3. Election by Representatives or Interventors
Antiquities of the Christian Church
CHAPTER V. Of appointment to ecclesiastical offices
3. Election by Representatives or Interventors
The popular elections above described were liable to great irregularities. Great care was accordingly requisite, lest the exercise of this right should lead to disorder, and disturb the public peace by exciting a malignant party spirit. To what a pitch these tumultuous elections were carried, may be seen from a remarkable description of them by Chrysostom. "Go witness a popular assembly convened for the election of ecclesiastical officers. Hear the complaints against the minister, manifold and numerous as the individuals of that riotous multitude, who are the subjects of church-government. All are divided into opposing factions, alike at war with themselves, with the moderator, and with the presbytery. Each is striving to carry his own point; one voting for one, and another for another; and all, equally regardless of that which alone they should consider – the qualifications, intellectual and moral, of the candidate. One is in favor of a man of noble birth; another of a man of fortune who will need no maintenance from the church; and a third, one who has come over to us from the opposite party. One is wholly enlisted for some friend or relative, and another casts his vote for some flatterer. But no one regards the requisite qualifications of the mind and the heart.
Similar disorders prevailed not only at Constantinople, but at Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and other large cities. To correct these abuses, many distinguished bishops passed into the opposite extreme, and, by the exercise of arbitrary power, appointed men to spiritual offices. This gave great offence to the people, who were ever jealous of their rights, and were provoked, by these means, to commit scandalous and violent outrages. The emperor Valentinian III. upbraids Hilary of Aries, that he unworthily ordained some in direct opposition to the will of the people, and when the people refused to receive those whom they had not chosen, that he collected an armed force and by military power thrust into office the ministers of the gospel of peace. Leo the Great also passes a similar censure upon this procedure.
It has been supposed that the council of Nice deprived the people of the right of suffrage, and conferred the right of appointment upon metropolitans and patriarchs, but the supposition is clearly refuted by Bingham. The same council distinctly recognizes the right of the people in the choice of a bishop.
The council of Laodicea, denied indeed the right of suffrage to the rabble*. But they carefully distinguished between these and the people*, to whom they did not deny the right. An effort was made, particularly in the Latin church, to correct the disorders of popular elections without taking away the rights of the people. This they did by the agency of an interventor, who was sent among the people to endeavor to unite their votes upon a given person, and thus to secure his election without division or tumult. Symmachus and Gregory the Great encouraged this procedure; but it was received with little approbation, and was soon discontinued.
Justinian, for a similar purpose, restricted the right of suffrage to the aristocracy of the city. By his laws it was provided 'that when a bishop was to be ordained, the clergy, and chief men of the city should meet and nominate three persons, drawing up an instrument, and swearing in the customary forms of an oath, upon the Holy Bible, that they chose them, neither for any gift, nor promise, nor friendship, nor any other cause; but only because they know them to be of the catholic faith, of virtuous life, and men of learning. Of these three, the ordaining person was required to choose, at his own discretion, that one whom he judged best qualified.'
Had now some permanent restrictions been laid upon the body of electors, and had it been more clearly defined who should be reckoned among the chief men of the city, and how they were to cooperate with the clergy, then would order have been established, and much arbitrary abuse of power prevented. In this way a worthy body of men would have been organized from the people of the diocese, by whom the rights of the people would have been secured, and disorder, and party spirit, and discord, would have been prevented.
But, instead of this, the whole was left to the direction of accident, and of arbitrary power. Thus the right of suffrage was wrested from the people, and was shared in part by the rulers, who were accounted the chief men of the city, and in part by the priesthood, who, either by their bishops and suffragans, or by collegiate conventions, often exercised the right without any regard to the people.
The church sometimes protested earnestly against this encroachment of secular power; but in vain. The council of Paris, 557, decreed that "no bishop should be consecrated contrary to the will of the citizens, alleging in vindication of this measure, the neglect of ancient usage, and of the ordinances of the church. Nor should he attain to that honor who had been appointed by the authority of the rulers, and not by the choice of the people, and of the clergy, and whose election had not been ratified by the metropolitan and other bishops of the province." Whoever entered upon his office merely by the authority of the king, they commanded the other bishops not to acknowledge, Under penalty of being themselves deposed from office.
But such attempts to restore the apostolical and canonical forms of election were but seldom made, and were followed by no lasting result. In Spain the appointment of a bishop, as early as the seventh century, was made dependent entirely upon the king. Under the Carlovingian dynasty in France, it was divided between the rulers and the bishops without entirely excluding the people. Innocent III, in the thirteenth century, excluded entirely the people, and made the election dependent only on the chapter of the cathedral. In the East, the people were excluded much earlier.
De Sacerdot. lib. iii. c. 15.
Nov. 24. ad calum. Cod. Theodos.
Bk. iv. c. 2. c. 11. Concil. Nic. c. 4.
Symmachus ep. 5. c. 6. Gregor. d. Gr. ef). lib. ix. ep. 16.
Justinian 6. Novell. 123. c. 1. 137. c. 2: Cod. Justin, lib. i. tit. 3. de epis. c. 1. 42.
Concil. Tolet. 12. A. D. 681. Gregor. Naz. orat. 21.
Thomassini. eccl. discipl. part ii. lib. ii. c. 1 – 42.
Concil. Nicet). II. A. D. 787, c. 2: Oecum. VIII. A. D. 871. c. 22.
(* denotes Greek text in Rev. Lyman Coleman's translation.)