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  • The Judicial Function of the Bishop in the Church of the First Centuries
  • Piotr Gałdyn

Introduction

The exercise of judicial power by the bishop throughout history. This is a topic to which we return, and which was the subject of many scientific interests, especially in 2015, when Pope Francis reformed the procedural law of marriage. The task of the reform was primarily to simplify the procedure for annulment of marriage in the canonical court process, and consequently to guarantee even greater just justice within the limits of the decision. At the same time, it is necessary to renew the principles of synodality in the pastoral service of justice and to indicate the central place of the bishop in the exercise of judicial power.1 Massimo del Pozzo calls the new regulation a reform 'nella continuità storica' and points out that the fundamental elements of the renewal carried out by Pope Francis already existed before in the different proposals of the Supreme Legislators of the Church and doctrine.2 [End Page 163]

We will attempt to analyze the most direct and reliable testimonies presenting the bishop's judicial activity. This reality appears in the ancient world as a completely new event, born in the Church and dominant in its history between antiquity and the early Middle Ages. It is above all the bishops who participate in the development of legal life as legislators. They exercise their legislative and judicial power in various possible ways. Be it as individual legislators, or in synods or councils, as a broad legislator—that is, a member of the assembly. Finally, as judges within the limits of their powers (canonical processes). The jurisdiction of the bishop in disputes between Christians was born and developed in the Church for three centuries, and his action is even more important because no one was more prepared and fit than the bishop to resolve the dispute and restore harmony.

The Time of the Apostles

Since their presence the successors of the Apostles have exercised judicial power.3 Indeed, Christ very clearly teaches how judicial ministry is to be exercised.4 The Church is the recipient of the power to judge. Therefore, the twelve must carry out the task of judging their brothers, that is, together with their role of guide and pastor, they perform the role of judge in internal conflicts of the community.5 The most famous passage in which Christ entrusts the power to Peter is that of Mt 16: 18-19.6 [End Page 164]

The great expansion of Christianity in Europe caused, in a broad sense, changes in different spheres of life. The presence of a new society in the Roman world created the need to adapt both realities that coexisted in a common political and cultural space.7 It must be borne in mind that Christians of diverse origins not only needed to accommodate themselves within a great Empire, but also had to proceed to an internal organization, in which the administration of justice is a basic element.8 In building that system, Christians looked to God's Word for help and inspiration:9

If your brother sins against you, rebuke him while the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have saved your brother. If he doesn't listen to you, call another or two others, so that the whole matter is confirmed by the mouth of two or three witnesses. If you don't listen to them, tell the community, and if you don't even pay attention to the community, consider them as a pagan or a publican.

Evidently both the theological and legal character of this passage resonate. 'Fraternal correptio' is not intended to punish or heal the effects of the brother's negative behavior; rather, it is about the rehabilitation of the sinner through the proper action of the Church.10 With such a resolution we will be, above all, in the sphere of fraternity and charity. However, it should be noted that each sin carries with it consequences that influence public life. All of this requires a special form of justice. [End Page 165]

The Pauline Precept

The Pauline text 1 Cor 6: 1...

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