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CHAPTER III. The term Presbyter was applied by the Fathers only to Ministers who
preached and ordained, and not to Ruling Elders. We now come to the Fathers, and inquire whether among them the office of ruling elders existed, and if so whether they denominated such officers by the term presbyters? On the first inquiry it is not our purpose to dwell, as it has been already sufficiently established by many writers, and is clearly implied in all the proofs by which the participation of the laity in the government of the church is so undeniably proved.* The only question, therefore, to which we advert, is, in what way the representatives of the laity who sat in all the early councils, and took part in all the concerns of the church, were described, and whether they are ever to be understood by the term presbyter.
In the writings of THE APOSTOLIC FATHERS we seem to have the simple delineations of church polity which are given in the New Testament, except in the epistles of Ignatius, which there is very little reason to doubt, have been made to assume the coloring of a subsequent age.† We read in Clemens Romanus of no other officers in the church than “bishops and deacons," for while he does employ the term presbyters, he identifies the persons so named with those whom he calls bishops, since he supposes the presbyters to have been invested with the episcopal office, and blames the church of Corinth for having cast them out of their bishoprics, that is, out of their episcopal office. Either, therefore, there were no officers corresponding to ruling elders in the church at Corinth in the time of Clemens, the people conducting their affairs as a body, or otherwise the bishops and other presbyters, together with the deacons, were intrusted with the oversight of the congregation. Clemens, it is true, speaks of a plurality of these presbyter-bishops in the Corinthian church, but this, we have seen, is in exact accordance with apostolic usage.
Very similar is the letter of Polycarp, who was probably the TT poegtws, or presiding presbyter "in the church at Smyrna," for Irenæus calls him “the apostolic presbyter,” and also "bishop." This epistle begins very similarly to the epistle to the Philippians, (ch. 1: 1,) or to the address of the apostle Peter to his fellow presbyters, (1 Peter 5: 1, &c.) “Polycarp and his fellow presbyters," or "the presbyters united with him,
*See note B. See this proved in Presbytery and Prelacy.
See Ep. $ 44, 47, and 57. See the author's work on Presbytery and Prelacy, p. 340, &c.
and living with him at Smyrna, “to the church of God at Philippi.” Now that by presbyters he meant ministers, is plain from its application to Valens their former minister and bishop. who was, he says, "made a presbyter;" and from the fact that as the apostle spoke only of bishops and deacons in their church, (Phil. 1: 1,) so Polycarp alludes only to presbyters and deacons. He must, therefore, mean by presbyters the bishops of the apostle. And he does, as we have seen, actually employ these terms as interchangeable and synonymous.*
It will appear from a comparison of the passages in the writings of Hermas, which bear on this subject, that he considered bishops and elders as different titles for the same office He speaks of elders as presiding over the church of Rome; he represents a plurality of elders as having this presidency at the same time; having used the word bishops, he explains it as meaning those who presided over the churches; and immediately after bishops, (without mentioning presbyters,) he proceeds to speak of deacons, that is, those who are intrusted with the protection of the poor and of the widows.
As to one other passage, in which he uses four terms in describing the officers of the church, it must either be interpreted in accordance with the preceding one, the terms bishop, doctor, and minister, as in Scripture, being applicable to the one general order of Christian ministers, whom Hermas had denominated presbyters, and who are here made to succeed the apostles; or, if it must be taken literally, then it recommends four orders of the ministry, and not three, and these, too, such as no man on earth can find or distinguish. It is apparent, that to all these officers, Hermas attributes the management of the episcopal office, and the power of the keys, and therefore they must all possess the same powers and functions. He makes no distinction whatever between the rulers and the teachers, but identifies their office. And hence we must conclude that in the time of Hermas, presbyters were equally called apostles, that is, their successors in the ordinary ministry of the word, bishops, doctors, and ministers, and that no other officers were known to the churches, except deacons, who attended to the wants of the poor. These presbyters, or bishops, it is further evident, constituted a college who governed in common the church of some single city or parish,--the presbyters in this city who govern the church.”+
In Ignatius we have a very frequent reference to the bishops, presbyters, and deacons, but there is nothing whatever to militate against the view of these terms already given. We must, therefore, conclude, that he uses these words in their scriptural
*See Presbytery and Prelacy, p. 347. + See Presbytery and Prelacy, p. 346.
sense, and as they were employed by Clemens, Polycarp, and Hermas; and that he meant therefore by bishop, the president, or poeotws, of which bishop is a literal rendering, and fully expresses its meaning. To give to the term bishop any other meaning, as prelatists do, is most intolerable presumption, and a plain contradiction to the inspired testimony. That the presbyters of Ignatius were preachers, and not merely rulers or representatives, is, we think, evident from the manner in which they are spoken of. He calls on the people to submit "to the presbytery as to the law of Christ," and "to the presbyters as presiding in the place of the apostolical senate.” He calls them “those who preside among you as the type or example, and the source of instruction in incorruptible truth.”+ "Be subject to the presbyters as to the apostles of Jesus Christ our hope." In the epistle to Hiero, ascribed to Ignatius, he says of presbyters, "they baptize, they celebrate the eucharist, they impose hands in penance, they ordain.”'S
Of THE PRIMITIVE FATHERS, the first of whom we have any record is Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, in Asia, A. D. 116. Of his exposition of the oracles of God only a few fragments remain. And of these the only passage bearing on the question before us, is perhaps the one preserved by Eusebius, which is as follows: "I shall not think it grievous to set down in writing, with my interpretations, the things which I have learned of the presbyters, and remember as yet very well, being fully certified of their truth. If I met any where with one who had conversed with the presbyters, I inquired after the sayings of the presbyters; what Andrew, what Peter, what Philip, what Thomas or James had said; what John, or Matthew, or any other disciples of the Lord were wont to say; and what Ariston, or John the presbyter said: for I am of the mind that I could not profit so much by reading books, as by attending to those who spake with the living voice.” It is very evident from this extract, that, in the estimation of this primitive father, the presbyterate was the highest order in the ministry, and the true succession of the apostles, in their ordinary ministry, since he speaks only of presbyters, and expressly calls the apostles themselves presbyters.
Justin Martyr denominates the pastor or officiating minister of the Christian church, the poetws, president or moderator. This word he uses, instead of minister or bishop, six times, and these other terms not at all.
According to Justin Martyr, therefore, the bishop, who was Epist. ed Magnes, $ 6.
*Ep. ad Fall. Š 2, and 3, and Ep. ad Smyrn. $ 8. See his testimony fully considered in Presbytery and Prelacy, p. 349, &c.
$ Cap. iii. ed. Cotel Thorndike, pp. 163, 164. See Presbytery and Prelacy, p. 366, &c.
the pastor of a single congregation, and therefore, by no possibility a prelate, was also a presbyter. As such he offered up prayers, and gave thanks, in the church; administered the Lord's Supper; delivered discourses; and generally conducted the worship of the congregation, in all which duties we have described to us the office of a pastor, but not that of a prelate, or of a ruling elder. Justin employs the very term, so commonly applied to presbyters throughout the New Testament, calling his bishop the apoeotws, the presbyter who presided, the moderator, or primus inter pares.*
About this very period, Philo, in describing the order of the synagogue, says: “They brought him (i. e. the accused) before the president, with whom the priests sat in council;"† and this term, president, is, says Vitringa, commonly appropriated by the Rabbis to the bishop or preacher of the congregation. I
That Irenæus also employs the term presbyter, as the title of those who preached and administered sacraments, is plain. In the letter addressed by the martyrs to Eleutherius, they commend to him Irenæus, "as a presbyter of the church, which degree he had obtained.'
“We ought," $ says Irenæus himself, “to obey those presbyters who are in the church; those, I mean, who have succession from the apostles, as we have shown, who with the succession of THE EPISCOPATE, have received, according to the good pleasure of the Father, the sure gift of truth. But they who are looked upon by many as presbyters, but serve their own pleasures,
and are elated with pride, at their exaltation to the chief seat, · shall be reproved by the Word... From all such it behoves us to stand aloof, and to cleave to those who, as I have said before, both retain the doctrine of the apostles, and, with THE ORDER OF THEIR PRESBYTERSHIP, (or as Fevardentius reads, of a presbyter,) exhibit soundness in word, and a blameless conversation." Having described wicked presbyters, he adds,** "from such we ought to depart, but to adhere to those who keep the doctrine of the apostles; and with the order of presbytery, maintain sound doctrine, and a blameless conversation, &c. Such presbyters the church does not nourish, concerning whom the prophet also saith, I will give thee princes in peace, and bishops in righteousness. Of whom our Lord also said, Who, therefore, is that faithful, and good, and wise servant, whom his master may set over his house, to give them their food in due season?" "Again, "He, that is, the apostle, attributes to all teachers, that succession of the church that is from the apostles; and then relates what *See Presbytery and Prelacy, p. 367. See Life of Moses, lib. lii. p. 528, in Vitringa. See Vitringa, lib. i. ch. vi. and Bernard, pp. 55, 56. Adv. Hæres, 1. iv. c. 43. **Ibid. 1. iv. c. 44.
doctrine he had received from a certain presbyter, that had received it from such as saw and conversed with the apostles.' Writing to Florinus, he says, "These opinions, O Florinus, the presbyters before our times, the disciples (or first successors) of the apostles, did by no means deliver to thee "* After alluding to Polycarp, and to his instructions and discourses, he adds, "I can testify before God, that if that holy and apostolic presbyter (Polycarp) had heard only such a thing, he would instantly have reclaimed and stopt his ears.” Writing to Victor, then bishop of Rome, on the subject of the Easter controversy, he reminds him, that "he ought to follow the ancient custom of the presbyters, whom he had succeeded,” alluding to Anicetus, Pius, Hyginus, Telesphorus, and Xystus, whom he had just named, and whom he calls presbyters.
Victor, bishop of Rome, A. D. 192, thus writes: "As thy holy fraternity were taught by those presbyters, who had seen the apostles in the flesh, and governed the church, until thy time, (we find the catholic church celebrate pasch, not on the fourteenth of the month, with the Jews, but from the fifteenth day to the twenty-first. Therefore let thy fraternity write to the presbyters of Gaul, that they observe pasch, not as the Jews, who deny Christ, but with the followers of the apostles, and preachers of the truth. The college of the brethren salute thee: salute the brethren who are with thee in the Lord. Eubulus, one of our college, who carries this epistle to Vienna, is ready to live and die with thee." This epistle was sent by Victor and his colleagues, to Dionysius, bishop of Vienna; and from this passage, it is evident to a demonstration that presbyters were the successors of the apostles, and that by the term presbyter, therefore, only the ministers or teachers of the church were understood. I
Clement Alexandrinus confirms this conclusion. That he identifies bishops and presbyters, as the same general ministerial order, would appear to be incontrovertible. In the very paragraph in which he makes an enumeration of officers, and in allusion to the heavenly progression, he ranks them under the two denominations of presbyters and deacons, while in another passage, he places presbyters first, and bishops second, and widows fourth. Though only a presbyter, he yet styles himself a governor of the church. He ranks himself among the shepherds or pastors. He speaks of presbyters imposing hands, and giving their blessing. Presbyters, according to Clement, were entrusted with a dignified ministry. He expressly identifies bishop and presbyter, by using the one term
*Euseb. Eccl. Hist. 1. v. c. 39.
See Ibid. p. 373.