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the present day, without including a single heretic in it? I feel no hesitation in replying, no man living.
III. The succession was deemed important by Tertullian, not because the bishops communicated the Holy Ghost, for no one made such shocking pretensions till many centuries afterwards; but because “ by them the apostolical doctrine was propagated and conveyed to others.” The heretics, against whom this father wrote, esteemed some writings sacred, which were evidently spurious, and rejected others which the orthodox could prove to be sacred. Those churches which were planted by the apostles and their coadjutors, to whom the gospels and epistles were originally intrusted, were better qualified to judge what writings were truly apostolical, than churches which were founded but yesterday, by bishops who held no intercourse with the catholics. The apostolical origin of churches, was a matter of as much importance in this controversy, as the uninterrupted succession of bishops. “Let them show us the original of their churches. The church of Smyrna counts up to Polycarp, ordained by St. John; and all other churches exhibit their first bishops ordained by the apostles.” The church of England was not planted by an apostle, nor did an apostle ordain its first bishops.
Though the bishops in the primitive churches had the custody of the divine records, yet, it is not to be supposed, that they were the only persons capable of preserving the sacred depositum inviolate. Tertullian was so far from thinking so, that in another place* he speaks of the churches themselves as keeping the holy books. Bishop Stillingfleet's remark upon this is to the point : “ What he spoke before of the persons, (that is, the bishops,) he now speaks of the churches themselves planted by the apostles, which, by retaining the authentic epistles of the apostles sent to them, did thereby sufficiently prescribe to all the novel opinions of the heretics. We see then, evidently, that
* De Prescript. advers. Heret. cap. 36.
it is the doctrine which they speak of as to successioni, and the persons no further than as they are the conveyers of that doctrine. Either, then, it must be proved, that a succession of some persons in apostolical power, is necessary for the conveying of this doctrine to men, or no argument at all can be inferred from hence for their succeeding the apostles in their power, , .because they are said to convey the apostolical doctrine to succeeding ages.
IV. If it be still contended, that Tertullian is pleading for an uninterrupted succession of episcopally ordained ministers, as the only medium through which the Holy Ghost is conveyed to succeeding ages, it is suflicient to reply, that the authority of this father is fatal to the church of England. We have a right to demand, in his own words, of those churchmen who acknowledge his authority, “Show us the original of your church, and give us a catalogue of your bishops in an exact succession from first to last, whereby it may appear, that your first bishop had either some apostle, or some apostolical man, living in the time of the apostles, for his author or immediate predecessor. For thus it is, that apostolical churches make their reckoning.” But this they cannot do. There is no such catalogue in existence. “Thus it is," says the holy father, " that apostolical churches make their reckoning.": But thus the church of England cannot make her reckoning: The inference is undeniable, that the church of England is not an apostolical church. The hereties, like our episcopalians, pretended that their churches were apostolical; but mere assertions passed for nothing with our orthodox father: “Give us,” says hé,“ the exact catalogue.”
But let us leave Tertullian and proceed. There have been many impostors as well as heretics; persons who have assumed the sacred office, and forged orders. † These ordained multitudes in different ages
* Stillingfleet's Irenicum, pt. ii., ch. 6., p. 305.
+ “When I was young,” says Mr. Baxter, “ I lived in a village that had but about twenty houses; and among these there were
of the church; they could not coinmunicate to others what they had not received themselves; it follows, that all the descendants of these religious cheats must be pronounced, in the words of the apostle, " sensual, not having the Spirit.” Now, how can it be made appear that our modern prelates are not descended from these spiritual impostors?
It is worthy of inquiry, what will become of the people who are under the guidance of impostors or their successors ? Must these simple souls be shut out of heaven for the tricks of their priests? If it be said, that, because they take them for true ministers, their ministrations are eflicacious, though their orders are irregular; this is giving up the point, and making the benefit of their services to depend, not upon the legality of their ordination, but upon the good opinion and pious disposition of the worshippers. It must be remarked here, that dissenters take their ministers to be true ministers; and if this be a mistake, is it not as pardonable in them as in churchmen?
There are insuperable obstacles in the way of tracing the episcopal succession. Our bishops pretend to be derived from the Roman catholics. But it has been shown, that the succession has been interrupted in that church; for some time after the martyrdom of Fabian and banishment of Lucius, the orthodox were governed by the inferior clergy.
fire that went out into the ministry. One was an old reader, whose original we could not reach : Another was his son, whose self-ordination was much suspected. The other three had letters of orders, two of them suspected to be drawn up and forged by him, and one that was suspected to ordain himself. One of them, or two, at last, were proved to have counterfeit orders, when they had continued many years in the ministry. So that this is no rare thing.
“ Among so many temptations that in so many ages since the apostles' days, have befallen so many men, as our predecessors in the ministry, or the bishops predecessors have been, it were a wonder if all of them should escape the snare. So that we have reason to take it for a thing improbable, that the succession hath not been interrupted. And we know that in several ages of the church, the prelates and priests have been so vile, that in reason we could expect no better from men so vicious, than forgery and abuse.” — BAXTER's Disputations, p. 170.
It is much to be feared, that the succession was interrupted again in the person of Pelagius the first. The canons of the ancient church and of the church of England state, that no less than three bishops are necessary to make a bishop. But it is a well known fact, that this pope was ordained by only two bishops and one presbyter. If it, therefore, requires the united powers of three bishops to inspire an episcopal brother with the Holy Ghost, and if the power of a presbyter be not equal to that of a bishop, it is a clear case that Pelagius was not a true bishop, and that, consequently, the succession has failed.
But supposing the succession of popes had not been interrupted, how do we know that their ordinations were all valid ? It was seldom, if ever, the case that a pope ordained his successor, because the canons forbade it.* The greater part of the bishops who ordained the popes are perfectly unknown; though they ought not only to be known, but their spiritual descent from St. Peter proved; for if any of them were out of the succession, it is impossible they should put the popes into it. When it is considered by what base arts many obtained the popedom, and that not a few of them were ordained by reputed heretics and schismatics, it must be next to a miracle if the succession has not been interrupted. And as the exact catalogue cannot be given, a miracle to supply its place ought to be wrought, to induce a belief in any rational mind, that the chain has been preserved unbroken, and that our prelates are a part of St. Peter's spiritual progeny.
* The apostolical constitutions decreed, canon 68, that“ a bishop is not allowed to ordain [for a successor, as the following words clearly show] whom he pleases, by conferring the episcopal dignity on a brother, son, or any other near relation. For it is not just that there should be heirs of the episcopal office, or that what belongs to God should be given according to the affections of men, nor the church be brought under the laws of inheritance. If any one do this, let the ordination be null, and let him be punished by suspension from communion.” And the synod of An. tioch ordained, canon 23, that, “ It is not lawful for a bishop to appoint his own successor, though he be at the point of death. If anything of this sort be done, let such provision be null.”
If the succession cannot be traced through the popes, it cannot be made out at all; because there is no regular succession of bishops, from the apostles to the present time, in any other church; and if there even were, it would still be impossible to show that they were all ordained by persons duly qualified to confer holy orders.
Another circumstance fatal to the episcopal succession is, that in the primitive times presbyters often ordained persons to the ministry in general, and sometimes even ordained bishops ; so that if a modern bishop could reckon up to some apostle, it is ten to one but when he came to trace through the three or four first centuries, he would find several presbyterian links in his chain, and even one of these would spoil the whole.
Bishop Stillingfleet, has proved, from Jerom and the Canonists, that“ in the primitive church the presbyters all acted in common for the welfare of the church, and either did or might ordain others, the same authority with themselves; because the intrinsical power of order is equally in them, and in those who were after appointed governors over presbyters. And the collation of orders doth come from the power of order, and not merely from the power of jurisdiction. It being likewise fully acknowledged by the schoolmen, that bishops are not superior above presbyters as to the power of order." * He informs us, in another place, that “in the year 452, it appears by Leo, in his epistle to Rusticus Narbonensis, that some presbyters took upon them to ordain as bishops; about which he was consulted by Rusticus what was to be done in that case with those so ordained.” Leo replied, “ Those clergymen who were ordained by such as took upon them the office of bishops, in churches belonging to proper bishops, if the ordination were performed by
* Irenicum, chap. vi., p. 273.