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AMERICAN BIBLICAL REPOSITORY,
EDUCATION AND SUPPLY OF MINISTERS IN DIFFERENT AGES AND COUNTRIES.
By Rev. William A. Stearns, Cambridge, Mass.
AT a time when some of the first minds in America and England are engaged with the question how shall the increasing demand for educated, energetic and godly ministers be supplied - a knowledge of the experience of other ages and other countries on the subject can hardly be otherwise than valuable.
The necessity of a learned as well as pious ministry need not be demonstrated to the readers of this Journal. If there is anything which the student of ecclesiastical history may consider as settled by the experience of Christendom-it is that an unspiritual or ignorant clergy would be among the greatest moral disasters which could befal mankind.
To secure an enlightened ministry, to qualify and bring into action a competent supply of true men, who shall fill the stations of clerical influence at home, or go forth as missionaries abroad is an end less readily accomplished than the superficial might imagine. But there are peculiarities in our own country, to which allusion will be made by and by, which enhance the difficulty now suggested, and threaten to make it insuperable. The wise and devout both among laymen and clergymen who have given sufficient attention to the subject, deem it an inquiry of anxious importance, how the ministry which America demands for herself and mankind, in the peculiar circumstances of our country, can be brought into the field?
It is in reference to this question that we invite our readers to a brief review of the practice of the church in securing a competent supply of qualified spiritual guides. What inducements have other times and countries presented their Christian youth to enter the ministerial profession-and what facilities have they afforded for acquiring the requisite preparatory education? what are some of the circumstances which enhance the difficulty of rearing up a right and abundant ministry in the United States and by what means can the end so desirable be best accomplished? These are among the questions, on which it would give us pleasure to cast even a few rays of light.
THE FIRST CENTURIES.
The first teachers of religion were selected by the Saviour himself -and during the whole of his ministry, while employed often as his assistants, they were kept always under his immediate instruction and supervision. Soon after the ascension, one of the greatest minds the world has produced, was associated by a supernatural calling with the twelve. The apostles and their immediate successors were endowed with the gift of tongues and other miraculous powers. In the infancy of the church, before time had been given for appropriate intellectual and spiritual cultivation the teachers of Christianity were supernaturally qualified for their work. The gospel was announced beyond the limits of Judea to a great extent by men driven abroad by the fierce persecution of the times the ordained and divinely assisted leaders directing the general movement, gathering churches, and perfecting their organization and instruction.
After the first founding of Christian institutions in the prominent cities of the Roman empire and the gradual withdrawal of supernatural agencies which were given only, according to the exigency of the times, for the first planting of the church-and especially after the inspired apostles and their pupils the apostolic men such as Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp were dead-the need of educated and commanding minds began more and more to be felt. This want was met in part by learned Pagans converted to Christianity, of whom Justin Martyr, Pantaenus and Origen are illustrious examples. Common Christians were unable to cope with learned heathenism or direct the more and more complicated affairs of the church. Nor were the converted philosophers sufficiently numerous, had they all been otherwise qualified, for the purpose. The church was constrained, therefore, by her circumstances, as well as inspired by the
Preachers in the First Centuries.
liberalizing atmosphere of a free Christianity which she had begun to breathe, to take measures for the education of her own sons. From almost the beginning, even in deep poverty, and distraction, the early Christians are believed to have taught their children the principles of Christianity—and laid the foundations for their being intelligent and worthy members of the churches. There is no evidence, however, that anything like a regular theological school for the education of a ministry was established earlier than the middle of the second century. The school at Alexandria seems to have grown up gradually, as the necessities of the times urged it forward. Under Pantaenus, Clement and Origen, it gradually became an informal indeed but real theological seminary. To it flocked learned Pagans —and young men who desired to be instructed in the Christian doctrines and to become teachers in the church. Instruction was here given in the Scriptures, in the dogmas of religion and in Christian manners and duties. It was long the nursery of piety and learningthe alma mater of holy and learned men who were the lights of the church.1
Although we find no traces of schools so celebrated in the West, yet every church was virtually a school and in it under the superintendence of the bishops young men of promise were educated in Christian principles and letters. Indeed say the Benedictines on the authority of Fleury (Dis. 2, n. 14, p. 69) that though the schools were generally common to all the faithful, this could not prevent the bishops having ordinarily with them a certain number of young men whom they instructed with particular care as their children and who in process of time became themselves masters. It was thus that the great luminaries of the occidental world were formed even down to the fourth and fifth centuries.2
As to the manner in which young men were selected, supported and educated for the ministry no very clear light has come down to us. That the bishops began to train young candidates for the sacred office, in schools connected with the central church of their dioceses, there can be no reasonable doubt. And that pecuniary means to facilitate the education of such were not wanting, we have not only the intimation above given, but the fact that enormous funds were early placed at the disposal of the bishops, to be disbursed for the benefit of the church, at their discretion. This was done by abundant oblations from charitable church-members- and by legacies of deceased
1 Mosheim, Vol. I. p. 81. Neander, Vol. I. 527, etc.
2 Histoire Literaire De La France, Par Benedictins. Tom. I. p. 234.
Christians to whom, the church instead of relatives was often made the principal heir. By the middle of the second century the church of Rome not only supported the clerks and poor Christians of their own city, but bestowed largely of their abundance upon other churches near and remote, supplying food also to Christian prisoners and to many condemned to work in the mines. The hope of confiscating the ecclesiastical treasures was among the principal causes that induced the emperors after the death of Commodus, to engage in the persecutions which followed. Great privileges and immunities were granted and new sources of wealth were opened to the church, by Constantine. Up to the commencement of the fourth century, the present custom of leaving estates for specific objects had not been introduced. Christians gave or bequeathed absolutely, and all charitable benefactions were thrown into the common stock to be distributed by "the ecclesiastical colleges called churches" at their discretion. Church property still increased, princes making large grants and private persons, even to the exclusion of their children, bequeathing estates to the churches, while many widows and damsels were induced to leave their wealth to the common cause. This property soon came chiefly under the management of the ecclesiastics. "The bishops disposed of everything, the deacons executed it and all the clergy lived upon what the church had, though all did not administer. St. John Chrisostome makes mention that the church of Antioch fed above 3000 persons at the public expense."
During the first three or four hundred years, then, of the Christian era, the church had evidently the means of furnishing herself with a competent ministry-its first teachers enjoying the instructions of the Saviour himself—the next generation educated by inspired apostles; then many pagan philosophers and other learned men of Greece and Rome converted to Christianity, were soon qualified to lead in its affairs; and finally enormous sums, with almost unlimited discretion, were placed in the hands of the Bishops, whose business it was, in looking after the general interests of the church, to provide for the supply of its sacred offices, and who, in schools connected with their churches, and in their own families, could educate charitably or otherwise as the circumstances might be, a competent number of excellent men for these high trusts. Add to this the religious enthusiasm of the times, the eagerness with which wealthy parents would devote their children as well as their property to the church;
1 A Treatise of Matters Beneficiary, by Fra Paulo Sarpi, Mirandola, A. D. 1676.