Hierarchy of the Early Church
The word hierarchy is used here to denote the three grades of bishop, priest, and deacon ( ministri ). According to Catholic doctrine (Council of Trent, sess. XXIII, can. vi), this threefold gradation owes its existence to Divine institution. Another name for this hierarchy is hierarchia ordinis , because its three grades correspond to the three grades of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The word hierarchy is, however, also used in a wider sense. A further gradation of dignity is obtained by the inclusion of the Bishop of Rome, the head of the Church and Vicar of Christ, to whom, by reason of the Divine origin of the hierarchy, the three grades just mentioned are subordinated. If however, those features be taken into account which are of merely ecclesiastical origin, the hierarchy will include not only the remaining sacred orders, viz, the subdiaconate and the minor orders, but also all clerics who possess definite faculties not conferred by the orders themselves. Such are cardinals, nuncios, delegates, patriarchs, primates, metropolitans, archbishops, vicars-general, archdeacons, deans, parish priests, and curates. This hierarchy in the wider sense is called hierarchia jurisdictionis , because the persons in question have actual power in the Church. There is still a third sense in which the expression hierarchy may be used; in this it includes the whole clergy and laity, inasmuch as they are all members of the Church. No instance of the word hierarchia , corresponding to the term hierarches , can be shown before Dionysius, the Pseudo-Areopagite. It is not to be interpreted as hiera arche (sacred office), but as hieron arche (office of sacred rites ) ( Petavius, "De angelis", II, ii, 2). That the expression heriarchia found general acceptance is due to the authority of the Pseudo-Areopagite. The third sense of the expression may be also traced to Dionysius [cf., J. Stiglmayr in "Zeitschr. für kathol. Theologie", XII (1898), 180 sqq.].
In the present article the expression hierarchy is employed in its narrowest sense. Since, however, the earliest history of this threefold institution -- the episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate -- cannot be given without a detailed inquiry into the entire organization and inner constitution of the early Church, it is proposed to survey in full the earliest history of the organization of the Christian Church up to the year 150; and in this survey it is essential that we extend our inquiry to the Apostolic Office, as the root from which sprang the early Christian episcopate. The foundation of the Church by Christ, the history of the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome will not be dealt with here (cf. the articles: BISHOP; CHURCH; COLLEGE, APOSTOLIC; DEACON ; PRIEST; PRIMACY; POPE; SUCCESSION, APOSTOLIC). The treatment of the subject will be under these six main heads:(I) The Principles Governing the Grouping of the Original Documents belonging to our question;
(II) Enumeration of the Groups of Documents and the Explanation why these Groups have been thus arranged;
(III) Discussion and Interpretation of all Texts of Date not later than the Middle of the Second Century (the full wording of the texts will be necessary only in exceptional cases);
(IV) Detailed Evidence from Pagan Inscriptions, Papyri, and Ostraka, which throw light on Christian institutions;
(V) Historical or Quasi-Historical Testimonies on the Constitution of Primitive Christianity, taken from Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and others;
(VI) Short Synopsis of the Principal Results of the Investigation.
I. THE PRINCIPLES GOVERNING THE GROUPING OF THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS
The common division into an Apostolic and a post-Apostolic period cannot be aptly applied to the collection of historical testimony bearing on the constitution of the early Church ; such a division is indeed misleading. Because:
A. Our sources for the very earliest times are too scanty and fragmentary to give us anything approaching a clear picture of the institutions; it is therefore plain that the mere omission of certain things in these sources gives us no right to infer their non-existence.
B. Although the development of the primary elements and fundamental principles of the inner constitution of the Church was surprisingly rapid and uniform, at least in the essential features, the variations in different localities were not inconsiderable.
C. Several testimonies taken from the end of the first and the first half of the second century contain valuable historical information directly concerning the organization of the early Church and thus lead us to the border of the earliest epoch.
D. A wealth of formulæ of archæological interest, and many implicit statements of contemporary legal conceptions, are found in these testimonies. They contain, as it were, the crystallized institutions of the earliest period.
E. One should not imagine the primitive ecclesiastical structure as a mere aggregate of disjoined fragments, but rather as a living and regularly developed organism, from whose inner construction we can under certain conditions arrive at definite conclusions as to its origin and growth.
The last two points show that it is allowable, and even necessary to determine from later sources the earliest state of the ecclesiastical constitution by cautious and critical method. A scientific investigation will first bulk together all the sources up to the middle of the second century, and then conceive as a whole, the development up to that time. Research will show that many of the institutions are undoubtedly post-Apostolic, while of the greater number of them, it can only be said that they followed one another in a certain order: it is impossible to determine the exact date of their first appearance. The encyclicals of St. Ignatius (about 110) mark the close of a definite period; and there are other sources, the dates of which are exactly known, that enable us to ascertain the first beginnings and some intermediate steps in the development of this period. This makes it possible to sketch more or less accurately the remaining stages without fixing upon the exact date of each document. For instance, it cannot be doubted that certain descriptions in the "Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles" ( Didache ) suppose an older phase of corporate development than that which we meet with in the Pastoral Epistles and the Epistle of Clement. This fact however does not decide the question whether the Didache was actually written before the Epistle of Clement and the Pastoral Epistles. As to the latter, it is clear that the system of government depicted therein represents an earlier phase than that given in the Letters of Ignatius.
It is not our intention in this article to undertake a preliminary and cursory review of the sources, which would only establish the most evident facts of chronology. This task has been already sufficiently often undertaken from widely different standpoints, and it has been shown on incontestable evidence that the several grades of the hierarchy did not exist from the beginning in their later finished form, but grew up to it by various processes, partly of development and partly of self-differentiation. Supposing therefore that the process of development has been determined in its most general outlines, we can arrange the sources accordingly. Whether the chronology be treated previously or consequently to such an arrangement, that factor must be considered separately.
The classification will now follow of the whole documentary material up to the second half of the second century. From the entire material we shall first collect those testimonies which evidently exhibit the most advanced stage of development and the closest resemblance to the institutions of this period. These documents will form the fourth group. We then gather all those accounts in which the plenitude of the Apostolic authority is shown in conjunction with a somewhat unfinished and fluctuating system of ecclesiastical government; these form the first group. The remaining documents will be assigned to the second or third group accordingly as they are more nearly related to the first or to the fourth.
II. GROUPS OF DOCUMENTS A. Enumeration (1) The First Group includes:
(a) the first six chapters of the Acts of the Apostles , and the passages in the Synoptics concerning the special call and unique position of the Twelve,
(b) the two Epistles to the Corinthians , the Epistle to the Galatians , the two to the Thessalonians, and the Epistle to the Romans ,
(c) some texts from the Acts of the Apostles (to be collected later) about the Apostles as witnesses and preachers, about the obedience due to them, and about the fellow-labourers of St. Paul,
(d) the account in the Acts about the seven helpers of the Apostles (vi, 10), of the presbyters of Palestine (xi, 30; xv, xvi, 4; xxi, 18), of the presbyters in Asia (xiv, 23), of the prophets (xiii, 1-3; xv, 32; xxi, 8 sq.).
(a) the Treatise to the Hebrews,
(b) the Epistle of James ,
(c) the Second Epistle of Peter,
(d) the Epistle of Jude,
(e) the Three Epistles of John ,
(f) the Pastoral Epistles,
(g) the First Letter of Clement,
(h) the Ascension of Isaias.
(a) the Apocalypse,
(b) the Gospel of St. John,
(c) the Seven Encyclicals of Ignatius, and the Letter of Polycarp,
(d) the Letter of Barnabas, and the homily known under the title of the Second Letter of Clement,
(e) the Pastor of Hermas,
(h) Abercius, besides
(i) a brief dissertation on Gnosticism and Montanism.
The Apologists ( Justin excepted), the fragments of the presbyters and of Papias, the Letter to Diognetus (chaps. xi and xii are spurious), the "Acta" and "Passiones" of the martyrs of this period, excepting a passage from the "Passio Polycarpi"; the Apocrypha properly so called, with the exception of the Ascension of Isaias ; all these furnish nothing directly bearing on our matter. The same is true of the Christian papyri, the Ostraka, and the inscriptions. One cannot attach the value of independent testimony to four passages dealing with the special call and vocation of the Twelve, viz, from the Ebionitic Gospel (Epiphanius, "Hær.", xxx, 13), from the Apology of Aristides (Texte und Untersuch., IV, iii, 1893, 9, 10), from the Mission Sermon of Peter ( Kerygma Petrou ; Robinson, "Texts and Studies", 1891, 86 sq., fragm. 1), and from a Coptic papyrus at Strasburg -- (cf. Göttinger gel. Anz., 1900, 481 sq.). In regard to the oldest Greek Christian papyri, see Wessely "Les plus anciens monuments du christianisme écrits sur Papyrus" ("Patrologia Orientalis", ed. Graffin and Nau, IV, 2). Even without taking into account the lack of a critical text, we must nevertheless abandon any attempt to argue from the Clementines, since even the oldest parts betray themselves more and more as a product of the third century. The writer of the original document may now and then have made use of valid traditions, in questions affecting the constitution of the Church, but he is guilty of arbitrary inventions and changes. All the conclusions regarding primitive conditions which Hilgenfeld's acumen and learning enabled him to draw from the Clementines, must give way under the pressure of careful criticism. Neither does the present writer make use of the so-called "Apostolic Church Ordinance", because of the invalidity of Harnack's hypothesis ("Die Quellen der sog. Apost. Kirchenord.", 1886, 32 sq.), which would base Chaps. 16-21:22-28 on two ancient sources dating from the middle of the second century. The work belongs to the third century and hardly admits of critically safe conclusions. The same is true of the Syriac Didaskalia.
According to the restrictions made above, we consider here the Gospel accounts only in so far as their testimony enables us to form an idea of the Church as it existed in the first generation. The accounts about the position, the authority, the activity of the original Twelve in Jerusalem ( Acts 1-6 ) bear the most evident signs of antiquity and genuineness, and agree with all the other information about the dignity of the Apostles handed down to us from early times.(3) Remarks on the First Group, Section (d)
It will not suffice, with regard to the presbyters of the Acts of the Apostles , to establish historically the fact that about A. D. 50 there were presbyters in Jerusalem and in other localities in Palestine, and that at the same time, Paul on his first journey appointed presbyters in Asia Minor. There remains another important question to be solved, whether all these presbyters are, in a true sense of the word, the predecessors of that primitive college which we meet, for instance about 115, in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch. There is not the slightest critical reason -- we shall prove this later on at full length -- why the presbyters of Asia Minor should be understood as different from the superiors mentioned in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. On the other hand, we regard the presbyter-bishops of Ephesus ( Acts 20 ) as belonging to the second group of the sources, because they represent an authority that is much more definite.(4) Remarks on the First Group, Section (b) and on the Second Group
In the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, the state of the Church as a corporate body does not differ in any essential point from that described in the accounts of the first group. The Apostle Paul appears as the first, nay, the only authority. In the Epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, the conditions have changed a little. Indeed, the personal rule of the Apostle is still supreme; but some traits point to a gradual passing of power to other superiors. We are reminded of this fact by the title of the Epistle to the Philippians, in which bishops and deacons are mentioned. We are again reminded of it by the mention of Archippus, the minister, in the Epistle to the Colossians. The note to Philemon is likewise connected to some extent with this change. In the second group we place also the Epistle to the Ephesians , since it shows a remarkable decrease in the importance, of individuals endowed with the charismata as members of the organized Body of Christ. For similar reasons we insert here the Didache.
All the writings enumerated in the third group show the organization of the Church more developed. The fourth group witnesses the preponderance of the monarchic episcopate. It is not easy to find the right place for the Pastor of Hermas. The degree of organic development supposed in that work, the pronounced control of the presbyters, and the presence to all appearances of a leading personality, Clement, all this points to an intermediate stage, the place of which we are much inclined to fix between the First Letter of Clement and the Encyclicals of Ignatius. Only once is Clement mentioned and then in passing; little therefore can be gathered as to the position assigned him by Hermas. On the other hand, the Church's organization is more stable than it was in Corinth at the time of the first Clement about A. D. 98. Whether Hermas really attempted to carry back his description of the Church to the end of the first century by giving it a tinge of antiquity is as yet an open question; the categorical "No" of recent scholars provokes contradiction. At all events the attempt of Hermas, supposing it to have been made, was rather weak. But, on the other hand, the personal tone is no proof to the contrary. Still, there are strong indications that the prophet wrote about A. D. 150. A monarchic bishop, it is true, is nowhere mentioned, but from this it does not follow that Hermas finished his work before the election of his brother Pius to the Bishopric of Rome. Just because he was the brother of the Head of the Church, he must have thought it more advisable to be silent concerning him and to antedate the abuses which he reprehends.
III. DISCUSSION OF TEXTS OF DATE NOT LATER THAN THE MIDDLE OF THE SECOND CENTURY A. The Texts of the First Group
If we judge of the organization of the Churches depicted in the first group of documents simply according to the account given in the texts, without using a definite theory as a basis, nine questions naturally present themselves as to:(1) The Position of the Twelve;
(2) The Position of the Seven Ministers of the Table (cf. diakonein trapezaisActs 6:2 ) mentioned in the Acts, and of the Presbyters of Palestine;
(3) Origin of the Apostolic Authority;
(4) Relations between the Apostles and the Christian Communities;
(5) The Rights of the Christian Communities;
(6) The Position of those Individuals possessing theCharismata ;
(7) The Origin of Ecclesiastical Authority in General;
(8) The Position of the Superiors spoken of in some texts;
(9) The Position of the Apostolic Fellow-Labourers (1) The Position of the Twelve
In the first six chapters of the Acts the Eleven (Twelve if we include Matthias) appear as a governing body to whom the community of Jerusalem is subject (i, 13, 25, 26; ii, 14, 37, 42, 43; iv, 33, 35, 37; v, 2, 12, 18-42; vi, 2 sq., 6). The chief personality is Simon Peter (i, 15 sq., ii, 14, 37; iv, 8; v, 3 sq., 15, 29). Next to him stands John (iii, 1, 3, 4, 11; iv, 1, 13 sq.). According to these texts the Twelve are heralds of the Word of God and rulers of the community. This conception agrees with the traditions in the Synoptics. These traditions inform us: (a) of the special appointment of the Twelve, (b) of the office entrusted to them, and their future destiny.
(i) Appointment -- The vocation of individuals, viz, of Peter, Andrew, James and John. They are to be fishers of men ( Mark 1:16-20 ; Matthew, 4:18-22). According to Luke, v, 10, Jesus, after the miraculous draught of fishes, says to Simon that henceforth he shall catch men. The calling of Matthew ( Mark 2:13, 14 ; Matthew 9:9 ; Luke 5:27, 28 ). Appointment of the Twelve ( Mark 3:13-19 ; Matthew 10:2-4 ; Luke 6:12-16 ). Christ "also named them apostles " ( Luke 6:13 ).
(ii) The Office of the Twelve and their Future Destiny -- They are to be with Him and to be sent to preach ( Mark 3:14 ). They are the salt of the earth and the light of the world ( Matthew 5:13-16 ). They also must protect the world against corruption and elevate it by their holy example. What Christ has told them in the dark, they shall speak in the light ( Matthew 10:26-27 ).
(iii) Mission of the Twelve to preach the kingdom and to heal the sick ( Mark 6:7 sq. ; Matthew 10:5 sq. ; Luke 9:1 sq. ). To the Gentiles they are not to go. Mission of the Seventy (Luke x, 1-16). All are obliged to receive the Twelve and the Seventy, and to hear them; otherwise a severe judgment awaits them (l. c.).
(iv) The power to bind and to loose given to the Twelve ( Matthew 18:15 sq. ); they shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel ( Luke 22:30 ).
(v) The Mission to the world ( Mark 16:14-18 ; Matthew 32:18-20 ; Luke 24:44-49 ).
(vi) The Apostles will survive their Master and pass through days of sadness ( Mark 2:19, 20 ; Matthew 9:15 ; Luke 5:34-35 ; similarly Mark 8:35 sq. ; Matthew 16:24 sq. ; Luke 9:22 sq. ; Luke 17:20 sq. ). They will be dragged before tribunals ( Luke 12:11, 12 ; 21:12 sq. ; Mark 13:9 sq. ; Matthew 10:17 sq. ).
Peter is the foundation of the Church and the keeper of the keys; he has full power to bind and to loose ( Matthew 16:18 sq. ). Peter is to be like a wise and faithful steward, whom the master setteth over his family ( Luke 12:41 sq. ; cf. Matthew 24:45 sq. ). Christ prays for Peter; Peter is to confirm his brethren in the Faith ( Luke 22:31-34 ). No passage in early Christian literature permits our explaining the primitive and marked position of importance enjoyed by the Church of Jerusalem by the importance of this city itself. Only the Twelve are the bearers of this authority, and later James, the "brother of the Lord", and his circle. Nowhere do we hear that brethren gifted with the charismata had any influence in matters of government. The Apostolic authority is represented as the result of the Divine ordinance. This authority included jurisdiction. The Twelve regarded their prerogatives as a moral power conferred by God and Christ, as a right which exacted from others the correlative service of obedience.(2) The Seven Apostolic Helpers (Acts 6 ) and the Presbyters of Palestine (a) The Seven Administrators of the Table
Owing to the complaint of Hellenistic Jewish Christians that their widows were less cared for than those of the "Hebrews", the Twelve provide that seven men, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom be "looked out" and chosen (cf. to plethos ton matheton , Acts 6:2 , and enopion pantos tou plethous , 6:5 ) by the whole community (cf. episkepsasthe of vi, 3, and exelexanto of vi, 5). The Apostles themselves intend to install the persons chosen in their office (vi, 3). This enables the Twelve to devote themselves (henceforth exclusively) to prayer and preaching. The Seven Elect are presented to the Apostles who " praying impose hands upon them" (vi, 5 and 6). No critical doubt can be cast upon any part of the narrative. An official name for the Seven has not come down to us. Their office is described as a ministering to the tables ( diakonein trapeizas , vi, 2), the care of the temporal support of the poor. In reality, however, one of those elected, Stephen, soon devotes himself with ardent zeal to the preaching of the Word of God. Another, Philip, becomes a missionary (viii, 5 sq.) He is called evangelist (xxi, 8).
The sources thus show that these seven men, elected by the people in obedience to the Apostles, were invested by the Apostles in the almoner's office with prayer and imposition of hands. In addition they could act as preachers. Whether this institution existed for any length of time, we do not know. There is no dogmatic tradition strictly speaking, nor any decisive historical reason to suppose that these seven men were deacons in the later sense of the word. The question of their position is usually looked at from a wrong point of view. For from the difference between the original and the later sphere of activity we cannot infer a lack of continuity between the office of the Seven and that of the deacons of the second century. The office of the Seven was no more completely independent than that of the later deacons. One and the same office may in course of time shift the limits of its competence to a very considerable extent; so much so that only a minimum may remain of what it was originally. Yet nobody speaks in this case of an essentially different office. To be convinced of this, we have only to consider the Roman offices of prætor and quæstor. In later times too the care of the poor and sick was one of the duties of deacons proper. The distribution of the Eucharist was likewise part of their duty. It is not impossible that the last mentioned duty is already included in the expression "ministering to the tables", used in our text; for comparison see chap. ii, 46, "Breaking bread from house to house ( klontes te kat okon arton ) they took their meat ( metelambanon trophes )". The most important point however is this: the Seven were appointed to their office by the Apostles with imposition of hands and prayer. This prayer must have contained, implicitly at least the petition that the Holy Ghost might empower and strengthen the chosen ones to fulfil their office (of ministering to the tables), thus conferring all that was essentially necessary to make their office the same as the later diaconate. Nor has the Church ever placed the essence of the diaconate in anything else.(b) The Presbyters of Palestine
We do not know whether or not there is an historical basis for the legendary tradition that the first twelve Apostles, following the command of their Master, remained twelve years in Jerusalem. At all events only Simon Peter, (James), and John and James the "Brother of the Lord" are met with in Jerusalem between the years 45 and 50. About this time presbyters appeared in addition to the Apostles. We find mention of them for the first time in Acts, xi, 30. They are to be found in several Christian communities of Palestine. In Jerusalem the presbyters hold a middle rank between the Apostles and the rest of the community. Together with the Apostles they write the letter which conveys the decision reached by the Church of Jerusalem as to the proper mode of observing the law (xv, 1-30; cf. xvi, 4). The Acts mention the presbyters in connexion with James only on one other occasion (xxi, 18). It is contrary to the principles of historical research to associate the first appearance of the Palestinian presbyters with the monarchical position held by James of the house of David. It is only at a later time, probably after Peter had left Jerusalem for a long time or for ever that James appears as the monarchic bishop of the holy city. The presbyters were at first simply assistants of the Twelve outside the capital. Then a substitute for the Apostles was needed in Jerusalem as well, when most of them had left that city. This was not a revolution in the system of church government; it was merely the natural course of events. No one who clearly understands the practice and the ideas of the earliest times will doubt that the installation of these presbyters was effected by means of imposition of hands and prayer. Very probably the presbyterate of the earliest time was only a dignity.(3) The Origin of the Apostolic Authority
(a) Paul proves that he is an Apostle sent directly by God and Christ and endowed with full power ( Galatians 1:1, 12, 15 ; 2:8-9 ; 1 Corinthians 1:1 ; 3:9-11 ; 4:1 ; 9:1 ; 2 Corinthians 1:1 ; 3:6 ; 10:4-8 ; 11:4-5 ; the whole of chapters 11 and 12 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 ; 2:4, 13 ; Romans 1:1-16 ; 11:13 sq. ; 12:3 ; 15:15-22 ; 16:25-27 ).
(b) Supplementary texts: Gal., i, 8-9 (Paul preaches the absolute truth ); Gal., ii, 2 (comparison between his Gospel and that of the original Apostles ); Gal., ii, 6 (he did not receive power from other Apostles, whether the word Apostles be taken in the narrower or the wider sense). The thought underlying all these texts is this: Paul conceived his own authority as analogous to the power conferred by God and Christ upon the Twelve, a power which Paul himself acknowledged.
(c) These utterances of Paul agree with the following from the Acts of the Apostles : ii, 32; iv, 33; v, 32; viii, 25 (the Apostles are authoritative witnesses of the Resurrection and the deeds of Jesus Christ ): ix, 3 sq.; xxii, 14 sq.; xxvi, 15 sq. (vocation of St. Paul ); iv, 19, 20; v, 29; x, 42 (the Apostles are bound to make known what they have seen and heard); ix, 27 (Paul is presented to the Apostles by Barnabas at Jerusalem ); xiii, 47 [Paul (and Barnabas?) appointed by Christ to be the light of the Gentiles ]; xx, 24, teleioto [teleiosai] . . . ten diakonian en elabon para tou kyriou Iesou, diamartyrasthai to euaggellion . . . This text is equivalent to those given above under (a).(4) Relations of the Apostle to the Communities Founded by him (a) Galatians
The Galatians were obliged to believe and obey the preaching of Paul ( Galatians 1:6-12 ; 3:1-2 ; 4:14-19 ; 5:2, 7-10 ). Their relations are based upon the following three facts strongly emphasized by Paul:
(i) They have received the Holy Ghost ex akons pisteos ("by the hearing of faith ", iii, 2).
(ii) Paul preaches the absolute truth, therefore let him be anathema who preaches a Gospel besides that which he has preached (i, 8-9).
(iii) To resist the truth when preached, is to disobey (v, 7).
Paul introduces himself as an authoritative teacher: (I Cor., i, 11 sq.; cf. iii, 4-7; ii, 4-5; iv, 3-5, 15, 16, 17, Paul threatens to use severe measures (iv, 19-21); he commands them to expel the incest adulterers (v, 1-13); to appoint arbitrators (vi, 1-7); he distinguishes between his permission ( syggnome ) and his command ( epitage ) (vii, 6); cf. vii, 7, "I would"; 8, "I say"; 10, "I command, not I, but the Lord"; 12, "1 speak, not the Lord"; 25, "I give counsel"; 40, he wishes them to follow his counsel. Paul has the right to be maintained by those to whom he preaches, but he has not made use of this right (ix, 1-2; 7-16). He praises them that keep his ordinances (xi, 2); "now this I ordain ", 17; "the rest I will set in order, when I come", xi, 33 and 34; cf. also the orders, xiv, 28 sq. and xv, i sq.; xvi, i sq.: ordinance concerning the collection, which according to the will of the Apostles, was always to be looked upon as a free act of kindness. Cf. II Cor., ix and Rom., xv, 26 sq. In the first Epistle to the Corinthians the Apostle does not attribute to the community any authority whatsoever over himself; he refuses to be the object of any arrogant judgment (iv, 3). In three instances he admits that the community has certain rights which, however, have their origin in his command or his directions (v, 1-13; vi, 1-7; xvi, 1 sq.). II Cor., i, 23 sq.: Paul assures them that he avoided coming to Corinth in order to spare them, and he adds: "Not because we exercise dominion over your faith, but we are helpers of your joy." This is the only passage of this kind found in the writings of St. Paul. II Cor., ii, 9: "For this end also did I write, that I may know the experiment of you, whether you be obedient in all things;" iii, 2-3; vii, 8-12; viii, 10 sq. (mild requests); x, 1-18; up to this chapter of the second Epistle to the Corinthians St. Paul lays little stress upon his authority; he does not so much utter injunctions as counsels and requests, without, however, acknowledging any power of the community over himself. Now he speaks of the spiritual weapons given by God "unto the pulling down of fortifications", (4) "bringing into captivity every understanding ( noema ) unto the obedience of Christ", (5) "having in readiness to revenge all disobedience", (6) the Lord has given him power "unto edification" (8; cf. xiii, 10; xi, 4); there is no other Christ, no other Gospel, but that which he has brought ( anechesthe , not aneichesthe ) (xiii, 2); if he comes again, he will not spare the sinners. From chap. x on Paul again forcibly emphasizes his full authority over the community.(c) Romans
We must take into account that the Apostle speaks to a community which he himself has not founded (cf. especially chap. xv); consequently he does not give commands; nevertheless he teaches with full authority, as one who has power. He refers (xiii, 3) to the grace granted him in order that he might be enabled to give earnest admonitions; hence it is that the Gentiles owe him obedience (xv, 15-19). The same idea is expressed in chap. xvi, 17-19. The text (x,14-17) is one of those most helpful in giving us an insight into the beginnings of Christianity. Belief is impossible if one has not heard a preacher of the Faith, and preaching requires the sending of the preacher.(d) Thessalonians
In I Thess., ii, 7 ( 1 Corinthians 9:7-16 and 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 ); I Thess., iv, 1; II Thess., ii, 12-14 (cf. 2-4), Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to hold the traditions which they have learned, whether by word or by his epistle ; cf. also iii, 6. If one of the faithful does not obey Paul's epistle, they shall not keep company with him and shall admonish him (iii, 14 and 15).(e) Supplementary notes from the Acts of the Apostles
Acts, ii, 42 (The community perseveres in the doctrine of the Apostles ). Acts, xv, 6-31 (The Apostles and the presbyters of Jerusalem issue an authoritative encyclical concerning the observance of the law ). Acts, xvi, 4 extends it to Asia Minor .(5) The rights of the Communities
The first group of our documents contains fifteen texts from which may be drawn conclusions with regard to certain community rights. These texts may be divided into eight classes. The first contains information on elections of an official character held by the communities; the second, on elections of a private character ; the third, on judicial proceedings; the fourth, on private courts of arbitration ; the fifth, on the opinions of the faithful with regard to the Apostles ; the sixth, on collections taken up in the communities; the seventh, on credentials granted in the name of the community; the eighth, on the acknowledgment of superiors by the community. In order to view the matter in the proper critical light, one must keep in mind that from the very beginning the concept Ecclesia expressed not only the local particular Church, but also the universal Church as a whole, in as much as it is superior to the individual communities and operates in them as their vital principle. This is now admitted by Protestant scholars of the first rank. Even when Ecclesia was used in the sense of local Church it did not, in the earliest Christian literature, designate the community as opposed to the Apostles or any other superiors, but it meant the organized community Such is the obvious meaning of the term in all the writings of the New Testament . In only two passages which, moreover, belong to the quite exceptional fifteenth chapter of the Acts, the Ecclesia is placed side by side with the Apostles and presbyters : The Apostles of the Gentiles are received by the Church (of Jerusalem ) and by the Twelve and the presbyters (xv, 4); the Apostles and presbyters together with the entire Church of Jerusalem elect the envoys for Antioch. Acts, xiv, 22 says Paul appointed presbyters in every Church ( kat ekklesian ) of Asia Minor.
Elsewhere, however, St. Paul's conception of the Church prevails; the Church, both in its ideal form and in its concrete realization, is always the body of Christ and consequently an organic, articulated whole. It is in the Epistle to the Ephesians that we find for the first time the notion of this ideal Church, i.e., of the universal Church taken as an individual unit ( Ephesians 1:22 ; 3:10, 21 ; 5:23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 32 ; so too Colossians 1:18, 24 ; Hebrews 12:23 sq. ). This is the meaning of Matt., xvi, 18: "I will build my church". Something like a transition to this meaning is found in I Cor., xii, 28: " God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, etc." One plainly feels however that behind these words there still lurks the idea that in every individual Church (i.e. community) the various charismata are operative. Something similar may be observed in I Cor., x, 32 with the difference, however, that here the actual particular Church is still more clearly to be seen. On the other hand in the three passages where Paul speaks of himself as the former persecutor of the Church, he may possibly have in mind the community of Jerusalem ( Galatians 1:13 ; 1 Corinthians 15:9 ; Philippians 3:10 ). In Acts, xi, 26 the word Ekklesia seems also to have a signification intermediate between that of the particular concrete Church and that of the ideal universal Church. There remain eighty-four texts in which the word Ecclesia occurs. In no single one of them does the expression signify the community or the congregation taken in a distinctly democratic sense, by which emphasis would be laid on the self-government of the faithful. It is therefore not admissible to consider the actions of the Ecclesia as a mere outcome of democratic rights, thus arbitrarily excluding both the unitary operation of the organism as a whole and the graded activity of the individual members and different organs of administration. St. Paul certainly ascribes all rights and powers to the Ecclesia as the ideal whole, through whose vivifying action they are imparted to the local Churches, the proximate sources whence the individual administrative organs derive their vital prerogatives. But all this is possible only because the Church is the body of Christ and thus in vital union with the giver of life, Jesus Christ.
This early Christian view of the Church has nothing in common with the idea of a purely human, democratic authority and supremacy of the community. In our own days as well, it is of course the only correct conception of the Christian Church ; it is the Catholic idea of the Church. Even towards the end of the second century the use of terms had already begun to undergo a change. This is perhaps to be regretted. Instead of speaking of the activity, the efficiency, and the sacrificial office of the Church of God, it gradually became customary to lay stress on the acting organs, i.e., to ascribe these functions to the bishop or presbyter. This brought out more clearly the element of jurisdiction and defined more sharply the grades of authority. As long as the Church in general was conceived as the subject of all activity, the functions of the individual organs remained undefined nor could any clear distinction be drawn between their respective attributions. While these were more plainly marked off in the later development, the depth and unity of thought was impaired by the obscuring of the idea that the Church is the mystical body of Christ. St. Paul never derived all the rights and powers of the Churches founded by him from the plenitude of his Apostolic power. He never forgot that the Church of God was primarily a creation of God, and therefore the subject of rights founded in her very nature. But these rights and powers which come from God have nothing in common with community rights. By community rights we understand, of course, only those rights which were proper to actually existing, complete communities. In most of the Protestant works on this subject we find these latter rights confounded with those that belong to the Church as an organism, as the body of Christ. Harnack, in his latest treatise on the inner constitution of the Church (Realencyklop. für Protest. Theol. und Kirche, ed. 3, XX, 1908, 508-546; cf. especially 519 sq.) has attempted to remove this confusion, but only with partial success.
In the next series of texts we cannot, of course, insert those in which St. Paul, as for instance in Galatians 4:17 , exhorts the Christians to admonish one another, to warn, to correct the sinners. This is a duty imposed by the Lord's command; and the right to fulfil that duty is included in the right to administer fraternal correction ; it is not a community right. The first group of texts deals with electoral proceedings of an official character.
(a) The entire assembly of the faithful takes part in the election of Matthias ( Acts 1:23-26 ), after two candidates had been proposed. Peter opens the proceedings; but no information is given about the right of presentation and the manner of casting the lot.
(b) The seven assistants of the Apostles are chosen by the whole community in accordance with the injunction of the Twelve ( pan to plethos . . . exelexanto ); and from the Apostles they receive the imposition of hands with prayer ( Acts 6:2-6 ).
(c) In Acts, xi, 22 sq., we are told that the "Church that was at Jerusalem " sends Barnabas as an official envoy to Antioch.
After the council of the Apostles, envoys are sent out by the Apostles, presbyters, and the whole Church ( syn ole te ekklesia , Acts 15:22 ). A semi-official election is spoken of in only one text (second group of texts). St. Paul is given a companion "by the churches" ( 2 Corinthians 8:19 ) to accompany him in collecting alms. It is easy to read between the lines that St. Paul desired to have them appointed in order to protect himself against evil tongues. In these electoral acts one must bear in mind all that has been said about the Church as an organism and also take into account the dependence of the voters upon the Apostles, which the texts themselves suggest. Finally the following important methodological rule should constantly be kept in view: if a document simply reports the fact that a community chose its officials or that it had a share in their appointment, this does not warrant the conclusion that the government is based on democratic principles.
A third group of texts contains information about 'the judicial prerogatives of the community. They include the sentence condemning the incest man, which was passed in a plenary session of the community at Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 5:3 sqq. ) and an allusion to a similar event that took place later in the same Church ( 2 Corinthians 2:6-9 , and 7:12 ). In both cases one finds an ordinance of the Apostle, and this means that the competency of the community depends on
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