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The title of bishop originally common to all came at length to be appropriated to the chief among them.

They are the successors of the Apostles, though they do not possess all the prerogatives of the latter. The cause of this lay in the need of unity, which manifested itself when in the second century heresies began to appear.

The Apostolic and consequently the Divine origin of the monarchical episcopate has always been contested but especially so since Protestantism put forward the doctrine of a universal Christian priesthood.

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

Nor is there greater unanimity when an attempt is made to explain why some churches are found without presbyters, others without bishops, others again where the heads of the community are called sometimes bishops, sometimes presbyters.

They are most easily found in the work of von Dunin-Borkowski, on the latest researches concerning the origin of the episcopate (Die Neuren Forschungen uber die Anfange des Episkopats, Frieburg, 1900).

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.When those officials who had been endowed with the charismatic gifts had passed away, the community delegated several bishops to replace them.At a later date the Christians realized the advantages to be derived from entrusting the supreme direction to a single bishop.This development is most conveniently grasped in connection with three great names: Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Cyprian, who represent as many successive advances towards the supremacy ultimately attained.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.(Anglo-Saxon Biscop, Busceop , German Bischof ; from the Greek episkopos , an overseer, through Latin episcopus ; Italian vescovo ; Old French vesque ; French évêque ). At the present day, rationalistic and Protestant writers, even those who belong to the Anglican Church, reject the Apostolic institution of the episcopate; many of them relegate its origin to the second century.

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