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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Gradually all the Lutheran Churches have adopted


The

constitutions of these courts provided for the assembling and holding of Synods to deliberate on the affairs of the Church. The General Synod consisted of the Consistory and the superintendents of the various "circles"; and particular Synods, which had to do with the Church affairs of the "circle," of the superintendent, and of all the clergy of the "circle."

Such were the beginnings of the consistorial system of Church government, which is a distinctive mark of the Lutheran Church, and which exhibits some of the individual traits of Luther's personality. We can see in it his desire to make full use of whatever portions of the mediaeval Church usages could be pressed into the service of his evangelical Church; his conception that the one supreme authority on earth was that of the secular government; his suspicion of the "common" man, and his resolve to prevent the people exercising any control over the arrangements of the Church.

Gradually all the Lutheran Churches have adopted, in general outline at least, this consistorial system; but it would be a mistake to think that the Wittenberg "use" was adopted in all its details. Luther himself, as has been said, had no desire for anything like uniformity, and there was none in the beginning. All the schemes of ecclesiastical government proceed on the idea that the _jus episcopale_ or right of ecclesiastical oversight belongs to the supreme territorial secular authority.

All of them include within the one set of ordinances, provisions for the support of the ministry, for the maintenance of schools, and for the care of the poor--the last generally expressed by regulations about the "common chest." The great variety of forms of ecclesiastical government drafted and adopted may be studied in Richter's collection, which includes one hundred and seventy-two separate ecclesiastical constitutions, and which is confessedly very imperfect. The gradual growth of the organisation finally adopted in each city and State can be traced for a portion of Germany in Sehling's unfinished work.(382)

The number of these ecclesiastical ordinances is enormous, and the quantity is to be accounted for partly by the way in which Germany was split up into numerous small States in the sixteenth century, and also partly by the fact that Luther pled strongly for diversity.

The ordinances were promulgated in many different ways. Most frequently, perhaps, the prince published and enacted them on his own authority like any other piece of territorial legislation. Sometimes he commissioned a committee acting in his name to frame and publish. In other cases they resulted from a consultation between the prince and the magistrates of one of the towns within his dominions. Sometimes they came from the councils and the pastors of the towns to which they applied. In other instances they were issued by an evangelical bishop. And in a few cases they are simply the regulations issued by a single pastor for his own parish, which the secular authorities did not think of altering.

Although they are independent one from another, they may be grouped in families which resemble each other closely.(383)

Some of the territories reached the consistorial system much sooner than others. If a principality consisted in whole or in part of a secularised ecclesiastical State, the machinery of the consistorial court lay ready to the hand of the prince, and was at once adapted to the use of the evangelical Church. The system was naturally slowest to develop in the imperial cities, most of which at first preferred an organisation whose outlines were borrowed from the constitution drafted by Zwingli for Zurich.


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