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§ 54. Organization of the Hierarchy: Country Bishop, City Bishops, and Metropolitans.


The episcopate, notwithstanding the unity of the office and its rights, admitted the different grades of country bishop, ordinary city bishop, metropolitan, and patriarch. Such a distinction had already established itself on the basis of free religious sentiment in the church; so that the incumbents of the apostolic sees, like Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome, stood at the head of the hierarchy. But this gradation now assumed a political character, and became both modified and confirmed by attachment to the municipal division of the Roman empire.

Constantine the Great divided the whole empire into four praefectures (the Oriental, the Illyrian, the Italian, and the Gallic); the praefectures into vicariates, dioceses, or proconsulates, fourteen or fifteen in all;488488   The dioceses or vicariates were as follows:
   I. The Praefectura Orientalisconsisted of the five dioceses of Oriens, with Antioch as its political and ecclesiastical capital; Aegyptus, with Alexandria; Asia proconsularis, with Ephesus; Pontus, with Caesarea in Cappadocia; Thracia, with Heraklea, afterward Constantinople.

   II. The Praefectura Illyrica, with Thessalonica as its capital, had only the two dioceses of Macedonia and Dacia.

   III. The Praefectura Italicaembraced Roma (i.e. South Italy and the islands of the Mediterranean, or the so-called Suburban provinces); Italia, or the Vicariate of Italy, with its centre at Mediolanum (Milan); Illyricum occidentale, with its capital at Sirmium; and Africa occidentalis, with Carthage.

   IV. The Praefectura Gallicaembraced the dioceses of Gallia, with Treveri (Trier) and Lugdunum (Lyons); Hispania, with Hispalis (Sevilla); and Britannnia, with Eboracum (York).
and each diocese again into several provinces.489489   Thus the diocese of the Orient, for example, had five provinces, Egypt nine, Pontus thirteen, Gaul seventeen, Spain seven. Comp. Wiltsch, Kirchl. Geogr. u. Statistik, i. p. 67 sqq., where the provinces are all quoted, as is not necessary for our purpose here. The praefectures were governed by Praefecti Praetorio, the dioceses by Vicarii, the provinces by Rectores, with various titles—commonly Praesides.

It was natural, that after the union of church and state the ecclesiastical organization and the political should, so far as seemed proper, and hence of course with manifold exceptions, accommodate themselves to one another. In the East this principle of conformity was more palpably and rigidly carried out than in the West. The council of Nice in the fourth century proceeds upon it, and the second and fourth ecumenical councils confirm it. The political influence made itself most distinctly felt in the elevation of Constantinople to a patriarchal see. The Roman bishop Leo, however, protested against the reference of his own power to political considerations, and planted it exclusively upon the primacy of Peter; though evidently the Roman see owed its importance to the favorable cooperation of both these influences. The power of the patriarchs extended over one or more municipal dioceses; while the metropolitans presided over single provinces. The word diocese (διοίκησις) passed from the political into the ecclesiastical terminology, and denoted at first a patriarchal district, comprising several provinces (thus the expression occurs continually in the Greek acts of councils), but afterward came to be applied in the West to each episcopal district. The circuit of a metropolitan was called in the East an eparchy (ἐπαρχία), in the West provincia. An ordinary bishopric was called in the East a parish (παροικία), while in the Latin church the term (parochia) was usually applied to a mere pastoral charge.

The lowest rank in the episcopal hierarchy was occupied by the country bishops,490490   Χωρεπίσκοποι. The principal statements respecting them are: Epist. Synodi Antioch., a.d.270, in Euseb. H. E. vii. 36 (where they are called ἐπίσκοποι τῶν ὁμόρων ἀγρῶν); Concil. Ancyr., a.d.315, can. 13 (where they are forbidden to ordain presbyters and deacons); Concil. Antioch., a.d.341, can. 10 (same prohibition); Conc. Laodic., between 320 and 372, can. 57 (where the erection of new country bishoprics is forbidden); and Conc. Sardic., a.d.343, can. 6 (where they are wholly abolished). the presiding officers of those rural congregations, which were not supplied with presbyters from neighboring cities. In North Africa, with its multitude of small dioceses, these country bishops were very numerous, and stood on an equal footing with the others. But in the East they became more and more subordinate to the neighboring city bishops; until at last, partly on account of their own incompetence, chiefly for the sake of the rising hierarchy, they were wholly extinguished. Often they were utterly unfit for their office; at least Basil of Caesarea, who had fifty country bishops in his metropolitan district, reproached them with frequently receiving men totally unworthy into the clerical ranks. And moreover, they stood in the way of the aspirations of the city bishops; for the greater the number of bishops, the smaller the diocese and the power of each, though probably the better the collective influence of all upon the church. The council of Sardica, in 343, doubtless had both considerations in view, when, on motion of Hosius, the president, it decreed: “It is not permitted, that, in a village or small town, for which a single priest is sufficient, a bishop should be stationed, lest the episcopal dignity and authority suffer scandal;491491   Can. 6: ... ἲνα μὴ κατευτελίξηται τὸ τοῦ ἐπισκόπου ὄνομα καὶ ἡ αὐθεντία; or, in the Latin version: “Ne vilescat nomen episcopi et auctoritas.” Comp. Hefele, i. p. 556. The differences between the Greek and Latin text in the first part of this canon have no influence on the prohibition of the appointment of country bishops. but the bishops of the eparchy (province) shall appoint bishops only for those places where bishops have already been, or where the town is so populous that it is considered worthy to be a bishopric.” The place of these chorepiscopi was thenceforth supplied either by visitators (περιοδεῦται), who in the name of the bishop visited the country congregations from time to time, and performed the necessary functions, or by resident presbyters (parochi), under the immediate supervision of the city bishop.

Among the city bishops towered the bishops of the capital cities of the various provinces. They were styled in the East metropolitans, in the West usually archbishops.492492   Μητροπολίτης, metropolitanus, and the kindred title ἔξαρχος (applied to the most powerful metropolitans); ἀρχιεπίσκοπος, archiepiscopus, and primas. They had the oversight of the other bishops of the province; ordained them, in connection with two or three assistants; summoned provincial synods, which, according to the fifth canon of the council of Nice and the direction of other councils, were to be held twice a year; and presided in such synods. They promoted union among the different churches by the reciprocal communication of synodal acts, and confirmed the organism of the hierarchy.

This metropolitan constitution, which had gradually arisen out of the necessities of the church, became legally established in the East in the fourth century, and passed thence to the Graeco-Russian church. The council of Nice, at that early day, ordered in the fourth canon, that every new bishop should be ordained by all, or at least by three, of the bishops of the eparchy (the municipal province), under the direction and with the sanction of the metropolitan.493493   This canon has been recently discovered also in a Coptic translation, and published by Pitra, in the Spiclegium Solesmense, i. 526 sq. Still clearer is the ninth canon of the council of Antioch, in 341: “The bishops of each eparchy (province) should know, that upon the bishop of the metropolis (the municipal capital) also devolves a care for the whole eparchy, because in the metropolis all, who have business, gather together from all quarters. Hence it has been found good, that he should also have a precedence in honor,494494   Καὶ τῇ τιμῇ προηγεῖσθαι αυτόν. and that the other bishops should do nothing without him—according to the old and still binding canon of our fathers—except that which pertains to the supervision and jurisdiction of their parishes (i.e. dioceses in the modern terminology), and the provinces belonging to them; as in fact they ordain presbyters and deacons, and decide all judicial matters. Otherwise they ought to do nothing without the bishop of the metropolis, and he nothing without the consent of the other bishops.” This council, in the nineteenth canon, forbade a bishop being ordained without the presence of the metropolitan and the presence or concurrence of the majority of the bishops of the province.

In Africa a similar system had existed from the time of Cyprian, before the church and the state were united. Every province had a Primas; the oldest bishop being usually chosen to this office. The bishop of Carthage, however, was not only primate of Africa proconsularis, but at the same time, corresponding to the proconsul of Carthage, the ecclesiastical head of Numidia and Mauretania, and had power to summon a general council of Africa.495495   Cyprian, Epist. 45, says of his province of Carthage: “Latius fusa est nostra provincia; habet enim Numidiam et Mauretaniam sibi cohaerentes.”



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