(Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 4, part 5)
Chapter 4. Of the state of the primitive Church, and the mode of 
government in use before the papacy. 
    The divisions of this chapter are, - I. The mode of government 
in the primitive Church, sec. 1-10. II. The formal ordination of 
Bishops and Ministers in the primitive Church, sec. 10-15. 
1. The method of government in the primitive Church. Not in every 
    respect conformable to the rule of the word of God. Three 
    distinct orders of Ministers. 
2. First, the Bishop, for the sake of preserving order, presided 
    over the Presbyters or Pastors. The office of Bishop. Presbyter 
    and Bishop the same. The institution of this order ancient. 
3. The office of Bishop and Presbyters. Strictly preserved in the 
    primitive Church. 
4. Of Archbishops and Patriarchs. Very seldom used. For what end 
    instituted. Hierarchy an improper name, and not used in 
5. Deacons, the second order of Ministers in the primitive Church. 
    Their proper office. The Bishop their inspector. Subdeacons, 
    their assistants. Archdeacons, their presidents. The reading of 
    the Gospel, an adventitious office conferred in honour on the 
6. Mode in which the goods of the Church were anciently dispensed. 
    1. The support of the poor. 2. Due provision for the ministers 
    of the Church. 
7. The administration at first free and voluntary. The revenues of 
    the Church afterwards classed under four heads. 
8. A third part of the revenues devoted to the fabric of churches. 
    To this, however, when necessary, the claim of the poor was 
    preferred. Sayings, testimonies, and examples to this effect, 
    from Cyril, Acatius, Jerome, Exuperius, Ambrose. 
9. The Clerics, among whom were the Doorkeepers and Acolytes, were. 
    the names given to exercises used as a kind of training for 
10. Second part of the chapter, treating of the calling of 
    Ministers. Some error introduced in course of time in respect 
    to celibacy from excessive strictness. In regard to the 
    ordination of Ministers, full regard not always paid to the 
    consent of the people. Why the people less anxious to maintain 
    their right. Ordinations took place at stated times. 
11. In the ordination of Bishops the liberty of the people 
12. Certain limits afterwards introduced to restrain the 
    inconsiderate license of the multitude. 
13. This mode of election long prevailed. Testimony of Gregory. 
    nothing repugnant to this in the decretals of Gratian. 
14. The form of ordination in the ancient Church. 
15. This form gradually changed. 
    1. Hitherto we have discoursed of the order of church 
government as delivered to us in the pure word of God, and of 
ministerial offices as instituted by Christ, (chap. 1 sec. 5, 6; 
chap. 3.) Now that the whole subject may be more clearly and 
familiarly explained, and also better fixed in our minds, it will be 
useful to attend to the form of the early Church, as this will give 
us a kind of visible representation of the divine institution. For 
Al though the bishops of those times published many canons, in which 
they seemed to express more than is expressed by the sacred volume, 
yet they were so cautious in framing all their economy on the word 
of God, the only standard, that it is easy to see that they scarcely 
in any respect departed from it. Even if something may be wanting in 
these enactments, still, as they were sincerely desirous to preserve 
the divine institution, and have not strayed far from it, it will be 
of great benefit here briefly to explain what their observance was. 
As we have stated that three classes of ministers are set before us 
in Scripture, so the early Church distributed all its ministers into 
three orders. For from the order of presbyters, part were selected 
as pastors and teachers, while to the remainder was committed the 
censure of manners and discipline. To the deacons belonged the care 
of the poor and the dispensing of alms. Readers and Acolytes were 
not the names of certain offices; but those whom they called clergy, 
they accustomed from their youth to serve the Church by certain 
exercises, that they might the better understand for what they were 
destined, and afterwards come better prepared for their duty, as I 
will shortly show at greater length. Accordingly, Jerome, in setting 
forth five orders in the Church, enumerates Bishops, Presbyters, 
Deacons, Believers, Catechumens: to the other Clergy and Monks he 
gives no proper place, (Hieron. in Jes. c. 9.) 
    2. All, therefore, to whom the office of teaching was 
committed, they called presbyters, and in each city these presbyters 
selected one of their number to whom they gave the special title of 
bishop, lest, as usually happens, from equality dissension should 
arise. The bishop, however, was not so superior in honour and 
dignity as to have dominion over his colleagues, but as it belongs 
to a president in an assembly to bring matters before them, collect 
their opinions, take precedence of others in consulting, advising, 
exhorting, guide the whole procedure by his authority, and execute 
what is decreed by common consent, a bishop held the same office in 
a meeting of presbyters. And the ancients themselves confess that 
this practice was introduced by human arrangement, according to the 
exigency of the times. Thus Jerome, on the Epistle to Titus, cap. 1 
says, "A bishop is the same as a presbyter. And before dissensions 
were introduced into religion by the instigation of the devil, and 
it was said among the people, I am of Paul, and I of Cephas, 
churches were governed by a common council of presbyters. 
Afterwards, that the seeds of dissension might be plucked up, the 
whole charge was devolved upon one. Therefore, as presbyters know 
that by the custom of the Church they are subject to him who 
presides, so let bishops know that they are greater than presbyters 
more by custom than in consequence of our Lord's appointment, and 
ought to rule the Church for the common good." In another place he 
shows how ancient the custom was, (Hieron. Epist. ad Evang.) For he 
says that at Alexandria, from Mark the Evangelist, as far down as 
Heraclas and Dionysius, presbyters always placed one, selected from 
themselves, in a higher rank, and gave him the name of bishop. Each 
city, therefore, had a college of presbyters, consisting of pastors 
and teachers. For they all performed to the people that office of 
teaching, exhorting, and correcting, which Paul enjoins on bishops, 
(Tit. 1: 9;) and that they might leave a seed behind them, they made 
it their business to train the younger men who had devoted 
themselves to the sacred warfare. To each city was assigned a 
certain district which took presbyters from it, and was considered 
as it were incorporated into that church. Each presbyter, as I have 
said, merely to preserve order and peace, was under one bishop, who, 
though he excelled others in dignity, was subject to the meeting of 
the brethren. But if the district which was under his bishopric was 
too large for him to be able to discharge all the duties of bishop, 
presbyters were distributed over it in certain places to act as his 
substitutes in minor matters. These were called Chorepiscopi, (rural 
bishops,) because they represented the bishops throughout the 
    3. But, in regard to the office of which we now treat, the 
bishop as well as the presbyters behoved to employ themselves in the 
administration of word and sacraments. For, at Alexandria only, (as 
Arius had there troubled the Church,) it was enacted, that no 
presbyter should deliver an address to the people, as Socrates says, 
Tripartite. Hist. Lib. 9. Jerome does not conceal his 
dissatisfaction with the enactment, (Hieron. Epist. ad Evagr.) It 
certainly would have been deemed monstrous for one to give himself 
out as a bishop, and yet not show himself a true bishop by his 
conduct. Such, then, was the strictness of those times, that all 
ministers were obliged to fulfil the office as the Lord requires of 
them. Nor do I refer to the practice of one age only, since not even 
in the time of Gregory, when the Church had almost fallen, 
(certainly had greatly degenerated from ancient purity,) would any 
bishop have been tolerated who abstained from preaching. In some 
part of his twenty-fourth Epistle he says, "The priest dies when no 
sound is heard from him: for he calls forth the wrath of the unseen 
Judge against him if he walks without the sound of preaching." 
elsewhere he says, "When Paul testifies that he is pure from the 
blood of all men, (Acts 20: 26,) by his words, we, who are called 
priests, are charged, are arraigned, are shown to be guilty, since 
to those sins which we have of our own we add the deaths of other 
men, for we commit murder as often as lukewarm and silent we see 
them daily going to destruction," (Gregor. Hom. in Ezek. 11: 26.) He 
calls himself and others silent when less assiduous in their work 
than they ought to be. Since he does not spare even those who did 
their duty partially, what think you would he do in the case of 
those who entirely neglected it? For a long time, therefore, it was 
regarded in the Church as the first duty of a bishop to feed the 
people by the word of God, or to edify the Church, in public and 
private, with sound doctrine. 
    4. As to the fact, that each province had an archbishop among 
the bishops, (see chap. 7 sec. 15,) and, moreover, that, in the 
Council of Nice, patriarchs were appointed to be superior to 
archbishops, in order and dignity, this was designed for the 
preservation of discipline, although, in treating of the subject 
here, it ought not to be omitted, that the practice was very rare. 
The chief reason for which these orders were instituted was, that if 
any thing occurred in any church which could not well be explicated 
by a few, it might be referred to a provincial synod. If the 
magnitude or difficulty of the case demanded a larger discussion, 
patriarchs were employed along with synods, and from them there was 
no appeal except to a General Council. To the government thus 
constituted some gave the name of Hierarchy - a name, in my opinion, 
improper, certainly one not used by Scripture. For the Holy Spirit 
designed to provide that no one should dream of primacy or 
domination in regard to the government of the Church. But if, 
disregarding the term, we look to the thing, we shall find that the 
ancient bishops had no wish to frame a form of church government 
different from that which God has prescribed in his word. 
    5. Nor was the case of deacons then different from what it had 
been under the apostles, (chap. 3 sec. 6.) For they received the 
daily offerings of the faithful, and the annual revenues of the 
Church, that they might apply them to their true uses; in other 
words, partly in maintaining ministers, and partly in supporting the 
poor; at the sight of the bishop, however, to whom they every year 
gave an account of their stewardship. For, although the canons 
uniformly make the bishop the dispenser of all the goods of the 
Church, this is not to be understood as if he by himself undertook 
that charge, but because it belonged to him to prescribe to the 
deacon who were to be admitted to the public alimony of the Church, 
and point out to what persons, and in what portions, the residue was 
to be distributed, and because he was entitled to see whether the 
deacon faithfully performed his office. Thus, in the canons which 
they ascribe to the apostles, it is said, "We command that the 
bishop have the affairs of the Church under his control. For if the 
souls of men, which are more precious, have been intrusted to him, 
much more is he entitled to have the charge of money matters, so 
that under his control all may be dispensed to the poor by the 
presbyters and deacons, that the ministration may be made reverently 
and with due care." And in the Council of Antioch, it was decreed, 
(cap. 35,) that bishops, who intermeddled with the effects of the 
Church, without the knowledge of the presbyters and deacons, should 
be restrained. But there is no occasion to discuss this point 
farther, since it is evident, from many of the letters of Gregory, 
that even at that time, when the ecclesiastical ordinances were 
otherwise much vitiated, it was still the practice for the deacons 
to be under the bishops the stewards of the poor. It is probable 
that at the first subdeacons were attached to the deacons, to assist 
them in the management of the poor; but the distinction was 
gradually lost. Archdeacons began to be appointed when the extent of 
the revenues demanded a new and more exact method of administration, 
though Jerome mentions that it already existed in his day. To them 
belonged the amount of revenues, possessions, and furniture, and the 
charge of the daily offerings. Hence Gregory declares to the 
Archdeacon Solitanus, that the blame rested with him, if any of the 
goods of the Church perished through his fraud or negligence. The 
reading of the word to the people, and exhortation to prayer, was 
assigned to them, and they where permitted, moreover, to give the 
cup in the sacred Supper; but this was done for the purpose of 
honouring their office, that they might perform it with greater 
reverence, when they were reminded by such symbols that what they 
discharged was not some profane stewardship, but a spiritual 
function dedicated to God. 
    6. Hence, also, we may judge what was the use, and of what 
nature was the distribution of ecclesiastical goods. You may every 
where find, both from the decrees of synods, and from ancient 
writers, that whatever the Church possessed, either in lands or in 
money, was the patrimony of the poor. Accordingly, the saying is 
ever and anon sounded in the ears of bishops and deacons, Remember 
that you are not handling your own property, but that destined for 
the necessities of the poor; if you dishonestly conceal or 
dilapidate it, you will be guilty of blood. Hence they are 
admonished to distribute them to those to whom they are due, with 
the greatest fear and reverence, as in the sight of God, without 
respect of persons. Hence, also, in Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine, 
and other like bishops, those grave obtestations in which they 
assert their integrity before the people. But since it is just in 
itself, and was sanctioned by a divine law, that those who devote 
their labour to the Church shall be supported at the public expense 
of the Church, and some presbyters in that age having consecrated 
their patrimony to God, had become voluntarily poor, the 
distribution was so made that aliment was afforded to ministers, and 
the poor were not neglected. Meanwhile, it was provided that the 
ministers themselves, who ought to be an example of frugality to 
others, should not have so much as might be abused for luxury or 
delicacy; but only what might be needful to support their wants: 
"For those clergy, who can be supported by their own patrimony," 
says Jerome, "commit sacrilege if they accept what belongs to the 
poor, and by such abuse eat and drink judgement to themselves." 
    7. At first the administration was free and voluntary, when 
bishops and deacons were faithful of their own accord, and when 
integrity of conscience and purity of life supplied the place of 
laws. Afterwards, when, from the cupidity and depraved desires of 
some, bad examples arose, Canons were framed, to correct these 
evils, and divided the revenues of the Church into four parts, 
assigning one to the clergy, another to the poor, another to the 
repair of churches and other edifices, a fourth to the poor whether 
strangers or natives. For though other canons attribute this last 
part to the bishop, it differs in no respect from the division which 
I have mentioned. For they do not mean that it is his property, 
which he may devour alone or squander in any way he pleases, but 
that it may enable him to use the hospitality which Paul requires in 
that order, (1 Tim. 3: 2.) This is the interpretation of Gelasius 
and Gregory. For the only reason which Gelasius gives why the bishop 
should claim any thing to himself is that he may be able to bestow 
it on captives and strangers. Gregory speaks still more clearly: "It 
is the custom of the Apostolic See," says he, "to give command to 
the bishop who has been ordained, to divide all the revenues into 
four portions, namely, one to the bishop and his household for 
hospitality and maintenance, another to the clergy, a third to the 
poor, a fourth to the repair of churches." The bishop, therefore, 
could not lawfully take for his own use more than was sufficient for 
moderate and frugal food and clothing. When any one began to wanton 
either in luxury or ostentation and show, he was immediately 
reprimanded by his colleagues, and if he obeyed not, was deprived of 
his honours. 
    8. Moreover the sum expended on the adorning of churches was at 
first very trifling, and even afterwards, when the Church had become 
somewhat more wealthy, they in that matter observed mediocrity. 
Still, whatever money was then collected was reserved for the poor, 
when any greater necessity occurred. Thus Cyril, when a famine 
prevailed in the province of Jerusalem, and the want could not 
otherwise be supplied, took the vessels and robes and sold them for 
the support of the poor. In like manner, Acatius, Bishop of Amida, 
when a great multitude of the Persian were almost destroyed by 
famine, having assembled the clergy, and delivered this noble 
address, "Our God has no need either of chalices or salvers, for he 
neither eats nor drinks," (Tripart. Hist. Lib. 5 and Lib. 6 c. 16,) 
melted down the plate, that he might be able to furnish food and 
obtain the means of ransoming the miserable. Jerome also, while 
inveighing against the excessive splendour of churches relates that 
Exuperius, Bishop of Tholouse, in his day, though he carried the 
body of the Lord in a wicker basket, and his blood in a glass, 
nevertheless suffered no poor man to be hungry, (Hieron. ad 
Nepotian.) What I lately said of Acatius, Ambrose relates of 
himself. For when the Asians assailed him for having broken down the 
sacred vessels for the ransom of captives, he made this most 
admirable excuse: "He who sent the apostles without gold has also 
gathered churches without gold. The Church has gold not to keep but 
to distribute, and give support in necessity. What need is there of 
keeping what is of no benefit? Are we ignorant how much gold and 
silver the Assyrians carried off from the temple of the Lord? Is it 
not better for a priest to melt them for the support of the poor, if 
other means are wanting, than for a sacrilegious enemy to carry them 
away? Would not the Lord say, Why have you suffered so many poor to 
die of hunger, and you certainly had gold wherewith to minister to 
their support? Why have so many captives been carried away and not 
redeemed? Why have so many been slain by the enemy? It had been 
better to preserve living than metallic vessels. These charges you 
will not be able to answer: for what could you say? I feared lest 
the temple of God should want ornament. He would answer, Sacraments 
require not gold, and things which are not bought with gold please 
not by gold. The ornament of the Sacraments is the ransom of 
captives," (Ambrose. de Office. Lib. 2 c. 28.) In a word, we see the 
exact truth of what he elsewhere says, viz., that whatever the 
Church then possessed was the revenue of the needy. Again, A bishop 
has nothing but what belongs to the poor, (Ambrose. Lib. 5 Ep. 31, 
    9. We have now reviewed the ministerial offices of the ancient 
Church. For others, of which ecclesiastical writers make mention, 
were rather exercises and preparations than distinct offices. These 
holy men, that they might leave a nursery of the Church behind them, 
received young men, who, with the consent and authority of their 
parents, devoted themselves to the spiritual warfare under their 
guardianship and training, and so formed them from their tender 
years, that they might not enter on the discharge of the office as 
ignorant novices. All who received this training were designated by 
the general name of Clerks. I could wish that some more appropriate 
name had been given them, for this appellation had its origin in 
error, or at least improper feeling, since the whole Church is by 
Peter denominated "kleros" (clerus,) that is, the inheritance of the 
Lord, (1 Pet. 5: 3.) It was in itself however a most sacred and 
salutary institutions that those who wished to devote themselves and 
their labour to the Church should be brought up under the charge of 
the bishop; so that no one should minister in the Church unless he 
had been previously well trained, unless he had in early life 
imbibed sound doctrine, unless by stricter discipline he had formed 
habits of gravity and severer morals, been withdrawn from ordinary 
business, and accustomed to spiritual cares and studies. For as 
lyres in the military art are trained by mock fights for true and 
serious warfare, so there was a rudimental training by which they 
were exercised in clerical duty before they were actually appointed 
to office. First, then, they intrusted them with the opening and 
shutting of the church, and called them Ostiarii. Next, they gave 
the name of Acolytes to those who assisted the bishop in domestic 
services, and constantly attended him, first, as a mark of respect; 
and, secondly that no suspicion might arise. Moreover, that they 
might gradually become known to the people, and recommend themselves 
to them, and at the same time might learn to stand the gaze of all, 
and speak before all, that they might not, when appointed 
presbyters, be overcome with shame when they came forward to teach, 
the office of reading in the desk was given them. In this way they 
were gradually advanced, that they might prove their carefulness in 
separate exercises, until they were appointed subdeacons. All I mean 
by this is, that these were rather the rudimentary exercises of 
lyres than functions which were accounted among the true ministries 
of the Church. 
    10. In regard to what we have set down as the first and second 
heads in the calling of ministers, viz., the persons to be elected 
and the religious care to be therein exercised, the ancient Church 
followed the injunction of Paul, and the examples of the apostles. 
For they were accustomed to meet for the election of pastors with 
the greatest reverence, and with earnest prayer to God. Moreover, 
they had a form of examination by which they tested the life and 
doctrine of those who were to be elected by the standard of Paul, (1 
Tim. 3: 2;) only here they sometimes erred from excessive 
strictness, by exacting more of a bishop than Paul requires, and 
especially, in process of time, by exacting celibacy: but in other 
respects their practice corresponded with Paul's description. In 
regard to our third head, however, viz., Who were entitled to 
appoint ministers? they did not always observe the same rule. 
Anciently none were admitted to the number of the clergy without the 
consent of the whole people: and hence Cyprian makes a laboured 
apology for having appointed Aurelius a reader without consulting 
the Church, because, although done contrary to customs it was not 
done without reason. He thus premises: "In ordaining clergy, dearest 
brethren, we are wont previously to consult you, and weigh the 
manners and merits of each by the common advice," (Cyprian. Lib. 2. 
Ep. 5.) But as in these minor exercises there was no great danger, 
inasmuch as they were appointed to a long probation and unimportant 
function, the consent of the people ceased to be asked. Afterwards, 
in other orders also, with the exception of the bishopric, the 
people usually left the choice and decision to the bishop and 
presbyters, who thus determined who were fit and worthy, unless, 
perhaps, when new presbyters were appointed to parishes, for then 
the express consent of the inhabitants of the place behaved to be 
given. Nor is it strange that in this matter the people were not 
very anxious to maintain their right, for no subdeacon was appointed 
who had not given a long proof of his conduct in the clerical 
office, agreeably to the strictness of discipline then in use. After 
he had approved himself in that degree he was appointed deacon, and 
thereafter, if he conducted himself faithfully, he attained to the 
honour of a presbyter. Thus none were promoted whose conduct had 
not, in truth, been tested for many years under the eye of the 
people. There were also many canons for punishing their faults, so 
that the Church, if she did not neglect the remedies, was not 
burdened with bad presbyters or deacons. In the case of presbyters, 
indeed, the consent of the citizens was always required, as is 
attested by the canon, (Primus Distinct. 67,) which is attributed to 
Anacletus. In fine, all ordinations took place at stated periods of 
the year, that none might creep in stealthily without the consent of 
the faithful, or be promoted with too much facility without 
    11. In electing bishops, the people long retained their right 
of preventing any one from being intruded who was not acceptable to 
all. Accordingly, it was forbidden by the Council of Antioch to 
induct any one on the unwilling. This also Leo I carefully confirms. 
Hence these passages: "Let him be elected whom the clergy and people 
or the majority demand." Again, "Let him who is to preside over all 
be elected by all," (Leo, Ep. 90, cap. 2.) He, therefore, who is 
appointed while unknown and unexamined, must of necessity be 
violently intruded. Again, "Let him be elected who is chosen by the 
clergy, and called by the people, and let him be consecrated by the 
provincials with the judgement of the metropolitan." So careful were 
the holy fathers that this liberty of the people should on no 
account be diminished, that when a general council, assembled at 
Constantinople, were ordaining Nectarius, they declined to do it 
without the approbation of the whole clergy and people, as their 
letter to the Roman synod testified. Accordingly, when any bishop 
nominated his successor, the act was not ratified without consulting 
the whole people. Of this you have not only an example, but the 
form, in Augustine, in the nomination of Radius, (August. Ep. 110.) 
And Theodore, after relating that Peter was the successor nominated 
by Athanasius, immediately adds, that the sacerdotal order ratified 
it, that the magistracy, chief men, and whole people, by their 
acclamation approved. 
    12. It was, indeed, decreed (and I admit on the best grounds) 
by the Council of Laodicea, (Can. 18) that the election should not 
be left to crowds. For it scarcely ever happens that so many heads, 
with one consent, settle any affair well. It generally holds true, 
"Incertum scindi studia in contraria vulgus;" - "Opposing wishes 
rend the fickle crowd." For, first, the clergy alone selected, and 
presented him whom they had selected to the magistrate, or senate, 
and chief men. These, after deliberation, put their signature to the 
election, if it seemed proper, if not, they chose another whom they 
more highly approved. The matter was then laid before the multitude, 
who, although not bound by those previous proceedings, were less 
able to act tumultuously. Or, if the matter began with the 
multitude, it was only that it might be known whom they were most 
desirous to have; the wishes of the people being heard, the clergy 
at length elected. Thus it was neither lawful for the clergy to 
appoint whom they chose, nor were they, however, under the necessity 
of yielding to the foolish desires of the people. Leo sets down this 
order, when he says, "The wishes of the citizens, the testimonies of 
the people, the choice of the honourable, the election of the 
clergy, are to be waited for," (Leo, Ep. 87.) Again, "Let the 
testimony of the honourable, the subscription of the clergy, the 
consent of the magistracy and people, be obtained; otherwise (says 
he) it must on no account be done." Nor is any thing more intended 
by the decree of the Council of Laodicea, than that the clergy and 
rulers were not to allow themselves to be carried away by the rash 
multitude, but rather by their prudence and gravity to repress their 
foolish desires whenever there was occasion. 
    13. This mode of election was still in force in the time of 
Gregory, and probably continued to a much later period. Many of his 
letters which are extant clearly prove this, for whenever a new 
bishop is to be elected, his custom is to write to the clergy, 
magistrates, and people; sometimes also to the governor, according 
to the nature of the government. But if, on account of the unsettled 
state of the Church, he gives the oversight of the election to a 
neighbouring bishop, he always requires a formal decision confirmed 
by the subscriptions of all. Nay, when one Constantius was elected 
Bishop of Milan, and in consequence of the incursions of the 
Barbarians many of the Milanese had fled to Genoa, he thought that 
the election would not be lawful unless they too were called 
together and gave their assent, (Gregor. Lib. 2 Ep. 69.) Nay, five 
hundred years have not elapsed since Pope Nicholas fixed the 
election of the Roman Pontiff in this way, first, that the cardinals 
should precede; next, that they should join to themselves the other 
clergy; and, lastly, that the election should be ratified by the 
consent of the people. And in the end he recites the decree of Leo, 
which I lately quoted, and orders it to be enforced in future. But 
should the malice of the wicked so prevail that the clergy are 
obliged to quit the city, in order to make a pure election, he, 
however, orders that some of the people shall, at the same time, be 
present. The suffrage of the Emperor, as far as we can understand, 
was required only in two churches, those of Rome and Constantinople, 
these being the two seats of empire. For when Ambrose was sent by 
Valentinianus to Milan with authority to superintend the election of 
a new bishop, it was an extraordinary proceeding, in consequence of 
the violent factions which raged among the citizens. But at Rome the 
authority of the Emperor in the election of the bishop was so great, 
that Gregory says he was appointed to the government of the Church 
by his order, (Gregor. Lib. 1 Ep. 5,) though he had been called by 
the people in regular form. The custom, however, was, that when the 
magistrates, clergy, and people, nominated any one, he was forthwith 
presented to the Emperor, who either by approving ratified, or by 
disapproving annulled the election. There is nothing contrary to 
this practice in the decretals which are collected by Gratian, where 
all that is said is, that it was on no account to be tolerated that 
canonical election should be abolished, and a king should at 
pleasure appoint a bishop, and that one thus promoted by violent 
authority was not to be consecrated by the metropolitans. For it is 
one thing to deprive the Church of her rights and transfer it 
entirely to the caprice of a single individual; it is another thing 
to assign to a king or emperor the honour of confirming a legitimate 
election by his authority. 
    14. It now remains to treat of the form by which the ministers 
of the ancient Church were initiated to their office after election. 
This was termed by the Latins, Ordination or consecration, and by 
the Greeks "cheirotonia", sometimes also "cheirotesia", though 
"cheirotonia" properly denotes that mode of election by which 
suffrages are declared by a show of hands. There is extant a decree 
of the Council of Nice, to the effect that the metropolitans, with 
all the bishops of the province, were to meet to ordain him who was 
chosen. But if, from distance, or sickness, or any other necessary 
cause, part were prevented, three at least should meet, and those 
who were absent signify their consent by letter. And this canon, 
after it had fallen into desuetude, was afterwards renewed by 
several councils. All, or at least all who had not an excuse, were 
enjoined to be present, in order that a stricter examination might 
be had of the life and doctrine of him who was to be ordained; for 
the thing was not done without examination. And it appears, from the 
words of Cyprian, that, in old time, they were not wont to be called 
after the election, but to be present at the election, and with the 
view of their acting as moderators, that no disorder might be 
committed by the crowd. For after saying that the people had the 
power either of choosing worthy or refusing unworthy priests, he 
immediately adds, "For which reason, we must carefully observe and 
hold by the divine and apostolic tradition, (which is observed by us 
also, and almost by all the provinces) that for the due performance 
of ordinations all the nearest bishops of the province should meet 
with the people over whom the person is proposed to be ordained, and 
the bishop should be elected in presence of the people. But as they 
were sometimes too slowly assembled, and there was a risk that some 
might abuse the delay for purposes of intrigue, it was thought that 
it would be sufficient if they came after the designation was made 
and on due investigation consecrated him who had been approved. 
    15. While this was done every where without exception, a 
different custom gradually gained ground, namely, that those who 
were elected should go to the metropolitan to obtain ordination. 
This was owing more to ambition, and the corruption of the ancient 
customs than to any good reason. And not long after, the authority 
of the Romish See being now increased, another still worse custom 
was introduced, of applying to it for the consecration of the 
bishops of almost all Italy. This we may observe from the letters of 
Gregory, (Lib. 2 Ep. 69, 76.) The ancient right was preserved by a 
few cities only which had not yielded so easily; for instance, 
Milan. Perhaps metropolitan sees only retained their privilege. For, 
in order to consecrate an archbishop, it was the practice for all 
the provincial bishops to meet in the metropolitan city. The form 
used was the laying on of hands, (chap. 19. sec. 28, 31.) I do not 
read that any other ceremonies were used, except that, in the public 
meeting, the bishops had some dress to distinguish them from the 
other presbyters. Presbyters, also, and deacons, were ordained by 
the laying on of hands; but each bishop, with the college of 
presbyters, ordained his own presbyters. But though they all did the 
same act, yet because the bishop presided, and the ordination was 
performed as it were under his auspices, it was said to be his. 
Hence ancient writers often say that a presbyter does not differ in 
any respect from a bishop except in not having the power of 

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 4
(continued in part 6...)

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