Ecclesiastical History is that branch of historical theology (q.v.) which treats of the development of the kingdom of God among men on the earth by means of the Church.
I. Idea and Scope of Ecclesiastical History, — The title Ecclesiastical History (Historic Ecclesiastica) was used by all the older writers on this branch of science. German writers began the use, in its stead, of the title Church History (Kirchengeschichte), which has of late been adopted also by most English writers. Its idea and limits depend on the idea which is formed of the Church (ecclesia). SEE CHURCH.
1. If the Church be regarded as a divine institution, existing in all the ages before Christ as well as since, then the field of Church history reaches from the beginnings of the history of the first divine covenant with man down to the present time. It would then be divided into Biblical Church History and Ecclesiastical History, or simply Church History. Biblical Church history, again, could be divided into O.T. and N.T. The entire field of Church history, in its widest sense, would thus be, I. Old Testament Church history. II. New Testament Church History, including (1) the life of Christ; (2) the planting of Christianity by the apostles. (3). Ecclesiastical history, beginning at the close of the canon, and extending to the present time (see Alexander, Notes on N.T. Literature and Ecclesiastical History, N.Y. 1867, page 156 sq.; Stanley, Easters Church, Introduction).
2. If (as it generally is for convenience), on the other hand, the term Church be restricted to the Christian Church, then the field of Church history is limited to the development of the kingdom of God among men through and by means of the Christian Church. "Its proper starting-point is the incarnation of the eternal Word, who dwelt among us and revealed his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth; and next to this the miracle of the first Pentecost, when the Church took her place as a Christian institution, filled With the spirit of the glorified Redeemer, and entrusted with the conversion of all nations. Jesus Christ, the God-man and Savior of the world, is the author of the new creation, the soul and the head of the Church, which is his body and his bride. In his person and work lies all the fullness of the Godhead and of renewed humanity, the whole plan of redemption, and the key of all history from the creation of man in the image of God to the resurrection of the body unto everlasting life" (Schaff, Church Hist. volume 1, § 1). Modern writers generally adopt this second view, not only for its practical convenience, but also on the theoretical ground that the sources of the O.T. and N.T. history are inspired; those of Church history, since the closing of the canon, are human. The former is therefore called Sacred History, constituting a department by itself. The relations of Christianity to Judaism and heathenism are generally treated by modern writers in an Introduction or in separate chapters, as the "Preparation for Christianity in the History of the World." The life of Jesus is so treated by some writers; by most others it is relegated to a separate work. Neander makes one work of "The life of Christ" as the ground of the existence of the Christian Church; another work treats of the apostolical Church, or "The Planting and Training of Christianity by the Apostles;" while his great Church History continues the development after the apostolic age. Nevertheless, in treating of "Church Discipline and Constitution," he is compelled to go back to the apostolic age. Dr. Schaff makes "the Church under the Apostles" the first division of his History of the Christian Church, and gives the relations of Christianity to Judaism and heathenism in chapter 1, as "Preparations for Christianity." Hinds (History of the Christian Church, 1st Division, Encycl. Metropolitana) treats in an Introduction of the religion of Jews, Gentiles, and Samaritans, and then makes part 1 the Ministry of Christ; part 2, the Apostolic Age; part 3, Age of the Apostolical Fathers.
3. As to the relations of Church history to general history, dean Stanley remarks: "To a great extent the two are inseparable; they cannot be torn asunder without infinite loss to both... . It is indeed true that, in common parlance, ecclesiastical history is often confined within limits so restricted as to render such a distinction only too easy... . Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is, in great part, however reluctantly or unconsciously, the history of the rise and progress of the Christian Church." Never let us think that we can understand the history of the Church apart from the history of the world, any more than we can separate the interests of the clergy from the interests of the laity, which are the interests of the Church at large... . How to adjust the relations of the two spheres to each other is almost as indefinite a task in history as it is in practice and in philosophy. In no age are they precisely the same" (Eastern Church, Introduction). A book written from this point of view, however, would be rather a history of Christianity in its relations to the general development of man than a history of the Church. So Milman's Latin Christianity is, to great extent, a general history of the times rather than of the Christian Church, while, at the same time, the Church is the prominent feature of it. It is well that such a book should be written, and the work has been well done by dean Milman.
II. Method of Church History. — The order and arrangement of the material have varied greatly at different periods. The earliest writers (e.g. Eusebius) wrote generally without scientific method, and their arrangement was arbitrary and fortuitous. In the Church of the Middle Ages history was little studied, and what little was written was put in the form of simple chronicles. The first application of method was really made in the Magdeburg Centuries, projected by Matthias Flacius Illyricus (1559-1574).
SEE CENTURIES. The history is divided into centuries, with a topical arrangement under each century of sixteen heads as rubrics, viz.:
1. General view; 2. Extent of the Church; 3. Its external condition; 4. Doctrines; 5. Heresies; 6. Rites; 7. Polity; 8. Schisms; 9. Councils; 10. Bishops and doctors; 11. Heretics; 12. Martyrs; 13. Miracles; 14. Jews; 15. Other religions; 16. Political changes affecting the condition of the Church.
This centurial arrangement (combined with the rubrical subdivision) maintained its ground for two centuries: the last great work which follows it is Mosheim's Institutes of Ecclesiastical History. Mosheim divides the material under each century into external and internal history, and these again as follows: External events into prosperous and adverse; internal history into,
1. State of literature and science; 2. Government of the Church; 3. Theology; 4. Rites and ceremonies; 5. Heresies and schisms.
The later historians divide the whole history into periods, determined by great events, and then arrange the material under each period by topics or rubrics. Each writer, of course, frames his periods according to his own views of the great epochal events of history, but most of them make three great periods-ancient, mediaeval, and modern, the first beginning with the day of Pentecost; the second with Gregory the Great, A.D. 590 (acc. to others, with Constantine, 306 or 311, or the fall of the West Roman empire, 476, or Charlemagne, 800); the third with the Reformation, 1517. Perhaps the best modern division is that of Schaff, who proposes nine periods, viz., three ancient, three mediaeval, three modern, viz.:
I. The Apostolic Church, A.D. 1-100.
II. The Church persecuted as a sect, to Constantine, the first Christian emperor, A.D. 100-311.
III. The Church in union with the Graeco-Roman empire, and amid the storms of the great migration, to pope Gregory I, A.D. 311-590.
IV. The Church planted' among the Germanic nations, to Hildebrand, A.D. 590-1049.
V. The Church under the papal hierarchy and the scholastic theology, to Boniface VIII, A.D. 1049-1294.
VI. The decay of mediaeval Catholicism, and the preparatory movements of Protestantism, A.D. 1294-1517.
VII. The evangelical reformation and the Roman Catholic reaction, A.D. 1517-1600.
VIII. The age of polemic orthodoxy and exclusive confessionalism, A.D. 1600-1750.
IX. The spread of infidelity and the revival of Christianity in Europe and America, from 1750 to the present time (Ch. Hist. 1:14).
Dr. J.A. Alexander (Op. cit. page 214 sq.) objects to the minute and fixed rubrical arrangement on various grounds, and proposes to set it aside altogether " as a framework running through the history and determining its whole form, and to substitute a natural arrangement of the topics by combining a general chronological order with a due regard to the mutual relative importance of the topics themselves, so that what is prominent at one time may be wholly in the background, at another, instead of giving all an equal prominence at all times, by applying the same scheme or formula to all alike. This natural method, so called to distinguish it from every artificial or conventional arrangement, far from being new, is recommended by the practice and example of the best historians in every language and in every age, affording a presumptive, if not a conclusive, proof both of its theoretical consistency and of its practical efficiency and usefulness, and, at the same time, a convenient means of keeping this and other parts of universal history in mutual connection and agreement with each other." See also Baur, Epochen d. kirchlichen Geschichtschreibung (Tubingen, 1852).
III. Branches of Church History. — The number of branches into which the history is divided will of course depend upon the method adopted (see above; but the historian, besides setting forth the progress of Christianity in the world and its vicissitudes, must also treat, more or less fully, of the constitution and government of the Church (ecclesiastical polity); of the history of doctrines; of worship, religious usages, domestic life; of creeds, etc. Some of these are of so great importance as to justify treatment in separate books, and they have, in fact, grown to be independent branches of science: e.g. archaeology, history of doctrines, symbolics, patristics and petrology (the doctrine and literature of the fathers, etc.), history of councils, Church polity, etc.
IV. Sources of Church History. — For the history of the Jewish Church and of the Apostolical Church, we find our sources of information in the O.T and N. Testament. For the history since the closing of the Canon; the sources are given by Kurtz as follows: "They are partly primary (original), such as monuments and original documents; partly secondary (derived), among which we reckon traditions, and reported researches of original sources which have since been lost. Monuments, such as ecclesiastical buildings, pictures, and inscriptions, are commonly only of very subordinate use in Church history. But archives, preserved and handed down, are of the very greatest importance. To this class also belong the acts and decrees of ecclesiastical councils; the regesta and official decrees of the popes (decretals, briefs) and of bishops (pastoral letters); the laws and regesta issuing from imperial chancellories, so far as these refer to ecclesiastical affairs; the rules of monastic orders, liturgies, confessions of faith, letters of personages influential in Church or State; reports of eye- witnesses; sermons and doctrinal treatises of acknowledged theologians, etc. If the documents in existence are found insufficient, we must have recourse to earlier or later traditions, and to the historical investigations of those who had access to original documents which are now no longer extant" (Text-book of Church History, volume 1, § 3). "The private writings of personal actors in the history, the works of the Church fathers for the first six centuries, of the scholastic and mystic divines for the Middle Ages, and of the Reformers and their opponents for the 16th century, are the richest mines for the historian. They give history in its birth and actual movement; but they must be carefully sifted and weighed: especially the controversial writings, where fact is generally more or less adulterated with party spirit, heretical and orthodox" (Schaff, Church History, volume 1, § 3).
V. Literature. —
1. Apostolic Church. The Acts of the Apostles may be regarded as the first Church history, for they describe the planting of the Church among Jews and Gentiles from Jerusalem to Rome. (In what follows we make free use of Dr. Schaff, volume 1)
2. Greek Church. Eusebius (q.v.) won by his Church history (ἐκκλησιαστικὴ ἱστορία, up to A.D. 324) the title of the Father of Church history, though he was able to make use of the work of a predecessor, Hegesippus (about A.D. 150). Eusebius is learned moderate, and truth-loving, and made use of many sources of information which are now lost. As a work of art his work is inferior to the classic historians. It was continued on the same plan and in a similar spirit by Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret in the fifth, and by the Arians Theodorus and Evagrius in the sixth centuries. Among the later Greek Church historians Nicephorus Callistus (about 1333) deserves mention. A Church history in the modern Greek Church was begun in 186 6 by Const. Kontogonis (Ε᾿κκλησιαστικὴὶστορία ἀπὸ τῆς θείας συστάσεως τῆς ἐκκλησίας μέχρι τῶν καθ ἡμᾶς χρόνων, volume 1, Athens, 1866).
3. The Latin Church before the Reformation was long content with translations and extracts from Eusebius and his continuators, and but one work of consequence was produced during the Middle Ages. (4.) The Roman Church after the Reformation. At the head of Roman writers in Church history stands cardinal Baronius (1607), whose Annales Ecclesiastici (Rome, 1588 sq., 12 vols. fol.) come down to the year 1188. They were continued, though with less ability, by Raynaldus, Bzovius, Spondanus, and very recently, from the year 1572, by Theiner (Rome, 1853 sq., fol.). The Annales were designed as a refutation of the Magdeburg Centuries ( SEE CENTURIES ), and were refuted in part not only by several Protestant writers, but also by Roman scholars, e.g. by Pagi. The work of Natalis Alexander (1724), Historia Ecclesiastica V. et
N.T. (Par. 1699 sq., 8 vols. fol.; Bingii. 1785-91, 20 vols.), is Gallican, learned, and, on the whole, a very valuable work. Fleury (Histoire Ecclesiastique, Par. 1691-1720, 20C vols. 4to) commends himself by mildness of spirit, fluency of style, and copiousness of material. Bossuet (1704) wrote in a very elegant style a history of the world: Discours sur l'Histoire Universelle depuis le commencement du monde jusque l'empire de Charlemagne (Paris, 1681). Tillemont (1698) compiled, almost entirely in the words of the original authorities, his Memoires pour servir a l'histoire ecclisiastique des six premiers siecles (Paris, 1693 sq., 4to), which is the most thorough of all the French Church histories. The first comprehensive work in Roman Catholic Germany was commenced by count Stolberg, Geschichte der Religion Jesu Christi (Hamburg, 1806- 1818, 8vo). The 15 volumes which he completed bring the history down to the year 430. The work is very copious, and written with the enthusiasm of a poet, but is not critical. The continuation, by Kerz (volumes 16-38, 8vo, Mentz, 1824-51, to A.D. 1300) and Brischar (volume 39 sq., 8vo), are still inferior. The work of Katerkamp (Kirchenqeschichte) (1819-30 to 1073, 4 parts, 8vo) is by far more thorough. Rohrbacher's Histoire Universelle de l'Eglise (Par. 1842-48, volume 29, 8vo; a continuation containing the Church history from 1860-1866, by J. Chantrel, Corbeil, 1867) is written from an ultramontane standpoint, and has not made sufficient use of the recent investigations. The best Roman Catholic manuals of Church history are those of Dollinger (Gesch. d. christl. Kirche, volume 1, parts 1 and 2, Landshut, 1833-35; Lehrbuch d. Kirchengesch. volume 1, and part 1 of volume 2, up to the Reformation, Ratisbon, 1836 sq.; 2d edit. 1843; Kirchengeschichte, volume 1, part 1, Heidenthum a. Judenthum, Ratisbon, 1857; part 2, Christenthum a. Kirche in der Zeit Airer Grundlegung, 1860), Ritter (Handbuch d. Kirchengesch. Bonn, 1826-35, 3 vols.; 6th edit., 1856, 2 vols.), and especially Alzog (Universal geschichte der christlichen Kirche, Mainz, 1843, 8vo; 8th edit. 2 volumes, 1867-68). Posthumous lectures on Church history by Dr. Mobler (died 1838), the greatest Roman Catholic theologian of Germany in the 19th century, were published thirty years after his death by Dr. Gams (Kirchenyeschichte, 3 volumes, Ratisbon, 1868). (5.) Protestant Writers. The first comprehensive Church history from the Protestant standpoint was compiled by Mathias Flacius (1575), surnamed Illyricus (Ecclesiastica Historia Novi Testamenti, usually called Centuriae Magdeburgenses, Basil, 1559-74, fol.), assisted by ten other theologians. It followed the centurial arrangement, and treated of 13 centuries in as many folio volumes. It remained long the standard work of the Lutheran Church, though it is to a certain extent partial and often uncritical ( SEE CENTURIES ). Hottinger (1667) published a similar work (from the standpoint of the Swiss Reformed Church), Historia Ecclesiastica N. Testamenti (Zurich, 1655-67, 9 volumes) extending to the 16th century, but it is inferior to that of Flacius. A thorough refutation of Baronius was furnished by Spanheim (Summa Historia Ecclesiastiae, Lugd. Bat. 1689, 4to). An attempt to free Church history from the fetters of confessionalism was made by J.G. Arnold (in his Unparteiische Kirch.-und Ketzerhistorie, 1698-1700, 4 volumes, to 1688), which, however, was often unjust towards the predominant churches through partiality towards the sects. Objective Church history was greatly advanced by Mosheim (1755), a moderate and impartial Lutheran. His Institutiones historia ecclesiastica antiqua et recentioris (Helmstadt, 1755, 4to) is, in the English translation of Murdock (N.Y., 1841, 3 volumes, 3d edit.) and McLaine, a favorite textbook in England and America to the present day. Of the two, Murdock's is far the best. The work of Schrockh, Christliche Kirchengeschichte (45 volumes, to the end of the 18th century, Leipzic, 1768-1812; the last 2 volumes are by Tzschirner), though leaning towards Rationalism, is very valuable for reference. The principal representative of Rationalism among Church historians is Henke, Allgemeine Geschichte der christlichen Kirche (Braunschweig, 1788-1823, 9 volumes, 8vo, continued by Vater). The work of Gieseler (1854), Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte (Bonn, 1824- 1857) gives the history as much as possible in the very words of the sources. It is profoundly learned and impartial, but cold and dry. The best English translation of it is by Professor H.B. Smith (New York, 1857 sq.). Neander (1850) is generally considered as the father of modern Church history. His aim was to represent Church history as a continuous proof of the divine power of Christianity, and it is therefore prominently the inner side of ecclesiastical events and their religious signification which he unfolds. His Allgemeine Geschichte der christlichen Religion end Kirche (Hamburg, 1825-52, 11 volumes, 8vo, extending to the council of Basle) has been translated into English by Torrey (Boston, 1847-51, 5 volumes, 8vo). Besides these larger works, Germany has produced a great number of excellent manuals. The most important of these are those of Niedner (1846, new ed. 1866), distinguished for fullness and thought; of Hase (9th edit. 1867, translated by Blumenthal and Wing, New York, 1855, 8vo), distinguished for copiousness combined with conciseness; and Guericke (9th edit. 1867, translated by Shedd, volume 1:1857), who wrote the best historical work from the old Lutheran standpoint. More a sketch than a manual of Church history is the Kirchengeschichte of Schleiermacher, published after his death by Bonnell (Berlin, 1840, 8vo). The manual of Engelhardt, of Erlangen (Hasdb. d. Kirchengeschichte, Erlangen, 1832-34, 4 volumes), is an unpretending but valuable arrangement of the subject, as derived from the sources. The manual of Fricke, left incomplete (Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte, Leipz. 1850, 1 volume), learned but stiff, is a production of the school of Schleiermacher. In Gfrorer's work on ecclesiastical history (Allgemeine Kirchengeschichte, 4 volumes, Stuttgardt, 1841-46 to 1305, Christianity is treated as the natural product of the time in which it originated. Clerical selfishness, political calculations and intrigues, appear the sole principles of ecclesiastical movements which this author can appreciate or discover. Still, the work is of importance; and those volumes especially which detail the history of the Middle Ages give evidence of original study, and contain much fresh information. The manual of Jacobi, a pupil of Neander (Lehrb. der Kirchengeschichte, Berlin, 1850, 1 Volume, not completed), breathes the same spirit as that of his teacher. Its tone is elevated; nor is the author content merely to imitate Neander. The prelections of Hagenbach (Die christl. Kirche der 3 ersten Jahrhunderte, 2 volumes, Leipz. 1853-55; D. christl. K. vom 7ten bis lum 15ten Jahrhunderte, Leipz. 1860-61), originally delivered to an educated audience, are somewhat diffuse, but clear and attractive. They breathe throughout a warm Christian spirit, nor is the judgment of the lecturer warped by narrow sectarian prejudices. The works by J.A. Kurtz (Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte, Mitau, 1842, 5th ed. 1863; Engl. transl. in 2 Volumes, Philadelphia, 1860; Handbuch der allgem. Kirchengesch. — volume 1, in 3 parts, Mitau, 1853-54, volume 2, part 1, 1856) belong among the best productions of the Lutheran school. To the same school belong the manuals of W.B. Lindner (Lehrbach der christl. Kirchengeschichte, Leipz. 1847-54) and H. Schmid (Lehrb. der Kirchengeschichte, Nordlingen, 1851). The manual of Ebrard (Handbuch der christl. K.-u. Dogmengesch. Erlangen, 1865-66, 4 volumes) is written from the standpoint of the United Evangelical Church, as is also, the work of Prof. F.A. Hasse (Kirchengesch. Leipz. 1864-65, 3 volumes), published after the author's death by A. K6obler. The works published by F.C. Baur, the founder of the Tubingen school on the Church history of the first six centuries (Das Christenthum u.d. christl. K. der drei ersten Jahrh. Tub. 1853, 3d ed. 1863, and Die christl. K. des 4-6 Jahrh. Tub. 1859, 2d ed. 1863), were after his death completed, so as to form a continuous and complete Church history, by the publication of three volumes, treating severally of the Church history of the Middle Ages, of the time from the Reformation to the end of the 18th century, and of the 19th century. The five volumes appeared together, under the title Geschichte d. christ. Kirche (Tubingen, 1863-64, 5 volumes). A Church history in biographies was published by F. Bohringer (Die Kirche Christi und ihre Zeugen, Zurich, 1842-58).
Among the English works we mention Milner (1797), History of the Ch. of Christ to the 16th century (revised edit. by Grantham, Lond. 1847, 4 volumes, 8vo). It has been continued by Dr. Stebbing, The Hist. Of the Church of Christ from 1530 to the Eighteenth Century (London, 1839 sq., 3 volumes, 8vo), and a further continuation by Haweis (Edinb. 1834, 8vo); Waddington, History of the Church from the earliest Ages to the Reformation (Lond. 2d edit. 3 volumes, 8vo), and Hist. of the Reform. on the Continent (Lond. 1841, 3 volumes, 8va), is neither accurate nor profound; Foulkes, Manual of Ecclesiastical Hist. (1851, to the 12th cent.); Robertson, Hist. of the Church (Lond. 2 volumes, 1854-56, 8vo) to 1122; Milman, Hist. of Christianity (Lond. 1840, 3 volumes, 8vo, reprinted in New York), and Hist. of Latin Christianity (Lond. 1854 sq. 6 volumes, to Nicholas V; 4th ed. in 9 volumes, 1867, reprinted in New York), an elaborate and at the same time brilliant work; Hardwick, Hist. of the Christ. Church, volume 1, Middle Age, volume 2, Reformation (Cambridge, 1853 and 1856, 8vo), an admirable manual, but left unfinished by the sudden death of the author; Hinds, Jeremie, and others, Church History, in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, and in a separate edition (Lond. 1850-58, 4 volumes, 8vo); Killen, The Ancient Church (Belfast and New York, 1859, 8vo), an able work from the Presbyterian standpoint. The best works produced in this field in America are those by Prof. Schaff (Hist. of the Apostolic Age, New York, 1853, 8vo, and Hist. of the Christian Ch. Volume 1 to A.D. 311, New York, 1859, volumes 2 and in to Gregory the Great, New York, 1867. They have also appeared in a German edition, Geschichte der christl. Kirche, volume 1, Mercersburg, 1851, and Leipzic, 1854; volumes 2 and 3, Leipz. 1867). They are distinguished by copiousness of material, philosophical arrangement, and attractive style. A brief work on the history of the Christian Church has been published by Dr. C. M. Butler (Phila. 1868). In Protestant France a luminous sketch of Church history was written by J. Matter (Hist.
Universelle de l'Eglise (Chretienne), Strasburg, 1829, 2 volumes, 2d edit. Paris, 1838, 4 vols.).
In addition to the above works, which (unless the contrary is specially mentioned) embrace the whole history of the Christian Church, there is a very copious literature on special periods. The works treating of the primitive Church have been given in the article on the APOSTOLIC AGE SEE APOSTOLIC AGE . An able work on the history of the first three centuries has been published by Ed. de Pressense (Histoire des trois premiers siecles, Paris, 1858, 2 volumes); also handbooks of modern Church history, by Dr. Nippold (Elberfeld, 1867) and Hagenbach (1865). For the ample literature on the period of the Reformation, see the article REFORMATION SEE REFORMATION . The literature on branches of ecclesiastical history, such as history of heresies, councils, particular religious denominations, popes, saints, countries, monasticism, crusades, etc., and that on prominent men of Church history, is given in the special articles treating of those subjects. Tables of Church history, presenting in parallel columns the various departments of history, have been compiled in Germany by Vater (Halle, 6th ed. 1833), Danz (Jena, 1838), Lange (Jena, 1841), Douay (Leipzic, 1841), Uhlemann (to the Reformation, 2d edit. Berlin, 1865); in England, by Riddle (Ecclesiastical Chronology, London, 1840); in America, by H.B. Smith (Hist. of the Ch. of Christ in chronol. Tables, New York, 1859), which work has considerably improved the plan of all its predecessors, and, in fact, is the most thorough and complete work of the kind extant. Special dictionaries of Church history were compiled by W.D. Fuhrmann (Handworterbuch der christl. Religions-u. Kirchengesch. Halle, 1826-29, 3 volumes) and Neudecker (Allyem. Leax. der Religions-u. christl. Kirchengesch. Weimar, 1834-37, 5 volumes). Periodicals specially devoted to ecclesiastical history have been published by Stoudlin, Tzschirner, and Vater (Magazin fur Religions-u. Kirchengesch, by Staudlin, 4 volumes, Hanover, 1802-5; Archiv fur alte u. neue Kirchengesch. by Staudlin u. Tzschirner, 18131822,5 volumes; Kirchenhist. Archiv, by Staudlin, Tzschirner, u. Vater, 4 vols. Halle, 1823- 26); by Ilgen, Niedner, and Kahnis (Zeitschrift fur hist. Theologie, Leipz. 1832-1868; established by Iligen; since 1845, by Niedner; since 1867 by Kahnis); by Kist and Royaards (Archief voor Kerkelijke Geschidenis, Leyden, 1829 sq.). See Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 7:622; Hagenbach; Theol. Encyklop. page 212 sq.; Wetzer u. Welte, Kirchen-Lex. 6:130; Christian Remembrancer, 43:62; Jortin, Remarks on Ecclesiastical History;
Princeton Rev. 26:300; 29:636; Stanley, Eastern Church (Introduction on the Study of Church History); Dowling, Introduction to the Critical Study of Ecclesiastical History attempted in an Account of the Progress, and a short Notice of the Sources, of the History of the Church (Lond. 1838, 8vo).
Ecclesiastical Polity denotes the principles and laws of Church government. Personal religion is a matter between the individual man and his Maker. But religion necessarily involves social relations; that is to say, it involves society; and no society of men can exist without government. True, there can be no compulsion in religion; but government is not inconsistent with freedom; nay, it is necessary to all true enjoyment of freedom in any society, religious or other. The "two conditions essential to a good religious government are, first, a good system for the formation and organization of authority; and, second, a good system of security for liberty" (Guizot, History of Civilization, N.Y. 12mo, page 121). So Richard Watson: "The Church of Christ being visible and permanent, bound to observe certain rites and to obey certain rules, the existence of government in it is necessarily supposed."
Is any form of Church polity divinely ordained? Perhaps the conclusion on this point most generally adopted at the present day is that, while certain fundamental principles of Church government are laid down in the N.T., no specific form of polity is there enjoined. Compare Mt 20:20-28, with Mr 10:525, and Mt 23:1-11. These passages clearly prohibit all arbitrary rule in the Church, and are utterly inconsistent with hierarchical assumptions; there is "but one Master, and all are brethren." The doctrine of these passages is that the members of the Church are on one level in presence of Christ the Head. We gather some elements of polity from the practice of the apostles as recorded in their acts and writings. This polity is not presented as legislative -enactments, but simply as facts, showing how the apostles acted in given cases. In the first account we find the Church composed of the apostles and other disciples, and then of the apostles and "the multitudes of them that believed." Hence it appears that the Church was at first composed entirely of members standing on an equality with one another, and that the apostles alone held a higher rank, and exercised a directing influence over the whole body, which arose from the original position in which Christ had placed them (Neander, Planting and Training, page 32). The Gospel is designed to extend to every climate, in every age, under every variety of race, of national life and character, and of civil institutions; accordingly, its settled, fundamental, necessary rules are few and simple; it establishes principles rather than rules; the very regulations which the apostles made were in many instances of local, temporary use only.
The claim of divine right on the part of the clergy to govern the Church grew up with the hierarchy. SEE EPISCOPACY. Even after the introduction of episcopacy, in the early Church, the bishops and teachers were chosen by the clergy and people; the bishop managed the ecclesiastical affairs of his diocese in council with the presbyters, and "with a due regard to the suffrages of the whole assembly of the people." "In whatever way the control of ecclesiastical affairs by the laity, or, rather, by the whole community, is exercised, there can be no question that it is in them that by the New Testament and by the first ages of Christendom the supremacy over the Church was vested. They elected their ministers. They chose their own faith, they molded their own creed, they administered their own discipline, they were the Ecclesia, 'the Assembly, 'the Church'" (Dean Stanley Address on Church and State, 1868). But the union of Church and State under Constantine consolidated the hierarchical power, and the rights of the laity gradually fell into abeyance. It is an essential doctrine of the hierarchical system that the duty of teaching includes also the power of ruling; and all Church authority therefore belongs to the clergy, who constitute the ecclesia docens. In the Roman Church the government is entirely in the hands of the organized clerical hierarchy, at the head of which stands the pope (see below).' At the Reformation, Luther adopted the doctrine of the universal priesthood (1Pe 2:5,9; Re 1:6), and this forms the basis of the Lutheran theory of Church polity, in which the rights of the laity are fairly regarded. "Properly, all Christians have a right to teach-every father his own family; and even to administer the sacraments, as even Tertullian truly observes. There is, therefore, truly a jus laicorum sacerdotale, as Grotius, Salmasius, Bohme, and Spener have maintained. Even among the Jews the teachers of the people were not priests, but laymen; and any one who had proper qualifications might teach in the synagogue or in the temple. Among the ancient Israelites the prophets were commonly not from the order of the priesthood, but, for the most part, from other tribes, classes, and orders of the people" (Knapp, Lectures on Christian Theology, Woods' translation, Phila., 1853, 8vo, page 478). Calvin (Institutes, book 4) sets out from the idea of the Church as the body of Christ. He finds a certain "mode of government delivered to us by the pure word of God" (Calvin, 4:1), and traces this form of government in the early Church until its subversion by the papal tyranny" (Calvin, chapter 5). In substance Calvin asserted the following principles:
1. That it is unwarrantable and unlawful to introduce into the government and worship of the Church anything which has not the positive sanction of Scripture.
2. That the Church, though it consists properly and primarily only of the elect or of believers, and though, therefore, visibility and organization are not essential, as Papists allege they are, to its existence, is under a positive obligation to be organized, if possible, as a visible society, and to be organized in all things, so far as possible — its office-bearers, ordinances, worship, and general administration and arrangements — in accordance with what is prescribed or indicated upon these points in the New Testament.
3. That the fundamental principles, or leading features of what is usually called Presbyterian Church government, are indicated with sufficient clearness in the New Testament, as permanently binding upon the Church.
4. That the Church should be altogether free and independent of civil control, and should conduct its own distinct and independent government by presbyters and synods, while the civil power is called upon to afford it protection and support.
5. That human laws, whether about civil or ecclesiastical things, and whether proceeding from civil or ecclesiastical authorities, do not, per se — i.e., irrespective of their being sanctioned by the authority of God — impose an obligation upon the conscience. Calvin professed to find all these principles more or less clearly taught in Scripture (B. and F. Ev. Rev. April, 1860, page 464). On this principle Tulloch remarks (Leaders of the Reformation, page 179 sq.) that Calvin went too far in asserting that Presbyterianism "is the form of the divine kingdom presented in Scripture." "Presbyterianism became the peculiar Church order of a free Protestantism. It rested, beyond doubt, on a true divine order, else it never could have attained this historical success. But it not merely asserted itself to be wise and conformable to Scripture, and therefore divine, but it claimed the direct impress of a divine right for all its details and applications. This gave it strength and influence in a rude and uncritical age, but it planted in it from the first an element of corruption. The great conception which it embodied was impaired at the root by being fixed in a stagnant and inflexible system, which became identified with the conception as not only equally but specially divine" (page 181). "But were not these 'elements,' some will say, really Biblical? Did not Calvin establish his Church polity and Church discipline upon Scripture? and is not this a warrantable course? Assuredly not, in the spirit in which he did it. The fundamental source of the mistake is here. The Christian Scriptures are a revelation of divine truth, and not a revelation of Church polity. They not only do not lay down the outline of such a polity, but they do not even give the adequate and conclusive hints of one; and for the best of all reasons, that it would have been entirely contrary to the spirit of Christianity to have done so; and because, in point of fact, the conditions of human progress do not admit of the imposition of any unvarying system of government, ecclesiastical or civil. The system adapts itself to the life, everywhere expands with it, or narrows with it, but is nowhere in any particular form the absolute condition of life. A definite outline of Church polity, therefore, or a definite code of social ethics, is nowhere given in the New Testament, and the spirit of it is entirely hostile to the absolute assertion of either the one or the other" (pages 182, 183). Dr. Tulloch, however, goes too far himself in saying that "Presbyterianism not merely asserted itself to be wise and conformable to Scripture, and therefore divine, but it claimed the direct impress of a divine right for all its details and applications.' This statement is untrue. There may be differences of opinion among Presbyterians as to the extent to which a divine right should be claimed for the subordinate features of the system, and some, no doubt, have gone to an extreme in the extent of their claims; but no Presbyterians of eminence have ever claimed 'the direct impress of a divine right for all the details and applications' of their system. They have claimed a divine right, or Scripture sanction, only for its fundamental principles, its leading features. It is these only which they allege are indicated in Scripture in such a way as to be binding upon the Church in all ages. And it is just the same ground that is taken by all the more intelligent and judicious among jure divino prelatists and Congregationalists" (Brit. and For. Ev. Review, April, 1860). Moreover, Calvin did not "unchurch" ecclesiastical bodies which should not choose to adopt the Presbyterian regimen. He introduced his scheme where he had influence to do so; and he employed all the vigor of his talents in pressing upon distant churches the propriety of regulating, in conformity with his sentiments, their ecclesiastical government. But, at the same time, he says, "Wherever the preaching of the Gospel is heard with reverence, and the sacraments are not neglected, there at that time there is a church." Speaking of faithful pastors, he describes them to be "those who by the doctrine of Christ lead men to true piety, who properly administer the sacred mysteries, and who preserve and exercise right discipline." The Reformers and greatest writers of the Church of England held that no form of Church polity is enjoined in Scripture. Cranmer explicitly declared that bishops and priests were of the same order at the commencement of Christianity; and this was the opinion of several of his distinguished contemporaries. "Holding this maxim, their support of episcopacy must have proceeded from views of expediency, or, in some instances, from a conviction which prevailed very generally at this early period, that it belonged to the supreme civil magistrate to regulate the spiritual no less than the political government; an idea involving in it that no one form of ecclesiastical polity is of divine institution. At a later period, during the reign of queen Elizabeth, we find the same conviction, that it was no violation of Christianity to choose different modes of administering the Church. Archbishop Whitgift, who distinguished himself by the zeal with which he supported the English hierarchy, frequently maintains that the form of discipline is not particularly, and by name, set down in Scripture; and he also plainly asserts "that no form of Church government is by the Scriptures prescribed or commanded to the Church of God" (Watson. s.v.). Hooker maintains this principle with great vigor in his Ecclesiastical Polity (book 3), where the following principles are laid down:
1. The Scripture, though the only standard and law of doctrine, is not a rule for discipline.
2. The practice of the apostles, as they acted according to circumstances, is not an invariable rule for the Church.
3. Many things are left indifferent, and may be done without sin, although not expressly directed in Scripture.
4. The Church, like other societies, may make laws for her own government, provided they interfere not with Scripture.
5. Human authority may interpose where the Scripture is silent.
6. Hence the Church may appoint ceremonies within the limits of the Scriptures. Stillingfleet indicates the same view at large in his Irenicum: "Those things may be said to be jure divino which are not determined one way or other by any positive law of God, but are left wholly as things lawful to the prudence of men, to determine them in a way agreeable to natural right and the general rules of the Word of God." His conclusion is that the reason or ground of Church government, the ratio regiminis ecclesiastici, is of divine right, but that the special mode or system of it is left to human discretion. In other words, it is a thing forever and immutably right that the Church should be under a definite form of government. This is undoubtedly justum. In no other way can the peace and unity of the Church be secured. But it is by no means equally indubitable what this form of government must be. The necessary end may be secured under diverse forms, as in the case of civil government. "Though the end of all be the same, yet monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy are in themselves lawful means for attaining the same common end... . So the same reason of Church government may call for an equality in the persons acting as governors of the Church in one place which may call for superiority and subordination in another" (Irenicum, page 40 sq., Phila. 1840).
In the modern Church the Romanists and High Episcopalians claim divine right for their system of government. The Roman Catholic doctrine is thus stated (The Catechism of the Council of Trent, published by command of pope Pius V, Donovan's translation, Baltimore, n.d., 8vo): "Sitting in that chair in which Peter the prince of the apostles sat to the close of life, the Catholic Church recognizes in his person the most exalted degree of dignity and the full amplitude of jurisdiction — a dignity and a jurisdiction not based on a synodal or other human constitutions, but emanating from no less an authority than God himself. As the successor of St. Peter, and the true and legitimate vicar of Jesus Christ, he therefore presides over the universal Church, the father and governor of all the faithful, of bishops also, and of all other prelates, be their station; rank, or power what they may" (page 222). And (page 82), speaking of the power of the keys, "it is a power not given to all; but to bishops and priests only." The following extracts from bishop Forbes' Explanation of the Thirty-nine Articles (London and New York, 1867-8, 2 volumes, 8vo) present a High-Church, Episcopalian view of this subject: "Thus one department of the Church is to be called the Ecclesia docens. To the hierarchy, as distinguished from the great body of Christians, is committed the duty of handing down and communicating these truths" (Art. 19, page 268 of volume 1)... . "It having been shown in the preceding article that the Ecclesia docens hath power to decree rites and ceremonies, and bath authority in controversies of faith, we come to consider one great channel or organ of that power — the oecumenical council. Given that the Church has this power, by whom or how is it to be exercised? By whom but by the apostolical ministry, who are appointed for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; by those to whom was committed the power of the keys, who had, among: other duties connected with admission to communion, to test the orthodoxy of applicants; by those whose important office it was to hand on the form of sound words which they had received to their successors" (Art. 21 page 288-9 of volume 1)... . "Our Lord is the immediate founder of the hierarchy, because it was he who ordained the apostles bishops when he said to them, 'As my, Father sent me, so send I you; receive the Holy Ghost: go ye into all the world and make disciples of every creature; whatsoever ye shall bind or loose on earth shall be bound or loosed in heaven.' These words denote a power without limit; its measure is the wants of humanity, its field of action the world. At the beginning of the Church there was one general episcopate" (Art. 36, page 699 of volume 2). "It is needless to add that the discipline as well as the doctrine of the Church was a purely internal matter, in which the state had no interest nor control... . The power of binding and loosing was the charter of all Church discipline, for it relegated the sanction of the visible Church into the unseen world. If salvation depended, clave non errante, upon Church membership, and Church membership, under certain laws, was in the hands of the hierarchy, it placed the control of the Church absolutely in their hands" (Art. 37, pages 728-9 of volume 2). The moderate Episcopalians (including Methodists and Moravians) generally hold that episcopacy is in harmony with Scripture, but is not divinely ordained as essential. For a temperate argument in favor of the conformity of the Episcopal Church organization to the Scriptures and the practice of the early Church, see Browne's Exposition on the Thirty-nine Articles (Amer. ed. N.Y. 1865, Art. 23, pages 549-576). Archbishop Whately (The Kingdom of Christ; 2d ed. N.Y. 1843, 12mo) says (page 93): "Thus a further confirmation is furnished of the view that has been taken, viz., that it was the plan of the sacred writers to lay down clearly the principles on which Christian churches were to be formed and governed, leaving the mode of application of those principles undetermined and discretionary." And again (page 213): "They," i.e., reformers compelled to separate, "have an undoubted right, according to the principles I have been endeavoring to establish, to appoint such orders of Christian ministers, and to allot to each such functions as they judge most conducive to the great ends of the society; they may assign to the whole, or to a portion of these, the office of ordaining others as their successors; they may appoint one superintendent of the rest, or several, under the title of patriarch, archbishop, bishop, moderator, or any other that they may prefer; they may make the appointment of them for life or for a limited period by election or by rotation, with a greater or a less extensive jurisdiction." Mr. Wesley (Works, 7:284, N.Y. 1835) says: "As to my own judgment, I still believe the episcopal form of Church government to be scriptural and apostolical. 'I mean, well agreeing with the practice and writings of the apostles. But that it is prescribed in Scripture I do not believe.'" Some Presbyterian writers claim that the Presbyterian polity is the only one divinely ordained. (See especially The Divine Right of Church Government, wherein it is proved that the Presbyterian government, by preaching and ruling elders, in sessional, presbyterial, and synodical assemblies, may lay the only lawful claim to a divine right according to the Holy Scriptures, by sundry ministers of Christ within the city of London. With an Appendix, containing extracts from some of the best authors who have written on Church government, N.Y. 1844, 12mo.) The same ground is taken by many of the advocates of the Congregational system (see especially Dexter, On Congregationalism, Boston, 1865, 8vo, chapter 2).
The special forms of ecclesiastical polity adopted by the various churches will be found stated under the name of each Church in its alphabetical place in this Cyclopoedia. We only note, in conclusion, one or two points in which all forms are concerned.
1. Synodical government (by councils, synods, assemblies, conferences, etc.) prevails in all the great churches of the world except the Independent (including Congregationalists and Baptists). Synods have "been the most universally received type of Church government in all ages; even the fact that they have undergone so many modifications only serving to bring out more prominently the unanimity with which they have been upheld on all sides, in the midst of so much discordancy respecting almost every other question connected with ecclesiastical polity. The Greek Church, glorying in its agreement with antiquity, will decide nothing of consequence without them still; in the Latin Church it has never ceased to be customary to appeal to them from the pope; the Church of England, which upholds, and the Church of Geneva, which has abjured episcopacy, have made them part and parcel of their respective ideals; in Russia it is the Holy Governing Synod by which its national Church affects to be ruled. More than this, they were ecclesiastical synods that introduced the principle of representative government to mediaeval Europe" (Foulkes, Christendom's Divisions, 1:11).
2. The right of the laity, as an integral part of the Church, to share in its government, is admitted by all churches except the great hierarchical bodies. In the Church of England, Parliament (a lay body) is the central power in the government of the Church. In the Protestant Episcopal Church lay delegates are admitted to the Diocesan and General Conventions. In the Presbyterian Church they find their place in Presbytery, Synod, and Assembly. In the Independent churches the equality of laymen and ministers as to ecclesiastical rights and powers is fundamental. In the Methodist Episcopal Church the supreme judicatory (the General Conference) is as yet (1869) an exclusively clerical body. But that body has itself admitted the rights of the laity to the fullest extent by submitting to a popular vote (held in June, 1869) the fundamental question whether lay delegation shall be practically incorporated into the ecclesiastical system or not. The vote is by a very large majority in favor of lay delegation, and now (July, 1869) only the concurrence in the proposed changes of the Restrictive Rules of three fourths of all the members of the Annual Conferences, present and voting thereon, is required for the admission of lay delegates to the next General Conference in 1872. In the Methodist Episcopal Church South, this change in its polity was, by the General Conference held in 1866, likewise submitted to the Annual Conferences, and, having received the requisite approval, lay delegation has been incorporated into its economy. This subject of controversy in the Methodist Episcopal churches of the United States seems, therefore, now on the eve of settlement. For other points related to ecclesiastical polity, SEE CHURCH; SEE CHURCH AND STATE; SEE DISCIPLINE; SEE EPISCOPACY; SEE LAITY.
Literature. — Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (Works, volume 1); Potter, Discourse of Church Government (Works, volume 2); Stillingfleet, Irenicum (Philad. 1842, 8vo); Watson, Institutes, part 4; Litton, Church of Christ (Lond. 1851, 8vo); Barrett, Ministry and Polity of the Christian Church (Lond. 1854, 12mo); King, Primitive Church (N.Y. 12mo); Stevens, Church Polity (N.Y. 1852, 12mo); Coleman, Primitive Church, page 38-50; Wilson, On Church Government; Davidson (Congregational), Ecclesiastical Polity of the New Testament (Lond. 1854, 12mo); Morris (Bishop), On Church Polity (18mo); Fillmore Ecclesiastical Polity, its
Forms and Philosophy; Ripley (Congregational), Church Polity (Boston, 1867, 18mo); Garratt, Inquiry into the Scriptural View of the Constitution of a Christian Church (Lond. 1848); New Englander, August, 1860, art. 6 (Congregational). Leicester A. Sawyer, Organic Christianity, or the Church of God, saith its Officers and Government, and its Divisions and Variations, both in ancient, mediaeval, and modern Times (Boston, 1854, 12mo; Congregational).