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Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion Book4 Chapter4

Calvin - Institutes of the Christian Religion Book4 Chapter4

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(Historical development of the ministry; three classes of ministers:
teaching and ruling presbyters: one presbyter selected to be bishop:
the archbishop, 1-4)

Up to this point we have discussed the order of church government as it

has been handed down to us from God\u2019s pure Word, and also those
ministries established by Christ.F72 Now to make all these matters clearer
and more familiar, and also to fix them better in our minds, it will be useful
to recognize in those characteristics of the ancient church the form which
will represent to our eyes some image of the divine institution. For even
though the bishops of those times promulgated many canons, by which
they seemed to express more than was expressed in Scripture, still they
conformed their establishment with such care to the unique pattern of
God\u2019s Word that you may readily see that it had almost nothing in this
respect alien to God\u2019s Word. But though something might be wanting in
their arrangements, yet because they tried with a sincere effort to preserve
God\u2019s institution and did not wander far from it, it will be most profitable
here briefly to ascertain what sort of observance they had.

We have stated that Scripture sets before us three kinds of ministers.
Similarly, whatever ministers the ancient church had it divided into three
orders. For from the order of presbyters
(1) part were chosen pastors and teachers;
(2) the remaining part were charged with the censure and correction of
(3) the care of the poor and the distribution of alms were committed to
the deacons.

\u201cReaders\u201d and \u201cacolytes,\u201d however, were not the names of definite offices;
it was these whom they called \u201cclerics,\u201d and whom through definite
exercises they trained from youth to serve the church in order that they
might better understand the purpose for which they had been appointed
and might, in time, be more ready to step into office. This I shall soon
show more fully.F73

Therefore, Jerome, in setting forth five church orders, lists bishops,
presbyters, deacons, believers, and catechumens; he gives no special place
to the remaining clergy and monks.F74

All those to whom the office of teaching was enjoined they called

\u201cpresbyters.\u201d In each city these chose one of their number to whom they
specially gave the title \u201cbishop\u201d in order that dissensions might not arise
(as commonly happens) from equality of rank. Still, the bishop was not so

much higher in honor and dignity as to have lordship over his colleagues.
But the same functions that the consul has in the senate\u2014to report on

business, to request opinions, to preside over others in counseling,
admonishing, and exhorting, to govern the whole action by his authority,
and to carry out what was decreed by common decision\u2014the bishop
carried out in the assembly of presbyters.

And the ancients themselves admit that this was introduced by human
agreement to meet the need of the times. \u201cThus Jerome, commenting on
the letter to Titus, says: \u201cBishop and presbyter are one and the same. And

before, by the devil\u2019s prompting, dissensions arose in religion and it was said among the people, \u2018I am of Paul, I of Cephas\u2019 [<460112> 1 Corinthians 1:12; cf. chapter 3:4], churches were governed by the common counsel of presbyters.\u201d Arterward, to remove seeds of dissensions, all oversight was committed to one person. Just as the presbyters, therefore, know that

they are, according to the custom of the church, subject to him who
presides, so the bishops recognize that they are superior to the presbyters
more according to the custom of the church than by the Lord\u2019s actual
arrangement, and that they ought to govern the church in cooperation with
them.F75 Jerome, however, tells us in another place what an ancient
arrangement it was. For he says that at Alexandria from the time of the
Evangelist Mark to that of Heraclas and Dionysius, the presbyters always
elected one of their number and set him in a higher rank, calling him
Each city, then, had a college of presbyters, who were pastors and

teachers. For all exercised among the people the office of teaching,
exhorting, and correcting, which Paul enjoins on bishops [<560109> Titus
1:9]; and, to leave successors after them, they labored hard to teach the
younger men who had enlisted in the sacred army.

A certain area was assigned to each city from which its presbyters were
drawn, and it was thought of as belonging to the body of that church. Each
college was under one bishop for the preservation of its organization and
peace. While he surpassed the others in dignity, he was subject to the
assembly of his brethren. But if the field under his episcopate was too
large for him to be able to fulfill everywhere all the duties of bishop,
presbyters were assigned to certain places in the field, and carried on his
duties in lesser matters. These they called \u201ccountry bishops\u201dF77 because

they represented the bishop throughout the province.
But as far as concerns the office with which we are now dealing, both
bishops and presbyters had to devote themselves to the dispensing of
Word and sacraments. For at Alexandria alone (since Arius had disturbed

the church there) it was ordained that no presbyter should preach to the
people, as Socrates says in Book 9 of the Tripartite History.F78 Yet Jerome
does not hide his displeasure at this fact.F79

Surely it would have been considered a monstrous thing for anyone to
claim to be a bishop who had not in fact shown himself a true bishop.
Such, therefore, was the severity of the times, that all ministers were
compelled to discharge the office which the Lord required of them. I do not
refer to the custom of a single age only. For even in Gregory\u2019s time, when
the church had well-nigh collapsed (surely it had deteriorated much from

its ancient purity), it was not tolerable for any bishop to refrain from
preach-lng. \u201cA bishop,\u201d he says somewhere, \u201cdies, if no sound is heard

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