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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER IV Final Settlement of the Church by St. John

A Key To The Knowledge Of Church History by John Henry Blunt

CHAPTER IV Final Settlement of the Church by St. John

A.D.67-100

It seems probable that most of the Apostles had entered into rest before the Destruction of Jerusalem, A.D.70, and that St. John the Divine was the only one of the Apostolic body who long survived that event.

[Sidenote: St. Peter began to found the Church, St. John completed its foundation.]

To St. Peter, one of the |pillars| of the Church, it had been given to begin the great work of laying the foundation of the Mystical Temple of God; to St. John, the other of the two, was allotted the task of perfecting what had been begun, so that a sure and steady basis should not be wanting on which the New Jerusalem might rise through time to eternity.

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Section 1. Second Council at Jerusalem.

[Sidenote: A.D.67.]

[Sidenote: Purposes of the Second Council.]

There is good reason for believing that after the martyrdoms of St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. James, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, and about the time of the invasion of the Holy City by Vespasian, a Second Council of such of the Apostles as still survived was held for the purpose of electing a successor to the See of Jerusalem, and definitely settling the future government of the Church. [Sidenote: Bishops only rarely appointed at first,] Bishops had already been consecrated in certain cases, as at Ephesus, Crete, and Rome; but during the time that the Apostles were still engaged in founding and governing the different branches of the great Christian community, the appointment of Bishops (in the sense of heads of the Church) seems to have been the exception rather than the rule. [Sidenote: but now everywhere to replace the Apostles.] A new era was, however, now coming upon the Church; her Founders were gradually being withdrawn from her, and it was necessary that she should receive such a complete and permanent organization as would enable her to transmit to succeeding ages the saving grace of which the Apostles had been the first channels, that so what had been founded through their instrumentality might be continued and extended through the ministry of others.

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[Sidenote: The establishment of the Apostolical Succession the special work of St. John,]

This work of organization was fitly entrusted to St. John, who for so many years was left upon earth to |tarry| for the Lord, on Whose Breast he had leaned, and Whose teaching had filled his soul with adoring love, and with those depths of spiritual knowledge which are stored up for us in the |Theological Gospel.| [Sidenote: and the necessary consequence of his teaching.] It seems natural that he to whom it was given most fully to |enlighten| the Church respecting the Blessed Mysteries of the Incarnation and of the Two Holy Sacraments, should also be charged with the care of providing for the continual transmission of the sacramental grace of the Incarnation through the |laying on of hands,| and that he who saw and recorded the glorious ritual belonging to the Heavenly Altar, should organize that system by which Priests might be perpetually raised up to show forth the same Offering in the Church below.

Thus, though up to the time of St. Paul's martyrdom (A.D.67) Episcopal rule, as distinct from Apostolic, would seem to have been exceptional, before the death of St. John (A.D.100), government by the Bishops had undoubtedly become the recognized rule and system of the Church.

Section 2. Development of the Church.

Before entering into any details respecting the final settlement by St. John of the Order, Discipline, and Worship of the Church, it may be well to remind ourselves that the Mystical Body of Christ only gradually attained her full shape and constitution, following, like God's other works, His law of growth and {48} development, and adapting herself, according to her Lord's designs for her, to the needs of her members. [Sidenote: Development in the minds of the Apostles as to the work of the Church.] There is no reason to suppose that the Apostles, even after the Day of Pentecost, had clear ideas of the destiny which was in store on earth for the Church which they were engaged in founding. The gathering in of the Gentiles, the existence of the Church entirely apart from the Temple and its services, the place she was to occupy in the long reach of years before the Day of Judgment, all these were only made known to them by the course of events and the teaching of experience, conjointly with, as well as subordinate to, the general guidance of the Holy Spirit. So, too, as regards doctrine. [Sidenote: As to doctrine.] We cannot for a moment doubt that the Apostles, who had been taught by the Incarnate Truth Himself, and inspired by the Holy Ghost, held firmly |all the Articles of the Christian Faith;| but we may also believe that their insight into these verities would be deepened, and their expression of them become clearer, as adoring meditation and the Teaching of the Comforter brought more and more to their remembrance the Words and Works of their Lord, and unbelieving cavils forced them more and more fully |to give a reason of the Hope that| was in them. The same thing may be noticed {49} respecting the Faith of the Church. [Sidenote: Development of the teaching of the Church.] Held firmly in its fulness from the beginning, it was yet only gradually set forth in Creeds, Liturgies, and Definitions of Faith, according as the love and belief of Christians required expression, or the errors of heretics drew forth clearer teaching on the truths they attacked. [Sidenote: Reserve in the teaching of the Church.] To this we may add, that the early Church was very careful to keep the knowledge of the deep mysteries of the Faith from those who were not Christians. It was only after their initiation by Holy Baptism that those who had, as Catechumens, been instructed in the rudiments of Christian doctrine, were admitted to a full knowledge of the belief and practice of the Church, especially as regarded the Holy Eucharist, which was very commonly spoken of under the name of the Holy Mysteries.

Section 3. St. John at Ephesus.

[Sidenote: St. John's work at Ephesus.]

About the time that Jerusalem was besieged by the armies of Vespasian (A.D.67), St. John withdrew to Ephesus (whence for a while he was banished to Patmos by the Emperor Domitian); and from this city he travelled about through the neighbouring country, organizing, amongst others, those Seven Churches of Asia Minor, to whose Angels or Bishops he was bidden to write the Seven Epistles contained in the Apocalypse.

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[Sidenote: Fitness of Ephesus as a centre of organization,]

Here in Ephesus, the eye of Asia, the great mercantile seaport of the then known world, his influence could most easily make itself felt amongst the far-off members of the Christian body, which by this time had extended throughout the whole Roman empire. All the civilized world was then subject to the sway of Rome, except India and China; and it may be that even these two latter countries were not excluded from the influence of the Gospel. It is not, of course, meant that Christianity was the recognized religion of all or any of the Roman provinces; but that in each of them the Church had a corporate existence, and was a living power, drawing into herself here one, and there another of the souls who were brought into contact with her, and really, though gradually, spreading through and leavening the earth.

[Sidenote: and of orthodox teaching.]

Again, at Ephesus St. John could best combat and confute, both by his words and writings, the subtle and deadly heresies which were especially rife there. |False Christs,| such as Simon Magus, the first heretic, Menander, Dositheus, and others, no longer troubled the Infant Church with their blasphemous impostures, but in their stead false teachers had arisen, seeking to |draw away disciples after them| into the more subtle error of misbelief about our Lord and His Incarnation. [Sidenote: Errors of the Corinthians.] [Sidenote: The Docetae, and other variations of Gnosticism.] Thus the Jew Corinthus taught that Christ was a mere man, born like other men, though united to Divinity from His Baptism to His Crucifixion; whilst to the errors of the Corinthians the Docetae added that the Body in which our Blessed Saviour suffered, was only a phantom, and a body but in appearance; both these heresies, {51} and others of a similar nature, appear to have been variations of that Gnosticism to which St. Paul refers in his Epistles, as |science| (or gnosis) |falsely so called,| and which was long a source of danger and trouble to the Church. Gnosticism may be traced back to that Simon Magus, with whom St. John first came in contact at Samaria, and in all its varied distortions of the great Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation, through an admixture of Jewish and heathen error, there was always an unvarying denial of our Lord's Divinity.

[Sidenote: St. John's universal patriarchate.]

For about a third of a century St. John continued to exercise a kind of universal patriarchate over the Church, being regarded, we cannot doubt, with almost unbounded reverence and affection by all its members, and perhaps first presenting that idea of one visible earthly head of the Church, which afterwards found its expression in the popedom.

Section 4. St. John's Writings.

[Sidenote: St. John's writings close the Canon.]

The Gospel, Epistles, and Revelation of St. John, written as they were at a long interval after the rest of the New Testament, and closing the Canon of Sacred Scripture, may be usefully referred to, as giving us some idea of the appearance of the Church when its government and theology were finally settled.

[Sidenote: How his Gospel differs from the other three.]

St. John's Gospel differs from those of the other three Evangelists in having been written for men who from their infancy had grown up in the Faith of Christ, and who {52} were thus more ready to enter into and profit by deep sacramental doctrine; whilst at the same time the dangerous heresies which were beguiling souls from the truth, called for more detailed and dogmatic teaching than had at first been needed. [Sidenote: Dwells on our Lord's Divinity,] Hence in place of an account of our Lord's Human Birth, St. John sets forth His Eternal Godhead and wonderful Incarnation, leaving no space for unbelief or cavil, when he proclaims for the instruction of the Church, that |the Word was God,| and yet that He also |was made Flesh.| [Sidenote: and on the two Sacraments.] Again, the last Gospel does not bring before us the Institution of the two great Sacraments of the Christian Covenant; though it, and it alone, does record the teaching of our Blessed Lord Himself with regard to the New Birth in Holy Baptism, and the constant Nourishment of the renewed life in the Holy Eucharist.

[Sidenote: The Epistles correct heresies.]

Having established the Faith in His Gospel, St. John in his Epistles sternly censures heresy and schism, thus witnessing to the end of time that the charity of the Church must never lead her to countenance false doctrine.

[Sidenote: The Apocalypse sets forth Discipline and Worship.]

We may look to the Book of the Revelation for some light as to the discipline and worship of the Church of St. John's days. We have there in the mention of the Seven Angels or Bishops, each ruling over his own Church and answerable for its growth in holiness, a confirmation of the fact that episcopacy was now fully organized as the one form of Church government which had replaced the extinct hierarchy of the former dispensation. Nor does it seem unreasonable to believe that St. John's vision of the Worship of Heaven {53} was intended to supply to the Christian Church a model to be copied so far as circumstances should permit in the courts of the Lord's House on earth, much as the elaborate system of Temple Worship, which was entirely swept away with the destruction of Jerusalem, had been in all things ordered |according to the pattern| which the Lord had |showed| first to Moses and afterwards to David. That the Primitive Church did thus consider the Heavenly Ritual set forth in the Apocalypse as the ideal of worship on earth, is proved by the accounts which have come down to us of the arrangement of Churches and the manner of celebrating the Holy Eucharist in early times.

[Sidenote: Arrangement of Churches in primitive times.]

|The form and arrangement of Churches in primitive times was derived, in its main features, from the Temple at Jerusalem. Beyond the porch was the narthex, answering to the court of the Gentiles, and appropriated to the unbaptized and to penitents. Beyond the narthex was the nave, answering to the court of the Jews, and appropriated to the body of worshippers. At the upper end of the nave was the choir, answering to the Holy Place, for all who were ministerially engaged in Divine Service. Beyond the choir was the Berna or Chancel, answering to the Holy of Holies, used only for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and separated from the choir by a closed screen, resembling the organ screen of our cathedrals, which was called the Iconostasis. As early as the time of Gregory Nazianzen, in the fourth century, this screen is compared to the division between the present and the eternal world, and the sanctuary behind it was ever regarded with the greatest possible reverence as the most sacred {54} place to which man could have access while in the body; the veiled door, which formed the only direct exit from it into the choir and nave, being only opened at the time when the Blessed Sacrament was administered to the people there assembled. The opening of this door, then, brought into view the Altar and the Divine Mysteries which were being celebrated there. [Sidenote: Its resemblance to what the Apocalypse tells us of Heaven.] And when St. John looked through the door that had been opened in Heaven, what he saw is thus described: 'And behold a Throne was set in Heaven . . . . and round about the Throne were four and twenty seats; and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold . . . . and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the Throne . . . . and before the Throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal.' Here is exactly represented an arrangement of the altar familiar to the whole Eastern Church and to the early Church of England, in which it occupies the centre of an apse in front of the seats of the Bishop and Clergy, which are placed in the curved part of the wall. And, although there is no reason to think that the font ever stood near the altar, yet nothing appears more likely than that the 'sea of glass like unto crystal' mystically represents that laver of regeneration through which alone the altar can be spiritually approached. Another striking characteristic of the ancient Church was the extreme reverence which was shown to the Book of the Gospels, which was always placed upon the altar and surmounted by a cross. So {55} 'in the midst of the Throne, and round about the Throne,' St. John saw those four living creatures which have been universally interpreted to represent the four Evangelists or the four Gospels, their position seeming to signify that the Gospel is ever attendant upon the altar, penetrating, pervading, and embracing the highest mystery of Divine Worship, giving 'glory and honour and thanks to Him that sat on the Throne, who liveth for ever and ever.' In the succeeding chapter St. John beholds Him for whom this altar is prepared. 'I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the Throne, and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as It had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.' It cannot be doubted that this is our Blessed Lord in that Human Nature on which the septiformis gratia was poured without measure; and that His appearance in the form of 'the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing,' represents the mystery of His prevailing Sacrifice and continual Intercession. But around this living Sacrifice there is gathered all the homage of an elaborate ritual. They who worship Him have 'every one of them harps' to offer Him the praise of instrumental music; they have 'golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of saints,' even as the angel afterwards had 'given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar which was before the Throne;' they sing a new song, mingling the praises of 'the best member that they have' with that of their instrumental music; and they fall down before the Lamb with the lowliest gesture of their bodies in humble adoration. Let it {56} also be remembered that one of the Anthems here sung by the Choirs of Heaven is that sacred song, 'Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come;' the Eucharistic use of which is traceable in every age of the Church.|

The ritual of the early Church naturally gathered round the Holy Eucharist as the central act of worship in which the Lord was most especially present, and therefore to be most especially honoured. From the first days of the Church this had been the one distinctively Christian service; and now that the Temple services had ceased, it became more apparently even than before, the fulfilment and continuation of the sacrifices of the elder dispensations: whilst it was also the Memorial of the Sacrifice of the Cross and the Representation on earth of the continual offering-up of |the Lamb as It had been slain,| before the Throne of God in Heaven.

St. Peter and St. John had been specially trained by their Divine Master for their special work. They with St. James, the first Apostolic martyr, had witnessed His Transfiguration, His Agony, His raising of Jairus's daughter, and had been admitted into more intimate communion with Him than the other Apostles.

From passages in the works of St. Irenaeus and Eusebius. See |Some Account of the Church in the Apostolic Age,| by Professor Shirley, pp.136-140.

The Apostles appear to have believed at first that our Lord's Ascension would be very speedily followed by His triumphal return to Judgment, and the glorification of His faithful people.

On this point we may remember that St. John, who saw deepest into the Divine Life, did not write his Gospel till near the end of his earthly labours, almost sixty years after the Day of Pentecost.

Ephesus is known to this day by the name of Aya-soluk, from Agios Theologos, or holy Divine, the title given to St. John.

Or perhaps by Nero, as some ancient writers say. Nero's full name was Nero Claudius Domitianus, which may have caused this confusion.

1 Tim. vi.20.

As St. Chrysostom says, |When thou beholdest the curtains drawn up, then imagine that the heavens are let down from above, and that the Angels are descending.|

Annotated Book of Common Prayer, Ritual Introduction, pp. xlix, 1.

We are told that St. John adopted the vestments of the High Priest of the old covenant, and especially |the plate of the holy crown,| with its inscription, |Holiness to the Lord,| thus exhibiting very forcibly the continuity of the two priesthoods.

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