I.        The Roman Catholic Church.

II.       The Eastern Church.

III.      The Jansenist Church of Holland and the Old Catholics.

IV.      The Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church.

V.       The Reformed Episcopal Church.

VI.      The Moravian Church.

VII.     The Lutheran Churches.

VIII.    The Reformed Churches.

IX.      The American Methodist Episcopal Churches.

X.       The Historic Episcopate.

Episcopacy is church government by bishops. The purpose of this article is to give a concise statement of the views concerning the episcopal office held by different Christian communions; for the origin of the office, its historic development, and theories of its relative dignity, see POLITY, ECCLESIASTICAL; for the selection of bishops and their duties, see BISHOP; see also the articles upon the several bodies named below.


I. The Roman Catholic Church holds to the divine origin and authority of episcopacy. Its position was distinctly defined by the Council of Trent: "If any one saith that in the Catholic Church there is not a hierarchy by divine ordination instituted, consisting of bishops, priests and ministers; let him be anathema. If any one saith that bishops are not superior to priests . . . or that the power which they possess is common to them and to priests . . . let him be anathema" (session xxiii. 6, 7). Episcopacy is held as essential to the Church as the sacraments; the Church can not exist without it. The words of Cyprian (Epist., lxviii. [lxvi., lxix.] 8, ANF, v. 374-375), "the Church is in the bishop," present this view concisely. The bishops are the immediate successors of the apostles, "all chief rulers by vicarious ordination succeed to the apostles" (Cyprian, ut sup., 4, ANF, v. 373). Another view was quite prevalent in the Middle Ages, viz., that all bishops are successors of St. Peter and stand in his stead ("the leaders of the Church, who hold the place of Peter," Robert Grosseteste, Epist., xxiii., ed. Luard, Rolls Series, no. 25), a view held also by the Church Fathers. It is a matter of uncertainty whether the bishops are an order distinct from the priests or not (cf. Friedberg, Kirchenrecht, p. 150). They are certainly superior to priests and deacons not merely in jurisdiction but in the kind of grace they possess. In their consecration a special grace is imparted and they alone have the right to ordain and thus confer an indelible grace. Thomas Aquinas again and again affirms that the episcopate is not a distinct order and that consecration to it has not a sacramental character (cf. Sententiæ, IV. xxiv. 3; Summa, Supp., xi. 5, ed. Migne, iv. 1074). The Council of Trent speaks of the "hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons" but its language is susceptible of a twofold interpretation, for it classes subdeacons with the ordines majores (session xxiii. 2). Innocent III. (1198-1216) included the subdeacon in the ordines majores. If the subdiaconate be an order by itself then the bishop belongs to the order of the priesthood and is not a distinct order.


The pope is at the head of the hierarchy of bishops and, as the immediate successor of Peter, all bishops are subject to him as the vicar of Christ and the successor of the divinely appointed head of the apostles. The confirmation of bishops by the pope was made a fixed rule by Nicholas III (1277-80). The theory that the bishops are assistants of the pope was definitely stated by Innocent III. Quoting Leo I. ( Epist., vi., MPL, liv. 671) he declared that they receive their authority to assist the pope and not as having "plenitude of power" (cf. Döllinger-Friedrich, Papstthum, Munich, 1892, pp. 73, 409). This theory was advocated by the papal publicists in the early half of the fourteenth century and opposed by the anti-papal publicists of the same age, such as Pierre Dubois, and by Gerson and other Gallican leaders in the fifteenth century. This view of Innocent III. seriously limits the prerogative of the bishops and enables the pope to depose them and makes their resignation valid only when accepted by him. The Vatican Decrees (iv. 3; Schaff, Creeds, ii. 262 sqq.) order obedience to the pope by "all pastors" in "all matters that belong to faith and morals and also in those that pertain to the government and discipline of the Church," and also assert "that their episcopal authority is really strengthened and protected by the supreme and universal Pastor." The struggle over the Gallican and Ultramontane theories of the jurisdiction and original authority of the episcopate was theoretically brought to a close by the decision of the Vatican Council.


II. The Eastern Church holds likewise to the divine origin of episcopacy, to the transmission of apostolic grace, and to apostolic succession. It dissents from the Latin Church in refusing to recognize the pope as the spiritual head of all Christendom, but is ready to acknowledge him as the patriarch of Western Christendom, occupying an equal dignity with the four historic patriarchs of the East, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.


III. The Jansenist Church of Holland and the Old Catholics both agree with the Roman Catholic Church on the question of the divine authority of episcopacy, but differ from it in holding the Gallican theory of the episcopate, i.e., they deny to the pope anything more than an appellate and supervisory jurisdiction over the Church, hold that he may err, and that ecumenical councils are superior to him in authority. The episcopate of the Dutch Jansenists was received in 1724 from Dominique Marie Varlet, Bishop of Babylon, then living in Amsterdam. Other Roman Catholic bishops, on being applied to, refused the rite of consecration. Each new consecration ever since has been noticed by a special excommunication from Rome. The Old Catholics secured their orders from the Jansenists of Holland, the bishop of Deventer consecrating Bishop Reinkens (Aug. 11, 1873), who subsequently consecrated Dr. Herzog bishop for Switzerland (Sept. 18, 1876), so that they preserved the apostolic succession.


IV. The Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States tolerate two classes of opinion,--the Anglo-Catholic or High-church view, and the Low- or Broad-church view. (1) The Anglo-Catholic view of the episcopate is in essential particulars that of the Roman Catholic Church. It does not recognize the superior authority of the pope, as the vicar of Christ and the infallible successor of St. Peter, nor even place ordination among the sacraments. But it regards episcopacy as indispensable to the very being of the Church, holds to the transmission of grace by the imposition of hands, accepts apostolic succession, and denies validity to any ministry not ordained by bishops. Bishops "as being the successors of the apostles are possessed of the same power of jurisdiction" (J. H. Blunt, Dictionary of Doctrinal and Historical Theology, p. 85, London, 1870). They are, and have been from the time of the apostles, an order distinct from the priesthood and diaconate and higher than both. As late as 1618 the highest authority in the Church of England, James I., recognized the ordination of the Reformed Churches of the Continent when he sent a delegation made up in part of bishops to the Synod of Dort. Archbishop Laud (1633-45) was the most extreme representative of the jure divino right of episcopacy the Church of England has had, and his intolerance brought him to the block. (2) The Low- and Broad-church view regards the episcopate as desirable and necessary for the well being, not to the being, of the Church. The episcopal is not the only form of government with Scriptural authority (if, indeed, it or any other be recommended by Scripture); but it is the one best adapted to forward the interests of Christ's kingdom among men. The best Anglican writers on this side agree that the episcopate developed out of the presbyterate, and that there are only two orders of the ministry in the New Testament, presbyters and deacons. Dr. Lightfoot, bishop of Durham, in his scholarly and exhaustive discussion of the subject (commentary on Philippians, pp. 180-267), says, "It is clear, that, at the close of the Apostolic Age, the two lower orders of the threefold ministry were firmly and widely established; but traces of the episcopate, properly so called, are few and indistinct.... The episcopate was formed out of the presbyteral order by elevation; and the title, which originally was common to all, came at length to be appropriated to the chief of them." And again he says, "The episcopate was formed out of the presbytery." After he was made bishop he stated that his views on the episcopate had been misunderstood. Dean Stanley (Christian Institutions, p. 210) representing the same view, says, "According to the strict rules of the Church derived from those early times, there are but two orders, presbyters and deacons."


This view, which is also held by such men as Arnold, Alford, Jacob, and Hatch, was the view of the divines of the English Reformation, Cranmer, Jewel, Grindal, and afterward Field ("The apostles left none to succeed them," Of the Church, vol. iv., p. vii.), defended episcopacy as the most ancient and general form of government, but always acknowledged the validity of Presbyterian orders. (Cf. G. P. Fisher, in the New Englander, 1874, pp. 121-172.) Bishop Parkhurst looked upon the Church of Zurich as the absolute pattern of a Christian community; and Bishop Ponet would have abandoned even the term "bishop" to the Catholics. Ecclesiastics held positions in the Church of England who had received only Presbyterian ordination. Such were Whittingham, Dean of Durham, Cartwright, Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, and Travers, provost of Trinity College, Dublin. It is doubtful whether any prelate of the English Church in Elizabeth's reign held the jure divino theory of episcopacy, though Archbishop Bancroft (d. 1605) seems to have been the first Anglican prelate to avow it. Two of the most elaborate defenders of the Low-church view in the seventeenth century were Stillingfleet and Ussher, the latter representing the episcopate as only a presidency of the presbyter over his peers; yet the Episcopal Church reordains all ministers who have not been episcopally ordained, but accepts priests of the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches without reordination.


The orders of the Anglican Church were declared invalid by Leo III. in the bull Apostolicæ curæ of Sept. 13, 1896 (in Mirbt, Quellen, p. 406), the decision being based on certain defects in the form of ordination. Mr. Gladstone's appeal to the pope to hold the decision in abeyance was not heeded. The archbishops of Canterbury and York united in a reply (1897).


V. The Reformed Episcopal Church holds to an episcopacy of expediency. "It adheres to episcopacy, not as of divine right, but as a very ancient and desirable form of church polity" (Declaration of Principles, Dec. 1, 1873). Its founder and first bishop was George David Cummins (q.v.), who had been assistant bishop of the Episcopal Church in Kentucky.


VI. The Moravian Church deserves separate and special mention, for three reasons. Its episcopate was active before the Reformation on the Continent and in England began; it is in the apostolic succession; and its bishopric in America antedates those of the Episcopal (1784) and Methodist (1784) denominations by forty years, August Gottlieb Spangenberg (q.v.) having been consecrated in Germany, 1744, and exercised oversight in Pennsylvania from 1745 to 1762. The first bishops consecrated in America were the Moravian, Martin Mack, at Bethlehem, Oct. 18, 1770, and Michael Graff, at Bethlehem, June 6, 1773. The first Moravian bishop was consecrated at Lhotka in 1467 by the regularly ordained Waldensian bishop Stephen (cf. E. A. de Schweinitz, The Moravian Episcopate, London, 1877; see BOHEMIAN BRETHREN). The British parliament recognized the validity of Moravian ordination in 1749. In 1881, however, Bishop Stevens of Pennsylvania reordained a Moravian presbyter, aiming to give him "a more ample ordination." The Moravians recognize the ordination of other Christian bodies as valid, admitting presbyters at once into their ministry (Law Book of the Church, ix. 63). [The medieval Waldenses had a connexional organization with bishops or general superintendents (majores or majorales), ordained if possible by other majores; in the absence of a major, by presbyters. They claimed apostolic succession for their majores. Their authority in ordaining and in exercising discipline was much greater than that of presbyters (cf. B. Gui, Practica Inquisitionis hereticæ pravitatis, ed. C. Douais, Paris, 1886, pp. 136-137). The Moravian Anabaptists had a similar polity with a single bishop or head of the whole connection.

A. H. N.]


VII. The Lutheran Churches have for the most part abandoned episcopacy, and where they retain the name "bishop" the authority of the official is regarded as of human bestowment. The parity of the ministry is a fundamental tenet of Lutherans. With rare exceptions (George of Polentz, bishop of Samland (q.v.), and Echard, bishop of Pomerania) the bishops on the Continent, unlike the bishops in England, held aloof from the Reformation. Luther might have had episcopal ordination for the first Lutheran preachers, but, as he distinctly said, he did not want it. He ordained with his own hands the first minister of the new order, his amanuensis, G. Rörer. He pronounced the ministry a matter of expediency, that things may be done in an orderly and decent manner. An officer with supervisory jurisdiction somewhat similar to that of bishop is called in Germany Superintendent (q.v.). The Lutheran Church in Sweden has bishops; a committee was appointed in 1874, by the convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States, to investigate the validity of it orders, but the convention let the matter drop and no decision was pronounced. There is much doubt concerning the integrity of the succession. Lawrence Peterson was consecrated by Paul Justin Bishop of Abo, in 1575 Archbishop of Upsala The evidence for the validity of Justin's consecration is defective. But the confessions of the Swedish Church recognize the equality of the ministry. The bishops of the Church of Denmark have no claim whatever to apostolic succession although the English bishops of India have recognized Danish ordination. Christian III. in 1531 imprisoned the old bishops; and the new ones whom he appointed were at first called superintendents and ordained by Bugenhagen.


VIII. The Reformed Churches recognize two orders of the ministry, presbyters and deacons They believe that the bishops of the New Testament were identical with presbyters, and deny that the apostles appointed any successors. They do not deny that episcopacy as a matter of expediency may be justifiable; but they do not concede either its divine origin, or the transmission of grace by the imposition of hands, or apostolic succession, in the Anglo-Catholic sense. (Cf. the Form of Government of the Presbyterian Church, chaps. iii., v., etc.) Calvin supported episcopacy for Poland and acquiesced in it for England. John Knox divided Scotland into eleven districts for each of which a "superintendent" was to be chosen; his duties were to be those of a missionary supervisor and the idea of a separate order of the ministry was not thought of.


IX. The American Methodist Episcopal Churches have an episcopacy which is neither diocesan nor hierarchical, but itinerant and presbyterial. The bishops constitute an "itinerant general superintendency," and are "amenable to the body of ministers and preachers," who may divest them of their office. They are not a distinct order of the clergy, but only presbyters. The Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States (North) at several of its recent General Conferences has emphatically disavowed that the episcopate is an order; it is only a function. The Methodist Church can not claim apostolic succession if it would. John Wesley after having applied in vain to the Bishop of London to ordain preachers for America, himself ordained the first bishop, Thomas Coke (q.v.), in 1784. The Wesleyan Church in Great Britain has superintendents The Evangelical Association and the Church of the United Brethren also have an episcopate. Their bishops are elected for a stated period and not for life.


X. The Historic Episcopate is an expression first used in its technical sense by the Protestant Episcopal Church at its Triennial Convention in Chicago 1886. The expression occurs in a series of four articles adopted by the Convention which were intended to be a basis for the reunion of Christendom. They were reaffirmed by the Pan-Anglican Synod at Lambeth, 1888 (see LAMBETH CONFERENCE). In the communications which passed between the committee appointed by the Triennial Convention and the Presbyterian General Assembly of the United States of America, it was found that the expression meant that there is a special order of bishops which goes back to apostolic times and the proposition of union on that basis was declined (cf. the Minutes of the General Assembly for 1887, pp. 132-134, 154-156, and for 1880, pp. 93-101; also C. W. Shields, The Historic Episcopate (New York, 1894).



Bibliography: Add to the works cited under BISHOPS and POLITY, ECCLESIASTICAL, J. Reville, Les Origines de l’‘episcopal, Paris, 1895.