, ibid. No. 2775, at Nysa, ibid. No. 2944, at Ephesus, Wood, Dis-
coveries at Ephesus, Append, vi. p. 36. The presiding officers are also mentioned
separately, e.g. at Branchidae, Pov\apxos nal Trpoarar-qs yepovaias, C. I. G. No. 2881.

26 This is an inference from the fact that at Ephesus the fr}(piop.a of the yepovaia

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