Posted by: ken98 | January 8, 2010

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Bishops, But Were Afraid to Ask

Day 119 – Ken here (F)(1-8-2010)
(DEF v.2, ch.20, pp.750-760)

We continue with chapter 20 – on the Conversion of the Roman Empire under Constantine from pagan to Christian in one generation. O.K, I went a little crazy on this one – but it’s all fascinating stuff.

One would think that a long discussion of the evolution of the office of Bishop in the Late Empire would be a boring topic, but NO!

It’s fascinating because the early church was basically a communist/socialist paradise, and the transformation from that to the monolithic, earthly-power, Pope-headed Catholic Church of the Middle Ages (and by extension to both Gibbon’s Protestant and Catholic world, and to our modern religious topography) begins HERE AND NOW with Constantine and the conversion of the pagan empire into the Christian Republic/Empire.

So on we go with chapter 20 (and a little more enthusiasm than yesterday)…

The Story
 
Distinction between Spiritual and Secular

  • Never a distinction in ancient Greece and Rome between priests and heads of state – the leading citizens were both (at the same time often) chief priest and leader of the state
  • Some ancient societies already had a separate clergy – a clergy and a laity – example the arch-rivals of the Romans – the Zoroasterian (Magi) priesthood of the Persian Empire – ( and many others – exs: Egypt, India, Gaul, etc – with various kinds of a “clergy” evident)
  • in fact – this is a leading cause of the empire’s decline – the DISASSOCIATION between the local cults/religions of each city-state and the leadership of the state. In ancient times, leaders strove to exalt BOTH their cities and their gods at the same time – with the advent of Christianity, God ruled over all city-states, and the state itself became the vast Roman Empire – the local engines of economics that drove the prosperity of the ancient world were shut down permanently – until the rise of city-states in the Italy in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and the rise of the Nation State 1100 years in the future (see/search on Fustel De Coulanges in this site)
  •  
    All About Bishops

  • Lost Christian Offices: more on the (mostly paid) offices lost after the first 5 centuries of the Christian Church – priests, deacons, sub-deacons, acolytes, exorcists, readers, singers, doorkeepers, adventurers (visit the sick-a paid office), grave-diggers (paid office).
  • The office of Rural Bishops – in by the 4th century – gone by the 10th (300-900’s) – a kind of sub-bishop that led rural churches, and had ordination powers only over minor orders (minor orders = pre-1972 Vatican II order designation, the church is still changing and orders are still disappearing and emerging)
  •  
    Bishops – Geography

  • 1,800 Bishops in Constantine’s time – roughly covering the same territory as the Roman Empire – 1000 in the Greek East, 800 in the Roman West
  • Christianity = completely separate set of territories/jurisdiction – an Empire within the Empire (and with-out the empire) – and Constantine legalized it’s separate function, separate laws, separate leaders, separate courts, separate citizens, separate territories (a barbarian nation could have a diocese in the Christian Republic, even if Roman imperial rule was not admitted) – Thus, Constantine set up 3 separate jurisdictions where there had only been ONE before – the CIVIL, the MILITARY, and the ECCLESIASTICAL (Church),one which survives in our modern political mind-set esp. in the U.S. separation of military/civil/spiritual power
  •  
    Bishops – Election

  • Completely free elections – bishops elected by minor clergy, and the senators and nobles of the diocese, and by EVERY baptized Christian member. Often, for better or for worse, Bishops were elected by ACCLAMATION – acclamation of the Christian mob attending the election – so long after the empire ceased to be in any meaningful form democratic, the Christian church (the empire within the empire) remained adamantly, and undisputedly democratic
  • Gibbon notes that the elections, esp. in big cities, were often as corrupt as the old-time election of magistrates in Late Republican Rome – ie votes were purchased, acclamations constructed and paid-for, etc (example – Sidonius Appolinaris and the rustic churches of Gaul – the East would’ve been logarithmically more corrupt)
  • Despite local differences – fundamental maxim of the old Roman Empire Christian Church was: No bishop could be imposed on a church without consent of the its members – BOY would that change in centuries to come
  •  
    Bishops – Ordination

  • Bishops alone had (as Gibbon put it interestingly) the capacity for spiritual generation – ie only a Bishop can reproduce a Bishop. If all Bishops were wiped out, the “race” would perish, as they derive their powers from a laying on of hands that stretches back in time to the apostles and to Jesus himself (or such is/was the theory at least)
  • Bishops were IMMUNE from taxes and services normally applied to any Roman citizen
  • Bishops were assumed to have the complete obedience of the clerks and clergy they ordained
  • Bishops formed a separate, visible, clearly defined society
  • In some cities, the “households” of the Bishops were traditionally monumental – examples: in Constantinople and Carthage (North Africa – yes, North Africa was a HOTBED of zealous Christianity for centuries until Islam levelled African Rome – after all Augustine was a hot-blooded North African) – both had 500 ecclesiastical ministers in their pay
  •  
    Bishops – Property

  • Constantine (Edict of Milan 313) gave back and secured the revenues and properties of the Christian church (under Roman Law).
  • 8 years later Constantine grants the un-restricted right of individuals to bequeath their estates to the church – this is important because Estates and Bequeathing had always been a sore point in Roman Law – money that went to a son or daughter COULD NOT by definition end up in the State’s Treasury – so estates were carefully regulated to maximize Imperial benefit at death – allowing the Church unlimited access meant a huge loss of tax revenue and a guarantee of immense wealth within a hundred years or so of Late Roman bequeathing. And that’s exactly what happened. If the barbarian invasions hadn’t happened, the Western world would have been OWNED by the Church within a couple of centuries.
  • Constantine then gives away vast amounts of state money to support churches, monks, persons who convert, etc – the Wealth Transfer must have been incredible in the middle 300’s
  • Salaries of high officials (read: Bishops of one of the big, rich 5 or so cities of the empire – Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage, etc) make HUGE salaries now – right up there with the salaries of the topmost men in the empire under the emperor
  • Gibbon Note: while the persons of the church (Bishops, etc) were immune from taxes, the lands they derived their income from were TAXABLE (Roman imperial administrators/lawyers weren’t entirely dim)
  •  
    Bishops – Civil Jurisdiction

  • Church law develops completely independently of Civil/Imperial law – it had to in the first 4 centuries – the Christian religion was loathed and often illegal
  • Bishops could only be tried by their peers (other Bishops) – not by anyone else, civil or spiritual
  • Constantine ADORED the clergy – and their immunity from civil prosecution – this from the proceedings of the Nicene Council (of Nicene Creed fame)
  • – Constantine on how little he would do to punish erring Bishops: “If he surprised a Bishop in the act of adultery, he would cast his Imperial mantle over the episcopal sinner”

  • The pagan concept of Sanctuary was extended to Christian churches by Roman Law
  • Constantine made it a law that a Christian (baptized Christian, and a member of the Church in good standing) could elect to have a Bishop rather than an Imperial Judge try a civil case! This is just paving the way for the Middle Ages, when the Church had to take on more and more and more of the responsibilities of the (now defunct) Western Roman Empire – the Bishops of each town acting as the governors/judges/generals of provinces once would have
  •  
    Gibbon Quotes – On Monks (again)
    Gibbon hates them (almost as much as he hates eunuchs). Here is another one-word zinger (a Gibbon technique where an otherwise scholarly, information-laden sentence is transformed into a sharply-honed, offensive weapon by the addition of a single word – in this case, “darkened” – although “swarmed” certainly counts for something).

    Gibbon is commenting on the immense number of paid/supported Church offices in the Late Empire, and ends with this:

    and the swarms of monks, who arose from the Nile, overspread and darkened the face of the Christian world

    (DEF v.2, ch.20, pp.756)

    Image of early Christian Bishops - Severus of Antioch (in the center) - from the 300's - a very important man from a very important city, highly paid, (be necessity) a skilled executive running a huge church establishment

    Image of early Christian Bishops - Severus of Antioch (in the center) - from the 300's - a very important man from a very important city, highly paid, a skilled executive (by necessity) running a big-budget operation with an enormous headcount

     
    Lost Christian Offices Part II
    I’m fascinated (having grown up Lutheran, AND being most of my life post-1972 Vatican II) by the intricate, almost fractal organization of the Church, especially the early church as it took on the entire empire when it became the state church. Christianity (at the time of its conversion from persecuted fringe sect to imperially supported religion in the early 300’s) had aspects of both the primitive church (which was a kind of communist/socialist paradise) and the church-to-come (the massive Machine that consumed a great deal of manpower and money and humbled emperors 600 years in the future).

    Example of early Christian Imperial Basilica Church interior showing simple arcades, but immensely costly decoration.  This church is Saint John Lateran, much re-constructed and redecorated after numerous fires and alterations - but this was THE original church given to the Bishops of Rome by Constantine himself (it was from his wife's dowry - originally the seat of the Laterani family/gens

    Example of early Christian Imperial Basilica Church interior showing simple arcades, but immensely costly decoration. This church is Saint John Lateran, much re-constructed and redecorated after numerous fires and alterations - but this was THE original church given to the Bishops of Rome by Constantine himself (it was from his wife's dowry - originally the seat of the Laterani family/gens)

    Among the socialist offices that didn’t make it were the Grave-diggers (Copiatae – a paid office – the church made sure your grave was taken care of if you were baptized), and the Adventurers (Parabolani Christians who were paid to visit the sick – hmmmmm… just like in the gospels – amazing!). Other offices represent the “other” church to come, and actually were suppressed – the office of Rural Bishop (Chorespiscopi – a wealthy and busy bishop in a major metropolitan area would delegate his duties to the small towns surrounding his city to lower-paid rural bishops to do the day to day work – this is significant because at this point (with 1800 bishops in the empire) a bishop was REALLY still expected to do most of his own work). Around from 300’s – 900’s it was later suppressed. Of course, later bishops almost always recieved their money, delegated their duties to other subordinate offices (ex. a vicar), so I suppose the office wasn’t suppressed so much as hidden.

    Church of Saint Sabine on the Aventine in Rome - early 400's - an ancient Basilica-form church - it would probably have been covered in gold, silver, and silks

    Church of Saint Sabine on the Aventine in Rome - early 400's - an ancient Basilica-form church - it would probably have been covered in gold, silver, and silks

     
    The Immensely Wealthy Church – Bishop’s Salaries in the Late Empire
    If there is any doubt as to the egregious (pun intended) income many bishops already enjoyed in the larger cities of the empire immediately after the conversion of Constantine, his allowance of bequeathing estates to the church, etc, Gibbon makes sure we are not in the dark. Gibbon estimates (using also my conversion from Late Empire 1 pound gold to 2009 $US of approx 100,000 / lb gold) that a median bishop salary was 17 lbs gold (range 3 – 30 lbs gold) – in 2009 $US it would be $1,650,000 median, from $300,000 through $3,000,000 annually – salaries could be higher depending on inflation and region. That’s quite a lot of tithing and tax-redirecting to support 1800 new paid positions (Gibbon estimates there were 1800 Bishop positions at the point the empire converted from pagan to Christian – these would have then been supported by tax-free donations or by direct support from the Roman state itself (read: Constantine).

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