Here are three extracts from the great 17th century Anglican Divine Jeremy Taylor’s writings on the office of the bishop – something we are thinking a fair amount about in our diocese just now.
The first one deals with the way in which the apostolic character of the bishop’s office may be deputed to the priests and deacons, yet that office remains fully vested in the bishop.
The second is as much the case today as in Taylor’s day: a priest may share in the sacramental and preaching ministrations of the bishop, but may only do so in a diocese by license from the bishop. This points to very real order which exists in the ‘college of presbyters’ with their bishop.
The third addresses the fact that priests, in essence, are all ‘vicarious representatives’ of the bishop, who cannot be everywhere at once in a diocese. Thus, when the bishop comes to a particular parish or other community in a diocese, the priest no longer has the ‘right’ to lead the liturgy. It falls to the ‘chief priest and pastor’ of the diocesan family. A visual sign of this in our worship is that the bishop is seated either in a special bishop’s chair, or (as at St. Timothy’s) takes the celebrant’s chair under the icon of our patron saint, with the priest now seated to the bishop’s left and serving as an assisting figure during the liturgy.
While a bit dated in content and having a rather convoluted style to modern tastes, Taylor’s writings on the Church still yield valuable insights for those willing to wrestle with them. Taylor was one of those leaders to whom it fell to reconstruct the Church following the disastrous period of the English Civil War and Parliamentary rule.
Although deacons and priests have part of [the offices of the apostolate] and therefore, though in a very limited sense, they may be called ‘successors apostolorum,’ [successors to the apostles] to wit, in the power of baptizing, consecrating the Eucharist, and preaching (an excellent example whereof, though we have none in Scripture, yet if I mistake him not we have in Ignatius [bishop martyred c. 115 AD], calling the college of presbyters… ‘a combination of apostles’); yet the apostolate and episcopacy which did communicate in all the power and offices which were ordinary and perpetual, are in scripture clearly all one in ordinary ministration, and their names are often used in common to signify exactly the same ordinary function.
The whole power of ministration both of the word and sacraments was in the bishop by prime authority, and in the presbyters [priests] by commission and delegation, insomuch that they might not exercise any ordinary ministration without license from the bishop. They had power and capacity by their order to preach, to minister, to offer, to reconcile, and to baptize; they were indeed acts of order: but they might not by the law of the church exercise any of these acts without license from the bishop, that is an act or issue of jurisdiction, and shews the superiority of the bishop over his presbyters by the practice of Christendom.
The whole cure of the diocese is in the bishop[;] he cannot exonerate himself of it, for it is a burden of Christ’s imposing, or it is not imposed at all; therefore this taking of presbyters into part of the regiment and care does not divest him of his own power any part of it, nor yet ease him of his care, but that as he must still episkopein [oversee], ‘visit’ and ‘see to’ his diocese, so he hath authority still in all parts of his diocese…. When the bishop came to any place there the vicaria [deputed office] of the presbyters did cease… and… he being present might do any office, because it was in his own charge….; and therefore praesente episcopo [when the bishop was present] (saith the council of Carthage and St. Leo) ‘if the bishop be present’, the presbyter without leave might not officiate.