Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/652

This page needs to be proofread.


BISHOP


582


BISHOP


of the organization of the synagogue, they appointed presbyters, sometimes called bishops in the Gentile churches. The duties of the presbyters were two- fold: they were both rulers and instructors of the congregation. In the Apostolic age, however, traces of the highest order, the episcopate properly so called, are few and indistinct. The episcopate was not formed from the Apostolic order through the localization of the universal authority of the Apostles, but from the presbyteral (by elevation). The title of bishop originally common to all came at length to be appropriated to the cliief among them. Within the period compassed by the Apostolic writings, James, the brother of tha Lord, can alone claim to be regarded as a bishop in the later and more special sense of the terra. On the other hand, though es- pecially prominent in the Church of Jerusalem, he appears in the .\cts as a member of a body. As late as the year 70, no distinct signs of episcopal govern- ment had yet appeared in Gentile Christendom. During the last three decades of the first century, however, during the lifetime of the latest surviving Apostle, St. John, the episcopal office was estabhshed in Asia Minor. St. John was cognizant of the position of St. James at Jerusalem. When, therefore, he found in .\sia Minor manifold irregularities and threatening symptoms of disruption, he not unnat- urally encouraged in these Gentile churches an ap- C roach to the organization, which had been signally lessed and had proved effectual in holding to- gether the mother-church of Jerusalem amid dangers no less serious. The ejcistence of a council or college necessarily supposes a presidency of some kind, whether this presidency be assumed by each member in turn, or lodged in the hands of a single person. It was only necessary, therefore, to give permanence, definiteness, stability to an office the germ of which already existed. There is no reason, however, for supposing that any direct ordinance was issued to the churches by St. Jolui. The evident utihty and even pressing need of such an office, sanctioned by the most venerated name in Christendom, would be sufficient to secure its wide though gradual re- ception. The earliest bishops, however, did not hold the position of independent supremacy which was and is occupied by their later representatives. This development is most conveniently grasped in connexion with three great names: Ignatius, Irenseus, and Cyprian, who represent as many successive ad- vances towards the supremacy ultimately attained. By Ignatius the bishop is regarded as the centre of unity; to Irenaeus he is the depositary of primitive truth; to Cyprian, he is the absolute vicegerent of Christ in things spiritual (Lightfoot, The Christian Ministry, 181-269, in his commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians, London, 1896).

Catholic WTiters agree in recognizing the Apostolic origin of the episcopate, but are much divided as to the meaning of the terms which designate the hier- archy in the New Testament writings and the Apos- tolic Fathers. One may even ask if originally these terms had a clearly defined significance (Bruders, Die Verfassung der Kirche bis zum Jalire 175, Mainz, 1904). Nor is there greater unaniraitv when an attempt is made to explain why some cliurches are found without presbyters, others without bishops, others again where the heads of the community are called sometimes bishops, sometimes presbyters. This disagreement increases when the question comes up as to the interpretation of the terms which desig- nate other personages exercising a certain fixed authority in the early Christian communities. The following facts may be regarded as fully established: (1) To some extent, in this early period, the words bishop and priest (iwlaKOTros and irpeapvTcpot) are synonymous. (See the principal interpretations in the article: College, Apostohc.) (2) The.se terms


may designate either simple priests (A. Michiels, Les origines de I'^piscopat, Louvain, 1900, 218 sqq.) or bishops possessing the full powers of their order. (Batiffol, Etudes d'histoire et de thfiologie positive, Paris, 1902, 266 sqq.; Duchesne, Histoire ancienne de r^glise, Paris, 1906, 94.) (3) In each community the authority may originally have belonged to a college of presbyter-bishops. This does not mean that the episcopate, in the actual sense of the term, may have been plural, because in each church the college of presbyter-bishops did not exercise an in- dependent supreme power; it was subject to the Apostles or to their delegates. The latter were bishops in the actual sense of the term, but they did not possess fixed sees nor had they a special title (Batiffol, 270). Since they were essentially itinerant, they confided to the care of some of the better edu- cated and higUy respected neophytes the fixed neces- sary functions relating to the daily life of the com- munity. (4) Sooner or later the missionaries had to leave the young communities to themselves, where- upon their direction fell entirely upon these local authorities who thus received the Apostolical suc- cession. (5) This local superior authority, wliich was of Apostolic origin, was conferred by the Apostles upon a monarcliic bishop, such as is under- stood by the term to-day. This is proved first by the example of Jerusalem, where James, who was not one of the Twelve Apostles, held the first place, and afterwards by those communities in Asia Minor of which Ignatius speaks, and where, at the beginning of the second century the monarchical episcopate existed, for Ignatius does not write as though the institution were a new one. (6) In other communities, it is true, no mention is made of a monarchic episco- pate until the middle of the second century. We do not wish to reject the opinion of those who believe that there are in several documents of the second century traces of the monarcliic episcopate, that is to say, of an authority superior to that of the college of the presbyter-bishops. The reasons wliich some ■^Titers allege, in order to explain why, for example, in the Epistle of Polyearp no mention is made of a bishop, are very plausible. The best evidence, how- ever, for the existence at this early date of a monarolii- cal episcopate is the fact that nowhere in the latter half of the second century is the least trace to bo found of a change of organization. Such a change would have robbed the supposed college of presbyter- bishops of their sovereign authority, and it is almost impossible to comprehend how this body would have allowed itself to be everywhere despoiled of its supreme authority, without leaving in the contem- porary documents the least trace of a protest against so important a change. If the monarchical episcopate began only in the middle of the second century, it is impossible to comprehend how at the end of the second century the episcopal lists of several impor- tant bishoprics giving the succession of monarchic bishops as far back as the first century were generally known and admitted. Such, for instance, was the case at Rome. (7) This theoiy, it must be carefully noted, does not contradict the liistorical texts. Ac- cording to these documents, there was a college of presbyters or of bishops which administered several churches, but which had a president who was none other than the monarcliic bishop. Although (he power of the latter had existed from the beginning it became gradually more conspicuous. The part played by the presbt/terium , or body of priests, was a very important one in the earlier days of the Christian Church; nevertheless it did not exclude the existence of a monarchic episcopate (Duchesne, 89-95).

During the first three centuries, the entire religious life of the diocese centred around the person of the bishop. The priests and deacons were liis auxiliarief . but they worked under the immediate direction oi