Bishop Hosius said: If it happen that in a province in which there are very many bishops one bishop should stay away and by some negligence should not come to the council and assent to the appointment made by the bishops, but the people assemble and pray that the ordination of the bishop desired by them take place—it is necessary that the bishop who stayed away should first be reminded by letters from the exarch of the province (I mean, of course, the bishop of the metropolis), that the people demand a pastor to be given them. I think that it is well to await his [the absent bishops] arrival also. But if after summons by letter he does not come, nor even write in reply, the wish of the people ought to be complied with.
It is positively not permitted to ordain a bishop in a village or petty town, for which even one single presbyter is sufficient (for there is no necessity to ordain a bishop there) lest the name and authority of bishop should be made of small account, but the bishops of the province ought, as before said, to ordain bishops in those cities in which there were bishops previously; and if a city should be found with a population so large as to be thought worthy of an episcopal see, let it receive one.
Bishop Hosius said: If it shall have happened, that in a province in which there have been very many bishops, one [i.e., but one] bishop remains, but that he by negligence has not chosen [to ordain] a bishop, and the people have made application, the bishops of the neighbouring province ought first to address [by letter] the bishop who resides in that province, and show that the people seek a ruler [i.e., pastor] for themselves and that this is right, so that they also may come and with him ordain a bishop. But if he refuses to acknowledge their written communication, and leaves it unnoticed, and writes no reply, the peoples request should be satisfied, so that bishops should come from the neighbouring province and ordain a bishop.
But permission is not to be given to ordain a bishop either in any village, or in an unimportant city, for which one presbyter suffices, lest the name and authority of bishop grow cheap. Those [bishops] who are invited from another province ought not to ordain a bishop unless in the cities which have [previously] had bishops, or in a city which is so important or so populous as to be entitled to have a bishop.
p. 421 Notes.
If the bishops were present when the people were seeking for a bishop, and one was away, let that one be called. But if he is willing to answer the call neither by letter nor in person, let him be ordained whom they desire.
The second portion of this canon is entirely lacking in the Latin. The Greek scholiasts, Zonaras, Balsamon, and Aristenus, understand this to mean “that at the appointment of a metropolitan the bishops of the neighbouring provinces shall also be invited, probably to give greater solemnity to the act,” so says Hefele. And to this agree Van Espen, Tillemont, and Herbst.
The first part in the Greek and Latin have different meanings; the Greek text contemplating the case of one bishop stopping away from a meeting of bishops for an election to fill a vacancy; the Latin text the case of there being only one bishop left in a province (after war, pestilence, or the like). This second meaning is accepted by Van Espen, Christian Lupus and others. Moreover, it would seem from Flodoards History of the Church of Rheims (Geschichte der Rheimser Kirche, Lib. III., c. 20 [a book I have never seen]) that the Gallican Church acted upon this understanding of this canon. It is that also of Gratian.
Between the Latin and the Greek text stands the interpretation of Zonaras, which is that if a province once having many bishops has by any contingency only one left besides the Metropolitan, and he neglects to be present at the consecration of the new bishops, he is to be summoned by letter of the Metropolitan, and if he does not then come, the consecrations are to go on without him. With this explanation Harmenopulus also agrees, adding further that the Metropolitan might alone consecrate the bishops, resting his argument on the words τὸ ἱκαυὸν κ.τ λ.
Some scholars have supposed that neither the present Greek nor the present Latin text represent the original, but that the Greek text is nearest to it, but must be corrected by an ancient Latin version found by Maffei in a codex at Verona. The Ballerini have devoted careful attention to this point in their notes to the Works of St. Leo the Great (Tom. iii., p. xxxij. 4). It would seem that this might be the canon quoted by the fathers of Constantinople in 382, and if so, it would seem that they had a Greek text like that from which the Verona version was made.
The fathers of Sardica [in the second part of this canon, which is Canon VII. by the Latin computation] decreed two things: first, that where the people justly asked for a Pastor to be ordained for them, their demand should be complied with; but where the people insisted upon having a bishop ordained for a village or little city, for which one presbyter was all that was needed, no attention should be paid to their demands, lest the name and authority of a bishop should become despicable.