HIERARCHY

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HIERARCHY (from Upa, sacred, and apxvf a government); a sacred government, sometimes used to denote the internal government of the church, sometimes the dominion of the church over the state. In the former sense, the hierarchy arose with the establishment of the Christian church as an independent society. Although elders, called presbyters, stood at the head of the earliest congregations of Christians, their constitution was democratic, each of tbĀ° members having a part in all the concerns of the association, and voting in the election of elders, on the exclusion of sinners from the communion of the church, or the reception of the repentant into its bosom. The government of the congregations was gradually transferred into the hands of their officers, as was natural when the congregations had become societies of great extent. In the second century, the bishops acquired a superiority over the elders, and became the supreme officers of the congregations, although the presbyters, and, in many cases, all the members of the churches, retained some share in the government. The bishops in the capitals of the provinces, who were called metropolitans, soon acquired a superiority over the provincial bishops, and exercised a supervision over them. They were themselves subject to the bishops of the principal cities of the Roman empire, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem, who received the title of patriarchs; and thus a complete aristocratic constitution was formed, which continued in the Greek church, while, in the Latin, the aristocracy was transformed into a monarchy. The Roman bishop acquired the primacy over the others, and, the opinion having become prevalent that the apostle Peter had founded the Roman church, and that its bishop was his successor, the Roman bishop, moreover, having received, about the close of the 8th century, from the generosity of Pepin the Short, a considerable region in Italy for a permanent, though originally not an independent possession, his authority constantly increased, and he gradually became the monarchical head of Western Christendom. The word hierarchy is frequently used in the second sense, viz., of the relations of the church to the state, in which the church is not only independent of the state, but even claims a superiority, and demands the subjection of the political interests to its own. In the first centuries, the church nad'no connexion with the state. It did not seek to acquire influence over the state, and the state sometimes persecuted the Christian religion. After the church was amalgamated with the state, in the time of Constantino the Great, it obtained protection, but was dependent on the temporal rulers, who asserted the right to convoke the general councils, and to nominate the metropolitan bishops, and even frequently interfered in the internal affairs of the church and its dogmatic discussions. It was the same in the Gothic, Lombard and Frankish states, which were erected on the ruins of the Roman empire. The German emperors, and especially Charlemagne, also exercised over the church the rights of sovereignty, which the Roman emperors had possessed ; and, after the feudal system had arisen in the German empire, the bishops held the church lands as fiefs received from the temporal princes; and even the Roman bishop, in his temporal character, stood in a feudal relation to the Frankish princes. But the germ of the hierarchical system already existed at this period, in the idea of the church as a society always enlightened by the Divine Spirit; in the idea, borrowed from Judaism, of a priesthood instituted by God himself, by which the clergy acquired dignity surpassing all temporal grandeur, and an authority emanating not from the state, but from God himself; and, finally, in the superiority of the clergy over the laity, resulting from the circumstance that they were the only depositaries of knowledge. But the hierarchical system could not be completely developed from these germs, till the Roman bishop became the undisputed head of Western Christendom, by which unity and strength were infused into the exertions of the spiritual power. For several centuries, the importance of the Roman bishop continued to increase : his power was especially augmented in the 9th century, by the PseudoIsidorian collection of canons, some forged, some interpolated, the object of which was to exalt the ecclesiastical authority above the secular. (See Papacy.) Gregoiy VII (q. v.) exerted the most undaunted courage and liveliest zeal, in, the 11th century, to enforce the claims of the hierarchy; and the principal means which he adopted for attaining this object were, to deprive the princes of the right of investiture (see Investiture), and to introduce celibacy among the clergy. (See Celibacy.) Gregory did not wholly accomplish his object; but his successors pursued his plan with perseverance and success, and their efforts were favored by the crusades, which were undertaken at the close of the 11th century, and prosecuted for two centuries. These wars promoted a tone of public sentiment favorable to the claims of the church, and, as they were deemed of a religious character, they afforded the popes numerous opportunities to take part in the general affairs of the European nations, and to direct the undertakings of the princes. Amid these wars was developed the idea of the unity of the Christian church, with the vicar of Christ at its head. Thus, from the end of the 11th to the middle of the 13th century, the idea of a hierarchy was accomplished. The church became an institution elevated above the state, and its head, endowed with a supernatural fulness of grace, stood, in public opinion, above all secular princes* The highest dignities of Europe were the papal and imperial, but the papal tiara was the sun, the imperial crown, the moon. At this time, the popes were generally victorious in the disputes with the princes. Urban II, Paschal II and Innocent III and IV, in particular, knew how to maintain their superiority over the princes, and to exercise a powerful influence on the affairs of the European nations. The popes, however, were no more ambitious than the princes, and only acted in conformity with their character and relations, when they attempted to render the church independent of the political power, and to elevate it above the state. Since the hierarchy rested on public opinion, it was necessary for it to preserve this public opinion by every means, and to suppress whatever threatened to change it. It has, therefore, exerted a pernicious influence by establishing inquisitions, and restricting the freedom of the mind. But, on the other hand, it was, in early times, productive of much good, by serving as a point of union to the European nations; by constituting a balance to the military political power; by frequently composing the differences of the princes, checking the eruption of wors, and giving religion an influence over the barbarous nations of the middle ages. From the 14th century, the papacy, and with it the hierarchy, began gradually to decline. This is* manifested by the disputes of the popes with Philip the Fair and Louis the Bavarian, which did not terminate to their advantage, as had been the case before. To this must be added the removal of the popes to Avignon, and the great schism which resulted in the councils of Pisa (1409), Constance (1414), and Basle (1431), where the popes appeared as parties before a higher tribunal; and it was proclaimed that the councils are superior to the popes. But what was of yet greater importance, public opinion gradually began to alter ; and, in many places, the doubts started by WiclifFe and Huss found adherents. Meanwhile, the popedom and the hierarchical system stood uninjured in its outward forms till the beginning of the 16th centuiy. But, at this time, the edifice, already tottering, was vehemently agitated by the reformation. In that portion of Western Christendom which separated from Rome, the hierarchy altogether ceased. The Catholic church continued, indeed, even after the reformation, to assert its hierarchical pretensions, but it was obliged to renounce one privilege after another: the papal power declined, and, in practice, became more and more dependent on the civil authorities. (See Roman Catholic Church.) Hierarchy is also used to denote a division of the angels, prevalent in the middle ages. This seems to have originated with Dionysius the Areopagite (CcelesL Hierarch. vii). The number of hierarchies was three, each subdivided into three orders : hence Tasso (Jerusalem Del. xviii, 96) marshals his angels in three squadrons, and each squadron in three orders, and Spenser repeatedly mentions the "trinal triplicities." The first hierarchy consisted of cherubim, seraphim and thrones; the second, of dominions, virtues and powers; and the third, of principalities, angels and archangels. Milton, to whose machinery, in his divine poem, many of the popular opinions on the subject may be traced, often alludes to this classification; as, for instance, Thrones;dominations? princedoms, virtues, powers, Hear my decree.