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Once established, it was from this college of presbyters that deacons and bishops were chosen.

When those officials who had been endowed with the charismatic gifts had passed away, the community delegated several bishops to replace them.

By Ignatius the bishop is regarded as the centre of unity; to Irenaeus he is the depositary of primitive truth ; to Cyprian, he is the absolute vicegerent of Christ in things spiritual (Lightfoot, The Christian Ministry, 181-269, in his commentary on St. Catholic writers agree in recognized the Apostolic origin of the episcopate, but are much divided as to the meaning of the terms which designate the hierarchy in the New Testament writings and the Apostolic Fathers.

One may even ask if originally these terms had a clearly defined significance (Bruders, Die Verfassung der Kirche bis zum Jahre 175, Mainz, 1904).

The members of the community itself were divided into two classes: the elders ( presbyteroi ) and the youths ( neoteroi ).

This disagreement increases when the question comes up as to the interpretation of the terms which designate other personages exercising a certain fixed authority in the early Christian communities.

The title of an ecclesiastical dignitary who possesses the fullness of the priesthood to rule a diocese as its chief pastor, in due submission to the primacy of the pope. See APOSTOLIC COLLEGE.) The episcopate is monarchical. Loning attempts to prove that originally there were several different organizations, that some Christian communities were administered by a body of presbyters, others by a college of bishops, others again by a single bishop.

It is of Catholic faith that bishops are of Divine institution. By the Will of Christ, the supreme authority in a diocese does not belong to a college of priests or of bishops, but it resides in the single personality of the chief. It is the last named form of organization, he declares, which has prevailed (Gemeindeverfassung des Urchristentums. Holtzmann thinks that the primitive organization of the churches was that of the Jewish synagogue ; that a college of presbyters or bishops (synonymous words) governed the Judaeo Christian communities; that later this organization was adopted by the Gentile churches.

The monarchic episcopate offers its origin to the need of doctrinal unity, which made itself felt at the time of the crisis caused by the Gnostic heresies. The Primitive Church, he says, had no organization, but was very soon conscious of the necessity of organizing.

At first the apostles appointed deacons ; later, in imitation of the organization of the synagogue, they appointed presbyters, sometimes called bishops in the Gentile churches.

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The historical origin of the episcopate is much controverted: very diverse hypotheses have been proposed to explain the texts of the inspired writings and of the Apostolic Fathers relating to the primitive ecclesiastical hierarchy.

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