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2. General remarks upon the different Orders and Classes of the Clergy

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER III. Of the Ministers of the Church

2. General remarks upon the different Orders and Classes of the Clergy

The pastors and teachers*, of whom mention is made in Eph. 4:11, and 1 Cor. 12:28–30, are usually reckoned among the permanent and ordinary teachers and rulers of the church. The extraordinary teachers might also bear the same names, inasmuch as they are represented as overseers of the church, and promulgators and defenders of the gospel of Christ. An apostle or evangelist might with propriety be styled a pastor and teacher*. But after the cessation of the extraordinary teachers, the ordinary, with great propriety assumed their names as venerated and significant titles, derived from the writings of the Old Testament.

The term pastor or shepherd*, without regard either to sacred or profane writers, is particularly recommended by the circumstance, that our Lord styled himself a shepherd, and the church his flock, John 10:12. The apostle Peter also denominated him the chief Shepherd, 1 Pet. 5:4.

The word master, teacher*, was the honorary title of a Jewish teacher. It is the Greek interpretation of the Hebrew rabbi**, John 1:38. These terms, pastor, and teacher, have ever been approved in the church, to designate one who is entitled to instruct, to administer the sacrament, and to discharge all the functions of the ministerial office.

The appropriate officers of the church which are specified in the New Testament, are these three:

  1. overseers, superintendants;*
  2. presbyters, elders;*
  3. deacons.*

These together constitute the ordo ecclesiasticus, the ecclesiastical order, and require a more extended examination. Some derive these several orders from the institutions of the Romans; but they bear a closer, and a more natural comparison, with the orders belonging to the temple and synagogue of the Jews, and from them, they were doubtless derived; as the following remarks may sufficiently show.

  1. The * in the church correspond to the rulers of the synagogue, as their name overseers implies. The ruler of the synagogue, who in Hebrew was styled head of the assembly**, had the oversight both of the discipline and instructions of the synagogue. He is also styled our master, or teacher**, and legatus congregationis**.
  2. The * correspond to the elders**, which, among the Jews, designated, not so much the age of these officers, as the rank and authority of their office. In the latter ages of the Hebrew commonwealth, the members of the Sanhedrim were styled by preference, presbyters, or elders. They are classed in the New Testament with the rulers, the chief priests, and the scribes.

    The connection of elders* with bishops* is in like manner indicated in the following passages. Acts 11:30, 14:23, 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23, 16:4, 20:17, 21:18, 1 Tim. 5:17, 19, Tit. 1:5, Jas. 5:14, 1 Pet. 5:1, 2 John 1:3, 3 John 1. But in all these passages, these elders of the church compare, not with the elders of the Jews**; but with the officers of the synagogue, who were styled [with] a word which, both in Chaldee and Syriac, denotes pastors, rulers, etc.**

  3. The office of deacon was similar to that inspector, overseer**. But the official duties of the deacon, in the second, third, and fourth centuries, better compare with this Jewish officer, than those which were at first prescribed, such as the care of the sick, and of the charities of the church, Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 3:8, 12, Rom. 16:1. The principal duties of the ** was to preserve order and decorum, to assist in the reading of the law, and to lead the singing. But the silence of Scripture, on this subject, is no evidence that the deacons might not also have the same offices to perform. And these Jewish officers might also have been charged with the care of the sick, and the contributions of the people. At least, it is certain that the usage in regard to these points has not been uniform.

The servant*, corresponds to the Hebrew**, which is rendered a servant*. In Luke 4:20 he is styled the waiter in the synagogue. At other times he is a waiter or attendant upon the assembly of the Sanhedrim, Acts 13:5, 26:16, 1 Cor. 4:1. He acts, not with freedom and independence in the discharge of his duties, but is subject to the direction of another. These servants are analogous to the sub-deacons, acolyihs, and subordinate officers of the church who have the general title of inferiors.

The distinction of inferior and superior orders, though not of apostolic origin was very early made, as has been already observed. Jerome and many others assert that in the first two centuries bishops and presbyters constituted the superior order, and deacons with their assistants and subordinate officers, the inferior order. At times, however, Jerome classes them with bishops and presbyters, styling them co-presbyters and associate priests – Augustine, and Optatus also, do the same. They were, undeniably, reckoned as a third class in the superior order, except when the offices of bishops and presbyters were regarded as the same; in which case deacons constituted the second class in the same order.

The ordo sacerdotalis, and ordo ecdesiasticus of Tertullian. is the same as the senatus ecdesiasticus of Jerome. It is an ecclesiastical court, a presbytery; and even if laymen were received as members, it consisted chiefly of clergymen, and was controlled by them. In the absence of the bishop, or when his office was vacant, it was conducted by presbyters and deacons. From which we infer that deacons were considered as belonging to the superior order.

In the division of the priesthood it is a great mistake to seek for any general and fixed rules at a time when circumstances would not admit of them, and without regard to the exigencies of different communities and countries. In a populous city, and among a numerous body of clergymen, a more careful distinction of office and of rank might naturally be expected, than in smaller states and dioceses. This remark is too obvious to require any illustration, but is fully confirmed by a letter to Fabius, bishop of Antioch, from Cornelius bishop of Rome, who died in the year 252. From this epistle several important facts and inferences are derived.

  1. That Christians at Rome had, at this early period, become so numerous as to have more than forty churches.
  2. That there were more than 1500 widows and paupers who were supported by charity. In this connection it is worthy of remark, that according to Chrysostom, more than three thousand widows and virgins were daily fed by the church of Antioch, with only moderate revenues, besides the contributions in food and clothing made for the maintenance of clergymen, prisoners, leprous persons, and strangers. So that even Julian recommended the heathen to imitate the Galileans, in the care which they took of the poor. 
  3. It appears that at Rome the members of the church constituted three classes – the clergy and paupers, who were supported by the church – the rich, who paid for their support by contributions and taxes – and the great body of the people, who paid little or nothing.
  4. It is particularly worthy of notice that Cornelius recognizes the order of the clergy, and declares the inferior order to comprehend five distinct classes. Sub-deacons*, *, exorcists*, readers*, and door-keepers*.
  5. It is also worthy of remark, that there were only seven deacons. It is also observable that the usages in the neighboring churches such as Milan, Naples, Syracuse, and Ravenna, did not, at the same time, correspond with those of Rome.

For the vast church at Constantinople, Justinian prescribed the following officers – sixty presbyters, one hundred deacons, forty deaconesses, ninety sub-deacons, one hundred and ten readers, and twenty-five singers; in all, four hundred and twenty-five, besides one hundred door keepers, osliarii.

From all these authorities the inference clearly is, that the distinction of superior and inferior clergy was recognized in all the churches, though there was no uniform rule of division.

In this connection it is important also to take notice of the different classifications which prevail, in the several great divisions of the church.

In the Greek church, the officers were as follows:

  1. Bishops;
  2. Priests;
  3. Deacons;
  4. Sub-deacons; and
  5. Readers, to which class the singers and acolyths also belonged.

Their ecclesiastical judicatories consisted of three orders – archbishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs. To these another officer still higher was sometimes added, styled exarch. The ecclesiastical court of Russia is styled the Holy Synod. Its organization corresponds with that of the Greek church. 

The Syriac and Nestorian churches affect to copy after the heavenly hierarchy, and to compare their officers with those of the court of heaven. The Nestorians compare their patriarchs, metropolitans, and bishops with the orders of Cherubim, Seraphim, and Thrones, – their arch-deacons, pastoral priests, and preachers, with angels of the second rank, styled Virtues, Powers, and Dominations – their deacons, sub-deacons and readers with those of the third rank., viz. Princedoms, Archangels, and Angels. 

The Roman Catholics of the Western church, in general abide firmly by the principle established by the schoolmen, that the priesthood is to consist of seve7i classes corresponding to the seven spirits of God. Of these, the three who are chiefly employed in the duties of the ministerial office, compose the superior order, and the four, whose duty it is to wait upon the clergy in their ministrations, and to assist in conducting public worship, belong to the inferior order.

The canonists divide the priesthood into nine classes, of which four belong to the higher order, and five to the lower. The following is a catalogue of the several classes as given by them, proceeding from the lowest to the highest. Of the inferior order

  1. Singers;
  2. Door-keepers;
  3. Readers;
  4. Exorcists;
  5. Acolyths.

    Of the superior order

  6. Sub-deacons;
  7. Deacons;
  8. Presbyters;
  9. Bishops. 

The classification according to the scholastics of the Roman Catholic church, is as follows: Of the superior order, three –

  1. Presbyters or priests;
  2. Deacons;
  3. Sub-deacons.

Of the inferior order, four –

  1. Acolyths;
  2. Exorcists;
  3. Readers;
  4. Door-keepers.

This classification of the inferior order was established by the council of Trent, but another of a subordinate rank is sometimes added. 

Vitring. De Synagog. vit. lib. ii. c. 11; Adv. Reland Antiq. Ebr. lib. i. c. 10.
(No tag #1 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Jerom. Ep. 85. ad Evagr.; Baumgarten, Erb. S. 58.

Exhortat. ad Castit. c. 7.

In Es. c. 3; Epist. ad Rustic. P. 1. dist. 93. c. 24; Duret. P. 2. caus. 16. quaesi. i. c. 7.

Cyprian, Epist. 9 et 20.

Eiiseb. eccl. hist. lib. vi. c. 43.

Chrysostom, Horn. 67. in Math.; Comp. Julian, epist. ad Arsac.

Procopiijs, De aedificiis Justinian, lib. i. c. 2, 3; Novell, iii. c. 1.
(No tag #8 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Mich. Ileineccii, Description of the ancient and modern Greek Church, 3d vol. 48; H. I. Schnr)itt, MorgenI, Griech. russ.; Kirche Mainz. 1826. 8. p. 282 et seq.; Kind's Gebr. und Ceremon. in der griech. Kirche in Russhmd. p. 258 et seq.; Staiidlins, Kirchliche Geographie und Staiistik. i. S. 268–89. ii. S. 592–610; Codini, De offic. c. i. n. 41; Morini, Exercit. hb. i. c. 15.

Dionys. Areopagit. de Hierrarchia ecclesiasiica. 0pp. i. ed. Corder. p. 355–63; Assenian. Bibl. Orient, iii. P. 2. p. 768 et seq.; P. 1. p. 355; P. 2. p. 791; Margarita, P. 3. c. 8.

Fabii, Incarnati, Scrntin. sacerdot. P. 1. tract. 2.

Concil Trident. Sess. 23. c. 2 et seq.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

(** denotes Hebrew text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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