Class Distinction as a Way of Doing Church: The Early Fathers and the Christian Plebs
Roman notions of social and legal distinction helped to shape the approach of certain pre-Nicene Fathers to the ordering of the church. The social distinction between ordo and plebs and the legal one between honestior and humilior helped these Fathers to differentiate the particular rights and responsibilities of clergy and laity, while the concept of patronage and that of the paterfamilias helped them to define the particular role and authority of the bishop. We see this first articulated in Clement and Hermas of Rome, developed further in Tertullian of Carthage, and then find particular expression in Cyprian of Carthage.
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