Jerome on the Development of the Monoepiscopacy

Jerome’s commentary on Titus 1:5 contains an important testimony about the development of the monoepiscopacy in the early church (in addition to various statements in his letters). Since this passage is not found easily in its entirety online, I want to produce it here for public record, as a supplement to my video on the topic (see my video below):


“It is therefore the very same priest, who is a bishop, and before there existed men who are slanderers by instinct, [before] factions in the religion, and [before] it was said to the people, “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, but I am of Cephas,” the churches were governed by a common council of the priests. But after each one began think that those whom he had baptized were his own and not Christ’s, it was decreed for the whole world that one of the priests should be elected to preside over the others, to whom the entire care of the church should pertain, and the seeds of schism would be removed.

If someone thinks that this is our opinion, but not that of the ­Scriptures—that bishop and priest are one, and that one is the title of age, the other of his duty—let him reread the apostle’s words to the Philippians when he says, “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons, grace to you and peace,” and so on. Philippi is a single city in Macedonia, and at least in one city several were not able to be bishops, as they are now thought. But because at that time they called the same men bishops whom they also called priests, therefore he has spoken indifferently of bishops as if of priests.

This may still seem doubtful to someone unless it is proven by another testimony. In the Acts of the Apostles it is written that when the apostle came to Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the priests of that church to whom later he said among other things, “Watch yourselves, and the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit appointed you bishops to feed the church of God, which he acquired through his own blood.” And observe here very carefully how, by summoning the priests of the single city of Ephesus, later he has spoken of the same men as bishops.

If anyone wants to receive that epistle which is written in Paul’s name to the Hebrews, even there care for the church is shared equally by many. For indeed he writes to the people, “Obey your leaders, and be in subjection; for they are the ones who watch over your souls, as those who will give a reckoning. Let them not do this with sighing; for indeed this is advantageous to you.” And Peter, who received his name from the firmness of his faith, speaks in his own epistle and says, “As a fellow priest, then, I plead with the priests among you, and as a witness of Christ’s sufferings, I who am a companion also of his glory that is to be revealed in the future, tend the Lord’s flock that is among you, not as though by compulsion but voluntarily.”

These things [have been said] in order to show that to the men of old the same men who were the priests were also the bishops; but gradually, as the seed beds of dissensions were eradicated, all solicitude was conferred on one man. Therefore, just as the priests know that by the custom of the church they are subject to the one who was previously appointed over them, so the bishops know that they, more by custom than by the truth of the Lord’s arrangement, are greater than the priests. And they ought to rule the Church commonly, in imitation of Moses who, when he had under his authority to preside alone over the people of Israel, he chose the seventy by whom he could judge the people.”

St. Jerome’s Commentaries on Galatians, Titus, and Philemon, trans. Thomas P. Scheck (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), 289-290).


  1. Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing that!

  2. Hi Dr. Ortlund,

    I was wondering if you could comment on the argument that the “angels” of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3 should be interpreted as the “bishops” (taken in the sense episcopal sense) because (i) each one is over the church of a particular city and (ii) it’s a singular “angel”, whereas if it were referring to presbyters we would expect there to be many “angels,” in keeping with the NT teaching of local congregations being ruled by a plurality of elders.

    Thanks for putting out such high quality content!

    1. The passage is unclear as to who precisely those “angels” are and so it would be foolish for one to try to make it about episcopal development in the first place.

  3. Angly McAnglerson

    Gavin, I am wondering about some of the claims of Anglo-Catholics. They claim to be one valid branch of the apostolic successive church, and the purest among them. They believe in many things Roman and Eastern Catholics believe, but with some of the dogmas as a matter of pious opinion and not binding, or with some variations on their theology and practices.

    -I am having trouble with understanding how salvation by grace/faith alone does not lead one into antinomianism or with an unpredictable degree of certainty, since many Christians claim that even unbelievers could technically do the same works and still go to hell for not having the right faith. How then, could the works supposedly born from regeneration ever provide confirmation of any kind? It doesn’t make sense that James White would claim “Some Christians bear very little fruit” and why God wouldn’t naturally want us to be perfect if the opposite was true. I do feel that the Roman distinction of venial/mortal sins is mostly correct, with the Anglo-Catholic version removing most of the errors. Many of what constitutes undoubtedly as mortal sin are the kinds of things that get you removed from the church according to the bible. Anglo Catholics do not necessarily agree that things like gluttony or mandatory communion on Sundays sends you to hell, but if a Christian does not ever achieve the sanctification to overcome these sins, then he never has the opportunity or promise to be a practicing member of the church.

    -In 1 John, the author seems to be talking about the inclination to be vulnerable and capable to sinning based on the curse of sin in us versus actually giving into the sin willfully, which is what venial and mortal often implies. Saying one who is born of God does not go on sinning and saying we lie if we say we have no sin means that we lie if we say we don’t have the capacity to sin due to our fallen nature not being yet perfected and that we cannot claim to be Christian if we submit to what it leads to. Having thoughts or temptation is not the same thing as giving in to the desires.

    -I believe some of these people are lying to themselves to pretend they had no power over sin and yet gave in to it because they were a ‘wretched sinner’. A lot of Christians probably know they have a responsibility to account for because they often treat people as more capable of having a choice to do right or wrong when they chastise them in daily life for a fault but never as much in their personal lives because they want to appease their flesh. Whenever they get asked about whether someone who was supposedly saved did horrible sins constantly after their alleged salvation, they get cowardly and never answer it boldly even though they talk about being bold in scaring people about going to hell or not upholding ‘sound doctrine’ during times of trouble.

    -It does not make sense for someone like Jonathan Sheffield to treat apostolic succession as simply icing on the cake if sacraments are that important and it is necessary to have a valid sacrament and priesthood. That kind of thinking would theoretically send people to hell. According to Anglo-Catholics, only churches with valid succession can offer salvation. Anglo-Catholics believe in the branch theory (which is mainly Roman, Eastern and Anglo-Catholic churches, as well as Old Catholics) and baptists are undoubtedly outside of this. That is also true if believing in a real presence is necessary to salvation as most Pentecostals, and others do not believe that which are people you have affirmed as Christians in the past.

    -They believe that the Anglicans never forfeited their apostolic succession even if the priests who received them did not agree with everything they were expected to enforce from apostolic times. The document Saepius Officio was written by Anglo-Catholics who believed that succession and sacramental salvation were important and to counter the Romanist claim that Anglicans lost succession entirely. That’s because the rite of ordination always had valid prayers.

    -Most dynamic (paraphrase) translations would be against the word. The Targum is often brought forward as evidence that dynamic interpretations were tolerated in ancient times. However, the Targum does NOT prove that all dynamic translations were acceptable. The range of tolerated interpretations of the rabbis follows the same pattern as the Anglican theory of the ecumenical councils. They believe everything decided by ecumenical councils should be accepted as dogma, and everything that was never discussed or decided at them (Before the universal church separated) is neither required or condemned. Even when things like icons and prayers to saints were being discussed, the church never wholly condemned them in the ecumenical councils even after numerous heresies came and went being anathematized. Also, they say the pre-Reformation Anglicans tolerated these practices, and therefore real Anglicans are more closer to Roman Catholics and not the Reformers. Anglicans say that only the most important aspects of the Book of Common Prayer are still required to believe and that the articles condemning these things like icons and saints should be ignored as overreactions by Protestants of the time. The rabbis taught that if two rabbis disagree, choose one but never go outside the boundaries. And this is how these Catholics understand the apostolic office to succeed from the rabbinic traditions.

    -I am told there is no evidence of non-procreative sex even within marriage being seen as good or accepted by the church even by the Reformers and is an extremely late development, which is proof from Catholics that most Protestants do not have the holy spirit since all of them are tolerating sex for pleasure.

    -Some Anglo-Catholics teach a high church version of King James Only (Or King James primarily) because it uses the Textus Receptus which is considered sacred and was put together by men with valid succession or reverence for the historical church, and is not the kind of KJV-onlyism taught by the low-church fundamentalists. The receptus includes the crucial passages “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, who walk according to the spirit and not the flesh” (which makes it conditional) and “don’t be angry against your brother for no reason” (because there is righteous anger) and the requirement to baptize.

    -You do not seem to understand baptism by desire. It refutes the claim that the thief on the cross proves baptism as not required. A lot of historical churches believed and taught it, as do Lutherans. I am surprised that as much interaction as you have had with these people, you still act as if you don’t know what it is or adequately address it.

    -The salvation by conscience theory is also taught by many Anglo-Catholics. Vatican II implies that people from other religions could be saved if they followed their heart, and condemned if they refused to enter the church after they were convicted about it. Technically they should be lead to the church and it is not necessarily easier or harder to be saved in the Catholic church. It depends on what belief system you came from before becoming convinced you had to follow the true church. If you came from a less demanding system then you’d be asked to do more, or if a more demanding system, then technically less if you learned and became convicted by the church allegedly being true. If they died believing something else but were sincere and technically would’ve followed the church had they understood it, they would be saved by that. It’s what Romans means by the law on their heart, and why Jesus said the Pharisees would be saved by ignorance if he hadn’t convicted them. Trent also taught that. That’s because the people at the time were very close to the Roman church to know something about it but some of the untouched places which were still to be evangelized didn’t. Anglicans believe the Romans are one valid branch but not the only one, but still less valid churches than mainline Protestants.

    -You also don’t have any way to reconcile polygamist marriages and divorces in missionary countries, or that pagan marriages had to be redone in the Christian churches because they made false oaths to pagan deities, and that requires you to have a more strict ecclesiastical model to do, and why marriage can only be valid in an apostolic church.

    1. Angly McAnglerson

      Correction: I meant that the Anglo-Catholics still believe the Romans are one of the few valid branches and that nearly all of the Protestant churches outside of succession are invalid.

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