What is a Christian bishop? Christianity
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What is a bishop?

Amiens cathedral
Cathedral of Amiens

A bishop was a man who was in charge of the Christians of a certain city. All big cities in the ancient Roman Empire and Sassanian Empire and medieval Europe had bishops.

The earliest bishops appeared soon after the crucifixion of Jesus, about 50 AD. A crowd of Christian people in a town would just go to some rich Christian man's house and yell for him to be the bishop. If he agreed, then he was the new bishop and leader of the Christians in that town.

By the 100s AD, these bishops began to get together sometimes for councils, where they would try to decide how Christians should behave and what Christians should believe.

Soon these councils of bishops began to also choose new bishops when one died, and people didn't choose their own bishops anymore. Instead of choosing any rich man, the councils chose men who were already priests (but usually men from rich families still).

In the early Middle Ages, some kings wanted to choose bishops themselves, instead of letting the councils do it. There were big fights between the councils and the kings. But by the later Middle Ages, it was pretty much the councils that won, and they chose the bishops for each town.

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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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