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§ 41. Progress in Consolidation.

In the external organization of the church, several important changes appear in the period before us. The distinction of clergy and laity, and the sacerdotal view of the ministry becomes prominent and fixed; subordinate church offices are multiplied; the episcopate arises; the beginnings of the Roman primacy appear; and the exclusive unity of the Catholic church develops itself in opposition to heretics and schismatics. The apostolical organization of the first century now gives place to the old Catholic episcopal system; and this, in its turn, passes into the metropolitan, and after the fourth century into the patriarchal. Here the Greek church stopped, and is governed to this day by a hierarchical oligarchy of patriarchs equal in rank and jurisdiction; while the Latin church went a step further, and produced in the middle ages the papal monarchy. The germs of this papacy likewise betray themselves even in our present period, particularly in Cyprian, together with a protest against it. Cyprian himself is as much a witness for consolidated primacy, as for independent episcopacy, and hence often used and abused alike by Romanists and Anglicans for sectarian purposes.

The characteristics, however, of the pre-Constantinian hierarchy, in distinction from the post-Constantinian, both Greek and Roman, are, first, its grand simplicity, and secondly, its spirituality, or freedom from all connection with political power and worldly splendor. Whatever influence the church acquired and exercised, she owed nothing to the secular government, which continued indifferent or positively hostile till the protective toleration edict of Constantine (313). Tertullian thought it impossible for an emperor to be a Christian, or a Christian to be an emperor; and even after Constantine, the Donatists persisted in this view, and cast up to the Catholics the memory of the former age: "What have Christians to do with kings? or what have bishops to do in the palace?"119119    "Quid Christianis cum regibus ? aut quid episcopis cum palatio?"18 The ante-Nicene fathers expected the ultimate triumph of Christianity over the world from a supernatural interposition at the second Advent. Origen seems to have been the only one in that age of violent persecution who expected that Christianity, by continual growth, would gain the dominion over the world.120120    Contra Cels. VIII. 68. Comp. the remarks of Neander, I. 129 (Boston ed.).19

The consolidation of the church and its compact organization implied a restriction of individual liberty, in the interest of order, and a temptation to the abuse of authority. But it was demanded by the diminution of spiritual gifts, which were poured out in such extraordinary abundance in the apostolic age. It made the church a powerful republic within the Roman empire, and contributed much to its ultimate success. "In union is strength," especially in times of danger and persecution such as the church had to pass through in the ante-Nicene age. While we must deny a divine right and perpetual obligation to any peculiar form of government as far as it departs from the simple principles of the New Testament, we may concede a historical necessity and great relative importance to the ante-Nicene and subsequent organizations of the church. Even the papacy was by no means an unmixed evil, but a training school for the barbarian nations during the middle ages. Those who condemn, in principle, all hierarchy, sacerdotalism, and ceremonialism, should remember that God himself appointed the priesthood and ceremonies in the Mosaic dispensation, and that Christ submitted to the requirements of the law in the days of his humiliation.

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