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The Great Empires of Prophecy, from Babylon to the Fall of Rome

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    One Is Master, Even Christ—Lover of Pre-eminence Begins—The Church of Rome Claims Supremacy—The Bishop the Infallible Judge—An Episcopal Punic War—Paul of Samosata

    THE Scripture was fulfilled; there had come a falling away. But that there should come a falling away, was not all of the story; through that falling away there was to be revealed “that man of sin,” “the son of perdition,” “the mystery of iniquity,” “that wicked,” who would oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped; and who when he should appear, would continue even till that great and notable event—the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.GEP 396.1

    2. Referring again to the scripture quoted from 2 Thessalonians 2:2, at the beginning of the previous chapter, it is seen that self-exaltation is the spring of the development of this power. As that scripture expresses it, “He opposeth and exalteth himself.” As another scripture gives it, “He shall magnify himself in his heart.” And another, “He magnified himself even to the prince of the host”—the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet another, “He shall also stand up against the Prince of princes.” That is, he shall reign, or assert authority above, and in opposition to, the authority of Christ; or, as the thought is developed by Paul, this power would oppose and exalt itself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple—the place of worship—of God, showing himself that he is God.GEP 396.2

    3. Referring also again to the instruction of Paul to the elders who met him at Miletus, there is seen a prophecy of this same spirit of self-exaltation,—a wish to gain disciples to themselves instead of to Christ. They would prefer themselves to Christ, thus at once putting themselves above him, in opposition to him. And this would be developed from among the bishops. “Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”GEP 396.3

    4. This spirit was actively manifested in opposition to the apostle John while he was yet alive, for he says: “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them, receiveth us not.” 1[Page 397] 3 John 9. This assertion of pre-eminence was shown in prating against the apostle with malicious words, and not only rejecting him, but casting out of the church those members who would receive him. It was but a little while after the death of the apostles until this was carried to yet further extremes.GEP 397.1

    5. According to the word of Christ, there is no such thing as pre-eminence, or mastership, or sovereignty of position, among men in the church. There was once an argument among his disciples as to who should be counted the greatest, and Jesus called them unto him, and said: “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” 2[Page 397] Mark 10:42-45.GEP 397.2

    6. And in warning his disciples of all times against the practise of the scribes and Pharisees of that time, who were but the popes of their day, he says they “love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.... Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” 3[Page 397] Matthew 23:6-12.GEP 397.3

    7. With these instructions the apostles went forth under the great commission of Christ, preaching everywhere that with the Lord there is no respect of persons, but that all are equal before God. There is neither lordship nor overlordship among men in the church of Christ; but all are brethren. Christ only is the head of the church, and the head of every man in the church.GEP 397.4

    8. In the church each member has the same rights as any other member; but for the good of all and the mutual benefit of all concerned, as well as better to carry on His work in the world, the Lord has established His church, and with it a system of church order in which certain ones are chosen to exercise certain functions for the mutual benefit of all in the organization. These officers are chosen from among the membership by the voice of the membership. Of these officers there are two classes, and two only,—bishops and deacons. This is shown by Paul’s letter to the Philippians—“Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” 4[Page 398] Chap. 1:1.GEP 398.1

    9. Bishops are sometimes called elders; but the same office is always signified. When Paul gave directions to Titus in this matter, he said: “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless.... For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God.” 5[Page 398] Titus 1:5-7. This is further shown in Acts 20, to which we have before referred; when Paul had called unto him to Miletus “the elders of the church” of Ephesus, among other things he said to them: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers,“episkopoi—bishops.GEP 398.2

    10. Peter also writes to the same effect: “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” 6[Page 398] 1 Peter 5:1-3. This text not only shows that the terms “elder” and “bishop” refer to the same identical office, but it shows that Peter counted himself as one among them; and that not only by his precept but by his example he showed that in this office, although overseers they were not overrulers or lords.GEP 398.3

    11. “It has been said that the pope, the bishops, the priests, and all those who people convents, form the spiritual or ecclesiastical estate; and that princes, nobles, citizens, and peasants form the secular or lay estate. This is a specious tale. But let no man be alarmed. All Christians belong to the spiritual estate; and the only difference between them is in the functions which they fulfil. We have all but one baptism, but one faith, and these constitute the spiritual man. Unction, tonsure, ordination, consecration, given by the pope or by a bishop, may make a hypocrite, but can never make a spiritual man. We are all consecrated priests by baptism, as St. Peter says: ‘You are a royal priesthood;’ although all do not actually perform the offices of kings and priests, because no one can assume what is common to all without the common consent. But if this consecration of God did not belong to us, the unction of the pope could not make a single priest. If ten brothers, the sons of one king, and possessing equal claims to his inheritance, should choose one of their number to administer for them, they would all be kings, and yet only one of them would be the administrator of their common power. So it is in the church.”—Luther. 7[Page 399] D’Aubigne’s “History of the Reformation,” book vi, chap 3, par. 7.GEP 398.4

    12. Such is the order in the church of Christ, and as every Christian is God’s freeman and Christ’s servant, it follows, as has been well stated, that “monarchy in spiritual things does not harmonize with the spirit of Christianity.”—Neander. 8[Page 399] “History of the Christian Religion and Church,” Vol. i, sec. ii, part 1, div. i, A, par 5. Yet this order was not suffered long to remain. A distinction was very soon asserted between the bishop and the elder; and the bishop assumed a precedence and an authority over the elder, who was now distinguished from the bishop by the title of “presbyter” only. This was easily and very naturally accomplished.GEP 399.1

    13. For instance, a church would be established in a certain city. Soon perhaps another church or churches would be established in that same city, or near to it in the country. These other churches would look naturally to the original church as to a mother, and the elders of the original church would naturally have a care for the others as they arose. It was only proper to show Christian respect and deference to these; but this respect and deference was soon demanded, and authority to require it was asserted by those who were the first bishops.GEP 399.2

    14. Again: as churches multiplied and with them also elders multiplied, it was necessary, in carrying forward the work of the gospel, for the officers of the church often to have meetings for consultation. On these occasions it was but natural and proper for the seniors to preside; but instead of allowing this to remain still a matter of choice in the conducting of each successive meeting or assembly, it was claimed as a right that the one originally chosen should hold that position for life.GEP 400.1

    15. Thus was that distinction established between the elders, or presbyters, and the bishops. Those who usurped this permanent authority and office took to themselves exclusively the title of “bishop,” and all the others were still to retain the title of “presbyter.” The presbyters in turn assumed over the deacons a supremacy and authority which did not belong to them, and all together—bishops, presbyters, and deacons—held themselves to be superior orders in the church over the general membership, and assumed to themselves the title of “clergy,” while upon the general membership the term “laity” was conferred.GEP 400.2

    16. In support of these three orders among the “clergy,” it was claimed that they came in proper succession from the high priests, the priests, and the Levites of the Levitical law. “Accordingly, the bishops considered themselves as invested with a rank and character similar to those of the high priest among the Jews, while the presbyters represented the priests, and the deacons the Levites.”—Mosheim. 9[Page 400] “Ecclesiastical History,” Maclaine’s translation, century ii, part ii, chap 2, par. 4.GEP 400.3

    17. These distinctions were established as early as the middle of the second century. This led to a further and most wicked invention. As they were now priests and Levites after the order of the priesthood of the former dispensation, it was necessary that they also should have a sacrifice to offer. Accordingly, the Lord’s Supper was turned into “the unbloody sacrifice.” Thus arose that which is still in the Roman Catholic Church the daily “sacrifice” of the mass. “The comparison of the Christian oblations with the Jewish victims and sacrifices produced many unnecessary rites, and by degrees corrupted the very doctrine of the holy supper, which was converted, sooner, in fact, than one would think, into a sacrifice.”—Mosheim. 10[Page 401] Id., Murdock’s translation, chap 4, par. 4. With this also came a splendor in dress, copied from that of the former real priesthood.GEP 400.4

    18. The estimate in which the bishop was now held may be gathered from the following words of a document of the second century:—GEP 401.1

    “It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord himself.” “It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honors the bishop has been honored of God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does (in reality) serve the devil.”—Ignatius. 11[Page 401] “Epistle to the Ephesians,” chap 6, and “To the Smyrnaeans,” chap 9.GEP 401.2

    19. The next step was that certain bishops asserted authority over other bishops; and the plea upon which this was claimed as a right, was that the bishops of those churches which had been established by the apostles were of right to be considered as superior to all others. Furthermore, it was claimed that in those churches the true doctrine of Christ had been preserved in the greatest purity. As the bishops of those churches claimed to be the depositaries of the true doctrine, whenever any question arose upon any matter of doctrine or interpretation of the Scripture, appeal was made to the bishop of the nearest apostolic church. As Rome was the capital of the empire, and as the church there claimed direct descent not only from one but from two apostles, it soon came to pass that the church of Rome claimed to be the source of true doctrine, and the bishop of that church to be supreme over all other bishops.GEP 401.3

    20. In the latter part of the second century, during the episcopate of Eleutherius, A. D. 176-192, the absolute authority of the church of Rome in matters of doctrine was plainly asserted in the following words:—GEP 401.4

    “It is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the church,—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father.” “Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vain-glory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; (we do this, I say) by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also (by pointing out) the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the succession of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this church, on account of its pre-eminent authority.... Since, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the church; since the apostles, like a rich man depositing his money in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth, so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers.”Irenceus. 12[Page 402] “Against Heresies,” book iv, chap 26, par. 2; book iii, chap 3, par. 2; and book iii, chap 4, par 1.GEP 401.5

    21. When this authority and power was asserted during the bishopric of Eleutherius, it is not at all strange that his immediate successor, Victor, A. D. 192-202, should attempt to carry into practise the authority thus claimed for him. The occasion of it was the question of the celebration of what is now Easter, as already related in the preceding chapter. This action of Victor is pronounced by Bower “the first essay of papal usurpation.” Thus early did Rome not only claim supremacy, but attempt to enforce her claim of supremacy, over all other churches. Such was the arrogance of the bishops of Rome at the beginning of the third century.GEP 402.1

    22. The character of the bishopric in A. D. 250 is clearly seen in the following quotation from one who was there at the time:—GEP 402.2

    “Not a few bishops who ought to furnish both exhortation and example to others, despising their divine charge, became agents in secular business, forsook their throne, deserted their people, wandered about over foreign provinces, hunted the markets for gainful merchandise, while brethren were starving in the church. They sought to possess money in hoards, they seized estates by crafty deceits, they increased their gains by multiplying usuries.”—Cyprian. 13[Page 402] “On the Lapsed,” chap 6.GEP 402.3

    23. As the bishopric became more exalted, and arrogated to itself more authority, the office became an object of unworthy ambition and unholy aspiration. Arrogance characterized those who were in power, and envy those who were not. And whenever a vacancy occurred, unseemly and wholly unchristian strife arose among rival presbyters for the vacant seat. “The deacons, beholding the presbyters thus deserting their functions, boldly invaded their rights and privileges; and the effects of a corrupt ambition were spread through every rank of the sacred order.”—Mosheim. 14[Page 403] “Ecclesiastical History,” century iii, part ii, chap 2, par. 4.GEP 402.4

    24. These rivalries caused divisions and discussions which gave opportunity for the further assertion of the dignity and authority of the bishopric. Cyprian, “the representative of the episcopal system” (Neander) 15[Page 403] “History of the Christian Religion and Church,” Vol. i, sec. ii, part i, div. i, B, par. 5., declared that—GEP 403.1

    “The church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the church is controlled by these same rulers.” “Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the church, and the church in the bishop; and if any one be not with the bishop, that he is not in the church.” 16[Page 403] Epistle xxvi, chap 1, and epistle lxviii, chap 8.GEP 403.2

    25. He insisted that God made the bishops and the bishops made the deacons, and argued thus:—GEP 403.3

    “But if we [bishops] may dare anything against God who makes bishops, deacons may also dare against us by whom they are made.” 17[Page 403] Epistle lxiv, chap 3.GEP 403.4

    26. “The epistle of Cyprian to Cornelius, bishop of Rome, shows the height to which the episcopal power had aspired before the religion of Christ had become that of the Roman Empire. The passages of the Old Testament, and even of the New, in which honor or deference is paid to the Hebrew pontificate, are recited in profuse detail; implicit obedience is demanded for the priest of God, who is the sole infallible judge or delegate of Christ.”—Milman. 18[Page 403] “History of Christianity,” book iv, chap 1, par. 22.GEP 403.5

    27. As the bishops arrogated to themselves more and more authority, both in discipline and doctrine, “heretics” increased. Whosoever might disagree with the bishop was at once branded as a heretic, and was cut off from his communion, as Diotrephes had counted as a heretic even the apostle John. Upon this point the representative of the episcopal system further declared:—GEP 403.6

    “Neither have heresies arisen, nor have schisms originated, from any other source than from this, that God’s priest is not obeyed; nor do they consider that there is one person for the time priest in the church, and for the time judge in the stead of Christ; whom if, according to divine teaching, the whole fraternity should obey, no one would stir up anything against the college of priests; no one, after the divine judgment, after the suffrage of the people, after the consent of the co-bishops, would make himself a judge, not now of the bishop, but of God. No one would rend the church by a division of the unity of Christ.”—Cyprian. 19[Page 404] Epistle liv, chap 5.GEP 404.1

    28. He therefore argued that if any person was outside of this system of episcopal unity, and was not obedient to the bishop, this was all the evidence necessary to demonstrate that he was a heretic. Consequently he declared that no one ought “even to be inquisitive as to what” any one “teaches, so long as he teaches out of the pale of unity.” In this way the truth itself could be made heresy.GEP 404.2

    29. By this system, “heretics” soon became numerous, and as many persons were changing their residence from place to place, a question was raised whether baptism by heretics was valid. Some bishops of important churches held that it was, others insisted that it was not. Yet up to this time all bishops and churches had been allowed to decide this for themselves. A council of bishops in Africa and Numidia, about the beginning of the third century, had established in those provinces the discipline that all heretics must be rebaptized when applying for admission to any of those churches. This practise was also adopted in Cappadocia, Galatia, Phrygia, Cilicia, and neighboring provinces, by a council held at Iconium in Phrygia, A. D. 230. Pontus and Egypt followed the same course, but Italy, Gaul, and Spain held, on the contrary, that baptism by heretics was valid, it mattered not what the heresy might be.GEP 404.3

    30. Thus stood the question when Stephen became bishop of Rome, A. D. 253. In Africa some bishops of Numidia and Mauritania sent inquiries to Cyprian, raising anew the question of baptism by heretics. A council of seventy-one bishops was held at Carthage, which declared that the practise of rebaptizing should be invariably followed. The council sent a letter to Stephen of Rome, reporting their decision, and asking him to agree with it. Stephen answered the council by letter, in which he first called particular attention to the great dignity of the bishopric of Rome, and the honor which it derived by succession from the apostle Peter. Next he informed them that he absolutely rejected and condemned their decrees. He then threatened to cut off from his communion all who should presume to disobey by rebaptizing any heretics, and finally not only ordered Cyprian to change his opinion on the subject, and practise accordingly, but declared him to be a “false Christ,” a “false apostle,” and a “deceitful workman.”GEP 404.4

    31. On receipt of Stephen’s letter, Cyprian called another council of eighty-five bishops, which met Sept. 1, A. D. 256. The council canvassed the whole subject anew, came to their original conclusion, and again sent word by messengers to Stephen, who not only refused to receive them at all, but forbade all the church of Rome either to receive or entertain them in any manner. He then proceeded to execute his threat, and excommunicated the whole council, and whoever held the same opinion as the council. This excluded from his communion the bishops of Africa, Numidia, Mauritania, Egypt, Cilicia, Galatia, and Cappadocia. He endeavored by a letter, however, to win the bishop of Alexandria to his view, but failed.GEP 405.1

    32. Cyprian wrote to Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, telling him of Stephen’s conduct. In reply Firmilian wrote to Cyprian a letter in which he compared Stephen to Judas Iscariot, and branded him as “inhuman,” “audacious,” “insolent,” “wicked,” “impious,” “schismatic,” “a defamer of Peter and Paul,” and “worse than all heretics.” This Firmilian is pronounced “one of the most eminent prelates at that time in the church, both for piety and learning;” but Cyprian was not far behind him and Stephen in eminence for this kind of piety. For he wrote to the bishop of Sobrata a letter in which he charged Stephen with “pride and impertinence, self-contradiction and ignorance, with indifference, obstinacy, and childishness,” and called him “a favorer and abetter of heretics against the church of God.”—Bower. 20[Page 405] “Lives of the Popes,” Stephen, par. 8. Stephen died Aug. 2, A. D. 257, and thus was stopped the generous flow of pious phrases.GEP 405.2

    33. Stephen was succeeded by Sixtus II, who held the office about a year, and was put to death in the persecution under Valerian. He was succeeded July 22, A. D. 259, by Dionysius. At this time there was another Dionysius, who was bishop of Alexandria, and who had entered into a certain controversy with Sabellius upon the subject of the trinity. In the arguments which he published, some persons thought they discovered heresy, and reported it to the bishop of Rome, who called a council of the bishops of Italy, and requested Dionysius to answer the accusation and give an explanation of his faith. Dionysius addressed to the bishop of Rome a “confutation and apology,” explaining the expressions in his former writings, which, so it was charged, contained heresy.GEP 406.1

    34. During the bishopric of Dionysius, there occurred the case of Paul of Samosata, who at that time was bishop of Antioch, an account of which will illustrate the condition of the bishoprics of the principal cities of the empire at this time.GEP 406.2

    35. The bishops of the East said of Paul that before his connection with the church he was poor almost to beggary, and that he had received neither wealth from his father nor obtained possessions by any art or trade or business, yet had now acquired excessive wealth by his iniquities and sacrileges; that by various means which he employed, he had exacted and extorted from the brethren, promising to aid them for a reward; that he took advantage of those who were in difficulty, to compel them to give him money to be free from their oppressors; that he made merchandise of piety; that he affected lofty things, and assumed too great things, attaining worldly dignity, wishing rather to be called a magistrate than a bishop; that he went strutting through the Forum reading letters and repeating them aloud as he walked; that in public he was escorted by multitudes going before and following after him; that he brought reproach upon the faith by his pomp and haughtiness; that out of vanity and proud pretensions he contrived in ecclesiastical assemblies to catch at glory and empty shadows, and to confound the minds of the more simple; that he had prepared himself a tribunal and a high throne, separating himself from the people, like a ruler of this world, rather than a disciple of Christ; that he was in the habit of slapping his hand upon his thigh and stamping upon the tribunal with his foot, reproving and insulting those who would not applaud his sermons; that he magnified himself not as a bishop but as a sophist and juggler; that he stopped the singing of the psalms in honor of Christ, and had prepared choirs of women to sing other compositions at the great festivals; that he hired deacons and presbyters of neighboring districts to preach his views of the trinity; that he had with him certain women whom the people of Antioch called “adopted sisters;” that he allowed his presbyters and deacons also to follow the same practise; that he had made his presbyters and deacons rich by indulging their covetous dispositions, and had thus bought their favor, so that none of them would accuse him of the evil doing; that many bishops besides Paul had indulged themselves in the same things, or had incurred suspicion of it, especially in the matter of the adopted sisters; that although Paul had dismissed one of these, he retained two others with him, blooming in age and eminent in beauty, taking them with him wherever he went, indulging in luxury and surfeiting; that although men around him were groaning and lamenting because of these things, they were so much afraid of his tyranny and power that they did not venture to accuse him; and finally, that all these things might be borne with in the hope of correcting the evil, were it not that he had trifled away the sacred mystery, and paraded his execrable heresy. 21[Page 407] Eusebius’s “Ecclesiastical History,” book vii, chap 30.GEP 406.3

    36. On account of Paul’s heresy, a council of eighty bishops was assembled at Antioch. Paul was excommunicated, pronounced deposed from the bishopric, and the council on their own authority appointed a successor. Their assumed authority to appoint a successor without consulting the membership of the church of Antioch, caused yet a larger number to take sides with Paul, because such proceeding was decidedly irregular.GEP 407.1

    37. At this time Zenobia was queen of the East, and with her Paul was rather a favorite. Under her protection, and upon the irregularity of the proceedings of the council, he openly, for four years, defied the decrees of the council, and held his place as bishop of Antioch. When Aurelian, in A. D. 270, went to the East to dethrone Zenobia, the bishops appealed to him to enforce their decrees and remove Paul. Aurelian referred the case for decision to the bishops of Rome and Italy. Before this controversy was ended, Dionysius died, and his successor, Felix, decided against Paul. Then according to the decree that Aurelian had already pronounced, Paul was removed from the office and emoluments of the bishopric of Antioch.GEP 407.2

    38. We do not know whether the charges brought against Paul were all true or not, as those who made the charges were all his enemies. But whether they were true or not, is not particularly important; because if they were true, it is not to the credit of the bishopric of that time, for they clearly involve other bishops in the most serious moral delinquencies of Paul. On the other hand, if the charges were not true, then that a company of eighty bishops should falsely make such charges, is scarcely less to the discredit of the bishopric of the time, than the other would be if it were true.GEP 408.1

    39. In either case, therefore, it is certain that the statement of Eusebius of the condition of the bishopric in 302, when the Diocletian persecution began, is strictly true. They “were sunk in negligence and sloth, one envying and reviling another in different ways, and were almost on the point of taking up arms against each other, and were assailing each other with words as with darts and spears, prelates inveighing against prelates, and people rising up against people, and hypocrisy and dissimulation had arisen to the greatest height of malignity.” Also some who appeared to be pastors were inflamed against each other with mutual strifes, only accumulating quarrels and threats, rivalship, hostility, and hatred to each other, only anxious to assert the government as a kind of sovereignty for themselves.GEP 408.2

    40. The scripture was fulfilled. There had come a falling away; there was a self-exaltation of the bishopric; and the time was come when the man of sin should be revealed.GEP 408.3

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