Forasmuch as we have heard that in certain churches the bishops managed the church-business without stewards, it has seemed good that every church having a bishop shall have also a steward from among its own clergy, who shall manage the church business under the sanction of his own bishop; that so the administration of the church may not be without a witness; and that thus the goods of the church may not be squandered, nor reproach be brought upon the priesthood; and if he [i.e., the Bishop] will not do this, he shall be subjected to the divine canons.
Ancient Epitome of Canon XXVI.
The Œconomus in all churches must be chosen from the clergy. And the bishop who neglects to do this is not without blame.
As the stream of offerings became fuller, the work of dispensing them became more complex, until the archdeacons could no p. 286 longer find time for it, and it was committed to a special officer called “œconomus” or steward (Bingham, iii, 12, 1; Transl. of Fleury, iii., 120). So the Council of Gangra, in the middle of the fourth century, forbids the church offerings to be disposed of without consent of the bishop or of the person appointed, εἰς οἰκονομίαν εὐποιϊασ (canon viij.); and St. Basil mentions the œconomi of his own church (Epist., xxiij. 1), and the “ταμίαι of the sacred goods” of his brothers at Nyssa (ib., 225). And although Gregory Nazianzen took credit to himself for declining to appoint a “stranger” to make an estimate of the property which of right belonged to the church of Constantinople, and in fact, with a strange confusion between personal and official obligations, gave the go-by to the whole question (Carm. de Vita sua, 1479 ff.), his successor, Nectarius, being a man of business, took care to appoint a “church-steward”; and Chrysostom, on coming to the see, examined his accounts, and found much superfluous expenditure (Palladius, Dial, p. 19). Theophilus of Alexandria compelled two of the Tall Brothers to undertake the οἰκονομία of the Alexandrian church (Soc., vi. 7); and in one of his extant directions observes that the clergy of Lyco wish for another “œconomus,” and that the bishop has consented, in order that the church-funds may be properly spent (Mansi, iii., 1257). At Hippo St. Augustine had a “præpositus domus” who acted as Church-steward (Possidius, Vit. August., xxiv.). Isidore of Pelusium denounces Martinianus as a fraudulent “œconomus,” and requests Cyril to appoint an upright one (Epist. ii., 127), and in another letter urges him to put a stop to the dishonest greed of those who acted as stewards of the same church (ib., v. 79). The records of the Council of Ephesus mention the “œconomus” of Constantinople, the “œconomus” of Ephesus (Mansi, iv., 1228–1398), and, the “œconomus” of Philadelphia. According to an extant letter of Cyril, the “œconomi” of Perrha in Syria were mistrusted by the clergy, who wished to get rid of them “and appoint others by their own authority” (ib., vii., 321). Ibas of Edessa had been complained of for his administration of church property; he was accused, e.g., of secreting a jewelled chalice, and bestowing the church revenues, and gold and silver crosses, on his brother and cousins; he ultimately undertook to appoint “œconomi” after the model of Antioch (Mansi, vii., 201). Proterius, afterwards patriarch of Alexandria and a martyr for Chalcedonian orthodoxy, was “œconomus” under Dioscorus (ib., iv., 1017), as was John Talaia, a man accused of bribery, under his successor (Evag., iii., 12). There may have been many cases in which there was no “œconomus,” or in which the management was in the hands of private agents of the bishop, in whom the Church could put no confidence; and the Council, having alluded to the office of “œconomus” in canons ij. and xxv., now observes that some bishops had been managing their church property without “œconomi,” and thereupon resolves “that every church which has a bishop shall also have an œconomus” from among its own clergy, to administer the property of the church under the direction of its own bishop; so that the administration of the church property may not be unattested, and thereby waste ensue, and the episcopate incur reproach.” Any bishop who should neglect to appoint such an officer should be punishable under “the divine” (or sacred) “canons.”
Nearly three years after the Council, Leo saw reason for requesting Marcian not to allow civil judges, “novo exemplo,” to audit the accounts of “the œconomi of the church of Constantinople,” which ought, “secundum traditum morem,” to be examined by the bishop alone (Epist. cxxxvij. 2). In after days the “great steward” of St. Sophia was always a deacon; he was a conspicuous figure at the Patriarchs celebrations, standing on the right of the altar, vested in alb and stole, and holding the sacred fan (ῥιπίδιον); his duty was to enter all incomings and outgoings of the churchs revenue in a charterlary, and exhibit it quarterly, or half yearly, to the patriarchs; and he governed the church during a vacancy of the see (Eucholog., pp. 268, 275). In the West, Isidore of Seville describes the duties of the “œconomus”; he has to see to the repair and building of churches, the care of church lands, the cultivation of vineyards, the payment of clerical stipends, of doles to the widows and the poor, and of food and clothing to church servants, and even the carrying on of church law suits,—all “cum jussu et arbitrio sui episcopi” (Ep. to Leudefred, Op. ii., 520); and before Isidores death the IVth Council of Toledo refers to this canon, and orders the bishops to appoint “from their own clergy those whom the Greeks call œconomi, hoc est, qui vici episcoporum res ecclesiasticas tractant (canon xlviij., Mansi, x, 631). There was an officer named “œconomus” in the old Irish monasteries; see Reeves edition of Adamnan, p. 47.
This Canon is found twice in the Corpus Juris Canonici, Gratians Decretum, Pars II., Causa XVI., Q. VII, Canon xxi., and again in Pars I., Dist. LXXXIX., c. iv. 294
It is curious that both the French and English translations of Hefele give this reference incorrectly, and each makes the error, giving Dist. lxxix. instead of lxxxix.