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MINISTRY CHANGING TO PRIESTHOOD
During the third century, it may be said during the middle third of that century, there are clear traces of a general change insinuating itself into men’s minds and finding expression in language, in the way of thinking of the Church and of the relation of the ministry to the Church. This is commonly spoken of as the change of the ministry into a mediating priesthood, standing between the people and God. But this manner of regarding the whole silent movement gives a very inadequate and one-sided representation of the real meaning of the change, and of the conceptions which it embodied. The idea that the ministry is a priesthood was there, but the main thought was much more the power of the priest than his mediation. The power and the authority of the ministry and especially of the chiefs of the ministry over the Christian people was the central conception. It finds expression in Cyprian’s repeated quotation of the Old Testament text: “And the man that doeth presumptuously, in not hearkening to the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die; and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and do no more presumptuously.”632632Deut. xvii. 12, 13; Cyprian, Epist. iii. 1 (lxiv.); iv. 4 (lxi.); xliii. 7 (xxxix.); lix. 4 (liv.); lxvi. 3 (lxviii.). It is this change and what it implies that concerns us now.
It may be briefly expressed by saying that the two separate 266conceptions of local “Church” and of “Church universal” became more precise, and that precision of thought was given by new ideas about the relation in which the office-bearers stood to the community. The Church was defined by the ministry in a way that it had not been in earlier times.
So far as the local “church” is concerned the Christian thought, which in earlier times had dwelt upon the picture of saints and brethren living together the Christian life, now dwelt upon the controlling power of those who governed. The Church, which was in earlier days a “brotherhood of saints,” became a community over whom a bishop presided. It was defined, not so much by the manner of life led by its members, as by the government which ruled over them. The train of thought was reversed. It was no longer—people worshipping and some of them leading the common devotions, saints believing and some among them instructing and admonishing; it became—teachers who imparted and pupils who received, priests who interceded and sinners who were pardoned through the intercession, rulers who commanded and subjects who were bound to obey.
The thought of the universal visible Church underwent an analogous transformation. It was no longer the wide brotherhood of all who professed the name of Jesus, and lived the life of new obedience demanded from His disciples. It became a federation of local churches, who believed in the same verities, the truth of which was guaranteed by legitimate rulers, and whose members yielded an implicit obedience to the bishop at the head of every local “church.” It was the federation of churches which excluded heretics and rebels.
In the earlier days the local Christian communities were companies of men and women who called themselves the brethren and the saints or holy persons, and these words expressed the relations in which they stood to each other and to the world around them. Fellowship as with brothers, and a fellowship united in holiness, were the main thoughts present to the minds of the earliest Christians when the word Church was used to 267denote either the individual community or the wide brotherhood of believers.
The idea in the minds of Christians united together in a local community was that they were called upon to live a new and a holy life. They had marked out for themselves what was meant by this holy life, with its duties to be lovingly fulfilled and sins to be resolutely shunned; and this chart of the Christian life is to be found in manuals like the Didache with its two ways, all of which treat of the private as well as of the communal life. There was also a feeling throughout the churches that, while for the ordinary and lesser sins to which men are prone, there must be confession, sorrow, and certain external signs of sorrow, and while for others there was to be suspension for longer or shorter time from the Holy Supper, some sins were so very heinous that those who committed them had placed themselves outside the communion of the brethren so long as life lasted. No limits were placed on the forgiveness of God, but Christians believed that if any of their number fell into sins of more than ordinary gravity, no amount of penitence, however sincere, entitled the Church to permit these fallen brethren to return to the inner fellowship of the Christian brotherhood. Such sinners had to manifest a life-long repentance, and could never hope to be more than catechumens. Tertullian has given a list of these deadliest sins, but it is not likely that such lists were always the same, for there is no trace of any settled rule or theory. Only, each Christian community felt that it must keep itself pure and merit its title of “the saints.”633633Compare Tertullian, Against Marcion, iv. 9. The Canons of Basil, though very much later than the period now described, retain ideas which may enable us to conceive the attitude of the early Christian society. They declare that a murderer must be excluded from the society for twenty years; a homicide for ten years, which are to be spent in the following way—two years in mourning, three years admitted to the meeting for exhortation, and five years admitted among the faithful but not allowed to come forward and partake of the Holy Communion. For one who has been baptized and has lapsed from the faith, the penitence must be life long, and the penitent is to be allowed to communicate only when he is on his deathbed. Compare Riedel’s Kirchenrechtsquellen des Patriarchats der Alexandrien (1900), pp. 243, 244. The sins named by Tertullian are:—Idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, fornication, false-witness and fraud. Ordinarily 268those who were guilty of such heinous sins had to remain for life in the condition of catechumens, and could never hope to be re-admitted to the inner circle of believers. If, however, a brother, believed to have the prophetic gift, spoke on behalf of a penitent, and announced that it was the will of God that he should be pardoned, then, and then only, an exception was made.634634Hermas, Mandata, iv. 3; Visiones, iii. 7; Tertullian, De Pudicitia, 21.
All the Christian communities, although they felt that they belonged to one great Church, were not linked together by any distinctive polity, however indefinite. All the churches of Christ, Tertullian tells us, were one great Church, because they gave each other the salutation of peace, because they regarded each other as brethren, and because they practised the interchange of familiar hospitality.635635Tertullian, De Praescriptione Haereticorum, 20:—“They then (the apostles) in like manner founded Churches in every city, from which all the other Churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become Churches. Indeed it is on this account only that they will be able to account themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic Churches. . . . Therefore the Churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive Church founded by the apostles from which they all spring. In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, whilst they are all proved to be one, in unity, by their salutation of peace (communicatio pacis), and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality (contesseratio hospitalitatis)—rights which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the self-same mystery.” That was what bound them together, and made them feel and be one; not any external polity, however slight. They maintained a close fellowship by means of intercommunication, by the interchange of letters and messengers, and by their hospitality towards all Christian travellers who passed their way. This constant intercourse no doubt led to a similarity in the rules for holy living and in modes of dealing with backsliders; but there was nothing of 269a common polity to unite them as the various parts of civil society are united within one state. No doubt the advice of one Church was frequently asked, and acted upon by another in matters of difficulty and in times of trial. We have an example of such a thing in the letter of the Roman Church to the Corinthian, which goes by the name of the First Epistle of Clement. No doubt such advice was received and attended to in proportion as the Church, offering its advice or appealed to for its counsel, had showed itself worthy of deference by its brotherly conduct and by its eminence. No Church in those early centuries showed such generosity to its poorer brethren as the Roman Church; besides it inhabited the world’s capital; it was believed to inherit the traditions of the two greatest of the apostles—St. Paul and St. Peter. It held the position of the wise and generous elder brother in the brotherhood of churches, but there was no acknowledged ecclesiastical pre-eminence.636636Clement, 1 Epist. v. 4-6; Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans, preface; Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. II. xxv. 8; IV. xxiii. 10; V. xxiii., xxiv.; VII. v. 2; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III. i. iii.; Tertullian, De Praescript. 24; Scorpiace, 15; Against Marcion, IV. 5.
The situation, therefore, may be thus expressed: there were thousands of churches, most of them single congregations, which nevertheless were one Church, not because they had agreed in any formal way to become one, not because there was any polity linking them together in one great whole, but because they had the unmistakeable feeling that they belonged to one brotherhood:
They lived in the immediate presence of eternity, on the threshold of the blessed and real life which awaited them, when the period of their probation in this world was ended; and every Christian community had the feeling that it was its business by a strict discipline to preserve, in the pure life of the members of the little brotherhood, a foreshadowing of the life which awaited them when the Father should call them home to Himself. Meanwhile they were in the presence of a hostile and evil world-power, 270which was under the dominion of sin, and which manifested itself to them in the persecuting pagan state. That was the first stage. Doctrine could scarcely be said to exist, and doctrinal divisions were therefore almost impossible. No doubt their teachers and leaders occasionally warned them against strange teachings, but these were limited to individuals or to small companies, and hardly impressed the imagination.
When the Gnostic teachers gathered their followers into companies large enough to attract attention, and above all when Marcion, with his organizing genius, had established Marcionite Christian communities almost everywhere, the situation became changed. The Christians were now divided among themselves. The Christian brotherhood was set over against, not simply the pagan state, but also against false brethren who did not accept the traditions of the apostles nor the common simple verities of the faith. Christianity now implied more than a life lived in the presence of God and Christ; it meant a doctrine to be protected by a creed or a form, more or less fixed, of intellectual beliefs. The possession of a common form of creed in which the simple verities of the faith were stated could not fail to give the “great” Church accepting it something more of an outward polity, The succession of office-bearers in the churches was the guarantee for the correctness of the tradition suggested by Irenaeus, urged by Tertullian, and apparently accepted by all who were neither Gnostics nor Marcionites, nor any of the smaller separate bodies of Christians. Tertullian in the De Praescriptione, as may be seen in the quotation given in the note,637637See above, p. 268. links the common tradition, its guarantee in the succession of office-bearers, the name of brethren, the salutation of peace, and the bond of hospitality all together, and there are, though in a very indefinite kind of way, the beginnings of a polity.
Still the existence of the creed did not give the churches which accepted it an homogenous external polity in any thing like the modern sense. The creed was the law for the individual 271local church, and the local church was not joined to the other churches in a definite federation, still less in a corporate union. The old thought of St. Paul638638Compare above, p. 24.—fellowship (κοινωνία)—still prevailed. The churches refused to have fellowship with professing Christians and with communities of professing Christians who did not accept the same verities that they did, and they had fellowship and intercommunion with societies who accepted these verities. The increased powers given to office-bearers, when they were made the guarantee of the orthodox faith, were powers to be exercised within the communities over which they presided, and did not give them any rule outside the local churches they governed, whether these were large or small. Still the fact that it was recognized that all Christians had a common set of convictions, which could be expressed in a more or less definite way in propositions, gave the whole brotherhood of churches something of a polity; and the thought that in times of doubt or difficulty guidance could be got from what Tertullian called “apostolic” churches, or churches where the original apostles had actually taught,639639Compare Tertullian, De Praescriptione, xx., xxxii. and especially xxxvi. gave these churches and their office-bearers a certain pre-eminence which claimed and received the deference of all the rest.
The separation and secession of the Montanists, in the wider meaning of the term,640640That is the Montanism which included men like Tertullian. Compare above p. 238. still further altered and made more precise the conception of the Church. It must always be remembered that the Montanists were not driven out, but separated themselves from the main body of Christians. They claimed to represent the apostolic Church; and their claim was based quite as much on the persuasion that they had preserved the prophetic ministry in the position within the churches in which it had been placed by the apostles, as on their belief that they were preserving the character of the true church by their strictness 272of discipline. To the succession of office-bearers, descended from the secondary ministry of apostolic times, they opposed the succession of prophets representing the superior ministry of the apostolic days. The Montanist movement had this result that men who professed to live according to the commandments of Jesus, who adhered to the traditional teaching of the churches, who had the three-fold ministry, were nevertheless found outside. They had separated on the question of the power of the office-bearers at the head of the local churches; they had insisted that the time-honoured prophetic ministry should retain its old supremacy; they had especially declared that in the case of heinous sins it belonged to the prophetic ministry, and not to the bishops, to declare whether such sins could receive the churches’ pardon.641641Tertullian, De Pudicitia, 21:—“The power of loosing and binding committed to Peter had nothing to do with the capital sins of believers; and if the Lord had given him a precept that he must grant pardon to a brother sinning against him even seventy times seven-fold, of course He would have commanded him to ‘bind’—that is to retain—nothing subsequently, unless perchance such sins as one may have committed against the Lord and not against a brother. For the forgiveness of sins committed in the case of a man is a prejudgment against the remission of sins against God. What now about the Church—your psychic Church? For in accordance with the person of Peter, it is to spiritual men that this power will correspondingly appertain, either to an apostle or else to a prophet. For the Church itself is, properly and principally the Spirit Himself. . . . And accordingly the ‘Church,’ it is true, will forgive sins; but the Church of the Spirit, by a spiritual man; not the Church which consists of a number of bishops. For the right and arbitrament is the Lord’s, not the servant’s; God’s Himself and not the priest’s.” Tertullian’s argument is that the power was given to Peter because he was inspired of the Father to confess Christ. He was a spiritual man. Cf. Döllinger, Hippolytus and Callistus (Eng. Trans.), pp. 116 f. Their opponents had joined issue with them on these two points. They asserted that a true prophet would submit himself to the “elders who were in the succession,” and that, while the Montanist prophets had positively refused to admit of the church’s pardon being extended to heinous sinners,642642Tertullian tells us (De Pudicitia, 21), that the new prophecy, speaking in the name of the Spirit had said “The church has the power to forgive sins; but I will not do it lest they commit others.” yet these sinners might be pardoned on confession 273and signs of sincere repentance. The great majority of the members of the churches had followed the office-bearers, and the Montanist movement had failed to arrest the course of the local ministry on the path they had chosen to pursue. It was only natural that an unsuccessful revolt would strengthen the position of the ministry which it had conspired against. All these things combined to place the office-bearers in a position of authority they had never before occupied, and to give peculiar powers to the bishops who were the chief office-bearers. The tendency was to think that the churches were summed up in their bishops, and these officials thus acquired a new position with reference to the whole Church.
The most potent cause producing this change of sentiment with regard to the character of the ministry and its relation to the Church was the attempt to come to some accommodation with the world lying round the Christian communities in order to justify the plea that Christians were entitled to the toleration extended to all other religions. This consideration was always accompanied by the other that the Church wished to keep hold on crowds of adherents, who in the years of peace from persecution643643That is in the years between the persecution under Severus and that under Decius. were flocking to join it, and who could not be retained if the old hard conditions or, perhaps one ought to say, the earlier high standard of Christian life, were insisted upon. These two motives invariably acted together, and are to be found working in such churches as those of Rome and Corinth in the beginning of the third century.644644Earlier in the Corinthian Church, if we are to believe Eusebius. Compare his Hist. Eccl. IV. xxiii. 6. The first practical consequence of these ideas was to alter the thought and conditions of penitence. In the earlier times, as has been said, when a Christian fell into such grievous sins as idolatry, murder, adultery, fornication and some others, he could never be received again into full 274communion, but had to remain in the position of a catechumen, permitted to wait in the ante-chamber but never admitted within the family abode until death was at hand. Gradually the practice was softened to the extent that, on due manifestation of sorrow, a second trial of the full Christian life was allowed, but a second fall was not to be forgiven.645645This statement appears to be borne out by what Tertullian says in his tract on Repentance:—“In the vestibule God has stationed repentance the second to open to such as knock; but now once for all, because now for a second time; but never more, for the last time it had been in vain” (7). In all probability this remained the general rule till the third decade of the third century, when Calixtus, the bishop of Rome, introduced a change which met with the fierce opposition of Tertullian and Hippolytus.646646Tertullian’s attack is to be found in his work on Modesty (De Pudicitia), and Hippolytus’ in his work against Heresies (Philosophumena), ix. 6, 7. It has been commonly said that the bishop of Rome attacked by Tertullian was Zephyrinus; compare Langen, Geschichte der röm. Kirche, i. 217 ff., and Döllinger, Hippolytus and Callistus (1876), Eng. Trans., p. 117; but see Harnack, Herzog’s Real-Encyclopaedie, x. 656, and in the Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte (1876-77), p. 582. He, or rather the Roman Church of which he was the head, entered on a policy of relaxation.647647There is no doubt that as Döllinger says (Hippolytus and Callistus (Eng. Trans.), p. 117) the power of a bishop in the beginning of the third century was anything but absolute, being limited by both the elders and the laity. “No one who knows the life of the Church at that time will believe that Callistus introduced a practice previously unknown in Rome against the will of his presbytery (session).” It was asserted that the church, through its office-bearers, was entitled to proclaim God’s pardon for any sins, however heinous, due signs of sorrow being accepted by the office-bearers as sufficient.648648Calixtus openly claimed this power to pardon, because he was the successor of St. Peter, to whom Christ had given power to remit sins (Tertullian, De Pudicitia, 21). It was announced by an edict posted up in the church, that pardon would be bestowed on these terms for all sins of the flesh, and that penitents would be restored to Church communion. It appears to be almost certain that this innovation contained 275two things; the first being the general statement of the power of the Church exercised through its office-bearers to restore all persons to Church communion, no matter how heinous the sin had been into which they had fallen, and the second being the resolution on the part of the Roman Church to make use of this general power in respect to sins of the flesh. Of course there was no attempt to coerce other churches to follow the example of the Roman Church, and many churches did not.649649As late as the beginning of the fourth century the Spanish Church insisted on visiting certain sins with perpetual excommunication, while the council of Ancyra held about the same time in the east set a limited penalty on the very sins for which the council of Elvira had decreed a perpetual excommunication—so impossible is it to make general statements about ecclesiastical usages in the early centuries. Some North African churches kept to the old practice on to the time of Cyprian,650650Cyprian, Epistle, lv. 21 (li.). but it is undoubted that the Roman example was largely followed. The statements in Hippolytus and Tertullian seem to warrant the conclusion that this relaxation from the older sternness was made because without it large numbers of Christians could not be restrained from going back to heathenism.651651Compare Tertullian’s phrases in the De Pudicitia:—“A profitable fickleness . . .”; “easier to err with the majority” (1); his statement of sins for which it is proper to provide repentance (7), etc. Compare Hippolytus on Heresies, ix. 7. Although the account of Hippolytus must be taken with some caution as the statements of a bitter opponent, yet it seems clear that Calixtus expected to detach many from the churches of his opponents in Rome by this policy of relaxation from the old strictness; and that his policy was successful. There must have been four or five different bodies of Christians in Rome at this time, each esteeming itself to be the Church of Christ.
There was no doubt a thoroughly evangelical element in this manifesto of the Roman Church.652652An interesting parallel might be drawn between the evangelical root in the sixteenth-century doctrine of indulgence and the evangelical basis of this manifesto. Compare my Luther, p. 62. It was based on the evangelical truth that God has commanded to his ministering servants to proclaim that He is not willing that any should perish, that 276His promises in Christ can be trusted in by the most heinous sinners and backsliders. But in all the circumstances of the times and of the case, it took a very unevangelical shape, and was worked out by Cyprian into the beginnings of the mediaeval doctrine of penance. In the shape it took it inevitably led the people to regard the office-bearers of the Church, and especially the bishops, as if they were in God’s place, and it ascribed to the bishops the power of actually pardoning and not simply of proclaiming the pardon of God.653653The proclamation of Calixtus, as quoted by Tertullian, was: I remit to such as have discharged repentance, the sins of adultery and fornication (De Pudiatia, 1) On the other hand, the Church lost her old idea that she was the company of the saints or the actively holy people; and the new feeling grew that the Church was the institution within which God had placed the means of acquiring holiness, and that these means were at the disposal of the bishops or the heads of the Christian communities, and could be reached only through them. Hence the office-bearers, and more especially the bishops—the men who had already been declared to be the guardians of the essential Christian verities—now came to be regarded also as the keepers or guardians of that peace of God which comes from the pardon of sin. They were the persons to whom it was necessary to go in order to know with certainty the truths of the Christian religion, and only through them could be acquired that saintly character which was desirable, but which was no longer a necessary condition of membership within the Christian Church. So the beginnings of a wide gulf were dug between the clergy and the laity, and the conception began to grow that the one duty of the laity in the presence of the clergy was that of simple obedience. Add to this the ever-present expectation that the day was approaching when the Church was to enter into an affiance with the hitherto persecuting state and to find a peaceful shelter under its protection; the growing conviction that the action of all the various Christian Churches ought to be as harmonious 277as possible, and that whatever step was taken by one ought to be taken by all; and the feeling that the Christian Churches ought to be divisions of a well-drilled army marching in step towards the earthly paradise of an affiance with, and therefore of a conquest over, the hitherto persecuting power, and it is possible to have some estimate of the changes which the conception of the Church and of the ministry were undergoing in the middle of this third century. At the same time it is easy to make too much of the power exercised by the bishops of the first half of the third century. The bishops of these days were not the great potentates that one is apt to imagine them to be from the language and phrases used by many modern historians. They, all of them, had to carry their people, and, above all, their elders or presbyters with them, in any change they suggested.
Canons which belong to the early part of the third century, like the Canons of Hippolytus, may say little about the rights and much about the duties of the laity. They may concern themselves with the layman’s duty to pray in private, to come to Church regularly, to offer the firstfruits, and may enjoin his wife to be careful to prepare the oblations. They may prohibit him from taking any part in public worship or from presiding even at an agape. They may appear to leave him no rights in the Church whatsoever save that of choosing his pastor. But we know that long after this few things were done in any local church without their being approved by a council of the whole people and clergy, plebs and ordo; and that this congregational meeting existed and exercised its powers from the days of St. Paul to those of Cyprian. The modern associations connected with the word “bishop” impose upon us, and the misleading phrase “monarchical bishop” adds to our illusions. The fact was that this “monarch” was in the vast majority of cases the pastor of a congregation of a few score of families, that no imperial legislation had as yet compelled the payment of tithes by law, nor had conferred a high social position upon 278any pastor or bishop who happened to be at the head of the Christian societies in cities which had been the provincial centres of the imperial cult.654654Compare below, p. 352 ff. When Christianity became the recognized religion of the Roman Empire; when imperial edicts confirmed ecclesiastical legislation; when imperial troops were employed to hunt down Marcionite, Montanist or Donatist nonconformists, the state of things became different. But until we get to the middle of the fourth century the Christian pastors were too dependent on their people to be great potentates and irresponsible rulers. It was the theory that was changing—that is the important thing to be remembered.
This new theory of the position and authority of the office-bearers in the Christian churches was so novel, and so opposed to the old traditions of primitive Christianity, that an extra-ordinary sanction was needed to support it, and in the nature of things the sanction had to come down from the earliest days. It is here that the idea of an “Apostolic Succession,” in the modern Roman and Anglican sense, first makes its appearance. It is a conception which had its origin in the brains of leaders of the Roman Church, and although it was adopted and defended by Cyprian, it has never ceased to be associated with Roman claims and to fit most naturally into Roman theories. To understand it one must remember, what is continually forgotten, that the great men who built up the Western Church were almost all trained Roman lawyers. Tertullian, Cyprian, Augustine, to say nothing of many of the most distinguished Roman bishops, were all men whose early training had been that of a Roman lawyer—a training which moulded and shaped all their thinking, whether theological or ecclesiastical. The framework of Roman law supported their thoughts about Christian organization and about Christian doctrines. They instinctively regarded all questions as a great Roman lawyer would. They had the lawyer’s craving for regular precedents, for elaborate legal fictions to bridge time and connect the present 279with the past. They had the lawyer’s idea that the primary duty laid upon them was to enforce obedience to authority, and especially to that authority which expressed itself in external institutions. Apostolic succession, in the dogmatic sense of that ambiguous term, is the legal fiction required by the legal mind to connect the growing conceptions of the authority of the clergy with the earlier days of Christianity. It served the Christian lawyer in much the same way that another curious legal fiction assisted the pagan civilian. The latter insisted that the government of the Emperors from Augustus to Diocletian was the prolongation of the old republican constitution; the former imagined that the rule of bishops was the prolongation through the generations of the inspired guidance of the original apostles who were the planters of the Church.
A legal fiction has generally some historical basis to start from, The basis of the fiction in civil law was the fact that the emperors, while wielding almost absolute personal authority, did so in accordance with republican forms inasmuch as they were invested by the senate with almost all the offices which under the republic had been distributed among a number of persons. The fiction in ecclesiastical government had also its basis of fact. The apostles had founded many of the churches, and their first converts or others suitable had become the first office-bearers. There had been a succession of leaders, the characteristics of leadership, as has been explained, undergoing some striking changes in the course of the second century. All these successions of office-bearers could be traced back to the foundation of the churches in which they existed, and therefore to the missionaries, whether apostles or apostolic men, who had founded them. This was the historical thread on which, in the end, was strung the gigantic figment called apostolic succession—a strange compound of minimum of fact and maximum of theory.
The beginnings of the theory are easily discernible, and have been already explained. Irenaeus seized upon the undoubted fact of successive generations of office-bearers going back to the 280apostolic founders of certain churches in order to find a guarantee for the true Christian doctrine. To make assurance doubly sure, he added a theory to his fact—this, namely, that these office-bearers who were in the succession had a charisma veritatis. According to the ideas of the time there was a minimum of fact in the added theory, for many of the pastors of these primitive churches were prophets and had the charisma. This made it easier to suppose that what belonged to some pastors personally was the property of all officially. The result was that Christian leaders had a short and easy method of dealing with Gnostics and others.655655Compare above, p. 224 ff. Moreover, when the leaders became the guardians of sound teaching they acquired additional magisterial powers within the communities over which they presided. But neither Irenaeus, nor Tertullian who adopted and extended his theory, ever claimed that the leaders of the churches who were in the succession stood in the same position to the churches of the end of the second and beginning of the third centuries as that held by the apostles in the middle of the first. If they believed that the apostles were the mediators between Jesus and the Church they were also firmly convinced that the Holy Spirit was imparted to the whole membership, and was not the peculiar possession of the leaders of the communities because they were in the succession from the apostles. The idea appeared earliest in the Roman Church. So far as I am aware, the earliest claim of this kind was made by Hippolytus in his struggle with Calixtus in Rome; and Calixtus, the head of one of the rival factions, was not slow to adopt the same arrogant position. The former made use of the idea of an apostolic succession to strengthen his position when he tried to show that his rival was a heretic; and the latter used it to warrant him in issuing decrees which relaxed the ancient discipline in the hope of attracting to his own congregation men who felt the rules of Christian living laid down by Hippolytus too hard for their weakness. These were the edifying surroundings from amidst 281which came the first full statement of the claim to apostolic succession.656656“But none will refute these (heretics), save the Holy Spirit bequeathed unto the Church, which the apostles having in the first instance received, have transmitted to those who rightly believed. But we, as being their successors, and as participators in this grace, high-priesthood, and office of teaching, as well as being reputed guardians of the Church, will not be found deficient in vigilance, or disposed to suppress correct doctrine,” Refutation of all Heresies (Philosophumena), I., proemium. Hippolytus attacks Calixtus in IX. vi. vii. He says of his discipline:—“For he is in the habit of attending the congregation of any one else, who is called a Christian; should a man commit any transgression, the sin, they say, is not reckoned to him, provided only he hurries off to the school of Calixtus,” IX. vii. Calixtus is the bishop of Rome whom Tertullian attacks in his De Pudicitia, and whose proclamation he quotes:—“I remit, to such as have discharged repentance, the sins of adultery and fornication” (1). The theory may be older in the Roman Church than this its first distinct statement.657657Harnack, whose careful chronological investigations have led him to believe that the Roman list of bishops or pastors may be trusted from Anicetus (about 155 A.D.) or from Soter (about 166), while no Oriental list can be trusted before the third century, regards this as an indication that the theory of apostolic succession in its beginnings at least had become established in Rome at a comparatively early date. Compare Die Chronologie der altchristlichen Literatur, pp. 144-230; and his History of Dogma, Eng. Trans. (1894-99). ii. 70 n.
From the time that this doctrine of apostolic succession comes into being in the West on to its full statement by Cyprian, its use is the same. It is appealed to as the ground for the assumption of powers of command on the part of the bishops or pastors. It is interesting to notice that while the idea of a succession is to be found in the East, it took an altogether different shape from the formal legal Roman dogma. There is no mention of an apostolic succession of chief pastors in the first six books of the Apostolic Constitutions. It does not appear in the definition or description of the Church which is given in the first book.658658Apostolic Constitutions, I. i. Yet the office of bishop or pastor is dwelt upon at length. He is always looked upon as the minister of a congregation, and frequently of a very small congregation,659659Ibid. II. i. but that does not prevent the authors heaping up phrases to 282describe his importance and the respect which is due to him from his people.660660The bishop is told to sustain the character of God among men, “as being set over all men, over priests, kings, rulers, fathers, children, teachers, and in general over all who are subject” to him; Apostolic Constitutions, II. xi.; “It is thy privilege (O bishop), to govern those under thee, but not to be governed by them” (II. xiv.); the laic is to “honour him, love him, reverence him as his lord, as his master, as the high-priest of God, as a teacher of piety; for he that heareth him heareth Christ; and he that rejecteth him rejecteth Christ” (II. xx.); “the bishop, he is the minister of the word, the keeper of knowledge, the mediator between God and you in the several parts of your divine worship; he is your ruler and governor; he is your king and potentate; he is, next after God, your earthly god, who has a right to be honoured by you” (II. xxvi.); and so on in Oriental luxuriance of phrases. It is not that there was no sense of the continuity of office in the East:—“It is also thy duty, O, bishop, to have before thine eyes the examples of those who have gone before, and to apply them skilfully to the cases of those who want words of severity or of consolation” (II. xxii.). The elders, “the counsellors of the bishop”—his Kirk-Session—“sustain the place” of the apostles of the Lord.661661“Let also a double portion (of the firstfruits) be set apart for the elders, as for such as labour continually in the word and doctrine, upon the account of the apostles of our Lord, whose place they sustain, as the counsellors of the bishop and the crown of the Church (II. xxviii.). The formal legal Roman mind needed a precedent, in the shape of this legal fiction, for the unwonted domination which the chief pastors were beginning to claim. The Oriental, accustomed to arbitrary government, did not feel that usurpation of power required to be cloaked under legal fictions. Yet in the East we find a trace of a succession. Clement of Alexandria conceives the number of the apostles continually recruited from age to age by the enrolment of men who have attained to a “gnostical perfection,”662662Speaking of those who attain to “gnostical perfection,” Clement says (Stromata, VI. xiii.):—“Luminous already, and like the sun shining in the exercise of beneficence, he speeds by righteous knowledge through the love of God to the sacred abode, like as the apostles. . . . Those then also, who have exercised themselves in the Lord’s commandments, and lived perfectly and gnostically according to the Gospel may be now enrolled in the chosen body of the apostles. Such an one is in reality an elder of the Church, and a true deacon of the will of God if he do and teach what is the Lord’s; not as being chosen by men, nor regarded as righteous because a presbyter, but enrolled in the eldership because righteous. And although here upon earth he be not honoured with the chief seat, he will sit down on the four-and-twenty thrones, judging the people, as St. John says in the Apocalypse. For in truth the covenant of salvation, reaching down to us from the foundation of the world, through different generations and times, is one, though conceived as different in respect of gifts.” and who are, therefore, the true 283teachers of the Church, for the Christian Neo-Platonist of Alexandria was as familiar with the thought of a succession of inspired teachers,663663The Neo-Platonists believed that the true philosophy was preserved to the world through a succession of divinely inspired teachers. as the minds of the Roman lawyers who built up the Church in the West were saturated with legal precedents and the need for the visible continuity of government even though a legal fiction had to be invented to show it. The great Alexandrian conceives the continuity of the Church to exist in the succession of Christian generations, and to be made evident by the appearance among them from time to time of saintly men of apostolic character who are known to God, and whose supreme importance in preserving the true character of Christianity will be revealed in the future. This he deems to be a much better guarantee than a succession of office-bearers, chosen and ordained by fallible men.
Although the conception that the heads of the Christian churches were the successors of the apostles, in the sense that they possessed the gifts and the powers of the original apostles (now thought of as Twelve only), was really the creation of the Roman Church, it is intimately connected with Cyprian of Carthage,664664The best edition of Cyprian’s works is that of J. Hartel (1868-71) in the Vienna Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, where the letters are to be found in the second volume. The numbering of the letters in this edition is the same as in the Oxford edition of 1682; Migne’s edition has a different numbering. In our quotations Migne’s numbering is given in brackets. A very suggestive account of Cyprian’s work in constructing the polity of the Church is given by Albrecht Ritschl in his Die Entstehung der altkatholischen Kirche, 2nd ed. (1857), pp. 555-73. Otto Ritschl, his son, has written Cyprian von Karthago and die Verfassung der Kirche (1885)—a careful and elaborate work. Other monographs on Cyprian are:—Rettberg, Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus, Bischof von Carthago, dargestellt nach seinen Leben und Wirken (1831). Fechtrup (Roman Catholic), Der Heilige Cyprian; sein Leben und seine Lehre (1878). Pearson’s Annales Cyprianici are valuable; they are published in Fell’s (Oxford) edition of Cyprian’s works (1682), and have been republished in Pearson’s Minor Theological Works (1884). The latest book on Cyprian is from the pen of Dr. Benson, the late archbishop of Canterbury, who was the author of the article on Cyprian in the Dictionary of Christian Biography. The book is entitled Cyprian, his Life, his Times, his Work (1897). From one point of view it is impossible to praise this book too highly; but it has very grave defects. It displays fine scholarship, unwearied research, and an historical imagination which enables the author to reconstruct the secular society of the times when Cyprian lived. The framing is excellent; but the portrait framed is scarcely so good. The author exhibits to us a pious, suave, courteous, far-seeing ecclesiastical statesman, whose letters and speeches were seasoned with a sarcastic humour; but the real Cyprian had other characteristics which are either hidden out of sight or relegated to an obscure background. We see nothing whatever of the prophet whom the Spirit inspired in dreams and visions when moments of difficulty in life or in ecclesiastical policy arose, and whose dread of demons changed spiritual sacraments into magical rites; little of the canonist who measured the deep promptings of the heart’s repentance by stereotyped expressions, and paved the way for the degradation of sorrow into the mechanism of penance; little of the fiery Roman African who launched envenomed phrases at ecclesiastical opponents; and nothing of the ruthless Roman lawyer who condemned a Christian martyr, who had survived the tortures which had covered her poor body with blood, to eternal perdition (for this he thought he could do as a successor of the apostles), when she crossed the path of his ecclesiastical policy. Then a curious colour blindness or perhaps an amiable propensity to see all things ecclesiastical through the coloured glass of the modern institutions of the communion over which he so worthily presided, prevents the author from seeing the ecclesiastical situation which existed in the middle of the third century. Dr. Benson had evidently great difficulty in stating an opponent’s argument fairly, and seldom succeeds in doing so. He had no acquaintance with the organization of any branch of the Protestant Church save his own, and yet makes continual allusion to other organizations. We have such phrases as “Presbyterian Teutonism” (this is applied to the greatest living authority in early Church history; Dr. Harnack of Berlin); “heavy pages,” “laborious pages” (phrases which mean that an opinion Dr. Benson does not like is supported by a plentiful supply of quotations from Cyprian’s writings), “Calvinism” (used at random, for Calvinists agree with Cyprian and Augustine on the matter discussed); and many others of the same kind. They are useful to warn the unwary reader of the bias in the book. who gave it definiteness as a dogmatic idea. This 284great ecclesiastical statesman, like Gregory I., has left behind him a collection of letters which reveal the working of his mind, 285and enable us to see how his thoughts took sharper outline in a controversy which he had to maintain with his own office-bearers in Carthage, and how he aimed at and partly succeeded in giving the Christian Church a polity which enabled it to be one in practical activity as it was one in devotional conception.
Thascius Cyprianus was the most eminent of the many distinguished converts whom Christianity was drawing from the learned and wealthy classes during the second third of the third century, during that long period of “peace” which preceded the outbreak of the Decian persecution in 250 A.D. He was a Roman whose ancestors had settled in Africa. Such men were called Roman Africans. They belonged to a race which had given the capital some of its most distinguished lawyers, and which furnished to the Church such men as Tertullian, Minutius Felix, Cyprian, Lactantius and Augustine. By training and profession he was a pleader, and therefore of the highest social standing.665665“Far from any shade of unreality resting on them, the teachers of oratory were courted leaders in society. The publicity in life, the majesty of national audiences, the familiarity of the cultivated classes with the teaching of the schools, required the orator to be not only perfect in the graces of life, but to be versed in ethical science; to be armed with solid arguments as well as to be facile of invention; not less convincing than attractive; in short to be a wit and a student, a politician and an eclectic philosopher. At the age of nearly thirty Cicero was still placing himself under the tuition of the Rhodian Molon. Augustine’s fourth book on Christian doctrine shews us that five centuries and a changed religion did not abate the value placed on technical perfection. No statesman’s name had for generations commanded such reverence as was paid in Cyprian’s times to the life and memory of Timesitheus the Rhetorician, whose daughter the young African Emperor had espoused, and whose honour and universal cultivation had for a brief interval restored purity to the Court, dignity to the senate, and discipline to the camps of Rome”; Benson, Cyprian, his Life, his Times, his Work, pp. 2, 3. His wealth was great; his house, with its “gilded ceilings” and “mosaics of costly marble,”666666Cyprian, Ad Donatum, 15:—“Auro distincta aquearia of pretiosi marmoris crustis vestita domicilia.” and his gardens, were famous in the city of palaces. He became a Christian in middle life, drawn by the persuasion of the intellect 286as well as by the pleadings of the heart. We may see the path he trod towards conversion in his Treatise to Donatus and in the Book of Testimonies he wrote for a friend. After a brief space of time he probably became a deacon; he was certainly an elder when Donatus, the Bishop of Carthage, died. The Christians at Carthage resolved that the most distinguished Christian in the city, although two years had scarcely passed since his baptism, should be their bishop. His reluctance only increased their ardour. “A crowded brotherhood besieged the doors of his house, and throughout all the avenues of access an anxious love was circulating.”667667Pontius, Life and Passion of Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr, 5. Cyprian yielded and was ordained, the bishop, the Papa, the spiritual Father of the Christian community in Carthage. We must forget many of the associations which the word “bishop” inevitably brings with it to understand his position. He was simply the chief pastor of the Christian congregation at Carthage and of its outlying mission districts. He had no diocese and never exercised diocesan rule. He had no cathedral, not even a church. His congregation met in the audience hall of a wealthy Carthaginian burgher.668668Benson, Cyprian, his Life, his Times, his Work, p. 41 and note. It was the man who made the position he occupied one of such commanding importance as it soon attained to.669669It may be useful to give the principal dates known proximately about Cyprian. He was baptized probably in the spring of 246 A.D.; became a member of the Session of Carthage in 247 A.D.; and was consecrated bishop some time after June in 248 A.D. It is not quite certain that he was a deacon; the evidence lies in the phrase used by his biographer Pontius, who was a deacon:—“Erat sane illi etiam de nobis contubernium viri justi et laudabilis memoriae Caeciliani” (Life, 4); and in the sentence in sect. 3:—“quis enim non omnes honoris gradus crederet tali mente credente.” The outbreak of the Decian persecution being imminent, Cyprian retired from Carthage to his unknown hiding-place in January 250 A.D.; the persecution began in April of the same year. It raged fiercely until November, and was then relaxed; but it was not considered safe for Cyprian to return. He came back to Carthage in 251 A.D., some time after Easter. Then followed a series of councils at Carthage where the African bishops met under the presidency of Cyprian;—the first in April 251 A.D.; the second in May 252 A.D., the third in September 253 A.D., the fourth in the autumn of 254 A.D., the fifth in 255, and the sixth and seventh in 256; in 257 Cyprian was banished to Curubis; he returned to Carthage in 258 and was martyred there in September 258.287
Eighteen months of quiet rule were vouchsafed him. During this period he had conciliated the few who had been opposed to the choice of so recently baptized a Christian for the important place of chief pastor. They became, says Pontius, his biographer, “his closest and most intimate friends.”670670It is commonly said and has been repeated by Dr. Benson that the five presbyters who were at variance with Cyprian in the question of the influence of confessors and martyrs on the discipline of the Church were among those persons who disliked his elevation to the episcopate and that they continued to bear a grudge against him. This idea seems to me to have no basis in fact. Dr. Benson adduces as his only proof the sentence: “retaining that ancient venom against my episcopate, that is against your suffrage and God’s judgment, they renew their old attack upon me” (Ep. xliii. 1 [xxxix.]); but the “ancient venom” and “old attack” it is clear from section three and other epistles, was their first siding with the confessors against Cyprian’s judgment not to accept the certificates of the confessors; while the word “suffrage” means here as elsewhere that Cyprian held that all his acts as bishop were to be justified by the fact that he had been validly called to office. There is no trace of any difficulties between Cyprian and his presbyters until the dispute about what was due to the wishes of the martyrs and the confessors in the matter of the lapsed.
Decius was one of those stern upright emperors who believed that Christianity was a source of menace to the empire, and that it had to be stamped out. His edict against it was published early in the year 250 A.D. It had been expected by the heathen population of Carthage, and threats against the wealthy and well-known head of the Christian community were freely uttered by the mob. Cyprian, thinking less of his own safety than of the welfare of his people, believed it to be his duty to go into retirement, and a large part of his correspondence deals with the management of his congregation from his place of safety. We find three distinct questions of ecclesiastical organization raised and in the end settled-the right of men supposed to be specially possessed by the Spirit to interfere in the discipline of the local 288church, the seat of the one supreme authority in the local church, and the best means of giving a practical expression to the unity of the whole Church of Christ. The occasion which demanded solution of all three questions was the fact that many Christians had lapsed and were asking to be restored to the communion of the Church at Carthage. The ecclesiastical questions are so connected with the course of events that these last must be briefly noted.
The persecution resolved upon by the Emperor Decius was begun in swift ruthless Roman fashion. It attacked the Christian Church everywhere simultaneously—in Rome, Egypt, Syria, Armenia, Spain, and North Africa. It aimed at breaking up the Christian communities by destroying their leaders and then coercing their followers. Cyprian speaks of bishops proscribed, imprisoned, banished, and slain.671671Cyprian, Epist. lxvi. 7 (lxviii.). Persecution had been almost unknown in Africa for thirty-eight years, during which time of “peace” the Christian communities had been growing rapidly in numbers and in influence; the results of its renewal seemed at first sight to be disastrous to the Christian faith. Multitudes relapsed into heathenism.672672Cyprian, De Lapsis, 8. The larger half of the Christian community in Carthage and at least one presbyter had been unable to face the terrible risks in which the profession of Christianity had involved them. They relapsed. They appeared before the imperial commissioners, five of whom, called The Commissioners of the Sacrifices, were appointed to act along with the magistrates of the district. They made a declaration that they worshipped the gods and in the presence of the commissioners they took part in the pagan worship, either joining in a sacrifice, tasting the wine and eating of the sacrificial victim (the sacrificati) or throwing incense on the altar of the emperor (the thurificati). This done they received a certificate (libellus), certifying that they had done so. This was registered, and then a copy was posted up in the market place or forum. Some found a way of appearing to comply and yet of escaping from 289actual participation in the pagan rites. They bribed officials to give them certificates declaring that they had taken part in sacrifices which they had not done (the libellatici).673673Two of these libelli were actually discovered in 1893 and 1894, brought from Egypt among bundles of papyri dug out of Egyptian sands. They show us how thorough this persecution of Decius was, how systematically arranged, how minute in its searching out Christians—little villages being included and the women peasants as well as the men interrogated. The first runs:—“To the Commissioners of sacrifices of the village of Alexander’s Island from Aurelius Diogenes (son of) Satabus. About 72. Scar on right eyebrow. I was both constant in ever sacrificing to the gods and now in your presence according to the commands I sacrificed and drank and tasted of the victims, and I beseech you to attach your signature. May you ever prosper. I Aurelius Diogenes have presented this.” (Then follow the signatures of the magistrate and witness. “I Aurelius saw him sacrificing. I Mys(thes, son of) . . . non have signed. (First) year of the Emperor Caesar Gaius Messius Quintus Trajanus Decius, Pius Felix Augustus. 2nd day of Ephiphi.” The second, in every way similar, bears the name of Aurelius Syrus, his brother Pasbeius, and Demetria and Serapias their wives. They were unable to write and the scribe Isidorus appended his name. The signatures of the magistrates have been torn off. Thus poor Etecusa,674674Etecusa belonged to a Carthaginian family which had suffered much. Her grandmother Celerina had been martyred in an earlier persecution; so had her uncles, the son and son-in-law of Celerina, both in the army. Her brother Celerinus was a noted confessor, who had come forth alive out of the severest tortures without denying his faith. Her sister Candida had faltered and had sacrificed. We see the confessor, the sacrificata and the libellatica, in one family. The two sisters were overwhelmed with remorse and endeavoured to make atonement for their fall by waiting on the arrivals of travellers at Rome and at Portus, and when they found any Christian refugees from Carthage they took them home, hid them, and tended them. They had no less than sixty-five of these refugees in their house at Rome. Compare Cyprian, Epistles, xxi. (xx.), and xxxi. 3 (xxxiii.). a Roman Christian, while she sadly and fearfully was climbing the ascent to the Capitol, where she had to make her declaration and take part in the sacrifices, found an official near the small temple to the Three Fates, who sold her a certificate and she went home again without sacrificing. Many sought safety in flight, hoping to find freedom from persecutions in cities where they were unknown.290
Those Christians who were of sterner stuff were imprisoned, awaiting torture and probably death. The torture was repeated over and over again. Even if it produced recantation a second torture was applied. If the confessor stood firm it might be applied time after time until the sufferer expired under it. Such men and women were called confessors before they had suffered, and martyrs after they had been done to death, or had suffered tortures without expiring. The martyrs and confessors were carefully tended while they were in prison by their fellow-Christians; and many of the lapsed, repenting of their weakness, thronged the prisons in Carthage and lavished all manner of attentions on the heroic confessors. These lapsed Christians, especially those of them who had purchased exemption from suffering by means of false certificates, were anxious to be reconciled with the Church, and besought the good offices of the confessors and martyrs to intercede on their behalf with the office-bearers, and beg them to restore them again to communion. The result was that many of the confessors, from the prison where they lay, gave letters (which were also called libelli) to the elders of the Church, the bishop being absent in hiding, asking that the bearers might be restored to the Church which they had abandoned in a moment of weakness. This Decian persecution differed from all preceding ones to this extent, that it had fallen on the whole Church of Christ, and was not confined to any one portion. The question of what was to be done in the case of lapsed members who wished to return to the faith they had abjured was one which was forced upon the whole Church everywhere and at the same time.675675Cyprian, Epistle, xix. 2 (xiii.). It was a question of discipline which had to be inevitably faced by every church.
So far as our information goes, the leaders of the Roman Church were the first to see the importance and the urgency of the question. The Bishop Fabian had been one of the first martyrs; to meet and appoint a successor would have been to 291offer new victims to the persecuting government. The elders of the church took the burden of leadership on their own shoulders; they saw the universal situation and the need for an immediate understanding with sister churches about what it was possible to do at once. They put aside matters that could wait until their church had again its lawful head; but the one matter which pressed for an immediate decision was what ought to be done in the case of lapsed Christians who earnestly desired reconciliation with the Church, and who were on the point of death. They accordingly wrote to the elders in Carthage, advising them to follow a definite rule with regard to the lapsed who were repentant—that if any were taken with sickness, and repented of what they had done and desired communion, it should be granted to them. In the same letter these Roman elders speak not obscurely of Cyprian as the hireling shepherd who deserts his sheep when peril draws near. They in Rome and the elders in Carthage are both deprived of their chief; persecution makes all work difficult, but it must be done. This letter reached Cyprian, who treated it in a very lofty way, and sent it back to the writers with a few grimly sarcastic remarks; but it had a marked effect on him nevertheless.676676Harnack and Ritschl think that Crumentius carried this letter to the office-bearers in Carthage for whom it was certainly intended, and that they manifested their loyalty to Cyprian by making Crumentius take it on to their bishop. Benson asserts that the elders in Carthage never saw the letter; that it was put into Cyprian’s hands and that he sent it back to Rome without permitting it to reach its destination. Benson may be right. Cyprian suppressed a more important letter on a more important occasion and he might have suppressed this one also. The archbishop justifies the one suppression by calling Cyprian a “benevolent despot”; and the other by praising his sense of humour! Otto Ritschl, Cyprian von Karthago (1835), p. 9; Benson, Cyprian, his Life, his Times, his Work (1897), p. 149. It does not matter which view is the correct one; the important thing is the effect of the letter on the mind of Cyprian, not its effect on the elders of Carthage. It altered his attitude towards his own elders. Before he had read it he had sent a letter to his elders and deacons, in which he had said: “I beg you by your faith and your religion to discharge 292both your own office and mine, that there be nothing wanting either to discipline or diligence.”677677Cyprian, Epist. v. 1 (iv.); compare Epist. xx. 1 (xiv.). He left the whole work unreservedly in their hands—all his work as well as theirs. The two words used, disciplina and diligentia, are employed by Cyprian to denote the two great divisions of a bishop's work—the term disciplina including everything which belonged to the office of judging and punishing, and diligentia including all that belonged to his work as the head of the religious administration of the congregation, the care of the poor and such matters. In a letter following, however, he distinctly limited the work of his elders and deacons to the diligentia or to the religious administration.678678Dr. Benson rather vehemently declares that there is no change of attitude in Cyprian’s two letters. He gives an abstract of Ritschl’s arguments and says that his “abstract will be as just as he can make it”; and yet he omits entirely the strongest argument Ritschl has adduced! Compare Benson, Cyprian, etc. pp. 148-50; Otto Ritschi, Cyprian von Karthago, pp. 9-13. 216, 217. “I exhort and command you, that those of you whose presence there is least suspicious and least perilous, should in my stead discharge my duty in respect of doing those things which are required for the religious administration.”679679Cyprian’s Epist. xiv. 2 (v.). In the same letter he refuses to answer a question sent him by four presbyters, which evidently concerned matters of discipline on the ground that in such matters he did nothing on his own private opinion without the advice of his elders, deacons, and people.680680Epist. xiv. 4 (v.). From this time onwards Cyprian shows himself more and more irritated with his elders. He wrote to the martyrs and the confessors complaining that some of his elders had admitted some of the lapsed to communion;681681Epist. xv. 1 (x.). he wrote to his elders and deacons complaining that some of the elders, “remembering neither the Gospel nor their own place, and, moreover, considering neither the Lord’s future judgment nor the bishop now placed over them, claim to themselves entire 293authority (a thing which was never done in anywise under our predecessors) with discredit and contempt of the bishop.” Their fault was that the elders blamed had communicated with some of the lapsed, and offered and given them the eucharist, “disregarding the honour which the blessed martyrs, with the confessors, maintain for me, despising the law of the Lord, and that observance which the same martyrs and confessors order to be maintained.”682682Epist. xvi. 1, 3 (ix.). He wrote to the people complaining of the action of the elders in almost the same terms, and promised that when he could return a meeting of bishops would be convened and that in the presence of the confessors, and with their opinion, the letters and wishes of the “blessed martyrs” with reference to the lapsed would be carefully considered.683683Epist. xvii. 2, 3 (xi.).
We do not know whether Cyprian got any answer to these letters; but the probability is that he received none, and that people and clergy felt sore that the bishop would neither return and act himself nor allow his elders to do anything in the pressing question of the lapsed. He wrote again to the elders and deacons and for the first time suggested some immediate action. If any of the lapsed had a certificate from one of the martyrs and were in sore sickness they were to be allowed to communicate.684684Epist. xviii. (xii.). This letter brought an answer, which assured him that the elders and deacons had hitherto done their best to follow his instructions, and to restrain the people and especially the lapsed; and Cyprian reiterates the command that if any of the penitent lapsed had a certificate from one of the martyrs, and were at the point of death, they were to be received back into the communion of the Church.685685Epist. xix. 1, 2 (xiii.).
Then comes a curious letter.686686Epist. xx. (xiv.). Cyprian, whose last dealings with Rome had been to send back the letter of advice which the Roman elders had addressed to their brethren at Carthage, now wrote to these Roman elders; justified to them his actions in Carthage; complained bitterly of the way in which the 294libellatici had pestered the martyrs for certificates; bemoaned the weakness of some of his clergy in admitting some of the lapsed to communion; and declared that he had followed the advice given in the letter from Rome which he had treated so scornfully when it reached him. His letter, however, contains one interesting fact. Cyprian says distinctly that although some of his presbyters had acted rashly in communicating with the lapsed, they had refrained as soon as he had remonstrated with them.687687Epist. xx. 2 (xiv.). Rome, however, had not forgotten his earlier action, and he had to write four times ere he got an answer. When it came it was practically a repetition of what had been written to the elders of Carthage, at least so far as immediate action was concerned: If the lapsed are in severe sickness and are penitent, admit them to communion, whether they have certificates from martyrs or not. But as regards the larger, statesmanlike policy, which belonged to the immediate future, the Roman elders adopted the proposals laid before them by Cyprian, and by intercourse and correspondence they obtained the adhesion of many bishops in Sicily and in some parts of Italy.688688Epist. xxx. 5, 8 (xxx.); xliii. 3 (xxxix.). Cyprian himself had meanwhile gained the adoption of his policy by a large number of bishops in Africa, with whom he had been in correspondence.689689Epist. xxv. (xix.); xxvi. (xvii.).
Having thus secured the support of the Roman elders and of so many bishops throughout the West for his conception of arriving at a common mode of dealing with the lapsed, Cyprian at once took measures to subdue all resistance in Carthage. He superseded his elders by a commission of five, three bishops and two elders, to whom he entrusted not merely the discipline, but also the relief of the deserving poor. They were to be his vicars. It was this action that produced the subsequent schism in the Church at Carthage,690690Epist. xl. 1 (xxxvii.); xlii. (xxxviii.). a result scarcely to be wondered at. Why such an arbitrary step should have been taken it is difficult 295to say. Cyprian himself testifies that his clergy were at one with him; they had with his approval excommunicated Gaius of Didda, a presbyter who had insisted on communicating with the lapsed. However it is to be accounted for it remains a witness to what Cyprian believed to be the power of the chief pastor; and it also seems to imply that at this juncture Cyprian stood very much alone, separated in sympathy both from his clergy and his people.
Such was the situation in Carthage immediately before Cyprian was able to return, and to hold the successive councils of African bishops which exhibited his ecclesiastical statesmanship. Through the whole course of these events one question thrusts itself into prominence—the possibility of the restoration to Church communion of Christians who had lapsed during the persecution, and who penitently begged to be allowed to return. Cyprian had one opinion on this matter and some of his elders had another.
If the earlier usages of the Church be kept in mind, there was much to be said on both sides. Idolatry had always been considered one of the worst sins into which the baptized Christian could fall. It was one of those heinous sins against God which, it was believed, the Church could never pardon. No limits were set to the mercy of God; He might pardon and in the end receive; but the Church could only accept such repentant sinners as catechumens, who could never again approach the Lord’s Table. On the other hand, it had been held that such sins could be pardoned in the Church if a revelation was received from God authorizing the restoration in any particular case. So long as the prophetic ministry lasted, it was believed that a prophet might receive such a revelation.691691Tertullian, De Pudicitia, 21. The opinion which silently spread through the Church that deadly sins might receive forgiveness once but not on a second lapse, can be traced back to a prophetic utterance.692692Hermas, Pastor, Mandata, iv. It was also believed that, besides the prophets, the martyrs were the very men to whom it was 296likely that God would vouchsafe such a revelation of His mind and will.693693The Holy Spirit had entered the prison along with them, Tertullian declared (Ad Martyras, 1). It was the constant belief that the Lord had taken up His abode in His martyr, speaking in him and suffering with him; compare the collection of evidence in Sohm, Kirchenrecht, i. 32 n. 9. They too had the right to speak the word of pardon which the office-bearers of the Church dared not do. To speak such pardons, then, was the prerogative of prophets and martyrs;694694Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. V. xviii. 7. and it was theirs because the Spirit of God dwelt in them in larger measure than in any other Christians, whether office-bearers or not. Martyrs had used this prerogative of theirs in the past. The martyrs of Lyons had pronounced the pardon of the penitent lapsed around them;695695Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. V. ii. 5, 6:—“They loosed all, they bound none. . . . They did not arrogate any superiority over the lapsed; but in those things wherein they themselves abounded, in this they supplied those that were deficient, exercising the compassion of mothers, and pouring forth prayers to the Father on their account.” Cf. Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. xlii. 5. and we can see from Tertullian,696696Tertullian, Ad Martyras, 1:—“ You know that some not able to find this peace in the Church, have been used to seek it from the imprisoned martyrs.” In his tract De Pudicitia he denounces the practice in the case of those who had been guilty of sins of the flesh (22). The martyr, he says, is no sooner in prison than sinners beset and gain access to him; “instantly prayers echo round him; instantly pools of tears of all the polluted surround him; nor are any more diligent in purchasing entrance into prison than those who have lost the Church.” how common a practice it was for men who, by reason of some great sin, were “outside the peace of the Church,” to supplicate the martyrs to procure this peace for them. Hence the elders of Carthage might well plead that they were acting according to the ancient traditions of the Church when they were induced to give communion to those who came with the letters of the martyrs in their hands.
On the other hand, Cyprian felt that the Decian persecution was a crisis which might make or mar the Church of God. The long rest from persecution had made conversion a comparatively easy thing, and the persecution, with the wholesale defections 297it had produced, had shown how bad these easy conversions had been for the stability of the Church. To make restoration an easy matter might do more harm to Christianity than the persecution itself. He was unwearied in urging, in his earliest letters, that lapsing into idolatry was a heinous sin against God, which must be bitterly repented in protracted sorrow. Hasty restoration was a profanity in his sight, and the demand for it did not seem to him to be a sign of the depth of sorrow that should exist. He knew that the churches had relaxed their former rigid attitude with regard to sins specially heinous; he had no word of disapproval for the practice; he believed that the churches had authority to forgive even the sin of idolatry—at least he must have come to believe that they had;697697In his Testimonies (iii. 28), Cyprian says distinctly that “remission cannot be granted in the Church to him who has sinned against God”; but he does not say whether this “sin against God” is idolatry or not. but with that strong view of authority which was his characteristic and with his ideas of orderly Church procedure, he was determined that the whole question of the lapsed ought to be gone into with the greatest deliberation. The dominant idea in his earliest epistles is that after the persecution had ceased the bishop, elders, deacons, confessors and people ought to meet together, and the question of the lapsed, their repentance and their pardon be deliberately dealt with.698698Epistles, xi. 8 (vii.); xiv. 4 (v.); xv. 1 (x.); xvi. 4 (ix.). The scene suggested by his words is what we know was the mode of discipline in the Roman Church after Calixtus’ proclamation that the office-bearers at Rome were prepared to grant pardon for sins of the flesh on due signs of sorrow. Tertullian’s description of the scene, although a caricature by a bitter opponent, conveys a not unfair impression of what must have frequently taken place.699699De Pudicitia, 13:—“You introduce into the Church the penitent adulterer for the purpose of melting the brotherhood by his supplications. You lead him into the midst clad in sackcloth, covered with ashes, a compound of disgrace and horror. He prostrates himself before the widows, before the elders, suing for the tears of all; he seizes the edges of their garments, he clasps their knees, he kisses the prints of their feet. Meanwhile you harangue the people and excite their pity for the sad lot of the penitent. Good pastor, blessed father that you are, you describe the coming back of your goat in recounting the parable of the lost sheep. And in case your ewe lamb may take another leap out of the fold—as if that were not lawful for the future which was not really lawful in the past—you fill all the rest of the flock with apprehension at the very moment of granting indulgence.” Cyprian’s later declaration that he meant to ask the 298assistance of bishops in the determination of so grave a matter is not incompatible with his earlier promises.700700Epistle, xvii. 3 (xi.).
Suddenly he was brought face to face with a question of authority. To the grave Roman lawyer who had become a Christian bishop, the question of authority was the question of questions. Another authority suddenly confronted him within his own congregation. He could afford to be sarcastic in a dignified manner when the elders of the Church of Rome compared him to a hireling shepherd and then proceeded to give advice to his own office-bearers. That was from without; but this was from within; and had moreover some sanction from ancient usage. He felt bound to resist, and he did with all his powers.
Thus this struggle successfully maintained by Cyprian against the right of the martyrs or confessors to pronounce pardon of one who had lapsed, may be looked upon as the last stage of the long contest waged by the office-bearers of the local churches against the ancient supremacy of the prophetic ministry. His success established the complete supremacy of the local office-bearers; it was never again questioned. Carthage had therefore a peculiar place in the development of the idea of the centre of authority in the Church of Christ in addition to the prominence given to it by the genius of its bishop. The martyrs and confessors do not seem to have contested the supremacy of the bishop or office-bearers anywhere else. At Rome,701701Cyprian, Epistle, xxxi. 6, 7 (xxv.). at Alexandria and at Corinth, they all supported the ordinary ecclesiastical 299authorities.702702Compare the account given by Eusebius of the way in which Dionysius of Corinth persuaded his people to admit the lapsed there to communion (Hist. Eccles. VI. xlii. 5, 6);—“But these same martyrs, who are now sitting with Christ and are the sharers of His kingdom, and the partners in His judgment, and who are now judging with Him, received those of the brethren that fell away and had been convicted of sacrificing, and when they saw their conversion and repentance, and having proved them as sincere, they received them and assembled with them. They also communicated with them in prayer and at their feasts. What then, brethren, do ye advise concerning these? What should we do? Let us join in our sentiments with them, and let us observe their judgment and their charity; and let us kindly receive those who were treated with such compassion by them. Or should we rather pronounce their judgment unjust, and set ourselves up as judges of their opinions, and thus grieve the spirit of mildness, and overturn established order?” In Carthage alone the confessors and martyrs strove to exert their power against that of the bishop, and found some of the office-bearers ready, at first at least, to accept their decisions as the commands of God.
Felicissimus could say: “God speaks through His martyrs as He spoke in the old days through His prophets, and where God speaks there is His Church”; and the lapsed could send letters to Cyprian written in the name of the Church, because they were written by martyrs; while Cyprian could reply: “God speaks through the bishop as he formerly spoke through His apostles, and the Church is founded on the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers.”703703Compare the whole of Epistle xxxiii. (xxvi.). Thus the two authorities faced each other in Carthage—at first within the one community—then, when the tension became too strong, in two separate congregations, in one of which Felicissimus and the five elders represented the old idea of authoritative divine utterance in the midst of the congregation; while in the other Cyprian insisted on the new thought, first proclaimed by Hippolytus and Calixtus in their mutual quarrels, that the bishops speak the divine decisions as the apostles had done.704704Otto Ritschl seems to think that Cyprian, if he did not during the course of the Decian persecution alter his conception of what the Church was, held it in a more rudimentary form before the persecution arose, and that it took shape during his experiences while the persecution lasted. He is therefore of opinion that he sees these more rudimentary ideas in the letter lxiii. (lxii.), which he accordingly places at the head of the list. The argument from the expressions in the letter does not appear to be very conclusive. Cyprian is there speaking of the cup in the Holy Supper. He says that the water in the mixed chalice represents the baptized people and the wine is the symbol of Christ; and that when the cup is given the Church becomes united with Christ. He calls the Church which is thus united to Christ in communicating “the people established in the Church faithfully and firmly persevering in what they have believed.” He is not speaking about what makes a Church, but about how the people who are in the Church are united to Christ in partaking of the cup in the communion. It is true that Cyprian tells us that the Church is in episcopo et clero et in omnibus stantibus constituta; but this definition does not prevent him asserting in the previous sentence that the Church is founded on the bishops (Epist. xxxiii. 1 (xxvi.). Cyprian held from the beginning that the bishop is the keystone of the arch; without him nothing remains but a heap of ruins. At the same time, his theory grew more and more distinct as he had to accept consequences which followed from his premises in the discussions which the controversies about the lapsed evoked. Compare Ritschl, Cyprian, etc. pp. 86 f. and 241; Benson, Cyprian, pp. 39, 186 f.
Cyprian took this position from the first:—No one can be 300received back into the communion of the Church until penance has been performed, confession made, and the hands of the bishop and clergy are laid upon their heads. This cannot be done in the absence of the bishop, and therefore there can be no restitution of the lapsed until the “peace” comes and the bishop is able to return. But he was too great a man to be a doctrinaire theorist. When he found the strength of the martyrs’ position in Carthage, when his humanity was touched with the thought of really penitent lapsed dying without the reconciliation they longed for, he permitted his elders to communicate with those invalids who had martyrs’ certificates, although he could not be present himself to receive them formally,705705Epistle, xviii. (xii.); xx. 3 (xiv.); lvii. 1 (liii.). Cyprian, like his master, Tertullian, evidently thought that it ought to “suffice to the martyr to have purged his own sins; it is part of ingratitude or of pride to lavish upon others what one has obtained at a high price. Who has redeemed another’s death by his own, but the Son of God alone?” He also knew that beneath the noble constancy which endured tortures there was a nervous excitement on the part of some at least which was leading them to practise unnatural tests of continence—tests which should never have been used, which might prove dangerous and which in some cases did prove dangerous in the end. Compare Epistles, xi. 1 (vii.); xiii. 5 (vi.); De Unitate Ecclesiae, 20. and by nominating 301a distinguished martyr to be one of his commission of five, he managed to show the people that the whole strength of the martyrs was not on the side opposed to him.706706Epistles, xl. (xxxiv.); xli. (xxxvii.); xxiii. (xxxviii.). Never from beginning to end did he acknowledge an authority in the local church superior or even equal to that of the bishop. He went the length of superseding his elders, the ancient counsellors of the bishop, when he thought that the influence of the martyrs over them was likely to weaken his. He was the despot, generally a benevolent despot, of the local church. His position might be due to his people, but he never imagined that his authority came from them; it came from God directly. That was his idea from first to last. The old theory that the bishop did not differ from the elders save in having a special seat of honour in the Church and in having the power to ordain, was not his. He was a Roman lawyer, and the analogies of imperial government were always before him. The governors of the imperial provinces, large or small, were nominated by the emperor and were responsible to him alone. It was their duty to govern for the benefit of the people over whom they were set, to take counsel with them and their leaders on the affairs of the province, but they were responsible to the emperor alone from whom their authority came. The Church had begun to copy the imperial organization in many things, as we shall see hereafter, and the analogy of the imperial government was never absent from the thoughts of the leaders during the second half of the third century. The bishops were the dispensatores Dei et Christi, as the governors were the deputies of the emperor. They were in God’s place, set there by His authority, and responsible to Him alone. If their authority was recognized then they might take their people and their subordinate office-bearers into their confidence and 302into their counsels, but if it was in any way questioned, then they were alone with God against all gainsayers.707707Epistles, iii. (lxiv.); lxviii. (lxvi.).
According to Cyprian’s idea, the bishop entered upon the rights and duties of his office through ordination, which was the indispensable gate to all office in the Church.708708Epist. lxix. 3 (lxxv.):—“Habere namque aut tenere ecclesiam nullo modo potest qui ordinatus in ecclesia non est.” His selection was commonly the act of the people, but neighbouring bishops might select him and present him to his people, whose assent must always be obtained before installation.709709Cyprian describes the appointment of a bishop thrice—the one being his own, the others that of a bishop in Spain and of Cornelius of Rome. Of his own he says:—“When a bishop is appointed into the place of one deceased, when he is chosen in time of peace by the suffrage of an entire people, when he is protected by God in persecution, faithfully linked with his colleagues, approved to his people by now four years’ experience in his episcopate; observant of discipline in time of peace; in time of persecution, proscribed with the name of his episcopate applied and attached to him; so often asked for in the circus, ‘for the lions’ in the amphitheatre; honoured with the testimony of the divine condescension,” Epist. lix. 6 (liv.). “You must diligently observe and keep the practice delivered from divine tradition and apostolic observance, which is also maintained among us and almost throughout the provinces; that for the proper celebration of ordinations all the bishops of the same province should assemble with that congregation for which a prelate is ordained; and the bishop should be chosen in the presence of the people, who have most fully known the life of each one and have looked into the doings of each one as respects his habitual conduct. And this also, we see, was done by you in the ordination of our colleague Sabinus; so that by the suffrage of the whole brotherhood, and by the sentence of the bishops who had assembled in their presence, and who had written letters to you concerning him, the episcopate was conferred upon him,” Epist. lxvii. 5 (lxvii.). “Cornelius was made bishop by the judgment of God and of His Christ, by the testimony of almost all the clergy, by the suffrage of the people who were there present, and by the assembly of ancient priests and good men,” Epist. lv. 8 (li.); see also lix. 5 (liv.); lxvii. 4 (lxvii.). Compare Hatch, art. Ordination in the Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, p. 1518b. The mode of appointing the bishop or pastor in the third century as described in Cyprian’s letters was essentially the same as the mode of appointing the pastor or bishop in Presbyterian Churches at the present time. Whatever the mode of selection and of consecration, Cyprian saw in these acts the hand of God. It was God and God alone who made bishops, 303while it was the bishops who made the subordinate office-bearers.710710Epist. iii. 3 (lxiv.); xlviii. 4 (xliv.); lv. 8 (li.); lix. 4, 5 (liv.); lxvi. 1, 9 (lxviii.). His reason for his strong and reiterated assertions that bishops were made by God appears to have been that the appointment of a bishop, who is, “for the time, judge in Christ’s stead,” is such an important thing, that God who cares even for sparrows, must control the selection of bishops.711711“‘Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them does not fall to the ground without the will of your Father.’ When He says that not even the least things are done without God’s will, does anyone think that the highest and greatest things are done in God’s Church without God’s knowledge or permission, and that priests—that is. His stewards—are not ordained by His decree?” Epist. lix. 5 (liv.); lxvi. 1 (lxviii.).
Once appointed, the bishop possessed the “sublime power of governing the Church,” and was responsible to God alone for his deeds.712712Epist. lix. 2 (liv.); lv. (li.). He was the autocrat within his own Church, and every act and office culminated in his person, just as the emperor absorbed in one man all the legal powers which under the earlier republican government had been distributed among several officials.
The bishop had entire charge of the discipline of the congregation. It was his care to see that the brethren kept the divine precepts. It was his duty to instruct the people about what the discipline of the Church required, and to promote their growth in holiness.713713Epist. iv. 2 (lxi.); xiv. 2 (v.); cf. xv. 2 (x.); xvi. 3 (ix.). To this end God might vouchsafe to grant him visions which he was bound to communicate to his people for their edification.714714Epist. xi. 3-7 (vii.). In all this the elders and deacons might assist, but always under the control of the bishop.715715Epist. xv. 1 (x.); xvii. 2 (xi).; xviii. (xii.); xix. (xiii.), etc. To him and to him alone belonged the right of “binding and loosing”—a right which had been given, he maintained, to St. Peter, and then to the other apostles, and which now belonged to the bishops who were for each generation what the apostles had been for 304the first.716716Epist. lxviii. 7 (lxxii.). No restoration of sinners was possible until the bishop had heard their confessions, until he had approved of their signs of sorrow, or until he, along with the presbyters and deacons, had placed his hands on their head in token of forgiveness.717717Epist. xvi. 2 (ix.); xviii. (xiii.); xx. 3 (xiv.); lvii. 1 (liii.). He could institute new laws of discipline, but always in accordance with the Scriptural rules, and more suitably after consultation with other bishops.718718Epist. xx. 3 (xiv.):—disponere singula vel reformare. Cf. lxiii. 10, 11 (lxii.):—“ab evangelicis autem praeceptis omnino recedendum ease . . . cum ergo neque ipse apostolus neque angelus de caelo adnuntiare possit aliter aut docere praeterquam quod semel Christus docuit et apostoli ejus adnuntiaverunt.” To him belonged the power to prescribe the signs of sorrow, and to say what were sufficient in the way of prayers and of good works such as almsgiving.719719Epist. xvi. 2 (ix.):—“They who truly repenting might satisfy God with their prayers and works.” Epist. lv. 22 (li.) mentions alms-giving and fasting. De Opere et Eleemosynis, 1:—“ut sordes postmodum quascumque contrahimus eleemosynis abluamus.”
He was also the head of the whole religious administration (diligentia). He was the almoner of the poor and the paymaster of the subordinate clergy.720720Epist. vii. (xxxv.); xiv. 2 (v.); lxii. (lix.); xli. 2 (xxxvii):—“ut cum ecclesia matre remanerent et stipendia ejus episcopo dispensante perciperent”; xxxiv. 4 (xxvii. 3):—“interea se a divisione mensurna tantum contineant non quasi a ministerio ecclesiastico privati esse videantur.” For Cyprian seems to have been the first to make payments to the clergy, a first charge on the tenths and free-will offerings of the congregation.721721Compare Achelis, Die Canones Hippolyti (Texte und Untersuchungen, VI. iv. 193 n.). He could give or withhold the monthly payments; and this of itself, when the elders and deacons were dependent on the Church for their livelihood, sufficed to make the bishop an autocrat over the clergy.
The bishop was, therefore, according to Cyprian, the overseer of the brotherhood, the provost of the people, the pastor of the flock and the governor of the Church, and all these terms expressed the relations in which he, as supreme ruler, stood towards 305them. But he was more. He was also the representative of Christ and the priest of God.722722Epist. lxvi. 5 (lxviii.); “Ecce jam sex annis nec fraternitas habuerit episcopum, nec plebs praepositum, nec grex pastorem, nec ecclesia gubernatorem, nec Christus antistitem, nec Deus sacerdotem.” Praepositus generally signified a military commander in the later times of the Republic; it was afterwards used of a magistrate; the military association of command was probably in Cyprian’s mind. It is the word from which comes the French prévôt and the Scotch provost. In early mediaeval Latin it means the chief magistrate of a town—burg-graf, comes urbis.
According to Cyprian the bishop was the representative (antistes) of Christ in the community over which he ruled, and therefore he had the authority over that single congregation or church which our Lord possessed over the universal Church. He was the lord or viceroy over that portion of God’s heritage. But Christ had this position of authority over His people because He represented His people in the presence of God; because He was their High Priest; because He had offered for them His own Body and Blood. The bishop, therefore, as the representative of Christ, is the priest of God,723723Cyprian’s views about the bishop as priest of God and about the sacrifice in the Eucharist are most clearly expressed in Epistle lxiii. (lxii.). He says that in the Eucharist the bishop does “that which Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, the founder and teacher of this sacrifice did and taught” (1); he calls the Holy Supper the sacrament of the sacrifice of the Lord; (4), and “the sacrifice of God the Father and of Christ “ (9); he says that in the Eucharist we ought to “do in remembrance of the Lord the same thing which the Lord also did” (10); “that priest truly discharges the office of Christ, who imitates what Christ did, and he offers a true and full sacrifice in the Church of God the Father when he proceeds to offer it according to what he sees Christ Himself offered” (14); “the Lord’s passion is the sacrifice which we offer” (17). The Eucharist is the dominica hostia (De Unitate Ecclesiae, 17). Cyprian’s ideas about Christian priests and sacrifices, occupying as they do the borderland between the purer and more primitive ideas and the conceptions of the fourth and fifth centuries which were corrupted by so many pagan associations, deserve a much more elaborate treatment than can be given here. who in the Eucharist offers to God the “Lord’s Passion,” and “truly discharges the office of Christ” when he imitates that which Christ did. “He offers a true and perfect sacrifice in the Church to God the Father, when he proceeds to offer it according to what he sees Christ 306Himself to have offered.” The bishop brings the people into actual communion with Christ in the Eucharist, and they are united to Him in drinking the wine which is His Blood; whilst to God the Father is again presented the offering once made to Him by Christ. The bishop was also the representative of Christ because he received those who were introduced into the Church by baptism.724724Tertullian tells us that it was the bishop who baptized in his De Baptismo, 17:—“The summus sacerdos, who is the bishop, has the right of giving it (baptism); and in the next place, the elders and deacons, yet not without the bishop’s authority on account of the honour of the Church.” This is also Cyprian’s idea; compare Epistles, lxxiii. 7 (lxxii.); lxxv. 7 (lxxiv. ). He was believed to bestow the Holy Spirit upon them in baptism and in the laying-on-of-hands. “They who are baptized in the Church,” says Cyprian, “are brought to the praepositi of the Church, and by our prayers and by the imposition of hands obtain the Holy Spirit.”725725Epist. lxxiii. 9 (lxxii.). Thus the Church is built up around him. He creates it in baptism; he brings the members into continual contact with their Lord in the Eucharist, now become a sacrifice in which the communicants, as in pagan rites, were united to the deity by partaking of the flesh of the victim and drinking the wine of the libation. So that, to quote Cyprian: “they are the Church who are a people united to the priest and the flock which adheres to their pastor . . . the bishop is in the Church, and the Church is in the bishop.”726726Epist. lxvi. 8 (lxviii.). Above all, the bishop is the representative of Christ because he is the judge to whom belongs the power of punishing or remitting sins. This idea is continually before Cyprian. “They only who are set over the Church . . . can remit sins.”727727Epist. lxxiii. 7 (lxxii.). He quotes again and again Deut. xvii. 12: “The man that doeth presumptuously in not hearkening unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God, or to the judge, that man shall die.”728728Epist. iii. 1 (lxiv.); iv. 4 (lxi.); xliii. 7 (xxxix.); lix. 4 (liv.); lxvi. 3 (lxii.). He discourses on the sin of Israel in 307refusing obedience to the Priest Samuel.729729Epist. iii. 1 (lxiv.), where the rebellion of Korah, Dathan and Abiram is also quoted to point the same moral. It is the authority of the priest that he has always in view.
But while the thought of implicit obedience to the bishop is foremost in his mind, the sacerdotal conception was not absent. He conceived that the bishops were a special priest-hood and had a special sacrifice to offer. This was a new thought in the Church of Christ. It was really introduced by Cyprian, and it requires a little explanation.
In Christianity we find from the beginning the thoughts of priest and of sacrifice. The two conceptions always go together, and whatever meaning is attached to the one determines that of the other. The idea of a sacrifice offered in the Christian congregation was continually present, and from the beginning it was intimately connected with the Eucharist. But the thoughts suggested by the words were always evangelical. It was believed that all Christians were priests before God, and that all had to do the priestly work of sacrificing. The sacrifices of the Church, the bloodless sacrifices predicted by the prophet Malachi,730730Malachi i. 11; iii. 3, 4. were the prayers, the praises, and the worship of the believers. The Holy Supper, which was the supreme part of the Christian worship, was a sacrifice because it was an act of worship, and because it combined, as no other act did, the prayers of all the worshippers and the gifts or oblations of bread and wine which were given by the worshippers and were used partly in the Holy Supper and partly to distribute among the poor. The idea of the priesthood of all believers was firmly rooted in the thoughts of the early Christians, even although the constant use of the Old Testament naturally led them from a very early period to draw some comparisons between the leaders of their public devotions and the priests and Levites of the Jewish Church.731731Clement, 1 Ep. xl. 5; Didache, xiii. 3. When they began to explain to themselves and to others what the sacraments of baptism and the 308Holy Supper were, it was almost inevitable that thoughts connected with those portions of pagan worship most nearly related to sacraments should come into their minds. Hence the pagan mysteries formed the outline of the picture which presented itself to their imaginations when they tried to describe what the sacraments meant.732732This is seen earlier than Tertullian but it appears most clearly in his writings. In De Baptismo, 5 he says:—“Well, but nations who are strangers to all understanding of spiritual powers ascribe to their idols the imbuing of waters with the self-same efficacy; but they cheat themselves with waters which are widowed. For washing is the channel through which they are initiated into some sacred rites of some notorious Isis or Mithras; the gods themselves they likewise honour by washings. Moreover by carrying water around, and sprinkling it, they everywhere ceremonially purify country-houses, habitations, temples and whole cities. They are certainly baptized at the Apollinarian and at the Eleusinian games; and they presume that regeneration and the remission of penalties due for their perjuries is the effect of that. Among the ancients, whoever had defiled himself with murder, was accustomed to go in search of purifying waters.” In the De Praescriptione Haereticorum, 40, he says:—“The devil . . . by the mystic rites of his idols vies even with the essential things of the sacrament of God. He, too, baptizes some, even his own believers and faithful followers; he promises the putting away (expositionem) of sins by a laver; and if I do not forget, Mithras there sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers, celebrates the oblation of bread, introduces an image of the resurrection. and under the sword wreathes the crown. What shall we say to insisting on the chief priest being the husband of one wife; and he (the devil) has virgins who live under the profession of chastity.” This inevitable habit could not fail to bring many superstitious conceptions round the sacraments, and many such did connect themselves with them. Notwithstanding this, the evangelical thought that the sacrifices of the New Covenant are the worship of the people, and that the priesthood is the whole worshipping congregation was always the ruling idea. The sacrifice in the Holy Supper was a sacrifice of prayer and thanksgiving, and the sacrificial act was the prayers and the thanksgivings of the worshippers. Apologists733733Compare Athenagoras, Apology (Plea), 13; Minucius Felix, Apology, 22. defended the lack of material sacrifices in the Christian religion, and Justin Martyr could say that “prayers and giving of thanks 309(eucharistia), when offered by worthy men, are the only perfect and well-pleasing sacrifices to God.”734734Justin, Dialogue, 117; compare Apology, i. 13, 65-7; Dialogue, 28, 29, 116-8.
But if the whole people were the priests, and if the main thought in priesthood was authority and supremacy in judging in all matters of rule and discipline, then the people, the congregation, were the rulers in the last resort. But this primitive conception did not suit the ideas which Cyprian, the Roman lawyer, had about the special omnipotence of the bishop, the representative of Christ in Heaven, as the local governor was of the Emperor in Rome. His thought was that the bishop was the priest, and that the people were not priests but those whom the priest introduced into the presence of God. The whole conception of Christian thought began to change, and the change dates from Cyprian and his influence.
The changes made by Cyprian in the early Christian ideas of sacrifice and priest can be best seen by comparing his language with that of Tertullian, his “master” in theology. In Tertullian we have the old ideas that the prayers of the Christian, public and private, are his sacrifices, and that all Christians are priests because they can offer sacrifices of prayer and thanks-giving well-pleasing to God. He calls the Holy Supper a sacrifice—which it is, a sacrifice of prayer and thanksgiving—but he never thinks of it as a sacrifice of a distinct and special kind to be carefully discriminated from the prayers of the people. On the other hand, Cyprian is very careful to distinguish between prayer and the Holy Supper in the sense that he never calls the one a sacrifice, while he invariably gives that name to the other. He never thinks of all the worshippers sacrificing; on the contrary, he is careful to distinguish between what the people and what the priests do in the sacrament—the people offer oblations, but the priest offers a sacrifice. There is, according to his idea, a specific sacrifice offered by a specific (not simply a ministering) priesthood in the Holy Supper. The 310sacrifice which is offered, is, as we have seen, the “Passion of the Lord, the Blood of Christ,” the “Divine Victim.” He was the first to suggest, for his language goes no further than suggestion, that the Holy Supper is a repetition of the agony and death of our Lord on the Cross—a thought never present to the mind of an earlier generation. The ministry has become, in his eyes, or is becoming, a mediating priesthood with power to offer for the people the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
His thought of priesthood also leads him to externalize, if the expression may be allowed, the whole thought of sorrow and repentance. In early times if Christians fell into sin, they were required to confess their sins publicly and to exhibit manifest signs of sorrow. These signs were not always stereotyped:—prayers accompanied by tears and groanings, fasting and giving the food thus saved to the poor, setting free a slave or slaves, abundant almsgiving. The penitents were required to perform some open act of self-denial to show that their sorrow was a real thing. Of course the tendency was to connect these signs of sorrow directly with the pardon which followed, and even Tertullian was accustomed to speak of such signs of sorrow as something well-pleasing to God, in the sense that God accepted them as meritorious and forgave on their account. Cyprian was the first to lay hold on this familiar practice of penitence, and use it as a means to establish the power of the bishop. His thought seems to have been that some special “good works” were needed to secure the pardon of God for sins committed after baptism,735735In his De Opere et Eleemosynis, Cyprian declares that sins will come after baptism and that God has provided a remedy for us “so that by almsgiving we may wash away whatever foulness we subsequently contract” (1); “The remedies for propitiating God are given in the words of God Himself. . . . He shows that our prayers and fastings are of less avail unless they are aided by almsgiving” (5); he quotes the case of the raising of Tabitha to show how “effectual were the merits of mercy” (6). The same ideas occur in the De Lapsis, and are to be found throughout the Epistles. and that the good works must commend themselves to the bishop, who was the “priest of God” and the “representative 311of our Lord”—for with Cyprian priest and bishop are synonymous terms.
Thus the earlier idea of a Christian ministry was changed into the conception of a mediating priesthood. Behind the change of thought was the new conception of the authority of the clergy over the laity and of the bishop over all. In respect of their historical origin the ideas of the omnipotence of the bishop, of a succession from the apostles, and of a special and mediating priesthood, all hang together, and what made for the one made for the others. No sooner had they found entrance into the Christian Church than they were followed by a large influx of other allied ideas taken over from the paganism which lay around them.
This thought of
apostolic succession which is to be found in Cyprian was very different from what
is seen both in Irenaeus and in Tertullian. It was not a succession from the apostles
but a succession of apostles. The historical matter-of-fact succession disappeared,
and the conception became a creation of dogmatic imagination. The thought of succession
from the apostles, in a line of office-bearers creating a vital connexion between
the generations as they passed, was scarcely in Cyprian’s mind. Unless memory fails
me, Cyprian only once alludes to it: “All chief rulers who by vicarious ordination
succeed to the apostles.”736736 Epist. lxvi. 4 (lxviii.).
Firmilian of Caesarea in Cappadocia uses a similar phrase:—“Therefore the power
of remitting sins was given to the apostles, and to the Churches which, they, sent
by Christ, established, and to the bishops who succeeded them by vicarious ordination,”
Epist. lxxv. 16 (lxxiv. ). And Clarus of Mascula, in delivering his opinion at the
seventh council meeting at Carthage under the presidency of Cyprian, declared that
bishops “have succeeded them (the apostles), governing the Lord’s Church with the
same powers,” Sententiae episcoporum, 79.
Hatch remarks that it is not necessary to take this phrase, nor the term successio nor the corresponding Greek which occurs in Eusebius, διαδοχή, in any other sense than the ordinary one, viz. to express the fact that one officer was appointed in another’s place, as governor succeeded governor in the Roman provinces. (The Organization of the Early Christian Church , p. 105 and note.) Dr. Benson (p. 183) in his résumé of the De Unitate (§ 10) makes Cyprian say that the essential characteristic of the episcopal prerogative is that it is a given, that is a transmitted power. Cyprian undoubtedly held that it was a power given; but to say that given means transmitted is a very palpable case of begging the question. A comparison of passages plainly shows that Cyprian believed that the power was given directly and not by transmission; of course Cyprian presupposes regular ordination (ordinationis lex), but he also presupposes the plebis sulfragium , which may be a means of transmission as secure as the imposition of hands. The power with Cyprian is always a direct gift. For Cyprian’s thought is that the bishops do 312really represent, not the apostles, but Christ. As the apostles were the representatives of Christ to the first generation and received from Him power to forgive sins, so each succeeding generation possesses representatives of Christ, who have the same power to forgive sins. Hence the thought on which he lays so much stress, that bishops are directly appointed by God and not by man; the want of any deeper idea of ordination than a mere installation or orderly appointment to office; the belief that the gifts which bishops possess of government and power to forgive sins are more personal than official—all combine to make his conception that bishops are apostles endued with the very same powers that the twelve possessed directly from Jesus, something very different from what is commonly meant by apostolic succession in modern Christendom. He founds the divine appointment of bishops on the argument that since God cares even for sparrows much more must He directly control a matter of such importance as the appointments of bishops!737737This statement is not a mere pious reflection; it is repeated twice, with all solemnity, when vindicating the bishop’s power to forgive sins and to condemn, and when insisting on the dignity of the episcopal office; compare Epistles lix. 5 (liv.); lxvi. 1 (lxviii.). He holds that bishops who are guilty of any heinous sin are ipso facto bishops no longer, and that their congregations ought to separate themselves from them and acknowledge neither their office nor their authority.738738Compare the letters about the Spanish bishops Basilides and Martial (Epistle lxvii. (lxvii.); and about Fortunatianus, bishop of Assurae in Africa, who had lapsed as a sacrificatus (Epistle lxv. (lxiii.). Cyprian says: “A people obedient to God’s precepts, and fearing God, ought to separate themselves from a sinful praepositus, and not to associate themselves with the sacrifices of a sacrilegious priest, especially since they themselves have the power either of choosing worthy priests or of rejecting unworthy ones,” lxvii. 3. The bishops in North Africa 313arrived at their decisions in the case of the lapsed “by the suggestion of the Holy Spirit and the admonition of the Lord, conveyed by many and manifest visions”—an inspiration which was personal and not official.739739Epistle lvii. 5 (liii.). Cyprian frequently had visions and believed them to be communications by the Holy Spirit; compare Epistles lxvi, 10 (lxviii.); xi. 3, 4 (vii.); he was a prophet in the old sense of the word. He also recognized the prophetic gift in others as well as bishops; compare Epistle xvi. 4 (ix.); xxxix. 1 (xxxiii.), but only in those subordinate to the bishop. All these things give a certain uniqueness to Cyprian’s theory of apostolic succession which is often forgotten. But whatever his theory was, his conviction remained, that the bishop was the autocrat over his congregation, and that where he was, there was the Church.
The real statesmanship of Cyprian was shown, not so much in his conception, theoretical and practical, of the episcopal office, as in his making use of the opportunity of the widespread crisis provoked by the question of the lapsed to sketch a polity which would give the thought of one universal Church of Christ a visible and tangible shape. His idea was not a new one. The conceptions of statesmen seldom are novelties. Councils had been held on ecclesiastical matters before Cyprian’s days. They were first held in Asia Minor in the times of the early Montanist movement, and had become somewhat common in Greece as early as the days of Tertullian.740740Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. V. xvi. 10; Tertullian, On Fasting, 13. They were called to deliberate and settle not only the deeper questions of faith, but the ecclesiastical usages to be observed by the churches represented. The habit of holding these deliberative assemblies which did in some measure represent the churches of a district or province was widespread, and enabled churches lying within convenient distance from each other to become a confederation, having the same ecclesiastical usages and rules of Christian life.
What Cyprian did was to seize upon what he believed to be 314the principles underlying this practice and formulate them in such a way as to make visible and tangible the unity of the Catholic Church which was universally held to exist. The thought of the visible unity of the Church of Christ was as old as Christianity. St. Paul had dwelt on it in his epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians. Cyprian repeated it in his famous passage, felicitously rendered by Dr. Benson: “There is one Church which outspreads itself into a multitude (of churches), wider and wider in ever increasing fruitfulness, just as the sun has many rays but only one light, and a tree many branches yet only one heart, based in the clinging root; and, while many rills flow from one fountain-head, although a multiplicity of waters is seen streaming away in diverse directions from the bounty of its abundant overflow, yet unity is preserved in the head-spring.”741741Cyprian, De Unitate Ecclesiae, 5; compare Benson, Cyprian, p. 182. That was the old old thought. Cyprian’s statesmanship was seen in the method he formulated for making this ideal unity something which could take visible shape in a polity which would produce an harmonious activity throughout all the parts. His practical thought was, that as each bishop sums up in himself the church over which he presides, the whole Church of Christ practically exists in the whole of the bishops, and the harmonious action of the whole Church can be expressed through the common action and agreement of all the bishops. This did not mean to him that every bishop was to think in the same way, or to pursue the same policy, or that there might not be very grave differences on very important, almost fundamental, matters; but it did mean that if they differed they were to agree to differ, and perhaps this last thought was the most important one practically. It is easy to be in accord when there are no differences to separate. Cyprian’s thought was that there could be and ought to be agreement amidst differences. He preserved intact the independence of every bishop. The man who stood forth as the eloquent spokesman of the unity of the one Church of Christ was the champion of the independence 315of the most insignificant bishop whose congregation might be the church of a hamlet. He was as magnanimous in his own conduct as in his thought. In the two great controversies in which he was engaged he showed himself able to subordinate his own feelings and cherished opinions to the wishes of others. The African bishops did not adopt Cyprian’s scheme for receiving back the repentant lapsed; they were much more lenient than he would have been if his opinion had prevailed.742742Compare Benson, Cyprian, pp. 156, 157. He felt strongly and spoke warmly on the question of the baptism of heretics, and carried his African colleagues with him; but when the majority of the Church was plainly against him he respected the decision, however he might dislike it. The case of Therapius shows how far he was prepared to go in respecting the independence of a colleague.743743Epistle lxiv. 1 (lviii.); Therapius had admitted to communion a presbyter who had lapsed on much more lenient terms than the council of African bishops had agreed upon. He insisted again and again that one bishop cannot judge another, and that no one can judge a bishop but God, so strongly does he vindicate the independence of bishops and by implication of the churches over which they rule.744744Sententiae Episcoporum, preface:—“Every bishop has his own right of judgment according to the allowance of his liberty and power, and can be no more judged by another than he himself can judge another. But let us all wait for the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only one that has the power both of preferring us in the government of his Church and of judging us in our conduct there.” Compare Epistles lv. 2, 4 (li.); lix. 14, 17 (liv.); lxxiii. 26 (lxxii.); lvii. 5 (liii.); lxiii. 3 (lxxi.); lxix. 17 (lxxv.). The unanimity which he pleaded for among bishops was not one to be produced by force but by brotherly persuasion, it being always understood that Holy Scripture and the apostolic tradition were their guides.745745Epistle lv. 6 (li.); lxxiv. 10 (lxxiii.).
If we may judge from some scattered allusions it is possible to see how Cyprian conceived that his scheme might work so as to produce a harmony not merely of bishops but of the whole Christian community throughout the world. If anything 316requiring deliberation arose, the first care of the bishop was to consult his elders and deacons, the deacons being the “eyes and ears of the bishop,” to let him know what the people thought. If there was any doubt about the opinion of the people then the question might be referred to a congregational meeting746746Epistle xiv. 4 (v.). and deliberated upon by bishop, elders, deacons and people.747747Epistle xv. 1 (x.). Cyprian always shows the strongest desire to carry the people along with him.748748Albrecht Ritschl thinks that Cyprian, like many another autocrat, destroyed the aristocracy of the elders and deacons by persuading the people that the monarch’s interests and theirs were identical; Entstehung der altkatholischen Kirche (1857), p. 558. It is not certain whether their opinions were taken in any formal way at the councils held under the presidency of Cyprian at Carthage, but the Christian people of Carthage were always present at the councils.749749Dr. Benson calls Cyprian’s councils “representative” assemblies, and is of opinion that they included “a not silent laity”; compare Cyprian, pp. 191, 430 ff. The presence of the laity at the councils which discussed the question of the lapsed is shown in Epistles xvi. 4 (ix.); xvii. 1 (xi.); xix. 2 (xiii); xxx. 5 (xxx.); xxxi. 6 (xxv.); xliii. 7 (xxxix.); lv. 6 (li.); lix. 15 (liv.); lxiv. 1 (lviii.). On the other hand the most natural construction of the following passages gives the idea that none but bishops deliberated and voted:—xliv. (xl.); xlv. 2, 4 (xli.); lix. 13 (liv.); lxiv. 1 (lviii.); lxx. 1 (lxix.); lxvii. 1; lxxiii. 1 (1xxii.); lxxii. 1 (lxxi.). These meetings can hardly be called “representative,” as Dr. Benson calls them. An autocrat may do his best to consult the people and to carry them along with him. Yet he can scarcely be called their representative.
In fact Cyprian’s conception of the bishop as the direct representative, not of his congregation, but of Christ, endued with powers coming directly from God and in no sense from the Christian people, was precisely the reason why his conception of a polity to embody the whole Church has never proved a workable theory; and soon after Cyprian’s time it fell before another and very different conception with which Cyprian had no sympathy, and yet to which his own led when his thought of the autocracy of the bishop was applied to a wider field. We can see how his theory failed himself at his sorest need. He 317desired to carry his office-bearers with him. His first idea was to consult with the office-bearers, as was evidently the custom. When he began to doubt whether they would support him he turned to the laity. When he began to doubt whether the laity did not support the presbyters rather than himself, he not obscurely threatened them with the decisions of the neighbouring bishops;750750Epistles xv. 1 (x.); xliii. 7 (xxxix.). and in the end the consultation was not with his elders and deacons, and not with his people, but with the neighbouring bishops, in what was called the first council of Carthage, where the people of Carthage were undoubtedly present, though probably only as overawed assistants.
Another conception of how the universal and visible Church could make its ideal universality apparent to the eyes of men had been introduced before Cyprian’s days; it confronted himself during the second great controversy which he had to wage, and it triumphed in the West after his death. More than one bishop of Rome had put forward the idea that the unity of the Christian Church could only be made truly visible when all the Christian churches grouped themselves round the bishop who sat, it was said, in the chair of St. Peter, and whose congregation had its abode in the capital of the civilized world.751751Victor did so in the days of the Easter controversy and was denounced for so doing by Irenaeus (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. V. xxiii., xxiv.); Calixtus evidently made the same claims and was attacked with bitter sarcasm by Tertullian in his De Pudicitia; Stephen did so in the controversy about the baptism by heretics, and the assumption of the bishop of Rome to force his opinion on the rest of the Church is no doubt alluded to by the phrases Episcopus episcoporum and tyrannico terrore found in the preface to the opinions of the African bishops. They justified this claim ecclesiastically by quoting our Lord’s words to St. Peter, recorded in Matt. xvi., but its practical strength lay in the fact that they presided over the church in the city of Rome. So strong was Cyprian’s influence in the centuries after his death that Roman Catholic canonists felt the need of quoting him as the supporter of their claims for the primacy of the Roman See, and accordingly they have interpolated his De Unitate Ecclesiae 318in a manner almost beyond belief.752752The extraordinary history of the interpolations is told by Dr. Benson on pp. 200-21 in his Cyprian, his Life, his Times, his Work; and in Hartel, S. Thasci Caecili Cypriani Opera Omnia, pp. lii. ff. Cyprian was the determined opponent of this theory of a primacy in Rome, and constituted himself, as has been said, the champion of the ecclesiastical parity of all bishops, however insignificant their positions might be, nor would he allow any distinction to be drawn between churches founded by actual apostles and those which had come into being in later times.753753Compare Epistle lxxi. 3, where the reference to novellis et posteris indicates that Stephen had claimed a primacy over ecclesias novellas et posteras. Dr. Benson has given a very full analysis of the passages in which Cyprian refers to the Roman See; compare his Cyprian, pp. 193-99. It is worth noticing that Firmilian of Cesarea in Cappadocia concedes less to Rome than Cyprian does. He scoffs at Stephen’s claim to hold the Successio Petri (Epistle lxxv. 17 (lxxiv.); but then he holds that the power to forgive sins was given to churches as well as to bishops, which is not Cyprian’s position (lxxv. 16 [lxxiv.]); “Therefore the power of remitting sins was given to the apostles, and to the churches which they, sent by Christ, established and to bishops who succeeded them by vicarious ordination.” Otto Ritschl has carefully analysed Cyprian’s letters in the dispute with Stephen of Rome in which a good deal of strong language was exchanged between the two bishops; compare Cyprian von Karthago, pp. 110-41. He did concede a certain pre-eminence to Rome, partly on ecclesiastical grounds, and partly because of the greatness of the city.754754Epistle lii. 2 (xlviii.):—pro magnitudine sua debeat Carthaginem Roma praecedere. But he held that all bishops had equal ecclesiastical rights, and that the unity of the Church found expression in a united episcopate and not in the primacy of an episcopus episcoporum.
At the same time it was almost inevitable that Cyprian’s idea that the local church was constituted in the local bishop to such an extent that without obedience to him men could not belong to the Church at all, should lead to the conception that a united episcopate could only be truly united if all the bishops owed obedience to one bishop of bishops. A one-man theory of the local church could hardly fail to suggest or to support a one-man 319theory of the Church universal. The theory that the bishop owed his power, not to the influence of the Spirit of God working in and through the Christian community, but to something either given by God directly or transmitted in such a way as to be independent of the spiritual life of the membership and above it, could scarcely fail to suggest a transmission of unique prerogatives to the bishop who was supposed to occupy the chair of St. Peter. Men who insist on an episcopal gift of grace, “specific, exclusive, efficient,” coming from a source higher than the Holy Spirit working in and through the membership of the Church, may protest against the thought that their theories lead to the conception of a “bishop of bishops,” but the unsparing logic of history sweeps their protests aside.
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