According to the Reformed conception, which is the only scriptural one, the deacons, elders, and ministers of the gospel, are, as office-bearers, of equal rank; and the presbytery or college of elders (consistory) is under Christ the only and highest judicial (not merely ethical) power in the church, which is the local congregation. According to Rome on the other hand, the church is the sum and total of local congregations; and in this community the bishop of Rome—the pope—is, under God the supreme judicial power and the culminating point; and to his person all the other dignitaries and powers in the church—thus also those dignitaries that correspond to the deacons, presby­ters or elders, and ministers of the Word in the Pro­testant churches—are subject. In the person of the pope these offices are united and are one. He is the supreme deacon in the church; the supreme presbyter, elder, bishop; the supreme and infallible minister of the world, pastor and teacher, father or pope. In the church on earth, he is in the place of Christ—such is the conception—and as Christ he mediates between God and man. This, in brief, is papacy or popism. This essay represents an attempt to discover its be­ginning.

In the apostolic churches and at the close of the apostolic age, there were, according to 1 Tim. 5:17, ‘“teaching elders’’ or ministers proper, and “ruling elders.” “This distinction,” says Schaff, “is a con­venient arrangement of Reformed churches, that can hardly claim apostolic sanction, since the one passage on which it rests only speaks of two functions in the same office.” But the fact is that the apostle actually does distinguish between “the elders that rule well,” and those who, in addition, “labor in the word and in teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17), so that the distinction can claim certainly apostolic sanction. If words have meaning then what this text asserts is that there were two kinds of elders in the church. That the two of­fices are essentially one we well understand.

In the apostolic church the “ruling elder” and the “teaching elder” or minister of the word, were of equal rank. The litter, as compared with the former, was not a higher judicial power. This can be proven. The two names “presbyter (elder)” and “bishop” are applied to both. The same officers of the church of Ephesus are alternately called presbyters and bishops. Paul sends greetings to the “bishops” and “deacons” of Philippi, but fails to mention the presbyters be­cause they were included in the first term. (Phil. 1:1). All the elders appear as a college in one and the same congregation. This interchange of names continued to the close of the first century. Thus, of the form of government of which the papacy is representative, there are really no traces in apostolic times. But when the church emerges from the impenetrable cloud which covers the close of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century, we find every Christian community go­verned by a chief functionary, uniformly termed its “bishop” with two inferior orders of ministers under them known as “presbyters” and “deacons”; and the title which originally was common to all the elders was now appropriated only to the chief functionary among them. He alone, in distinction from his col­leagues in the service was now bearing the title of “Bishop.” He may have been a common elder in the church or the minister of the word, the pastor of the flock. Certainly he was a man of superior ability and well-endowed with the spiritual gifts and on this ac­count chosen to be the head of the congregation and to bear the title of “bishop.”

At first the power of the bishop over his colleagues was purely ethical. When at length it became judi­cial as to its character, the title “‘bishop,” signified a new and superior office distinct from that of the presbyters (including the pastors and teachers.)

The statement was just made that, there are no traces of such an office in apostolic times. Those who challenge this statement make the following points:

1) The position of James. He stood at the head of the church at Jerusalem.

2) The assistants and delegates of the apostles, like Timothy, Titus, Silas, Luke and Mark, had super­vision of several churches and congregational offices.

But this proves nothing. What must be shown is that James and these assistants were judicial powers over the presbytery. Of this there is not a shred of evidence. As to the apostles, their functions strictly so-called is seen from the statement that Christians are built upon the foundation of the apostles and pro­phets and upon Christ as the chief cornerstone. Thus the function of the apostles was to lay, through their infallible teachings, the foundation of the church uni­versal. With the death of the last apostle, circa 100, these functions ceased. The relation of the apostles, therefore, to the primitive churches was altogether unique. When they act or give official advice apart from their apostolic office, which they did in certain cases, they do so as elders chosen to act along with other elders who do not possess the apostolic gift. They did not join themselves as a superior judicial power to the presbytery (consistory) of the local con­gregation in order to complete its government. This government was completely independent of the aposto­lic office. It was useless therefore to appeal to this office in support of the episcopacy (government of the church by a college of office-bearers of which the bishops are higher in rank than the presbyters or eld­ers.) Not once do we read of an apostle deposing an elder or of his usurping the place of the presbytery by excommunicating out of the church a recalcitrant member against whom the presbytery refused to take action.

It is said by the defenders of the episcopacy that the episcopal office (the office of bishop) was the means of the confederation of the church, whether in several provinces or throughout the world. Fact is that the episcopal office was indeed the means of confederation of the churches; but the means should have been the presbytery. What is now in the roman hierarchy the episcopate office, has no right of exis­tence.

The episcopate reached its complete form only by degrees. In the first period it was a congregational office only. But at length the territory over which the church had spread itself was divided into districts or clerical dioceses; and in the chief city of each district a bishop was established, whence the city was called the see( from the Latin sedes, meaning seat) of the bishop. In course of time the districts or dioceses assigned to the first bishops became too populous, whereupon they were subdivided, and a second bishop selected; and so bishops and diocese were multiplied according to the wants of the churches. Meanwhile the bishops of the new sees had grouped themselves around the bishops of the ancient sees.

So did the bishops fall into different ranks accord­ing to the ecclesiastical and political importance of their several seats of authority. On the lowest level stood the bishops of the country churches. The next highest rank was occupied by the city bishops. Among the city bishops towered the bishops of the chief cities of civil provinces; of the Roman empire. They were called in the East metropolitans in the West arch­bishops. They had jurisdiction over the other bishops of the province; ordained them; called the provincial synods and presided in such synods. Upon them de­volved the care of the whole province. Above the metropolitans stood the five Patriarchs. They were the bishops of the four great capitals of the empire, Rome, Alexander, Antioch, and Constantinople, to which was added the bishop of Jerusalem. They had jurisdiction over one or more dioceses; ordained the metropolitan bishops, rendered the final decision in church controversies; presided in the ecumenial coun­cils; published the degrees of the council; and thus united in themselves the supreme legislative and ex­ecutive powers of the church.

This is the episcopate in its completed form—a form which it reached by the fourth century. What had contributed to its development was the, commenda­tions it had received from the church fathers, Ignatius, the second bishop of Antioch, continually exhorted to obey the bishop. His epistles contain pas­sages such as these: “If any be better known and more esteemed than the bishop, he is corrupt. It is becom­ing, therefore, to men and women who marry, that they marry by the counsel of the bishop. Look to the bishop that God may look upon you. It becomes you to be in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as also ye do. For your most estimable presbytery, wor­thy of God, is fitted to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. It is evident that we should look upon the bishop, as we do upon the Lord himself. Let all of you follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ the Father. Whereever the bishop is found, there let the people be; as wherever Christ is, there is the Catholic church. He that honors the bishop shall be honored by God; he that does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, serves the devil. I exhort you that ye study and do all things with divine accord: the bishop pre­siding in the place of God, and presbyters in the place of the college of apostles, and the deacons being en­trusted with the ministry.”

Peculiar to the view here encountered is that in it the bishop appears as the superior of the presby­ters. Especially the last statement quoted is revealing. “The bishops presiding in the place of God and the presbyters in the place of the college of apostles.” Yet, in this Ignatian view, the bishop still appears as the head of the congregation and not as the repre­sentative of the whole church. In a word, the Igna­tian episcopacy is congregational and not diocesan.

It was Irenaeus who was the first to represent the institution as a diocesan office and as the continuation of the apostolate. Especially the bishops of those churches thought to have been founded by the apos­tles have worth for him. He exalts them as the cus­todians of the doctrine of the apostle. “If you wish,” he argues, “to ascertain the doctrine of the apostles, apply to the church of the apostles.”

The fundamental idea of papacy is this: Christ gave Peter jurisdiction over the other apostles, and appointed him to the task of founding His church, against which the gates of hell will not prevail. These privileges were transferable and were actually trans­ferred by Peter upon the bishop of Rome and upon none other. In consequence thereof, the bishops of Rome, as the successors of Peter, have always enjoyed and exercised, and always should, a universal juris­diction over the whole Christian church, laity and clergy (including the bishops) alike. Thus, the su­preme juridical power in the church on earth is the bishop of Rome. The first to clearly advocate this idea was the church father Cyprian.

Such were also the claims of the papacy. How and why, through the centuries, these claims were realized (properly they were never wholly realized) is a long story—a story too long to tell here.

Speaking now of the beginning or the seed of the papacy, this seed was the congregational bishop. The further development of this seed was the diocesan bishop or the episcopate. The development of this institution was the development of papacy. The latter is the completion of the former.