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9. Of the different Orders or Classes of Presbyters

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

9. Of the different Orders or Classes of Presbyters

  1. Like the bishops they were very early divided into city and rural presbyters. The latter, regionarii*, were less esteemed, and accounted somewhat lower in rank, than the former. They were not permitted, for example, to administer the sacrament to a church in the city in the presence of the bishop, or city-presbyter, but, in the absence of these, the duty devolved upon one of them. Neither were they allowed to issue canonical epistles.*. Similar examples occur at all times sufficient to show that pastors in the country, were subordinate to those in the city; and yet, there is good evidence that all who sustained the office of the priesthood were accounted in theory equal.
  2. The archpresbyters*, and pastores primarii, were the same. both are called by the same name. One who sustains the relation of moderator and superior among the priesthood, is called by Jerome archpresbyter to distinguish him from the bishop. By Gregory Nazianzen and others the oldest clergyman was styled archpresbyter; the Greeks called him * .

    The archpresbyters enjoyed the highest consideration between the fifth and eighth centuries, and occupied bishoprics as suffragans and vicar-generals. When the bishop's see became vacant they discharged his duties, and took care to secure the vacant office for themselves. Several branches of administration they held under their entire control; they even aspired to an equality with the bishops, with whom they not unfrequently engaged in a spirited controversy. The bishops, on the other hand, sought by every means to oppose them, and accordingly favored the archdeacons as a check upon the arch presbyters. The first notice of this policy appears in the fourth council of Carthage. These presbyters were finally made subject to the archdeacon by Innocent III, in the twelfth century.

  3. The office of dean was first known in England about the eleventh or twelfth century. The word is derived from decanus*, and denotes the ruler of a decad, a body of ten men. The deans of cathedral churches were dignitaries of importance. Rural deans were inferior officers, who finally became merely itinerant visitors, and were at all times subject to the authority of the archdeacon.
  4. The word preshyiera, preshyterissa*, is of frequent occurrence in ancient writers, and may denote either the wife of a presbyter, a female officer, or a deaconess in the church; sometimes it denotes the matron of a cloister, and an abbess.

Concil. Neocaesar. c. 13:

Antiochen. c. 8.

Socrai. hist. eccL lib. vi. c. 9:

Sozomen. h. e. lib. viii. c. 12.

Ep. 4. ad RustKL

Oral. 20: ConciL Clialcedon. c. 14: Leon. M. ep. ad Don. etc.

Codin. de Offiic. M. Eccl.

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


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