Faith of our fathers

Arthur Middleton on John Cosin & bishops

John Cosin preached at the consecration of Francis White, the Bishop of Carlisle (1626), on the action of consecrating a bishop as Christ’s own work [John 20.21, 22]: ‘the solemn deriving of a sacred and ghostly power upon the persons of the holy apostles, for the use and benefit of Christ’s Church ever after. We call it the power of the Keys…and those keys are here given over, once for all into the hands of bishops; the key of order to send as Christ sent, and the key of jurisdiction to govern as He governed… This is the privy-warrant of ordering and of sending bishops into the Church.’

Bishops are ambassadors for Christ [2 Cor. 5.20], having some special quality in them above other people: ‘their treaties are ordinarily of concord, and therefore above all things they should be peaceable men.’ So ‘Peace be unto you’ is preparatory to and a condition of being sent. ‘I send you’ is their letter of credence, without which they cannot be ambassadors with a mission, and the nature and authority of this mission is what Christ had from his Father, ‘as my Father sent me.’

To perform their office they need the seal, by the action of Christ’s breath, the Spirit of unity given to those who are to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, part of his office from all antiquity, and his pledge is a condition of his consecration.

Christ gives the bishop authority: ‘The bishop imposes the hands, but God gives the grace saith St Ambrose, of whom we depend entirely for the power of our orders…which none can take away when once it is given.’ Bishops are ‘sent by him to mediate and to pray for the people, to be ministers of the reconciliation…and in a manner to be sacrificers too, representers at the altar here, and appliers of the Sacrifice once made for all; without which last act the first will do us no good.’

Like Christ, bishops are sent to ‘teach all nations,’ which is a larger office than the priest who only preaches under the bishop’s licence. Bishops are to be pastors of their diocese, citing the Sixth Canon of Trullo, Pope Damasus and Nicephorus, Sozomen and Chrysostom. The bishop is not to preach what they would but ‘whatsoever Christ hath commanded them…to do what the Church teaches them is, or should be…’

In Cosin’s time, churches were neglected, people were careless in receiving the sacraments and practising confession, the Canons of the Church were ignored and people did what they liked.

The bishop is to stir the people to a renewed commitment to Christ in his Church by example, not precept, to ordain and govern others, as he sent and governed them, ‘so the consecration of bishops, the ordination of priests and deacons, and the putting of them into office or place within the Church, was, and is, in the authority and jurisdiction of bishops only…to the bishops’ power of ordaining then add their power of setting Church matters in order…their votes in council…their power to correct, deprive, suspend, excommunicate, and stop the mouths of offenders, specially those that speak perverse things and draw disciples after them…and then you have their full commission.’

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