Thus the history of schisms and the very concept of 'heresy' that emerged in the second century are ironic testimonies to the ideal of unity and the practical drive to enforce it. That drive would eventually produce, by the time of Constantine, an empire-wide complex of institutions which in some ways mirrored the empire's own provincial bureaucracy.

The invention of church 'offices' One of the most important and distinctive developments in the organisation of the ancient church is the establishment of what came to be called 'the monarchical episcopate', that is, governance of Christian groups in each city by a single bishop (Greek episkopos, 'overseer'), superior to other orders of clergy called 'elders' (presbyteroi) and 'deacons' (diakonoi). As the movement spread, beginning in the second century, back into the countryside, the urban bishops presided, in principle, also over the Christians in the towns and villages dependent upon their city - the region known as the chora in Greek. Yet this development, so significant for the future shape of the church, is exceedingly difficult to trace in detail, and its history remains controversial - partly because it is hard for modern historians to escape from the tendentious reading of the sources during centuries of polemics between Protestant and Catholic interpreters in the west, partly because the sources are themselves obscure. Here we can only touch upon a few of the issues.

The propensity of the Christian movement to create both local and translocal institutions did not ensure early uniformity of structure, but the contrary. From the references to organisation in the New Testament and other early documents, we get the impression of considerable variety and experimentation, and also of frequent conflict not only between different figures and groups, but also between different modes of authority. For example, people whose authority came from their social position, like the householders and patrons of household communities, could clash with charismatics, like local or visiting prophets (e.g. 1 Cor 12-14; 3 John). Local leaders could clash with itinerants, and different travelling 'apostles' might teach quite different beliefs and forms of behavior (e.g. Did. 11-13; 15).

Although inscriptions from the numerous voluntary associations with which the early Christian groups are often compared show an exuberance of nomenclature for offices - most often imitating such municipal offices as prytanis ('president'), treasurer, secretary, decuriones ('city councilmen'), quinquennales ('[five-year] magistrates') and the like - there is no comparable evidence from the earliest Christian groups. In Philippi (Macedonia), we do hear of episkopoi and diakonoi, addressed as apparently distinct local functionaries

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment