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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 49. Clergy and Laity. Elections.


The clergy, according to the precedent of the Old Testament, came to be more and more rigidly distinguished, as a peculiar order, from the body of the laity. The ordination, which was solemnized by the laying on of hands and prayer, with the addition at a later period of an anointing with oil and balsam, marked the formal entrance into the special priesthood, as baptism initiated into the universal priesthood; and, like baptism, it bore an indefeasible character (character indelebilis). By degrees the priestly office assumed the additional distinction of celibacy and of external marks, such as tonsure, and sacerdotal vestments worn at first only during official service, then in every-day life. The idea of the universal priesthood of believers retreated in proportion, though it never passed entirely out of sight, but was from time to time asserted even in this age. Augustine, for example, says, that as all are called Christians on account of their baptism, so all believers are priests, because they are members of the one High Priest.413413   De Civit. Dei, lib. xx. cap. 10: ”Erunt sacerdotes Dei et Christi et regnabunt cum eo mille annos (Apoc. xx. 6): non utique de solis episcopis et presbyteris dictum est, qui proprie jam vocantur in Ecclesia sacerdotes; sed sicut omnes Christianos dicimus propter mysticum chrisma, sic omnes sacerdotes, quoniam membra sunt unius sacerdotis. De quibus apostolus Petrus: Plebs, inquit, sancta regale sacerdotium (1 Pet. ii. 9).” Comp. Ambrosiaster ad Eph. iv. 11; Jeromead Tit. i. 7 and Pope Leo I., Sermon. iv. 1.

The progress of the hierarchical principle also encroached gradually upon the rights of the people in the election of their pastors.414414   According to Clemens Romanus, ad Corinth. c. 44, the consent of the whole congregation in the choice of their officers was the apostolic and post-apostolic custom; and the Epistles of Cyprian, especially Ep. 68, show that the same rule continued in the middle of the third century. Comp. vol. i. § 105. But in this period it did not as yet entirely suppress them. The lower clergy were chosen by the bishops, the bishops by their colleagues in the province and by the clergy. The fourth canon of Nice, probably at the instance of the Meletian schism, directed that a bishop should be instituted and consecrated by all, or at least by three, of the bishops of the province. This was not aimed, however, against the rights of the people, but against elec-tion by only one bishop—the act of Meletius. For the con-sent of the people in the choice of presbyters, and especially of bishops, long remained, at least in outward form, in memory of the custom of the apostles and the primitive church. There was either a formal vote,415415   Ζήτησις, ψήφισμα, ψῆγος, scrutinium. particularly when there were three or more candidates before the people, or the people were thrice required to signify their confirmation or rejection by the formula: “Worthy,” or “unworthy.”416416   Ἄξιος, dignus, or ἀνάξιος, indignus. Constitut. Apost. viii. 4; Concil. Aurelat. ii. (A. D. 452) c. 54; Gregor. Naz. Orat. xxi. According to a letter of Peter of Alexandria, in Theodor. Hist. Eccl. iv. 22, the bishop in the East was electedἐπισκόπων συνόδῳ, ψήφῳ κληρικῶν, αἰτήσει λαῶν. He himself was elected archbishop of Alexandria and successor of Athanasius (a.d.373), according to the desire of the latter, “by the unanimous consent of the clergy and of the chief men of the city” (iv. cap. 20), and, after his expulsion, he objected to his wicked successor Lucius, among other things, that “he had purchased the episcopal office with gold, as though it had been a secular dignity, ... and had not been elected by a synod of bishops, by the votes of the clergy, or by the request of the people, according to the regulations of the church“ (iv. c. 22). The influence of the people in this period appears most prominently in the election of bishops. The Roman bishop Leo, in spite of his papal absolutism, asserted the thoroughly democratic principle, long since abandoned by his successors: “He who is to preside over all, should be elected by all.”417417   Epist. x. c. 4 (opera, ed. Baller. i. 637): “Expectarentur certe vota civium, testimonia populorum, quaereretur honoratorum arbitrium, electio clericorum .... In the same epistle, cap. 6: Qui praefuturus est omnibus, ab omnibus eligatur.” Oftentimes the popular will decided before the provincial bishops and the clergy assembled and the regular election could be held. Ambrose of Milan and Nectarius of Constantinople were appointed to the bishopric even before they were baptized; the former by the people, the latter by the emperor Theodosius; though in palpable violation of the eightieth apostolic canon and the second Nicene.418418   Paulinus, Vita Ambros.; Sozomen, H. E. l. iv. c. 24, and vii. 8. This historian excuses the irregularity by a special interposition of Providence. Martin of Tours owed his elevation likewise to the popular voice, while some bishops objected to it on account of his small and wasted form.419419   Sulpitius Severus, Vita Mart. c. 7: “Incredibilis multitudo non solum ex eo oppido [Tours], sed etiam ex vicinis urbibus ad suffragia ferenda convenerat,” etc. Chrysostom was called from Antioch to Constantinople by the emperor Arcadius, in consequence of a unanimous vote of the clergy and people.420420   Socrates, H. E. vi. 2:Ψηφίσματι κοινῷ ὁμοῦ πάντων κλήρου τε φημὶ καὶ λαοῦ.. Sometimes the people acted under outside considerations and the management of demagogues, and demanded unworthy or ignorant men for the highest offices. Thus there were frequent disturbances and collisions, and even bloody conflicts, as in the election of Damasus in Rome. In short, all the selfish passions and corrupting influences, which had spoiled the freedom of the popular political elections in the Grecian and Roman republics, and which appear also in the republics of modern times, intruded upon the elections of the church. And the clergy likewise often suffered themselves to be guided by impure motives. Chrysostom laments that presbyters, in the choice of a bishop, instead of looking only at spiritual fitness, were led by regard for noble birth, or great wealth, or consanguinity and friendship.421421   De sacerdotio, lib. iii. c. 15. Further on in the same chapter he says even, that many are elected on account of their badness, to prevent the mischief they would otherwise do: Οἱ δὲ, διὰ, πονηρίαν, [εἰς τὴν τοῦ κλήρου καταλέγονται τάξιν́̈, καὶ ἵνα μὴ, παροφθέντες , μεγάλα ἐργάσωνται κακά. Quite parallel is the testimony of Gregory Nazianzen in his Carmen,εἰς ἑαυτὸν καὶ περὶ ἐπισκόπων, or De se ipso et de episcopis, ver. 330 sqq. (Opera, ed. Bened. Par. tom. ii. p. 796), and elsewhere. The bishops themselves sometimes did no better. Nectarius, who was suddenly transferred, in 381, by the emperor Theodosius, from the praetorship to the bishopric of Constantinople, even before he was baptized,422422   Sozomenus, Hist. Eccl. vii. c. 8. Sozomen sees in this election a special interposition of God. wished to ordain his physician Martyrius deacon, and when the latter refused, on the ground of incapacity, he replied: “Did not I, who am now a priest, formerly live much more immorally than thou, as thou thyself well knowest, since thou wast often an accomplice of my many iniquities?” Martyrius, however, persisted in his refusal, because he had continued to live in sin long after his baptism, while Nectarius had become a new man since his.423423   Sozomenus, vii. c. 10. Otherwise he, as well as Socrates, H. E. v. c. 8, and Theodoret, H. E. v. c. 8, speaks very favorably of the character of Nectarius.

The emperor also, after the middle of the fourth century, exercised a decisive influence in the election of metropolitans and patriarchs, and often abused it in a despotic and arbitrary way.

Thus every mode of appointment was evidently exposed to abuse, and could furnish no security against unworthy candidates, if the electors, whoever they might be, were destitute of moral earnestness and the gift of spiritual discernment.

Toward the end of the period before us the republican element in the election of bishops entirely disappeared. The Greek church after the eighth century vested the franchise exclusively in the bishops.424424   The seventh ecumenical council, at Nice, 787, in its third canon, on the basis of a wrong interpretation of the fourth canon of the first council of Nice, expressly prohibited the people and the secular power from any share in the election of bishops. Also the eighth general council prescribes that the bishop should be chosen only by the college of bishops. The Latin church, after the eleventh century, vested it in the clergy of the cathedral church, without allowing any participation to the people. But in the West, especially in Spain and France, instead of the people, the temporal prince exerted an important influence, in spite of the frequent protest of the church.

Even the election of pope, after the downfall of the West Roman empire, came largely under control of the secular authorities of Rome; first, of the Ostrogothic kings; then, of the exarchs of Ravenna in the name of the Byzantine emperor; and, after Charlemagne, of the emperor of Germany; till, in 1059, through the influence of Hildebrand (afterward Gregory VII.), it was lodged exclusively with the college of cardinals, which was filled by the pope himself. Yet the papal absolutism of the middle age, like the modern Napoleonic military despotism in the state, found it well, under favorable prospects, to enlist the democratic principle for the advancement of its own interests.



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