II. Choice and requirements. The basis of the bishop’s authority was the conviction that he was chosen by God; but in practice he was designated by the community, though sometimes the elect was invitus. Procedure varied in the course of the first centuries. The Didache prescribes: “Elect yourselves bishops worthy of the Lord” ch. 15. The Apostolic Tradition is more specific: “Let him be ordained bishop who has been chosen by all the people; the chosen person’s name shall be declared and, if it meets unanimous approval, etc.” ch. 2. Cyprian is still clearer: “Divine tradition and apostolic practice must be carefully respected tradition and practice found also among us in almost every province. That is, so as to proceed according to the law of ordination, the nearest bishops belonging to the same province must take a hand in the community in which the election is taking place.
The bishop must be chosen in the presence of the people. The people truly know the life of each one and, living together, will be able to evaluate his conduct” Ep. 67,5,1. Though clear, this text does not specify the role of the three participating groups: people, clergy and neighboring bishops. We have no more precise information for the 3rd c. Often the most wealthy and influential women favored one candidate or another see Jerome, Comm. in Tess. 3,3. During the 4th c., complex ecclesiastical and civil legislation was worked out, but it was only partially applied, since from the many documentable cases we can deduce a very diverse practice; yet nonobservance of the rules of election and ordination often caused disputes and conflicts.
The presence of the people was always required: “He who must be in charge of everyone must be elected by everyone” Leo Gt., Ep. 10, 6: PL 54, 634. In the West, at least theoretically, the people’s participation was required even afterward see Statuta ecc. ant., ed. Munier, prologue. But the metropolitan sought to play a central role at the expense of the other groups see Leo Gt., Ep. 10, 4; 14, 15. He wanted to exclude the turbulent and rowdy masses Council of Laodicea, can. 13, who often imposed their own candidate. In the East too, the metropolitan’s role was stressed; perhaps by the 5th c., he chose one of the candidates presented by the clergy, the decuriones and the important citizens CJ I, 3, 41. The Second Council of Nicaea 787 reserved election to the bishops alone can. 3, a rule that became definitive in the East. While popular participation could be a valid guarantee of the dignity of the person chosen, it was often the cause of struggles, divisions and abuses both within the community and among the aspirants, so that, as Jerome observed, the least designing and most worthy were excluded Adv. Iovin. 1, 34; cf. Aug., Ep. 213, 1; John Chrys., De sacerd. 3, 15. While the people’s role was being reduced, the importance of the emperor’s was growing.
He had an interest in the choice of bishops because of their civic importance, as substitutes for the state authorities and guarantees of their subjects’ loyalty. The manner of imperial intervention, never codified, could take different expressions: designating a candidate, ratifying an election already held, transferring or choosing between different candidates. Ideologically, this was in line with the old Roman idea of authority, which conceived of no other power than that of the state.