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Chapter 17

CHAPTER XVII: CHURCH GOVERNMENT.

By this time the Gospel had not only been firmly settled as the
religion of the great Roman empire, but had made its way into most
other countries of the world then known. Here, then, we may stop to
take a view of some things connected with the Church; and it will be
well, in doing so, to remember what is wisely said by our own
Church, in her thirty-fourth article, which is about "the Traditions
of the Church" (that is to say, the practices handed down in the
Church) --"It is not necessary that traditions and ceremonies be in
all places one, and utterly alike; for at all times they have been
divers" (that is, they have differed in different parts of Christ's
Church), "and they may be changed according to the diversities of
countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained
against God's Word."

First, then, as to the ministers of the Church. The three orders
which had been from the beginning,--bishops, presbyters (or
priests), and deacons (page 6), were considered to stand by
themselves, as the only orders necessary to a church. But early in
the third century a number of other orders were introduced, all
lower than that of deacons. These were the "sub-deacons", who helped
the deacons in the care of the poor, and of the property belonging
to the church; the "acolytes", who lighted the lamps, and assisted
in the celebration of the sacraments; the "exorcists", who took
charge of persons suffering from afflictions resembling the
possession by devils which is spoken of in the New Testament; the
"readers", whose business it was to read the Scriptures in church;
and the "doorkeepers". All these were considered to belong to the
clergy; just as if among ourselves the organist, the clerk, the
sexton, the singers, and the bell-ringers of a church were to be
reckoned as clergy, and were to be appointed to their offices by a
religious ceremony or ordination. But these new orders were not used
everywhere, and, as has been said, the persons who were in these
orders were not considered to be clergy in the same way as those of
the three higher orders which had been ever since the days of the
Apostles.

There were also, in the earliest times, women called deaconesses,
such as Phoebe, who is mentioned in the Epistle to the Romans (xvi.
1.). These deaconesses (who were often pious widows) were employed
among Christians of their own sex, for such works of mercy and
instruction as were not fit for men to do (or, at least, were
supposed not to be so according to the manners of the Greeks, and of
the other ancient nations). But the order of deaconesses does not
seem to have lasted long.

All bishops, as I have said already, are of one order (page 6). But
in course of time, it was found convenient for the government of the
Church, that some of them should be placed higher than others; and
the way in which this was settled was very natural. The bishops of a
country found it desirable to meet sometimes, that they might
consult with each other, as we are told that the Apostles did at
Jerusalem (Acts xv); and in most countries these meetings (which
were called "synods" or "councils") came to be regularly held once
or twice a year. The chief city of each district was naturally the
place of meeting; and the bishop of this city was naturally the
chairman or president of the assembly-- just as we read that, in
the council of the Apostles, St. James who was bishop of Jerusalem,
where it was held, spoke with the greatest authority, after all the
rest, and that his "sentence" was given as the judgment of the
assembly. These bishops, then, got the title of "metropolitans",
because each was bishop of the metropolis (or mother-city) of the
country in which the council was held; and thus they came to be
considered higher than their brethren. And, of course, when any
messages or letters were to be sent to the churches of other
countries, the metropolitan was the person in whose name it was
done.

And, as all this was the natural course of things in every country,
it was also natural that the bishops of very great cities should be
considered as still higher than the ordinary metropolitans. Thus the
bishoprics of Rome, of Alexandria, and of Antioch, which were the
three greatest cities of the empire, were regarded as the chief
bishoprics, and as superior to all others. Those of Rome and Antioch
were both supposed to have been founded by St. Peter, and Alexandria
was believed to have been founded by St. Mark, under the direction
of St. Peter. Hence it afterwards came to be thought that this was
the cause of their greatness; and the bishops of Rome, especially,
liked to have this believed, because they could then pretend to
claim some sort of especial power, which they said that our Lord had
given to St. Peter above the other Apostles, and that St. Peter had
left it to his successors. But such claims were quite unfounded, and
it is clear that the real reason why these three churches stood
higher than others was that they were in the three greatest cities
of the whole empire.

But the Church of Rome had many advantages over Alexandria and
Antioch, as well as over every other. It was the greatest and the
richest of all, so that it could send help to distressed Christians
in all countries. No other church of the West had an Apostle to
boast of, but Rome could boast of the two great Apostles, St. Peter
and St. Paul, who had laboured in it, and had given their blood for
the faith of the Gospel in it. Most of the western nations had
received their knowledge of the Gospel through the Roman Church, and
on this account they looked up with respect to it as a mother. And
as people from all parts of the empire were continually going to
Rome and returning, the Church of the great capital kept up a
constant intercourse with other churches in all quarters. Thus the
bishops of Rome were naturally much respected everywhere, and, so
long as they did not take too much upon themselves, great regard was
paid to their opinion; but when they tried to interfere with the
rights of other bishops, or to lord it over other churches, they
were firmly withstood, and were desired to keep within their proper
bounds, as Stephen of Rome was by St. Cyprian of Carthage (page 29).

Another thing must be mentioned as creditable to the Roman Church,
and as one which did much to raise the power of its bishops. The
heresies which we have read of all began in the East, where the
people were more sharp-witted and restless in their thoughts than
those of the West. The Romans, on the other hand, had not the turn
of mind which led to these errors, but rather attended to practical
things. Hence they were disposed to hold to the faith which had come
down to them from their fathers, and to defend it against the new
opinions which were brought forward from time to time. This
steadiness, then, gave them a great advantage over the Christians of
the East, who were frequently changing from one thing to another. It
gained for the Roman Church much credit and authority , and when the
great Arian controversy arose, the effects of the difference between
the Eastern and the Western character were vastly increased. The
Romans (except for a short time, when a bishop named Liberius was
won over by the Arians) kept to their old faith. The Eastern parties
looked to the bishop of Rome as if he had the whole Western Church
in his hands. They constantly carried their quarrels to him, asking
him to give his help, and he was the strongest friend that they
could find anywhere. And when the side which Rome had always upheld
got the victory at last, the importance of the Roman bishops rose in
consequence. But even after all this, if the bishop of Rome tried to
meddle with other churches, his right to do so was still denied.
Many "canons" (that is to say, rules of the Church) were made to
forbid the carrying of any quarrel for judgment beyond the country
in which it began; and, however glad the churches of Africa and of
the East were to have the bishop of Rome for a friend, they would
never allow him to assume the airs of a master.

And from the time when Constantinople was built in the place of
Byzantium, a new great Church arose. Byzantium had been only a
common bishopric, and for a time Constantinople was not called
anything more than a common bishopric; but in real importance it was
very much more, so that even a bishop of Antioch, the third see in
the whole Christian world, thought himself advanced when he was made
bishop of Constantinople instead. But the second General Council
(which as we have seen (page 70) was held at Constantinople in the
year 381) made a canon by which Constantinople was placed next to
Rome, "because," as the canon said, "it is a new Rome." This raised
the jealousy, not only of Antioch, and still more of Alexandria, at
having an upstart bishopric (as they considered it) put over their
heads; but it gave great offence to the bishops of Rome, who could
not bear such a rivalry as was now threatened, and were besides very
angry on account of the reason which was given for placing
Constantinople next after Rome. For the council, when it said that
Constantinople was to be second among all Churches, because of its
being " a new Rome," meant to say that the reason why Rome itself
stood first was nothing more than its being the old capital of the
empire, whereas the bishops of Rome wished it to be thought that
their power was founded on their being the successors of St. Peter.

We shall by-and-by see something of the effects of these jealousies.