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is obviously describing the manner in which each particular congregation conducted its worship in his day, it follows, that in the time of Justin, every congregation had its bishop: or, in other words, that this was a title applied in primitive times to the ordinary pastors of particular churches.
The testimony of Clemens Alexandrinus, who flourished at the close of the second century, is likewise in favour of our doctrine concerning the christian ministry. Clement was a presbyter of the church in Alexandria, and a prodigy of learning in his day. The following extracts from his writings will enable you to judge in what light he ought to be considered as a witness on this subject.
Pædagog. lib. 1. “ We who have rule over the churches,
are shepherds or pastors, after the image of the Good Shep6 herd.” Ibid. lib. iii. In proof of the impropriety of women wearing foreign hair, among other arguments he uses this, “On “whom, or what will the presbyter impose his hand? To whom " or what will he give his blessing ? Not to the woman who is " adorned, but to strange locks of hair, and through them to an“ other's head.” Ibid. “Many other commands, appertaining " to select persons, are written in the sacred books; some to " presbyters, some to bishops, some to deacons, and some to " widows.”
Stromat. lib. i. “ Just so in the church, the presbyters are “ intrusted with the dignified ministry; the deacons with the sub
ordinate.” Ibid. lib. iii. Having cited the apostolic directions concerning marriage, in 1 Tim. v. 14. &c, he adds, “ But he must o be the husband of one wife only, whether he be a presbyter, or " deacon, or layman, if he would use matrimony without repre« hension.” Again—" What can they say to these things who " inveigh against marriage? Since the apostle enjoins, that the " bishop to be set over the church be one who rules his own house 6 well.” Ibid. lib. vi. “This man is in reality a presbyter, and
a true deacon of the purpose of God---not ordained of men, nor “ because a presbyter, therefore esteemed a righteous man; but “ because a righteous man, therefore now reckoned in the pres“ bytery; and though here upon earth he hath not been honoured “ with the chief seat, yet he shall sit down among the four and "twenty thrones, judging the people, as John says in the Revela~ tion.” Again, Ibid.
“ Now in the church here, the progres
“sions of bishops, presbyters, deacons, I deem to be imitations of “the evangelical glory, and of that dispensation which the Scrip“tures tell us they look for, who following the steps of the apos“tles, have lived according to the Gospel in the perfection of “ righteousness. These men, the apostle writes, being taken up 6 into the clouds, shall first minister as deacons, then be admitted “to a rank in the presbytery, according to the progression in
glory: for glory differeth from glory, until they grow up to a perfecț man.” Again“ Of that service of God about which
men are conversant, one is that which makes them better : the “ other ministerial. In like manner in the church, the presbyters “ retain the form of that kind which makes men better; and the 6 deacons that which is ministerial. In both these ministries, the “ angels serve God in the dispensation of earthly things.” Again, in his book, Quis dives salvandus sit, he has the following singular passage : 6 Hear a fable, and yet not a fable, but a true story “ reported of John the apostle, delivered to us, and kept in
memory. After the death of the tyrant, when he (John) had “ returned to Ephesus, out of the isle of Patmos, being desired, he " went to the neighbouring nations, where he appointed bishops, “ where he set in order whole cities, and where he chose by lot “ unto the ecclesiastical function, of those who had been pointed 6 out by the Spirit as by name. When he was come to a certain “ city, not far distant, the name of which some mention, and “ among other things had refreshed the brethren; beholding a
young man of a portly body, a gracious countenance, and fervent “ mind, he looked upon the bishop, who was set over all, and said, “ I commit this young man to thy custody, in presence of the “ church, and Christ bearing me witness. When he had received “the charge, and promised the performance of all things relative “ to it, John again urged, and made protestation of the same “thing; and afterwards departed to Ephesus. And the presbyter, “ taking the young man, brought him to his own house, nourished, “ comforted, and cherished him; and at length baptized bim."
From these extracts you will perceive, that Clement, though a presbyter of the church of Alexandria, speaks of himself as one of its governors, and claims the title of a “ shepherd or pastor, after the image of the good Shepherd," a title which the greater part of episcopal writers acknowledge to have been given in the primitive
church to the highest order of ministers. He represents the presbyters as intrusted with the dignified ministry, and the deacons with the subordinate, without suggesting any thing of a more dignified order. He applies the apostolic direction in 1 Tim. ii. 4. in one place to bishops and in another to presbyters, which would have no pertinency if he did not refer in both cases to the same order of ministers. He compares the grades of church officers with the orders of angels ; but we read only of angels and archangels. It is observable also, that the person to whom John committed the young man, is in one place called a bishop, and immediately afterwards a presbyter, which we cannot suppose would have been done, had the superiority of order, for which prelatists contend, been known in his day. It is further supposed by some, that when Clement speaks of imposition of hands on the heads of those females who wore false hair, he alludes 10 the rite of Confirmation. If this be so, which is extremely doubtful, it is the first hint we have, in all antiquity, of this rite being practised; but, unfortunately for the Episcopal cause, the imposition of hands here mentioned, is ascribed to presbyters. “On whom or what will the presbyter impose his hands ?" From these circumstances, we may confidently infer, that Clement knew nothing of an order of bishops, distinct from and superior to presbyters, and that the purity of the apostolic age was not, when he wrote, in this respect, materially corrupted.
It is readily granted, that this father once speaks of " bishops, “presbyters, and deacons,” and once more, inverting the order, of "presbyters, bishops, and deacons," He also represents these as “progressions which imitate the angelic glory," and refers to the “ chief seat in the presbytery.” But none of these modes of expression afford the least countenance to the Episcopal doctrine. He no where tells us that there was any difference of order, in his day, between bishops and presbyters ; and far less does he convey any hint, that only the former ordained and confirmed. He says nothing of either of these rites, directly and indirectly, in any of his works. And when the friends of Episcopacy suppose, that the mere use of the words bishop and presbyters, establishes their claim, they only adopt the convenient method of taking the point in dispute for granted, without a shadow of proof. If we suppose the bishop, alluded to by Clement, to be the pastor of the church,
the president or presiding presbyter, and the other presbyters to be his assistants, it will account for the strongest expressions above recited, and will entirely agree with the language of scripture, and of all the preceding fathers.
I have now gone through the testimony of those fathers who lived and wrote within the first tico centuries after Christ,* the limits which I prescribed to myself at the beginning of this letter. And I can solemnly assure you, my brethren, that the foregoing extracts, besides what I have deemed favourable to our own cause, also contain, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the strongest passages that are to be found, within that period, in support of diocesan Episcopacy. I may confidently challenge the most zealous Episcopalian to produce, out of the writers of those times, a single sentence which speaks more fully or decidedly in favour of his system, than those which have been presented. If there be any such, I have not been so fortunate as to meet with them ; nor have the ablest Episcopal writers with whom I have been conversant, appeared to know of their existence. You have before you, not merely a specimen of those quotations which they consider as most favourable to their cause, but in fact, the strongest and best passages for their purpose, that they are able to produce.
Let me, then, appeal to your candour, whether the assertions made at the beginning of this letter, are not fully supported. Have you seen a single passage which proves that Christian Bishops, within the first two centuries, were, in fact, an order of clergy distinct from those presbyters who were authorized to preach and administer sacramenis, and superior to them ? Have you seen a sentence which furnishes even probable testimony, that these bishops received, as such, a new and superior ordination; that each bishop had under him a number of congregations with their pastors, whom he governed; and that with this superior order
The well informed reader will observe, that I have taken no notice of certain writings, called the Apostolical Canons, and the Apostolical Constitutions, which have been sometimes quoted in this controversy. They are so generally considered as altogether unworthy of credit, that I deem no apology necessary for this omission. When Episcopal writers of the greatest eminence style them “impudent forgeries," and their author “a cheat, unworthy of credit,” I may well be excused for passing them by
exclusively was deposited the power of ordination ? Have you found even plausible evidence in support of any one of these articles of Episcopal belief? Above all, have you found a syllable, which intimates that these were not only facts, but also that they were deemed of so inuch importance as to be essential to the very existence of the church ? Even supposing you had found such declarations in some or all of the early fathers; what then?
Historic fact is not Divine institution. But have you found the fact? I will venture to say, you have not. We are so far from being told by the writers within this period," with one voice,” that bishops are a superior order to preaching presbyters, that not one among them says any thing like it. Instead of finding them “ unanimously," and " constantly” declaring that the right of ordination is exclusively vested in bishops as a superior order, we cannot find a single passage in which such information, or any thing that resembles it, is conveyed. And, with respect to confirmation, which is claimed as one of the appropriate duties of the diocesan bishop, it is not so much as once mentioned by any authentic writer, within the first two hundred years, as a ceremony which was in use at all,* and much less as appropriated to a particular order of clergy.
On the contrary, we have seen that these writers, with remarkable uniformity, apply the terms bishop, president, shepherd, pastor, interchangeably to the same officers; that the apostolical succession is expressly ascribed to presbyters ; that a bishop is represented as performing duties which would involve absurdity on any other supposition than that of his being the pastor of a single flock; and that in all cases in which any distinction is made between bishops and presbyters, it evidently points out, either the distinction between preaching and ruling presbyters; or that between those who were fixed pastors of churches, and those who, though in full orders, and of the same rank, had no pastoral charge, and until they obtained such a place, acted the part of assistants to pastors. In short, when the testimony of the early fathers is thoroughly sifted, it will be found to yield nothing to the Episcopal cause but simply
' * Unless the doubtful passage before quoted from Clement Alexandrinus, may be supposed to refer to this rite: and if so, then it will follow, from that passage, that, in the days of Clemens, presbyters confirmed.