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From these censures of a popular assembly an appeal would be made, as in the case before us, to a synodical council, or to the neighboring bishops. For this reason, they are sometimes represented as the ecclesiastical court for the trial of the clergy. Such they were at a subsequent period; but in the primitive church it was, as appears from the foregoing authorities, the right of the church to exercise her discipline over both laity and clergy. The greater includes the less. The right to depose a scandalous bishop, of necessity supposes the right to expel from their communion an unworthy member of humbler rank. As, in the highest act of ecclesiastical censure, so in smaller offences, the conclusion is irresistible, that the discipline of the church was conducted with the strictest regard to the popular rights and privileges of its members.
3. Argument from the authority of ecclesiastical writers. Authority is not argument. But the opinion of those who have made ecclesiastical history the study of their life, is worthy of our confidence. The concurring opinion of many such becomes a valid reason for our belief. What then is their authority?
Valesius, the learned commentator on Eusebius, says that "the people's suffrages were required when any one was to be received into the church, who for any fault had been excommunicated.” 38 This is said in relation to the usage of the church in the third century.
The authority of Du Pin, the distinguished historian of the Roman Catholic communion, whose opinion is worthy of all confidence, is to the same effect; that the discipline of the church continued, in the third century, to be administered by the church as it had been from the beginning.39 Simonis, profoundly learned on all points relating to ecclesiastical usage, says that, "this church discipline was
38 Eccl. Hist., Lib. 6, 44. Com. Lib. 5, 28.
39 Antiqua Disciplina, Diss. 3, c. 1.
so administered that not only the clergy, especially the bishops, and in important cases a council of them, but also the church, in every case, gave their decision and approbation, in order that nothing might be done through prejudice and private interest by being submitted to the clergy and bishops alone." 40
Baumgarten ascribes to the church alone the entire control of ecclesiastical censures, from the earliest periods of the church down to the time of Cyprian, when he supposes each case to have been first adjudicated by the church, and afterwards by the clergy and bishops.41
Mosheim is full and explicit to the same point. He not only ascribes to the church the power of enacting their own laws and choosing their own officers, but of excluding and receiving such as were the subjects of discipline, malos et degeneros et excludendi et recipiendi, and adds that nothing of any moment was transacted or decided without their knowledge and consent.42
Planck asserts that, so late as the middle of the third century, the church still exercised their original right of controlling the bans of the church, both in the exclusion of offenders, and in the restitution of penitents.43
Guerike also states, that, in the third century, the duty of excluding from the church and of restoring to their communion, devolved still upon the laity.44
The views of Neander again are sufficiently apparent from quotations which have already been made in the progress of this work. More thoroughly conversant with the writings of the fathers, and more profoundly skilled in the government and history of the church than any man
40 Vorlesungen, über Christ. Alterthum., p. 426.
41 Erlauterungen, Christ. Alterthum., § 122. Comp. also § 36, and p. 85. 42 De Rebus Christ., Saec. Prim., § 45.
43 Gesell. Verfass., 1, pp. 180, 508. Comp. pp. 129-140, and Fuch's Bibliotheca, 1, p. 43, seq.
44 Kirch. Gesch., p. 94, 100, 101, 2d edit.
living, he not only ascribes the discipline of offenders originally to the deliberation and action of the church, but states, moreover, that this right was retained by the laity in the middle of the third century, after the rise of the Episcopal power, and the consequent change in the government of the church. "The participation of the laity in the concerns of the church was not yet altogether excluded. One of these concerns was the restoration of the lapsed to the communion of the church. The examination which was instituted in connection with this restoration was also held before the whole church." 45
These authorities might be extended almost indefinitely; but enough have been cited to show that, in the opinion of those who are most competent to decide, the sacred right of directing the discipline of the church was, from the beginning, exercised by the whole body of believers belonging to the community; and that they continued, in the third century, in the exercise of the same prerogative.
4. Argument from the fact, that the entire government of the church was under the control of its members.
The popular government of the primitive church pervaded their ecclesiastical polity throughout. The members of the church unitedly enacted their laws, elected their officers, established their judicature, and managed all their affairs by their mutual suffrages. "With them resided the power of enacting laws, as also of adopting or rejecting whatever might be proposed in the general assemblies, and of expelling and again receiving into communion any depraved or unworthy members. In a word, nothing whatever, of any moment, could be determined on, or carried into effect, without their knowledge and concurrence."46 On this point we must be permitted again to adduce the authority of Neander. After showing at length, that, 45 Allgem. Kirch. Gesch., 1, p. 342, 2d edit. 46 Mosheim, De Rebus Christ., Saec. 1, § 45.
agreeably to the spirit of the primitive church, all were regarded as different organs and members of one body, and actuated by one and the same spirit, he adds, "But from the nature of the religious life and of the Christian church, it is hardly possible to draw the inference naturally that the government should have been entrusted to the hands of a single one. The monarchical form of government accords not with the spirit of the Christian church." 47
Riddle gives the following sketch of the constitution and government of the church at the beginning of the second century. "The subordinate government, &c., of each particular church was vested in itself; that is to say, the whole body elected its minister and officers, and was consulted concerning all matters of importance." This is said of the church at the close of the first century.48
Even the “judicious" Hooker, the great expounder of the ecclesiastical polity of the Episcopal church, distinctly declares, that "the general consent of all" is requisite for the ratification of the laws of the church. "Laws could they never be without the consent of the whole church to be guided by them; whereunto both nature, and the practice of the church of God set down in Scripture, is found so consonant, that God himself would not impose his own laws upon his people by the hands of Moses without their free and open consent." 49
From all which, in connection with what has already been said in the fore part of this work, the popular administration of the government is sufficiently manifest. Even the minute concerns of the church were submitted to the direction of the popular voice. Is a delegate to be sent out, he goes, not as the servant of the bishop, but as the representative of the church, chosen to this service by public vote.50. Is a letter missive to be issued from one church to another,
47 Allgem. Gesch., 1, p. 312, 2d. edit. 49 Ecclesiastical Polity, B. VIII.
48 Chronology, p. 13.
50 Ignatius, ad. Phil., c. 10.
it is done in the name of the church; and, when received, is publicly read.51 In short, nothing is done without the consent of the church. Even Cyprian, the great advocate for Episcopal precedence in the middle of the third century, protests to his clergy, that, "from his first coming to his bishopric, he had ever resolved to do nothing according to his own private will, without the advice of the clergy and the approbation of the people." 52
The point now under consideration is very clearly presented by an old English writer, of Cambridge in England, whose work on Primitive Episcopacy evinces a familiar acquaintance with the early history of the church that entitles his conclusions to great respect. "In the apostle's times, and divers ages after, all the people, under the inspection of one bishop, were wont to meet together, not only for worship, but for other administrations. All public acts passed at assemblies of the whole people. They were consulted with, their concurrence was thought necessary, and their presence required, that nothing might pass without their cognizance, satisfaction and consent. This was observed, not only in elections of officers, but in ordinations and censures, in admission of members and reconciling penitents, and in debates and consultations about other emergences. There is such evidence of this, particularly in Cyprian, almost in every one of his epistles,
51 The letters of Clement and Polycarp were written by the authority of the churches respectively. Comp. Euseb., Eccl. Hist., 4, c. 15. 5, c. 1, and c. 24. With the epistle of Clement, five delegates were sent also from the church at Rome, to that of Corinth, to attempt to reconcile the dissensions in that church. § 59.
52 Ad id vero quod scripserunt mihi compresbyteri nostri, Donatus et Fortunatus, Novatus et Gordius, solus rescribere nihil potui; quando a primordio episcopatus mei statuerim nihil sine consilio vestro, et sine consensu plebis meae privatim sententia gerere; sed cum ad vos per Dei gratiam venero, tunc de eis quae vel gesta sunt, vel gerenda sicut honor mutuus poscit in commune tractabimus.-Cyprian, Ep. 5. Comp. Ep. 3, 55. Daillé on the Fathers, p. 330. London.