Front Page Titles (by Subject) OF PRELATICAL EPISCOPACY, - The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 1
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OF PRELATICAL EPISCOPACY, - John Milton, The Prose Works of John Milton, vol. 1 
The Prose Works of John Milton: With a Biographical Introduction by Rufus Wilmot Griswold. In Two Volumes (Philadelphia: John W. Moore, 1847). Vol. 1.
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OF PRELATICAL EPISCOPACY,
AND WHETHER IT MAY BE DEDUCED FROM THE APOSTOLICAL TIMES, BY VIRTUE OF THOSE TESTIMONIES WHICH ARE ALLEGED TO THAT PURPOSE IN SOME LATE TREATISES; ONE WHEREOF GOES UNDER THE NAME OF JAMES, ARCHIBISHOP OF ARMAGH.
[first published 1641.]
Episcopacy, as it is taken for an order in the church above a presbyter, or, as we commonly name him, the minister of a congregation, is either of divine constitution or of human. If only of human, we have the same human privilege that all men have ever had since Adam, being born free, and in the mistress island of all the British, to retain this episcopacy, or to remove it, consulting with our own occasions and conveniences, and for the prevention of our own dangers and disquiets, in what best manner we can devise, without running at a loss, as we must needs in those stale and 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 fiad 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 him 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 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 universal 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 πϱοεστὼς, 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 πϱοεστὼς, 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 πϱοεστὼς τῶν ἀδελφῶν, 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 πϱοεστὼς, 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 no 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, nor 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 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 may 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, but 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 ϰατ’ ἐξοχὴν, 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 Father 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 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 he 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 upon us.
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. Certainly 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.