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Before general synods and patriarchs arose within the church, prior even to the complete development of the metropolitan system, there was a catholic confederation which embraced the majority of the Christian churches in the East and the West alike. It came into being during the gnostic controversies; it assumed a relatively final shape during the Montanist controversy; and its headquarters were at Rome. The federation had no written constitution. It did not possess one iota of common statutes. Nevertheless, it was a fact. Its common denominator consisted of the apostles' creed, the apostolic canon, and belief in the apostolical succession of the episcopate. Indeed, long before these were generally recognized as the common property of the churches, the maintenance of this body of doctrine constituted a certain unity by itself. Externally, this unity manifested itself in inter-communion, the brotherly welcome extended to travellers and wanderers, the orderly notification of any changes in ecclesiastical offices, and also the representation of churches at synods beyond the bounds of their own provinces and the forwarding of contributions. What was at first done spontaneously—and as a result of this, in many cases, both arbitrarily and uselessly—became a matter of regular prescriptive right, carried out along fixed lines of its own.

The fact of this catholic federation was of very great moment to the spread of the church. The Christian was at home everywhere, and he could feel himself at home, thanks to this inter-communion. He was protected and controlled 484wherever he went. The church introduced, as it were, a new franchise among her members. In the very era when Caracalla bestowed Roman citizenship upon the provincials—a concession which amounted to very little, and which failed to achieve its ends—the catholic citizenship became a significant reality.

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