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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER V. THE CONSTITUTION OF THE CHURCH IN THE SECOND CENTURY.

The Ancient Church by William Dool Killen

CHAPTER V. THE CONSTITUTION OF THE CHURCH IN THE SECOND CENTURY.

Justin Martyr, who had travelled much, and who was probably as well acquainted with the state of the Church about the middle of the second century as most of his contemporaries, has left behind him an account of the manner in which its worship was then conducted. This account, which has already been submitted to the reader, [499:1] represents one individual as presiding over each Christian community, whether in the city or the country. Where the Church consisted of a single congregation, and where only one of the elders was competent to preach, it is easy to understand how the society was regulated. In accordance with apostolic arrangement, the presbyter, who laboured in the Word and doctrine, was counted worthy of double honour, [499:2] and was recognized as the stated chairman of the solemn assembly. His brother elders contributed in various ways to assist him in the supervision of the flock; but its prosperity greatly depended on his own zeal, piety, prudence, and ability. Known at first as the president, and afterwards distinguished by the title of the bishop, he occupied very much the same position as the minister of a modern parish.

Where a congregation had more than one preaching elder, the case was different. There, several individuals were in the habit of addressing the auditory, [500:1] and it was the duty of the president to preserve order; to interpose, perhaps, by occasional suggestions; and to close the exercise. When several congregations with a plurality of preaching elders existed in the same city, the whole were affiliated; and a president, acknowledged by them all, superintended their united movements.

It must be admitted that much obscurity hangs over the general condition of the Christian commonwealth in the first half of the second century; but it so happens that two authentic and valuable documents which still remain, one of which was written about the beginning and the other about the close of this period, throw much light upon the question of Church government. These documents are the |Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,| and the |Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians.| As to the matters respecting which they bear testimony, we could not desire more competent witnesses than the authors of these two letters. The one lived in the West; the other, in the East. Clement, who is mentioned by the Apostle Paul, [500:2] was a presbyter of the Church of Rome; Polycarp, who, in his youth, had conversed with the Apostle John, was a presbyter of the Church of Smyrna. Clement died about the close of the first century, and his letter to the Corinthians was written three or four years before, that is, immediately after the Domitian persecution; Polycarp survived until a somewhat advanced period of the second century, and his letter to the Philippians was probably written fifty or sixty years after the date of the Epistle of Clement. [500:3]

Towards the termination of the first century a spirit of discord disturbed the Church of Corinth; and the Church of Rome, anxious to restore peace, addressed a fraternal letter to the distracted community. The Epistle was drawn up by Clement, who was then the leading minister of the Italian capital; but, as it is written in the name of the whole brotherhood, and as it had, no doubt, obtained their sanction, it obviously possesses all the authority of a public and official correspondence. From it the constitution of the Church of Corinth, and, by implication, of the Church of Rome, may be easily ascertained: and it furnishes abundant proof that, at the time of its composition, both these Christian societies were under presbyterial government. Had a prelate then presided in either Church, a circumstance so important would not have been entirely overlooked, more especially as the document is of considerable length, and as it treats expressly upon the subject of ecclesiastical polity. It appears that some members of the community to which it is addressed had acted undutifully towards those who were over them in the Lord, and it accordingly condemns in very emphatic terms a course of proceeding so disreputable. |It is shameful, beloved,| says the Church of Rome in this letter, |it is exceedingly shameful and unworthy of your Christian profession, to hear that the most firm and ancient Church of the Corinthians should, by one or two persons, be led into a sedition against its elders.| [501:1] |Let the flock of Christ be in peace with THE ELDERS THAT ARE SET OVER IT.| [502:1] Having stated that the apostles ordained those to whom the charge of the Christian Church was originally committed, it is added, that they gave directions in what manner, after the decease of these primitive pastors, |other chosen and approved men should succeed to their ministry.| [502:2] The Epistle thus continues -- |Wherefore we cannot think that those may justly be thrown out of their ministry who were either ordained by them (the apostles), or afterwards by other approved men with the approbation of the whole Church, and who have, with all lowliness and innocency, ministered to the flock of Christ in peace and without self-interest, and have been for a long time commended by all. For it would be no small sin in us, should we cast off those from the ministry who holily and without blame fulfil the duties of it. Blessed are those elders who, having finished their course before these times, have obtained a fruitful and perfect dissolution.| [502:3] Towards the conclusion of the letter, the parties who had created this confusion in the Church of Corinth have the following admonition addressed to them -- |Do ye, therefore, who laid the foundation of the sedition, submit yourselves unto your elders, and be instructed unto repentance, bending the knees of your hearts.| [502:4]

In the preservation of this precious letter we are bound to recognize the hand of Providence. [502:5] Its instructions were so highly appreciated by the ancient Christians that it continued to be publicly read in many of their churches for centuries afterwards. [502:6] It is universally acknowledged to be genuine; it breathes the benevolent spirit of a primitive presbyter; and it is distinguished by its sobriety and earnestness. It was written upon the verge of the apostolic age, and it is the production of a pious, sensible, and aged minister who preached for years in the capital of the Empire. The Church of Rome has since advanced the most extravagant pretensions, and has appealed in support of them to ecclesiastical tradition; but here, an elder of her own -- one who had conversed with, the apostles -- and one whom she delights to honour [503:1] -- deliberately comes forward and ignores her assumptions! She fondly believes that Clement was an early Pope, but the good man himself admits that he was only one of the presbyters. Had there then been a bishop of Corinth, this letter would unquestionably have exhorted the malcontents to submit to his jurisdiction; or had there been a bishop of Rome, it would not have failed to dilate upon the benefits of episcopal government. But, as to the existence of any such functionary in either Church, it preserves throughout a most intelligible silence. It says that the apostles ordained the first-fruits of their conversions, not as bishops and presbyters and deacons, but as |bishops and deacons over such as should afterwards believe;| [503:2] and it is apparent that, when it was written, the terms bishop and presbyter were still used interchangeably. [503:3]

The Epistle of Polycarp bears equally decisive testimony. It was drawn up perhaps about the middle of the second century, [503:4] and though the last survivor of the apostles was now dead for many years, no general change had meanwhile taken place in the form of church government. This document purports to be the letter of |Polycarp and the elders who are with him [504:1] to the Church of God which is at Philippi;| but it does not recognize a bishop as presiding over the Christian community to which it is addressed. The Church was still apparently in much the same state as when Paul wrote to |the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons;| [504:2] for Polycarp was certainly not aware of the existence of any new office-bearers; and he accordingly exhorts his correspondents to be |subject to the presbyters and deacons.| [504:3] |Let the presbyters,| says he, |be compassionate, merciful to all, bringing back such as are in error, seeking out all those that are weak, not neglecting the widow or the fatherless, or the poor; but providing always what is good in the sight of God and men; abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unrighteous judgment; being far from all covetousness; not ready to believe anything against any; not severe in judgment, knowing that we are all debtors in point of sin.| [504:4]

It is stated by the most learned of the fathers of the fourth century that the Church was at first |governed by the common council of the, presbyters;| [504:5] and these two letters prove most satisfactorily the accuracy of the representation. They shew that, throughout the whole of the apostolic age, this species of polity continued. But the Scriptures ordain that |all things be done decently and in order;| [504:6] and, as a common council requires an official head, or mayor, to take the chair at its meetings, and to act on its behalf, so the ancient eldership, or presbytery, must have had a president or moderator. It would appear that the duty and honour of presiding commonly devolved on the senior member of the judicatory. We may thus account for those catalogues of bishops, reaching back to the days of the apostles, which are furnished by some of the writers of antiquity. From the first, every presbytery had its president; and as the transition from the moderator to the bishop was the work of time, the distinction at one period was little more than nominal. Hence, writers who lived when the change was taking place, or when it had only been recently accomplished, speak of these two functionaries as identical. But in their attempts to enumerate the bishops of the apostolic era, they encountered a practical difficulty. The elders who were at first set over the Christian societies were all ordained, in each church, on the same occasion, [505:1] and were, perhaps, of nearly the same age, so that neither their date of appointment, nor their years, could well determine the precedence; and it is probable that, in general, no single individual continued permanently to occupy the office of moderator. There may have been instances in which a stated president was chosen, and yet it is remarkable that not even one such case can be clearly established by the evidence of contemporary documents. When all the other apostles departed from Jerusalem, James appears to have remained in the holy city, so that we may reasonably presume he always acted, when present, as chairman of the mother presbytery; and accordingly, the writers of succeeding ages have described him as the first bishop of the Jewish metropolis; but so little consequence was originally attached to the office of moderator, [505:2] that, in as far as the New Testament is concerned, the situation held by this distinguished man can be inferred only from some very obscure and doubtful intimations. [505:3] In Rome, and elsewhere, the primitive elders at first, perhaps, filled the chair alternately. Hence the so-called episcopal succession is most uncertain and confused at the very time when it should be sustained by evidence the most decisive and perspicuous. The lists of bishops, commencing with the ministry of the apostles, and extending over the latter half of the first century, are little better than a mass of contradictions. The compilers seem to have set down, almost at random, the names of some distinguished men whom they found connected with the different churches, and thus the discrepancies are nearly as numerous as the catalogues. [506:1]

But when Clement dictated the Epistle to the Corinthians most of the elders, ordained by the apostles or evangelists about the middle of the first century, must have finished their career; and there is little reason to doubt that this eminent minister was then the father of the Roman presbytery. The superscription of the letter to the Philippians supplies direct proof that, at the time when it was written, Polycarp likewise stood at the head of the presbytery of Smyrna. [506:2] Other circumstances indicate that the senior presbyter now began to be regarded as the stated president of the eldership. Hilary, one of the best commentators of the ancient Church, [506:3] bears explicit testimony to the existence of such an arrangement. |At first,| says he, |presbyters were called bishops, so that when the one (who was called bishop) passed away, the next in order took his place.| [507:1] |Though every bishop is a presbyter, every presbyter is not a bishop, for he is bishop who is first among the presbyters.| [507:2] As soon as the regulation, recognizing the claims of seniority was proposed, its advocates were, no doubt, prepared to recommend it by arguments which possessed at least considerable plausibility. The Scriptures frequently inculcate respect for age, and when the apostle says -- |Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder,| [507:3] he seems, from the connexion in which the words occur, to refer specially to the deportment of junior ministers. [507:4] In the lists of the Twelve to be found in the New Testament the name of Peter appears first; [507:5] and if, as is believed, he was more advanced in years than any of his brethren, [507:6] it is easy to understand why this precedence has been given to him; for, in all likelihood, he usually acted as president of the apostolic presbytery. Even the construction of corporate bodies in the Roman Empire might have suggested the arrangement; for it is well known that, in the senates of the cities out of Italy, the oldest decurion, under the title principalis, acted as president. [508:1] Did we, therefore, even want the direct evidence already quoted, we might have inferred, on other grounds, that, at an early date, the senior member generally presided wherever an eldership was erected.

As a point of such interest relating to the constitution of the ancient Church should be carefully elucidated, it may be necessary to fortify the statement of Hilary by some additional evidence. It is not to be supposed that this candid and judicious commentator ventured, without due authority, to describe the original order of succession in the presidential chair; and he had, no doubt, access to sources of information which have long ceased to be available; but the credit of the fact for which he vouches does not rest upon the unsustained support of his solitary attestation. Whilst his averment is recommended by internal marks of probability, and whilst it is countenanced by several scriptural intimations, it is also corroborated by a large amount of varied and independent testimony. We shall now exhibit some of the most striking portions of the confirmatory proof.

I. The language applied in ancient documents to the primitive presidents of the Churches illustrates the accuracy of this venerable commentator. In one of the earliest extant notices of these ecclesiastical functionaries, a bishop is designated |the old man.| [508:2] The age of the individual who is thus distinguished was not a matter of accident; for each of his brethren in the same position, all over the Church, was called |father| [508:3] on the ground of his seniority. The official title |Pope,| which has the same meaning, had also the same origin. It was given at first to every president of the eldership, because he was, in point of fact, the father, or senior member, of the judicatory. It soon, no doubt, ceased to convey this meaning, but it still remained as a memorial of the primitive regimen.

II. It is a remarkable fact that, in none of the great sees before the close of the second century, do we find any trace of the existence of a young, or even of a middle-aged bishop. When Ignatius of Antioch was martyred, he was verging on fourscore; Polycarp of Smyrna finished his career at the age of eighty-six; Pothinus of Lyons fell a victim to persecution when he was upwards of ninety; [509:1] Narcissus of Jerusalem must have been at least that age when he was first placed in the presidential chair; [509:2] one of his predecessors, named Justus, appears to have been about one hundred and ten when he reached the same dignity; [509:3] and Simeon of Jerusalem died when he had nearly completed the patriarchal age of one hundred and twenty. As an individual might become a member of the presbytery when comparatively young, [509:4] such extraordinary longevity among the bishops of the second century can be best explained by accepting the testimony of Hilary.

III. The number of bishops now found within a short period in the same see has long presented a difficulty to many students of ecclesiastical history. Thus, at Rome in the first forty years of the second century there were five or six bishops, [509:5] and yet only one of them suffered martyrdom. Within twelve or fifteen years after the death of Polycarp, there were several bishops in Smyrna. [510:1] But the Church of Jerusalem furnishes the most wonderful example of this quick succession of episcopal dignitaries. Simeon, one of the relatives of our Lord, is reported to have become the presiding pastor after the destruction of the city by Titus, and to have been martyred about the close of the reign of Trajan, or in A.D.116; and yet, according to the testimony of Eusebius, [510:2] no less than thirteen bishops in succession occupied his place before the end of the year A.D.134. He must have been set at the head of the Church when he was above threescore and ten; [510:3] and dying, as already stated, at the extreme age of one hundred and twenty, he probably left behind him a considerable staff of very aged elders. These may have become presidents in the order of their seniority; and as they would pass rapidly away, we may thus account for the extraordinary number of the early chief pastors of the ancient capital of Palestine. [510:4]

At this time, or about A.D.135, the original Christian Church of Jerusalem was virtually dissolved. The Jews had grievously provoked Hadrian by their revolt under the impostor Barchochebas; and the Emperor, in consequence, resolved to exclude the entire race from the precincts of the holy city. The faithful Hebrews, who had hitherto worshipped there under the ministry of Simeon and his successors, still observed the Mosaic law, and were consequently treated as Jews, so that they were now obliged to break up their association, and remove to other districts. A Christian Church, composed chiefly of Gentile converts, was soon afterwards established in the same place; and the new society elected an individual, named Marcus, as their bishop, or presiding elder. Marcus was, probably, in the decline of life when he was placed at the head of the community; and on his demise, [511:1] as well as long afterwards, the old rule of succession seems to have been observed. During the sixty years immediately after his appointment, there were fifteen bishops at Jerusalem [511:2] -- a fact which apparently indicates that, on the occurrence of a vacancy, the senior elder still continued to be advanced to the episcopal chair. This conclusion is remarkably corroborated by the circumstance that Narcissus, who was bishop of the ancient capital of Judea at the end of these sixty years, was, as has been already mentioned, upwards of fourscore and ten when he obtained his ecclesiastical promotion.

The episcopal roll of Jerusalem has no recorded parallel in the annals of the Christian ministry, for there were no less than twenty-eight bishops in the holy city in a period of eighty years. Even the Popes have never followed each other with such rapidity. The Roman Prelate, when elevated to St. Peter's chair, has almost invariably been far advanced in years, and the instances are not a few in which Pontiffs have fallen victims to poison or to open violence; and yet their history, even in the worst of times, exhibits nothing equal to the frequency of the successions indicated by this ancient episcopal registry. [512:1] It would appear from it that there were more bishops in Jerusalem in the second century than there have been Archbishops of Canterbury for the last four hundred years! [512:2] Such facts demonstrate that those who then stood at the head of the mother Church of Christendom, must have reached their position by means of some order of succession very different from that which is now established. Hilary furnishes at once a simple and an adequate explanation. The senior minister was the president, or bishop; and as, when placed in the episcopal chair, he had already reached old age, it was not to be expected that he could long retain a situation which required some exertion and involved much anxiety. Hence the startling amount of episcopal mortality.

As the Church of Jerusalem may be said to have been founded by our Lord himself, it could lay claim to a higher antiquity than any other Christian community in existence; and it long continued to be regarded by the disciples all over the Empire with peculiar interest and veneration. [512:3] When re-established about the close of the reign of Hadrian, it was properly a new society; but it still enjoyed the prestige of ancient associations. Its history has, therefore, been investigated by Eusebius with special care; he tells us that he derived a portion of his information from its own archives; [512:4] and, though he enters into details respecting very few of the early Churches, he notices it with unusual frequency, and gives an accredited list of the names of its successive chief pastors. [513:1] About this period it was obviously considered a model which other Christian societies of less note might very safely imitate. It is, therefore, all the more important if we are able to ascertain its constitution, as we are thus prepared to speak with a measure of confidence respecting the form of ecclesiastical government which prevailed throughout the second century. The facts already stated, when coupled with the positive affirmation of the Roman Hilary, place the solution of the question, as nearly as possible, upon the basis of demonstration; for, if we reject the conclusion that, during a hundred years after the death of the Apostle John, the senior member of the presbytery of Jerusalem was the president or moderator, we may in vain attempt to explain, upon any Round statistical principles, how so many bishops passed away in succession within so limited periods, and how, at several points along the line, and exactly where they might have been expected, [513:2] we find individuals in occupation of the chair who had attained to extreme longevity.

IV. The statement of Hilary illustrates the peculiar cogency of the argumentation employed by the defenders of the faith who flourished about the close of the second century. This century was pre-eminently the age of heresies, and the disseminators of error were most extravagant and unscrupulous in their assertions. The heresiarchs, among other things, affirmed that the inspired heralds of the gospel had not committed their whole system to written records; that they had entrusted certain higher revelations only to select or perfect disciples; and that the doctrine of Aeons, which they so assiduously promulgated, was derived from this hidden treasure of ecclesiastical tradition. [514:1] To such assertions the champions of orthodoxy were prepared to furnish a triumphant reply, for they could shew that the Gnostic system was inconsistent with Scripture, and that its credentials, said to be derived from tradition, were utterly apocryphal. They could appeal, in proof of its falsehood, to the tradition which had come down to themselves from the apostles, and which was still preserved in the Churches |through the successions of the elders.| [514:2] They could farther refer to those who stood at the head of their respective presbyteries as the witnesses most competent to give evidence. |We are able,| says Irenaeus, |to enumerate those whom the apostles established as bishops in the Churches, [514:3] together with their successors down to our own times, who neither taught any such doctrine as these men rave about, nor had any knowledge of it. For if the apostles had been acquainted with recondite mysteries which they were in the habit of teaching to the perfect disciples apart and without the knowledge of the rest, they would by all means have communicated them to those to whom they entrusted the care of the Church itself, since they wished that those whom they left behind them as their successors, and to whom they gave their own place of authority, should be quite perfect and irreproachable in all things.| [514:4]

Had the succession to the episcopal chair been regulated by the arrangements of modern times, there would have been little weight in the reasoning of Irenaeus. The declaration of the bishop respecting the tradition of the Church over which he happened to preside would have possessed no special value. But it was otherwise in the days of this pastor of Lyons. The bishop was generally one of the oldest members of the community with which he was connected, and had been longer conversant with its ecclesiastical affairs than any other minister. His testimony to its traditions was, therefore, of the highest importance. In a few of the great Churches, as we have elsewhere shewn, [515:1] the senior elder now no longer succeeded, as a matter of course, to the episcopate; but age continued to be universally regarded as an indispensable qualification for the office, [515:2] and, when Irenaeus wrote, the law of seniority appears to have been still generally maintained. It was, therefore, with marked propriety that he appealed to the evidence of the bishops; as they, from their position, were most competent to expose the falsehood of the fables of Gnosticism.

V. It is well known that, in some of the most ancient councils of which we have any record, the senior bishop officiated as moderator [515:3] and, long after age had ceased to determine the succession to the episcopal chair, the recognition of its claims, under various forms, may be traced in ecclesiastical history. In Spain, so late as the fourth century, the senior chief pastor acted as president when the bishops and presbyters assembled for deliberation [515:4] In Africa the same rule was observed until the Church of that country was overwhelmed by the northern barbarians. In Mauritania and Numidia, even in the fifth century, the senior bishop of the province, whoever he might be, was acknowledged as metropolitan. [516:1] In the usages of a still later age we may discover vestiges of the ancient regulation, for the bishops sat, in the order of their seniority, in the provincial synods. [516:2] Still farther, where the bishop of the chief city of the province was the stated metropolitan, the ecclesiastical law still retained remembrancers of the primitive polity; as, when this dignitary died, the senior bishop of the district performed his functions until a successor was regularly appointed. [516:3]

Though the senior presbyter presided in the meetings of his brethren, and was soon known by the name of bishop, it does not appear that he originally possessed any superior authority. He held his place for life, but as he was sinking under the weight of years when he succeeded to it, he could not venture to anticipate an extended career of official distinction. In all matters relating either to discipline, or the general interests of the brotherhood, he was expected to carry out the decisions of the eldership, so that, under his presidential rule, the Church was still substantially governed by |the common council of the presbyters.|

The allegation that presbyterial government existed in all its integrity towards the end of the second century does not rest on the foundation of obscure intimations or doubtful inferences. It can be established by direct and conclusive testimony. Evidence has already been adduced to shew that the senior presbyter of Smyrna continued to preside until the days of Irenaeus, and there is also documentary proof that meanwhile he possessed no autocratical authority. The supreme power was still vested in the council of the elders. This point is attested by Hippolytus, who was now just entering on his ecclesiastical career, and who, in one of his works, a fragment of which has been preserved, describes the manner in which the rulers of the Church dealt with the heretic Noetus. The transaction probably occurred about A.D.190. [517:1] |There are certain others,| says Hippolytus, |who introduce clandestinely a strange doctrine, being disciples of one Noetus, who was by birth a Smyrnean, and lived not long ago. This man, being puffed up, was led to forget himself, being elated by the vain fancy of a strange spirit. He said that Christ is himself the Father, and that the Father himself had been born, and had suffered and died....When the blessed presbyters heard these things, they summoned him and examined him before the Church. He, however, denied, saying at first that such were not his sentiments. But afterwards, when he had intrigued with some, and had found persons to join him in his error, he took courage, and at length resolved to stand by his dogma. The blessed presbyters again summoned him, and administered a rebuke. But he withstood them, saying -- 'Why, what evil am I doing in glorifying Christ?' To whom the presbyters replied -- 'We also truly acknowledge one God; we acknowledge Christ; we acknowledge that the Son suffered as He did suffer, that He died as He did die, and that He rose again the third day, and that He is at the right hand of the Father, and that He is coming to judge the quick and the dead; and we declare those things which we have been taught.' Then they rebuked him, and cast him out of the Church.| [517:2]

About the time to which these words refer a change was made in the ecclesiastical constitution. The senior minister ceased to preside over the eldership; and the Church was no longer governed, as heretofore, by the |blessed presbyters.| It would appear that the synods which were held all over the Church for the suppression of the Montanist agitation, and in connexion with the Paschal controversy, [518:1] adopted a modified episcopacy. As parties already in the presidential chair were, no doubt, permitted to hold office during life, this change could not have been accomplished instantaneously; but various circumstances concur to prove that it took place about the period now indicated. The following reasons, among others, may be adduced in support of this view of the history of the ecclesiastical revolution.

I. The Montanists, towards the termination of the second century, created much confusion by their extravagant doctrines and their claims to inspiration. These fanatics were in the habit of disturbing public worship by uttering their pretended revelations, and as they were often countenanced by individual elders, the best mode of protecting the Church from their annoyance soon became a question of grave and pressing difficulty. Episcopacy, as shall afterwards be shewn, [518:2] had already been introduced in some great cities, and about this time the Churches generally agreed to follow the influential example. It was, no doubt, thought that order could be more effectually preserved were a single individual armed with independent authority. Thus, the system of government by presbyters was gradually and silently subverted.

II. It is well known that the close of the second century is a transition period in the history of the Church. A new ecclesiastical nomenclature now appeared; [519:1] the bishops acquired increased authority; and, early in the third century, they were chosen in all the chief cities by popular suffrage. The alteration mentioned by Hilary may, therefore, have been the immediate precursor of other and more vital changes.

III. Though Eusebius passes over in suspicious silence the history of all ecclesiastical innovations, his account of the bishops of Jerusalem gives good reason for believing that the law abolishing the claim of seniority came into operation about the close of the second century. He classes together the fifteen chief pastors who followed each other in the holy city immediately after its restoration by Hadrian, [519:2] and then goes on to give a list of others, their successors, whose pastorates were of the ordinary duration. He mentions likewise that the sixteenth bishop was chosen by election. [519:3] May we not here distinctly recognize the close of one system, and the commencement of another? As the sixteenth bishop was appointed about A.D.199, the law had, probably, been then only recently enacted.

IV. Eusebius professes to trace the episcopal succession from the days of the apostles in Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem; and it has often been shewn that the accuracy of these four lists is extremely problematical; but it is remarkable that in other Churches the episcopal registry cannot be carried up higher than the end of the second century. The roll of the bishops of Carthage is there discontinued, [519:4] and the episcopal registry of Spain there also abruptly terminates. But the history of the Church of Caesarea affords the most extraordinary specimen of this defalcation. Caesarea was the civil metropolis of Palestine, and a Christian Church existed in it from the days of Paul and Peter. [520:1] Its bishop in the early part of the fourth century was the friend of the Emperor Constantine and the father of ecclesiastical history. Eusebius enjoyed all needful facilities for investigating the annals of his own Church; and yet, strange to say, he commences its episcopal registry about the close of the second century! [520:2] What explanation can be given of this awkward circumstance? Had Eusebius taken no notice of any of the bishops of his own see, we could appreciate his modesty; but why should he overlook those who nourished before the time of Victor of Rome, and then refer to their successors with such marked frequency? [520:3] May we not infer, either that he deemed it inexpedient to proclaim the inconvenient fact that the bishops of Caesarea were as numerous as the bishops of Jerusalem; or that he found it impossible to recover the names of a multitude of old men who had only a nominal precedence among their brethren, and who had passed off the stage, one after another, in quick succession?

V. A statement of Eutychius, who was patriarch of Alexandria in the tenth century, and who has left behind him a history of his see from the days of the apostles, supplies a remarkable confirmation of the fact that, towards the close of the second century, a new policy was inaugurated. According to this writer there was, with the exception of the occupant of the episcopal chair of Alexandria, |no bishop in the provinces of Egypt| before Demetrius. [520:4] As Demetrius became bishop of Alexandria about A.D.190, Christianity must have now made extensive progress in the country; [520:5] for it had been planted there perhaps one hundred and fifty years before; but it would seem that meanwhile, with the one exception, the Churches still remained under presbyterial government. Demetrius was a prelate of great influence and energy; and, during his long episcopate of forty-three years, [521:1] he succeeded in spreading all over the land the system of which he had been at one time the only representative.

It is not, indeed, to be supposed that the whole Church, prompted by a sudden and simultaneous impulse, agreed, all at once, to change its ecclesiastical arrangements. Another polity, as has already been intimated, at first made its appearance in places of commanding influence; and its advocates now, no doubt, most assiduously endeavoured to recommend its claims by appealing to the fruits of experience. The Church of Rome, as will subsequently appear, took the lead in setting up a mitigated form of prelacy; the Churches of Antioch and Alexandria followed; and, soon afterwards, other Christian communities of note adopted the example. That this subject may be fairly understood, a few chapters must now be employed in tracing the rise and progress of the hierarchy.

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