Hierarchy of the Catholic Church Explained | Church History

It is difficult to pinpoint historical events during the second and third centuries. These two centuries mark various processes of ecclesial development such as: ecclesial hierarchy, combat of Gnosticism, canonization of Scripture, determining the date of Easter, etc.

Church unity to many early Christian thinkers entailed believers centered around their bishop celebrating a single Eucharist with a choir of presbyters and deacons assisting him. The title bishop encompassed other roles and titles that were confirmed as ranks in the church in subsequent centuries, such as Metropolitans (The bishop of a mother metropolis or capital), Xoriepiskopos (A bishop in charge of a village. The role of the Xoriepiskopos later becomes that of an auxiliary bishop who works in conjunction with a metropolitan), Archbishops (A bishop who has more than one bishop report to him) and Patriarchs (An archbishop of a Major see such as Alexandria or Antioch). The rank of presbyter encompassed priests as we know them today but also Hieromonks (a monastic priest), archpriests, Archimandrite (the head of a large monastery or confederation of monasteries) and Hegomens (An senior priest, typically a monk in the past, who would take precedence among other priests or monks especially with regard to administration). The title “deacon” included deacons, archdeacons and protodeacons (who had precedence when serving with other deacons). Developing these roles certainly took much longer than the second and third centuries. However, the beginning of such development begins as we see in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch who writes in his letters, “You must follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father; follow the presbyter as you would the Apostles; reverence the deacons as you would God’s commandment… Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ Jesus is, there is the catholic church.” The first marked difference we see here is that bishops and presbyters are distinguished which was not the case in the first century when the two titles were often used interchangeably for the same person.