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§ 42. Clergy and Laity.


The idea and institution of a special priesthood, distinct from the body of the people, with the accompanying notion of sacrifice and altar, passed imperceptibly from Jewish and heathen reminiscences and analogies into the Christian church. The majority of Jewish converts adhered tenaciously to the Mosaic institutions and rites, and a considerable part never fully attained to the height of spiritual freedom proclaimed by Paul, or soon fell away from it. He opposed legalistic and ceremonial tendencies in Galatia and Corinth; and although sacerdotalism does not appear among the errors of his Judaizing opponents, the Levitical priesthood, with its three ranks of high-priest, priest, and Levite, naturally furnished an analogy for the threefold ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon, and came to be regarded as typical of it. Still less could the Gentile Christians, as a body, at once emancipate themselves from their traditional notions of priesthood, altar, and sacrifice, on which their former religion was based. Whether we regard the change as an apostasy from a higher position attained, or as a reaction of old ideas never fully abandoned, the change is undeniable, and can be traced to the second century. The church could not long occupy the ideal height of the apostolic age, and as the Pentecostal illumination passed away with the death of the apostles, the old reminiscences began to reassert themselves.121121    Renan, looking at the gradual development of the hierarchy out of the primitive democracy, from his secular point of view, calls it, the most profound transformation "in history, and a triple abdication: first the club (the congregation) committing its power to the bureau or the committee (the college of presbyters), then the bureau to its president (the bishop) who could say: "Je suis le club,"and finally the presidents to the pope as the universal and infallible bishop; the last process being completed in the Vatican Council of 1870. See his E’glise chrétienne, p. 88, and his English Conferences (Hibbert Lectures, 1880), p 90.20

In the apostolic church preaching and teaching were not confined to a particular class, but every convert could proclaim the gospel to unbelievers, and every Christian who had the gift could pray and teach and exhort in the congregation.122122    Comp. Acts 8:4; 9:27; 13:15; 18:26, 28; Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28; 14:1-6, 31. Even in the Jewish Synagogue the liberty of teaching was enjoyed, and the elder could ask any member of repute, even a stranger, to deliver a discourse on the Scripture lesson (Luke 4:17; Acts 17:2).21 The New Testament knows no spiritual aristocracy or nobility, but calls all believers "saints" though many fell far short of their vocation. Nor does it recognize a special priesthood in distinction from the people, as mediating between God and the laity. It knows only one high-priest, Jesus Christ, and clearly teaches the universal priesthood, as well as universal kingship, of believers.123123    1 Pet. 2:5, 9; 5:3; Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6. See Neander, Lightfoot, Stanley, etc., and vol. I. 486 sqq. I add a passage from Hatch’s; Bampton Lectures on The Organization of the Early Christian Churches (1881), p. 139: "In earlier times there was a grander faith. For the kingdom of God was a kingdom of priests. Not only the ’four and twenty elders’ before the throne, but the innumerable souls of the sanctified upon whom ’the second death had no power,’ were ’kings and priests unto God.’ Only in that high sense was priesthood predicable of Christian men. For the shadow had passed: the reality had come: the one High Priest of Christianity was Christ."22 It does this in a far deeper and larger sense than the Old;124124    Exod. 19:6.23 in a sense, too, which even to this day is not yet fully realized. The entire body of Christians are called "clergy" (κλῆροι a peculiar people, the heritage of God.125125    1 Pet. 5:3. Here Peter warns his fellow-presbyters not to lord it (κυριεύειν)over the κλῆροι or the κληρονομία, i.e., the lot or inheritance of the Lord, the charge allotted to them. Comp. Deut. 4:20; 9:29 (LXX),24

On the other hand it is equally clear that there was in the apostolic church a ministerial office, instituted by Christ, for the very purpose of raising the mass of believers from infancy and pupilage to independent and immediate intercourse with God, to that prophetic, priestly, and kingly position, which in principle and destination belongs to them all.126126    Comp. Eph. 4:11-1325 This work is the gradual process of church history itself, and will not be fully accomplished till the kingdom of glory shall come. But these ministers are nowhere represented as priests in any other sense than Christians generally are priests, with the privilege of a direct access to the throne of grace in the name of their one and eternal high-priest in heaven. Even in the Pastoral Epistles which present the most advanced stage of ecclesiastical organization in the apostolic period, while the teaching, ruling, and pastoral functions of the presbyter-bishops are fully discussed, nothing is said about a sacerdotal function. The Apocalypse, which was written still later, emphatically teaches the universal priesthood and kingship of believers. The apostles themselves never claim or exercise a special priesthood. The sacrifice which all Christians are exhorted to offer is the sacrifice of their person and property to the Lord, and the spiritual sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise.127127    Rom. 12:1; Phil. 2:17; 1 Pet. 2:5; Heb. 13:16.26 In one passage a Christian "altar" is spoken of, in distinction from the Jewish altar of literal and daily sacrifices, but this altar is the cross on which Christ offered himself once and forever for the sins of the world.128128    Heb. 13:10. So θυσιαστήριον is understood by Thomas Aquinas, Bengel, Bleek, Lünemann, Riehm, etc. Others explain it of the Lord’s table, Lightfoot (p. 263) of the congregation assembled for common worship.27

After the gradual abatement of the extraordinary spiritual elevation of the apostolic age, which anticipated in its way the ideal condition of the church, the distinction of a regular class of teachers from the laity became more fixed and prominent. This appears first in Ignatius, who, in his high episcopalian spirit, considers the clergy the necessary medium of access for the people to God. "Whoever is within the sanctuary (or altar), is pure; but he who is outside of the sanctuary is not pure; that is, he who does anything without bishop and presbytery and deacon, is not pure in conscience."129129    Ad Trall.c. 7: ὁ ἔντὸς θυσιαστήιον ὦν καθαρός ἐστιν ὁ δέ ἐκτὸς θυσιαστηρίου ὢν οὐ καθαρός ἐστιν· τουτέστιν, ὁ χωρὶς ἐπισκόπου καὶ πρεσβυτερίου καὶ διακόνου πράσσων τι, οὖτος οὐ καθαρός ες̓τιν τῇ συνειδήσει.Funk’s ed. I. 208. Some MSS. omit the second clause, perhaps from homoeoteleuton. Von Gebhardt and Harnack also omit it in the Greek text, but retain it in the Latin (qui extra attare est, non mundus est). The τουτέστιν evidently requires the clause.28 Yet he nowhere represents the ministry as a sacerdotal office. The Didache calls "the prophets" high-priests, but probably in a spiritual sense.130130    Cf. ch. 13. See note in Schaff’s edition, p. 20629 Clement of Rome, in writing to the congregation at Corinth, draws a significant and fruitful parallel between the Christian presiding office and the Levitical priesthood, and uses the expression "layman" (λαϊκος ἄνθρωπος) as antithetic to high-priest, priests, and Levites.131131    Ad Cor. 40: "Unto the high-priest his proper services have been intrusted, and to the priests their proper office is appointed, and upon the levites their proper ministrations are laid. The layman is bound by the layman’s ordinances (ὁ λαϊκὸς ἄνθρωπος τοῖς λαϊκοῖς προστάγμασιν δέδεται)." The passage occurs in the text of Bryennios as well as in the older editions, and there is no good reason to suspect it of being an interpolation in the hierarchical interest, as Neander and Milman have done. Bishop Lightfoot, in his St. Clement of Rome, p. 128 sq., puts a mild construction upon it, and says that the analogy does not extend to the three orders, because Clement only knows two (bishops and deacons), and that the high priesthood of Christ is wholly different in kind from the Mosaic high priesthood, and exempt from those very limitations on which Clement dwells in that chapter.30 This parallel contains the germ of the whole system of sacerdotalism. But it is at best only an argument by analogy. Tertullian was the first who expressly and directly asserts sacerdotal claims on behalf of the Christian ministry, and calls it "sacerdotium," although he also strongly affirms the universal priesthood of all believers. Cyprian (d. 258) goes still further, and applies all the privileges, duties, and responsibilities of the Aaronic priesthood to the officers of the Christian church, and constantly calls them sacerdotes and sacerdotium. He may therefore be called the proper father of the sacerdotal conception of the Christian ministry as a mediating agency between God and the people. During the third century it became customary to apply the term "priest" directly and exclusively to the Christian ministers especially the bishops.132132    Sacerdos, also summus sacerdos (Tertullian, De Bapt. 7), and oncepontifex maximus (De Pudic. 1, with ironical reference, it seems, to the Roman bishop); ordo sacerdotalis (De Exhort. Cast. 7); ἱερεύς and sometimes ἀρχιερεύς (Apost. Const. II. 34, 35, 36, 57; III. 9; vi. 15, 18, etc.). Hippolytus calls his office an ἀρχιερατεία and διδασκαλία (Ref. Haer. I. prooem.). Cyprian generally applies the term sacerdos to the bishop, and calls his colleagues consacerdotales.31 In the same manner the whole ministry, and it alone, was called "clergy," with a double reference to its presidency and its peculiar relation to God.133133    Κλῆρος,clerus, τάξιςordo, ordosacerdotalis (Tertulli, De Ehort. Cast. 7), ordo eccelesiasticus orecclesiae (De Monog. 11; De Idolol. 7); κληρικοί, clerici. The first instance perhaps of the use of clerus in the sense of clergy is in Tertullian,De Monog. c. 12: "Unde enim episcopi et clerus ?" and: "Extollimur et inflamur adversus clerum." Jerome (Ad Nepotian.) explains this exclusive application of clerus to ministers, "vel quia de sorte sunt Domini, vel quia ipse Dominus sors, id est, pars clericorum est." The distinction between the regular clergy, who were also monks, and the secular clergy or parish priests, is of much later date (seventh or eighth century).32 It was distinguished by this name from the Christian people or "laity."134134    Λαός, λαϊκοί, plebs. In Tertullian, Cyprian, and in the Apostolic Constitutions the term " layman" occurs very often. Cyprian speaks (250) of a " conference held with bishops, presbyters, deacons, confessors, and also with laymen who stood firm"(in persecution), Ep. 30, ad Rom33 Thus the term "clergy," which first signified the lot by which office was assigned (Acts 1:17, 25), then the office itself, then the persons holding that office, was transferred from the Christians generally to the ministers exclusively.

Solemn "ordination" or consecration by the laying on of hands was the form of admission into the "ordo ecclesiasticus" or "sacerdotalis." In this order itself there were again three degrees, "ordines majores," as they were called: the diaconate, the presbyterate, and the episcopate—held to be of divine institution. Under these were the "ordines minores," of later date, from sub-deacon to ostiary, which formed the stepping-stone between the clergy proper and the people.135135    .Occasionally, however we find a somewhat wider terminology. Tertullian mentions, De Monog c. 12, the ordo viduarum among the ordines ecclesiastici, and even the much later Jerome (see In Jesaiam, l. v.c. 19, 18), enumerates quinque ecclesiae ordines, episcopos, presbyteros, diaconos, fideles, catechumenos.34

Thus we find, so early as the third century, the foundations of a complete hierarchy; though a hierarchy of only moral power, and holding no sort of outward control over the conscience. The body of the laity consisted of two classes: the faithful, or the baptized and communicating members, and the catechumens, who were preparing for baptism. Those church members who lived together in one place,136136    Πάροικοι, παρεπίδημοι, Eph. 2:19; 1 Pet. 2:11.35 formed a church in the narrower sense.137137    or parish, παροικία.36

With the exaltation of the clergy appeared the tendency to separate them from secular business, and even from social relations—from marriage, for example—and to represent them, even outwardly, as a caste independent of the people, and devoted exclusively to the service of the sanctuary. They drew their support from the church treasury, which was supplied by voluntary contributions and weekly collections on the Lord’s Day. After the third century they were forbidden to engage in any secular business, or even to accept any trusteeship. Celibacy was not yet in this period enforced, but left optional. Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa, and other distinguished church teachers, lived in wedlock, though theoretically preferring the unmarried state. Of an official clerical costume no certain trace appears before the fourth century; and if it came earlier into use, as may have been the ease, after the example of the Jewish church, it must have been confined, during the times of persecution, to the actual exercises of worship.

With the growth of this distinction of clergy and laity, however, the idea of the universal priesthood continued from time to time to assert itself: in Irenaeus,138138    Adv. Haer. iv. 8, §.37 for example, and in an eccentric form in the Montanists, who even allowed women to teach publicly in the church. So Tertullian, with whom clerus and laici were at one time familiar expressions, inquires, as the champion of the Montanistic reaction against the Catholic hierarchy: "Are not we laymen priests also?"139139    Nonne et laici sacerdotes sumus?38 It is written, he continues: "He hath made us kings and priests (Rev. 1:6). It is the authority of the church alone which has made a distinction between clergy and laity. Where there is no college of ministers, you administer the sacrament, you baptize, you are a priest for yourself alone. And where there are three of you, there is a church, though you be only laymen. For each one lives by his own faith, and there is no respect of persons with God."140140    De Exhort. Cast. c. 7. Comp. also De Monog. 7, 12; De Bapt. 17; De Orat. 1839 All, therefore, which the clergy considered peculiar to them, he claimed for the laity as the common sacerdotal privilege of all Christians.

Even in the Catholic church an acknowledgment of the general priesthood showed itself in the custom of requiring the baptized to say the Lord’s Prayer before the assembled congregation. With reference to this, Jerome says: "Sacerdotium laici, id est, baptisma." The congregation also, at least in the West, retained for a long time the right of approval and rejection in the choice of its ministers, even of the bishop. Clement of Rome expressly requires the assent of the whole congregation for a valid election;141141    . Ad Cor. 44: Σύευδοκάσης τῆς ἐκκλησίας πάσης , consentiente universa ecclesia.40 and Cyprian terms this an apostolic and almost universal regulation.142142    Ep. lx. 3-4 (ed. Goldhorn).41 According to his testimony it obtained also in Rome, and was observed in the case of his contemporary, Cornelius.143143    Ep. lv. 7:"Factus est Cornelius episcopus de Dei et Christi ejus judicio, de clericorum paene omnium testimonio, de plebis quae tum adfuit suffragio, et de sacerdotum antiquorum et bonorum virorum collegio."42 Sometimes in the filling of a vacant bishopric the "suffragium" of the people preceded the "judicium" of the clergy of the diocese. Cyprian, and afterwards Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustin, and other eminent prelates, were in a manner pressed into the bishopric in this democratic way. Cyprian, with all his high-church proclivities, declares it his principle to do nothing as bishop without the advice of the presbyters and deacons, and the consent of the people.144144    Sine consensu plebis.43 A peculiar influence, which even the clergy could not withstand, attached to the "confessors," and it was sometimes abused by them, as in their advocacy of the lapsed, who denied Christ in the Decian persecution.

Finally, we notice cases where the function of teaching was actually exercised by laymen. The bishops of Jerusalem and Caesarea allowed the learned Origen to expound the Bible to their congregations before his ordination, and appealed to the example of several bishops in the East.145145    Euseb., H. E. VI. 19: "There [in Caesarea] he [Origen] was also requested by the bishops to expound the sacred Scriptures publicly in the church, although he had not yet obtained the priesthood by the imposition of hands." It is true this was made the ground of a charge against him by Demetrius, bishop of Alexandria; but the charge was that Origen had preached "in the presence of bishops," not that he had preached as a layman. And the bishops of Jerusalem and Caesarea adduced several examples of holy bishops inviting capable laymen to preach to the people. Prudentius and Aedesius, while laymen, founded the church in Abyssinia, Socrates, Hist. Eccl. I. 19.44 Even in the Apostolical Constitutions there occurs, under the name of the Apostle Paul, the direction: "Though a man be a layman, if experienced in the delivery of instruction, and reverent in habit, he may teach; for the Scripture says: ’They shall be all taught of God.’ "146146    Const. Apost. VIII. 31. Ambrosiaster, or Hilary the Deacon, in his Com. Ad Eph. 4:11, 12, says that in early times "omnes docebant et omnes baptizabant."45 The fourth general council at Carthage (398) prohibited laymen from teaching in the presence of clergymen and without their consent; implying at the same time, that with such permission the thing might be done.147147    Can. 98: "Laicus praesentibus clericis nisi ipsis jubentibus, docere non audeat." The 99th canon forbids women, no matter how "learned or holy," to "presume to teach men in a meeting." Pope Leo I. (Ep 92 and 93) forbids lay preaching in the interest of ecclesiastical order. Charlemagne enacted a law that "a layman ought not to recite a lesson in church, nor to say the Hallelujah but only the Psalm or responses without the Hallelujah."46

It is worthy of notice that a number of the most eminent church teachers of this period, Hermas, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Arnobius, and Lactantius, were either laymen, or at most only presbyters. Hermas, who wrote one of the most popular and authoritative books in the early church, was probably a layman; perhaps also the author of the homily which goes under the name of the Second Epistle of Clement of Rome, and has recently been discovered in full both in the original Greek and in a Syriac translation; for he seems to distinguish himself and his hearers from the presbyters.148148    The Greek text (of which only a fragment was known before) was found and published by Bryennios, 1875, the Syriac version by Bensley, 1876. See Harnack’s ed. in the Patres Apost. vol. I., and Lightfoot, S. Clement of Rome, Appendix (1877). Harnack, Hilgenfeld, and Hatch (l.c. 114; note) suppose that the homily was delivered by a layman, but Lightfoot (p. 304) explains the language above alluded to as a common rhetorical figure by which the speaker places himself on a level with his audience.47



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