« AnteriorContinuar »
cept what grew out of peculiar gifts, or out of circumstances, implying a peculiar fitness, anil therefore authority, to teach, such as having been the immediate associate of our Lord or bis apostles. The early preachers of our faith a lopted the course which men of good sense, not to say men divinely inspired, might be expected to adopt. Wherever they formed a society of christians, they would naturally retain the instruction of the flock they had gathered, or if they left it, in parsuance of their commission to preach the gospel to all nations, their opinion would naturally be regarded in the selection of the person who should have charge of it, and the imposition of their hands with prayer, would seem an appropriate and solemn way of separating bim to his office. As the number of christians in a place increased, convenience would demand the forming of new societies, and the head of the parent congregation might be expected to indurt a new teacher, with formalities similar to those with which the first messenger introduced bim. So far all wonld be obviously rational, and no more than we might expect would take place. But the idea that after the age of miracles, any, by right of being successors to the apostles in the highest order of the priesthood, could convey an authority resting solely with them to confer, is an invention of later times. It is not difficult to see how it originated, for it is no secret how early worldly passions began to nestle in the busom of the church. * As congregations multiplied in a neighbourhood, the first who had brought the faith into it, or the first who had exercised a stated ministry, came to be regarded with a peculiar respect. Greater age, or superior rank, learning, or virtue, would elevate others above their associates; and humble as most of the early christians were, and difficult and dangerous as was the situation of all, distinction would be a demand for severer duty on one side, and
* "I wrote unto the church; but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among theru, received us not.” S John, v. 9.
the necessity of protection would lead to cheerful submission on the other. They who assumed the post of danger, claimed for their reward, or for the benefit of the rest, from selfishness, or from the apparent necessity of the case, that it should be also the post of dignity and rule; and wbile as yet distinction only gave a better chance of martyrdom, when there was no pomp to attract the ambitious, nor patronage to excite the worldly, there was no reason for contesting the claim, and whether formally or tacitly, it was readily allowed. When the church formed an alliance with the state, another condition of things succeeded. The gradations which the universal temporary expediency had created, were for private advantage made permanent, and defended as such on the ground of right; and what had been but precedence in duty, trust, and dan• ger, came to be claimed as superiority of office. Till a comparatively late period, however, the Romish, the most powerful church, can alone be considered as properly episcopal. The government of the Alexandrian approached near to the presbyterian form, and that of the church of Carthage to the congregational. Considering how early the christians became an important, though still an oppressed body, and how deeply-rooted and all-embracing a passion is the love of power, we are only surprised, that a system like the episcopal was not earlier organized. From that period, the history of episcopacy, is the history of Romish usurpation.*
* Doddridge's sensible and candid account of the rise and establishment of episcopacy may be seen, vol. ii. p. 352 of his Lectures. That of Jerome about the beginning of the 5th century, is this; “Till through the instinct of the devil there grew in the church factions, and among the people it began to be professed, I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, and I of Cephas, churches were governed by the common advice of presbyters: but when every one began to reckon those whom himselfhad baptized, his own, and not Christ's, it was decreed in the whole world, that one, chosen out of the presbyters, should be placed over the rest, to whom all care of the church should belong, and so the seeds of schism be removed." To explain this simple historical statement in accordance with his
We shall be asked how an institution, so pregnant with danger to the liberty of christians, was able, unless founded on scriptural authority, to survive the protestant reformation. The question is easily solved. The work of the reformation was of a magnitude and difficulty, of wbich at this period we are hardly able to form a tolerably just conception. Nothing less was to be done than to overturn the most dearly cherished prejudices of men, on a subject, which the sense of ages had declared it sacrilege to scrutinize. It was not to be expected that the first inquiries, bold as they were, should reach the conclusions of the last; that the first struggles of minds trained into deformity and feebleness by the worse than Chinese distortions of a Romish discipline, should show the vigour of a healthy growth. Rear an infant in manacles, he will be a cripple, though he be freed from them, when he becomes a man. There were abuses of more pressing enormity than this, which claimed the first attention of an awakened age. The papal was so galling a yoke, that the weight of the episcopal was scarcely felt; and bad as were the simoniacal practices of the time, they were not to be thought of, till a more crying sin, the
own views, the bishop of Lincoln, (Elements of Theology, ii. 391,) employs the very hypothesis which the statement is made to discountenance. He
argues that Jerome must have spoken in this passage of apostolic times, “because in another part of the same work he tells us, that James was made bishop of Jerusalem by the apostles, Timothy bishop of Ephesus, and Titus bishop of Crete, by St. Paul, and Polycarp bishop of Smyrna by St. John.” If Jerome spoke here, as he is represented to have spoken, of diocesan and not parochial bishops, what churches in Ephesus and Crete, we would gladly learn, were those, which, before Timothy and Titus were sent to them, were “governed by the common advice of presbyters” and in what part of the Acts of the Apostles is an account, or in what part of the epistles a hint given of the passing of that decree, according to which this writer would have it, that Timothy and l'itus were made diocesan bishops, passed as his hypothesis supposes it to have been, within the period to which the New Testament history relates. Were scripture, and all antiquity beside, silent on the subject, the writings of Jerome alone would prove the episcopal government to be an usurpation.
sale of indulgences, was stifled. We ought not to be surprised (if it were only on this ground) that the pretensions of the episcopate were no earlier contested. But further; the best reformers, and those who saw this subject in its true light, were wise men; wise enough to know that the whole is often best secured by claiming at first only a part, and one design effected, and another put in a happy train by forbearance, when impatience would frustrate both. They did not care to expose such an enterprise as theirs to ill-timed risk, by disgusting any of its adherents, who, in the case of an amalgamation of orders, would lose the rank and revenues of princes. They did not forget, that in the gowned hosts of Rome, they had aggressors, with whom such an organization as that of the hierarchy would enable them the better to contend; and as prudent men are wont to do in seasons of alarm, they resigned a portion of their rightful privileges to buy security for the rest. Perhaps some might even fear that the zeal for change would grow with the multitude as it was gratified, and so might prefer rather to endure some of what seemed to them the more tolerable abuses, than take the hazard of indulging a spirit which it might be difficult to check.
This would be explanation sufficient, if only pious and learned men bad had the direction in those measures, which, taken altogether, are called the reforma. tion in England. But we are not to forget that many were concerned in them, of whom learning is little predicable, and piety still less. Episcopacy, acquiesced in for a time by one description of men for reasons of expediency, was protected by another for rea. sons of state. The chief excellence which Henry VIII. saw in the opposition to the supremacy of the pope, was its transferring that supremacy from the pope to himself, and monopolizing as he was, it would have little met his views.to resign the power of giving away mitres, palaces, and stalls. Queen Elizabeth, it is well known, reproached herself for having given
so much aid to the reformation:* and her pedant cousin, though he had declared to his Scottish parliament, that "he minded not to bring in Papistical or Angli. cane bishops," had learned five years after, at the conference at Hampton court, to utter with the positiveness of an oracle, and the emphasis of a monarch, the maxim, no bishop, no king. This maxim uttered by the source of all law, it was no safe thing, in touching the lawn, virtually to assail the crown; and willing as the reformers might be to be martyrs, it was less creditable at least, to go to the gallows for high treason, than to the stake for denying the real presence. Thus the episcopal power rested too firmly on the civil for plebeian hands to raze it. It still stands on the foundation of the lords and commons of England, queen Elizabeth and lord chancellor Hyde being the chief corner stones.
These things considered, it is really matter of surprise that just views of this abuse were so early entertained, and to such extent; and that so considerable efforts were made to correct it. That first and most illustrious reformer Wickliffe, denied the distinction of priest and bishop. “One thing,” says he, “I boldly assert, that in the primitive church, two orders of clergy were thought sufficient, viz. priest and deacon; and I do also say that in the time of Paul, a priest and a bishop were one and the same; for in those times the distinct orders of pope, cardinals, patriarchs, arch
* Neale says (Hist. of Puritans, i. 192.) that except by the English language, the service in her chapel could not be distinguished from the popish. One of her chaplains on Good Friday spoke in favour of the real presence, and she openly gave him thanks for his pains and piety. The dean of St. Pauls, in a sermon at court, spoke with dislike of the sign of the cross, and she bid him desist from that ungodly digression, and return to his text. (Do. i. 206.) She “loved magnificence in religion,” says Burnet “as she affected it in all other things. This made her inclined to keep images still in churches, and that the Popish party might be offended as little as was possible, she intended to have the manner of Christ's
presence in the sacrament defined in general terms, that might comprehend all sides." (Hist. Reform. Abr. p. 534.)