« PreviousContinue »
with many new doctrines, and fabulous conceits: he tells us there, that "divers ecclesiastical men, and Irenæus among the rest, while they looked at his antiquity, became infected with his errors." Now, if Irenæus was so rash as to take unexamined opinions from an author of so small capacity, when he was a man, we should be more rash ourselves to rely upon those observations which he made when he was a boy. And this inay be a sufficient reason to us why we need no longer muse at the spreading of many idle traditions so soon after the apostles, while such as this Papias had the throwing them about, and the inconsiderate zeal of the next age, that heeded more the person than the doctrine, had the gathering them up. Wherever a man, who had been any way conversant with the apostles, was to be found, thither flew all the inquisitive ears, although the exercise of right instructing was changed into the curiosity of impertinent fabling. where the mind was to be edified with solid doctrine, there the fancy was soothed with solemn stories: with less fervency was studied what St. Paul or St. John had written, than was listened to one that could say, Here he taught, here he stood, this was his stature; and thus he went habited; and, O happy this house that harboured him, and that cold stone whereon he rested, this village wherein he wrought such a miracle, and that pavement bedewed with the warm effusion of his last blood, that sprouted up into eternal roses to crown his martyrdom. Thus, while all their thoughts were poured out upon circumstances, and the gazing after such men as had sat at table with the apostles, (many of which Christ hath professed, yea, though they had cast out devils in his name, he will not know at the last day,) by this means they lost their time, and truanted in the fundamental grounds of saving knowledge, as was seen shortly by their writings. Lastly, for Irenæus, we have cause to think him less judicious in his reports from hand to hand of what the apostles did, when we find him so negligent in keeping the faith which they wrote, as to say in his third book against heresies, that "the obedience of Mary was the cause of salvation to herself and all mankind;" and in his fifth book, that " as Eve was seduced to fly God, so the virgin Mary was persuaded to obey God, that the virgin Mary might be made the advocate of the virgin Eve." Thus if Irenæus, for his nearness to the apostles, must be the patron of episcopacy to us, it is no marvel though he be the patron of idolatry to the papist, for the same cause. To the epistle of those brethren of Smyrna, that write the martyrdom of Polycarpus, and style him an apostolical and prophetical doctor, and bishop of the church of Smyrna, I could be content to give some credit for the great honour and affection which I see those brethren bear him; and not undeservedly, if it be true, which they there say, that he was a prophet, and had a voice from heaven to comfort him at his death, which they could hear, but the rest could not for the noise and tumult that was in the place; and besides, if his body were so precious to the Christians, that he was never wont to pull off his shoes for one or other that still strove to have the office, that they might come in to touch his feet; yet a light scruple or two I would gladly be resolved in: if Polycarpus (who as they say, was a prophet that never failed in what he foretold) had declared to his friends, that he knew, by vision, he should die no other death than burning, how it came to pass that the fire, when it came to proof, would not do his work, out starting off like a full sail from the mast, did but reflect a golden light upon his unviolated limbs, exhaling such a sweet odour, as if all the incense of Arabia had been burning; insomuch that when the billmen saw that the fire was overawed, and could not do the deed, one of them steps to him and stabs him with a sword, at which wound such abundance of
blood gushed forth as quenched the fire. By all this relation it appears not how the fire was guilty of his death, and then how can his prophecy be fulfilled? Next, how the standers-by could be so soon weary of such a glorious sight, and such a fragrant smell, as to hasten the executioner to put out the fire with the martyr's blood; unless perhaps they thought, as in all perfumes, that the smoke would be more odorous than the flame: yet these good brethren say he was bishop of Smyrna. No man questions it, if bishop and presbyter were anciently all one, and how does it appear by any thing in this testimony that they were not? If among his other high titles of prophetical, apostolical, and most admired of those times, he be also styled bishop of the church of Smyrna in a kind of speech, which the rhetoricans call war' iox, for his excellence sake, as being the most famous of all the Smyrnian presbyters; it cannot be proved neither from this nor that other place of Irenæus, that he was therefore in distinct and monarchical order above the other presbyters; it is more probable, that if the whole presbytery had been as renowned as he, they would have termed every one of them severally bishop of Smyrna. Hence it is, that we read sometimes of two bishops in one place; and had all the presbyters there been of like worth, we might perhaps have read of twenty.
Tertullian accosts us next, (for Polycrates hath had his answer,) whose testimony, state but the question right, is of no more force to deduce episcopacy, than the two former. He says that the church of Smyrna had Polycarpus placed there by John, and the church of Rome, Clement ordained by Peter; and so the rest of the churches did show what bishops they had received by the appointment of the apostles. None of this will be contradicted, for we have it out of the Scripture that bishops or presbyters, which were the same, were left by the apostles in every church, and they might perhaps give some special charge to Clement, or Polycarpus, or Linus, and put some special trust in them for the experience they had of their faith and constancy; it remains yet to be evinced out of this and the like places, which will never be, that the word bishop is otherwise taken, than in the language of St. Paul and The Acts, for an order above. presbyters. We grant them bishops, we grant them worthy men, we grant them placed in several churches by the apostles; we grant that Irenæus and Tertullian affirm this; but that they were placed in a superior order above the presbytery, show from all these words why we should grant. It is not enough to say the apostle left this man bishop in Rome, and that other in Ephesus, but to show when they altered their own decree set down by St. Paul, and made all the presbyters underlings to one bishop. But suppose Tertullian had made an imparity where none was originally, should he move us, that goes about to prove an imparity between God the Father, and God the Son, as these words import in his book against Praxeas? "The Father is the whole substance, but the Son a derivation, and portion of the whole as he himself professes, because the Eather is greater than me." Believe him now for a faithful relater of tradition, whom you see such an unfaithful expounder of the Scripture: besides, in his time, all allowable tradition was now lost. For this same author, whom you bring to testify the ordination of Clement to the bishopric of Rome by Peter, testifies also, in the beginning of his treatise concerning chastity, that the bishop of Rome did then use to send forth his edicts by the name of Pontifex Maximus, and Episcopus Episcoporum, chief priest, and bishop of bishops: for shame then do not urge that authority to keep up a bishop, that will necessarily engage you to set up a pope. As little can your advantage be from Hegesippus, an historian of the same time, not VOL. I.
extant but cited by Eusebius: his words are, that "in every city all things so stood in his time as the law, and the prophets, and our Lord did preach." If they stood so, then stood not bishops above presbyters; for what our Lord and his disciples taught, God be thanked, we have no need to go learn of him and you may as well hope to persuade us out of the same author, that James the brother of our Lord was a Nazarite, and that to him only it was lawful to enter into the holy of holies; that his food was not upon any thing that had life, fish or flesh; that ne used no woollen garments, but only linen, and so as he trifles on.
If therefore the tradition of the church were now grown so ridiculous, and disconsenting from the doctrine of the apostles, even in those points which were of least moment to men's particular ends, how well may we be assured it was much more degenerated in point of episcopacy and precedency, things which could afford such plausible pretences, such commodious traverses for ambition and avarice to lurk behind!
As for those Britain bishops which you cite, take heed, what you do; for our Britain bishops, less ancient than these, were remarkable for nothing more than their poverty, as Sulpitius Severus and Beda can remember you of examples good store.
Lastly, (for the fabulous Metaphrastes is not worth an answer,) that authority of Clemens Alexandrinus is not to be found in all his works; and wherever it be extant, it is in controversy whether it be Clement's or no; or if it were, it says only that St. John in some places constituted bishops: questionless he did, but where does Clemens say he set them above presbyters? No man will gainsay the constitution of bishops. but the raising them to a superior and distinct order above presbyters, seeing the gospel makes them one and the same thing, a thousand such allegations as these will not give prelatical episcopacy one chapel of ease above a parish church. And thus much for this cloud I cannot say rather than petty fog of witnesses, with which episcopal men would cast a mist before us, to deduce their exalted episcopacy from apostolic times. Now, although, as all men well know, it be the wonted shift of error, and fond opinion, when they find themselves outlawed by the Bible, and forsaken of sound reason, to betake them with all speed to their old startinghole of tradition, and that wild and overgrown covert of antiquity, thinking to farm there at large room, and find good stabling, yet thus much their own deified antiquity betrays them to inform us, that tradition hath had very seldom or never the gift of persuasion; as that which church-histories report of those east and western paschalists, formerly spoken of, will declare. Who would have thought that Polycarpus on the one side could have erred in what he saw St. John do, or Anicetus bishop of Rome on the other side, in what he or some of his friends might pretend to have seen St. Peter or St. Paul do; and yet neither of these could persuade either when to keep Easter? The like frivolous contention troubled the primitive English churches, while Colmanus and Wilfride on either side deducing their opinions, the one from the undeniable example of Saint John, and the learned bishop Anatolius, and lastly the miraculous Columba, the other from Saint Peter and the Nicene council; could gain no ground each of other, till King Oswy, perceiving no likelihood of ending the controversy that way, was fain to decide it himself, good king, with that small knowledge wherewith those times had furnished him. So when those pious Greek emperors began, as Cedrenus relates, to put down monks, and abolish images, the old idolaters, finding themselves blasted, and driven back by the prevailing light of the Scripture, sent out their sturdy monks
called the Abramites, to allege for images the ancient fathers Dionysius, and this our objected Irenæus: nay, they were so highflown in their antiquity, that they undertook to bring the apostles, and Luke the evangelist, yea Christ himself, from certain records that were then current, to patronize their idolatry: yet for all this the worthy emperor Theophilus, even in those dark times, chose rather to nourish himself and his people with the sincere milk of the gospel, than to drink from the mixed confluence of so many corrupt and poisonous waters, as tradition would have persuaded him to, by most ancient seeming authorities. In like manner all the reformed churches abroad, unthroning episcopacy, doubtless were not ignorant of these testimonies alleged to draw it in a line from the apostles' days: for surely the author will not think he hath brought us now any new authorities or considerations into the world, which the reformers in other places were not advised of: and yet we see, the intercession of all these apostolic fathers could not prevail with them to alter their resolved decree of reducing into order their usurping and over-provendered episcopants; and God hath blessed their work this hundred years with a prosperous and steadfast, and still happy success. And this may serve to prove the insufficiency of these present episcopal testimonies, not only in themselves but in the account of those that ever have been the followers of truth. It will next behove us to consider the inconvenience we fall into, by using ourselves to be guided by these kind of testimonies. He that thinks it the part of a well-learned man to have read diligently the ancient stories of the church, and to be no stranger in the volumes of the fathers, shall have all judicious men consenting with him; not hereby to control, and new fangle the Scripture, God forbid! but to mark how corruption and apostasy crept in by degrees, and to gather up wherever we find the remaining sparks of original truth, wherewith to stop the mouths of our adversaries, and to bridle them with their own curb, who willingly pass by that which is orthodoxal in them, and studiously cull out that which is commentitious, and best for their turns, not weighing the fathers in the balance of Scripture, but Scripture in the balance of the fathers. If we, therefore, making first the gospel our rule and oracle, shall take the good which we light on in the fathers, and set it to oppose the evil which other men seek from them, in this way of skirmish we shall easily master all superstition and false doctrine; but if we turn this our discreet and wary usage of them into a blind devotion towards them, and whatsoever we find written by them; we both forsake our own grounds and reasons which led us at first to part from Rome, that is, to hold the Scriptures against all antiquity; we remove our cause into our adversaries' own court, and take up there those cast principles, which will soon cause us to soder up with them again; inasmuch, as believing antiquity for itself in any one point, we bring an engagement upon ourselves of assenting to all that it charges upon us. For suppose we should now, neglecting that which is clear in Scripture, that a bishop and presbyter is all one both in name and office, and that what was done by Timothy and Titus, executing an extraordinary place, as fellow-labourers with the apostles, and of a universal charge in planting Christianity through divers regions, cannot be drawn into particular and daily example; suppose that neglecting this clearness of the text, we should, by the uncertain and corrupted writings of succeeding times, determine that bishop and presbyter are different, because we dare not deny what Ignatius, or rather the Perkin Warbeck of Ignatius, says; then must we be constrained to take upon ourselves a thousand superstitions and falsities, which the papists will prove us down in, from as good authorities, and as ancient as these
that set a bishop above a presbyter. And the plain truth is, that when any of our men, of those that are wedded to antiquity, come to dispute with a papist, and leaving the Scriptures put themselves, without appeal, to the sentence of synods and councils, using in the cause of Sion the hired soldiery of revolted Israel, where they give the Romanists one buff, they receive two counterbuffs. Were it therefore but in this regard, every true bishop should be afraid to conquer in his cause by such authorities as these, which if we admit for the authority's sake, we open a broad passage for a multitude of doctrines, that have no ground in Scripture, to break in
Lastly, I do not know, it being undeniable that there are but two ecclesiastical orders, bishops and deacons, mentioned in the gospel, how it can be less than impiety to make a demur at that, which is there so perspicuous, confronting and paralleling the sacred verity of St. Paul with the offals and sweepings of antiquity, that met as accidentally and absurdly, as Epicurus's atoms, to patch up a Leucippean Ignatius, inclining rather to make this phantasm an expounder, or indeed a depraver of St. Paul, than St. Paul an examiner, and discoverer of this impostorship; nor caring how slightly they put off the verdict of holy text unsalved, that says plainly there be but two orders, so they maintain the reputation of their imaginary doctor that proclaims three. Čertainly if Christ's apostle have set down but two, then according to his own words, though he himself should unsay it, and not only the angel of Smyrna, but an angel from heaven, should bear us down that there be three, Saint Paul has doomed him twice, "Let him be accursed;" for Christ hath pronounced that no tittle of his word shall fall to the ground; and if one jot be alterable, it as possible that all should perish: and this shall be our righteousness, our ample warrant, and strong assurance, both now and at the last day, never to be ashamed of, against all the heaped names of angels and martyrs, councils and fathers, urged upon us, if we have given ourselves up to be taught by the pure and living precept of God's word only; which, without more additions, nay, with a forbidding of them, hath within itself the promise of eternal life, the end of all our wearisome labours, and all our sustaining hopes. But if any shall strive to set up his ephod and teraphim of antiquity against the brightness and perfection of the gospel; let him fear lest he and his Baal be turned into Bosheth. And thus much may suffice to show, that the pretended episcopacy cannot be deduced from the apostolical times.