Page images




DR. SYMMONS, whose liberal opinions in politics and ecclesiastical affairs render him an impartial judge, speaks thus of Milton's work on Episcopacy: Having observed that Bishop Hall had published in favour of his order a work entitled "An humble Remonstrance to the High Court of Parliament," and Archbishop Usher another treatise, called "The Apostolical Institution of Episcopacy," he goes on to observe, in answer to these "powerful and learned works: Milton wrote two pieces in the same year, the first of which he called, 'Of Prelatical Episcopacy,' and the second, The Reason of Church Government urged against Prelacy.' These, like his former controversial productions, are distinguished by force, acuteness, and erudition; but their language, though bearing a greater appearance of artifice and labour, is still evidently that of a man more conversant with the authors of Greece and Rome, than with those of his own country, and seems to be formed without sufficient attention to the genius of his native tongue. This observation will apply with very diminished force to some of his succeeding compositions: but in all of them there is an occasional recurrence of foreign idioms and of a classic inversion of phrase, not properly admissible in a language in which prepositions supply the place and office of inflexions.

"The point at issue between those polemics was the divine or the human origin of episcopacy, as a peculiar order in the church, distinct in kind and pre-eminent in degree. That an officer with the title of Episcopus, or Overseer, (corrupted at first by our ancestors into bigcop, and afterwards softened into bishop,) had existed in the church from its first construction by the apostles, was a fact which could not be denied: but while this officer was asserted by one party to have been nothing more than the president of the elders, he was affirmed by the other to have been elevated above these elders or presbyters by essential privileges, by a separate as well as by a superior jurisdiction. The temporal possessions and right of the prelacy could not properly constitute any part of the controversy. As a portion of the political system of the country, and tracing their pedigree no higher than to the civil establishment of the church, these adventitious circumstances were to be debated on the ground of expedi ency alone; and to blend them with the immediate and distinct object in question seems to have been an unfair practice of the puritan disputants, for the purpose of increasing the unpopularity of their adversaries. Till the church was adopted by the government, under Constantine, its officers could not be invested with civil rank or with corporate property, but the subsequent accession of political importance would not supersede their spiritual jurisdiction, and could not be denounced as incompatible, because it was not coëval with their original appointment."



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 anything more divine than in the allsufficiency 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.

• This opinion is now so generally entertained, that Milton will not be thought to advance anything startling in this passage. Christianity itself, is of divine institution, but the government of the church, like the government of the state, has been left to be regulated by human prudence. Milton was hostile to episcopacy because he saw it arrayed against liberty. In our own day, many of the bishops are among the most strenuous advocates of popular rights, and our history supplies numerous examples of persons of this order who have been ready to become martyrs to the cause of freedom. The reason of Milton's animosity must be sought for in temporary causes, though even now we occasionally behold examples of individuals on the episcopal bench whose political creed would have excited wiser men's indignation.-ED.

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 seaweed, 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 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 incompetible 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 entreating 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 diocess: 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 #poesis, it is more likely that Timothy never knew the word in that sense: it was the vanity of

« PreviousContinue »