Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

CENT. I.

The form of the first church at Jerufalem,

dated to the time, and left to the wisdom and prudence of the chief rulers, both of the ftate and of the church. If, however, it is true, that the apoftles acted by divine infpiration, and in conformity with the commands of their bleffed master (and this no Christian can call in queftion) then it follows, that that form of government which the primitive churches borrowed from that of Ferufalem, the first Christian affembly established by the apostles themselves, must be esteemed as of divine inftitution. But from this it would be wrong to conclude that fuch a form is immutable and ought to be invariably obferved, for this a great variety of events may render impoffible. In thofe early times, every Christian church confifted of the people, their leaders, and the minifters, "fively fubject to the fupreme dominion of the Roman Pontif." This romantic account fcarcely deferves a ferious refutation. The fecond opinion, concerning the government of the church, makes no mention of a fupreme head, or of patriachs, constituted by divine authority, but fuppofes that the apoftles divided the Roman empire into as many ecclefiaftical provinces, as there were fecular, or civil ones; that the metropolitan bishop, i. e. the prelate, who refided in the capital city of each province, prefided over the clergy of that province, and that the other bishops were fubject to his authority. This opinion has been adopted by fome of the most learned of the Romish church †, and has also been favoured by fome of the most eminent British divines. Some Proteftant writers of note have endeavoured to prove that it is not fupported by fufficient evidence. The third opinion is, that of those who acknowledge, that, when the Chriftians began to multiply exceedingly, metropolitans, patriarchs, and arch-bishops were, indeed, created, but only by human appointment and authority; though they confefs, at the fame time, that it is confonant to the orders and intention of CHRIST and his apoftles, that, in every Christian church, there should be one perfon invefted with the higheft authority, and cloathed with certain rights and privileges above the other doctors of that affembly. This opinion has been embraced by many English divines of the first rank in the learned world, and alfo by many in other countries and communions. The fourth and laft opinion is, that of the Prefbyterians, who affirm that CHRIST's intention was, that the Christian doctors and ministers should all enjoy the fame rank and authority, without any fort of pre-eminence or fubordination, any distinction of rights and privileges.-This account of the four different opinions with respect to churchgovernment, I have taken from Dr. MOSHEIM's Larger history of the first century. This learned and impartial writer, who condemns with reafon, the fourth opinion, as it is explained by those bigotted Puritans, who look upon all fubordination, and variety of rank among the doctors of the church, as condemnable and Anti-chriftian, obferves, however, with equal reason, that this opinion may be explained and modified fo, as to reconcile the moderate abettors of the epifcopal difcipline, with the lefs rigid Prefbyterians. The opinion modified by Dr. MOSHEIM amounts to this: "That the Chriftian doctors are equal, in this sense; that CHRIST has left no pofitive "and Ipecial decree which conftitutes a diftinction among them, nor any divine commandment "by which thofe, who, in confequence of the appointments of human wifdom, are in the higher "ranks, can demand, by a divine right, the obedience and fubmiffion of the inferior doctors, &c. "their abftaining from the exercife of certain functions, &c."

The truth of the matter is, that CHRIST, by leaving this matter undetermined, has, of confequence, left Chriftian focieties a difcretionary power of modelling the government of the church in fuch a manner, as the circumftantial reasons of times, places, &c. may require; and therefore the wifeft government of the church, is the beft and the moft divine; and every Christian society has a right to make laws for itself, provided, that thefe laws are confiftent with charity and peace, and with the fundamental doctrines and principles of Christianity.]

* See LEON ALLATIUS, De perpetua confenf. Ecclef. Orient, et Occident. lib. i. cap. ii. MORINUS Exercitat. Ecclefiaft. lib. i. Exer. i.

+ PETRUS DE MARCA, De concord. facerdot. et imperii, lib. vi. cap. i. MORINUS Exerc. Eccl. lib. i. Ex.xviii. PAGI Critica in annal. Baronii ad A. xxxvii. tom. i. p. 29.

HAMMOND, Diff. de Epifcop. BEVEREGE, Cod. Canon. Vet. Ecclef. Vindic. lib. ii. cap. v. tom. ii. Patr. Apoft. USSER. De origine Epifcop. et Metropol. p. 20.

BASNAGE, Hift. "de l'Eglife, tom, i, liv. i, cap, viii, BÖEHMER. Annot, ad Petrum de Marca de concordia facerd, e imperii, p. 143.

or deacons, and thefe, indeed, belong effentially to every religious fociety. fociety. The people were, undoubtedly, the firft in authority; for the apoftles fhewed, by their own example, that nothing of moment was to be carried on or determined without the confent of the affembly [z], and fuch a method of proceeding was both prudent and neceffary in thofe critical times.

CENT. I.

VI. It was, therefore, the affembly of the people, which chofe their own The rights of rulers and teachers, or received them, by a free and authoritative confent, the people, when recommended by others. The fame people rejected or confirmed, by their fuffrages, the laws, that were proposed by their rulers to the affembly; excommunicated profligate and unworthy members of the church; restored the penitent to their forfeited privileges; paffed judgment upon the different fubjects of controverfy and diffenfion, that arofe in their community; examined and decided the disputes which happened between the elders and deacons, and, in a word, exercised all that authority which belongs to fuch as are invefted with the fovereign power.

The people, indeed, had, in fome measure, purchased these privileges by Their oblations. adminiftring to the fupport of their rulers, minifters, and poor, and by offer ing large and generous contributions, when the fafety or interefts of the community rendered them neceffary. In thefe fupplies each one bore a part proportioned to his circumftances; and the various gifts which were thus brought into the public affemblies, were called oblations.

A perlect equa lity among the

primitive Chrifti.

ans.

VII. There reigned among the members of the Chriftian church, however distinguished they were by worldly rank and titles, not only an amiable harmony, but also a perfect equality. This appeared by the feasts of charity, in which all were indifcriminately affembled; by the names of brethren and fifters, with which they mutually faluted each other; and by feveral circumstances of a like nature. Nor, in this first century, was the diftinction made between Christians of a more or less perfect order, which took place afterwards. Whoever acknowledged CHRIST as the Saviour of mankind, and made a folemn profeffion of his confidence in him, was immediately baptized and received into the church. But, in process of time, when the church began to flourish, and its members to increase, it was thought prudent and neceffary to divide Chriftians into two orders, diftinguished by the names of believers and catechumens. The former were thofe, who had been folemnly ad- Believers and mitted into the church by baptifm, and in confequence thereof, were inftruct- catechumens. ed in all the mysteries of religion, had access to all the parts of divine worhip, and were authorized to vote in the ecclefiaftical affemblies. The latter were fuch, as had not yet been dedicated to God and CHRIST by baptifm, and were, therefore, admitted neither to the public prayers, nor to the holy * communion, nor to the ecclefiaftical affemblies.

VIII. The rulers of the church were called either prefbyters [a], or bishops, The rulers of which two titles are, in the New Teftament, undoubtedly applied to the fame the church,

[x] As i. 15. vi. 3. xv. 4. xxi. 22.

[(a) The word prefbyter, or elder, is taken from the Jewish inftitution, and fignifies rather the venerable prudence and wifdom of old age, than age itself.]

order

CENT. I.

Prefbyters, or

bishops.

The prophets.

Deacons of the

order of men [6]. These were perfons of eminent gravity, and fuch as had diftinguished themfelves by their fuperior fanctity and merit [c]. Their particular functions were not always the fame, for while fome of them confined their labours to the inftruction of the people, others contributed in different ways to the edification of the church. Hence the distinction between teaching and ruling prefbyters, has been adopted by certain learned men. But, if ever this distinction exifted, which I neither affirm nor deny, it certainly did not continue long; fince it is manifeft, that St. PAUL requires that all bishops or prefbyters be qualified and ready to teach and inftruct [d].

IX. Among the first profeffors of Christianity, there were but few men of learning; few, who had capacity enough to infinuate into the minds of a grofs and ignorant multitude, the knowledge of divine things. God therefore, in his infinite wisdom, judged it neceffary to raise up, in many churches, extraor dinary teachers, who were to difcourfe, in the public affemblies, upon the various points of the Chriftian doctrine, and to treat with the people, in the name of God, as guided by his direction, and cloathed with his authority. Such were the Prophets of the New Testament [e], an order of men, whofe commiffion is too much limited by the writers, who confine it to the interpretation of the books of the Old Teftament and, efpecially, the Prophecies [f]. For it is certain, that they, who claimed the rank of Prophèts, were invefted with the power of cenfuring publicly fuch as had been guilty of any irregularity. But, to prevent the abufes, that defigning men might make of this inftitution, by pretending to this extraordinary character in order to execute unworthy ends, there were always prefent, in the public auditories, judges, divinely appointed, who, by certain and infallible marks, were able to diftinguish the falfe prophets from the true. This order of prophets ceafed, when the want of teachers,. which gave rife to it, was abundantly fupplied.

X. The church was, undoubtedly, provided from the beginning with inchurch at Jeru ferior minifters or deacons. No fociety can be without its fervants, and still falem. lefs fuch focieties, as those of the first Christians were. And it appears not only probable, but evident, that the young men, who carried away the dead bodies of ANANIAS and SAPPHIRA, were the subordinate minifters, or deacons of the church of Jerufalem, who attended the apostles to execute their or ders [g]. Thefe first deacons of the church being chofen from among the Phil. i. 1. Tit. i. 5, 7. 1 Tim. iii. r..

[b] Acts xx. 17, 28. [c] 1 Tim. iii. 1. Tit. i. 5. [d] 1 Tim. iii. 2, &c. See, concerning the word prefbyter, the illuftrations given by the learned VITRINGA, De fynagoga vetere, lib. iii. part I. cap. i. p. 609; and by the venerable Jo. BENED. CARPZOVIUS, in his Exerc. in Epift. ad Hebræos ex Philone, p. 499. prefbyters themfelves, and the nature of their office, the reader will receive much fatisfaction from the accounts that are given of that order by BUDDEUS, De Ecclefia Apoftolica, cap. vi. p. 719. and by the most learned PFAFFIUS, De originibus juris ecclef. p. 49. [e] Rom. xiii. 6. 1 Cor. xii. 28. xiv. 3. 29. Eph. iv. 11.

As to the

[f] See MOSHEIM's differtation De illis qui PROPHETÆ vocantur in Novo Fodere, which is to be found in the fecond volume of his Syntagma Differtationum ad Hiftoriam Ecclef, pertinentium. [g] Acts v. 6. 10.

Those who may be furprized at my affirming, that the young men, mentioned in the paffages here referred to, were the deacons, or minifters of the church of Jerufalem, are defired to confider, that the words verigo, veavíoxo, i. e. young men, are not always used to determine the age

Jews,

CENT. I.

Jews, who were born in Palestine, were fufpected by the foreign Jews of partiality in diftributing the offerings, which were prefented for the fupport of the poor [b]. To remedy, therefore, this diforder, feven other deacons were chofen, by order of the apostles, and employed in the fervice of that part of the church of Jerufalem, which was compofed of the foreign Jews, converted to Chriftianity. Of thefe new minifters, fix were foreigners, as appears by their names: the feventh was chofen out of the Profelytes, of whom there were a certain number among the firft Chriftians at Jerufalem, and to whom it was reasonable, that fome regard fhould be fhewn, in the election of the deacons, as well as to the foreign Jews. All the other Chriftian churches followed the example of that of Jerufalem, in whatever related to the choice and office of the deacons. Some, particularly the eastern churches, elected deaconeffes, and chofe, for that purpose, matrons or widows of eminent fanctity, who also ministered to the neceffities of the poor, and performed feveral other offices, that tended to the maintenance of order and decency in the church [i]. XI. Such was the conftitution of the Chriftian church in its infancy, when Bishops. its affemblies were neither numerous nor fplendid. Three or four prefbyters, men of remarkable piety and wifdom, ruled thefe fmall congregations in perfect harmony, nor did they ftand in need of any prefident or fuperior to maintain concord and order where no diffenfions were known. But the number of the prefbyters and deacons increafing with that of the churches, of the perfons to whom they are applied, but are frequently employed to point out their offices, or functions, both by the Greek and Latin writers. The fame rule of interpretation, that diverfifies the fenfe of the word prefbyter (which, as all know, fignifies fometimes the age of a perfon, and, at other times, his function) is manifeftly applicable to the word before us. As, therefore, by the title of prefbyters the heads or rulers of a fociety are pointed out, without any regard to their age; fo by the term young men, we are often to understand minifters or fervants, becaufe fuch are generally in the flower of youth. This interpretation may be confirmed by examples, which are not wanting even in the New Testament. CHRIST himself feems to attribute this fenfe, to the word veάregos, Luke xxii. 26. μsičov Ev vÑ, VEVÉTOW W oveτegos. Our Saviour explains the term eitav, by the word yuevos, and it therefore fignifies a prefbyter, or ruler: he alfo fubftitutes a little after, & daxovv, in the place of Tego, which confirms our interpretation in the most unanswerable manner. So that ev and VETEgos are not here indications of certain ages, but of certain functions, and the precept of CHRIST amounts to this: "He that performs the office of a prefbyter or elder among you, let him not think himself fuperior to "the minifters or deacons.' The paffage of 1 Pet. v. 5. is ftill more exprefs to our purpose: Ομοίως, νεώτεροι, ὑπολογελε τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις. It is evident from the preceding verfes, that prelyter here is the name of an office, and points out a ruler or teacher of the church; and that the term Tego is alfo to be interpreted not young men in point of age, but the minifters, or fervants of the church. St. PETER, having folemnly exhorted the prefbyters, not to abufe the power that was committed to them, addreffes his difcourfe to the minifters, or deacons of the church: "But like"wife, ye younger, i. e. minifters and deacons, defpife not the orders of the prefbyters or elders, "but perform chearfully whatsoever they command you." In the fame fenfe, does St. LUKE' employ this term, Acts v. 6. 10. and his ergo and varioxo are, undoubtedly, the deacons of the church of Jerufalem, of whom the Greek Jews complain afterwards to the apoftles (Acts vi. 1, &c.) on account of the partial diftribution of the alms. I might confirm this fenfe of the word young men by numberless citations from Greek and Roman writers, and a variety of authors facred and profane, but this is not the proper place for demonstrations of this nature.

[ocr errors]

[b] Acts vi. 1, &c.

[] For an ample account of the deacons and deaconeffes of the primitive church, fee ZEIGLER, De diaconis et diaconiis, cap. xix. p. 347• BASNAGII Annal. Polit. Ecclef. ad A. xxxv. tom. i. P. 450. BINGHAM, Orig. Ecclef. lib. ii. cap. xx.

4

and

CENT. I.

The nature of

nity in this century.

and the facred work of the miniftry growing more painful and weighty, by a number of additional duties, thefe new circumftances required new regulations. It was then judged neceffary, that one man of diftinguished gravity? and wifdom should prefide in the council of prefbyters, in order to distribute among his colleagues their feveral tasks, and to be a center of union to the whole fociety. This perfon was, at first, styled the angel [k] of the church to which he belonged, but was afterward diftinguished by the name of bishop, or infpector; a name borrowed from the Greek language, and expreffing the principal part of the epifcopal function, which was to infpect into, and fuperintend the affairs of the church. It is highly probable, that the church of Jerufalem, grown confiderably numerous, and deprived of the miniftry of the apoftles, who were gone to inftruct the other nations, was the firft which chofe a prefident or bifhop. And it is no lefs probable, that the other churches followed by degrees fuch a refpectable example.

XII. Let none, however, confound the bishops of this primitive and golden the epifcopal dig- period of the church with thofe of whom we read in the following ages. For, though they were both distinguished by the fame name, yet they differed extremely, and that in many refpects. A bifhop, during the first and second century, was a perfon who had the care of one Chriftian affembly, which, at that time, was, generally fpeaking, finall enough to be contained in a private house. In this affembly he acted not fo much with the authority of a master, as with the zeal and diligence of a faithful fervant. He inftructed the people, performed the feveral parts of divine worship, attended the fick, and infpected into the circumstances and fupplies of the poor. He charged, indeed, the prefbyters with the performance of thofe duties and fervices, which the multiplicity of his engagements rendered it impoffible for him to fulfil; but had not the power to decide or enact any thing without the confent of the prefbyters and people. And, though the epifcopal office was both laborious, and fingularly dangerous, yet its revenues were extremely fmall, fince the church had no certain income, but depended on the gifts, or oblations of the multitude, which were, no doubt, inconfiderable, and were moreover to be divided between the bishops, prefbyters, deacons, and poor.

[merged small][ocr errors]

XIII. The power and jurifdiction of the bishops were not long confined to thefe narrow limits, but foon extended themselves, and that by the following means. The bishops, who lived in the cities, had, either by their own ministry, or that of their prefbyters, erected new churches in the neighbouring towns and villages. Thefe churches, continuing under the infpection and miniftry of the bishops, by whose labours and counfels they had been engaged to embrace the gofpel, grew imperceptibly into ecclefiaftical provinces, which the Greeks afterwards called diocefes. But as the bishop of the city could not extend his labours and infpection to all these churches in the country and in the villages, fo he appointed certain fuffragans or deputies to govern and to inftruct these new focieties, and they were diftinguished by the title of chorepifcopi, i. e. country bishops. This order held the middle rank between bishops and prefbyters, being inferior to the former, and fuperior to the

latter.

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinuar »