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Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol. XIV:
The Canons of the Councils of Ancyra, Gangra, Neocæsarea, Antioch and Laodicea, which Canons were Accepted and Received by the Ecumenical Synods.: Excursus on the Minor Orders of the Early Church.

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Excursus on the Minor Orders of the Early Church.

(Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, Ignatius, Vol. I., p. 258.)

Some of these lower orders, the subdeacons, readers, door-keepers, and exorcists, are mentioned in the celebrated letter of Cornelius bishop of Rome (a.d. 251) preserved by Eusebius (H. E., vi., 43), and the readers existed at least half a century earlier (Tertull., de Præscr., 41).  In the Eastern Church, however, if we except the Apostolic Constitutions, of which the date and country are uncertain, the first reference to such offices is found in a canon of the Council of Antioch, a.d. 341, where readers, subdeacons, and exorcists, are mentioned, this being apparently intended as an exhaustive enumeration of the ecclesiastical orders below the diaconate; and for the first mention of door-keepers in the East, we must go to the still later Council of Laodicea, about a.d. 363, (see III., p. 240, for the references, where also fuller information is given).  But while most of these lower orders certainly existed in the West, and probably in the East, as early as the middle of the third century the case is different with the “singers” (ψάλται) and the “labourers” (κοπιᾶται).  Setting aside the Apostolic Constitutions, the first notice of the “singers” occurs in the canons of the above-mentioned Council of Laodicea.  This, however, may be accidental.  The history of the word copiatai affords a more precise and conclusive indication of date.  The term first occurs in a rescript of Constantius (a.d. 357), “clerici qui copiatai appellantur,” and a little later (a.d. 361), the same emperor speaks of them as “hi quos copiatas recens usus instituit nuncupari.”

(Adolf Harnack, in his little book ridiculously intituled in the English version Sources of the Apostolic Canons, page 85.)

Exorcists and readers there had been in the Church from old times, subdeacons are not essentially strange, as they participate in a name (deacon) which dates from the earliest days of Christianity.  But acolytes and door-keepers (πυλωροί) are quite strange, are really novelties.  And these acolytes even at the time of Cornelius stand at the head of the ordines minores:  for that the subdeacons follow on the deacons is self-evident.  Whence do they come?  Now if they do not spring out of the Christian tradition, their origin must be explained from the Roman.  It can in fact be shown there with desirable plainness.

With regard to subdeacons the reader may also like to see some of Harnack’s speculations.  In the volume just quoted he writes as follows (p. 85 note):

According to Cornelius and Cyprian subdeacons were mentioned in the thirtieth canon p. 145 of the Synod of Elvira (about 305), so that the sub diaconate must then have been acknowledged as a fixed general institution in the whole west (see Dale, The Synod of Elvira, Lond., 1882).  The same is seen in the “gesta apud Zenophilum.”  As the appointment of the lower orders took place at Rome between about the years 222–249, the announcement in the Liber Pontificalis (see Duchesne’s edition, fasc. 2, 1885, p. 148) is not to be despised, as according to it Bishop Fabian appointed seven subdeacons:  “Hic regiones dividit diaconibus et fecit vii. subdiaconos.”  The Codex Liberianus indeed (see Duchesne, fasc. 1, pp. 4 and 5; Lipsius, Chronologie d. röm Bischöfe, p. 267), only contains the first half of the sentence, and what the Liber Pontif. has added of the account of the appointment of subdeacons (…qui vii notariis imminerent, ut gestas martyrum in integro fideliter colligerent) is, in spite of the explanation of Duchesne, not convincing.  According to Probst and other Catholic scholars the subdiaconate existed in Rome a long time before Fabian (Kirchl. Disciplin, p. 109), but Hippolytus is against them.  Besides, it should be observed that the officials first, even in Carthage, are called hypo-deacons, though the word subdiaconus was by degrees used in the West.  This also points to a Roman origin of the office, for in the Roman church in the first part of the third century the Greek language was the prevailing one, but not at Carthage.

But to return to the Acolythes, and door-keepers, whom Harnack thinks to be copies of the old Roman temple officers.  He refers to Marquardt’s explanation of the sacrificial system of the Romans, and gives the following resumé (page 85 et seqq.):

1.  The temples have only partially their own priests, but they all have a superintendent (œdituus-curator templi).  These œditui, who lived in the temple, fall again into two classes.  At least “in the most important brotherhoods the chosen œdituus was not in a position to undertake in person the watching and cleaning of the sacellum.  He charged therefore with this service a freedman or slave.”  “In this case the sacellum had two œditui, the temple-keeper, originally called magister œdituus, and the temple-servant, who appears to be called the œdituus minister.”  “To both it is common that they live in the temple, although in small chapels the presence of the servant is sufficient.  The temple-servant opens, shuts, and cleans the sacred place, and shows to strangers its curiosities, and allows, according to the rules of the temple, those persons to offer up prayers and sacrifices to whom this is permitted, while he sends away the others.”

2.  “Besides the endowment, the colleges of priests were also supplied with a body of servants”—the under officials—; “they were appointed to the priests,…by all of whom they were used partly as letter-carriers (tabellarii), partly as scribes, partly as assistants at the sacrifices.”  Marquardt reckons, (page 218 and fol.) the various categories of them among the sacerdotes publici, lictores, pullarii, victimarii, tibicines, viatores, sixthly the calatores, in the priests’ colleges free men or freedmen, not slaves, and in fact one for the personal service of each member.

Here we have the forerunners of the Church door-keepers and acolytes.  Thus says the fourth Council of Carthage, as far as refers to the former:  “Ostiarius cum ordinatur, postquam ab archidiacono instructus fuerit, qualiter in domo dei debeat conversari, ad suggestionem archidiaconi, tradat ei episcopus claves ecclesiæ de altari, dicens.  Sic age, quasi redditurus deo rationem pro his rebus, quæ hisce clavibus recluduntur.”  The ostiarius (πυλωρός) is thus the ædituus minister.  He had to look after the opening and shutting of the doors, to watch over the coming in and going out of the faithful, to refuse entrance to suspicious persons, and, from the date of the more strict separation between the missa catechumenorum and the missa fidelium, to close the doors, after the dismissal of the catechumens, against those doing penance and unbelievers.  He first became necessary when there were special p. 146 church buildings (there were such even in the second century), and they like the temples, together with the ceremonial of divine service, had come to be considered as holy, that is, since about 225.  The church acolytes are without difficulty to be recognised in the under officials of the priests, especially in the “calatores,” the personal servants of the priests.  According to Cyprian the acolytes and others are used by preference as tabellarii.  According to Cornelius there were in Rome forty-two acolytes.  As he gives the number of priests as forty-six, it may be concluded with something like certainty that the rule was that the number of the priests and of the acolytes should be equal, and that the little difference may have been caused by temporary vacancies.  If this view is correct, the identity of the calator with the acolyte is strikingly proved.  But the name “acolyte” plainly shows the acolyte was not, like the door-keeper, attached to a sacred thing, but to a sacred person.

(Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, Ignatius, ad Antioch, xj., note.  Vol. II., Sec. II., p. 240.)

The acolytes were confined to the Western Church and so are not mentioned here.  On the other hand the “deaconesses” seem to have been confined to the Eastern Church at this time.  See also Apost. Const., iii., 11.; viii., 12; comp. viii., 19–28, 31; Apost. Can., 43; Conc. Laodic., Can. 24; Conc. Antioch, Can. 10.  Of these lower orders the “subdeacons” are first mentioned in the middle of the third century, in the passage of Cornelius already quoted and in the contemporary letters of Cyprian.  The “readers” occur as early as Tertullian de Præscr. 41 “hodie diaconus, qui cras lector,” where the language shows that this was already a firmly established order in the Church.  Of the “singers” the notices in the Apostolical Constitutions are probably the most ancient.  The “door-keepers,” like the sub-deacons, seem to be first mentioned in the letter of Cornelius.  The κοπιῶντες first appear a full century later; see the next note.  The “exorcists,” as we have seen, are mentioned as a distinct order by Cornelius, while in Apost. Const., viii., 26, it is ordered that they shall not be ordained, because it is a spiritual function which comes direct from God and manifests itself by its results.  The name and the function, however, appear much earlier in the Christian Church; e.g., Justin Mart., Apol. ii., 6 (p. 45).  The forms ἐπορκιστὴς and ἐξορκιστὴς are convertible; e.g., Justin Mart., Dial., 85 (p. 311).  The “confessors” hardly deserve to be reckoned a distinct order, though accidentally they are mentioned in proximity with the different grades of clergy in Apost. Const., viii., 12, already quoted.  Perhaps the accidental connexion in this work has led to their confusion with the offices of the Christian ministry in our false Ignatius.  In Apost. Const., viii., 23, they are treated in much the same way as the exorcists, being regarded as in some sense an order and yet not subject to ordination.  Possibly, however, the word ὁμολογηταὶ has here a different sense, “chanters,” as the corresponding Latin “confessores” seems sometimes to have, e.g., in the Sacramentary of Gregory “Oremus et pro omnibus episcopis, presbyteris, diaconibus, acolythis, exorcistis, lectoribus, ostiariis, confessoribus, virginibus, viduis, et pro omni populo sancto Dei;” see Ducange, Gloss. Lat., s.v. (11. p. 530, Henschel).

In a law of the year 357 (Cod. Theod., xiii., 1) mention is made of “clerici qui copiatæ appellantur,” and another law of the year 361 (Cod. Theod. xvi., 2, 15) runs “clerici vero vel his quos copiatas recens usus instituit nuncupari,” etc.  From these passages it is clear that the name κοπιῶντες was not in use much before the middle of the fourth century, though the office under its Latin name “fossores” or “fossarii” appears somewhat earlier.  Even later Epiphanius (Expos. Fid., 21) writes as if the word still needed some explanation.  In accordance with these facts, Zahn (I. v., A. p. 129), correctly argues with regard to our Ignatian writer, urging that on the one hand he would not have ascribed such language to Ignatius if the word had been quite recent, while on the other hand his using the participle (τοὺς κοπιῶντας) rather than the substantive indicates that it had not yet firmly established p. 147 itself.  For these “copiatæ” see especially de Rossi, Roma Sotteranea, III., p. 533 sq., Gothofred on Cod. Theod., II., cc., and for the Latin “fossores” Martigny, Dict. des Antiq. Chrét. s.v.  See also the inscriptions, C. I. G., 9227, Bull. de Corr. Hellen., vii., p. 238, Journ. of Hellen. Stud., vi., p. 362.

Next: Canon XXV

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