A visible universal Church must have a ministry which is universally recognized, especially as the universal Church has never had a permanent central organ of government recognized by all.
The ministry of the Church is also its government.
Our Lord said,
If any man wishes to be great among you,
let him be your servant
(St. Mark 10:43).
Government in the Christian Church is a form of service.
It is the proudest title of the Christian King to be the servant of his people,
like Alfred the Great and George V.
The only ministry, which has always been universally recognized,
is the ministry of the bishops, and of priests and deacons ordained by them.
From the second century when we first have detailed evidence of the organization
of the Church, we find everywhere this form of ministry.
St. Ignatius, writing before 117, knows of no other.
There is, it is true, some evidence of anomalies in very early times.
Possibly in the sub-apostolic age some churches were governed not by a single man but by a group of "presbyter-bishops", derived their authority from the apostles, and were recognized everywhere as occupying the place of the apostles. (See pp. 381-5.)
But the bishops are officers of the Church.
They have no authority apart from the Church.
A bishop who secedes or is excommunicated is no longer a Catholic bishop.
The Church may recognize his ordinations, but he has not the right to ordain.
In ordaining or doing anything else as a bishop,
he is increasing his error by doing what he has ceased to have the right to do.
The bishops are the successors of the apostles,
but they are not all that the apostles were.
The apostles had two main functions:
to bear witness to the Resurrection,
and to govern the church.
The first could not be fulfilled by their successors.
The second had to be continued all through the history of the Church.
St. Clement of Rome, writing before the end of the first century,
tells us that the apostles appointed others to succeed them.
The New Testament itself cannot be expected to show this
because at that time the apostles were still alive,
and the Second Coming was expected to take place before their death.
The bishops are the bond of union,
which links the Church together in time and in space.
In time they are the visible sign of continuity.
A bishop whose descent goes back to the apostles today governs every part of the Church.
In space they are the visible sign of fellowship.
Every member of the Church is linked with every other member by means of their bishops, all of whom belong to the college or order of bishops.
Thus in modern as in ancient times a Christian travelling carries a letter of communion from his bishop which he presents to the bishop of the place in which he finds himself.
This institution is amazingly flexible and has adapted itself to every condition
of human life. Bishops have been kings, and slaves, feudal barons,
and wandering nomads, statesmen like St. Leo, philosophers like Berkeley,
missionaries like St. Patrick or Coleridge Patteson, hereditary as in the
early Armenian Church, or monks as throughout the Eastern churches today.
There have been autocratic bishops, constitutional bishops, and bishops without any governing power at all.
In every part of Christendom
the episcopate is the necessary consequence of the belief that the Church is visible.
It is only where the Church is held to be invisible
and therefore no universal ministry is required,
or where the Church is held to be merely national
and to need no universal recognition,
that there are no bishops.
Ideally the bishop should represent his diocese in the wider councils of
the Church and therefore should be elected by the clergy and people.
In medieval conditions this was impossible or inexpedient.
As early as the fourth century the election of Damasus at Rome was accompanied by three days of riots in which many were killed.
Bishops came to have so great political importance that rulers insisted on keeping the right to appoint them.
Our present method of appointing bishops in England is a survival of this state of things.
The Papacy is a development of episcopacy.
The Bishop of Rome came to be regarded by a large part of Christendom as more than a bishop:
as supreme monarch over the whole Church by Divine right.
The two roots from which this development sprang
were the position of Rome as the capital of the Roman Empire
(which during the earlier centuries of the history of the Church
included the whole civilized world [Apart, of course, from the Indian and Chinese civilizations, then hardly known in Europe.])
and the presence of the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome.
Because the see of Rome had been founded, as was generally believed, by the two chief apostles, and because it occupied the capital of the world, it was without doubt the chief of all the local churches from the earliest times.
It had other great advantages.
It was the only church that had been founded by apostles in the western part of the Empire.
It was outside the theological controversies that disturbed the Greek world and the heresies that sprang from them.
After the Emperors ceased to live in Italy, the Bishop of Rome stepped into their place as protector of the people against the barbarians.
The missions of St. Remigius to the Franks, St. Augustine to the English, St. Boniface to the Germans, all increased the power and the influence of the Papacy.
The development of the papal power can only be briefly summarized here.
The first great step took place under Damasus (366-384) who obtained from the Emperor Valentinian I the right of all bishops in the western part of the empire who were condemned by their provincial synod to appeal to the Bishop of Rome.
About the same time the Popes began to write letters, known as decretals, of advice and direction to other bishops.
[The name Pope was commonly given to leading bishops, especially to those of Rome, Alexandria, and Carthage.]
In the next century St. Leo claimed universal jurisdiction for himself as
the successor of St. Peter,
but the Greek churches never recognized it.
In consequence of the Monophysite controversy the Greek part of the Church was divided,
and Constantinople needed the support of Rome, which was sometimes paid for with extravagant compliments.
Rome treated these as admissions of its supremacy.
The Moslem invasion of the seventh century ruined the three older patriarchates, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, and left Constantinople Rome's only rival.
In the ninth century the forged documents known as the Pseudo-Isidorian
decretals pretended that the early Bishops of Rome had exercised the same
powers as did their later successors.
The claim to patriarchal jurisdiction over the whole West
[E. Denny, Papalism, 1185, 1281-6; this book is of great value.]
and to the right to bestow jurisdiction on archbishops by means of the pallium (an ornament of lambs, wool which had previously been merely a compliment paid to eminent bishops) are derived from these decretals which were not proved to be forgeries until the sixteenth century.
About the same time another forged document, the Donation of Constantine, claimed that Constantinople had given temporal authority over the western empire to Pope Silvester as a reward for curing him of his leprosy.
There is no foundation for this legend, but it was generally accepted until Lorenzo Valla in the fifteenth century disproved it.
In 1054 came the final breach with Constantinople, the last of several quarrels
(which might not have been final if the sack of Constantinople by the Venetians
and others during the Fourth Crusade (1204) had not permanently alienated
the Greeks from any attempts to restore union with Rome).
In the same century Pope Gregory VII began the great period of the medieval Papacy and claimed temporal as well as spiritual power over the Emperor and all Christian rulers.
This claim had ultimately to be dropped,
but the Popes continued to increase their power by getting more and more of the organization of the Church directly under their control.
They were greatly helped by the development of Canon Law,
which used the Forged Decretals as a basis and gave to the Pope the same supreme and autocratic position as the Roman Civil Law gave to the Emperor.
It was the struggle with the Empire in the thirteenth century that first
made England hostile to the Papacy because it screwed as much money as possible
out of the country for the war with the Emperor Frederick II.
But the English opposition to the Papacy in this and the following centuries was only against its temporal power and against its exactions.
The spiritual claims of the Pope as the supposed successor of St. Peter were not yet questioned.
The exile of the Pope at Avignon (1309-77, the "Babylonian Captivity"),
and the "great schism of the West" which followed it (1378-1417)
[During this period there were first two and then three rival Popes.]
brought the Papacy into discredit from which it never recovered.
Then came the Gallican or Conciliar movement which tried to make the Papacy a constitutional monarchy controlled by a General Council meeting every ten years.
It was doomed to failure from the beginning.
The proposed constitution was too cumbrous and too expensive.
The bishops who were to be given the supreme power were not worthy of it and were not trusted by the clergy and people.
The Pope and the vested interests that supported him were powerful enough to defeat all attempts to reform the Church.
The Gallicans dared not get rid of the Papacy altogether,
and the Pope was always stronger than any General Council could be.
Thus the last attempt to reform the Church from within failed,
and the Reformation, the revolution that broke up the medieval Church,
When the Reformation had already cut off half Europe from the Papacy,
the Council of Trent (1545-63) was summoned to maintain and secure what was left;
and the great reforming movement, which is called the Counter-Reformation, was based on the decrees of this Council.
The Roman Communion as it is today is the result of the Counter-Reformation.
The Papacy was reformed and made much more effective and was provided with new machinery for government which it did not possess before.
The practical abuses that had been one of the chief causes of the Reformation, such as the ignorance of the clergy, were largely reformed.
But the doctrines which had been commonly taught for some centuries, though they had not been known in earlier times, were now hardened into dogmas necessary to salvation;
and the Council issued a new creed, the Creed of Pope Pius IV, (see p. 469) which included all the special doctrines which distinguish the Roman Communion from other Christians.
The Popes, though they could not control the kings of Europe so completely as their predecessors in the Middle Ages, had much greater power over the Church in what was left of Latin Christendom.
The work of Trent was completed by the Vatican Council (1870) which decreed the new dogmas of the Infallibility and Universal Ordinary Jurisdiction of the Pope.
The Church of England, having thrown off the yoke of Rome in 1559, just
before the close of the Council of Trent, had no part in the Counter-Reformation.
She rejects the decrees of Trent and the Vatican, but she has always recognized those claims of the Church of Rome that have been approved by the undivided Church, so far as they are accepted as true by modern critical scholarship.
(The later Fathers took for granted that the Pope was the successor of St. Peter.
We now know that there is no evidence for it.)
The see of Rome was the first bishopric in the universal Church,
not by Divine right,
nor in virtue of any claim to be the see of St. Peter,
but because the Ecumenical Councils gave it that rank.
It had a primacy of honour;
that is, the bishop or Patriarch of Rome stood first among the bishops.
But he had no right to interfere in the affairs of churches outside his jurisdiction,
no "primacy of inspection"
[Nevertheless he did sometimes interfere.
His interference was sometimes, but not always, rejected.];
still less a supremacy.
He was, so to speak, the eldest brother in the family, not the father.
But this primacy, though it is the traditional privilege of the Roman See, is not universally accepted in practice for three reasons.
The primacy depended on the continued orthodoxy of Rome.
But since the proclamation of the Creed of Pope Pius IV,
that orthodoxy is doubtful.
It is rejected by all the Eastern churches, which regard the Roman Church as heretical.
The Anglican Communion, without going as far as that, declares that the Roman See and all churches in communion with it are guilty of errors that make communion with them impossible.
What these errors are we shall see in the next chapter.
The See of Rome claims not merely a primacy of honour
but a supremacy over all churches, and that by Divine right.
This claim makes it impossible for us to recognize the ancient primacy of honour.
The primacy of honour depended on the consent of the whole Church.
That consent is now withdrawn.
The Roman See is enormously important as the unquestioned ruler of half Christendom.
But the other half does not recognize its claims and does not accept it as a leader.
The Papacy plays for its own hand and allows no rights to churches outside its own communion.
The primacy of honour within the Roman Communion has become a supremacy,
but outside the Roman Communion it has ceased to exist.
The whole of non-Roman Christendom,
however it may differ in other respects, is agreed on this.