Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jerome On the Equality of Bishops... According to Calvin

It wasn't only Luther appealing to Jerome  that "bishop" and "presbyter" were synonymous. John Calvin held that in the early church all those entrusted with teaching were called "presbyters." Among the presbyters one was chosen to be "bishop" in order to maintain order (Institutes IV, 4:2). Calvin explains, and appeals to Jerome:

All those to whom the office of teaching was enjoined they called “presbyters.” In each city these chose one of their number to whom they specially gave the title “bishop” 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—to 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—the 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. “Thus Jerome, commenting on the letter to Titus, says: “Bishop and presbyter are one and the same. And before, by the devil’s prompting, dissensions arose in religion and it was said among the people, ‘I am of Paul, I of Cephas’ 1 Corinthians 1:12; [cf. chapter 3:4], churches were governed by the common counsel of presbyters.” Afterward, 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’s actual arrangement, and that they ought to govern the church in cooperation with them.* 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 “bishop.”**

*Ignatius, Letters, Magnesians 6; Trallians 3 (LCL Apostolic Fathers I.200-202, 214 f.);Cyprian, Letters 14. 4; 19; 34. 4 (CSEL 3. 2. 512, 526, 570; tr. ANF [letters 5, 13, 18, respectively] V. 283, 293, 297); Statuta ecclesia antiqua, canons 22, 23 (Mansi III. 953; on this document, see H. Leclercq, in Hefele-Leclercq II. 1. 108-120); Jerome, Commentary on Titus, chapter 1 (MPL 26. 562 f.).

**Jerome, Letters cxlvi, 1 (CSEL 56. 310; MPL 22. 1193; tr. NPNF 2 ser. VI. 288).
Calvin uses the same two Jerome sources Luther did. Like Luther, he brings this use of Jerome up throughout his writings.

Commenting on Philippians 1:1 (overseers [traditionally bishops] and deacons) Calvin says:
Bishops. He names the pastors separately, for the sake of honor. We may, however, infer from this, that the name of bishop is common to all the ministers of the Word, inasmuch as he assigns several bishops to one Church. The titles, therefore, of bishop and pastor, are synonymous. And this is one of the passages which Jerome quotes for proving this in his epistle to Evagrius, and in his exposition of the Epistle to Titus. Afterwards there crept in the custom of applying the name of bishop exclusively to the person whom the presbyters in each church appointed over their company. It originated, however, in a human custom, and rests on no Scripture authority. I acknowledge, indeed, that, as the minds and manners of men are, there cannot be order maintained among the ministers of the word, without one presiding over the others. I speak of particular bodies, not of whole provinces, much less of the whole world. Now, although we must not contend for words, it were at the same time better for us in speaking to follow the Holy Spirit, the author of tongues, than to change for the worse forms of speech which are dictated to us by Him. For from the corrupted signification of the word this evil has resulted, that, as if all the presbyters were not colleagues, called to the same office, one of them, under the pretext of a new appellation, usurped dominion over the others.
Commenting on 1 Timothy 1:7 (For a bishop ought to be blameless, as a governor of the house of God):
This passage plainly shows that there is no distinction between a presbyter and a bishop; for he now calls indiscriminately, by the latter name, those whom he formerly he employs both names in the same sense, without any distinction; as Jerome has remarked, both in his Commentary on this passage, and in his Epistle to Evagrius. And hence we may perceive how much greater deference has been paid to the opinions of men than ought to have been paid to them; for the language of the Holy Spirit, has been set aside, and the custom introduced by the arbitrary will of man has prevailed. For my own part, I do not find fault with the custom which has existed from the very beginning of the Church, that each assembly of bishops shall have one moderator; but that the name of office which God has given to all, shall be conveyed to one alone, and that all the rest shall be deprived of it, is both unreason able and absurd. Besides, to pervert the language of the Holy Spirit — in such a manner that the same words shall have a different meaning from what he intended — is excessive and profane hardihood.
Responses to Luther and Calvin?
I have located some responses to this use of Jerome by the early Reformers. The responses that I've come across put forth another Jerome which looked to Rome as the preeminent church and the authority and preeminence of the Roman pope to settle disputes. I hope to get to this later this week.


PeaceByJesus said...

This topic needed attention.

The Greek word “presbuteros” is not the formal word for “priest” in the New Testament, nor does it denote a unique sacrificial function distinctive from the “laity,” as it simply means “senior” including as denoting a senior position, while episkopeō (translated as “bishop”) means “superintendent” or “overseer.” [from “epi” and “skopos” (“watch”) in the sense of “episkopeō,” to oversee, (Strong's)]

"Elder" has O.T. roots and precdeded the Levites. The latter can be an elder but being one does not make one a Levitical priest.

More on this

Viisaus said...

Nowhere in the NT are elders or overseers referred to as HIEREUS, which is the proper Greek word for "priests".

"Hiereus" is the Greek word for an actual sacrificing priest, and in the NT it is used ONLY to refer to the ministers of the Old Covenant (and once even to a pagan priest, Acts 14:13), NEVER to the pastoral offices of the New Covenant.

The only exceptions to this rule are - significantly! - firstly, the references to Jesus Christ as our great new mediating HIEREUS in heavens in the Epistle to Hebrews; Christ has supplanted the "hierarchy" of the old covenant.

And then, these cases in Revelation that refer to the priesthood of all believers! Here is the word "hiereus" employed:

Revelation 1:6

"and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father - to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen."

Revelation 5:10

"You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."

Revelation 20:6

"Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years."

Viisaus said...

And likewise, the only NT New Covenant references to "priesthood", or Hierateuma, are these:

1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9

"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:"

PeaceByJesus said...

And which is used for all believers, not simply for a separate class of sacerdotal priests.