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churches, continually assumes the existence in each of a bishop, superior to the presbyters. If we say that his own idea of the bishop's proper prerogatives was exaggerated, nevertheless he must have written in such a way as to be understood by those he addressed—and his epistles would have been simply unintelligible, if such an officer had not existed. It would be easier even to question a direct assertion of the fact, than to explain away this constant assumption of it.
3. As to the precise degree of authority which was exercised by these bishops, the epistles give very little evidence. Ignatius himself has a strong disposition to magnify the office, and the exhortations to obey the bishop are repeated almost endlessly. But he rarely omits to unite with each of these an injunction to obey the presbytery also—and this conjunction of bishop and presbytery is so frequent, and indeed almost invariable, as to suggest the inference that there was in fact a close connection between the two. As to the exact relation between bishop and presbyters, there is almost nothing definite. The subordination of the latter is implied, but in such terms that we cannot determine its degree, nor can we learn anything as to what were the special prerogatives of the bishops.
4. As to the origin of the Episcopal office, we have in Ignatius no direct testimony. The most noticeable circumstantial evidence is this : that the presbyters, and not the bishops, are frequently spoken of as the representatives of the Apostles—the bishop, in such cases, being represented as standing in the place of Christ or the Father. Thus, in Magnesians, 6, “ I exhort you to strive to do all things in divine concord, the bishop presiding in the place of God (eís Tónov ©£ou) and the presbyters in the place of the College of the Apostles.” We have a similar representation in numerous other places (Trallians, 2, 3; Smyrnæans, 8, etc.), except that the bishop is more frequently represented as standing in the place of Christ, than in that of the Father. He is never made a successor of the Apostles.
Ignatius is a great advocate of authority; the unmeasured language he uses in enjoining submission to the church rulers, and especially to the bishops, is surprising, and wholly unlike anything in the New Testament. That he never attempts to
think that it grew up gradually. It is also noticeable, that while six of the epistles are overflowing with injunctions of obedience to the bishops, that to the Romans alone contains nothing from which we could even know that that church had a bishop. This looks as if the system had not yet got a foothold in Rome. This last point seems to us to afford some evidence of the great antiquity and probable genuineness of these Epistles. If forged in a later age, in the interest of Episcopacy, they would hardly have been silent as to the form of the church in Rome itself.
support ths bishops authority by an appeal to the Apostolic institution of the office-as Clement appeals, in behalf of the presbyters' authority-seems a reason for supposing that such institution was not believed in his day.
To sum up his testimony in a word, it shows that in A.D. 115 there were, in numerous churches in Asia Minor, bishops superior to the presbyters; the degree of their superiority being unknown, and the origin of their office no less so.
We have assumed the genuineness and substantial integrity of these epistles. Yet there are grounds of grave suspicion in regard to them. The unnaturalness of their sentiments makes them suspected. As Neander says, a man going to martyrdom, like Ignatius, would have had something else to say than all this about “ obeying the bishops.” In a later age, there was a strong motive to forgery in the interest of the then established system; and, in fact, we have a longer version of these very epistles, now generally considered as interpolated-suggesting that the others may be interpolated also.
We have dwelt at length on Clement of Rome and Ignatius, because their time was so soon after the New Testament period that their testimony is very important. We have no other important witness until Irenæus, seventy years later than Ignatius. (Contra Hæreses, written A.D. 182-88.)
In Irenæus we find abundant evidence of the acknowledged fact that in his time the churches generally, if not universally, were under Episcopal government. But we also find, for the first time, the important additional idea that the first bishops had been appointed such by the Apostles, so that the authority of the office was directly transmitted from them. Thus, mention is made (Contra Hær., I. 27, 1) of a bishop of Rome, “ Hyginus, who held the eighth place in the Episcopal succession from the Apostles.” So (in III. 3,1) he speaks of “those who were by the Apostles appointed bishops in the churches, and their successors until our time.” And (in III. 3, 3) he gives a list of the bishops of Rome, from Linus, appointed by the Apostles, down to his own time—twelve in all, Clement being one of them.
Can this direct and positive statement be accounted for on any other supposition than its truth? To answer this, we must consider two things; that there was at this time a strong motive for deriving the authority of the bishops from the Apostles ; and that the circumstances of the time admitted of easy mistake as to the facts.
1. As to the motive. It is a natural tendency in the supporters of any existing form of government, civil or religious, to seek to trace its authority to some legitimate source in the past. In the time of Irenæus, this tendency must have been especially strong in the Church, because it was an age of heresies, the bishops were regarded as the guardians of the orthodox faith, and therefore support for their authority would be highly valued and eagerly sought. Irenæus, in the very passages cited above, refers to the Apostolic authority of the bishops, to give weight to their testimony against the heresies he is combatting.. ::
..2. Further, there would have been the opportunity for easy mistake. There is no trace of carefully-kept church records of the first century; close attention to governmental forms, and careful transmission of them, do not seem to have been characteristic of the New Testament age. The very scarcity of allusions to the subject of the New Testament, which so limits our knowledge, shows that it had not then a prominent place in the heart and mind of the Church. In an age when printing was unknown, the history of all events which had not deeply impressed contemporaries, descended by tradition only; and soon grew vague and plastic, unconsciously moulded by the wishes of the present.
If, as we believe, the Episcopate, as a distinct office, grew up by degrees; having been at first a mere presidency among the presbyters, with no superior authority attached ; then there may have been such a head-presbyter at an early period in the Roman church. A century later, when there had been for many years a ruling bishop in that church, tradition would with the greatest ease transform the first chief-presbyter into a full-sized bishop, in the later sense—and thus complete the connection of the office with the Apostles.*
We can understand then how this tradition of Apostolic institution might have grown up in Irenæus's time, and been adopted by him-and in view of the tenor of the other evidence on the whole subject, this seems the most rational explanation of his account.
It is noticeable that Irenæus sometimes uses the words bishop
* An illustration of the way in which the record of the past was unconsciously altered, so as to reflect the usage of the present, is found in the passage where Irenæus refers to the parting interview at Miletus, between Paul and the heads of the Ephesian church. His information is evidently derived from the same source as our own, the twentieth chapter of Acts, for he quotes Paul's language as there given. Now in this chapter in Acts the same men are called Smioxonoi in one verse and opeoßútipos in another; and the passage is one of those which all now admit show that these words are used synonymously in the New Testament. Yet in Irenæus's account, borrowed from this passage, he speaks of bishops and elders,-clearly supposing the same distinction which the words expressed in his own time. In this case, the testimony even of a written record was changed, doubtless unconsciously, so as to represent a state of things like that in Irenæus's own time. How much easier for unwritten tradition to be shaped by the feelings of the time! (See Iren. III. 14, 2.)
and presbyter as interchangeable.* The present seems a natural place to consider the bearing of the use of the words śníOXOTOS and peo Bútepos, in successive authors, on our question. In the New Testament both are applied to the same persons indifferently. In Clement we find the same usage. Ignatius uses επίσκοπος only of the superior officer, πρεσβύτερος of the lower. This is the general usage of subsequent writers ; yet for a time, as in Irenæus, the bishops are still sometimes called presbyters.
Now suppose that there was at first no order in the ministry above the presbyters; that by degrees, individuals from this class were elevated above the others, at first very slightly, as primi inter pares ; then more and more, until a distinct order grew up with superior authority and peculiar prerogatives. In that case, it was perfectly natural that of the two terms applied indifferently while there was but one office, that one which was within itself the more expressive of authority should be appropriated to the superior order which gradually arose ; the use of the words becoming fixed as the distinction in the things became more marked; yet the old use of the terms, as equivalent, occasionally recurring, and not disappearing until after the original identity of the offices had been completely forgotten.
But the Episcopalian theory supposes that from the first there was an order above the presbyters. This superior order, according to this view, had for many years no name of its own, but two names in common with the other order. That is, we are to suppose that there was from the first an entire distinction in the things, and an entire confusion in the names. It is hard enough to suppose that two wholly distinct and familiar things should receive but one name in common. But that two different names should be applied indiscriminately to two wholly different things, which had never been identical, is too extraordinary for belief. From such a supposition there is in the present case no escape, but by supposing that the two things were once identical—that the earliest bishops were presbyters, and the earliest presbyters, bishops.
Space forbids us to enter into any close examination of early writers subsequent to Irenæus. Hardly any of them throw
* The most striking instance of this usage in Irenæus, occurs in a letter from him to Victor, Bishop of Rome, quoted by Eusebius (Ecc. Hist. v. 24). In this he speaks of “those presbyters who governed the church before you,” and goes on to mention the very men whom (in Adv. Här. III. 3, 3) he elsewhere enumerates in the line of Roman bishops. In two other places, in the same passage, the same usage occurs. To suggest a misquotation here on the part of Eusebius, would imply that Eusebius himself (A.D. 225) used the words interchangeably, which would be still more remarkable.
any valuable light on the origin of Episcopacy, though all show it as henceforth generally prevailing and steadily increasing in strength. Some traditions occur as to the Apostolic institution of the first bishops; but none of them bear marks of authenticity. Church writers of the succeeding centuries generally adopt and insist on the theory of Apostolic Succession. In accounting for this we must remember, in the first place, that the order of bishops came into existence at an early period; and in the absence of exact record as to its origin, the idea of Apostolic institution, when it had once obtained a foothold, would be the natural resort of all earnest advocates of the system. Secondly: along with the external conception of the Church, which, in the third century so generally prevailed, was the idea that the power of the Holy Spirit was specially transmitted in the line of the regular rulers of the Church-.e., the bishops.
To the completeness of this theory it was essential that that line should have sprung from no less a source than the Apostles. The idea of formally transmitted spiritual power, inevitably involves that of the divine institution of the existing church order. Cyprian, then, and the writers near him in time, are, to us, any. thing but reliable witnesses to the actual, historical origin of Episcopacy. If we accept their belief in the formal transmission of divine grace through a certain line of men, we must also adopt their belief as to the origin of this line. If we reject the former doctrine, their belief as to the latter has little weight with us.
To this general current of testimony, there is one very important exception. Jerome, at the end of the fourth century, the first scholar of his age, declares the original parity of the clergy, and supports this view by the striking case of the church in Alexandria, where, down to the middle of the third century, the presbyters continued to choose and install their own bishops. Hilary gives the same view of the matter.
Clearly these presbyters made one of their own number bishop -not merely nominating, but installing him. If“ nominabant" meant only “nominated,” the practice of this church would have been the same as everywhere else. Jerome mentioned it as an exception—the exception clearly being, that the authority of the Bishop was conferred by the Presbyters.
The illustration in the case of an army and of the choice of an archdeacon, clearly shows that this is meant-"just as if an army should make its general”-i.e., choose and confer authority on him.
The historical evidence which has now been considered, shows that the office of bishop, as distinct from that of presbyter, grew up after the Apostolic age. The question naturally suggests