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§ 53. The Bishops.


The bishops now stood with sovereign power at the head of the clergy and of their dioceses. They had come to be universally regarded as the vehicles and propagators of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and the teachers and lawgivers of the church in all matters of faith and discipline. The specific distinction between them and the presbyters was carried into everything; while yet it is worthy of remark, that Jerome, Chrysostom, and Theodoret, just the most eminent exegetes of the ancient church, expressly acknowledged the original identity of the two offices in the New Testament, and consequently derive the proper episcopate, not from divine institution, but only from church usage.480480   See the passages quoted in § 52, and the works there referred to. The modern Romish divine, Perrone, in his Praelectiones Theologicae, t. ix. § 93, denies that the doctrine of the superiority of bishops over presbyters by divine right, is an article of the Catholic faith. But the council of Trent, sess. xxiii. can. 6, condemns all who deny the divine institution of the three orders.

The traditional participation of the people in the election, which attested the popular origin of the episcopal office, still continued, but gradually sank to a mere formality, and at last became entirely extinct. The bishops filled their own vacancies, and elected and ordained the clergy. Besides ordination, as the medium for communicating the official gifts, they also claimed from the presbyters in the West, after the fifth century, the exclusive prerogatives of confirming the baptized and consecrating the chrism or holy ointment used in baptism.481481   Innocent I., Ep. ad Decent.: “Ut sine chrismate et episcopi jussione neque presbyter neque diaconus jus habeant baptizandi.” In the East, on the contrary, confirmation (the chrism) is performed also by the presbyters, and, according to the ancient custom, immediately follows baptism.

To this spiritual preëminence of the bishops was now added, from the time of Constantine, a civil importance. Through the union of the church with the state, the bishops became at the same time state officials of weight, and enjoyed the various privileges which accrued to the church from this connection.482482   Comp. above, ch. iii. § 14-16. They had thenceforth an independent and legally valid jurisdiction; they held supervision of the church estates, which were sometimes very considerable, and they had partial charge even of the city, property; they superintended the morals of the people, and even of the emperor; and they exerted influence upon the public legislation. They were exempt from civil jurisdiction, and could neither be brought as witnesses before a court nor be compelled to take an oath. Their dioceses grew larger, and their power and revenues increased. Dominus beatissimus(μακαριώτατος), sanctissimus(ἁγιώτατος), or reverendissimus, Beatitudo or Sanctitas tua, and similar high-sounding titles, passed into universal use. Kneeling, kissing of the hand, and like tokens of reverence, came to be shown them by all classes, up to the emperor himself. Chrysostom, at the end of the fourth century, says: “The heads of the empire (hyparchs) and the governors of provinces (toparchs) enjoy no such honor as the rulers of the church. They are first at court, in the society of ladies, in the houses of the great. No one has precedence of them.”

To this position corresponded the episcopal insignia, which from the fourth century became common: the ring, as the symbol of the espousal of the bishop to the church; the crosier or shepherd’s staff (also called crook, because it was generally curved at the top); and the pallium,483483   2 Ἱερὰ στολή, ὡμοφόριον, superhumerale, pallium, also ephod (רוֹבאֵ, ἐπωμίς). The ephod (Ex. xxviii. 6-11; and xxxix. 2-5), in connection with the square breastplate belonging to it (ןשֶׁח, comp. Ex. xxviii. 15-30; xxxix. 8-21), was the principal official vestment of the Jewish high-priest, and no doubt served as the precedent for the archiepiscopal pallium, but exceeded the latter in costliness. It consisted of two shoulder pieces (like the pallium and the chasubles), which hung over the upper part of the body before and behind, and were skilfully wrought of fine linen in three colors, fastened by golden rings and chains, and richly ornamented with gold thread, and twelve precious stones, on which the names of the twelve tribes were graven. Whether the sacred oracle, Urim and Thummim (LXX.: δήλωσις καὶ ἀλήθεια, Ex. xxviii. 30), was identical with the twelve precious stones in the breastplate, the learned are not agreed. Comp. Winer, Bibl. Reallex., and W. Smith, Dictionary of the Bible, sub Urim and Thummim., a shoulder cloth, after the example of the ephod of the Jewish high-priest, and perhaps of the sacerdotal mantle worn by the Roman emperors as pontifices maximi. The pallium is a seamless cloth hanging over the shoulders, formerly of white linen, in the West subsequently of white lamb’s wool, with four red or black crosses wrought in it with silk. According to the present usage of the Roman church the wool is taken from the lambs of St. Agnes, which are every year solemnly blessed and sacrificed by the pope in memory of this pure virgin. Hence the later symbolical meaning of the pallium, as denoting the bishop’s following of Christ, the good Shepherd, with the lost and reclaimed sheep upon his shoulders. Alexandrian tradition traced this vestment to the evangelist Mark; but Gregory Nazianzen expressly says that it was first given by Constantine the Great to the bishop Macarius of Jerusalem.484484   Orat. xlvii. So Theodoret, Hist. eccl. ii. 27, at the beginning. Macarius is said to have worn the gilded vestment in the administration of baptism. In the East it was worn by all bishops, in the West by archbishops only, on whom, from the time of Gregory I., it was conferred by the pope on their accession to office. At first the investiture was gratuitous, but afterward came to involve a considerable fee, according to the revenues of the archbishopric.

As the bishop united in himself all the rights and privileges of the clerical office, so he was expected to show himself a model in the discharge of its duties and a follower of the great Archbishop and Archshepherd of the sheep. He was expected to exhibit in a high degree the ascetic virtues, especially that of virginity, which, according to Catholic ethics, belongs to the idea of moral perfection. Many a bishop, like Athanasius, Basil, Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Martin of Tours, lived in rigid abstinence and poverty, and devoted his income to religious and charitable objects.

But this very power and this temporal advantage of the episcopate became also a lure for avarice and ambition, and a temptation to the lordly and secular spirit. For even under the episcopal mantle the human heart still beat, with all those weaknesses and passions, which can only be overcome by the continual influence of Divine grace. There were metropolitans and patriarchs, especially in Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome, who, while yet hardly past the age of persecution, forgot the servant form of the Son of God and the poverty of his apostles and martyrs, and rivalled the most exalted civil officials, nay, the emperor himself, in worldly pomp and luxury. Not seldom were the most disgraceful intrigues employed to gain the holy office. No wonder, says Ammianus, that for so splendid a prize as the bishopric of Rome, men strive with the utmost passion and persistence, when rich presents from ladies and a more than imperial sumptuousness invite them.485485   Amm. Marcell. xxvii. c. 3, sub anno 367: “ut dotentur oblationibus matronarum procedantque vehiculis insidentes, circumspecte vestiti, epulas curantes profusas, adeo ut eorum convivia regales superent mensas.” But then with this pomp of the Roman prelates he contrasts the poverty of the worthy country bishops. The Roman prefect, Praetextatus, declared jestingly to the bishop Damasus, who had obtained the office through a bloody battle of parties, that for such a price he would at once turn Christian himself.486486   Besides Ammianus, Jeromealso states this, in his book against John of Jerusalem (Opera, tom. ii. p. 415, ed. Vallars.): “Miserabilis ille Praetextatus, qui designatus consul est mortuus, homo sacrilegus et idolorum cultor, solebat ludens beato papae Damaso dicere: ’Facite me Romanae urbis episcopum, et ero protinus Christianus.’ “ Such an example could not but shed its evil influence on the lower clergy of the great cities. Jerome sketches a sarcastic description of the Roman priests, who squandered all their care on dress and perfumery, curled their hair with crisping pins, wore sparkling rings, paid far too great attention to women, and looked more like bridegrooms than like clergymen.487487   Epist. ad Eustochium de virginitate servanda. And in the Greek church it was little better. Gregory Nazianzen, himself a bishop, and for a long time patriarch of Constantinople, frequently mourns the ambition, the official jealousies, and the luxury of the hierarchy, and utters the wish that the bishops might be distinguished only by a higher grade of virtue.



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