Constantine And Roman Hierarchy

The hierarchical leadership structure first emerged in ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Persia." It was later carried over into the Greek and Roman culture where it was perfected.

Historian D. C. Trueman writes, "The Persians made two outstanding contributions to the ancient world: The organization of their empire and their religion. Both of these contributions have had considerable influence on our western world. The system of imperial administration was inherited by Alexander the Great, adopted by the Roman Empire, and eventually bequeathed to modern Europe."77

The social world into which Christianity spread was governed by a single ruler—the emperor. Soon after Constantine took the throne in the early fourth century, the church became a full-fledged, top-down, hierarchically organized society."

Hanson, Christian Priesthood Examined, 71.

Robert F. Evans, One and Holy The Church in Latin and Patristic Thought (London: S.P.C.K., 1972), 48.

Before Constantine, the Roman bishop exercised no jurisdiction outside of Rome. While he was honored, he did not have that kind of ecclesiastical authority (Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language [Waco, TX: Word, 1982], 151). The word pope comes from the title papa, a term used to express the fatherly care of any bishop. It was not until the sixth century that the term began to be used exclusively for the bishop of Rome. Here is a brief sketch of the origin of the Roman Catholic pope: At the end of the second century, Roman bishops were given great honor. Stephen I (d. 257) was the first to use the Petrine text (Matthew 16181 to support the preeminence of the Roman bishop. But this was not universally held. The emergence of the modern pope can be traced to Leo the Great, who served from 440 to 461. Leo was the first to make a theological and biblical claim for the primacy of the Roman bishop. Under him, the primacy of Rome was finally established. With the coming of Gregory the Great (540-604), the "papal chair" was extended and enhanced. (Incidentally, Gregory became by far the largest landowner in Italy, setting a precedent for rich and powerful popes to follow.) By the mid-third century. the Roman church had 30,000 members, 150 clergymen, and 1,500 widows and poor people (Gonzalez, Story of Christianity 1242; Schaff, History of the Christian Church, voI:212, 218-219; Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 150-151; Davies, Early Christian Church, 135-136, 250; Durant, Age of Faith, 521; Hanson, Christian Priesthood Examined, 76ff.). Gregory was also the first to use the term servant of the servants of God (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3:534; 4:329). " Durant, Caesar and Christ, 670-671.

D. C. Trueman, The Pageant of the Past, The Origins of Civilization (Toronto: Ryerson, 1965), 105.

Grant, Early Christianity and Society 11-12. "The organization of the church adapted itself to the political and geographical divisions of the Empire" (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 3:7).

Edwin Hatch writes, "For the most part the Christian churches associated themselves together upon the lines of the Roman Empire." This not only applied to the graded hierarchy it adopted into its leadership structure, but also to the way the church divided itself up into gradations of dioceses, provinces, and municipalities all controlled by a top-down leadership system. "The development of the organization of the Christian churches was gradual," Hatch adds, "[and] the elements of which that organization were composed were already existing in human society.'

Will Durant makes a similar point, noting that Christianity "grew by the absorption of pagan faith and ritual; it became a triumphant church by inheriting the organizing patterns and genius of Rome. . . . As Judea had given Christianity ethics, and Greece had given it theology, so now Rome gave it organization; all these, with a dozen absorbed and rival faiths, entered into the Christian synthesis.'

By the fourth century, the church followed the example of the Roman Empire. Emperor Constantine organized the church into dioceses along the pattern of the Roman regional districts. (The word diocese was a secular term that referred to the larger administrative units of the Roman Empire.) Later, Pope Gregory shaped the ministry of the entire church after Roman law.""

Durant adds, "When Christianity conquered Rome the ecclesiastical structure of the pagan church, the title and vestments of the pontifex maximus ... and the pageantry of immemorial ceremony, passed like maternal blood into the new religion, and captive Rome captured her conqueror.'

All of this was at gross odds with God's way for His church. Thus when Jesus entered the drama of human history, He obliterated both the religious professional icon as well as the hierarchical form of

Hatch, Organization of the Early Christian Churches, 185, 213. As Bruce Shelley puts it, "As the church grew, it adopted, quite naturally, the structure of the Empire." Church History in Plain Language, 152.

Caesar and Christ, 575, 618. Durant writes, "The Roman Church followed in the footsteps of the Roman State" (p. 618). Stevens, Other Six Days, 44; Trueman, Pageant of the Past, 311: Foe, Pagans and Christians, 573; Cross and Livingstone, Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 482. " Durant, Caesar and Christ, 671-672.

leadership." As an extension of Christ's nature and mission, the early church was the first "lay-led" movement in history. But with the death of the apostles and the men they trained, things began to change.'

Since that time, the church of Jesus Christ has derived its pattern for church organization from the societies in which it has been placed—despite our Lord's warning that He was initiating a new society with a unique character (Matthew 23:8-11 and Mark 10:42ff.). In striking contrast to the Old Testament provisions made at Mt. Sinai, neither Jesus nor Paul imposed any fixed organizational patterns for the New Israel.

CONSTANTINE AND THE GLORIFICATION OF THE CLERGY

From AD 313 to 325, Christianity was no longer a struggling religion trying to survive the Roman government. It was basking in the sun of imperialism, loaded with money and status." To be a Christian under Constantine's reign was no longer a handicap. It was an advantage. It was fashionable to become a part of the emperor's religion. And to be among the clergy was to receive the greatest of advantages."

Clergymen received the same honors as the highest officials of the Roman Empire and even the emperor himself." In fact, Con-stantine gave the bishops of Rome more power than he gave Roman governors." He also ordered that the clergy receive fixed annual allowances (ministerial pay)!

In AD 313, he exempted the Christian clergy from paying taxes—something that pagan priests had traditionally enjoyed." He also made them exempt from mandatory public office and other civic duties." They were freed from being tried by secular courts and from

Matthew 20:25-28, 218-12; Luke 22:25-27.

Paul trained a number of men to take his place. Among them were Timothy, Titus, Gaius, Trophimus, Tychicus, etc. See Viola, So You Want to Start a House Church? for details. Hanson, Christian Priesthood Examined, 62.

At this time, the term clergy broadened to include all officials in the church (Niebuhr and Williams, Ministry in Historical Perspectives, 29). See also Boggs, Christian Saga, 206-207. Jungmann, Early Liturgy, 130-131. B Durant, Caesar and Christ, 618-619.

Hanson, Christian Priesthood Examined, 62; Durant, Caesar and Christ, 656-657, 668.

Duchesne, Early History of the Christian Church, 50; Johnson, History of Christianity, 77; Fox, Pagans and Christians, 667.

serving in the army.' (Bishops could be tried only by a bishop's court, not by ordinary law courts.)'

In all these things the clergy was given special class status. Constantine was the first to use the words clerical and clerics to depict a higher social class.' He also felt that the Christian clergy deserved the same privileges as governmental officials. So bishops sat in judgment like secular judges."

The net result was alarming: The clergy had the prestige of church office bearers, the privileges of a favored class, and the power of a wealthy elite. They had become an isolated class with a separate civil status and way of life. (This included clergy celibacy.)"

They even dressed and groomed differently from the common people." Bishops and priests shaved their heads. This practice, known as the tonsure, comes from the old Roman ceremony of adoption. All those who had shaved heads were known as clerks or clergy." They also began wearing the clothes of Roman officials (see chapter 6).

It should come as no surprise that so many people in Constan-tine's day experienced a sudden "call to the ministry." To their minds, being a church officer had become more of a career than a calling."

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  • MARLEY
    How was church hierarchy organized in Constantine's time?
    1 year ago

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