Developments in the Different Ranks of the Clergy


1. THE LOWER CLERGY. -The functions of the presbyters remained substantially what they had been since the rise of episcopacy. The deacons, as was largely the case in the previous period, were not occupied solely with the temporalities of the Church, but had a share in the conducting of worship and in the administration of sacraments. [From the fifteenth canon of the synod of Arles, held in 314, we learn that deacons had sometimes undertaken the entire administration of the eucharist. The synod forbade this to occur thereafter.] In the West, the reading of the Gospels in the public service fell to them rather than to the so-called readers. As to the relations of the two orders, the growth of the hierarchical idea would naturally cause relatively greater emphasis to be placed upon the first. We find instances in which the terms priests and Levites are employed to express their comparative standing. But, on the other hand, special causes were at work to increase the relative dignity of the deacons. Their limited number favored this result. In deference to apostolic precedent, it was thought necessary that there should be only seven in a single church. "Even in the largest towns," says a canon of the council of Neo-Cæsarea, "there must be, according to the rule, no more than seven deacons. This may be proved from the Acts of the Apostles." [Canon 15] This limit was indeed transcended before the close of the period, but it was observed for a sufficient interval to add somewhat to the relative importance of the deacon. Still more influential, perhaps, to the same end, was the increase of the temporalities of the Church, and the close association of the deacons, particularly of the archdeacon, with the bishop in their management. At the end of the fourth century the archdeacon appears as the most important officer, after the bishop, in an individual church, in real influence ranked even above the archpriest. He was often made the special agent or ambassador of the bishop, and was quite likely to be his successor upon the episcopal throne.

The office of deaconess received some very positive acknowledgments in these centuries. The eighth book of the Apostolic Constitutions, which is supposed to have originated in the first quarter of the fourth century, prescribes, in connection with the induction of a candidate to this office, the laying on of hands and a regular formula of ordination. It has this constitution: "O bishop, thou shalt lay thy hands upon her in the presence of the presbytery, and of the deacons and deaconesses, and shalt say: O Eternal God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of man and of woman, who didst replenish with the Spirit Miriam and Deborah and Anna and Huldah; who didst not disdain that Thy only begotten Son should be born of a woman; who also in the tabernacle of the testimony, and in the temple, didst ordain women to be keepers of Thy holy gates, -- do Thou now also look down upon this Thy servant, who is to be ordained to the office of a deaconess, and grant her Thy Holy Spirit, and cleanse her from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, that she may worthily discharge the work which is committed to her, to Thy glory, and the praise of Thy Christ, with whom glory and adoration be to Thee and the Holy Spirit forever." [viii. 19, 20.] The fifteenth canon of the council of Chalcedon seems likewise to assume a formal induction into the office. "No one," it says, "should be consecrated deaconess until she is forty years old, and then only after careful probation." [Canon 15. The same requirement as to age was re-affirmed by Justinian, Novella cxxiii. According to an earlier prescription in the Theodosian code, Lib. XVI., Tit. ii., the required age was sixty years.] A testimony, not less clear than the above, to the fact that ordination and a species of clerical character at one time belonged to deaconesses, comes from the language in which this distinction was abolished by different synods of the Latin Church in the fifth and sixth centuries. The synod of Orange, for example, in 441 published this canon: "Deaconesses are no longer to receive any ordination (omnimodis non ordinandœ): such as may still be found should receive [at divine service] the benediction in common with the laity;" that is, not among the clergy as would seem to have been the case in former times. A similar implication is to be found in canons of the councils of Epaon and Orleans, held in 517 and 533 respectively. As might be judged from these decrees, the Western Church, at least in Gaul, had begun before the sixth century to entertain a strong prejudice against the office of deaconess. It was probably not long after this time that it became practically extinct in the Latin Church.

In the Greek Church the deaconess held an honorable rank for a longer period, and the office was not abolished till the twelfth century. Among the more illustrious representatives of the order appears Olympias, whom the correspondence of Chrysostom has commended to our notice. Left a widow in early life, she devoted her wealth to the poor, and herself to the service of the Church, and remained true to her special consecration, notwithstanding the flattering solicitation of the Emperor Theodosius that she should accept the hand of one of his own relatives.

2. THE BISHOPS AND ARCRBISHOPS. -- The shaping of the episcopacy toward the aristocratic type went on with increased momentum. The small bishoprics of the country were in many cases absorbed by the larger ones of the cities. Legislation came in to hasten on this process of engrossment. The council of Sardica, in 343, decreed that the episcopal rank ought not to be dishonored by the appointment of bishops to such small places as might suitably be presided over by a simple presbyter. A similar decree was passed, some years later, by the council of Laodicea; and it was ordained that " visitors " (periodeutai) -- by which probably presbyters commissioned by a city bishop are denoted--should take the place of the country bishops. However, this order of dignitaries was not fully abolished until a later date. In North Africa the chorepiscopi, or country bishops, were still numerous in the fifth century; and representatives of the class appeared at a later date in both East and West.

Among the city bishops, those who presided over the capitals of the provinces enjoyed a certain pre-eminence, not merely in honor, but also in prerogatives. This superiority, awarded in the first instance by custom, was confirmed in the fourth century by the decrees of councils. [The ninth canon of the conncil held at Antioch in 341 is especially full and expliclt on this subject.] Prominent points in the pre-eminence of these metropolitans, or archbishops, were the leading part which they took in the ordination of bishops, and their function in calling provincial synods and in presiding over the same.

3. THE PATRIARCHS. --The council of Nicæa acknowledged, in rather indefinite terms, a preeminence in the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch among the metropolitans of the Empire. This superiority in honor and jurisdiction came to be denoted by the title of patriarch. It was ultimately recognized as pertaining to five episcopal centres ; the council of Constantinople in 381 confirming it to the bishop of that city, and the council of Chalcedon in 451 confirming it to the bishop of Jerusalem. For an interval the metropolitans of Cæsarea in Pontus, Ephesus in pro-consular Asia, and Heraclea in Thrace, held a position approximating to that of patriarchs; but the advancing power of the bishop of Constantinople ere long imposed limits upon their jurisdiction.

First among the patriarchs, both in virtue of historical associations and the breadth of his jurisdiction, stood the bishop of Rome. His ambition was to extend his supervision over the entire West, and extensive advances were made in that direction. Substantial tributes to his authority were won in Spain, Gaul, and North Africa. In the early part of the period, however, his patriarchate proper probably included only the ten "suburban provinces;" that is, seven provinces in Italy, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica. Even within the limits of Italy, there was territory which was not under the patriarchal authority of the Roman bishop, at least for a part of the period. An independent position was maintained for a time by the bishops of Milan, Aquileia, and Ravenna. "It must not be overlooked," says Hefele, in his comments on the Nicene canons, "that the bishop of Rome did not exercise over the whole West the full rights of patriarch; for in several provinces simple bishops were ordained without his co-operation." [Conciliengeschichte, § 42.]

The patriarch of Constantinople, unlike the bishop of Rome, had worthy rivals in his section of the Empire. Still, the superior advantages which he possessed, as occupying the episcopal throne of an imperial city, enabled him easily to acquire and to maintain the first rank in the East. Moreover, apart from any encroachments on his side, his competitors suffered great depression. The schisms which resulted from the Christological controversies of the fifth century seriously crippled the rival patriarchates, and the Mohammedan conquests of the seventh century cast them down to a still lower plane of power and influence. Thus Constantinople approached to that solitary eminence in the East which Rome enjoyed in the West.

4. THE POPE.-The question whether the Church of this era acknowledged a pope, in the later Roman sense, is by no means to be confounded with the question of the original constitution of the Church. The compact monarchy of France under Louis XIV. is no proof against the dominant influence of the feudal system in that country a few centuries prior to the reign of that great autocrat. In like manner the existence of a full-blown papacy, three or five centuries after the founding of the Church, would be no valid disproof of the limited prerogatives and constitutional equality of all the primitive bishops. Tendencies toward centralization may work in the ecclesiastical as well as in the civil sphere. And what theory allows here, undeniable facts confirm. Centralizing tendencies confined the franchise to the clergy, as opposed to the primitive participation of the laity in the choice of ecclesiastical officers. Centralizing tendencies raised the bishop of Constantinople above all the ancient superiors in his neighborhood, and made him, so to speak, the ecclesiastical monarch of the East. Centralizing tendencies have added even to the theoretical position of the popes of the Middle Ages; and the ecumenical council, which once assumed to anathematize a pope for heresy, and in another instance emphatically declared its own superiority to the Roman pontiff, has been humbled (as appears from the Vatican council of 1870) to the position of a helpless instrument in the hands of his Holiness. With such an array of facts before us, even should we find a real pope between Sylvester and Gregory the Great, we should sin unpardonably against the historic sense in concluding from this that the papacy was any part of the original constitution of the Church. Such a pope might reasonably be regarded as a culminating product of the centralizing tendencies which had long been at work. The Protestant apologist has no real interest to minify the significance of any tributes to the Roman see in this era; the Romish apologist cannot, by any amount of vigor and industry in magnifying those tributes, establish any original supremacy of the Roman see. Flattering utterances of interested parties, at the end of the fourth and during the fifth and sixth centuries, are not even a trustworthy index of what existed at that date; much less are they an index of the type of constitution which preceded the intervening centuries of tendency and struggle towards centralized power.

As already noted, it resulted inevitably, from the conditions of the case, that a movement in the direction of ecclesiastical monarchy should centre in the bishop of Rome, rather than in any other dignitary. Rome was emphatically the centre of the world during the first Christian centuries, and, after its relative decline in actual governing power, it was still able to claim associations with universal empire such as no other city ever enjoyed. Added to this was the fact that it was the sole apostolic seat in the whole West, the reputed scene of the labors and martyrdom of the two greatest apostles. This latter item, apart from the secular greatness of Rome, would never have secured the ascendency of the Roman bishop, as may be judged from the fortunes of other apostolic seats. Still, backed up, as it was, by the prestige of the imperial city, it was made a factor of no mean influence. If the repeated assertions of the Roman bishops themselves could be trusted, their pre-eminence was due entirely to their connection with the apostles. They were at great pains to assert that their power was an inheritance from Peter, the prince of the apostles; not at all an offshoot from the political importance of Rome. But the reason of this is perfectly evident: they hardly needed ordinary shrewdness to prompt them to such a course. To allow that the greatness of Rome was the source of their pre-eminence, was to allow that their pre-eminence was the product of outward circumstances, and so without any positive authorization by the original constitution of the Church. Moreover, it was easy for them to see that such a sanction left no safeguard to their pre-eminence, since the political importance of Constantinople might become such as to assign them the second rank. The misty region of an apostolic bequest, which, if no one could prove, no one could absolutely disprove, was plainly the safer ground by far upon which to rest.

After these two causes --namely, the imperial greatness of Rome and the apostolic connections of the Roman see -- had acquired a certain pre-eminence for the Roman bishop, that very pre-eminence naturally became a cause of its own increase. In proportion to his prestige and influence, his patronage became desirable. Suffering or contending parties had a strong impulse to appeal to him, apart from any consideration of his constitutional authority, since he was a peculiarly powerful and influential champion. [Romish apologists are often over-hasty in their inferences from such appeals. Supposing the supreme power to be vested in co-ordinate dignitaries, the tendency would be to appeal to the one who was practically most powerful and influential. That an aggrieved bishop, in the absence of other resource, should go to Rome, is no decisive proof that the Church, or that even he himself, acknowledged an ecclesiastical monarch there. The only necessary inference is, that he recognized there a more powerful colleague, who might be especially serviceable to his cause.] In the disturbed: age of polemics, this turned greatly to his advantage. Eastern bishops who had been dispossessed of their sees, or who were seeking the overthrow of a rival, could think of no single prelate who would be likely to assist them so effectually as the Roman. The securing of his support was reckoned as the sure means, or at least as the necessary antecedent, of securing the support of the entire West. While bidding for his patronage, the less considerate were of course inclined to use terms very flattering to Roman prerogatives; terms which, despite their evident rhetoric and exaggeration, could not fail of being turned into Roman capital. The advantage which accrued to the Roman bishops, in this era of controversies, from their position as patrons, was made especially great by the fact that they shared in the conservative temper which very generally characterized the West, rejected the Arian and other novelties, and supported the cause which was ultimately victorious. Their ranks, it is true, were not wholly free from weak and vacillating characters; but there was a sufficient exhibition of steadfastness to bestow a certain prestige upon the Roman see.

As a result of these several developments, the Roman bishop secured an advance in power and influence, not only within his patriarchate, but to some extent beyond its bounds. Still, he was not constituted a genuine pope within the present period. Taking the whole Church into view, we find that the position conceded to, and enjoyed by, him was that of a, leading patriarch, not that of a constitutional head and governor of Christendom. This will appear from an unbiassed canvassing of the verdicts of different parties.

(1) lndividual Fathers and Historians. It cannot be denied that here and there very emphatic language was used respecting the prerogatives of the Roman bishop. Optatus of Mileve furnishes a prominent instance in the second half of the fourth century. "You cannot affect ignorance,'' he says to an opponent, "of the fact that the episcopal chair was first established by Peter in the city of Rome, in which Peter sat, the head of all the apostles, in which one chair unity should be maintained by all; that the other apostles should not each set up a chair for himself, but that he should be at once a schismatic and a sinner who should erect any other against that one chair." [De Schis. Donat., ii, 2.] It is to be observed, however, that Optatus was arguing against the formidable and schismatic Donatists, and had a strong motive to magnify the importance of communion with Rome; since the greater the necessity of communion with Rome, the stronger would be the case for his party and against his opponents. His statement is to be regarded as the one-sided plea of a controversialist. It may be doubted whether he would have welcomed any very positive exercise of jurisdiction by the Roman bishop over North Africa, so long as this was not directed to the overthrow of the Donatists, or a like end. Certainly there is clear evidence that the Church in that region, shortly after the publication of his statements, was disposed to repudiate the jurisdiction of the Roman bishop over their affairs.

From Ambrose we have deferential notices of the Roman see. But at the same time he indulges expressions which run against the Roman theory of the primacy. He defines Peter's primacy as one of confession, not of honor; of faith, not of rank, -- "primatum confessionis utique, non honoris; primatum fidei, non ordinis." [De Incar. Dom. Sacr., iv.] He places Paul upon the same plane as Peter; remarking, that, while they both excel the other apostles by a certain peculiar prerogative (peculiari quadam prærogativa præcellunt), it is uncertain which of the two is to be preferred to the other. [Serm. ii. in Festo Petri et Pauli (quoted by Gieseler; § 92). The Ambrosian Hilary, in terms more indubitably implying official eminence, makes Paul the equal of Peter. "Petrum solum nominat, et sibi comparat; quia primatum ipse acceperat ed fundandam ecclesiam: se quoque pari modo electum, ut primatum habeat in fundandis gentium eoclesiis. . . Quis eorum auderet Petro primo apostolo, qui claves regni cœlerum dominus dedit, resistere, nisi alius talis, qui fiducia electionis suæ sciens se non imparem constanter improbaret, quod ille sine consilio fecerat." (Comm. in Epist. ad Galat., ii. 7-11.)] Such language indicates, at least, that the later Roman exegesis had not been impressed upon the mind of Ambrose. Equally significant is the record of his administration. Rome had really as little to do with his episcopal rule as had Alexandria or Antioch. "Of any dependence of Ambrose," says Schaff, "or of the bishops of Milan in general during the first six centuries, on the jurisdiction of Rome, no trace is to be found." [Vol. iii., § 61.]

Viewed by themselves, the statements of Jerome about cancel each other. But, as the temptation to flatter a high dignitary beyond the measure of his position was greater than the incentive to provoke his hostility by assailing the foundation of his pre-eminence, Jerome's representations are, on the whole, rather adverse to the Roman theory. Some of them could scarcely have found utterance where that theory had any firm hold upon conviction. While he speaks of the bishop of Rome as occupying the chair of Peter, he says, when reprobating a custom that obtained there, "If authority be sought for, the world is greater than one city. . . Neither the power of wealth nor the lowliness of poverty makes a bishop more or less exalted, but all are successors of the apostles." [Epist. cxlvi., Ad Evangelum.] He declares the episcopacy, as a whole (the Roman section of course being included), an outgrowth of ungodly strifes and ambitions, rather than a primitive institute, the churches originally having been governed by the common counsel of presbyters. [Comm. in Epist. ad Titum., i. 5.]

Augustine was strongly impressed with the need of the outward unity of the Church, and attached considerable significance to the Roman see as an important factor in conserving that unity. His antagonism to the Donatists and the Pelagians colored, to a conspicuous degree, the ink with which he wrote. Still his writings, as a whole, indicate very little, if any, leaning toward the theory of a constitutional supremacy in the Roman bishop. In his more matured exegesis, he was inclined to deny that Christ, in Matt. xvi. 18, named Peter the rock upon which he would build His Church. "On this very account," he writes, "the Lord said, `On this rock I will build My Church,' because Peter had said,'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.' On this rock, therefore, He said, which thou hast confessed, I will build my Church. For the Rock: was Christ." [Tract. in Joan, cxxiv. Compare Retractat, i. 21. 1; Serm., cclxx. The latter reads, "Et super hanc petram œdificabo ecclesiam meam: non supra Petrum quod tu es; sed supra petram quam confessus es. Ædificabo antem meam ecclesiam. ædificabo te qui in hoc responsione figuram gestas ecclesiæ."] In the same connection, much after the manner of Cyprian, he interprets the position of Peter, in receiving the promise of the keys, as purely representative or symbolical. Therein he typified a function of the Church at large. "He represented the universal Church." As John reclining on the Saviour's bosom typified the whole Church drinking from the fountain of the divine breast, so Peter, in receiving the promise of the keys, typified the binding and loosing prerogatives which were to accrue to the whole Church. ["It is not the former alone, but the whole Church that bindeth and looseth sins. Nor did the latter alone drink at the fountain of the Lord's breast, to emit again the sublime truths regarding the divinity of Christ; but the Lord has Himself diffused this very gospel through the whole world, that every one of His own may drink thereat according to his own individual capacity." Surely in this comparison of the Petrine with the Johannine primacy, the former is completely robbed of rile specifically Romish sense.] In other places, also, Augustine plainly declares that Peter, in the matter of the keys, was made a type of the Church rather than the bearer of any exclusive authority. "Did Peter," he asks, "receive those keys, and Paul not receive them? Did Peter receive them, and John and James and the rest of the apostles not receive them? Or, are not those keys in the Church, where sins are daily remitted? But, since Peter was symbolically representing the Church, what was given to him singly was given to the Church. So, then, Peter bore the figure of the Church." [Serm. cxlix. Compare Epist. liii.] As Augustine assigns to Peter no exclusive prerogatives, so of course he cannot consistently affirm the transmission of any from him; and, in a just interpretation of his total representation, it cannot be said that he does. If in a few passages he gives special prominence to the Roman see, it was largely because, like some earlier writers in the West, he naturally took Rome as the type of the apostolic churches, there being no other representative of that class in the West. In dealing with schismatics or heretics, it was very convenient to urge their lack of communion with the great centre, the apostolic chair at Rome, as a token that they had broken away from the true fellowship. But, in truth, it is not connection with Rome upon which he most frequently insists. The test of ecclesiastical validity which he especially emphasizes is communion with the Church spread through all lands. In his writings against the Donatists, he charges them again and again with being outside of the Church, not because they were not in communion with Rome, but because they were not in communion with the general Church extended through the whole world. "I bring against you," he says to them, "the charge of schism, which you will deny, but which I will straightway go on to prove; for, as a matter of fact, you do not communicate with all the nations of the earth, nor with those churches which were founded by the labor of the apostles." [Cont. Litteras Petil., ii. 16. Compare ii. 32, 51.] Moreover, the authority which he sets up against all personal or provincial decisions is not the mandate of a Roman pontiff, but a general council representative of the whole Christian world. [De Bap. Cent. Donat., ii. 3; Epist., xliii. 19.]

Some of the Eastern bishops described the eminence of Peter in very emphatic terms, and rendered flattering tributes to his reputed successors at Rome. But interpreted in the light of Eastern usage, and of the special circumstances which called them forth, representations of this kind are found to have little significance. Eastern rhetoric was prodigal of high-sounding terms. Thus Hesychius, a presbyter of Jerusalem, calls James the "commander-in-chief of the new Jerusalem, the ruler of priests, the prince of apostles;" [Apud Phot., Bibliotheca, cclxxv.] Epiphanius speaks of James as the one "to whom the Lord first intrusted his own throne upon earth;" [Hær., lxxii.] and Chrysostom names Paul "the apostle of the world." [Quoted by Barrow, Treatise on the Pope's Supremacy.] As respects complimentary references to the Roman see, there is no just reason to think that those who uttered them would have accepted an important decision, on the simple authority of that see, which was contrary to their interests or wishes. The instances in which Eastern prelates ignored or contravened the will of the Roman bishop are too numerous to allow of a different conclusion. [The same Cyril, for instance, who addressed the Roman bishop in such flattering terms at the beginning of his crusade against Nestorius, rudely persecuted the memory of Chrysostom directly in face of the Roman decision in favor of the noble and injured prelate.]

A strong negative evidence that the Roman theory of the primacy was not current in the East is found in various writings of the time. Take, for example, the correspondence of Basil, amounting to nearly four hundred letters, many of which were written in the heat of great agitations and distractions in the Church. Nowhere do they hint that the sovereignty of the Church was centred in Rome. While their author confesses that the hard-pressed orthodox in the East must place their hope in aid from the West, he refers, as a rule, to the Western bishops generally and not to the Roman pontiff. [See Epist., lxvi., xc., ccxxxix., ccxlii.] The inference from the tone and content of the correspondence is decidedly against the supposition of a monarchical constitution of the Church. The same is true of the writings of other prominent men. A special instance worthy of note is contained in a writing of the pseudo-Dionysius, composed about the end of the fifth century. In a specification of hierarchical grades, he stops short of monarchy, and ends with coordinate dignitaries. Mentioning as the highest rank apostles and their successors, he says, "If any of these should make a slip, lee him be corrected by those who are co-ordinate with him." [Epist., viii., § 4.] An aristocratic rather than a monarchical constitution was plainly in the thought of Dionysius.

Perhaps the most substantial tribute to Roman prerogatives which came from individuals in the East is found in the language of Socrates and Sozomen. These historians speak of the Roman bishop as peculiarly intrusted with the guardianship of the faith in the Church at large. They also mention an ecclesiastical canon or law, urged by Julius in his controversy with the Eastern bishops, to the effect that nothing should be done in the Church without the consent of the Roman bishop. The historians here wrote as ardent friends of Athanasius and the Nicene party. Julius was known as one who had vigoriously championed the cause of the deposed bishop, had declared him restored to his see, and had rendered like aid to his orthodox colleagues. Very naturally, therefore, Socrates and Sozomen took a favorable view of his prerogatives, and were averse to charging him with usurpation. The force of their statements, however, is not to be exaggerated. Even under a patriarchal system, apart from any consideration of papal supremacy, the bishop of Rome, as the most honored and influential patriarch, would have had, to some degree, peculiar responsibility in watching over the faith. As respects the canon in question, none such is found in the records of the Church up to the time of Julius. Certainly, no canon of an ecumenical council in that century, or the centuries immediately following, corresponds to the description given, unless an utterly forced interpretation be brought into requisition. Such a canon, however, even had it existed, would not necessarily have implied any thing above the patriarchal system in the constitution of the Church. Under that system, it might well have been claimed that the Roman bishop should have a voice in all matters which concerned the Church universal. Indeed, the idea more than once found expression, that in affairs of common concern it was needful that all the patriarchs should be consulted. [Compare Gieseler, § 91.] But whatever may be made out of one part of the statements of these historians, there is another part which shows that many in the time of Julius (336-352) utterly disowned any general supremacy in the Roman prelate. In answer to his effort to reverse their action and restore those whom they had deposed, the Eastern bishops, assembled at Antioch, brought forward the charge of unjustifiable usurpation. "It was not his province," they said, " to take cognizance of their decisions in reference to the expulsion of any bishops from their churches, seeing that they had not, opposed themselves to him when Novatian was ejected from the Church." [Socrates, ii. 15.] "They confessed," says Sozomen, speaking of their epistle to Julius, "that the Church of Rome was entitled to universal honor, because it had been founded by the apostles, and had enjoyed the rank of a metropolitan church from the first preaching of religion, although those who first propagated the knowledge of Christian doctrine in this city came from the East. They added that the second place in point of honor ought not to be assigned to them merely on account of the smallness of their city and their numerical inferiority. They called Julius to account for having admitted Athanasius into communion, and expressed their indignation against him for having insulted their synod and abrogated their decrees, and they reprehended his conduct, because, they said, it was opposed to justice and the canons of the Church." [iii. 8.]

(2) Emperors. Valentinian III., during the quarrel between Leo the Great and Hilary of Gaul, issued the following decree: "Since the merit of the Apostle Peter, and the dignity of the city of Rome, and the authority of a holy synod, have confirmed the primacy of the apostolic chair, no presumption is to enter into any unlawful attempt against that chair. For then, finally will the peace of the churches be everywhere preserved, when the whole body acknowledges its ruler. The bishops of Gaul, as well as those of other provinces, are not permitted to attempt any thing contrary to ancient custom, without the authority of the venerable Father of the eternal city." [Epist. xi. in works of Leo.] Language strongly assertatory of the prerogatives of the Roman bishop! But it is to be observed that the young Valentinian was under the influence of Lee, and that an utterance of imperial favoritism is an entirely different thing from a deliberate verdict of the universal Church. Moreover, Valentinian was emperor only of the West; and his decree, of course, was understood to apply only within territory under his rule. For all that it says, the East might be as independent of Rome and of the West generally, in respect of ecclesiastical control, as it was assumed to be by the Emperor Constantius a century earlier. ["Non enim de orlentalibus episcopis in concilio vestro patitur ratio aliquid definire. . . Si aliquid volueritis contra eosdem prædictis absentibus definire, id quod fuerit usurpatum irrito evanescet effectu." (Epist ad Synodum Ariminensem, Mansi, iii. 297.)]

Justinian applied very honorary titles to the bishop of Rome; but he employed the same in reference to the bishop of Constantinople, and addressed each of them as "Head of all the Churches." At most, he attached only a primacy of honor to the Roman bishop. Meanwhile, he was bent upon subordinating both of these leading prelates to his own will. The vacillating Roman pontiff Vigilius was treated by him as a refractory subject, and persecuted into assent to his plans. "The damage," says Robertson, "which resulted to the papacy from the conduct of Vigilius, was increased by the circumstances of the appointment of his successor, Pelagius I., when the Emperor Justinian introduced the novelty of confirming the Pope in his office by the imperial sanction, which from that time came to be regarded as necessary. [Growth of the Papal Power.]

(3) Councils. The council of Sardica (in Illyria) was convened under the auspices of the emperors both of the West and the East, in the year 343. According to the more approved account, one hundred and seventy bishops were present. Seventy-six of these were from the East, leaving ninety-four from the West. The Eastern bishops represented the semi-Arian party; while the Western adhered to the Nicene creed, and were in strong sympathy with Athanasius and others of the deposed bishops of the East. The admission of these last into the council caused the Eastern bishops to withdraw into a separate assembly, where they re-affirmed their sentence against Athanasius and his co-exiles, and condemned Julius, Bishop of Rome, because he had been the first to admit into communion those who were under the ban.

Meanwhile, the Western bishops issued sentence of condemnation against the opposing faction, and proceeded to enact certain canons for the better protection of persecuted members of the orthodox party. The main points in these canons were, that a bishop deposed by his colleagues, and thinking himself unjustly dealt with, should have the right to appeal to the Roman bishop; that the latter, in case he should deem the appeal well-founded, should be empowered to make up a new tribunal from the bishops in the neighborhood of the accused, and, if thought best, to send legates who should have a place in the said tribunal; that the place of a bishop thus appealing was not to be filled until Rome had confirmed his sentence or provided for a new trial. [Canons 3-5.]

With respect to these canons, it is to be observed that they do not assume merely to affirm a well-known and established prerogative of the Roman bishop; they assume to confer a special prerogative upon him. Their language is at least clear evidence that the right of the Roman pontiff to hear and to decide upon appeals was far from being a universally accepted fact of ecclesiastical constitution. If we should read of a constitutional convention formally stating, as one of its articles, that the veto power should be vested in the President of the United States, we should take it as evidence that such power previously had not been constitutionally his. In like manner, the canons of Sardica are an indication against the previous and clearly recognized existence of the prerogatives there conferred. Moreover, the council of Sardica was not ecumenical, and represented only one section of the Church.

The ecumenical council of Constantinople, in 381, gave official sanction to the patriarchal standing of the bishop of that city, and declared that he should have the "precedence in honor next to the bishop of Rome, because it [Constantinople] is New Rome." This canon says nothing definite about prerogatives; but certainly the inference from it is, that the bishop of Rome was regarded as simply a patriarch, -- the most honored on the list, as presiding over ancient Rome, yet nothing more than a patriarch. His precedence, it is to be noted, is designated asone of honor. There is no hint here of his possessing any extraordinary functions outside of his own patriarchate. He is ranked first because his patriarchate is ranked first.

African synods, convened at Carthage in 407 and 418, included among their canons the requisition that presbyters, deacons, and all of the lower clergy, should be content with African tribunals. Against those who should attempt to appeal to authorities beyond sea (that is, to the Roman bishop), the penalties of deposition and continued excommunication were decreed. A good degree of tenacity, too, was shown in maintaining these decisions. As Zosimus (417-418) assumed to bring the case of a deposed presbyter before his judgment-seat in Rome, the African bishops entered a vigorous protest. Zosimus referred to a canon of the council of Nicæa as bestowing upon him the prerogative in question. This was an entire mistake, quite likely an honest mistake, yet in a manner prophetical of the office which forged decrees were to perform in building up the papal power. The canon asserted to have come from Nicæa never came from thence, as the Africans took pains to show: [After a previous canvassing of the subject, the Africans, in 424, declared the spuriousness of the alleged canon, and in very plain terms told the Roman bishop to keep his hand out of their affairs.] it came from Sardica, and, even at that, did not bestow the prerogative claimed. [The canons of Sardica, relating to appeals to Rome, mention only bishops. A right in bishops to appeal beyond local tribunals does not necessarily imply the same privilege in the lower clergy. The fourteenth canon, which speaks of appeals of priests and deacons, does not mention the Roman bishop, and by no just interpretation could be made to give him any right in such a case as the one in controversy.] The controversy is significant in a twofold respect. It shows that the Roman bishop felt the need of an authority outside of himself and the primitive constitution of the Church, to support his claim, and that there was a large body of men who were ready to maintain important limitations upon his jurisdiction.

The council of Chalcedon (451) ordained the following as its twenty-eighth canon: "Following throughout the decrees of the holy Fathers, and being acquainted with the recently read canon of the hundred and fifty bishops [the ecumenical council of 381], we have also determined and decreed the same in reference to the prerogatives of the most holy Church of Constantinople, or New Rome. For with propriety did the Fathers confer prerogatives on the throne of ancient Rome, on account of her character as the imperial city; and, moved by the same consideration, the hundred and fifty bishops recognized the same prerogatives also in the most holy throne of New Rome,--with good reason judging that the city which is honored with the imperial dignity and the senate, and enjoys the same distinctions as the ancient imperial Rome, should also be equally elevated in ecclesiastical respects, and be the second after her."

The force of this canon, when taken in its entirety, is sufficiently obvious. It prescribes that the patriarch of Constantinople shall have the same prerogatives in his sphere as the patriarch of Rome in his. In point of honor he is to be ranked immediately after the Roman patriarch, since the political importance of Constantinople is only second to that of ancient Rome. The canon gives no hint whatever that any higher character pertains to the Roman bishop than that of the most prominent patriarch; and events subsequent to the council show that that was all that the East was in reality ready to concede. Leo the Great, to whom the founding of the episcopal rank upon the secular rank of the city was entirely obnoxious, strongly denounced the twenty-eighth canon of Chalcedon. Some of his successors also kept up a vigorous opposition. But the canon stood, nevertheless, and was re-affirmed in the East, and acted upon.

Such legislation has a force that is not to be nullified by the plea that at Chalcedon, reference being made only to the patriarchal standing of the Roman bishop, there is room to assume above and beyond this a silent recognition of his universal office as pope. Silence under certain circumstances becomes equivalent to the most positive testimony. Throughout this entire period of conflicting claims and contentions within the hierarchy, no ecumenical council ever recognized any higher character in the bishop of Rome than that of a leading patriarch, --a satisfactory evidence to one who does not place dogma above history, that in the consciousness of the universal church he had no higher character. Schaff speaks with full warrant when he says, "It is an undeniable historical fact, that the greatest dogmatic and legislative authorities of the ancient Church bear as decidedly against the specific papal claims of the Roman bishopric, as in favor of its patriarchal rights and an honorary primacy in the patriarchal oligarchy." [Vol. iii., § 62.] Acknowledgments beyond this were either individual or local or rhetorical, -- the language of self-interest, of controversial ardor, of exaggeration; not the deliberate voice of the Church as a whole.

In other respects, also, the record of the ecumenical councils bears against the theory of the papal monarchy. While such a theory was ignored in their legislation, it was almost equally ignored in their management, as will appear from a consideration of the power convening them, presiding over them, and confirming their decrees.

The authority by which all the ecumenical councils of the period [There were five; namely, at Nicæa in 325, Constantinople in 381, Ephesus in 431, Chalcedon in 451, Constantinople in 553. The test of the ecumenical character of a council was not very definately stated. Respecting some in the above list, there was a measure of uncertainty for a time. What really decided was the general and continued verdict of the Church. The ecumenical character of a council being once acknowledged, its infallibity on questions of dogma, according to a rapidly growing sentiment, was excepted from challenge. On questions of administration, more room for amendment was allowed.] were convened was the imperial decree. No bishop, of whatever rank, was any thing more than an adviser of the emperor in their convocation. " The first eight ecumenical synods," says Hefele, "were convoked by the emperors, all later ones by the popes; but even in case of the early synods, there was a certain participation of the Pope in convoking them, which, in individual cases, is more or less clearly seen." [Conciliengeschichte, Intro] The closing part of this statement has a very limited application. There is no evidence that the Roman bishop had any agency in assembling the council of Nicæa, except an unsupported assumption put forth several centuries later, an assumption more than offset by the silence of Eusebius and the most ancient documents. It is quite certain, as Hefele concedes, that the bishop of Rome had nothing to do with the calling of the second ecumenical council, in which, indeed, the West had no participation. The third ecumenical council was called by the emperors of the East and the West jointly. It appears probable from the correspondence that the Roman bishop was notified of the proposed assembly, and invited to participation. That he was in any wise acknowledged as a co-partner in the calling of the council, does not appear. The evidence quoted by Hefele in this relation is entirely wide of the point. In the negotiations which preceded the assembling of the fourth ecumenical council, Leo the Great took a prominent part. But he wanted the council in the West; and, when it was finally summoned to meet at Chalcedon, he had ceased to wish that it should be convened. Its call in the end rested entirely upon the will of the Emperor. As respects the summoning of the fifth ecumenical council, any nominal concurrence of the Roman bishop is destitute of all significance, since he was treated by the government as a tool, and in reality was not honored with so much as an advisory function.

As respects the presidency of these councils, it seems to have been shared in certain cases between the imperial legates and some leading bishop or bishops. At the council of Chalcedon, for example, "the imperial commissaries had the place of honor, in the midst, before the rails of the altar; they are the first named in the minutes; they took the votes, arranged the order of business, closed the sessions." [Hefele.] On the other hand, episcopal presidents are mentioned in connection with this and other councils; so that it would seem that a distinction was made, at least in some cases, between the more external management and the spiritual headship. As regards the episcopal presidency, there are clear indications that at the council of Nicæa it fell pre-eminently to Hosius, Bishop of Cordova in Spain. Athanasius speaks of him in a way which clearly implies that he was the president, [Apol. de Fuga, v. Compare Theodoret, Hist. Eccl., ii. 15.] and his name appears first among the signatures. Hefele acknowledges the pre-eminence of the Spanish prelate at Nicæa, but endeavors to save the honor of the Roman bishop by the supposition that Hosius presided as papal legate in conjunction with the Roman presbyters. But this is entirely gratuitous. To be sure, he is able to quote a writer of the fifth century (Gelasius of Cyzicus), to the effect that Hosius was the representative of the bishop of Rome. There are other data, however, which contradict this statement. There is nothing in the proceedings of the council as they have been put upon record, or in the references of contemporary writers, to indicate that Hosius did not act in his own name. Moreover, the personal eminence and fame of the man, and the peculiar esteem in which he was held by the Emperor, adequately explain the bestowment of the honor upon him, especially at a time when the patriarchal dignity had not yet received formal acknowledgment. Athanasius speaks of Hosius as "the great, the confessor." [Epist. ad Episcopos Ægypti at Libyæ, viii.] Socrates says that he was intrusted by Constantine with a letter of pacification to Alexandria, and was a bishop "whom the Emperor greatly loved, and held in the highest estimation." [Hist. Eccl., i. 7.] Theodoret writes that "Hosius was the most highly distinguished of all those who assembled at the council of Nicæa." [Hist. Eccl., ii. 15.] Evidently such a man had no need of a Roman commission to make him the most prominent candidate for the presidency. The Roman bishop had nothing to do with presiding over the second and fifth ecumenical councils. At the third, Cyril of Alexandria, who previously had made a successful bid for the place of lieutenant of the Roman bishop, presided, and appended to his signature the observation that he took the place of Celestine of Rome. This does not necessarily imply any thing more than that he voted and subscribed in the name of the Roman bishop, though interpreters would naturally be found who would include the presidency under the expression. At Chalcedon, the episcopal presidency was in the hands of the Roman presbyters, the first instance, says Gieseler, in which Rome was honored with the presidency of an ecumenical council. [Kirchengeschichte, § 92.]

In the ratification of the decrees of an ecumenical council, the Emperor was no less pre-eminent than in the calling of such a council. It was first at Chalcedon that any conspicuous attention was paid to the prerogative of the Roman bishop in the matter. The motive for deference in this case is sufficiently obvious, and, indeed, appears upon the face of the correspondence which followed the council. An important canon had been passed, -- the famous twenty-eighth, -- which was understood to be obnoxious to Lee, and against which his legates had already protested. On this account, there was an urgent occasion to conciliate Lee. Moreover, there was a large body of Monophysites who were disposed to repudiate the council of Chalcedon. If Leo should carry his dislike of the unwelcome canon so far as to appear to reject the work of the council, the Monophysites would urge his position as an excuse for their own want of acquiescence. That this was a weighty consideration, is evident from the fact that the Emperor Marcian made explicit mention of it in a letter to Leo. [Epist. cx., in works of Leo.] Thus the request of the council for the confirmation of Leo by no means indicates what was thought to be demanded by the existing constitution of the Church: it indicates simply that the Eastern Fathers had a prudent regard for the practical aspects of the situation. That this is the proper interpretation, is sufficiently obvious from the event. While Leo approved the dogmatic decree of the council, he refused, as previously stated, to sanction the twenty-eighth canon. His refusal, however, did not nullify the canon. Reduced to its proper meaning, the request for confirmation which came from Chalcedon to Rome was the language of diplomacy. As respects the fifth ecumenical council, the assent of the Roman bishop to its action is only a testimony to the dominance of the imperial despotism, which, to fulfil its own behests, extorted the assent.

A title peculiar to the Roman bishop did not come into vogue, even in the West, till near the close of the period. "The names papa [English "pope"] pater patrum, apostolicus, vicarius Christi, summus pontifex, sedes apostolica were bestowed also upon other bishops. The indication is that Ennodius, Bishop of Ticinum (510), first applied the title papa, in a pre-eminent sense, to the Roman bishop, a designation which from this time became customary in the West." [Alzog Kirchengeschichte, § 130.]

Among the more eminent of the Roman prelates in this period may be numbered Julius I., Innocent I., Leo I. (commonly called Leo the Great), and Gelasius I. Leo (440-461), in particular, was a man of high intelligence and commanding executive ability, without doubt the ablest man of his generation in the Empire. He was well fitted to advance the authority of the Roman see, and did not scruple to advance it in a rather arbitrary and usurping way. His claims fell little short of those asserted at the culmination of the papal monarchy, at least as respects the ecclesiastical sphere. One may judge of his sense of official elevation from the language employed in his controversy with Hilary of Gaul, who, in the exercise of metropolitan rights conceded by Zosimus, had deposed the bishop of Besançon, and was much displeased at Leo's action in receiving the appeal of the deposed bishop, and restoring him. "Whoever," wrote Leo to the bishops, "presumes to question the primacy of the Apostle Peter can in no wise lessen his honor; but, inflated with the spirit of pride, he plunges himself into hell." [Epist. x. Compare Epist.xii.,civ.; Serm. iii.-v.]

Among the bishops who brought little glory on the Roman see, Liberius and Vigilius may be mentioned. The former, yielding to the persecution of Constantius, signed a semi-Arian creed, the third formula of Sirmium. The evidence for this at least outward defection is entirely conclusive. [We have the explicit statement of Athanasius, Hist. Arian. ad Monachos, § 41; Apolog. Cont. Arian., § 89; also of Jerome, Chron.; Catalog. Script. Eccl.; Sozomen, Hist. Ecol., iv. 15.] Vigilius, in addition to his vacillation between opposition and compliance to the dogmatic schemes of Justinian, disgraced the episcopal throne by a villanous character. His elevation was due to the intriguing empress, and was purchased at the price of a secret stipulation that he should favor her Monophysite views, and declare against the creed of Chalcedon. To make room for his installation, false charges were trumped up against the reigning bishop, and he was made a prisoner. Vigilius was believed also to have hastened his death by starvation. [Hefele, § 208.]

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