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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(ἐπίσκοπος , bishop; ἐπισκοπεῖν, to superintend), the government of bishops in the Church, whether as an order superior to presbyters or not. For the classes, duties, insignia, elections, and jurisdiction of bishops, (See BISHOP). For the controversy as to the exclusive validity of Episcopal orders, (See SUCCESSION, APOSTOLICAL). We give, in this article, a brief statement of the origin of Episcopacy, and of the theories of Episcopacy maintained in the prominent Episcopal churches of Christendom.
I. Origin of Episcopacy. — The high Episcopal writers, both of the Church of Rome and the Church of England, maintain that the order of bishops takes the place of the apostles in the Christian Church by direct divine appointment. Their view has been stated as follows: "While our Lord remained upon earth he acted as the immediate governor of his Church. Having himself called the apostles, he kept them constantly about his person, except at one time, when he sent them forth upon a short progress through the cities of Judea, and gave them particular directions how they should conduct themselves. The seventy disciples whom he sent forth at another time are never mentioned again in the New Testament. But the apostles received from him many intimations that their office was to continue after his departure; and as one great object of his ministry was to qualify them for the execution of this office, so, in the interval between his resurrection and his ascension, he explained to them the duties of it, and he invested them with the authority which the discharge of those duties implied (Matthew 28:19-20; John 20:21-22). Soon after the ascension of Jesus, his apostles received those extraordinary gifts of which his promise had given them assurance, and immediately they began to execute their commission as the rulers of that society which was gathered by their preaching. In Acts vi we find the apostles ordering the Christians at Jerusalem to 'look out seven men of honest report,' who might take charge of the daily ministrations to the poor, and to bring the men so chosen to them, that 'we,' said the apostles, ' may appoint them over this business.' The men accordingly were 'set before the apostles, and when they had prayed they laid their hands on them.' Here are the apostles ordaining deacons. Afterward we find St. Paul, in his progress through Asia Minor, ordaining in every church elders, πρεσβυτἑρους (Acts 14:23).
The men thus ordained by St. Paul appear, from the Acts and the Epistles, to have been teachers, pastors, overseers, of the flock of Christ; and to Timothy, who was a minister of the Word, the apostle speaks of 'the gift which is in thee by the putting on of my hands' (2 Timothy 1:6). Over the persons to whom he thus conveyed the office of teaching he exercised jurisdiction, for he sent to Ephesus to the elders of the church to meet him at Miletus; and there, in a long discourse, gave them a solemn charge (Acts 20:17-35), and to Timothy and Titus he writes epistles in the style of a superior. He not only directs Timothy, whom he had besought to abide at Ephesus, how to behave himself in the house of God as a minister, but he sets him over other ministers. He empowers him to ordain men to the work of the ministry (2 Timothy 2:2). He gives him directions about the ordination of bishops and deacons; he places both these kinds of office-bearers in Ephesus under his inspection, instructing him in what manner to receive an accusation against an elder who labored in word and doctrine; and he commands him to charge some that they teach no other doctrine but the form of sound words. In like manner he describes to Titus the qualifications of a bishop or elder, making him the judge how far any person in Crete was possessed of these qualifications; he gives him authority over all orders of Christians there; and he empowers him to reject heretics. Here, then, is that apostle with whose actions we are best acquainted seemingly aware that there would be continual occasion in the Christian Church for the exercise of that authority over pastors and teachers which the apostles had derived from the Lord Jesus; and by these two examples of a delegation, given during his lifetime, preparing the world for beholding that authority exercised by the successors of the apostles in all ages. Accordingly, the earliest Christian writers tell us that the apostles, to prevent contention, appointed bishops and deacons; giving orders, too, that upon their death other approved men should succeed in their ministry. We are told that the other apostles constituted their first- fruits, that is, their first disciples, after they had proved them by the Spirit, bishops and deacons of those who were to believe; and that the apostle John, who survived the rest, after returning from Patmos, the place of his banishment, went about the neighboring nations, ordaining bishops, establishing whole churches, and setting apart particular persons for the ministry, as they were pointed out to him by the Spirit" (Watson, s.v.). In substance, the high Episcopalians claim that "after the ascension of our Lord, and before the death of the inspired apostles, there were in the Church three orders in the ministry — apostles, presbyters, and deacons; sand these three orders have continued ever since. The name apostle, out of respect to the memory of the inspired apostles, was changed to bishop, while the office remained the same."
The view above given, however satisfactory it may be to high Episcopalians, is not adopted by the more moderate writers on that side, nor by other denominations of Christians. The following brief account, from Neander's Introduction to Coleman's Apostolical and Primitive Church, is both lucid and impartial. "The earliest constitution of the Church was modeled, for the most part, after that religious community with which it stood in closest connection, and to which it was most assimilated the Jewish synagogue. This, however, was so modified as to conform to the nature of the Christian community, and to the new and peculiar spirit with which it was animated. Like the synagogue, the Church was governed by an associated body of men appointed for this purpose. The name of presbyters, which was appropriated to this body, was derived from the Jewish synagogue. But in the Gentile churches formed by the apostle Paul they took the name of ἐπίσκοποι , bishops, a term more significant of their office in the language generally spoken by the members of these churches. The name presbyter denoted the dignity of their office, while bishop, on the other hand, was expressive rather of the nature of their office, ἐπισκοπεῖν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, to take the oversight of the Church.
Most certainly no other distinction originally existed between them. But, in process of time, some one, in the ordinary course of events, would gradually obtain the pre-eminence over his colleagues, and, by reason of that peculiar oversight which he exercised over the whole community, might come to be designated by the name ἐπίσκοπος , bishop, which was originally applied to them all indiscriminately. The constant tumults, from within and from without, which agitated the Church in the time of the apostles, may have given to such a one opportunity to exercise his influence the more efficiently; so that, at such a time, the controlling influence of one in this capacity may have been very salutary to the Church. This change in the relation of the presbyters to each other was not the same in all the churches, but varied according to their different circumstances. It may have been as early as the latter part of the life of John, when he was sole survivor of the other apostles, that one, as president of this body of presbyters, was distinguished by the name of ἐπίσκοπος, bishop. There is, however, no evidence that the apostle himself introduced this change, much less that he authorized it as a perpetual ordinance for the future. Such an ordinance is in direct opposition to the spirit of that apostle. This change in the mode of administering the government of the Church, resulting from peculiar circumstances, may have been introduced as a salutary expedient, without implying any departure from the purity of the Christian spirit.
When, however, the doctrine is, as it gradually gained currency in the third century — that the bishops are by divine right the head of the Church, and invested with the government of the same; that they are the successors of the apostles, and by this succession inherit apostolical authority; that they are the medium through which, in consequence of that ordination which they have received merely in an outward manner, the Holy Ghost, in all time to come, must be transmitted to the Church when this becomes the doctrine of the Church, we certainly must perceive in these assumptions a great corruption of the Christian system. It is a carnal perversion of the true idea of the Christian Church. It is a falling back into the spirit of the Jewish religion. Instead of the Christian idea of a church, based on inward principles of communion, and extending itself by means of these, it presents us with the image of one like that under the Old Testament, resting in outward ordinances, and seeking to promote the propagation of the kingdom of God by external rites. This entire perversion of the original view of the Christian Church was itself the origin of the whole system of the Roman Catholic religion, the germ from which sprung the popery of the Dark Ages. We hold, indeed, no controversy with that class of Episcopalians who adhere to the Episcopal system as well adapted, in their opinion, to the exigencies of their Church. But the doctrine of the absolute necessity of the Episcopal as the only valid form of government, and of the Episcopal succession of bishops above mentioned in order to a participation in the gifts of the Spirit, we must regard as something foreign to the true idea of the Christian Church. It is in direct conflict with the spirit of Protestantism, and is the origin, not of the true catholicism of the apostle, but of that of the Romish Church. When, therefore, Episcopalians disown, as essentially deficient in their ecclesiastical organization, other Protestant churches which evidently have the spirit of Christ, it only remains for us to protest, in the strongest terms, against their setting up such a standard for the Christian Church. Far be it from us, who began with Luther in the Spirit, that we should now desire to be made perfect by the flesh (Galatians 3:3)."
Bunsen gives the following view of the original character of the Episcopacy: "The episcopate was originally the independent position of a city clergyman, presiding over the congregation, with the neighboring villages, having a body of elders attached to him. Where such a council can be formed there is a complete Church — a bishopric. The elders are teachers and administrators. If an individual happen to be engaged in either of these offices mose exclusively than the other, it makes no real alteration in his position, for the presbyters of the ancient Church filled both situations. Their office was literally an Office, not a rank. The country clergymen were most probably members of the ecclesiastical council of the city church, as the bishops of the country towns certainly were members of the metropolitan presbytery" (Hippolytus and his Age, 3:246).
Professor R.D. Hitchcock (American Presbyterian Review, January 1867) gives a luminous sketch of the origin and growth of Episcopacy. Admitting that the Episcopal system was in full force in the Church before the end of the third century, he shows clearly, nevertheless, that it was not of apostolical origin, but a later growth of ecclesiastical development, as follows: (1.) The best Episcopal writers now admit that the Episcopal system is not to be found in the N.T. (2.) The earliest witness, outside of the N.T., is Clement of Rome (about A.D. 100), in whose Epistle to the Corinthians the words bishop and presbyter are used interchangeably. Dr. Hitchcock analyzes the letters of Ignatius (t 115?) both in the Syriac version of his Epistles and in the shorter Greek version, giving every passage in which Episcopacy occurs. His conclusions are that, (1.) Admitting the substantial integrity of the texts, the strong infusion of Episcopacy in them "is best explained by supposing it to be a new thing, which Ignatius was doing, always and everywhere, his utmost to recommend. As special pleading for a novelty, the Episcopal tone of the Ignatian epistles is easily understood. (2.) The Ignatian Episcopacy is not diocesan, but Congregational. Each of the churches addressed had its own bishop, presbyters, and deacons. (3.) The apostolic succession (in Ignatius) is not Episcopal, but Presbyterian. The bishop is the representative of Christ, as Christ is of the Father; the presbyters are representatives of the apostles, and the deacons of the precept or commandment of Christ. In short, the Ignatian Episcopacy, instead of having the appearance of a settled polity, handed down from the apostles, has the appearance of being a new and growing institution, unlike what went before as well as what was coming after" (Amer. Presb. Review, January1867, page 145). — The next witness is Irenaeus (t 202), who, according to Dr. Hitchcock, commonly uses the words "bishop," "episcopal," "episcopate" in the Ignatian Congregational sense; while in certain cited passages he uses "bishop" and " presbyter" interchangeably, as Clement does. This "wavering terminology is indicative, not of apostolic tradition, but of later genesis and growth, and that growth not yet completed." — Tertullian (t 240?) draws the line distinctly between clergy and laity, and discriminates clearly between bishops, priests, and deacons. In Cyprian (248-258), as has been remarked above, Episcopacy is fully matured. ( (See CHURCH), 2:328.)
II. Episcopacy of the Roman Catholic Church. —
(1.) 'The theory of the Episcopacy according to Roman writers springs from the Romish doctrine of a visible Church. "An invisible Church" (Mohler, Symbolism, § 43) "needs only an inward, purely spiritual sacrifice, and a general priesthood;" but the visible Church, in its very idea, according to the Romish view, requires an external sacrifice, and the consecration of especial priests to perform it. The priest is supposed to receive the internal consecration from God through the external consecration of the Church — that is to say, he receives the Holy Ghost through the imposition of hands of the bishops. The stability of the visible Church is supposed to require, therefore, an ecclesiastical ordination, originating with Christ, and perpetuated in uninterrupted succession; so that, as the apostles were sent forth by Christ, they, in their turn, instituted bishops, and these have appointed their successors down to our days. But, if these bishops are to form a perpetual corporation, they need a center and head connecting them firmly together, and exercising jurisdiction over them, and this head is found in the pope. The Episcopacy, with the pope at its head, is revered in the Church of Rome as a divine institution.
(2.) We say "with the pope at its head,'" for this point is essential to the Romish idea of an Episcopacy jure divino. The Roman Church has been divided on this question for ages. It formed one of the chief controversies in the Council of Trent, where many of the bishops earnestly endeavored to have their office pronounced to be of divine right apart from the pope, while the papal legates strenuously, but adroitly, resisted this claim, and managed to prevent its authorization by the council. The declarations of Trent on the subject are as follows (sess. 23, De Reformatione; chapter 4): "The sacred and holy synod declares that, besides the other ecclesiastical degrees, bishops, who have succeeded unto the place of the apostles, principally belong to the (this) hierarchical order; that they are placed, as the apostle says, by the Holy Ghost to rule the Church of God (Acts 20:28); that they are superior to priests; confer the sacrament of ordination; ordain the ministers of the Church, etc." Further (same session, Song of Solomon 6:1-13): "If any one shall say that in the Catholic Church there is not a hierarchy instituted by divine ordination, consisting of bishops, priests, and ministers, let him be anathema." And also (Song of Solomon 7:1-13), "If any one shall say that bishops are not superior to priests, or that they have not the power of confirming and ordaining, etc., let him be anathema." Nothing is said here of the divine right of the Episcopal order. But, in fact, it is not even called an order at all. In chapter 2 of the same: session (Touching the seven orders) we have priests, deacons, subdeacons, acolytes, exorcists, readers, and door-keepers, but not a word about bishops; So far as order is concerned, the bishops are simply priests. The Catechism of the Council of Trent declares that the order of priesthood, though essentially one, has different degrees of dignity and power — 1, simple priests; 2, bishops; 3, archbishops; 4, patriarchs; and, 5, superior to all, the sovereign pontiff. The history of the stormy 22d session of the council throws great light upon these decrees. A canon was proposed concerning "the institution of bishops," and the Spanish prelates demanded an addition to it, declaring the Episcopate to be of divine right. This question arose, in fact, in 1546, and was before the council, in some shape or other, until 1562 (sess. 22), when it took the precise form, "Are bishops superior to priests by divine right, or only by ecclesiastical and papal right?" The pope knew that if it should be decided that the bishops held their power directly from God, there was no ground for the doctrine that they existed only through the pope, and feared that they would ultimately assert their entire independence. The dispute ended in dropping altogether the canon on the "institution of bishops," and substituting the vague decree and canon above cited.
(3.) Two theories, then, of the Episcopate exist in the Roman Church:
1, the so-called Papal system, according to which the pope is the sole bishop by divine right, and all other bishops exist only through him, and derive their superiority to presbyters solely from him;
2, the Episcopal system, which asserts an independent divine right on the part of each bishop. The former is the ultramontane view, and it is now prevalent throughout almost all the Roman world. The latter is the moderate or Gallic view. It holds that the bishops are the rightful governors of the Church, superior to presbyters by the direct appointment of God; and maintains that the pope is, with regard to other bishops, primus inter pares, appointed for the sake of keeping up the unity of the Church as a corporate body. The question, in fact, turns upon that of the primacy of the see of Rome. (See PRIMACY). The Episcopal theory was adopted by the Gallican clergy (See GALLICANISM), by the Jansenists (q.v.), and by Hontheim (q.v.). The present tendency of the entire Romish Church, however, is to the ultramontane theory.
The Romish Episcopacy, as a whole, is diocesan. (See DIOCESE). The clergy of the diocese are subject to the bishop, but his authority does not extend beyond the diocese. There are, besides the diocesan bishops, bishops vacantes, bishops in partibus, bishops suffragan, etc., for which distinctions, (See BISHOPS). "The division of the Church into dioceses may be viewed as a natural consequence of the institution of the office of bishops. The authority to exercise jurisdiction, whein committed to several hands, requires that some boundaries be defined within which each party may employ his powers, otherwise disorder and confusion would ensue, and the Church, instead of being benefited by the appointment of governors, might be exposed to the double calamity of an overplus of them in one district, .and a total deficiency of them in another. Hence we find, so early as the New-Testament history, some plain indications of the rise of the diocesan system in the cases respectively of James, bishop of Jerusalem; Timothy, bishop of Ephesus; Titus, of Crete, to whom may be added the angels or bishops of the seven churches in Asia. These were placed in cities, and had jurisdiction over the churches and inferior clergy in those cities, and probably in the country adjacent. The first dioceses were formed by planting a bishop in a city or considerable village, where he officiated statedly, and took the spiritual charge, not only of the city itself, but the suburbs, or region lying round about it, within the verge of its [civil] jurisdiction, which seems to be the plain reason of that great and visible difference which we find in the extent of dioceses, some being very large, others very small, according as the civil government of each city happened to have a larger or lesser jurisdiction" (Hook). See Bingham, Orig. Eccl. bk. ix, ch. 2. The bishops are named from the principal city of the diocese, as Rome, Lyons, etc. There were bishops, not diocesan, in Ireland, until the 12th century (see Christian Remembrancer, January 1855, page 215). While the Romish bishops are independent of each other, they are all subordinate to the pope, and must make regular returns to him of the state of their dioceses. (See BISHOPS).
III. (1.) The Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States hold that there are three orders of ministers in the Church, bishops, priests, and deacons, and that bishops are the successors of the apostles, and superior to priests and deacons. The High-Church theory maintains the divine right of Episcopacy, and its absolute necessity to the existence of the Church; the Low-Church party deny that there is any positive command upon the subject in Scripture, or that there is anything in the standards of the Church of England which makes episcopacy to be of the essence of a church. The High-Churchmen maintain, and the Low-Churchmen reject the theory of the "exclusive validity of episcopal orders." (See SUCCESSION). In the preface to the ordinal of the Church of England, and of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, it is declared as "evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient authors, that from the apostles' time there have been these orders of ministers in Christ's Church, bishops, priests, and deacons." The doctrine of those churches in general is, "That there is in the Church a superior order of office-bearers, the successors of the apostles, who possess in their own persons the right of ordination and jurisdiction, and who are called ἐπίσκοποι, as being the overseers not only of the people, but also of the clergy; and an inferior order of ministers, called presbyters, the literal translation of the word πρεσβύτεροι , which is rendered in our English Bibles elders, persons who receive from the ordination of the bishop power to preach and to administer the sacraments, who are set over the people, but are themselves under the government of the bishop, and have no right to convey to others the sacred office which he gives them authority to exercise under him." According to a phrase used by Charles I, who was by no means an unlearned defender of that form of government to which he was a martyr, the presbyters are episcopigregis [bishops of the flock], but the bishops are episcopi gregis et pastorum [bishops of the flock and of the pastors.] "The liberal writers, however, in the Church of England do not contend that this form of government is made so binding in the Church as not to be departed from and varied according to circumstances. It cannot be proved, says Dr. Paley, that any form of church government was laid down in the Christian as it had been in the Jewish Scriptures, with a view of fixing a constitution for succeeding ages.
The truth seems to have been, that such offices were at first erected in the Christian Church as the good order, the instruction, and the exigencies of the society at that time required, without any intention, at least without any declared design of regulating the appointment, authority, or the distinction of Christian ministers under future circumstances." To the same effect, also, Bishop Tomline says, "It is not contended that the bishops, priests, and deacons of England are at present precisely the same that bishops, presbyters, and deacons were in Asia Minor seventeen hundred years ago. We only maintain that there have always been bishops, priests, and deacons in the Christian Church since the days of the apostles, with different powers and functions, it is allowed, in different countries and at different periods; but the general principles and duties which have respectively characterized these clerical orders have been essentially the same at all times and in all places, and the variations which they have undergone have only been such as have ever belonged to all persons in public situations, whether civil or ecclesiastical, and which are, indeed, indispensable from every thing in which mankind are concerned in this transitory and fleeting world. I have thought it right to take this general view of the ministerial office, and to make these observations upon the clerical orders subsisting in this kingdom, for the purpose of pointing out the foundation and principles of Church authority, and of showing that our ecclesiastical establishment is as nearly conformable as change of circumstances will permit to the practice of the primitive Church.
But, though I flatter myself that I have proved episcopacy to be an apostolical institution, yet I readily acknowledge that there is no precept in the New Testament which commands that every church should be governed by bishops. No church can exist without some government; but, though there must be rules and orders for the proper discharge of the offices of public worship, though there must be fixed regulations concerning the appointment of ministers, and though a subordination among them is expedient in the highest degree, yet it does not follow that all these things must be precisely the same in every Christian country; they may vary with the other varying circumstances of human society, with the extent of a country, the manners of its inhabitants, the nature of its civil government, and many other peculiarities which might be specified. As it has not pleased our Almighty Father to prescribe any particular form of civil government for the security of temporal comforts to his rational creatures, so neither has he prescribed any particular form of ecclesiastical polity as absolutely necessary to the attainment of eternal happiness. But he has, in the most explicit terms, enjoined obedience to all governors, whether civil or ecclesiastical, and whatever may be their denomination, as essential to the character of a true Christian. Thus the Gospel only lays down general principles, and leaves the application of them to men as free agents." Bishop Tomline, however, and the High-Episcopalians of the Church of England, contend for an original distinction in the office and order of bishops and presbyters; which notion is contradicted by the founder of the Church of England, Archbishop Cranmer, who says, "The bishops and priests were at one time, and were not two things;' but both one office in the beginning of Christ's religion" (Watson). On the inconsistency of the position of that portion of the so-called evangelical Episcopalians which holds that bishops are really successors of the apostles, see an admirable article in the Princeton Review, January 1856 (art. 1).
(2.) The episcopacy of the Church of England is diocesan, like that of the Church of Rome, and the bishops are named from the chief city of the diocese (London, York, etc.). In the Protestant Episcopal churches the dioceses are generally coterminous with the States of the Union, and the bishops are named accordingly (Delaware, Connecticut, etc.). The larger states are in some instances subdivided. "In the American Church the bishops are all of equal authority each ruling his own diocese independently of the control of an ecclesiastical superior. No bishop is amenable to any central authority." There are no archbishops; but assistant and missionary bishops are authorized. (See BISHOPS, AND PROTESTANT EPISCOPAL CHURCH).
IV. Methodist Episcopal Church. —
(1.) The episcopacy of the Methodist Episcopal Church is believed to be nearer to the apostolic model than that of the churches which maintain the apostolical succession. Its simple idea, is, that certain elders are chosen from the body of the presbyters to superintend the Church, and are called bishops or superintendents, both terms being used in the Methodist ritual. The bishops, in virtue of their functions, naturally stand above their brethren. With regard to the ordinary functions of the ministry, they do not differ from other ministers; but extraordinary functions, such as ordaining, presiding in assemblies, and the like, are devolved upon them by their brethren, and exercised by them exclusively and of right — right not divine, but ecclesiastical and human, founded upon the will of the body of pastors. The primitive principle that bishops and presbyters are of equal rank in the N.T. is fully recognized; nor are bishops regarded as the successors of the apostles. "As soon as a church has more than one pastor, it is natural and necessary that one should preside over the rest," and that "certain functions should be reserved to him" (Buigener, Council of Trent, book 5, chapter 2). It is not contrary to the essence of the ministry, but rather in harmony with its missionary and pastoral aims, that the presidency thus arising should last for life, and that he who exercises it should govern the body of pastors according to laws adopted and approved by them, should appoint the ministers to their work, and should exercise all the functions necessary to an effective and vigorous superintendency; and if the superintendent or bishop is appointed for life, it is quite in accordance with scriptural usage that he should be set apart for his work by "the laying on of hands." Accordingly, the bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church are elected by the General Conference (q.v.) for life, and are ordained according to a special form, modified from the ordinal of the Church of England (Discipline, pt. ii, chap. in). The limits of their authority are clearly set forth in the Book of Discipline (part 1, chapter 4). A bishop is amenable, not to the bench of bishops, but to the General Conference, which may even " expel him for improper conduct if they deem it necessary" (Discipline, part 1, chapter 9). "In the American branch of the Methodist Church, episcopacy exists not only in the form in which it does in every English circuit — which is the old parochial episcopacy — but by formally committing general oversight into the hands of bishops, who have no other charge. These claim no superiority in order over their brethren, but exercise well-defined powers, simply as an arrangement of the Church for its own welfare — an arrangement which has worked admirably; and it may be questioned whether any form of church government in the world has more of the elements of power and permanence than this, which expresses Wesley's own idea of a fully organized church" (Lond. Quarterly Review, July 1856, page 530).
It has been objected to the Methodist episcopacy that, while the theory of the Church admits but two orders in the ministry, the separate ordination of bishops really implies three. But the objection is groundless. (See above, II, 2.) In fact, the number of "orders" has always been an open question, even in the Roman Church; the Council of Trent did not settle it (compare Canons of Trent, sess. 13, Song of Solomon 2:1-17). The "balance of authority, even from the earliest ages, certainly inclines to consider the episcopate, as an order, to be identical with the priesthood, not the completion of it" (Maskell, Monumenta Ritualia, 3:81. So also Palmer: "If we understand the word order in, the sense of degree, we may say that there are three orders of the Christian ministry; but if we distribute it according to its nature, there are hut two, viz. bishops (or presbyters) and deacons" (On the Church, part 6, § 1).
Some Methodist writers have maintained that three orders, bishops, priests, and deacons, belong to the constitution of the Church as laid down in Scripture, and therefore that the episcopal office is not simply an ecclesiastical one. See especially Grayson, The Church and the Ministry (Louisville, 1853, 8vo).
(2.) The Methodist episcopacy is not diocesan, like that of the churches of Rome and England, but general and itinerant. Instead of being confined to a city or district, the bishop is, required to "travel at large;" and if "he cease from traveling without the consent of the General Conference, he cannot thereafter exercise the episcopal office." (See CONFERENCES, AND METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH).
While, under the Methodist system, the bishops do not claim to be "successors of the apostles," or to be endowed, either as individuals or collectively, with superior authority to teach or to govern, apart from power given them by the body of presbyters as represented in the General Conference, it yet appears to be clear that, as to their functions and jurisdiction, they approach nearer to the apostolical idea than bishops under the diocesan system. Dollinger (perhaps the ablest of living Romanist writers), in maintaining that "bishops are the successors of the apostles, and have received their authority," is yet forced to admit that, under the Roman episcopal system, the authority of bishops is strictly limited to a particular diocese, while the jurisdiction of the apostles " extended to every part of the earth, wheresoever their universal vocation to convert the nations and to found churches conducted them" (Church History, 1:226, Lond. 1840). Under the Methodist system, a bishop may preside in a Conference and ordain presbyters in March in New York, in May in Illinois, in July in California, in October in China, and in December in Germany.
(3.) The Methodist episcopacy was instituted by Wesley. During the Revolutionary War in America, most of the clergy of the Church of England left the country. Before the war, the American preachers, like those in England, had been forbidden to administer the sacraments: the people were sent to the clergy of the Church of England for baptism and the Lord's Supper. After the war the societies were without the ordinances, and were likely to be disbanded in consequence. After duly considering the exigency, Mr. Wesley (who had previously in vain urged the bishop of London to ordain preachers for America) determined to organize the American Methodists into an independent Episcopal Church, and ordained the Reverend Thomas Coke, LL.D., as superintendent, and Richard, Whatcoat and Thomas Vasev as elders. In 1784 the Rev. Francis Asbury was ordained by Dr. Coke, and. the Methodist Episcopal Church was duly organized the first American Episcopal Church. (See METHODISM). Mr. Wesley did not pretend to ordain bishops in any other sense than according to his view of primitive episcopacy, in which, as he maintained, bishops and presbyters are the same order. The grounds of his procedure in the case are stated in his "Letter to Dr. Coke and Mr. Asbury," prefixed to "Sunday Service of the Methodists" (1784); given also in Watson's Life of Wesley (page 244). An excellent sketch of the rise of the Methodist episcopacy is given by Stevens, History of Methodism, volume 2.
V. The Moravian Church (Unitas Fratrum) holds to episcopacy. Their bishops, however, are not diocesan. The history of the preservation of the episcopate is given in De Schweinitz, The Moravian Episcopate: (Bethlehem 1865). (See MORAVIANS). See Canones et Decreta Concil. Trident., sess. xxiii; Catechism of the Council of Trent, part 2, Sacrament of Orders; Bungener, History of the Council of Trent, book 5, chapter 2; Elliott, Delineation of Romanism, book 2, chapter 15; Mohler, Symbolism, § 43; Rothe, Anfä nge d. christlichen Kirche, vol. i; Baur, Ursprung des Episcopats (Tabingen, 1838, 8vo); Neander, Church History, 1:190; Mosheim, Ch. History, volume 1; Killen, Ancient Church, section 3, chapters 6, 7; Coleman, Ancient Christianity, chapter 8; Coleman, Apostolical and Primitive Church, chapter 6; Lord King, Primitive Church (12mo); Bangs, Original Church of Christ (N.Y. 12mo); Schaff, History of the Christian Church, volume 1, § 107, 108; Emory, On Episcopacy; Emory, Defence of our Fathers (N.York, 8vo); Wesley, Works, 7:312; Stillingfleet, Irenicum, 8vo; Stevens, History of Methodism, volume 2, chapters 6, 7; Watson, Life of Wesley, chapter 13; Burnet, History of English Reformation, 1:400, 586; 4:176; Porter, Compendium of Methodism; Princeton Review, January 1856; Lightfoot, On Philippians (1868), Appendix; The Rise of the Episcopate (New Englander, July, 1867); Palmer, On the Church (High- Church view), 2:349 sq.; Hinds, Rise and Early Progress of Christianity (Encyclop. Metropol. London, 1850, 12mo); and the article SUCCESSION (See SUCCESSION) . The High-Episcopal view is well stated for modern readers in Vox Ecclesiae (Philadelphia, 1866, 12mo); the moderate, in.Litton, The Church of Christ (Lond. 1851, 8vo; Phila. 1853, 8vo).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Episcopacy'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​e/episcopacy.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.