BISHOP

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BISHOP, in the New Testament, is the instructer and spiritual superior of a Christian congregation. The bishops who were installed by the apostles themselves, or, according to the apostolic idea of the office, chosen by the congregations, were the assistants and successors of the apostles in their labors for the propagation of Christianity. They had the supervision of the whole congregation, and its officers, the presbyters and deacons, but without claiming, in the first century, any preeminence or rights of diocesans, which they afterwards acquired, as the churchgovernment was gradually established. When the system of ecclesiastical rule was matured, the almost absolute authority which they exercised over the clergy of their dioceses; their interference in the secular concerns of governments, to which they soon rendered themselves necessary, by their superior information and their elevated rank; the administration of the churchrevenues; the maintenance of their ecclesiastical prerogatives, and their extensive ecclesiastical as well as criminal jurisdiction, occupied them too much to leave them any time or inclination for the discharge of their duties as teachers and spiritual fathers. They therefore reserved to themselves only the most important functions of their spiritual office, as the ordination of the clergy, the confirmation of youth, and the preparation of the holy oil. In the middle ages, they attached to themselves particular vicars, called suffragans, bishops in partibus, or coadjutors, for the performance even of these functions, which they had reserved to themselves, and for the inspection of all that concerned the church. Bishops who have preached themselves, and attended to the spiritual welfare of their congregations, have been rare since the seventh century. The episcopal office being such as we have described it, the nobility, and even the sons of princes and kings; strove to obtain a dignity which was as honorable as it was profitable; and which, moreover, permitted festivals and sensual enjoyments of every description. These applications, which were aided by rich donations made to the churches, and, in the case of the German bishops, by the influence of the emperor, gave to the bishops of Germany, particularly, a high degree of dignity. The German Dish ops became princes of the empire, and their influence upon all public affairs was important. The reformation, however, lessened their number, and although, in some of the Protestant countries of the north of Europe, the higher clergy have retained the title of bishop, yet they have lost the greater part of their former revenues and privileges. The Swedish bishops constitute one of the estates of the kingdom, like the English, but have little influence. The English church has left to its bishops more authority than the rest, and, for this reason, has received the name of the episcopal. In Protestant Germany, bishoprics were abolished by the reformation, but they have been restored, in Prussia, within the last 10 years. The church of Rome early lost many bishoprics by the conquests of the Mohammedans; hence the great number of titular bishops, whose bishoprics lie in partibus infidelium, that is, in countries in possession of the infidels. The Roman see, however, honors with this title only ecclesiastics of a high rank. In consequence of the cession of several German countries to France, 23 bishoprics were abolished; but, by particular agreements with the Roman court, they have been reestablished in several German states. (See Concordat, and German Church.) The former subjects of the German bishops remember their mild government with gratitude, and the proverb " It is good to dwell under the crosier" proves that the episcopal power was not prejudicial to the prosperity and happiness of those subject to it. (See Clergy, and Church of England.)