St. Clement’s epistle was well received. In his Epistle to the Philippians (which he wrote after 107) St. Polycarp the Bishop of Smyrna quoted St. Clement’s epistle over 40 times. In the Corinthian church itself, a century after St. Clement’s time it was still being read in church almost on a par with St. Paul’s epistles. 5
At his episcopal seat at Ephesus, St. John the Apostle lived, the last of the Apostles, until 100 A.D. According to St. Jerome, he ‘founded and ruled all the churches of Asia.’ For the first three centuries Asia was by far the most Christian province in the Empire. Among St. John’s disciples at Ephesus were the great martyr-bishops St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107) and St. Polycarp of Smyrna (70 – 155). Along with St. Clement of Rome, these two bishops, played a leading role in the critical transition from personal Apostolic to institutionalised episcopal rule.* 6
In the days of St. Peter and St. Paul, full episcopal powers only lay with the Apostles and their travelling delegates such as St. Barnabas and St. Mark (for St. Peter) and St. Timothy and St. Titus (for St. Paul). Nevertheless it was the intention from the beginning that each church would be modelled on the example of Christ and His Twelve. In the earliest years only one such settled church is visible in Acts: that of St. James and his priests in Jerusalem. Full formal episcopal power to ordain priests and to rule could not, of course, immediately be vested in one of the priests ordained for each new church by St. Peter and St. Paul. This first generation was necessarily different from all which came after. In these earliest times, everyone was necessarily a new convert and therefore everyone was necessarily on probation. Nevertheless it was only a matter of time before the era of the travelling Apostle and his travelling delegates came to a close and each of their churches settled down to life under a bishop of its own. 7
The first Bishop of Antioch was St. Evodius. In about 67 he was succeeded by a disciple of St. John, the famous St. Ignatius of Antioch. In about the year 107 St. Ignatius was condemned to die being eaten by beasts in the Colosseum in Rome. During his journey to Rome St. Ignatius dictated seven epistles. These epistles have been preserved because, like St. Clement’s epistle, they had become popular and famous in the churches during the second century. These seven epistles of St. Ignatius were written to the Asian churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Philadelphia and Smyrna, to Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna and to the church of Rome. Throughout the epistles of St. Ignatius the hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons is taken for granted. Never does he say that churches should have bishops, priests and deacons. He simply takes them for granted as part of the very being of each church: ‘Let all likewise reverence deacons as Jesus Christ, and likewise the bishop as an image of the Father, and priests as the Senate of God and Council of the Apostles. Without these there is no church.’ In fact St. Ignatius expressly refers to these hierarchical ranks as ‘ordained according to the instructions of Christ.’* 8
In his epistles to the five Asian churches a recurring theme of St. Ignatius was the duty of Christians to obey their bishops. The problem was
Published on Nov 29, 2011
Published on Nov 29, 2011
This survey of how the New Testament came to be written is also a chronicle of the first 40 years of the history of the Christian Church. It...