Christian Cyclopedia

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(Gk. episkopos, “overseer”). 1. Used in NT for those who governed and directed the Christian communities. The NT does not distinguish between bps. and presbyters (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28). In gen., “presbyter” indicated the office (Ro 12:8; 1 Th. 5:12) and “bishop” the function (Acts 20:28). The tendency toward investing one presbyter with over all responsibility may appear as early as the Pastoral Epistles (see 1 Ti 3:2, 5).

By the end of the 1st c. the bp. has become the head of the local ch. at least at Corinth (1 Clement. 44). In the Didache (XV) the bp. is preacher, teacher, and leader of worship. The bp. is the responsible leader of the cong. in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch (2d c.). In this monarchical episcopate, one bp. rules in each ch., maintains purity of doctrine, is the chief celebrant at the Eucharist, and presides at baptisms. Irenaeus* and Tertullian* are concerned with demonstrating the apostolic succession of episcopal offices. In Hippolytus* the “presbyter-bishop” has become the priest through whom the worshiping cong. at the Eucharist offers its sacrifice of praise, and to whom the responsibility of teaching and certain limited judicial functions belong. The bp. of the 3d c. is chosen by the community (nos eligimus eum) and is consecrated by the neighboring bps. assisted by the presbyters. The situation confronting Cyprian* of Carthage leads to an emphasis on the administrative and judicial functions of the bp. Each bp. is the representative of Christ and the contemporary embodiment of the apostles (“The bishop is in the church and the church in the bishop.”).

2. Thus by the middle of the 3d c. the office of bp. had emerged as chief magisterial, liturgical, administrative, and judicial ministry of the ch. As Christianity moved out of the cities into the surrounding countryside jurisdiction of the bp. was extended beyond the original town limits to larger areas. When the Christian religion was recognized by Constantine, bps. were given the rank of an illustris, their right to distinctive garb was recognized, and their jurisdiction was conformed to the pattern of imperial administration. The distinctive features of the office of bp. were formalized by councils between Nicaea (325) and Chalcedon (451). From the 5th c. on the original parity of presbyters and bps. was more and more lost sight of. During the Middle Ages the bps. of the Christian West received functions of secular magistrates in many places.

3. In W canon law three things are necessary to est. a bp. in office: election, mission, and consecration. In RC theol., the office of bp. exists by divine right but jurisdiction is conceived of as conferred by the pope. At the present time RC bps. are usually selected by the pope; they receive their mission, or episc. powers, either directly from pope or through a metropolitan, and they are consecrated by a bp. assisted by two bps. The bp. swears allegiance to the pope and must periodically report to him (visitatio liminum).

4. In the Ch. of Eng. the cathedral dean and chapter elect a candidate nominated by the crown and mission and consecration is by the metropolitan. In other parts of the Angl. communion the provisions of local canon law govern.

5. The chief duties of RC,; Old Catholic, E Orthodox, and Angl. bps. are to administer those sacraments of which they alone are the ordinary ministers (ordination, confirmation) and serve as shepherd, priest, and teacher of the diocese.* The bps. of these communions claim apostolic* succession, although the validity of Angl. orders is not universally recognized.

6. The Hussite schismatics of Bohemia retained the title of bp., although without a demonstrable apostolic succession, and the episcopate was revived 1735 with the restoration of the Unitas Fratrum on the Saxon estates of Count von Zinzendorf. The title of bp. is gen. in Am. Methodism and related churches. Many smaller Prot. churches have adopted the title.

7. The Luth. symbols (AC XXVIII; Ap XXVIII; Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope. 60–82; SA II iv 9; III x) recognized the rank of bps. and described their true function as preaching the Gospel, administering the sacraments, and exercising the keys. Though the symbols strongly express a desire to continue canonical govt., political factors prevented the perpetuation of the episcopate among the Luth. estates of the Holy Roman empire.

8. The office of bp. was kept in Swed. and Fin. (with apostolic succession); the title was restored in Den., Norw., Iceland, Transylvania, Slov. and Hung. In Ger. the supervision of the ch. was given to supts. In Luth. Ger. secular rulers often assumed the juridical functions of bps. and the style of summus episcopus of the ch. in their territories. The term Landes bischof (episcopus territorialis) was introduced in Nassau 1827. Several Luth. theologians (e.g., F. J. Stahl,* J. K. W. Löne*) tried to reintroduce the office of bp. Efforts of the 18th and 19th c. Prussian kings to restore the episcopate in their domains climaxed in the shortlived joint Angl. and Prussian Union bishopric of Jerusalem.

9. When the office of summus episcopus was abolished after WW I, some Ger. territorial churches used the title “bishop” for their presiding officer. In 1933 the office was introduced throughout most of Ger. The prestige of bps. rose during the Kirchenkampf* so that the office is regarded as self-evident in ch. orders and constitutions after 1945. The title has been rejected for the most part only in areas where Ref. influence is strong.

10. Ger. Ev. bps. are usually elected for life by synods or other ecclesiastical authorities. They usually have little or no legislative or administrative authority and their functions are largely spiritual (ordination, installation of pastors and prelates, visitation, consecration of churches, access to all pulpits of their territory, general oversight of the ch. and clergy, presiding over synods and other major administrative agencies).

11. In the 17th and 18th c. the RC Ch. began to consecrate indigenous bps. in India and China and the practice has now become gen. The first indigenous Angl. bp. was S. Crowther* of Afr. The episc. Luth. churches of Eur. often est. the episcopate in their missions, notably in India and Afr. The All Afr. Luth. Conf. (1955) expressed itself in favor of bps.

The episcopate was briefly est. among the Saxon Luth. immigrants to the US; Löhe designed his Franconian colony in Mich. to be episcopally governed, but his intention was never realized.

12. Today counselors, presidents of districts and synods in the Luth. churches of Am., and similar officers perform the function of bps. The extent of their administrative power may be greater or less than that exercised by their Eur. counterparts. EL, ACP

See also Titular Bishop; Western Christianity 500–1500, 8.

F. Haupt, Der Episcopat der deutschen Reformation, 2 vols. (Frankfurt/M, 1863–66); Episcopacy, Ancient and Modern, eds. C. Jenkins and K. D. MacKenzie (New York, 1930); The Apostolic Ministry: Essays on the History and the Doctrine of Episcopacy, ed. K. E. Kirk (London, 1946); A. Ehrhardt, The Apostolic Succession in the First Two Centuries of the Church (London, 1953); E. Benz, Bischofsamt und apostolische Sukzession im deutschen Protestantismus (Stuttgart, 1953); The Historic Episcopate in the Fullness of the Church, ed. K. M. Carey (London, 1954); The Ministry in Historical Perspectives, eds. H. R. Niebuhr and D. D. Williams (New York, 1956); K. Rahner and J. Ratzinger, The Episcopate and the Primacy, tr. K. Barker and others (New York, 1962); R. Caemmerer and E. Lueker, Church and Ministry in Transition (St. Louis, 1964).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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