Jerome on Church Officers

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DTK

Puritan Board Junior
I thought it might be interesting to some to offer the Church Father Jerome's views on the office of Presbyter. The first two quotes below are derived from his commentary on Titus (which has yet to be completely translated into English), and the rest are some I've collated in my studies of the ECFs. The first two quotes demonstrate, at least I think, that Jerome did not believe the papacy was the scriptural form of Church government. In fact, his position sounds very presbyterial in nature. I debated where to post this, and finally decided that the Church History forum might be the best place.

Jerome (347-420): A presbyter, therefore, is the same as a bishop, and before dissensions were introduced into religion by the instigation of the devil, and it was said among the peoples, ‘I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, and I of Cephas,’ Churches were governed by a common council of presbyters; afterwards, when everyone thought that those whom he had baptised were his own, and not Christ’s, it was decreed in the whole world that one chosen out of the presbyters should be placed over the rest, and to whom all care of the Church should belong, that the seeds of schisms might be plucked up. Whosoever thinks that there is no proof from Scripture, but that this is my opinion, that a presbyter and bishop are the same, and that one is a title of age, the other of office, let him read the words of the apostle to the Philippians, saying, ‘Paul and Timotheus, servants of Christ to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons.’ John Harrison, Whose Are the Fathers? (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1867), p.488. See also Karl Von Hase, Handbook to the Controversy with Rome, trans. A. W. Streane, Vol. 1, 2nd ed. rev. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909), p. 164.
Latin text: Idem est ergo presbyter qui et episcopus, et antequam diaboli instinctu, studia in religione fierent, et diceretur in populis: Ego sum Pauli, ego Apollo, ego autem Cephae, communi presbyterorum consilio, Ecclesiae gubernabantur. Postquam vero unusquisque eos quos baptizaverat suos putabat esse, non Christi, in toto orbe decretum est, ut unus de presbyteris electus superponeretur caeteris, ad quem omnis Ecclesiae cura pertineret, et schismatum semina tollerentur. Putet aliquis non Scripturarum, sed nostram esse sententiam, episcopum et presbyterum unum esse, et aliud aetatis, aliud esse nomen officii: relegat Apostoli ad Philippenses verba dicentis: Paulus et Timothaeus servi Jesu Christi, omnibus sanctis in Christo Jesu, qui sunt Philippis, cum episcopis et diaconis, gratia vobis et pax, et reliqua. Commentariorum In Epistolam Ad Titum, PL 26:562-563.

Jerome (347-420): Therefore, as we have shown, among the ancients presbyters were the same as bishops; but by degrees, that the plants of dissension might be rooted up, all responsibility was transferred to one person.
Therefore, as the presbyters know that it is by the custom of the Church that they are to be subject to him who is placed over them so let the bishops know that they are above presbyters rather by custom than by Divine appointment, and ought to rule the Church in common, following the example of Moses, who, when he alone had power to preside over the people Israel, chose seventy, with the assistance of whom he might judge the people. We see therefore what kind of presbyter or bishop should be ordained. John Harrison, Whose Are the Fathers? (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1867), p.488. See also Karl Von Hase, Handbook to the Controversy with Rome, trans. A. W. Streane, Vol. 1, 2nd ed. rev. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909), p. 164.
Latin text: Haec propterea, ut ostenderemus apud veteres eosdem fuisse presbyteros quos et episcopos: paulatim vero ut dissensionum plantaria evellerentur, ad unum omnem sollicitudinem esse delatam. Sicut ergo presbyteri sciunt se ex Ecclesiae consuetudine ei qui sibi praepositus fuerit, esse subjectos: ita episcopi noverint se magis consuetudine, quam dispositionis Dominicae veritate, presbyteris esse majores, et in commune debere Ecclesiam regere, imitantes Moysen, qui cum haberet in potestate solum praeesse populo Israel, septuaginta elegit, cum quibus populum judicaret. Videamus igitur qualis presbyter, sive episcopus ordinandus sit. Commentariorum In Epistolam Ad Titum, PL 26:563.

Jerome (347-420): In both epistles commandment is given that only monogamists should, be chosen for the clerical office whether as bishops or as presbyters. Indeed with the ancients these names were synonymous, one alluding to the office, the other to the age of the clergy. NPNF2: Vol. VI, The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter 69 - To Oceanus, §3.

Jerome (347-420): We read in Isaiah the words, “the fool will speak folly,” and I am told that some one has been mad enough to put deacons before presbyters, that is, before bishops. For when the apostle clearly teaches that presbyters are the same as bishops, must not a mere server of tables and of widows be insane to set himself up arrogantly over men through whose prayers the body and blood of Christ are produced? Do you ask for proof of what I say? Listen to this passage: “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons.” Do you wish for another instance? In the Acts of the Apostles Paul thus speaks to the priests of a single church: “Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock, in the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops, to feed the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” And lest any should in a spirit of contention argue that there must then have been more bishops than one in a single church, there is the following passage which clearly proves a bishop and a presbyter to be the same. NPNF2: Vol. VI, The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter 146 - To Evangelus, §1.

Jerome (347-420): Writing to Titus the apostle says: “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain presbyters in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. For a bishop must be blameless as the steward of God.” And to Timothy he says: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” Peter also says in his first epistle: “The presbyters which are among you I exhort, who am your fellow-presbyter and a witness of the sufferings of Christ and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of Christ’... taking the oversight thereof not by constraint but willingly, according unto God.” In the Greek the meaning is still plainer, for the word used is episkopoūntes (Greek), that is to say, overseeing, and this is the origin of the name overseer or bishop. But perhaps the testimony of these great men seems to you insufficient. If so, then listen to the blast of the gospel trumpet, that son of thunder, the disciple whom Jesus loved and who reclining on the Savior’s breast drank in the waters of sound doctrine. One of his letters begins thus: “The presbyter unto the elect lady and her children whom I love in the truth; “ and another thus: “The presbyter unto the well-beloved Gains whom I love in the truth.” When subsequently one presbyter was chosen to preside over the rest, this was done to remedy schism and to prevent each individual from rending the church of Christ by drawing to himself. For even at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position, just as an army elects a general, or as deacons appoint one of themselves whom they know to be diligent and call him archdeacon. For what function excepting ordination, belongs to a bishop that does not also belong to a presbyter? It is not the case that there is one church at Rome and another in all the world beside. Gaul and Britain, Africa and Persia, India and the East worship one Christ and observe one rule of truth. If you ask for authority, the world outweighs its capital. Wherever there is a bishop, whether it be at Rome or at Engubium, whether it be at Constantinople or at Rhegium, whether it be at Alexandria or at Zoan, his dignity is one and his priesthood is one. Neither the command of wealth nor the lowliness of poverty makes him more a bishop or less a bishop. All alike are successors of the apostles. NPNF2: Vol. VI, The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter 146 - To Evangelus, §1.

Jerome (347-420): Of the names presbyter and bishop the first denotes age, the second rank. In writing both to Titus and to Timothy the apostle speaks of the ordination of bishops and of deacons, but says not a word of the ordination of presbyters; for the fact is that the word bishops includes presbyters also. Again when a man is promoted it is from a lower place to a higher. Either then a presbyter should be ordained a deacon, from the lesser office, that is, to the more important, to prove that a presbyter is inferior to a deacon; or if on the other hand it is the deacon that is ordained presbyter, this latter should recognize that, although he may be less highly paid than a deacon, he is superior to him in virtue of his priesthood. In fact as if to tell us that the traditions handed down by the apostles were taken by them from the old testament, bishops, presbyters and deacons occupy in the church the same positions as those which were occupied by Aaron, his sons, and the Levites in the temple. NPNF2: Vol. VI, The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter 146 - To Evangelus, §2.

Jerome (347-420): And I do not say this because I have anything to blame in the mission itself, except certain partialities which beget suspicion, but because you ought rather to clear yourself in the actual presence of your questioners. You begin with the words, “You have sent a most devoted servant of God, the presbyter Isidore, a man of influence no less from the dignity of his very gait and dress than from that of his divine understanding, to heal those whose souls are grievously sick; would that they had any sense of their illness! A man of God sends a man of God.” No difference is made between a priest and a bishop (presbyterum et episcopum); the same dignity belongs to the sender and the sent; this is lame enough; the ship, as the saying goes; is wrecked in harbor. NPNF2: Vol. VI, To Pammachius Against John of Jerusalem, §37. See Contra Joannem Hierosolymitanum, §37, PL 23:390.
Latin text: Nec hoc dico, quod praeter amicitias, quae suspicionem generant, quidquam in legatione reprehendam; sed quia apud interrogantes magis et praesentes te purgare debueris. “Misisti religiosissimum hominem Dei Isidorum presbyterum, virum potentem tam ex ipsa incessus et habitus dignitate, quam divinae intelligentiae, curare etiam eos, qui animo vehementer aegrotant; si tamen sensum sui languoris habeant. Homo Dei mittit hominem Dei.” Nihil interest inter presbyterum et episcopum; eadem dignitas mittentis et missi: hoc satis imperite: in portu, ut dicitur, naufragium. Contra Joannem Hierosolymitanum, §37, PL 23:390.

DTK
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Good stuff. I know that Calvin used this quote (which you include above) in his discussion of bishops: "Therefore, as the presbyters know that it is by the custom of the Church that they are to be subject to him who is placed over them so let the bishops know that they are above presbyters rather by custom than by Divine appointment. . ."
 

DTK

Puritan Board Junior
Originally posted by Scott
Good stuff. I know that Calvin used this quote (which you include above) in his discussion of bishops: "Therefore, as the presbyters know that it is by the custom of the Church that they are to be subject to him who is placed over them so let the bishops know that they are above presbyters rather by custom than by Divine appointment. . ."
Yes Scott, thanks for the comment. Calvin does cite Jerome. For any interested, see Calvin's Institutes, IV.4.2, and references this comment by Jerome in his commentary on Philippians 1:1, without quoting him.

For any interested in Calvin's use of the ECFs, see Anthony N. S. Lane, John Calvin, Student of the Church Fathers (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999).

Blessings,
DTK

[Edited on 8-2-2005 by DTK]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Did Jerome have a clear view on the papacy? Did he teach the necessity of submission to the Roman See?

It would seem that his writings cited by David would mitigate against any divine approval of papal understanding as the papacy is the Roman bishopric. If bishoprics (Roman or otherwise) are by human custom rather than divine sanction, then it would seem to undermine any claim to divine sanction of the Roman bishopric.
 
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