Page images

useless records of either uncertain or unsound antiquity; which, if we hold fast to the grounds of the reformed church, can neither skill of us, nor we of it, so oft as it would lead us to the broken reed of tradition. If it be of divine constitution, to satisfy us fully in that, the Scripture only is able, it being the only book left us of divine authority, not in any thing more divine than in the all-sufficiency it hath to furnish us, as with all other spiritual knowledge, so with this in particular, setting out to us a perfect man of God, accomplished to all the good works of his charge: through all which book can be nowhere, either by plain text or solid reasoning, found any difference between a bishop and a presbyter, save that they be two names to signify the same order. Notwithstanding this clearness, and that by all evidence of argument, Timothy and Titus (whom our prelates claim to imitate only in the controlling part of their office) had rather the vicegerency of an apostleship committed to them, than the ordinary charge of a bishopric, as being men of an extraordinary calling; yet to verify that which St. Paul foretold of succeeding times, when men began to have itching ears, then not contented with the plentiful and wholesome fountains of the gospel, they began after their own lusts to heap to themselves teachers, and, as if the divine Scripture wanted a supplement, and were to be eked out, they cannot think any doubt resolved, and any doctrine confirmed, unless they run to that indigested heap and fry of authors which they call antiquity. Whatsoever time, or the heedless hand of blind chance, hath drawn down from of old to this present in her huge drag-net, whether fish or sea-weed, shells or shrubs, unpicked, unchosen, those are the fathers. Seeing, therefore, some men, deeply conversant in books, have had so little care of late to give the world a better account of their reading, than by divulging needless tractates stuffed with specious names. of Ignatius and Polycarpus; with fragments of old martyrologies and legends, to distract and stagger the multitude of credulous readers, and mislead them from their strong guards and places of safety, under the tuition of holy writ; it came into my thoughts to persuade myself, setting all distances and nice respects aside, that I could do religion and my country no better service for the time, than doing my utmost endeavour to recall the people of God from this vain foraging after straw, and to reduce them to their firm stations under the standard of the gospel; by making appear to them, first the insufficiency, next the inconveniency, and lastly the impiety of these gay testimonies, that their great doctors would bring them to dote on. And in performing this, I shall not strive to be more exact in method, than as their citations lead me.

First, therefore, concerning Ignatius shall be treated fully, when the author shall come to insist upon some places in his epistles. Next, to prove a succession of twenty-seven bishops from Timothy, he cites one Leontius bishop of Magnesia, out of the 11th act of the Chalcedonian council: this is but an obscure and single witness, and for his faithful dealing who shall commend him to us, with this his catalogue of bishops? What know we further of him, but that he might be as factious and false a bishop as Leontius of Antioch, that was a hundred years his predecessor? For neither the praise of his wisdom, or his virtue, hath left him memorable to posterity, but only this doubtful relation, which we must take at his word: and how shall this testimony receive credit from his word, whose very name had scarce been thought on but for this bare testimony? But they will say, he was a member of the council, and that may deserve to gain nim credit with us. I will not stand to argue, as yet with fair allowance I might, that we may as justly suspect there were some bad and slippery

[ocr errors]

men in that council, as we know there are wont to be in our convocations: nor shall I need to plead at this time, that nothing hath been more attempted, nor with more subtlety brought about, both anciently by other heretics, and modernly by papists, than to falsify the editions of the councils, of which we have none, but from our adversaries' hands, whence canons, acts, and whole spurious councils are thrust upon us; and hard it would be to prove in all, which are legitimate, against the lawful rejection of an urgent and free disputer. But this I purpose not to take advantage of; for what avails it to wrangle about the corrupt editions of councils, whenas we know that many years ere this time, which was almost five hundred years after Christ, the councils themselves were foully corrupted with ungodly prelatism, and so far plunged into worldly ambition, as that it stood them upon long ere this to uphold their now well tasted hierarchy by what fair pretext soever they could, in like manner as they had now learned to defend many other gross corruptions by as ancient, and supposed authentic tradition as episcopacy? And what hope can we have of this whole council to warrant us a matter, four hundred years at least above their time, concerning the distinction of bishop and presbyter, whenas we find them such blind judges of things before their eyes, in their decrees of precedency between bishop and bishop, acknowledging Rome for the apostolic throne, and Peter, in that see, for the rock, the basis, and the foundation of the catholic church and faith, contrary to the interpretation of more ancient fathers? And therefore from a mistaken text, did they give to Leo, as Peter's successor, a kind of pre-eminence above the whole council as Euagrius expresses; (for now the pope was come to that height, as to arrogate to himself by his vicars incompatible honours;) and yet having thus yielded to Rome the iniversal primacy, for spiritual reasons as they thought, they conclude their sitting with a carnal and ambitious decree, to give the second place of dignity to Constantinople from reason of state, because it was new Rome; and by like consequence doubtless of earthly privileges annexed to each other city, was the bishop thereof to take his place.

I may say again therefore, what hope can we have of such a council, as, beginning in the spirit, ended thus in the flesh? Much rather should we attend to what Eusebius, the ancientest writer extant of church-history, notwithstanding all the helps he had above these, confesses in the 4th chapter of his third book, That it was no easy matter to tell who were those that were left bishops of the churches by the apostles, more than by what a man might gather from the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles of St. Paul, in which number he reckons Timothy for bishop of Ephesus. So as may plainly appear, that this tradition of bishoping Timothy over Ephesus was but taken for granted out of that place in St. Paul, which was only an intreating him to tarry at Ephesus to do something left him in charge. Now, if Eusebius, a famous writer, thought it so difficult to tell who were appointed bishops by the apostles, much more may we think it difficult to Leontius, an obscure bishop, speaking beyond his own diocese: and certainly much more hard was it for either of them to determine what kind of bishops these were, if they had so little means to know who they were; and much less reason have we to stand to their definitive sentence, seeing they have been so rash to raise up such lofty bishops and bishoprics out of places in Scripture merely misunderstood. Thus while we leave the Bible to gad after the traditions of the ancients, we hear the ancients themselves confessing, that what knowledge they had in this point was such as they had gathered from the Bible.

Since therefore antiquity itself hath turned over the controversy to that

sovereign book which we had fondly straggled from, we shall do better not to detain this venerable apparition of Leontius any longer, but dismiss him with his list of seven and twenty, to sleep unmolested in his former obscurity.

Now for the word gors, it is more likely that Timothy never knew the word in that sense: it was the vanity of those next succeeding times not to content themselves with the simplicity of scripture-phrase, but must make a new lexicon to name themselves by; one will be called gos, or antistes, a word of precedence; another would be termed a gnostic, as Clemens; a third sacerdos, or priest, and talks of altars; which was a plain sign that their doctrine began to change, for which they must change their expressions. But that place of Justin Martyr serves rather to convince the author, than to make for him, where the name goT's Tradiλpar, the president or pastor of the brethren, (for to what end is he their president, but to teach them?) cannot be limited to signify a prelatical bishop, but rather communicates that Greek appellation to every ordinary presbyter: for there he tells what the Christians had wont to do in their several congregations, to read and expound, to pray and administer, all which he says the goats, or antistes, did. Are these the offices only of a bishop, or shall we think that every congregation where these things were done, which he attributes to this antistes, had a bishop present among them? Unless they had as many antistites as presbyters, which this place rather seems to imply; and so we may infer even from their own alleged authority," that antistes was nothing else but presbyter."

As for that nameless treatise of Timothy's martyrdom, only cited by Photius that lived almost nine hundred years after Christ, it handsomely follows in that author the martyrdom of the seven sleepers, that slept (I tell you but what mine author says) three hundred and seventy and two years; for so long they had been shut up in a cave without meat, and were found living. This story of Timothy's Ephesian bishopric, as it follows in order, so may it for truth, if it only subsist upon its own authority, as it doth; for Photius only saith he read it, he does not aver it. That other legendary piece found among the lives of the saints, and sent us from the shop of the Jesuits at Louvain, does but bear the name of Polycrates; how truly, who can tell? and shall have some more weight with us, when Polycrates can persuade us of that which he affirms in the same place of Eusebius's fifth book, that St. John was a priest, and wore the golden breastplate: and why should he convince us more with his traditions of Timothy's episcopacy, than he could convince Victor bishop of Rome with his traditions concerning the feast of Easter, who, not regarding his irrefragable instances of examples taken from Philip and his daughters that were prophetesses, or from Polycarpus, no nor from St. John himself, excommunicated both him, and all the Asian churches, for celebrating their Easter judaically? He may therefore go back to the seven bishops his kinsmen, and make his moan to them, that we esteem his traditional ware as lightly as Victor did.

Those of Theodoret, Felix, and John of Antioch, are authorities of later times, and therefore not to be received for their antiquity's sake to give in evidence concerning an allegation, wherein writers, so much their elders, we see so easily miscarry. What if they had told us that Peter, who, as they say, left Ignatius bishop of Antioch, went afterwards to Rome, and was bishop there, as this Ignatius, and Irenæus and all antiquity with one mouth deliver? there be nevertheless a number of learned and wise protestants, who have written, and will maintain, that Peter's being at Rome as bishop cannot stand with concordance of Scripture.


Now come the epistles of Ignatius to show us, first, that Onesimus was bishop of Ephesus; next, to assert the difference of bishop and presbyter: wherein I wonder that men, teachers of the protestant religion, make ne more difficulty of imposing upon our belief a supposititious offspring of some dozen epistles, whereof five are rejected as spurious, containing in them heresies and trifles; which cannot agree in chronology with Ignatius, entitling him archbishop of Antioch Theopolis, which name of Theopolis that city had not till Justinian's time, long after, as Cedrenus mentions; which argues both the barbarous time, and the unskilful fraud of him that foisted this epistle upon Ignatius. In the epistle to those of Tarsus, he condemns them for ministers of Satan, that say, "Christ is God above all." To the Philippians, them that kept their Easter as the Asian churches, as Polycarpus did, and them that fasted upon any Saturday or Sunday, except one, he counts as those that had slain the Lord. To those of Antioch, he salutes the subdeacons, chanters, porters, and exorcists, as if these had been orders of the church in his time: those other epistles less questioned, are yet so interlarded with corruptions, as may justly endue us with a wholesome suspicion of the rest. As to the Trallians, he writes, that "a bishop hath power over all beyond all government and authority whatsoever." Surely then no pope can desire more than Ignatius attributes to every bishop; but what will become then of the archbishops and primates, if every bishop in Ignatius's judgment be as supreme as a pope? To the Ephesians, near the very place from whence they fetch their proof for episcopacy, there stands a line that casts an ill hue upon all the epistle; "Let no man err," saith he ; " unless a man be within the rays or enclosure of the altar, he is deprived of the bread of life." I say not but this may be stretched to a figurative construction; but yet it has an ill look, especially being followed beneath with the mention of I know not what sacrifices. In the other epistle to Smyrna, wherein is written that "they should follow their bishop as Christ did his Father, and the presbytery as the apostles ;" not to speak of the insulse, and ill laid comparison, this cited place lies upon the very brim of a noted corruption, which, had they that quote this passage ventured to let us read, all men would have readily seen what grain the testimony had been of, where it is said, "that it is not lawful without a bishop to baptize, nor to offer, for to do sacrifice." What can our church make of these phrases but scandalous? And but a little further he plainly falls to contradict the spirit of God in Solomon, judged by the words themselves; "My son," saith he, "honour God and the king; but I say, honour God, and the bishop as high-priest bearing the image of God according to his ruling, and of Christ according to his priesting, and after him honour the king." Excellent Ignatius! can ye blame the prelates for making much of this epistle? Certainly if this epistle can serve you to set a bishop above a presbyter, it may serve you next to set him above a king. These, and other like places in abundance through all those short epistles, must either be adulterate, or else Ignatius was not Ignatius, nor a martyr, but most adulterate, and corrupt himself. In the midst, therefore, of so many forgeries, where shall we fix to dare say this is Ignatius? As for his style, who knows it, so disfigured and interrupted as it is? except they think that where they meet with any thing sound, and orthodoxal, there they find Ignatius. And then they believe him not for his own authority, but for a truth's sake, which they derive from elsewhere: to what end then should they cite him as authentic for episcopacy, when they cannot know what is authentic in him, but by the judgment which they brought with them, and not by any judgment which they might safely learn from him? How can they bring satisfaction

from such an author, to whose very essence the reader must be fain to contribute his own understanding? Had God ever intended that we should have sought any part of useful instruction from Ignatius, doubtless he would not have so ill provided for our knowledge, as to send him to our hands in this broken and disjointed plight; and if he intended no such thing we do injuriously in thinking to taste better the pure evangelic manna, by seasoning our mouths with the tainted scraps and fragments of an unknown table; and searching among the verminous and polluted rags dropped overworn from the toiling shoulders of time, with these deformedly to quilt and interlace the entire, the spotless, and undecaying robe of truth, the daughter not of time, but of Heaven, only bred up here below in Christian hearts, between two grave and holy nurses, the doctrine and discipline of the gospel.

Next follows Irenæus bishop of Lyons, who is cited to affirm, that Polycarpus "was made bishop of Smyrna by the apostles ;" and this, it may seem, none could better tell than he who had both seen and heard Polycarpus: but when did he hear him? Himself confesses to Florinus, when he was a boy. Whether that age in Irenæus may not be liable to many mistakings; and whether a boy may be trusted to take an exact account of the manner of a church constitution, and upon what terms, and within what limits, and with what kind of commission Polycarpus received his charge, let a man consider, ere he be credulous. It will not be denied that he might have seen Polycarpus in his youth, a man of great eminence in the church, to whom the other presbyters might give way for his virtue, wisdom, and the reverence of his age; and so did Anicetus, bishop of Rome, even in his own city, give him a kind of priority in administering the sacrament, as may be read in Eusebius: but that we should hence conclude a distinct and superior order from the young observation of Irenæus, nothing yet alleged can warrant us; unless we shall believe such as would face us down, that Calvin and, after him, Beza were bishops of Geneva, because that in the unsettled state of the church, while things were not fully composed, their worth and learning cast a greater share of business upon them, and directed men's eyes principally towards them: and yet these men were the dissolvers of episcopacy. We see the same necessity in state affairs; Brutus, that expelled the kings out of Rome, was for the time forced to be as it were a king himself, till matters were set in order, as in a free commonwealth. He that had seen Pericles lead the Athenians which way he listed, haply would have said he had been their prince: and yet he was but a powerful and eloquent man in a democracy, and had no more at any time than a temporary and elective sway, which was in the will of the people when to abrogate. And it is most likely that in the church, they which came after these apostolic men, being less in merit, but bigger in ambition, strove to invade those privileges by intrusion and plea of right, which Polycarpus, and others like him possessed, from the voluntary surrender of men subdued by the excellency of their heavenly gifts; which because their successors had not, and so could neither have that authority, it was their policy to divulge that the eminence which Polycarpus and his equals enjoyed, was by right of constitution, not by free will of condescending. And yet thus far Irenæus makes against them, as in that very place to call Polycarpus an apostolical presbyter. But what fidelity his relations had in general, we cannot sooner learn than by Eusebius, who, near the end of his third book, speaking of Papias, a very ancient writer, one that had heard St. John, and was known to many that had seen and been acquainted with others of the apostles, but being of a shallow wit, and not understanding those traditions which he received, filled his writings

« PreviousContinue »