The following is an excerpt from The Original Bishops, by Alistair Stewart.
The extension of episcopal responsibilities to more than one congregation or Christian community and the corresponding appointment of subordinate officers is, I suggest, a development that emerges near the turn of the third century. It is in the last decade of the second century that Demetrius emerges in Alexandria as sole bishop taking control of independent schools, and probably in the first decade of the third that we find Serapion of Antioch engaging with the church at Rhossos regarding the Gospel of Peter.
By the middle of the third century we find Cyprian in Africa convening councils of bishops from across the province to determine questions of discipline, and, perhaps most significant of all, we may observe the report of the Liberian catalog that Pontianus, the bishop of Rome, “and the presbyter Hippolytus [Pontianus episcopus et Yppolitus presbyter] were deported to Sardinia on the island of Vocina” in 235.8
At this point, on the basis of the joint mention of Pontianus as bishop and Hippolytus as presbyter, and given that a precise date is then given for the ordination of Pontianus’s successor, we can say that Rome had a sole bishop recognized by the self-defining catholic congregations of the city, and under whom presbyters served in the individual churches.
Thus, the same phenomenon of a sole bishop within a city of multiple congregations, assisted by subordinate officers, is to be found in multiple locations in this period, whereas, as will be observed below, evidence earlier than that is entirely lacking and evidence, at least for Rome, that this was not the case is strong. This system of sole bishops heading multiple congregations may properly be called “monepiscopacy,” for each bishop is a sole bishop set over congregations in a defined area with subservient ministers (presbyters and deacons).
The purpose of this book is to trace the history by which this system and its prevalence came about; if this is a development, we must of necessity discuss earlier systems of church order from which this system emerged.
©2014 by Alistair C. Stewart. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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