Jerome On Monepiscopacy: The Triumph Of Pragmatism Not Principle

The presbyter is the same as the bishop, and before parties had been raised up in religion by the provocations of Satan, the churches were governed by the Senate of the presbyters. But as each one sought to appropriate to himself those whom he had baptized, instead of leading them to Christ, it was appointed that one of the presbyters, elected by his colleagues, should be set over all the others, and have chief supervision over the general well-being of the community. . . Without doubt it is the duty of the presbyters to bear in mind that by the discipline of the Church they are subordinated to him who has been given them as their head, but it is fitting that the bishops, on their side, do not forget that if they are set over the presbyters, it is the result of tradition, and not by the fact of a particular institution by the Lord.

—Jerome, Commentary on Titus 1:7 (HT: Mike Kruger)

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  1. Question: Do you think that Jerome here means by ‘presbytery’ a presbytery of pastors over several congregations in a municipal district? Or do you think he means ‘the elders in a local congregation?’

    There is good evidence that Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Magnesians, meant ‘the elders in the local church.’ And what he referred to as the bishop was the pastor.

    The Independents like Thomas Goodwin and John Owen had very strong arguments to prove that presbyteries were the standing councils in the local congregations, whereas ‘synods’ of elders from various congregations were occasional and not standing.

    What would be an *honest* assessment of what Jerome means above.

  2. Interesting that Hieronymus’ comment seems to indicate that distinction between bishop and presbyter was a response to the rise of heresies. Further, this comment from him is clear that the primitive Christian system was “presbyterian”.

    To bounce Jerome off of post-modern New Testament scholars, it seems that the latter tend to argue that the NT canon we have was put in place to support a three office system of deacons, presbyters, and bishops, with the last claiming to be successors of the Twelve; and this was opposed to an originally free-form, loose association bound by a common reverence for the name of Jesus (sort of like liberal so-called Protestantism, no?). Yet I have not seen people like Pagels or Ehrman (who are admittedly not my favorite big name religion scholars) making anything of the NT’s identity of presbyter and bishop; something that was certainly a momentous discovery for the Swiss-Rhenish-Puritan Reformation, and, as the quote above shows, known to Jerome.

    The documentation and defense of a primitive presbytery is probably more portentious than present-day people presume. On the one hand, we have the arrogance of het Romster kerk which claims that it gave us the New Testament; on the other, a liberal New Ageism which dusts off the Gnostics (and seriously misrepresents them, I’ve noticed). However, an insistence that the Reformers’ rediscovery and correct reading of the New Testament would be a valuable corrective to both.

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