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Perhaps an external observer would have seen little likelihood now of the emergence of a uniform Christian tradition out of the great variety of forms which were coming into existence; but the variety was of the very essence of the gospel tradition. The types of apostolic Christianity which were created in the second generation were derived from differences which had existed from the beginning of the first generation. They were continued into the third generation, but each area of Christian tradition, as it emerges into clearer light, is found to exhibit the same pattern, which is given the convenient name of Catholicism. It appears as a whole for the first time in the pages of Ignatius.
There were two forces which constituted and maintained the unity of the church; and these two were one. They were the gospel and the apostolate; the message and the mission. The gospel was never a message or theory existing in a vacuum; it was always embodied in men and propagated through men; and it boasted of a divine power called the Holy Spirit which flowed through it into the church and worked wonders. It was 'in flesh' as Ignatius says.
Paul insists that whatever differences there may have been between Peter and James and himself, as heads of traditions, they had but one gospel. The core of this gospel was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It follows that when the Docetic teachers denied the actual death and resurrection, the church could recognize that these teachers were not in line with the gospel; it made Ignatius look to his written Gospel and his theology and his creed-forms; it made Polycarp look to his apostolic records. The formation of schismatic groups made them look to the problem of church order and church unity.
The church had grown up on a territorial basis, a principle which was expressed in the conviction that there could only be one church in each city. Paul wrote to the church of God in Corinth. There were lesser units there, grouped in or round influential families or households, and one of these had a special ministerial position in relation to the whole; but the church to which he wrote was the church of Corinth. 'When your whole church meets together', he writes, in speaking of spiritual graces. This whole church, and every member of the body of it, was filled with the Holy Spirit.
When Clement wrote to the Corinthians, he also addressed them as a whole church, and expected action to be taken by the whole church with the constituted elders. He wrote on behalf of the whole church at Rome, which could therefore act as a unity despite its multiple origin. There were dissident groups, he says, but plainly such action had taken place as marked them off from the recognized unity. The Clementine church in Rome was as deeply concerned with the problem of unity as the Ignatian church in Antioch, and had found it in the same way, through the Spirit-filled worship of the whole ecclesia.
The maintenance of the local unity was the fundamental problem of the period of transition. It was solved on this level by the adoption of the form of the episcopate in which one bishop presided over the local ecclesia with a council of elders.
The problem may now be approached from another angle. The evidence of the apostolic and sub-apostolic literature discloses a substantial identity of tradition everywhere, which was derived from the apostolic gospel as it expressed itself in the medium of Jewish synagogue order; or we may prefer to say, from the Jewish synagogue order as it was transformed by the gospel and the Spirit. The Law of Moses was not binding in the Gentile churches, but no objection was raised to its continuance in the Jewish churches; though there must have been serious problems where Jewish and Gentile churches co-existed in one community.
The historical tradition of Judaism provided the pattern for the |466 Christian liturgy and the substance out of which it was formed. It provided the faith in the one God, who was encountered in history and revelation and apocalypse as a living God. He and no other was the 'Father' of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have not yet found any evidence in Christian literature of Docetic theologians dispensing with the Jewish scriptures or the Jewish revelation of God; but as the views of Satornil and others like him spread more widely, various anti-Jewish schools of thought came into existence which were at once recognized as foreign to the apostolic tradition.
The liturgical tradition of the Christian churches exhibits everywhere a number of institutional features which were solidly based on Jewish antecedents. The most instructive of these is the observance of Sunday as the Lord's Day.
The observance of holy days is a good example to begin with, since it has not been clouded by modern inter-church dispute. All Christians keep Sunday, even where the Christian year generally speaking has been abandoned. It is not the Jewish Sabbath, but its observance was due to the existence of the Jewish Sabbath; for it depends upon the institution of the seven-day week. How did this remarkable shift in religious observance occur? It is obvious that the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first Easter Sunday had this very powerful effect; but this is strictly speaking only an inference from the known facts. It cannot be directly documented. The occasional writings of the apostles and their successors do not happen to say this.
Paul refers once to the first day of the week; offerings of money were to be laid aside on this day. Luke refers to it once; he describes an all-night vigil, with the 'breaking of the bread' taking place at dawn. John refers to it once; his vision on the island took place on the Lord's Day. Ignatius connects it with the Resurrection. The Didache says that the eucharist should be celebrated every Lord's Day. 'Barnabas' discusses it. It is always a casual or accidental reference until we come to the Didache. Everybody is keeping Sunday; everybody knows what it is; and there is no need to explain it. It has never become a subject of argument. It is a' catholic' custom which originated in apostolic times: it was part of the gospel tradition.
|467 A similar custom was the keeping of the annual Pascha or Passover in its Christian form. In the second century we have evidence that a solemn fast was kept on or near this day, which was the anniversary of the Crucifixion. A very early documentary reference to it mentions a dispute at Rome in the hundred-and-twenties about the proper day on which to observe it, so that the custom must have been well established by that time. The New Testament evidence is entirely indirect; yet the paschal references in 1 Corinthians and other authorities are so numerous and appropriate as to compel the belief that serious attention was paid to it. The Gospels, and 1 Peter, and 1 Clement, in various ways support this belief.
Another legacy from Judaism was the reading of the Law and the Prophets which had been canonized for some two centuries in the Jewish tradition. Along with these went Daniel and Job and the Psalms, and the Song of Songs and other books which were in actual use in the Temple and the synagogue. The limits of this third division of the scriptures were authoritatively defined for the synagogue by the rabbis at Jamnia, and their decision was accepted in due course in the church; a striking indication of the close affiliation of second generation Christianity with the Jewish liturgical practice.
The churches had followed the lead of the Hellenistic synagogue, however, in reading a much wider assortment of holy books, though it did not necessarily quote them as scripture. Quite recent books like the Wisdom of Solomon and the Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra passed from the synagogue into the ecclesia, and were associated with the canonical scriptures. Older books like Enoch or Testaments were also read. There is no means of assessing their exact status, or discovering the steps by which they were ultimately classified or de-classified. Suffice it to say that a considerable library was inherited from Judaism along with the canonical scriptures.
Next to these were the books which were written by the apostles or by their pupils preserving their teaching. When we reflect on the uncertainties of the period, we may safely conclude that nothing can have |468 given the church leaders greater confidence than the possession of these documents.
It was a transition period in two different ways. It was a period of transition from the 'synagogue' condition in which the church was not completely separated from Judaism; and it was also a period of transition from the missionary phase in which it depended on an apostolic or missionary order which was almost entirely Jewish, for direction, supervision and even the appointment of an indigenous ministry. The churches of Asia, as we saw them in the Pastorals, and the churches of Corinth and Rome, as we saw them in 1 Clement, had not passed beyond this stage. The churches of Syria and Asia, as we see them in Ignatius, have completed the transition; and the leaders of the Syrian and Asian churches are armed with an apostolic literature which seems to be more complete than the Roman.
The modern text-books rightly insist that this literature was not grouped with the Old Testament as scripture. Its position was not defined; but it was highly authoritative. The supreme authority in the church was the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who was represented by his apostles and apostolic ministries; it was a living voice that resounded in the church through the lips of living men. As the authentic living voice receded into the past and strange teachers brought in new theologies, the surviving literature became supremely important. The written Gospels superseded the living voice of the actual disciples and disciples of disciples; the written Epistles took the place of the living voice of the apostolic founders. These books had been designed as substitutes for the living voice in the first place, and that continued to be their value. The third generation men used them with confidence to fortify their own messages.
There is a great advance in Ignatius and Polycarp in the use of apostolic literature. Clement, in the nineties, was still in the 'synagogue' stage. He writes in the succession of the apostolic Epistles, some of which he knows very well; but he works directly from the Old Testament, in the light of an education and training which was fundamentally that of the Hellenistic synagogue. Neither Ignatius nor Polycarp does this. They work directly from an apostolic literature. There is often room for doubt whether a certain book has been quoted or not; but there is no room for doubt or debate about the impressive fact that these writers were steeped in the apostolic literature, modelled |469 their own writings on it, and made numerous references to it when addressing the churches, which must therefore have been familiar with it too.
The following summary will serve to illustrate these statements.
Mark is best attested by its use in the three later evangelists and by the statement of the elder John; it was probably used by Clement, and certainly by Hernias. Luke appears to have been known to John. Matthew is the authority to which Ignatius alludes as the gospel, but he has read Luke and John as well. Acts was used by Polycarp. The Pauline Epistles were used by Clement, Hermas, Ignatius, and Polycarp, though they are naturally not all attested by indubitable quotations. Ignatius speaks of 'ordinances' given by Peter as well as Paul. The Pastoral Epistles and 1 Peter were used by Clement and Polycarp. Hebrews was used by Clement and Hermas. 1 Peter and 1 John were used by Polycarp and Papias. James was used by Hermas. Clement was used by Polycarp. Papias used the Revelation. Clement and Hermas interlock, and so do Ignatius and Polycarp. There is no trace of the smaller epistles, Jude, and 2 or 3 John. 2 Peter was definitely not written till after this period.
It is amazing that so many traces of the apostolic literature can be found in so few pages. No writer can be expected to reveal the full range of his reading in indubitable quotations, or even in passing allusions, in the course of brief messages or exhortations designed to suit some special situation. The evidence that emerges justifies us in concluding that our New Testament books were, for the most part, in general use as part of the church order. One or two statements in the above notes might be questioned by this or that scholar or differently expressed; but the picture of a familiar, operative, interrelated literature is soundly established.
We may not assume, however, that the tradition in every church, at the dawn of the second century, was uniform; far from it. The use of the Gospels is a case in point. Clement and Polycarp seem to quote the words of Jesus as from an oral tradition. It seems that they were repeating them as they had heard them from disciples of Jesus. Written Gospels were in general use, but it would seem that they had not superseded the oral tradition in Rome or Asia or Phrygia.
|470 Now Ignatius brought with him a different conception. He had a written Gospel to which he appealed as a final authority; it was, of course, Matthew, and the position he claimed for it was virtually that of scripture. It is fair to say that this opinion is not accepted by every scholar, but it seems to be required by the evidence; he speaks of the Law, the Prophets, the Gospel, and the ordinances of the apostles, in close conjunction with one another, and makes use of them all.
His reference to a written Gospel had not passed without protest. There had been an argument at Philadelphia with the Judaizers, in which 'the Gospel' had been discussed (Philad. viii, 2); he had said 'It is written', and they had said, 'That is the point under discussion'. They argued that what was in the Gospel should be supported by what they called the archives; very likely the Old Testament. It is impossible to unravel the argument, but it is clear that the written authority referred to by Ignatius was not accepted in Philadelphia as he would have liked it to be.
Our four Gospels were known to the church in Asia as they were in Antioch; but no four-Gospel canon for use in the church had yet come into existence. Even a one-Gospel canon was advancing against difficulties. The fourfold Gospel still existed in a dispersed form. It had not been gathered together, unified and corporately accepted. The condition of the episcopal ministry was rather similar.
We come now to difficult ground, which has been traversed by hosts of theologians with different theories to maintain. The unified episcopate appears fully developed in the letters of Ignatius, and he speaks about it with his customary ardour.
The position of the bishop in the church is that of the representative of God or of Jesus Christ. He is in the place of God or is a 'type' of God. God is the universal bishop or shepherd or teacher, as we find in I Peter, where he is called the 'shepherd and bishop of your souls'. We have no adequate translation of the word in English; for we mentally interpose associations drawn from church experience or controversy. Even in the Greek world from which the word was taken, it had a wide range of meaning. The gods in pagan Greece were called the 'bishops' of solemn oaths or covenants; they were guardians or watchmen over |471 men. In 1 Peter and Ignatius God is the supreme guardian or watchman over mankind. The pastoral care originates in God.
The idea of the ministry presented by Ignatius was not a new one. In Hebrew thought the divinely appointed authority speaks and acts for the deity, a principle which included the honour due to parents; he who honours his father and mother has it ascribed to him as if he honoured God. It was extended to the apostles through the divine mission of Jesus; he who receives you, Jesus says to his apostles, receives me; and he who receives me, receives him that sent me. He leaves them as stewards of his household. It is frequent in the Didache ; the teacher, the apostle, or the prophet, is to be received 'as the Lord'. Ignatius gives no history of the episcopate, as Clement did, but he has this gospel tradition in mind.
Everyone whom the master of the house sends as his steward, we should receive as we would the one who sent him; it is obvious therefore that we should reverence the bishop as the Lord himself.
(Ignatius, Ephesians, vi.)
There is no sign in Ignatius that the bishop had any large powers apart from his council of elders, or indeed apart from the ecclesia, though he was of necessity the key-man and chief executive. He was responsible for the teaching; he had the care of the widow and orphan; he had some regulative power in connexion with marriage and the celibate life; he celebrated the eucharist or designated others to do so; and it is as master of the liturgy that his divine commission most clearly appears.
Ignatius is entirely in favour of having more frequent assemblies; 'let assemblies be more frequent', he writes to Polycarp. Now these assemblies, or 'synagogues', could be turbulent and stormy; and it would seem that the bishop could do nothing about it. The bishop of Philadelphia remained silent, and was highly commended for it. The bishop of Ephesus had also learned the value of silence. At the best, it would seem, the bishop could assert his spiritual leadership by a prophetic utterance. The promoters of Judaism, or even of Docetism, do not seem to have been ruled out of order. It would appear that they had the right to state their views. However strongly the bishop felt on the subject, his method had to be that of persuasion. Ignatius himself relied on persuasion; he did not issue ordinances like the apostles.
|472 The position of the bishop was not strong, and Ignatius is urging the churches to support him. The word he uses means to submit or be subordinate; it is the standard word in all the apostolic catechisms; and it is the least a chairman can expect. In the last resort, it would seem, the bishop could stop his ears and leave the assembly, and Polycarp was known to do this. The assembly could do the same if it heard doctrine that it objected to. The procedure was actually adopted at the Council of Nicaea.
Much ingenuity has been expended in attempting to show how the plural bishops of the Pastoral Epistles and of 1 Clement 'developed' into the single bishop and presbytery of the eastern pattern; but there is no reason to suppose that any such 'development' occurred. The current of Christianity did not normally flow from west to east. It is better to say that we can distinguish two principal forms of the apostolic order: a system of plural bishops in the Pauline churches of the far west, lacking powers of ordination and dependent upon apostolic persons, or churches with apostolic leaders, for certain purposes or services; and an autonomous episcopate in the eastern churches, in which plenary authority was vested in a single bishop with a council of presbyters. It is obvious from the Epistles of Ignatius that the latter system was the dominant one in his time throughout Syria and Asia Minor; and he speaks of bishops established to the end of the earth; but it does not follow that these bishops were in every case single bishops. He knows and advocates the single-bishop system, but it does not follow that he would not have recognized plural bishops where they existed.
As a matter of fact we do not know what form of the episcopate was in use in the west when Ignatius wrote. The view of the situation which appears in his letters does not extend any further west than the churches of Asia, though of course he cannot have been without information about more distant churches. In Philippi, however, we have an old Pauline church which was not provided apparently with a bishop, since Polycarp only mentions presbyters and deacons in his salutation; but even so we must be on our guard; the expression 'presbyters' may include venerable clergy and teachers of all kinds, perhaps even a bishop or bishops.
|473 Or there may have been a vacancy in the see when he wrote. It has even been suggested that the erring 'presbyter' Valens may have been the bishop; for bishops continued to be described by the honorific title of'elder' for centuries. Valens may have been the old bishop, and Crescens the new one; his so-called sister may have been his wife, as we suggested in the case of Philemon. But let us assume that Philippi had no bishop. It is the assumption which is generally made.
It was not a large church with great resources, or it would have been able to send a delegate to the council at Antioch. It was in agreement with the general outlook of Ignatius, for it received him worthily and asked for copies of his letters. It had geared itself, perhaps, to the single-bishop system, by speaking of its clergy as elders and deacons, not bishops and deacons, which is what Paul had called them when he instituted the ministry there. It showed need of additional moral and spiritual oversight by asking for directions from Polycarp, possibly on the advice of Ignatius. Like the Corinth of twenty years before, it had an incomplete church order, which could not stand alone; it had not quite passed out of its missionary phase, when it had depended upon a superior ministry of apostles and apostolic men. It can be no accident that it was in Corinth and Philippi, where the single episcopate was not in operation, that it was found necessary to have recourse to a neighbouring church, with a stronger establishment, and a leading man of apostolic character, when trouble arose which affected the clergy themselves.
It was perfectly natural, therefore, that the Epistles of such apostolic men as Clement and Polycarp, written under such circumstances (with the concurrence of their churches), should be enrolled with the apostolic Epistles, since their production was a continuation of the old apostolic procedure. The distinction or gap which we mentally interpose is an unhistorical one, based on the subsequent fact that some of them have been canonized, whereas others have not. There was a difference of degree of course. Polycarp modestly disclaims any comparison between the advice he gives the Philippians and the advice which Paul gave them; but the disclaimer itself is an indication that he was doing for them very much what Paul used to do for them; otherwise it had no point.
We must now complete our survey by considering the case of Rome. The impression which we receive, from Clement and other sources, of the stability of the Roman church is strengthened by various references in Ignatius; for he uses an even greater number than usual of his compound polysyllabic adjectives in addressing her: she is God-worthy, honour-worthy, blessing-worthy, praise-worthy, good-fortune-worthy, and sanctification-worthy; she presides in love; she keeps the law of Christ and the name of the Father. He adds also that she 'presides in the place of the region of the Romans'; a phrase which suggests a position of leadership among the nearby churches. There is nothing in the form of address which would have been found extraordinary had it been written from Rome to the church of Antioch, which of course presided in the place of the region of the Syrians; and Ignatius does call himself bishop of Syria more than once. Antioch and Rome both enjoyed leading positions in their respective 'regions'.
On the other hand, Ignatius makes no reference to any bishop at Rome, as he does in his five other letters to churches; and it has been argued that he fails to do so because there was no bishop there of the type to which he was accustomed. The controversy has been long drawn out, but there is surely only one fair statement which can be made; he makes no reference and we are not entitled to draw conclusions.
We turn to the ' Visions' of Hermas and we find him referring to the elders as the authority which authorizes him to deliver his message in the church; the elders or rulers occupied the principal seats, and he sat with them. He refers to Clement as the person who communicated with the church at large; but he fails to give him a title. In his allegory of the tower, he mentions bishops, teachers, and deacons in close association with the apostles; but some years later, in his second version of it, he treats of bishops and deacons separately from the apostles and teachers who are now relegated to a past period. The use of the plural does not quite prove that there were several bishops in Rome. The tower signified the universal church, and the bishops who appear in the explanation of the allegory must be the bishops of the universal church. Pius the brother of Hermas was unquestionably a single bishop; but this was rather later than the period with which we are dealing.
The traditional date for the death of Clement is 100, but it rests on uncertain evidence. He may have survived a year or two longer. According to the episcopal list which was supplied to Hegesippus some fifty years later he was succeeded by Euarestus, and Euarestus by Hyginus. The later Roman list gives the years of their episcopates:
A.D. 64 Linus: 12 years. Cletus (Anencletus): 12 years. Clement: 12 years. Euarestus: 8 or 9 years. Alexander: 10 years. Xystus or Sixtus: 10 years.
These are the names of historic leaders who were remembered in the Roman church as the legitimate bishops of their day; but nothing in the way of detailed information appears until we come to Xystus. The period between Clement and Xystus is a historical blank except for the martyrdom of Ignatius, of which no record remains.
Xystus had to deal with the problem of the day on which the Pascha should be observed, and allowed the Asians in Rome to keep the fast according to the Johannine custom. He sent them the eucharist from his own service. In later centuries the Popes still sent a portion of the eucharist to the parish churches as a symbol of unity; and it was called the fermentum or leaven, which suggests that the custom originated in connexion with the Pascha. This fact about Xystus, which is vouched for by Irenaeus, enables us to see that he was regarded in his day as the centre of liturgical unity for Christians in the city. His action was in line with the view of Ignatius that the eucharist should be under the bishop's control; and it illuminates the statement that he could give permission for others to celebrate it. It provided a method of recognizing minority groups. It suggests that the position in Antioch and in Smyrna may have been more complex than appears on the surface.
The martyrdom of Ignatius may have taken place as early as 110, and it can be placed as late as 117. The Syrian Chronicle allots it to 115. The accession date of Xystus is uncertain, but it was probably the later of the two events; and it has been suggested that the arrival of Ignatius in Rome, and the great influence which he exercised as a martyr and a
|476 prophetic man, may have helped to clarify the position of the single bishop in the city; but even so it must have been anticipated to some extent in the persons of Clement and Euarestus and Alexander, who exercised a degree of leadership which led to their being remembered by their younger contemporaries as the Roman bishops of their day.
It is a reasonable conjecture that the wealthier Christian families in Rome allowed the halls in their great houses to be used for 'synagogues' or church assemblies. In his earlier Visions Hermas condemns the wealthy for their lack of consideration for the poor, but in his later Parables his tone is less severe. He speaks of bishops 'and hospitable men' (episkopoi kai philoxenoi ), 'who gladly receive the servants of God into their houses'.
This rather suggests that the bishops may have been, in the first case, those wealthy or prominent converts whose families or households became the first centres of church life; or in due course the managers of such buildings. At Corinth it was the household of Stephanas that undertook the ministry to the saints, and other cases of house-churches have appeared from time to time. If this conjecture is sound, it would follow that where there were several of these house-churches, as there were at Corinth and Rome, there would be several bishops, but where Christian life was sufficiently consolidated to have a central building, there would naturally be only one bishop, or one principal bishop if lesser house-churches continued to function. It was the business of the bishop, according to the Pastorals, to look after the house of God. He was a caretaker or warden, which is what the word 'bishop' means.
A process of unification certainly took place in the west in one way or another. The schism at Corinth had demonstrated the weakness of a plural episcopate. As the church in each city developed its spiritual autonomy it expressed it by subordinating the Sunday worship and the social life to the presidency of one bishop. Where there had been plural bishops, we may suppose that they came to terms with the lesser episcopal groups, as Xystus did with the Asian community and possibly with other communities too. Possibly they were enrolled among the elders and magnified their office. In Rome the elders wielded |477 considerable power. They dealt firmly with Marcion, Epiphanius says; and Irenaeus describes the Roman Passover tradition as a tradition of the elders. The elders were the guardians of the tradition of preaching and teaching which had been committed to the church by the apostles, he says, but he links the successions of elders with the succession of bishops who traced their descent from a bishop who had been appointed by the apostles. The appointment of the first bishops by apostles appears very clearly in Clement, and Hermas associates them with the apostles.
It appears in the evidence of Hegesippus that in the hundred-and-fifties those bishops whom he found in every city presiding over the churches which he visited could establish their descent, to his satisfaction, from some predecessor who had been appointed by an apostle. The appearance of this pattern everywhere, without controversy or objection, is certainly a striking historical fact; but the internal situation, even under the presidency of the single bishop, may not have been so simple or uniform as some have supposed. He may have had to cope with national or social or domestic groups with well-rooted traditions of their own; or even with different' apostolic' foundations. Alexandria, if the legend can be trusted, had a strong episcopal corporation, but it had to deal with a variety of academic schools. In Rome the record of schisms and disputed elections may be related to an original multiple ecclesiastical origin; and this may be reflected in the fourth-century legends which place the 'title-churches' of Pudentiana and Praxedis and Prisca in the first century.
These legends preserve a recollection, which may be true, that the first churches in Rome were formed in private houses and named after their owners. Attempts have been made to support this tradition on architectural grounds, and there is a theory that the oldest form of Christian church architecture is based on the architecture of the Roman house of the period.
Another approach to the subject is by the study of the Jewish antecedents of the Christian institutions. The general outline of the church order in Ignatius repeats the synagogue pattern with its synagogue-ruler and council of elders and minor officials; and it is a fact that in |478 some synagogues there were several such rulers, just as in some churches there were several bishops; but the system of one synagogue-ruler became the general one in Judaism, just as the system of one bishop became the general one in Christianity.
The problem of succession was common to both. Palestinian Judaism had two lines of succession, a teaching succession of Rabbis perpetuated by means of the ceremony of the laying on of hands, and a ruling succession which was vested in the family of Hillel and Gamaliel. Palestinian Christianity also had two lines of succession: an episcopal or teaching succession from Peter and the twelve, and a hereditary succession vested in the family of Jesus. In both cases it was claimed that the hereditary succession was Davidic.
A great divergence now appears. The Jews succeeded in establishing a central authority with a prince or president of the sanhedrin who was taken from the hereditary succession. James the Just, the brother of the Lord, had hinted at something of the same sort for Christianity, according to the sources which are preserved in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts; but the Gentiles had failed to respond; and no basis of any sort could be found for a central authority after the destruction of Jerusalem. The church was content with a dispersed authority, the original apostolic commission being vested in the various episcopal corporations throughout the world, the unity of the whole church being secured by the unity of the episcopate locally. It was both a teaching and a ruling succession, since the apostles had received plenary authority as trusted servants in the household of the Lord. This quality in the succession is emphasized by Ignatius in the passage already quoted; the more Rabbinic quality, with its emphasis on teaching, is emphasized by Papias; Clement emphasizes the preaching of the gospel and the offering of the gifts.
The historical development of the unified episcopal system is not recorded, any more than the institution of the Lord's Day is recorded, or the canonization of the four Gospels. Nor is it recorded how they were disseminated. It is a fact, however, that they were received throughout the whole church as apostolic institutions. They were all present in the stream of apostolic and evangelical tradition which flowed |479 like a river from east to west; from Judaea to Antioch; from Antioch to Ephesus or Smyrna; from Ephesus to Corinth or Rome.
It was not entirely a one-way traffic. The churches of the west had made their own contribution to the completed evangelical and catholic order by the dissemination of the Marcan Gospel and the Epistle of Clement and the Visions of Hermas; but they were naturally the last to receive everything in its fullness. Clement and Hermas, for instance, seem quite innocent of any knowledge of Matthew and John. The Roman church was far from the originating centres of Christianity; it had an admirable independence and a sturdy conservatism which would be its strength in the next generation; and it had a legitimate apostolic tradition of its own; but it developed slowly.
Some scholars have seen a certain native Roman character in this strength and conservatism; yet it was largely a foreign community, despite its conquests among the noble Roman families. Christianity was an oriental religion still; and the Roman church continued to absorb apostolic and quasi-apostolic missions from Palestine, Syria, Asia, and even Alexandria. This influx, which continued into the third century, was part of a general flow of orientals to the west, a process which would be speeded up with each successive oriental war. The Romanization of Syria was being compensated for by the Syrianization of Rome. The old Latin culture was being inundated by a tide of multicoloured Hellenistic immigration.
The Roman poet Juvenal was writing his first satires in the episcopate of Xystus. He noted the familiar figure of the Jew, and bemoaned the undue influence in society of Greeks and orientals; and it was to Antioch on the Orontes River that he traced its origin: in Tiberim defluxit Orontes :
What race is best received among our wealthy friends today, Though I'd avoid their company, I'm not ashamed to say. Ye doughty sons of Romulus, I boldly do declare Our sacred city Hellenized is more than I can bear. The sewage of the Greeks today infects our moral fibre, And the Syrian Orontes drains its filth into our Tiber.
(Juvenal, Satires, iii, 58.)
Tacitus, who wrote his story of Christianity about this time, made use of the same unsavoury metaphor; for Christianity, he remarked, soon |480 found its way to Rome, 'where everything that is horrible and shameful flows together and becomes fashionable'.
Among these streams of unwelcome visitors came the bishops, prophets, teachers, evangelists and martyrs of Jesus Christ; Andronicus, Junia, Aquila, Priscilla, Epaenetus, Phoebe, Paul, Luke, Aristarchus, Mark, Timothy, Peter, Silvanus, the grandsons of Jude, Ignatius, Philo, Agathopous, Zosimus, Rufus and many more of whom these were the outstanding examples. Later on came Cerdo, Marcion, Valentine, Justin, Tatian, Irenaeus, Polycarp, Hegesippus, Marcellina, Avircius, Rhoda, Philumene, Praxeas, Epigonus, and Theodotus. This powerful westward-flowing current of evangelism from Jerusalem, Pella, Caesarea, Antioch, Hierapolis, Ephesus, Smyrna and Corinth, was the unifying and creative factor in the making of a homogeneous evangelical catholic Christianity, uniting east and west. The same gospel everywhere carried the same hereditary factors and assumed the same form. Its unity was a unity of momentum; its quality was cosmopolitan; and all its origins were Jewish. All apostolic types of Christianity flowed into it, and contributed to it. It assumed the catholic form in this period when the venerable 'elders' who had been trained in the apostolic tradition were giving leadership to the church as bishops, teachers, and pastors.
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