"I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed: Tend the flock of God in your midst."
1 Peter 5:1,2
One of the many controversies which has led to division amongst Christians is the question of appropriate Church government. The two most prominent views are presbyterianism, rule by elders, and episcopalianism (2), rule by bishops. Churches which advocate presbyterianism include the Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Church, and the Disciples of Christ. Those advocating episcopalianism include the Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church, and the Orthodox Church. Most denominations consider Church government a relatively minor issue; while each Church would object to tampering with its own system of government, it does not necessarily condemn as heretics those who advocate alternate forms. The Church of Christ, a presbyterian Church, and the Catholic Church, an episcopal church, however, consider the question of appropriate Church governance among the fundamental issues of Christian truth. In this essay, we'll first briefly outline the two views, then discuss the unique conclusions to which the Church of Christ comes based on its view, and finally defend the Catholic view.
The Presbyterianism of the Church of Christ
The Church of Christ teaches that autonomous local churches are to be led by elders. These elders are to be men of the congregation who are married with children (known in certain circles as albundistic presbyterianism) and of reputable character. There are to be a minimum of two elders in each congregation, and there is, theoretically, no maximum number. Each elder is equal to the others, and there is no "presiding elder." The elders are assisted in their ministry by an order of deacons, who are also chosen from amongst the family men of good standing in the church. Churches of Christ do not reject episcopalianism outright, but argue that the terms "elder" and "bishop" (as well as "pastor") refer to the same office. (2) Many churches of Christ are without elders, in which case a variety exists in methods of church government, the most acceptable being the democratic rule of a parliament of all men in the congregation called the "business meeting." Amongst parliamentary churches, the business meeting is, at least on paper, a temporary situation, and the presbyterian ideal is exalted. In the Church of Christ, women are excluded from official ministry.
The Episcopalianism of the Catholic Church
The Catholic Church believes that Christ ordained his apostles as bishops, overseers of the Church. As they spread the gospel throughout the world, they chose men to be their successors as the shepherds of the People of God. This apostolic succession has continued to this day, and every region of the world is under a Catholic bishop. (3) Under the bishops are an order of elders. (4) The role of the elders is to assist the bishops in whatever capacity is necessary. Generally, each parish has a number of elders which has been assigned to it, to one of whom the bishop has delegated the authority of pastorate, which properly belongs only to the bishop. Catholics understand the bishops and elders to have received through ordination a sacrificial priesthood. Under the bishops and elders is an order of deacons who, while receiving a true sacramental ordination, do not share in the sacrificial priesthood. In the Patriarchate of Rome, bishops and elders are chosen from among men who have voluntarily embrace celibacy. Deacons of all rites are chosen from among both celibate and married men. The ordination of women is not allowed. (5)
The Assertion of the Church of Christ
The Church of Christ asserts that the differences between the two systems of Church government are severe enough to demonstrate that the Catholic Church is a false Church, having perverted the God-appointed structure of Christ's Church. When Christ established his Church through the apostles, he set up two orders of leadership in that Church-elders/bishops and deacons. Evidence for this can be found, the Church of Christ claims, in Acts 20:17 and 28, in which the same group of men is first referred to as "elders" and then again as "bishops." The same holds true in Titus 1:5 and 7, where St. Paul refers to the qualifications of "elders," and then refers to the same office as that of "bishop." In this passage the Church of Christ also sees evidence that there are to be a plurality of elders in each church, ruling out the Catholic monarchical episcopate.
The Assertion Taken At Face Value
Let us assume that everything asserted above by the Church of Christ is true. We will, for the moment, argue with nothing that they've stated, but grant them every point. Suppose that Christ through the apostles established a Church and placed over it only two orders, elders and deacons. Suppose that the development of a three-tiered hierarchy, with bishops, elders, and deacons, was a later development. Suppose that every time the Scriptures speak of elders or bishops, they refer to the same office. Granting the Church of Christ all of this, what is then proven about the structure of the Catholic Church? Answering this question requires us to look into the nature of divinely appointed authority.
Since the Church was founded by Jews within a Jewish culture as a fulfillment of the Jewish Covenant, it is practically impossible to properly understand Christianity without first understanding its foundation in Judaism. In Exodus 3, God chose Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. From that point forward, Moses served as a Pontiff-figure for the Israelites, ruling them as prophet, priest, and king. His authority was one specially ordained by God. In exodus 28 and 29, God established the priesthood, making Aaron his High Priest and other members of the Levitical tribe his priests. Both the Pontificate and the priesthood were authorities specifically ordained by God to rule his Chosen People. The Lord himself chose who would hold these offices, how they were to be ordained, and who would succeed them. Moses would be succeeded only once, by Joshua, while the line of succession from Aaron and the Levitical priests was to be perpetual. Here we see a principle of authority accepted under the New Covenant by both the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church-that we are bound to follow those who hold offices specifically set up by God.
The Pentateuch teaches us a second principle. As the people of Israel grew in the wilderness, Moses discovered that it was beyond the power of himself and the priests to lead them. Deuteronomy 1:9-15 tells how Moses handled this situation: "'At that time I (Moses) said to you, "Alone I am unable to carry you. The Lord, your God, has so multiplied you that you are now as numerous as the stars of the sky. May the Lord, the God of your fathers, increase you a thousand times over, and bless you as he promised! But how can I alone bear the crushing burden that you are, along with your bickering? Choose wise, intelligent and experienced men from each of your tribes that I may appoint them as your leaders." You answered me, "We agree to do as you proposed." So I took outstanding men of your tribes, wise and experienced, and made them your leaders as officials over thousands, over hundreds, over fifties, and over tens, and other tribal officers.'"
The Deuteronomist makes no attempt to attribute the establishment of this lower order of Israelite leaders to God himself. Considering the fact that aspects of Israelite life as mundane as the price of goods is presented often in the Books of Moses as coming directly from God, one can safely assume that the establishment of this lower order was done on Moses' own initiative, and not resulting from any special divine revelation. Here a second principle of divinely appointed authority is established. When God places men over his people, these men have the right to do whatever it takes, within the bounds of the Law of God, to rightly shepherd them. This means that leaders must pay attention to the signs of the times, and make rules which are relevant to the people in the cultural milieu in which they live. Often, this includes the delegation of authority. If an authority placed over the people delegates his authority to a lesser order, even if it an order which he has created himself, the people are bound to follow and respect the new order. Centuries later, when the existence of a Pontificate had long since passed from the Israelites, the lesser orders established by Moses continued to shepherd the people alongside God's priesthood, and, in his day, the Lord Jesus said of them: "The scribes and Pharisees have taken their seat on the Chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you" (Matthew 23:2,3).
If we look to the New Covenant, we find that Jesus himself only established one order to oversee the Church--the apostles. (6) All orders below the apostles were created by the authority of the apostles, and not directly by God. In Acts 1, the ordination of St. Matthias as an apostle to replace Judas is presented as the decision of St. Peter along with the other apostles and the entire community. St. Peter, quoting the Psalms, declared on his own initiative: "Let another his bishopric take" (Acts 1:20). The apostles actually cast lots to determine who would succeed Judas as an overseer.
It was another seven years before the next order arose in the Church, that of the diaconate. Notice that the creation of this order is, once again, done upon human initiative: "At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, 'It is not right for us to neglect the Word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them" (Acts 6:1-6).
Surely Divine Providence played a role in these instances, just as it must have played a role in the lesser Mosaic orders of old. Still, in a world where the most mundane of events are attributed directly to divine blessing or curse, the absence of any mention of God's hand in these events speaks volumes. Is God not involved in these events? Of course he is! But he is involved providentially, having given to the leaders of his people his own authority: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you" (Jn. 20:21). And again, "Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven" (Mt. 18:18). That leadership includes the delegation of authority.
Suppose, then, that everything argued by the Church of Christ is true. Suppose that the Bible knows of only two orders, bishops and deacons. Suppose that, just as the Church of Christ asserts, the establishment of a third order in between the bishops and the deacons was a purely human invention on the part of the bishops without any command from heaven. Suppose all of this is true; what of it? The bishops having been placed over the Church by Christ as it's overseers have the right--even the obligation--to pay attention to the signs of the times and make pastoral provisions so that the People of God can be appropriately ministered to. Though 2 bishops may have been sufficient to lead a local church of 1,000 people, when that church grew to include 10,000 families, the bishops, so that they would not wrongfully "neglect the Word of God," delegated their authority to worthy men to help shepherd the local church. Nothing could be more appropriate. The arguments of the Church of Christ, even if accepted as entirely accurate, prove nothing. We shall now see that, since the arguments of the Church of Christ are not entirely accurate, they prove less than nothing.
Elders and Bishops in the Bible: The Same?
There can be no doubt that the Scriptures at times use the words "elder" and "bishop" interchangeably to speak of the same office. Does this mean that there were not three orders in the early Church? Such a conclusion is faulty. It presupposed as uniformity in both structure and terminology which is anachronistic.
When the Church was established in Jerusalem, it remained as one congregation for several years. The overseers of this congregation were the apostles. Some seven years later, the apostles established the diaconate. After one of the first deacons, St. Stephen, was martyred, a persecution began which forced the people of the Church to spread, establishing other congregations. Several years later, St. Peter received a vision instructing him to begin spreading the gospel to the Gentiles. It was after this that churches became a worldwide phenomenon. Modern biblical scholars and historians tell us that the government of these churches varied. While all were subject to the bishops of the Church, not all churches had their own clergy. Many were charismatic in structure, meaning that those with particular gifts--miraculous and nonmiraculous--played important parts in the Church, but none were pastors in the true sense of the word. Others were guided by prophets, both true and false.(7)Other churches did indeed have their own apostolically appointed bishops and deacons and, by the end of the biblical period, many had bishops, presbyters and deacons.
Beyond this variance in structure, the churches also had a variance in terminology. Even among the churches which had clearly adopted the three tiered hierarchy found in Catholicism today, terms such as "bishop," "presbyter," "pastor," "guide," "Levite," and priest were used without uniformity. Even as late as 160 AD, St. Justin refers to the church leader as the "president."
This variation amongst the churches of the world caused a number of problems. It was difficult for the bishops of the Church to guide and teach infallibly those people whose faith lives rarely included the ordained ministers. Churches without clergy were generally disorderly and, with every member having equal say, many arguments were quite divisive. Even during the biblical time, we see a desire on the part of the apostles for a greater uniformity. Every local Church was to be under a bishop (again, the terminology may vary, but the truth remains the same), who would be assisted in ministering to his Church, which in many areas had already been divided by necessity into several congregations, by presbyters, who were in turn assisted by deacons.
We find this in the letters of St. John. These letters are among those known as the Catholic or General Epistles, because they were addressed, not to an individual or a specific church, but to Christendom in general. These letters circulated among the churches and were later declared to be inspired Scriptures. In the second and third letters, St. John does not refer to himself by name (his authorship role being a matter of Sacred Tradition rather than book, chapter, and verse), but calls himself "the Presbyter" (cf. 2 Jn. 1:1, 3 Jn. 1). Recognizing again that terminology was not uniform, the lack of the name of a specific presbyter implies that the audience would automatically associate the letter with a man who was the presbyter. Tradition--the same Tradition that associates the Apostle John with the community that developed these Epistles--holds that St. John was the Bishop of Ephesus prior to his banishment to Patmos.
We find this also in the Pastorals, especially St. Paul's letter to St. Titus. Tradition holds that St. Titus was the Bishop of Crete. It is true that the Apostle never calls him bishop; in fact, in this letter, he uses "bishop" and "elder" interchangeably to refer to those subordinate to Titus. It is clear, however, that Titus has full authority over the Church of Crete--a Church consisting of several congregations--including authority to choose, ordain, and discipline presbyters and the authority to excommunicate.(8)
It is amazing how quickly the Church embraced the three-tiered hierarchy once it was advocated by the apostles. By the second century, the Church all over the world was led by bishops, presbyters, and deacons, and the Church in every land today continues to be led by bishops, presbyters, and deacons, in a continuous succession from the apostles.
Catholics do not claim that the Scriptures present a clearly demonstrated pattern of Church leadership which is identical to the leadership in Catholicism, nor do we claim that every biblical church was governed in a Catholic way. Such would be both an abuse of Scripture--attempting to make it do what it was never intended to do, that is, serve as a complete pattern and guidebook for every aspect of Christian life--and anachronistic. If one can accept that it took seven years for the apostles to create the office of deacon--without any explicit commandment of God--to serve but one congregation, why is it so difficult to accept that it took a few decades for the entire Church to adopt the three-tiered hierarchy?
The Clergy: Married or Celibate?
Members of the Church of Christ will object that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church cannot be legitimate because Catholic bishops and presbyters do not meet the biblical requirements for bishops and presbyters. The Bible teaches that a bishop or a presbyter is to be married with faithful children. The Catholic Church ordains celibates to these offices. These man cannot, therefore, be true bishops or presbyters.
St. Paul writes in his letter to Titus: "(A)ppoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you, on condition that a man be blameless, the husband of one wife, with believing children who are not accused of licentiousness or rebellious" (Titus 1:5,6). (9) What does this passage mean?
It should first be pointed out that the Catholic Church does not teach as doctrine that celibacy is essential to ordained ministry. Such a position would be impossible to reconcile with Scripture as well as history and even current Church practice. Many of the first bishops and presbyters, including St. Peter, were married men, and in the Eastern rites of the Church, married men continue to be regularly ordained as presbyters. In the Latin Rite of the Church, ordinarily only celibate men are ordained, but under certain circumstances even Latin priests can be married, for instance Protestant ministers who convert and wish to become priests. It is an issue of discipline, not of doctrine.
Can the discipline of celibacy in the Latin Church be justified? It can, if St. Paul's words are not taken to be something they are not. From the very earliest days of the Church, Christians have understood that the Apostle was here and in his first letter to Timothy offering practical suggestions as to whom to ordain, not setting forth literal and unchangeable laws of God. His words should not be understood (and were not so understood for 1800 years) to be prohibiting celibates from being ordained. Rather, he was teaching the principle that reliable and trustworthy men alone are to be made bishops or presbyters--the type of men who could live up to a commitment made to a wife and could effectively lead a family. Many modern translations render the phrase "husband of one wife" as "married only once" to emphasize the true spirit of the passage, which speaks of the character of the men, not of their marital status.
It is biblically untenable that St. Paul intended his insistence that bishops be "married only once" to exclude celibates from the clergy. Consider St. Timothy. In both of his letters to Timothy, the Apostle refers to an instance where Timothy received a spiritual gift. (10) In his first letter, he states: "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate" (1 Tm. 4:14). In his second letter, he states: "I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands" (2 Tm. 1:6). Timothy received this spiritual gift when the presbyterate or, as other translations have it, "the council of elders," laid their hands upon him. Among these elders was St. Paul. St. Paul was an elder. St. Paul was also celibate, and expressed his desire that as many as possible choose celibacy. (11) To assert that St. Paul, himself a celibate elder who recommended celibacy to everyone would insist that only non-celibates be ordained despite the fact that all Christians for 1500 years, including those who sat at the Apostle's feet understood otherwise, is quite faulty exegesis.
Those in the Church of Christ often argue that the Catholic Church is in sin for forbidding marriage which, according to 1 Timothy 4:3, is contrary to the will of God. (12) To use this passage against the Catholic Church is to wrest it from its cultural context and misrepresent Catholicism. The Church does not forbid marriage. Indeed, the Church considers marriage a sacrament and a means to holiness and salvation. Those who embrace celibacy do so voluntarily, choosing to follow more closely after the heart of Jesus, as both our Lord and St. Paul have recommended. (13) In context, St. Paul was here referring to the Gnostic sect, which taught that the world was created by an evil demon-god (hence, "doctrine of demons") and that, therefore, all matter was evil. Early Gnostics forbid all sexual contact and the eating of meat for this reason, while later Gnostics chose to embrace hedonism. This passage is irrelevant to the Catholic practice of celibacy.
Some argue against celibacy for a number of practical rather than ideological reasons. In recent times, these arguments have been raised even by faithful Latin Rite Catholics. Celibacy is, after all, not essential to priesthood. Many feel that mandatory celibacy is no longer an effective way to minister to the people of God, and, while still holding the discipline in high regard, would like to see both married and celibate clergy. Some of these people view the ordination of married converts from Protestant ministry as harbingers of great change to come. While such a view is permissible, one should take great care not to advocate changing what has become a time honored and well established tradition without profound consideration. There is a reason that Jesus and St. Paul were celibate, and there is a reason that for 1,000 years Latin priests have embraced celibacy. The day may come when married men are ordained or even when the ordained are allowed to marry. Regardless, it remains true that "it is better not to marry" (Mt. 19:10).
Are Elders Priests?
Those in the Church of Christ object to sacerdotalism amongst the presbyters and bishops of the Catholic Church. Catholics consider their bishops and presbyters to be priests in the full sense of the word, participating in the unique priesthood of Christ and offering sacrifice to God. The Church of Christ argues that there can be no separate ministerial priesthood because all Christians are priests of God. To support this claim, they often cite 1 Peter 2:9, in which St. Peter states: "But you are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises' of him who called you out of darkness and into light."
Members of the Church of Christ, along with many other non-Catholics, envision a Church which has an elite sacerdotal caste set apart from the many who alone can approach God, while the many can only hope to fall into their priestly favor. It's as if the priesthood is a secret society of true believers and the laity are cut off from any relationship to God. What a faith-draining cult that would be! Catholics fully recognize that every Christian becomes a priest of God Almighty by baptism. As a kingdom of priests, all Christians bring their needs and the needs of those around them to God and, likewise, bring God to the world. We are all given the Great Commission when the Lord adds us to his One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
This universal priesthood of the faithful does not necessarily exclude a separate ministerial priesthood. Those who cite the passage in 1 Peter against the priesthood seem to think that since we are all a kingdom of priests there cannot be a separate clerical priesthood. Notice, however, that when St. Peter calls us a kingdom of priests, he quotes from Exodus 19:6, which has God addressing Moses: "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites." All Jews were priests, too, and yet that did not exclude a separate Levitical priesthood.
If we look to prophesies which spoke of the coming of the Messiah and the bringing of men from all nations back into one covenant community, the Church, we find foretold that such a ministerial Levitical-type priesthood would continue in the New Covenant. Isaiah 66:18ff is one such prophesy. Isaiah lists a number of Gentile nations which will become children of God, foretelling the opening of the Church to all people, and then, after listing Gentile people, says "some of these I will take as priests and Levites says the Lord." (v. 21) Imagine the scandal this caused to the Hebrews, so proud of their role as God's chosen people and so indignant toward the Goyim. "Gentiles as priests and Levites? May it never be!" Imagine the people rending their garments at such words, and yet, we find that in the fullness of time, Jesus Christ, our true priest, ordained his apostles to share in his priestly ministry, so that in the Catholic priests of today the words of Jeremiah are fulfilled: "Never...shall priests of Levi ever be lacking." (Jr. 33:18) Malachi spoke of the day in which, in every nation under the sun from the time of the Messiah to end of the ages, from the rising of the sun to it's setting, a pure sacrifice would be made to God. We find just such a sacrifice instituted by Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist--the Lord's Supper. Such a sacrifice requires a ministerial priesthood, which is why Jesus ordained his holy apostles to "do this in remembrance of me."
Priesthood as an institution is part of the natural order of civilization. The Scriptures place sacrificial priests at the earliest ages of humanity. Like marriage and government, priesthood has existed in every human culture that has ever existed. All priesthoods, ancient and modern, inherit their efficacy (to whatever degree they are efficacious) to the one great high priest, Jesus Christ, who, from the very foundation of the world, offered himself as a sacrifice to God.
Perhaps you've read this today after having been away from the Church for years. Or, perhaps you've never been a Catholic, and you've discovered that you've misunderstood the Catholic priesthood all along. Either way, in every part of the world, diligent and holy priests of the Lord of Hosts are waiting to serve you--to pray for you, to answer your questions, to forgive your sins, and to feed you with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Don't hesitate to look one up and to share your needs with him. He is God's anointed, and he is there bring you to God and to bring God to you. Why wait?
Perhaps you're a Catholic who read this just to strengthen your own convictions. There's a reason that Providence has brought you to this place. Could it be that God is calling you to follow after the heart of Jesus as a priest? If you suspect (or fear) that this might be the case, know that there is a wealth of information available to you at www.vocations.com. It's all confidential, so be not afraid! And, above all else, bring it before the Throne of Grace! "Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer."
Our Lady, Queen of Priests, pray for us.
(1)The words presbyterianism and episcopalianism, unless capitalized, refer to types of Church government and not particular denominations. It should also be pointed out that presbyterianism or episcopalianism as understood and practiced by one denomination might not be identical to the presbyterianism or episcopalianism of another. For instance, the government of the episcopal Methodist Church is quite dissimilar to the government of the episcopal Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia.
(2)It is for this reason that preachers in the Church of Christ, who actually rank as "laity," are not referred to as the pastors of the church. A Church of Christ pastor is an elder, not a preacher.
(3)When Catholics refer to a "local Church," they are referring to the Church in a particular area subject to one bishop. These local Church, or dioceses, can be and usually are divided into a number of congregations, or parishes. When members of the Church of Christ refer to a "local Church," they are referring to the parish. Within one local Catholic Church, there might be a number of local churches of Christ.
(4) Just as the terms "bishop" and "overseer," the terms "presbyter" and "elder" are always to be considered interchangeable. "Bishop" and "presbyter" are more or less Anglicized transliterations of the original Greek terms, while "overseer" and "elder" are actual English translations.
(5)Few can be unaware of the controversy which has surrounded the issue of women's ordination as of late. It has been particularly troublesome since the Episcopal Church began to ordain women to the orders of deacon, priest, and bishop. Some "progressivists" have portrayed those who hold the traditional point of view as being opposed to progress and unconcerned with the dignity of women. The progressivist position amongst people of faith has been gravely harmed by those progressivists who show less concern for the truth than for their own agenda. The principle issue is whether the prohibition of female ordination is a matter of discipline or of dogma-a Law of the Church or a Law of God. While acknowledging that there are important concerns expressed by those on both "sides," all people of faith would agree that the changing of a 2,000 year policy of the Church should not be taken lightly. There is strong Scriptural evidence in the letters of St. Paul for the prohibition of women's ordination, but at the same time there are serious questions raised as to whether these passages convey glimpses of the Divine Law or pastoral reflections geared toward and tempered by a particular culture which is not our own. The inspiration of the Scriptures-including the anti-women's ordination passages in St. Paul-should serve to prevent advocates of women's ordination from claiming that the prohibition is necessarily unjust and anti-woman, for that would amount to an indictment of an apostle and martyr of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the doctrine of biblical inspiration also tells us that both God and men authored the Scriptures and, as true authors, the sacred writers employed the literary genres of their own time, which necessarily includes statements influenced by contemporary culture. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: " 'Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination.' The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry. The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible." (1577) This sentiment has been reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, in which he states that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women against the directives of Christ. He stopped short of making a dogmatic declaration, though many feel that his uncharacteristically stern tone qualifies for infallibility under the guidelines of the First Vatican Council. At any rate, the Holy Father's letter does command an obedience of faith from all Catholics. The asking of questions is good, for the Church knows of no other way to learn. Those who advocate women's ordination as an answer to injustice to women should not be condemned as obstinate heretics by anyone who cannot propose a viable alternative solution. This questioning should be done, however, in a way that does not scandalize the faithful and in a way which shows a respectful adherence the Holy Father-and a humble willingness to submit to his final decision. The Church says there are to be no priestesses, and so there must be no priestesses. Roma locuta est, causa finita est. As controversial and emotional as the topic may be, the promises of Christ to lead his Church into all truth and preserve her from the very gates of Hell should give comfort to Catholics. The Church will not bind on us what has not been bound in heaven, as difficult as it may be for those not on the prevailing "side" to accept.
(6) Under the apostles were seventy others, but there is no conclusive evidence that these disciples were in a leadership capacity in the first days of the Church. Among the apostles, Jesus did establish the Petrine office of primacy, but this office has never been considered a separate order.
(7) There is no reason to hold that communities without clergy celebrated the Eucharist without the presence of a visiting cleric. Only when a priest was present did the Sunday common meal, the love feast, include Communion.
(8)"For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters ('ordain elders,' KJV, 'ordain priests,' Douay-Rheims) in every town, as I directed you" (Titus 1:5). "For there are also many rebels...It is imperative to silence them" (1:11). "After a first and second warning, break off contact with a heretic, realizing that such a person is perverted and sinful and stands self-condemned" (3:11). See also 2 Tm. 5:17-22.
(9) See also 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
(10) This gift is most likely Timothy's ordination, but whether this is the case is irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
(11) See 1 Corinthians 7:1-7.
(12)1 Timothy 4:1-4: "Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the last times some will turn away from the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and demonic instructions through the hypocrisy of liars with branded consciences. They forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected when received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the invocation of God in prayer."