< Previous
Next >

2. By whom the Homilies were delivered

Antiquities of the Christian Church
XII. Of homilies

2. By whom the Homilies were delivered

Justin Martyr informs us, that after the reading, the president of the assembly*, meaning the bishop, makes an application of the word, *, and exhorts to an imitation of the virtues which it inculcates. This passage distinctly ascribes to the bishop the duty of explaining and applying the Scriptures which were read. And the same is manifest from the whole history of the ancient church. To preach, or as Ambrose expresses it, to leach the people, was, uniformly, the bishop's duty. The case of Ambrose himself is a clear illustration of this duty. He was promoted from a civil office to that of bishop, without having even been baptized as a catechumen, and, in view of his un preparedness, sought in vain to excuse himself from the discharge of this part of his duties, alleging that he had need himself to learn, instead of teaching others. But, as he himself confesses, he was obliged to begin to teach, before he had himself been a learner. 

The distinction between ruling and teaching elders resulted simply from the circumstance that, in those trying times, men were sometimes required to manage the concerns of the church who yet were not qualified to act as preachers; and a competent teacher was not always suited to direct the affairs of the church. But the office of a ruling elder who did not teach, was uniformly regarded as at exception to a general rule, – as an extraordinary provision for a peculiar emergency, whilst the office of preaching was accounted the most honorable and important part of the bishop's duties. "Far from this seat," says Chrysostom, "let him be removed who knows not how to teach sound doctrine as he ought." The neglect of this duty is, by the apostolical canons, c. 58, to be punished with suspension and removal from office.

There is indeed no case on record, of a bishop who was removed for his inability to teach; but there are many in which the bishops were disregarded and neglected for this cause. Such was the case of Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, and Atticus, bishop of Constantinople. On the contrary, they who excelled in this duty were held in the highest consideration, as Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom, Augustine, etc.

The deacon and even the presbyter officiated only as substitutes of the bishop in case of his absence or inability, from sickness or other causes. Both Augustine and Chrysostom preached for their bishops in this capacity. In such cases the bishop was held responsible for what was said by his substitute, of which we have a striking instance in the history of Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople.

From all this we are not, however, to conclude that the right to preach was restricted under all circumstances, to the bishops alone. For how, in that case, were the churches which had no bishop to be supplied with the preaching of the word of God? In all such cases the presbyter occupied the place, and discharged the duties of the bishop; and in his absence, or failure, the deacon supplied his place; not, however, by delivering an original discourse, but by reading one from the fathers. The Apostolical Canons, c. 58, require the bishop, or the presbyter, to deliver the sermon, and exact upon both the same penalty for neglect of duty.

In times of persecution presbyters and deacons were entrusted with the office of preaching. Still, the deacon was regarded only as an assistant, like a licenciate or candidate for the sacred office.

Laymen who had not received ordination were not allowed to preach, but there are instances on record, notwithstanding, of such permission being granted to them under certain circumstances. 

But the apostolic rule forbidding a woman to teach, was most cautiously observed . The Montanists are, indeed, an exception to this remark, but Tertullian, himself one of this sect, complains of this abuse. The fourth council of Carthage forbid both the laity and women to teach in public. "Let no laymen teach in the presence of the clergy," c. 98. "Let no women, however learned or pious, presume to teach the other sex in public assembly," c. 99.

Apolog. c. 67. ed. Oberth. p. 222: Rufin. hist. eccl. lib. . c. 2. Paulini Vita.

Ambrose, Theodor. h. e. iv. c. 67.

Horn. x. in 1 ep. ad Tim. p. 464.

Sozomen. hist. eccl. lib. viii. c. 27.

Populii Vita Agust. c. 5: Chrystost. Hom. in 2 Tit. x. in 1 Tim. iii.

Concil. Vasens. ii. c. 2. A. D. 529: S. Gregor. M. Praefat. ad lib. xl. Hom. in Evangel, ad Secund. und Jo. Diaconi Vit.: Gregor. M. lib. ii. c. 18: Euseb. e. h. lib. vi. c. 19: Euseb. Vit. Constit. lib. iv. c. 29–34.

Apost. Constit. lib. iii. c. 9.

De Praescript. c. 41: De Bapt. c. 17: De Veland. Virgin, c. 9.

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


search 🔍



privacy policy