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 bishops are to teach doctrine, the presbyters are to
teach morals : in other words, they might inculcate
what they were bound to require 50 . About the same
time in the memoirs of two African martyrs, and
later in the same century in a letter of Cyprian, we
find the recognition of the combination of the two
functions in the phrase ' presbyteri doctores 57 :' still
later, St. Chrysostom makes it evident that the func-
tions were still separable when he says that baptism
was in his time entrusted to the less intelligent pres-
byters, the word of teaching to the wiser 58 .

64 This is a clear inference from I Tim. 5. 17: so notches are distinct from 8«5d-
oKahoi in Ephes. 4. II, and kirioitoiroi (probably identical with irpfaPvrepoi) from
5i8ao7«i\oi in Herm. Vis. 3. 5. 1 : so also wpeafiuTfpoi and 5(5d<r«a\ot are mentioned
separately in Hippol. ap. S. Epiphan. Ilaeres. 42. 2, and in Euseb. H. E. 7. 24. 6.

55 St. Polycarp. ad Philipp. 7. The ' Constitutions of Clement ' distinctly con-
template the existence of an unlettered presbyter (Aiar. KA.17/X. c. 16).

56 Clementin. Horn. 3. 65 : cf. Clem. Alex. Strom. 7. 1. p. 829, ed. Pott, rr)v plv
^tKfio3TiKrjv 01 irpeffPvrepot aw^ovcrtv eluova rr)v 5« ijnr]peTiicfjv 01 Si&kovoi.

57 St. Cyprian. Epist. 29 (24) p. 548, ed. Hart. : Acta SS. Perpetuae et Felicitatis,
ap. Ruinart, Acta Martyrum Sincera, c. 13, p. 99. Even in the time of St. Augustine
it was irregular for a presbyter to preach in the presence of a bishop : Possid. Vita
S. August, c. 5.

58 St. Chrys. Horn. 3 in Epist. I ad Oorinlh. c. 3, Op vol. x. p. 19, ed. Montf.

in.] Presbyters. 79

2. In regard to the second of these functions, the
theory upon which the public worship of the primitive
Churches proceeded was that each community was
complete in itself, aud that in every act of public
worship every element of the community was present.
When the episcopal system had established itself, there
was a bishop wherever in later times there would have
been a parish church. From the small province of
proconsular Asia, which was about the size of Lin-
colnshire, 42 bishops were present at an early council 551 :
in the only half-converted province of North Africa 470
episcopal towns are known by name 60 . It is therefore
reasonable to expect that the bishop, as the chief officer
of the community, presided whenever the community
met together. The offerings at the Eucharist were
made to him : they were distributed by the deacons :
in the account of the Eucharist which is given by
Justin Martyr the presbyters have no place at all Cl ■
and in the later and more elaborate ritual which is
preserved in the Apostolical Constitutions their place
is altogether insignificant 62 . They probably had no
more than the place which the Jewish presbyters had
in the synagogue — seats of honour and dignity, but no
official part in the service.

59 The reference is not to the earlier but to the later (i. e. post-Diocletian) Asia
Proconsularis : in this province Hierocles, Synecdemus, p. 658, mentions in all 42
towns ; of these 32 are represented by their bishops in the subscriptions to the
Council of Ephesus, and 39 in those to the Council of Chalcedon, ap. Mansi, Con-
cilia, vol. iv. pp. 130, 2007, 1710 : cf. Kuhn, Die stadtiscJie it. b'urgerliche Verfassung
des romischen Heichs, 2 or Theil, p. 276.

co Kuhn, ibid. p. 436 ; Gams, Series Episcoporum, p 463.

61 St. Justin M. Apol. 1. 67.

e2 Const. Apost. viii. 1-14.

80 Presbyters. [lect.

But in course of time, under the influence of altered
circumstances, the original system underwent a great
change. There grew up the system of forming smaller
communities within the territory of a city, or in out-
lying country places, which though separate in locality
were still one in theory with the original community,
and which were under the supervision of its bishop
and council. From among the presbyters of that
original community one or more was detached to take
the oversight of the new congregation 63 . The func-
tions of such a presbyter were for a long time narrowly
limited. Baptism by a presbyter, and the celebration
of the Eucharist by a presbyter, had no doubt beer-
valid from the very first. But as a matter of Church
order a presbyter could baptize only in emergencies :
and it is not certain that he had an original right of
celebrating the Eucharist 64 . As years went on, as the
number of bishops was diminished and the number of
detached congregations multiplied, the functions of the
presbyters of such congregations became more and more
independent. Their right to teach and their right
to celebrate the Eucharist became ordinary and un-
questioned : but one familiar instance shows that the
primitive theory has never wholly passed away : the
bishops of the Western Church have preserved to the

63 See below, Lecture VIII.

64 See the passages of Tertullian quoted in Lecture V. notes 22, 23 : they are con-
firmed, in regard to baptism, by St. Hieron. Dial. c. Lucifer. 9, Op. ed. Migne, vol.
ii. 164, 'inde [i.e. from the necessity of unity] venit ut sine chrismate et episcopi
jussione neque presbyter neque diaconus jus habeat baptizandi : quod frequenter,
si tamen necessitas cogit, scimus etiam licere laicis:' and in regard to the Eucharist
by St. Ignat. ad Smyrn. 8. 1, eKtivrj t3(f}aia (vxapirrria Tjyei<T0a>, fi vito rbv imaxonov
ovaa, fj <v ainbs firiTptif>p.

in.] Presbyters. 8 1

present day their share in the complex ceremonies of
baptism : no baptism is theoretically complete until a
bishop has taken that part in it which once followed
immediately upon immersion, but which has now come
to have the semblance of a separate rite, and is known
as Confirmation 65 .

The change has been inevitable. The functions of
the primitive presbyters are relative to a state of
society which has long since passed away. The peni-
tential svstem, which has been sometimes regarded as
its modern counterpart, arose out of different circum-
stances, and involves a different principle. Between
the chiffonnier of the conscience, raking among the
garbage of diseased thoughts and despicable actions,
and the primitive college of disciplinary officers, there
is barely the resemblance of a grotesque caricature.
The counterpart, if counterpart be sought, must be
found rather in the officers of those smaller bodies
which have from time to time sprung up within the
wide area of Christianity, and which have failed within
even their own narrow limits as soon as the enthusiasm
of their first founders has been crystallized into written
rules of discipline. For in modern times, though the

65 The separation of the two chief elements of the baptismal rite, immersion and
imposition of hands, had already begun to prevail in the West in the time of
Jerome ; but the latter was reserved for the bishop as a mark of respect to his
dignity, and not as of necessity : ' ad honorem potius sacerdotii quam ad legem
necessitatis' (St. Hieron. Dial. c. Lucifer, c. 9, Op. ed. Vail. vol. ii. 181.); when,
in the controversy between the Eastern and Western Churches in the ninth cen-
tury, the Latin theologians had to defend the separate existence of ' confirmation '
by arguments, they were not able to cite early authorities (see e.g. the treatise
of Aeneas of Paris in Dachery, Spicilcgium, vol. i. p. 141).


82 Presbyters.

mainsprings of human conduct may have remained the
same, the conception of the nature of morality, and of
the forces which act upon conduct, has undergone
significant change. We have come again to the con-
viction, which is not new but old, that the virtues
which can be rewarded, and the vices which can be
punished, by external discipline are not, as a rule, the
virtues and the vices that make or mar the soul. The
inner world of moral action knows no other tribunal
than that of the conscience : and the education of the
conscience, which is another phrase for moral growth, is
the result of many internal forces — and not least of all
of that force which the humblest of the Church's
ministers may set in motion, when he holds up before
the souls of men that ideal of a divine Life which
was once an incarnate reality, and which is not now a
vanished dream.



With the exception — which is probably rather
apparent than real — of two passages in the Pastoral
Epistles, all general references to Church officers in
Apostolic and sub-Apostolic literature speak of them in
the plural \ The names by which they are designated
are various but interchangeable : and their variety is
probably to be explained by the fact that the same
officers, or officers having equivalent rank, had various

But in the course of the second century, although,
for the most part, the same names continue to be
used in the plural, one of them is appropriated to a
single officer, who evidently stands above the rest,
and in any enumeration of Church officers is mentioned

I have already suggested reasons for the fact that
this single officer had, as his ordinary designation,
one rather than another of the names by which Church

1 The exceptions are i Tini. 3. 2 ; Tit. 1. 7 : they are probably apparent rather
than real because the article is probably generic : but the question of ite precise
significance has an important bearing on the wider question of the date of the

G 2

84 The Supremacy of the Bishop. [legt.

officers had been known. I approach to-day the more
difficult question how it was that such a supremacy
came to exist. I approach this question with the
greater diffidence because a hypothesis has long been
current which does not admit of direct refutation, and
which assigns the origin of this quasi-monarchical
government to an institution of either our Lord
Himself or the Apostles acting under His express
directions. But in spite of the venerable names by
which for many centuries, and in many Churches, this
hypothesis has been maintained, and in spite also of
the disadvantage under which any one labours who
declines the short and easy road which it seems to
offer, and winds his way through a dense undergrowth
of intricate facts, it is impossible, at least for some
of us, to accept the belief that the episcopate forms
an exception to the general course of the divine
government of the world, and to refrain from proceed-
ing to the enquiry whether any causes were in
operation which are adequate to account for its
supremacy, without resorting to the hypothesis of a
special and extraordinary institution.

I will ask you to look at two groups of facts : on
the one hand the organization of contemporary associa-
tions, on the other the internal condition of the
Christian communities themselves.

1. If we look at contemporary organizations, we find
that the tendency towards the institution of a president
was almost, if not altogether, universal. The evidence
for the existence of this tendency does not consist of

iv.] The Supremacy of the Bishop. 85

a few facts, such as in a large mass of historical
records may be collected together in support of almost
any hypothesis : it is considerable in amount, it is
various in character, it has no important exceptions.
Whether we look at the municipal councils, at the
private associations, religious and secular, with which
the East was honeycombed, at the provincial assem-
blies, at the boards of magistrates, at the administra-
tive councils of the Jews both in Palestine and in the
countries of the dispersion, or at the committees of
the municipal councils whose members sometimes bore
in common with the Christian and the Jewish councils
the name of 'elders' (jpevfivTepoi), we find in every
case evidence of the existence of a presiding officer 2 .

a The following are instances : i. in the municipal councils there was a @o\j\apxo$
at Termessus, Corpus Inset: Graec. No. 2264, at Branchidae, ibid. No. 2881,
at Aphrodisias, ibid. No. 281 1, at Thyatira, ibid. No. 3494: a npeafivs at
Sparta, Le Bas, Voyage Archiologigue, 2 raB partie, ed. Foucart, No. 173 a: ii. in
the private associations, there was an apxitpaviar-qs at Athens, C. I. G. No. 126
(= Corpus Laser. Att. vol. iii. No. 23), an apxiOmairas at Delos, ibid. No. 2271, a
■npoGTaTrjs rrjs crvvodov, ibid. No. 4S93 in Upper Egypt: iii. in the provincial assem-
blies the president took his name from the province, e.g. 'Xvptdpxrjs of the president
of the koivov of Syria, Cod. Justin. 5. 27. 1, BiOvvtdpxrjs of that of Bithynia, Le
Bas et Waddington, No. 1142 (cf. Marrpiardt, Rijraische Staatsverwaltung, Bd. i.
p. 374, who gives a complete list of such presidents and identifies the office with
that of dpxiepevs : so Kuhn, Verfussung d. rom. Lleiehs, i er Th. pp. 106 sqq.) : iv.
in boards of magistrates there was a irpeafivs ttjs avvapxias and also a npcafivs twv
t<f>6pwv at Sparta, in imperial times, and the board is sometimes spoken of as ol vepl
rbv deiva, C. L. G. 1241, 1249, 1268, 1326, 1347, 1375 (cf. BiJckh's note, ibid. vol. i.
p. 610) : v. in the Jewish councils there was a yepovffiapxrjs at Rome, C. I. G.
9902, and in Campania, Momrmsen, Laser. Regit. Neap. No. 2555 (cf. Schiirer, Die
Geraeindeverfassung d. Juden in Horn, p. 18) : vi. in the committees of municipal
councils there was an dpxiirpvravis at Miletus and at Branchidae, C. L. G. Nos.
2878, 2881 : an apxnrpo(iov\os at Termessus, ibid. No. 4364 : and the office is
implied in the expression dp^avra tov itpeofivTiKov at Chios and at Sinope, ibid.
Nos. 2220, 2221, 4157. It may be added to what is stated above that in Egypt,
from the time of the Macedonian kings, every class of functionaries, small and
great, seems to have been organized on the basis of subordination to a chief officer :
for some instances see Bockh in the Corpus Lnscr. Graec. vol. iii. p. 305.

86 The Supremacy of the Bishop. [lect.

Now although the existence of such a general drift
in contemporary organizations by no means proves that
the Christian communities were borne along with it,
still it establishes a basis of probability for the in-
ference that communities which were so largely in
harmony with those organizations in other respects,
were in harmony with them also in this. The in-
ference is strengthened by the fact that the localities
in which there is the earliest contemporary evidence
for the existence of a president, are also the localities
in which the evidence for the existence of a president
in other organizations is most complete. Both the one
and the other are chiefly found in the great cities,
and in the East even more than in the West. So
strong is the inference when the facts are closely
examined, that if we did not know as a matter of
history that the Christian Churches did come to have
a single head, it would be as necessary to account for
the non-existence of such a head, as it would be in
modern times to account for the singularity of a newly-
formed group of associations which had neither presi-
dent, nor governor, nor chairman.

2. If we look at the internal condition of the
Christian communities, we shall see that several causes
were at work to foster that which, if it be not inherent
in all societies, was at any rate the dominant tendency
of all societies at the time. Whether we look at
them in their eleemosynary character as communities
in which the widows and poor were supported from
a common fund, or in their disciplinary character as
communities which were bound together by the tie of

iv.] The Supremacy of the Bishop. 87

a holy life and in which moral offences were strictly
judged, or in their character as communities which
met together for public worship and required in such
public worship some rule and leadership, in any of
these characters there would be, as time went on, a
convenience which in large communities would almost
amount to a necessity, for a centralized administration
— for at least a chairman of the governing body.

There are, besides these antecedent probabilities, two
other groups of causes which operated in the same

1. In the first place, there were some cases in which
an Apostle had been supreme during his lifetime, and in
which the tradition of personal supremacy may be sup-
posed to have lingered after his death : there were
others in which the oversight of a community had
been specially entrusted by an Apostle to some one
officer : there were others in which special powers or
special merits gave to some one man a predominant
influence. It is, indeed, wholly uncertain how far
such cases are typical : and there is a probability that,
where such supremacy existed, it was personal rather
than official, inasmuch as those who exercised it do
not appear to have had as such any distinguishing
appellation. In later times they were entitled 'bishops:'
the Clementines speak of James, ' the Lord's brother,'
as 'archbishop' and 'bishop of bishops 3 :' the sub-
scriptions of some versions and late MSS. of the Pas-

3 Clementin. Becog. i. 73 'Jacobus archiepiscopus ' (so in later times, e.g. Cone.
Ephes. c. 30 'laiew0ov dnoaToKov koli apxiemoicoTrov) : Epist. Clem, ad Jacob, inscr.
K.K'fjfrqs 'laicwficp raj icvpiqi Kal kmaKovoiv kmo/coiry.

88 The Supremacy of the Bishop. [lect.

toral Epistles speak of Timothy and Titus as ' bishops '
respectively of Ephesus and Crete 4 : but there is no
early evidence of the use of these titles in this relation 5 :
and on the other hand Irenaeus calls Polycarp indif-
ferently ' bishop ' and ' presbyter 6 : ' and, what is even
more significant, in a formal letter to the head of the
Roman Church, in which, from the circumstances of
the case, he would be least likely to omit any form
of either right or courtesy, he speaks of his predecessors
by name as ' presbyters V

2. In the second place, there is clear proof of the
existence of a theory of the nature of ecclesiastical
organization which, from the fact of its persistent
survival after a counter-theory had taken its place,
may be supposed to have had a strong hold upon the
communities among which it existed. To the writer

* The earliest MS. which does so is probably the Codex Coislensis of the sixth
century : the version which does so is the Peschito : the statement which contains
the word is omitted in the greater MSS. and in the early Latin versions.

5 The earliest use of the word with a definite reference to an individual is the
inscription of the letter of Ignatius to Polycarp, 'lyvdrtos, u kcli @(o<pupos, IIo\vicapTTa>
(■niaK6ira> (KKXrjffias 'Sp.vpi/aLav : but the absence of the definite article, aud the
inscription of Polycarp's own letter, TloXvieapiros ko.1 oi avv aura rpeofivrepoi, are
inconsistent with the hypothesis that the word was already specially appropriated
to the head of the community. The next earliest use of the word is probably also
in reference to Polycarp in the letter of Polycrates to Victor, ap. Euseb. H. E. 5.
i\. It is worthy of note, i. that these earliest uses are in reference to officers of
the Asiatic Churches, i. e. in the neighbourhood of communities in which eirioKoiros
was already a title of certain secular officers (see Lecture II, notes 26, 28) : ii.that
ilegesippus does not give any title to the heads of the Roman church.

6 St. Iren. Epist. ad Florin, ap. Euseb. 77. E. 5. 20. 7 paitapios xal anoOTokiKos
■nptofJvTtpos : adv. Haeies. 3. 3. 4 inro twv a-nooTu\uv KaraaraOth .... ivi-


7 St. Iren. Epist. ad Victor, ap. Euseb. H. E. 5. 24. 14 oi npo ^ojrrjpos itptotivTtpoi
v\ -npoOTavTCs rfjs fKK\r)(Tias fy oi/ vvv axprj-ffj, 'Av'iktjtov \tyop.ty teal Yliov k.t.K. So
late as the third century, the extant epitaphs of Roman bishops do not give the title
episcopua : De Rossi, Bulletino di Archeologia Christ, anu. ii. 1864, p. 50.

iv.] The Supremacy of the Bishop. 89

of the Ignatian Epistles each organized community of
Christians is a perfect reflex of the whole Church of
God. It is a pure theocracy. In our Lord's own
lifetime He Himself had been the visible head of that
Kingdom of Heaven which He preached : His Apostles
had stood round Him as His ministers — the twelve
heads and patriarchs of the tribes of the new Israel :
the rest of the disciples — the new people of God — had
listened and obeyed. So it was still : the bishop sat
in the Lord's place : the presbyters were what the
Apostles had been : it was for the rest of the com-
munity to listen and to obey 8 . Upon this theory of
ecclesiastical organization the existence of a president
was a necessity : and the theory seems to go back
to the very beginnings of the Christian societies. For
in those beginnings the Kingdom of God was realized
in a concrete sense as the Kingdom of David. In the
infant community at Jerusalem after the Lord had
been ' taken up,' James, as being His kinsman and the
next earthly representative of the royal house, presided
in His stead 9 : on the death of James another ' brother '
was appointed to succeed him 10 : other kinsmen of
the Lord, as being His kinsmen, presided in other
Churches u : and so the idea that the new Kingdom of
David should have at its head one of David's line, until
the Messiah should return to reign, remained as a fun-

8 St. Ignat. ad Magn. 6. I.

* Hegesipp. ap. Euseb. H. E. 2. 23. 4 : Clem. Alex. ibid. 2.1.3, P- IO °5» e &- Pott.

10 Hegesipp. ap. Euseb. H. E. 3. 32 (of Symeon) 'as being a descendant of
David and a Christian:' id. ap. Euseb. E. E. 4. 22 'Symeon the son of C'lopas
is appointed bishop, whom all proposed as being the next cousin of the Lord : ' so
ibid. 3. 11.

a Hegesipp. ap. Euseb. 27. E. 3. 20. 32.

90 The Supremacy of the Bishop. [lect.

damental idea of Judaeo-Christian organization, until
the long-delayed Parousia seemed almost to vanish in
the far horizon of the unrealized future, and the de-
solation of the royal city began to turn men's thoughts
from Jerusalem to Kome 12 .

These facts, and these general considerations of pro-
bability, seem adequate to account for the fact that
the Christian communities were borne along with the
general drift of contemporary organizations, and that
the council of presbyters had a permanent president 13 .
They also seem to account for the fact that the func-
tions of that council of presbyters, as described by
Clement and Polycarp, are the same in kind as the
functions of the bishop as described in the Ignatian
Epistles. But they are all compatible with the view

15 The importance to the Christian Church of the fall of Jerusalem (for the com
pleteness of which see especially Aristo ap. Euseb. H. E. 4. 6. 3, St. Hieron. Coram
in Sophon. c. 1. 15, vol. vi. p. 692, ed. Vail., St. Greg. Nazianz. Orat. 6, c. 18, vol
i. p. 191, ed. Ben.) was to some extent recognized by Jerome (Epist. 120 ad Hedib
c. 8, vol. i. p. 27), and has frequently been pointed out by modern writers, e.g
Gfrorer, Allgemcine Kirchengeschichte, Bd. i. p. 253, Kothe, Vorlesungen uber Kir
chengeschichtc, ed. Weingarten, Bd. i. pp. 75 sqq.

13 It is not meant to be implied that, even after the episcopal system had be-
come firmly established, the bishop was himself always a presbyter : it is clear
not only that thece was an absence of the later rule which required a bishop to be
elected from the body of presbyters (see above, Lecture II, note 59), or to be
formally admitted to the presbyterate before being invested with the episcopate,
but also that a man might be appointed bishop at an earlier age than was allow-
able for a presbyter : this is the point of Jerome's argument against John of
Jerusalem {Epist. 82. (62), vol. i. p. 516, ed. Vail.): and there is probably a
reference to it in the disputed phrase vtanipav t6.£iv of St. Ignat. nd Magn. 3. 1
(cf. Zahn's philological arguments in his Ignatius von Antiochien, pp. 305 sqq.).
The distinction between administrative officers and the members of a deliberative
assembly was familiar to the Roman world : in the municipal councils the ad-
ministrative officers not only had a seat but presided : but they were only ex officio
members of those councils, and at the next revision of the roll, after the expiration
of their term of office, they might be excluded (cf. Marquardt, Romische Staatsver-
waltung, Bd. i. pp. 503 sqq.).

IV.] The Supremacy of the Bishop. 91

that the early bishop stood to the presbyters in the
relation of a dean to the canons of a cathedral, or
of the chairman to the ordinary members of a com-
mittee. They do not account for the fact that the
bishops of tlie third and subsequent centuries claimed

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