Page images
PDF
EPUB

LETTER IX.

RISE AND PROGRESS OF PRELACY.

CHRISTIAN BRETHREN,

[ocr errors]

Dr. Bowden represents Presbyterians as believing that prelacy was suddenly and violently established; that“ a wonderful revo“lution took place, calculated to influence the passions of thou" sands, producing violent convulsions, and virulent animosities.” And expresses great astonishment that such a revolution, introduced at once, should not have been more distinctly recorded by the early writers.

This is a total misrepresentation. Presbyterians believe and affirm, with Jerome, that prelacy arose by little and little.They attribute its introduction to causes quite sufficient to account for the fact, without producing the convulsions and noise which fill the imagination of Dr. Bowden. These causes were, the facility, the indolence, and the inconsideration of some; the ambition of others; the precedency of standing moderators ; the veneration paid to senior ministers, and such as were of superior talents and influence; the respect attached to those who resided in large cities, and other considerations of a similar kind. With such causes as these incessantly at work, who can fail to consider as the most probable of all events, that which Dr. B. represents as altogether impossible ?

But Dr. Bowden thinks it utterly incredible that the clergy in the second or third centuries should have been guilty of usurping power, or of struggling for pre-eminence. If we may believe him

[ocr errors]

they were too pious, disinterested, and humble, to admit the suspicion of selfishness or ambition having any place among them. “ Surely,” says he, “ men of such distinguished virtue and piety, " as the bishops of that period are universally acknowledged to " have been, could not have entertained a thought so inconsistent “ with a pure conscience, with peace of mind, and with the hope of “ future happiness. Could men who displayed all the meekness “and humility of Christians, have attempted a plan of domination “so completely at variance with these virtues ? Could men who “ endured every thing for the sake of Christ, violate his sacred ins stitution ? Could men, who, to save themselves from the most “excruciating torments, would not offer incense at the idol altars, “ deliberately associate for the purpose of acquiring a triling "authority over their brethren ? What !. conscientious in every " thing relating to christian purity, to christian manners, and yet “ profligate as to the constitution of the christian church! Gross “ inconsistency! Palpable contradiction !” Again—“ What was " the motive that influenced a few presbyters to attempt an as

sumption of superiority over their brethren ? Was it a desire of temporal power? That was entirely out of the question, without “the aid of civil authority. And every one knows that kind of « authority was exerted for the destruction of the church. Was it " the love of wealth? None resulted from the acquisition, or could “ result from it. The people were generally poor, and the bi“ shops, as well as the presbyters and deacons were maintained « out of the offerings at the altar; and scanty was the fare that “ proceeded from that source. Was it the love of ease and secu"rity? That could not be; for episcopal superiority greatly “increased the labours of the bishops, and exposed them to almost « certain destruction. If, then, neither dominion, nor wealth, nor

ease, nor security, could possibly be the motives for so daring an “ attempt as to deprive the presbyters of their most sacred rights, “ those ambitious spirits, as you deem them, must have acted “ without any motive, which is evidently inconsistent with the

very nature and constitution of the human mind."

It is really putting one's patience to a very severe test to find an opponent so frequently alluding to his own superior scholarship" and reading, and at the same time permitting himself to write in this manner.

What! no clerical ambition ! No strife about pre

eminence? No ecclesiastical usurpation in those early ages? It would have been just as reasonable, and just as true, if he had said that the gospel was preached in those days by none but angels.But let us attend to a few facts.

Passing by several cases in point which occurred during the the lives, and under the immediate eye of the apostles, when, as St. Paul himself assures us, the mystery of iniquity had already begun to work, let me ask, Was there no spirit of domination manifested in the fierce dispute between Victor, bishop of Rome, and Polycrates, of Ephesus, which took place in the second century, as related by Eusebius ? Was no love of pre-eminence displayed by Cerinthus and Basilides, whose burning desire was “ to be 6 accounted great apostles ?” Did Montanus, in the same century, exhibit no ambition in broaching his celebrated heresy? Was Samosatenus, in the third wholly free from the same charge? Did Demetrius of Alexandria, discover nothing of an aspiring temper, when he sickened with envy at the fame and the success of Origen? Are there no accounts of Novatus having sought, ambitiously and fraudulently, to obtain the bishopric of Rome? Did not his contemporary, Felicissimus, make a vigorous attempt to supplant Cyprian, as bishop of Carthage? Was not Cypriun brought in to be bishop in that city, by the influence of the people, in opposition to the majority of the presbyters, some of whom were anxious to obtain the place for themselves ? And did there not hence arise frequent collisions between him and them, and at length an open rupture? 1 ask, are any of these things related in the early history of the church? And can any man, with such records before him, lay his hand on his heart, and assert that there were no symptons of a spirit of ambition and domination in those times ?

But I will not content myself with this general reference to the early conflicts of selfishness and ambition. The following specific quotations will be more than sufficient, if I do not mistake, to cover Dr. Bowden with confusion.

Hermas, one of the earliest sathers whose writings are extant, says, in his Pastor, “ As for those who had their rods green, but “ yet cleft; they are such as were always faithful and good; but “they had some envy and strife among themselves, concerning “ dignity and pre-eminence. Now all such are vain and without

« understanding, as contend with one another about these things. “ Nevertheless, seeing they are otherwise good, if, when they shall “ hear these commands, they shall amend themselves, and shall, " at my persuasion, suddenly repent; they shall, at last, dwell in " the tower, as they who have truly and worthily repented. But “ if any one shall again return to his dissensions, he shall be shut 6 out of the tower, and lose his life. For the life of those who “ keep the commandments of the Lord, consists in doing what “ they are commanded ; not in principality, or in any other dignity."*

Hegesippus, who lived in the second century, and who was the first father who undertook to compose a regular ecclesiastical history, writes thus. “When James, the just, had been martyred “ for the same doctrine which our Lord preached, Simon, the son “ of Cleophas, was constituted bishop with universal preference, 66 because he was the Lord's near kinsman. Wherefore they 6 called that church a pure virgin, because it was not defiled with

corrupt doctrine. But Thebuli, because he was not made bishop, “ endeavoured to corrupt the church ; being one of the seven here“ tics among the people, whereof was Simon, of whom the Simos nians.+

Dr. Bowden represents the age of Cyprianas among the very purest periods of the Christian church, and quotes that father with a frequency and a confidence which evince the highest respect for his authority. The following passages will show how far the illustrious pastor of Carthage considered the bishops of his day as beyond the reach of selfishness and ambition.

“ A long continuance of peace and securityř had relaxed the « rigour of that holy discipline which was delivered to us from 16 above.

All were sel upon an immeasurable increase of gain ; and, forgetting how the first converts to our religion had behaved “under the personal direction and care of the Lord's apostles, or “ how all ought in after times to conduct themselves ; the love of

money was their darling passion, and the master spring of all

* Simil. 8. $7.

+ See fragments of this writer preserved in Eusebius, Lib. iv. Cap. 22.

# They had been free from persecution only about thirty eight years.

their actions. The religion of the clergy slackened and decayed; " the faith of priests and deacons grew languid and inactive ; « works of charity were discontinued ; and an universal license “ and corruption prevailed. Divers bishops, who should have “ taught, both by their example and persuasion, neglecting their “ high trust, and their commission from above, entered upon the “ management of secular affairs; and leaving their chair, and their “ charge with it, wandered about, from place to place in different “provinces, upon mercantile business, and in quest of disreputable gain. Thus the poor of the church were miserably neglected, “ while the bishops, who should have taken care of them, were in“tent upon nothing but their own private profit, which they were « forward to advance at any rate, and by any, even the foulest " methods."*

Speaking of Cornelius, who had been made bishop, Cyprian says, “ In the next place, he neither desired, nor canvassed for “ the dignity conferred upon him; much less did he invade it, as « some others would, who were actuated by a great and lofty con“ceit of their own qualifications; but peaceably and inodestly, like < such as are called of God to this office.- Instead of using violence,

as a certain person in this case hath done, to be made a bishop, 6 he suffered violence, and was raised to his dignity by force and “ compulsion.”+

The same father, in the same epistle, has the following passage. “ Unless you can think him a bishop, who, when another was or“ dained by sixteen of his brethren bishops, would obtrude upon “ the church a spurious and foreign bishop, ordained by a parcel 6 of renegadoes and deserters; and that by canvassing and intriguing for it.” I

Cyprian speaks also of a certain deacon who had been deposed from his “ sacred diaconate, on account of his fraudulent and 6 sacrilegious misapplication of the church's money to his own

private use; and by his denial of the widows' and orphans' “ pledges deposited with him.”'s

Origen, the contemporary of Cyprian, more than once lashes the clergy of his day for their vices. The following passage is

De Lapsis. § 4.

Epist. 55.
§ Epist. 52.

# Ibid.

« EelmineJätka »