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§ 45. Development of the Episcopate. Ignatius.


It is matter of fact that the episcopal form of government was universally established in the Eastern and Western church as early as the middle of the second century. Even the heretical sects, at least the Ebionites, as we must infer from the commendation of the episcopacy in the pseudo-Clementine literature, were organized on this plan, as well as the later schismatic parties of Novatians, Donatists, etc. But it is equally undeniable, that the episcopate reached its complete form only step by step. In the period before us we must note three stages in this development connected with the name of Ignatius in Syria (d. 107 or 115), Irenaeus in Gaul (d. 202), and Cyprian in North Africa (d. 258).

The episcopate first appears, as distinct from the presbyterate, but as a congregational office only (in distinction from the diocesan idea), and as yet a young institution, greatly needing commendation, in the famous seven (or three) Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch a disciple of the apostles, and the second bishop of that see (Evodius being the first, and Hero the third). He is also the first who uses the term "catholic church," as if episcopacy and catholicity sprung up simultaneously. The whole story of Ignatius is more legendary than real, and his writings are subject to grave suspicion of fraudulent interpolation. We have three different versions of the Ignatian Epistles, but only one of them can be genuine; either the smaller Greek version, or the lately discovered Syriac.188188    The question of the genuineness will be discussed in §165. Cureton (1845) Bunsen, Lipsius, and others accept the Syriac version as the original form of the Ignatian epistles, and regard even the short Greek text as corrupt, but yet as dating from the middle of the second century. Rothe, Hefele, Schaff (first ed.), Düsterdieck, Uhlhorn, Zahn, Harnack, defend the genuineness of the shorter Greek recension. The larger Greek recension is universally given up as spurious. The origin of the hierarchical system is obscured by pious frauds. See below, §164 and 165.87 In the latter, which contains only three epistles, most of the passages on the episcopate are wanting, indeed; yet the leading features of the institution appear even here, and we can recognise ex ungue leonem.189189    In the Syriac Ep. to Polycarp, the word bishop occurs four times; in the Syriac Ep. to the Ephesians, God is blessed for having given them such a bishop as Onesimus. In the shorter Greek Ep. to Polycarp episcopacy is mentioned in the salutation, and in three of the eight chapters (ch. 5 twice, ch. 6 twice, ch. 8 once). In the 21 chapters of the Greek Ep. to the Ephesians, the word bishop occurs thirteen times, presbyter three times, and deacon once (in the first six chapters, and ch. 21). In the Greek Trallians, the bishop appears nine times; in the Magnesians, eleven times; in the Philadelphians, eight times; in the Smynaeans, nine times. Thus in the three Syriac Epistles the bishop is mentioned but six times; in the seven shorter Greek Epistles about fifty times; but one of the strongest passages is found in the Syriac Epistle to Polycarp (ch. 5. and 6.).88 In any case they reflect the public sentiment before the middle of the second century.

The substance of these epistles (with the exception of that to the Romans, in which, singularly enough, not a word is said about bishops190190    Except that Ignatius speaks of himself as "the bishop of Syria," who "has found favor with God, being sent from the East to the West" (ch. 2). The verb ἐπισκοπέω is also used, but of Christ (ch. 9).89), consists of earnest exhortations to obey the bishop and maintain the unity of the church against the Judaistic and docetic heresies. With the near prospect and the most ardent desire for martyrdom, the author has no more fervent wish than the perfect inward and outward unity of the faithful; and to this the episcopate seems to him indispensable. In his view Christ is the invisible supreme head, the one great universal bishop of all the churches scattered over the earth. The human bishop is the centre of unity for the single congregation, and stands in it as the vicar of Christ and even of God.191191    Ἐπίσκοπος εἰς τόπον θεοῦ προκαθήμενος, each bisbop being thus a sort of pope.90 The people, therefore, should unconditionally obey him, and do nothing without his will. Blessed are they who are one with the bishop, as the church is with Christ, and Christ with the Father, so that all harmonizes in unity. Apostasy from the bishop is apostasy from Christ, who acts in and through the bishops as his organs.

We shall give passages from the shorter Greek text (as edited by Zahn):

If any one is able to continue in purity (ἐν ἁγνείᾳ i.e., in the state of celibacy), to the honor of the flesh of our Lord, let him continue so without boasting; if he boasts, he is lost (ἀπώλετο) if he become known more than the bishop,192192    Zahn reads, Ad Polyc. cap. 5: ἐὰν γνωσθῇ πλέον τοῦ ἐπισκόπου,i.e . if he be better known or more esteemed than the bishop. The other reading is, πλήν, beyond, or apart from.91 he is corrupt (ἔφθαρται). It is becoming, therefore, to men and women who marry, that they marry by the counsel of the bishop, that the marriage may be in the Lord, and not in lust. Let ever thing be done for the honor of God. Look to the bishop, that God also [may look] upon you. I will be in harmony with those who are subject to the bishop, and the presbyters, and the deacons; with them may I have a portion near God!" This passage is one of the strongest, and occurs in the Syriac Epistle to Polycarp as well as in the shorter Greek recension.193193    Ad Polyc. cap. 5 and 6. The Greek text varies but little from the Syriac.92 It characteristically connected episcopacy with celibacy: the ascetic system of Catholicism starts in celibacy, as the hierarchical organization of Catholicism takes its rise in episcopacy. "It becomes you to be in harmony with the mind (or sentence, γνώμῃ) of the bishop, as also ye do. For your most estimable presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted to the bishop as the strings are to the harp."194194    Ad Ephes. c. 4: Οὕτως συνήρμοσται τῷ ἐπισκόπῳ. ὡς χορδαὶ κιθάρᾳ.93 "It is evident that we should look upon the bishop as we do upon the Lord himself."195195    Ad Ephes c. 6: Τὸν οὖν ἐπίσκοπον δῆλον ὅτι ὡς αὐτὸν τὸν κύριον δεῖ προβλέπειν.94 "I exhort you that ye study to do all things with a divine concord: the bishop presiding in the place of God (εἰς τόπον θεοῦ), and presbyters in the place of the college of the apostles, (εις τόπον συνεδρίου τῶν ἀποστόλων), and the deacons, most dear to me, being intrusted with the ministry (διακονίαν) of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before all ages, and in the end appeared to us."196196    Ad Magnes. c. 6.95 "Be subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Christ [was subject] to the Father according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ and to the Father and to the Spirit, in order that the union be carnal (σαρκική), as well as spiritual."197197    Ibid. c. 13. The desire for "carnal" unity is significant,96 "It is necessary, as is your habit, to do nothing without the bishop, and that ye should be subject also to the presbytery (τῶ πρεσβυτερίῳ), as to the apostles of Jesus Christ."198198    Ad Trallian. c. 2: Ἀναγκαῖον ἐστὶν, ὥσπερ ποιεῖτε, ἄνευ τοῦ ἐπισκόπου μηδὲν πράσσειν ὑμᾶς κτλ.97 "As many as are of God and of Jesus Christ, are also with their bishop."199199    Ad Philad. c. 3.98 "Let all of you follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ [follows] the Father; and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons as the ordinance of God. Without the bishop let no one do anything connected with the church. Let that eucharist be accounted valid which is [offered] under the bishop or by one he has appointed. Wherever the bishop is found, there let the people be; as wherever Christ is, there is the catholic church. Without the bishop it is not lawful either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast."200200    Ad. Smyrn. c. 8: Ὄπου ἄν φανῇ ὁ ἐπίσκοπος, εκεῖ τὸ πλῆθος ἒστω, ὥσπερ α;̓̀ν ἦ Χριστὸσ Ἰησοῦς , ἐκεῖ ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία.99

This is the first time that the term "catholic" is applied to the church, and that episcopacy is made a condition of catholicity.

"He that honors the bishop, shall be honored by God; he that does anything without the knowledge of the bishop serves the devil."201201    Ad Smyrn. c. 9: Ὁ τιμῶν ἐπίσκοπον ὑπὸ θεοῦ τετίμηται· ὁ λάθρα ἐπισκόπου τι πράσσων τῷ διαβόλῳ λατρεύει..00

This is making salvation pretty much depend upon obedience to the bishop; just as Leo I., three centuries later, in the controversy with Hilary of Arles, made salvation depend upon obedience to the pope by declaring every rebel against the pope to be a servant of the devil! Such daring superabundance of episcopalianism clearly betrays some special design and raises the suspicion of forgery or large interpolations. But it may also be explained as a special pleading for a novelty which to the mind of the writer was essential to the very existence of the church.

The peculiarity in this Ignatian view is that the bishop appears in it as the head and centre of a single congregation, and not as equally the representative of the whole church; also, that (as in the pseudo-Clementine Homilies) he is the vicar of Christ, and not, as in the later view, merely the successor of the apostles,—the presbyters and deacons around him being represented as those successors; and finally, that there are no distinctions of order among the bishops, no trace of a primacy; all are fully coordinate vicars of Christ, who provides for himself in them, as it were, a sensible, perceptible omnipresence in the church. The Ignatian episcopacy, in short, is congregational, not diocesan; a new and growing institution, not a settled policy of apostolic origin.



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