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2. Of elections by the church collectively

Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER V. Of appointment to ecclesiastical offices

2. Of elections by the church collectively

Many learned men are of opinion that in the apostolic age the right of universal suffrage was enjoyed by the church. In proof of this they appeal to Acts 1:15 seq., where the apostles appointed a substitute in the place of Judas Iscariot, but not without the consent of the church at Jerusalem. In the appointment of the seven deacons it is worthy of remark, that the brethren, the churchy were first required to look out among them seven men of honest report and full of the Holy Ghost; and that they made the choice and set the persons chosen before the apostles [to be inducted into office]. Hugo Grotius, indeed, maintains that this case proves no more than the right of the church to choose their own deacons to distribute alms, and that in all the New Testament there is not the least hint of the appointment of any bishop or presbyter by the intervention of the church. He goes on to say that the apostles themselves did appoint presbyters, Acts 14:23, 2 Tim. 2, Tit. 1:5, and that Timothy and Titus were authorized by Paul to do the same. But in opposition to this assertion, it should be remembered that the expression * relates to the act of consecration and ordination, and by no means excludes the idea of a preceding election by the church.

The apostle presupposes that Timothy and Titus, when authorized by him to consecrate and induct into office a presbyter who had been duly elected, would proceed as he himself and the other apostles did in similar cases – i.e. that they would proceed according to the rule given in Acts 6:3, and appoint no man presbyter without the knowledge and choice or desire of the church. The following passages and many others are sufficient to show that the advice and consent of the church was had in other matters. Acts 15:1 seq. 1: 15, 1 Cor. 5:2, 2 Cor. 2:19, 20.

Clemens Romanus is the best interpreter of the apostle's sentiments, and the earliest witness that can be obtained on this subject. This writer informs us that the apostles appointed and ordained the first ministers {versieher} of the church, and "then gave direction how, when they should die, other chosen and approved men*, should succeed to their ministry. Wherefore we cannot think those may justly be thrown out of their ministry who were either appointed by them or afterwards by other eminent men with ihe consent of the whole church*. Those persons who received, in this manner, the concurring suffrages of the church, were to be men of tried character, and of good report with all*. This concurrence of the whole church, based upon their previous acquaintance with the candidates, evinces clearly the cooperation of the church in the appointment of its ministers; and that this intervention of the church was not merely a power of negativing an appointment made by some other authority. 

The fullest evidence that bishops and presbyters were chosen by the people, is also derived from Cyprian. It was, according to his authority, a rule of divine appointment that a minister should be chosen in the presence of the people, and should be publicly acknowledged and approved as worthy of the office – plebe presents sub amnium oculis deligatur, et dignus atque idoneus publico judicio ac testimonio comprobetur. He further says that the act of ordination should in no instance be solemnized without the knowledge and assistance of the people, so that the crimes of the bad may be detected, and the merits of the good made known. In this manner the ordination becomes regular and valid, jtista et legitima. Such, he observes, was the example of the apostles, not only in the appointment of bishops and ministers, but also of deacons. And all this was done to prevent the intrusion of unworthy men into the sacred office. He further says of Cornelius, "that he was made bishop agreeably to the will of God, and of Christ, by the testimony of almost all the clergy, and the suffrage of the people then present. 

With reference to this influence in appointing them, the bishops elect were wont to style their constituents, the people, fathers. "Ye, (says St. Ambrose,) ye are my fathers who chose me to be bishop: ye, I say, are both my children and fathers, children individually, fathers collectively." Which intimates that he owed his appointment to the choice of the people. And this is still further confirmed by the testimony even of profane writers. Alexander Severus, who reigned from A. D. 222 to 235, whenever he was about to appoint any governors of provinces, or receivers of public revenue first publicly proposed their names, desiring the people to make evidence against them if any one could prove them guilty of any crime, but assuring them that if they accused them falsely, it should be at the peril of their lives; for he said "it was unreasonable that when the Christians and Jews did this in propounding those whom they ordained their priests and ministers, the same should not be done in the appointment of governors of provinces in whose hands the lives and fortunes of men were intrusted." 

It may perhaps be said that all this is only proof of a negative or testimonial choice on the part of the people, and that this propounding of the candidates presupposes a previous appointment of which the people were only invited to express their approbation. It is true, indeed, that the clergy or the presbytery, or the bishop, or presbyter, on resigning his office, took the lead in these elections by proposing or nominating the candidate; but then followed the vote of the people, which was not a mere testimonial suffrage, but really a decisive and elective vote.

Besides, there are not wanting instances when the people made choice of some one as bishop or presbyter without any preliminary nomination, or propounding of the candidate. Ambrose was thus appointed bishop of Milan by joint acclamation of all Martin of Tours was appointed by the people against his own will, and that of the bishops. And the same is true of Eustathius at Antioch, Chrysostom at Constantinople, Eradius at Hippo, and Meletius at Antioch, etc.

The evidence indeed is full, that the people cooperated in the election of presbyters, and numerous instances of such cooperation occur in ecclesiastical history.

So also the fourth council of Carthage decreed: Ut episcopus sine consilio clericorum suorum clericos non ordinet: ita ut civium adsensum et conniventiam et testimonium quaerat. – 'that as the bishop might not ordain clergymen without the advice of his clergy, so likewise he should obtain the consent, cooperation and testimony of the people.'

Sometimes, when the opinions of the people were divided between several candidates, it would seem that the people were called to a formal vote, styled scrutinium* . But the common method was by acclamation. The people exclaiming fit*; or unfit*. The apostolical constitutions, c. 4, direct that the inquiry be three times made whether the candidate is worthy of the office, and that the uniform and concurring response be, He is worthy. In the Latin church the acclamation was dignus est et justus. 

De Imper. Summa. potest, circa Sacra c. 10. c. 3, 4.

Neander Kirch. Gesch. I. 301, 308.
(No tag #2 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Neander Kirch. Gesch. 353, seq.

* Quod et ipsum videmus de divina auctoritate descendere ut sacerdos plebe praesente sub omnium oculis deligatur, et dignus atque idoneus publico judicio ac testimonio comprobetur. . . Coram oinni synagoga jubet Deus constitui sacerdotem, id est, instruit atque ostendit ordinationes sacerdotales nonnisi sub populi assistentis conscientia fieri oportere, ut plebe praesente vel detegantur malorum crimina, vel bonorum merita praedicentur, et sit ordinatio justa et legitima, quae omnium suffragio et judicio fuerit examinata. Quod postea secundum divina magisteria observatur in Actis Apostolorum. . . . Nec hoc in episcoporum tantnm et sacerdotum, sed et in diaconorum ordinationibus apostolos fecisse animadvertimus. . . Quod utique idcirco tam diligentur et caute concocata plebe tota gerebatur, ne quis ad altaris ministerium, vel ad sacerdotalem locum, indignus obreperet. Cyprian, Ep. G8. – Factus est autem Cornelius episcopus de Dei et Christi ejus judicio, de clericorum pene omnium testimonio, de plebis, quae tuno adfuit, suffragio, et de sacerdotum autiqudrum et bonorum virorum collegio, cum nemo ante se factus esset, cum Fabiani locus, id est, cum locus Petri et gradus cathedrae sacerdotalis, vacaret: quo occupato de Dei voluntate, atque omnium nostrum consensione firmato, quisquis jam episcopus fieri voluerit, foris fieri necesse est, nee habeat ecclesiasticam ordinationem, qui ecclesiae non tenet unitatem. Id. Ep. 52.

Epist. 52. p. 120.

Comment, in Lac. lib. viii. c. 17.

Lampridius Vit. Alexandri Severi..

Paulin. Vit. Ambros. Rufin. h. e. lib. ii. c. 11: Tbeodoret. h. e. lib. iv. c. 6, 7. Sozomen h. e. 6. c. 24.

Sulphic. Sev. Vet. S. Martini.

Tbeodoret. h. e. lib. i. c. 7,

Socrat. h. e. 6. c. 2.

August. Epist. 110.

Tbeodoret h. e. lib. ii. c. 31, 32.

c. 22. Compare Cyprian quoted above. Hieron. ep. 4. ad Rustic. Hieron. Comment in Ezek. 10. c. 23: Possed. Vit. Augustini. c. 21: Siricii ep. 1. ad Hemer. c 10.
(No tag #13 appears in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)

Coucil. Aretat. A. D. 452. c. 54: Barcin. c. 3: Philostorg. h. e. 9. c. 13: Greg. Naz. orat. 21.

Ambrose de dignit. sacerdot. c. 5: Augustin. ep. 110.

The apostles appointed bishops and deacons *, Clem. Rom. Ep. (1) ad Corinth. c. 44.

(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)


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