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private life for long interludes before assuming another, hopefully more prestigious, office. The hierarchy of the imperial administration hence acknowledged ambition and competition. But by guaranteeing regular promotion at the lower levels and fairly rapid turnover among upper-level office holders, the emperors ensured wide participation, and hence relative harmony, among both great senators and provincial notables.

In contrast, the ecclesiastical hierarchy went up only to the level of cities. These cities may then have been organised into ecclesiastical provinces, some bishops became metropolitans, and all bishops attended councils, but they focused their activities on their cities. The horizons of episcopal service were local. Bishops and clerics furthermore held their offices for life, with no possibility of occasional retirement and subsequent return. Clerics were supposed to stay attached to the city at which they had been first ordained. Some of them might move sideways to become bishops at other cities. But bishops were then supposed to remain faithful to their sees for life. A see was a bishop's wife.

The absence of ambition and competition was supposed to make these limited expectations and severe restrictions acceptable. In fact, these restrictions readily led to confusion and even resentments. Long-serving bishops at small sees would have more seniority, and more prestige, than their metropolitan bishops. When Gregory became metropolitan bishop of Tours in his mid-thirties, he found one senior suffragan bishop diligently turning his own see into 'new Rome' by dedicating a new cathedral with relics of St Peter and St Paul. Distinguished bishops at small sees could not be moved up to become metropolitan bishops. If bishops lived too long, their sees would not become vacant at the right moments and qualified lesser clerics might never become bishops. Although lesser clerics could move up in the clerical ranks, during the late fourth and early fifth centuries the bishops of Rome tried to rationalise these promotions by insisting upon minimum terms in a standard sequence of clerical offices. The models for these proposals were 'secular offices' and the hierarchy of the army, in which even a general first had to serve as a recruit. As a result, although the sheer size of the ecclesiastical organisation may have accommodated many men in the huge puddle of lesser clerical offices at its base, lifetime tenure and restrictions about moving severely limited the possibility of upward promotion, for both promising clerics and bishops at small sees. Rather than readily promoting men up through more prestigious offices, the ecclesiastical hierarchy was relatively stagnant.13

13 Felix of Nantes: Fortunatus, Carmina 3.8.20. Secular model: Zosimus, Epistulae 9.2 (PL 20: 671a).

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