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§ 26. The Emperor-Papacy and the Hierarchy.
And this, in point of fact, took place first under Constantine, and developed under his successors, particularly under Justinian, into the system of the Byzantine imperial papacy,237237 In England and Scotland the term Erastianism is used for this; but is less general, and not properly applicable at all to the Greek church. For the man who furnished the word, Thomas Erastus, a learned and able physician and professor of medicine in Heidelberg (died at Basle in Switzerland, 1583), was an opponent not only of the independence of the church toward the state, but also of the church ban and of the presbyterial constitution and discipline, as advocated by Frederick III., of the Palatinate, and the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism, especially Olevianus, a pupil of Calvin. He was at last excommunicated for his views by the church council in Heidelberg. or of the supremacy of the state over the church.
Constantine once said to the bishops at a banquet, that he also, as a Christian emperor, was a divinely appointed bishop, a bishop over the external affairs of the church, while the internal affairs belonged to the bishops proper.238238 His words, which are to be taken neither in jest and pun (as Neander supposes), nor as mere compliment to the bishops, but in earnest, run thus, in Eusebius: Vita Const. l. iv. c. 24: Ὑμεῖς (the ἐπίσκοποι addressed) μέν τῶν εἴσω τῆς ἐκκλησίας, ἐγὼ δὲ τῶν ἐκτὸς ὑπὸ θεοῦ καθεσταμένος ἐπίσκοπος ἅν εἴην. All depends here on the intrepretation of the antithesis τῶμ εἴσω and τῶν ἐκτὸς τῆς ἐκκλησίας. (a) The explanation of Stroth and others takes the genitive as masculine, οἱ εἴσω denoting Christians, and οἱ ἐκτός heathens; so that Constantine ascribed to himself only a sort of episcopate in partibus infidelium. But this contradicts the connection; for Eusebius says immediately after, that he took a certain religious oversight over all his subjects (τοὺς ἀρχομένους ἅπαντας ἐπεσκόπει, etc.), and calls him also elsewhere a universal bishop ” (i. 44). (b) Gieseler’s interpretation is not much better (I. 2. § 92, not. 20, Amer. ed. vol. i. p. 371): that οἱ ἐκτός denotes all his subjects, Christian as well as non-Christian, but only in their civil relations, so far as they are outside the church. This entirely blunts the antithesis with οἱ εἴσω, and puts into the emperor’s mouth a mere commonplace instead of a new idea; for no one doubted his political sovereignty. (c) The genitive is rather to be taken as neuter in both cases, and πραγμάτων to be supplied. This agrees with usage (we find it in Polybius), and gives a sense which agrees with the view of Eusebius and with the whole practice of Constantine. There is, however, of course, another question: What is the proper distinction between τὰ εἴσω and τὰ ἐκτός the interna and externa of the church, or, what is much the same, between the sacerdotal jus in sacra and the imperial jus circa sacra. This Constantine and his age certainly could not themselves exactly define, since the whole relation was at that time as yet new and undeveloped. In this pregnant word he expressed the new posture of the civil sovereign toward the church in a characteristic though indefinite and equivocal way. He made there a distinction between two divinely authorized episcopates; one secular or imperial, corresponding with the old office of Pontifex Maximus, and extending over the whole Roman empire, therefore ecumenical or universal; the other spiritual or sacerdotal, divided among the different diocesan bishops, and appearing properly in its unity and totality only in a general council.
Accordingly, though not yet even baptized, he acted as the patron and universal temporal bishop of the church;239239 Eusebius in fact calls him a divinely appointed universal bishop, οἷά τις κοινὸς ἐπίσκοπος ἐκ θεοῦ δακεσταμένος , συνόδους τῶν τοῦ θεοῦ λειτουργῶν συνεκρότει. Vit. Const. i. 44. His son Constantius was fond of being called ” bishop of bishops.” summoned the first ecumenical council for the settlement of the controversy respecting the divinity of Christ; instituted and deposed bishops; and occasionally even delivered sermons to the people; but on the other hand, with genuine tact (though this was in his earlier period, a.d. 314), kept aloof from the Donatist controversy, and referred to the episcopal tribunal as the highest and last resort in purely spiritual matters. In the exercise of his imperial right of supervision he did not follow any clear insight and definite theory so much as an instinctive impulse of control, a sense of politico-religious duty, and the requirements of the time. His word only raised, did not solve, the question of the relation between the imperial and the sacerdotal episcopacy and the extent of their respective jurisdictions in a Christian state.
This question became thenceforth the problem and the strife of history both sacred and secular, ran through the whole mediaeval conflict between emperor and pope, between imperial and hierarchical episcopacy, and recurs in modified form in every Protestant established church.
In general, from this time forth the prevailing view was, that God has divided all power between the priesthood and the kingdom (sacerdotium et imperium), giving internal or spiritual affairs, especially doctrine and worship, to the former, and external or temporal affairs, such as government and discipline, to the latter.240240 Justinian states the Byzantine theory thus, in the preface to the 6th Novel: “Maxima quidem in hominibus sunt dona Dei a superna collata clementia Sacerdotium et Imperium, et illud quidem divinis ministrans, hoc autem humanis praesidens ac diligentiam exhibens, ex uno eodemque principio utraque procedentia, humanam exornant vitam.” But he then ascribes to the Imperium the supervision of the Sacerdotium, and “maximam sollicitudinem circa vera Dei dogmata et circa Sacerdotum honestatem.” Later Greek emperors, on the ground of their anointing, even claimed a priestly character. Leo the Isaurian, for example, wrote to Pope Gregory II. in 730: βασιλεὺς καὶ ἱερεύς εἰμι (Mansi xii. 976). This, however, was contested even in the East, and the monk Maximus in 655 answered negatively the question put to him: “Ergo non est omnis Christianus imperator etiam sacerdos?” At first the emperor’s throne stood side by side with the bishop’s in the choir; but Ambrose gave the emperor a seat next to the choir. Yet, after the ancient custom, which the Concilium Quinisext., a.d.692, in its 69th canon, expressly confirmed, the emperors might enter the choir of the church, and lay their oblations in person upon the altar—a privilege which was denied to all the laity, and which implied at least a half-priestly character in the emperor. Gibbon’s statement needs correction accordingly (ch. xx.): “The monarch, whose spiritual rank is less honorable than that of the meanest deacon, was seated below the rails of the sanctuary, and confounded with the rest of the faithful multitude.” But internal and external here vitally interpenetrate and depend on each other, as soul and body, and frequent reciprocal encroachments and collisions are inevitable upon state-church ground. This becomes manifest in the period before us in many ways, especially in the East, where the Byzantine despotism had freer play, than in the distant West.
The emperors after Constantine (as the popes after them) summoned the general councils, bore the necessary expenses, presided in the councils through commissions, gave to the decisions in doctrine and discipline the force of law for the whole Roman empire, and maintained them by their authority. The emperors nominated or confirmed the most influential metropolitans and patriarchs. They took part in all theological disputes, and thereby inflamed the passion of parties. They protected orthodoxy and punished heresy with the arm of power. Often, however, they took the heretical side, and banished orthodox bishops from their sees. Thus Arianism, Nestorianism, Eutychianism, and Monophysitism successively found favor and protection at court. Even empresses meddled in the internal and external concerns of the church. Justina endeavored with all her might to introduce Arianism in Milan, but met a successful opponent in bishop Ambrose. Eudoxia procured the deposition and banishment of the noble Chrysostom. Theodora, raised from the stage to the throne, ruled the emperor Justinian, and sought by every kind of intrigue to promote the victory of the Monophysite heresy. It is true, the doctrinal decisions proceeded properly from the councils, and could not have maintained themselves long without that sanction. But Basiliscus, Zeno, Justinian I., Heraclius, Constans II., and other emperors issued many purely ecclesiastical edicts and rescripts without consulting the councils, or through the councils by their own influence upon them. Justinian opens his celebrated codex with the imperial creed on the trinity and the imperial anathema against Nestorius, Eutyches, Apollinaris, on the basis certainly of the apostolic church and of the four ecumenical councils, but in the consciousness of absolute legislative and executive authority even over the faith and conscience of all his subjects.
The voice of the catholic church in this period conceded to the Christian emperors in general, with the duty of protecting and supporting the church, the right of supervision over its external affairs, but claimed for the clergy, particularly for the bishops, the right to govern her within, to fix her doctrine, to direct her worship. The new state of things was regarded as a restoration of the Mosaic and Davidic theocracy on Christian soil, and judged accordingly. But in respect to the extent and application of the emperor’s power in the church, opinion was generally determined, consciously or unconsciously, by some special religious interest. Hence we find that catholics and heretics, Athanasians and Arians, justified or condemned the interference of the emperor in the development of doctrine, the appointment and deposition of bishops, and the patronage and persecution of parties, according as they themselves were affected by them. The same Donatists who first appealed to the imperial protection, when the decision went against them denounced all intermeddling of the state with the church. There were bishops who justified even the most arbitrary excesses of the Byzantine despotism in religion by reference to Melchizedek and the pious kings of Israel, and yielded them selves willing tools of the court. But there were never wanting also fearless defenders of the rights of the church against the civil power. Maximus the Confessor declared before his judges in Constantinople, that Melchizedek was a type of Christ alone, not of the emperor.
In general the hierarchy formed a powerful and wholesome check on the imperial papacy, and preserved the freedom and independence of the church toward the temporal power. That age had only the alternative of imperial or episcopal despotism; and of these the latter was the less hurtful and the more profitable, because it represented the higher intellectual and moral interests. Without the hierarchy, the church in the Roman empire and among the barbarians would have been the football of civil and military despots. It was, therefore, of the utmost importance, that the church, at the time of her marriage with the state, had already grown so large and strong as to withstand all material alteration by imperial caprice, and all effort to degrade her into a tool. The Apostolic Constitutions place the bishops even above all kings and magistrates.241241 Lib. ii. c. 11, where the bishop is reminded of his exalted position, ὡς θεοὶ τύπον ἔχων ἐν ἀνθρώποις τῷ πάντων ἄρχειν ἀνθρώπων, ἱερέων, βασιλέων, ἀρχόντων, etc. Comp. c. 33 and 34. Chrysostom says that the first ministers of the state enjoyed no such honor as the ministers of the church. And in general the ministers of the church deserved their honor. Though there were prelates enough who abused their power to sordid ends, still there were men like Athanasius, Basil, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine, Leo, the purest and most venerable characters, which meet us in the fourth and fifth centuries, far surpassing the contemporary emperors. It was the universal opinion that the doctrines and institutions of the church, resting on divine revelation, are above all human power and will. The people looked, in blind faith and superstition, to the clergy as their guides in all matters of conscience, and even the emperors had to pay the bishops, as the fathers of the churches, the greatest reverence, kiss their hands, beg their blessing, and submit to their admonition and discipline. In most cases the emperors were mere tools of parties in the church. Arbitrary laws which were imposed upon the church from without rarely survived their makers, and were condemned by history. For there is a divine authority above all thrones, and kings, and bishops, and a power of truth above all the machinations of falsehood and intrigue.
The Western church, as a whole, preserved her independence far more than the Eastern; partly through the great firmness of the Roman character, partly through the favor of political circumstances, and of remoteness from the influence and the intrigues of the Byzantine court. Here the hierarchical principle developed itself from the time of Leo the Great even to the absolute papacy, which, however, after it fulfilled its mission for the world among the barbarian nations of the middle ages, degenerated into an insufferable tyranny over conscience, and thus exposed itself to destruction. In the Catholic system the freedom and independence of the church involve the supremacy of an exclusive priesthood and papacy; in the Protestant, they can be realized only on the broader basis of the universal priesthood, in the self-government of the Christian people; though this is, as yet, in all Protestant established churches more or less restricted by the power of the state.
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