Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood

By Tim A. Troutman

At the heart of the separation of Catholics and Protestants lies a disagreement about the ecclesial hierarchy. Who are the rightful shepherds of Christ’s flock? This article will examine the Catholic Church’s doctrine of the sacrificial priesthood, and in doing so, will lay the foundation for our subsequent discussion on the critical issue of apostolic succession. We will argue for the following four claims. The hierarchical difference between the clergy and the laity was ordained by God and is supported by the Biblical data. The distinction between presbyters and bishops existed from apostolic times and was intended by Christ. Christian ministers are ordained into a visible priesthood that is distinct from the general priesthood of all believers. Finally, Holy Orders is a sacrament.


I – Introductory Notes
II – There is a Distinction Between the Clergy and the Laity
III – There is a Distinction Between the Orders
IV – The Clergy are Ordained to a Sacrificial Priesthood
V – Ordination is a Sacrament
VI – The Nature of Holy Orders
VII – Conclusion

I – Introductory Notes

a. The Church’s Mission

Here at Called to Communion, we have presented evidence that Christ founded a visible Church, His bride and mystical Body, and that to deny that the Holy Spirit perpetually protects and guides this Body is to affirm the ecclesiological equivalent of deism.1 But in our discussion on the nature of the Church, we have spoken little of her mission. Protestants and Catholics alike understand the mission of the Church to be nothing other than the mission of Christ: preaching the gospel for the salvation of souls. But according to Protestant doctrine, justification of souls comes solely by a single act of faith, and faith is an intellectual assent moved by the will. The preaching of God’s Word is thus understood to be the fundamental mission of the Church, and though this does not exclude the sacraments from proper church duty, it relegates the sacraments to a second tier of importance in Protestant theology.

The Catholic Church affirms the necessity of preaching the gospel, but she also believes and teaches that the sacraments are at the heart of the Church’s mission, which is the same as Christ’s mission.2 Catholics and Protestants agree that souls are saved by grace.3 But how is grace received? Setting aside the questions of operation and efficacy, both Catholics and the Reformed agree that saving grace is signified by the sacraments as well as by the preaching of the Word.4 Since nothing is more central to salvation than grace, and nothing is more central to the Church’s operation than salvation, it stands to reason that grace, or rather the sacraments whereby grace is signified, are at the center of the Church’s mission alongside of preaching the gospel.5 Below we will examine the nature of the office of the Christian clergy that Christ Himself established to administer those sacraments.

b. Semantic and Etymological Considerations

Holy Orders, according to the Catholic definition, is the sacramental initiation of a man into the clergy of the supernatural society that is the Church.6 But there are many potential misunderstandings that need to be addressed before proceeding to discuss Holy Orders. Catholics and Protestants mean different things when we say ‘priesthood’ and when we speak of Church hierarchy in general. So before beginning our discussion, we should clarify what we (Catholics) mean by the terms.

St. Augustine defines ‘order’ as “the distribution which allots things equal and unequal, each to its own place.”7 Etymologically, the English word comes from the Latin ‘ordo,’ which means a rank, class, or hierarchy within a social structure. In Roman political usage, it referred to the senatorial body.8 Subsequently, ‘ordinatio‘ / ‘ordinare,’ which became ‘ordination’ and ‘ordain’ respectively, meant initiation into that hierarchical class or structure.9 The English words ‘ordain’ and ‘order’ come from the same Latin word. We might “ordain” one thing and “order” another, but in some way we’re doing the same thing to both. Now when Catholics speak of “Holy Order,” as opposed to mere “order,” they are referring to the hierarchy of Christ’s Church, namely: the Christian clergy.

There are several other relevant terms to discuss before beginning our study of Holy Orders. The Christian word ‘priest,’ to which we shall refer repeatedly, is potentially a source of much confusion and debate. This is because the modern English word ‘priest’ refers to one who offers sacrifice, whereas ‘presbyteros‘ did not, in itself, have such a reference. Etymologically, the word ‘priest’ comes to us from the Greek πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros); i.e., the word has evolved phonetically.10 This shows us that the word ‘presbyter’ (its Latinized form) was in use long after the New Testament era. It survived long enough and broadly enough to evolve into the modern English word ‘priest.’ But the Greek word ‘presbyteros‘ didn’t mean “priest;” it simply meant “elder.” There is a separate word, ερεύς (hiereus), which meant “priest” as we mean it today. The common English meaning of the word ‘priest’ is one who mediates and offers sacrifice on behalf of the people. The word ‘presbyteros‘ evolved into ‘priest’ only phonetically. In the New Testament and early apostolic period, the word ‘hiereus‘ was never applied to any Christian minister so far as we can tell from the historical evidence. Ministers were always referred to as ‘diakonos‘ (minister), ‘presbyteros‘ (elder), or ‘episkopos‘ (overseer). Around the end of the second century, the term ‘hiereus‘ was applied to the order of the episcopacy, and by the middle of the third century, it was applied to the presbyterate as well.11

It is not precisely the words themselves that we are seeking to understand; rather it is the realities to which those words refer. We are interested in the substance of the idea of the Christian priesthood, not only its linguistic expression, which is merely the sound [or symbol] we use to refer to the idea. The truth of the Christian priesthood is enclosed in a shell of sounds and linguistic nuance, and examining these semantic points is necessary for the purpose of discarding that shell and discovering the meat inside.

To understand the development of language, especially theological language, one needs to understand the concept of terminological technicalization, i.e., the process that occurs when the common usage of a term changes from a non-specialized sense to a more technical and specific sense. The story of the Christian theological triumph is the story of taking the common and “baptizing” it. And the story of Christian terminological development is the story of taking common terminology and investing it with technical theological significance. The word ‘baptism’ itself is an example of this.12 Another Christian example is the technicalization of the Greek term ‘eucharistia.’ Originally, this term meant “thanksgiving,” but it evolved into a technical reference to the principal liturgical action of the Church. This was sometimes referred to as the “breaking of bread” in the New Testament, but the “breaking of bread” was also commonly used in reference to non-liturgical meals and probably to non-Eucharistic liturgies.13Eucharistia‘ had several meanings other than a specific reference to what we now call the “Eucharist.” Anglican liturgist Gregory Dix estimates that the technicalization of this term spanned a generation.14 This ‘technicalization of terminology’ is not unique to Christian theology; it is an observable linguistic phenomenon common to the human experience. But in the context of Christianity, it seems to mirror our own theology of baptism and of the principle that grace perfects, rather than destroys, nature.

This brings us to the terms relevant to our present inquiry: ‘presbyteros,’ ‘hiereus,’ and ‘episkopos,’ their Latin equivalents: ‘presbyter,’ ‘sacerdos,’ and ‘episcopus,’ and their English equivalents: ‘presbyter’ (or elder), ‘priest,’ and ‘bishop.’ For the sake of simplicity, we will now refer to the Latin and Greek by the English terminology (understanding that ‘presbyter’ will be used for ‘presbyteros‘ and ‘priest’ used for ‘hiereus‘/’sacerdos‘). The terms ‘presbyter’ and ‘bishop’ were subject, as were many other words, to the technicalization of terminology that we just explained. That is, ‘presbyter’ was not originally a technical reference in the Greek language to a religious minister, much less to a Christian minister. The word developed in technicality through wide and consistent reference to the particular idea of the Christian minister, and thus became a technical reference to the office. The same thing happened with the term ‘bishop.’ This makes it much easier to understand how in their earliest usage (the New Testament and First Clement), the terms appear to be used interchangeably. At that point in time, they were still developing from common references to Christian ministers into technical terms indicating the clear distinction between the offices. To understand the history of the terms ‘presbyter’ and ‘bishop’ or to understand the way in which they were used in isolated cases is not sufficient to understand the concepts. It is also necessary to understand the realities to which those words were referring. As the Dominican Pedro de Soto observed regarding the minor Orders specified by the Council of Trent, “to preserve anything at all, it is not sufficient merely to go on uttering its name, but the reality behind the name must be understood and preserved too.”15

c. The Theology of Holy Orders Is Founded upon Christ

The foundation for any theological study must be the Rock of Christ, and if our theology is to progress, the Incarnation must ever remain its center.16 For this reason, if we are to discover the truth behind Holy Orders, both our starting and central focal point must be the Incarnation.

Jesus Christ is the true High Priest of mankind, and He stands at the head of all Christian liturgy and the hierarchy of all things created.17 His ordinatio to the high priesthood of humanity culminated at His baptism where the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and the Father said “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”18 The Catholic doctrine of Holy Orders begins with and is unhesitatingly committed to the reality of Christ’s true high priesthood. Whatever priesthood Christians have, whether common by baptism or visible and specific by ordination, exists only by participation in the true priesthood which belongs to Jesus Christ the High Priest. The Christian doctrine of Holy Orders must not and cannot undermine the necessity and uniqueness of Christ’s high priesthood.

The Incarnation is a game-changer; nothing remains the same. Through this unsearchable mystery, the mundane is sanctified, and the common is invested with a new and sacred signification. This sanctification of the ordinary can be seen in the institution of the very center of Christian worship, the Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Christ was “investing a universal jewish [sic] custom with a new and peculiar meaning…”19 The eucharistic [thanksgiving] prayer would have been said everywhere and always by faithful Jews at all meals, but especially at liturgical meals. 20 This prayer had now received a profound significance and, according to Catholic theology, an actual efficacy. The significance of this efficacy invested into such a central and primitive necessity as breaking bread, which is at the heart of Christian worship, is paralleled with the mystery of the Incarnation and the birth of mankind’s true High Priest and King. As the institution of the Eucharist made an efficacious sacrament of ordinary bread and wine, so did the mystery of the Incarnation transform proper worship from didactic ritual into efficacious sacramental liturgy. According to Catholic theology, the signs (sacraments) under the New Covenant fulfill and exceed those under the Old Covenant. If the laying on of hands effected a true ordination under the Levitical priesthood, much more, then, does the laying on of hands effect a true ordination under the New Covenant. If the ministers were priests of God under the Old Covenant, much more are they priests under the New Covenant.

Union with Christ is centrally important to the doctrine of Holy Orders because to achieve it and to lead others to the same is the central aspect of the priestly mission under the New Covenant. The ministers of Christ continue His mission; they are sent to do what He came to do. St. Athanasius says that, “God became man that man might become God.”21 If the true High Priest was ordained ultimately for the purpose of calling lost souls to repentance and salvation, and if union with Christ is what it means for a soul to be saved, and if the Church He founded was entrusted with the mission of saving souls, then at the heart of the Church’s missio is the mediation of whatever it takes to achieve that union with Christ.22 Thus, Pseudo-Dionysius says, “Every hierarch, according to his nature, position, and order, is initiated into divine things and divinised, so that he might impart sacred divinisation to those who follow him.”23

And an ancient Gallican ordination prayer says:

Let us unite in prayer, brethren, that this [ordinand] who is chosen to help bring about your salvation, may, through the clemency of God’s goodness, receive the blessing of the priesthood, and obtain, through the merit of his virtues, the priestly gift of the Holy Spirit so as not to be inferior to his office.24

The New Covenant, along with its new priesthood, ushered in a new era for God’s people. Whereas before Christ wine could no more justify a sinner than could the blood of a man, and no more could bread offer us participation in the life of the Trinity than could a man’s flesh. But now that the true High Priest has been ordained to earthly ministry, His Blood indeed justifies,25 and His Body, bruised for our iniquities,26 offers us eternal life.27 This is the profound effect of the Incarnation, and it is exactly on this foundation that Holy Orders were established to minister the sacraments and to preach the Word of God unto the salvation of mankind.28

II – There is a Distinction Between the Clergy and the Laity

Martin Luther believed that the power to ordain was essentially derived from the Christian congregation of a true Church. As a result, he did not believe that there was any true difference between the clergy and the laity, except in official duties. That is, he believed that all Christians were the same in regard to possessing what is essential to the Church and differed only in respect to “the work that God has given them to do.”29 But the Catholic Church does not teach that her ministers are more holy, more spiritual, or more essentially Christian than the laity.

Now it is true that both the laity and the clergy are the same in regard to possessing what is essential to the Church in that they both have essential roles. However, they do not possess what is essential to the Church in the same way. The clergy possess what is essential to the Church as the visible leaders, which leadership is necessary for a visible Church.30 The laity do not possess this quality that is essential to the Church; rather, they possess the essential quality of being the people of God. That is, clergy and laity are both equally essential to the Church just as sheep and shepherds are both equally essential to a sheep farm. But this essential equality does not undermine the difference between the clergy and laity any more than it undermines the difference between sheep and shepherds.

Furthermore, Luther says that the difference between clergy and laity is not in status but in respect to the work that God has given them to do. As Christians before God, it is true that there is no difference in status between the clergy and laity; both are sinners saved by God’s grace. 31 But there is a difference between the clergy and laity in regard to their roles in the Church. Luther’s phrase, “they do not all have the same work to do,” is true but incomplete. The distinction is not only in the work that they do, but in the work that they are capable of doing. No man has the right to act as a priest before God unless that right is given to him by someone who has the authority to grant such a right. But as stated above, no one has that authority naturally because the Church is a supernatural society. To govern and to do the essential work of a supernatural society requires supernatural authorization and supernatural equipping. Holy Orders, as a sacrament, accomplishes exactly this. By conceiving the Church without the sacrament of Holy Orders, the question of one’s right to clerical status becomes merely a question of natural aptitude. Thus the magisterium is handed over to the academia. By contrast, we will show that Jesus Christ did grant the right of clerical status to certain men and did not grant it to others. In the current section, we will argue that denying the distinction between the laity and clergy is a theological error with serious consequences.

a. Natural Hierarchical Order

The act of creation ordered, or we might say, ordained the heavens and the earth into a particular hierarchy. This divine ordination is the pedagogical archetype of nature and the symbol of right theology. Nature is inherently purposeful and instructive. St. Paul tells the Corinthians that nature teaches men not to have long hair, and he tells the Romans that creation teaches men about God’s invisible qualities. 32 The Proverbs also reveal that nature instructs men unto wisdom. 33 When we look at nature, we look at the handiwork of God. More importantly, we see exactly what God intended us to see, and in exactly the way He wanted us to see it. We do well to learn from what God reveals through nature. Perhaps Thomas Howard said it best:

To the men of old, it did not mean nothing that the sun went down and night came and the moon and the stars appeared and then dawn and the sun and morning again and another day, which would itself wax and then wane into twilight and dusk and night. It did not mean nothing to them that the time of work was under the aegis of the bright sun and that it was the sun that poured life into the seeds that they were planting and that brought out the sweat on their foreheads, and that the time of rest was under the scepter of the silver moon. This was the diurnal exhibition of what was True — that there are a panoply and a rhythm and a cycle, a waxing and a waning, a rising and a setting and then a rising again. And to them it was not for nothing that the king wore a crown of gold and that the lord mayor wore medallions. This was the political exhibition of what was, in fact, True — that there are royalty and authority and hierarchy at the heart of things and that it is possible to see this in lions and eagles and queen bees as well as in the court of the king. . . . The former mind, in a word, read vast significance into everything. Nature and politics and animals and sex — these were all exhibitions in their own way of the way things are. This mind fancied that everything meant everything, and that it all rushed up finally to heaven. We have an idea of royalty, this mind said, which we observe in our politics and which we attribute to lions and eagles, and we have this idea because there is a great King at the top of things, and he has set things thus so that our fancies will be drawn toward his royal Person, and we will recognize the hard realities of which the stuff of our world has been a poor shadow when we stumble into his royal court.34

Howard points out that the ancient mind rightly understood nature itself as exhibiting truths about reality and about God. It was not accidental that God arranged creation into so ordered a hierarchy; this act was meant to show us the way things are and the way things ought to be. Nature should inform our anthropology, our ecclesiology, and above all, our theology.35 This point needs special emphasis for the modern Western mind because the last five hundred years of our history have been riddled with wars and revolutions aimed at a deliberate flattening of the natural order, a systematic rejection of the archetype. St. Augustine was right: order is “the distribution which allots things equal and unequal, each to its own place.” And our recent history is marred with one shameful attempt after another at denying that pedagogical distribution. We can barely bring ourselves to admit that there are “things equal and unequal,” much less that they should be arranged in a certain way. The egalitarian pipe-dream of modernism has at its heart an implicit rejection of this cosmological order that exists for the purpose of teaching men of God’s invisible qualities, the divine nature, and of salvation.36 All of our laws are derived from and ought to teach us of this divine law,37 and if we have kings, they ought to teach us of the true lordship of Jesus Christ. Creation shows us that things are not equal. As St. Paul might say, “doth not even nature itself teach you” that some things are higher than others? Since the mission of the Church, and consequently the hierarchy of the Church, is directly related to teaching men about salvation and about the divine nature, as we argued above, a rejection of this natural order or a distortion of it inevitably leads to the rejection or distorting of Holy Orders.

Our society overwhelmingly designates hierarchy as something negative, something which separates rather than unites. But the symbolism inherent in the cosmos informs us that our society has it backwards! Unity is not achieved by a denial of natural inequality. Instead, it is achieved by properly ordering that inequality. Furthermore, inequality in one respect does not mean inequality in all respects. For example, a man and a child are unequal in stature but equal in dignity as human beings. Because of the fundamental flaws in modern egalitarian philosophy, there is a strong tendency to reject any appearance of hierarchical themes. To deny Holy Orders on the basis of a broad denial of hierarchy is to measure the Bride of Christ by the “standard” of modern egalitarian political theory.

Martin Luther’s early rejection of the distinction between the clergy and the laity can be understood as a “spiritual egalitarianism.” 38 But Martin Luther did not stop at reducing the clergy and laity to equal authority. In fact, he turned ecclesial hierarchy on its head! For Luther the Christian congregation, not the clergy, had the right to exercise Church authority. 39 More explicitly, the clergy do not judge the people, the people judge the clergy. In support of his view, Luther cited several New Testament passages (John 10:4-5, 8; Matthew 7:15; 24:4-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:21).40 Luther’s position was not that a minister was individually subject to a layman, but that a minister was ultimately subject to the local congregation. Much like modern democracy, for Luther the Church governors (the clergy) derived their authority from the governed (the laity). According to Luther, as soon as the clergy stopped faithfully preaching the Word of God and therefore stopped serving the laity, they lost their authority. This was because the authority of the clergy was not derived from Christ through Holy Orders, but from a direct calling from God, manifested through the congregation by election.

The problems with Luther’s doctrine are manifold. First, as we discussed above, it rises from the false assumption that inequality is something bad. Since Luther perceived the difference between the clergy and the laity as something negative, and since equality is better than inequality, it seemed to follow that God’s true plan was that the clergy and laity should be equal. But this is false because of the reasons given above, that the proper arrangement of unequal things (order) is a good. 41 Secondly, it contradicts the New Testament and early Church history because, as we will argue in the next section, Christ Himself commissioned the Apostles and they, not the various congregations, ordained the clergy. Thirdly, it contradicts the visibility and objective identifiability of the Church, which has been argued for in previous articles on Called to Communion. If the local congregation, that is, any group of persons professing to be Christians, has only their collective opinion of the correct interpretation of Scripture by which to identify the Church, then no visible congregation can objectively be identified as the true Church because this collective opinion is inherently and only subjective. 42 Finally, Luther’s doctrine on Church hierarchy is false because it presupposes Ecclesial Deism, which concept Bryan Cross explained in a previous article. 43

b. Holy Orders in the New Testament

This brief subsection, while not a complete examination of the New Testament data, will demonstrate that the concept of Holy Orders is consistent with the biblical evidence. Furthermore, we will argue that an ecclesial hierarchy is established in the Scriptures by showing that Jesus gave the Apostles authority, and that the Apostles gave authority to others. We will examine the ordination ritual below in section VI.

The authority invested in the Apostles is made explicit from the beginning. At the selection or designation of the twelve, Jesus gave them authority to do exactly the things that He had been doing: healing the sick and driving out demons. (Mark 3:13-15.) This same terminology is used again when He sent them to preach the Word. (Matthew 10:1, Mark 6:7, Luke 9:1.) It seems then, that this kingdom authority, i.e., the authority to do the essential work of the kingdom of God, is connected with the authority and calling to evangelize. Again, Jesus explicated this unique authority in John 20 when He breathed the Holy Spirit upon them and gave them the authority to forgive sins. (John 20:19-23.) In that same passage, Jesus says He is sending them as the Father sent Him. It becomes clearer that the mission and authority entrusted to the Son by the Father are being handed on to the Apostles when these passages are read in light of the only two times Christ mentions the Church in the gospels. (Matthew 16:18-19, 18:15-18.) In both passages, He gives the Apostles the authority to “bind and loose,” which was a technical term for legislative authority.44 St. Paul confirms that he was an Apostle by virtue of his sending, not by mere man, but by Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:5; Galatians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:11.) The New Testament data culminates with the Jerusalem Council where the Apostles convened to make a binding decision on the entire universal Church. (Acts 15.) These passages show that Christ invested the Apostles with ecclesial authority as the hierarchical leaders of the Church, His Body.

Because our next article will focus on apostolic succession, here we will focus on the authority delegated by the Apostles while they were still living. The New Testament shows that the Apostles, especially Sts. Peter and Paul, established and recognized authoritative leaders in every Church.45 That the Apostles believed themselves to possess the power to delegate their authority by establishing Church leaders is shown by the replacement of Judas (Acts 1:15-26) and by the ordination of the seven deacons at Jerusalem (Acts 6:1-6). St. Paul makes the need for hierarchical structure explicit from the beginning, and gives instructions for the selection of bishops and deacons, that they should be blameless, sober, of good character, etc. (1 Timothy 3:1-13.) Further, he understands these appointed leaders as having actual authority, as shown when he exhorts the faithful to obey those who are “over” them. (1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Corinthians 16:16.) The author of Hebrews does the same. (Hebrews 13:17.)

These passages show that the Apostles believed themselves to possess authority in the Church and the power to confer that same authority upon others. They also show that in the New Testament, authority was derived either directly from Christ, as in the case of the Apostles, or from ordination by one of the Apostles. There is no indication that authority was derived from the congregation. This is also consistent with the Old Testament model of religious hierarchy. Moses and Aaron, the Levitical priests, the judges, the prophets, and the kings were all either commissioned directly by God or derived their authority by visible succession from someone who was. In short, the biblical model of Church authority is top-down, not bottom-up.

e. Holy Orders in Early Christian Legislation

In the late first century, or earlier by some estimates, St. Clement of Rome writes to the Church at Corinth in response to sedition that had arisen between the laity and the clergy. His epistle makes multiple references to the necessity of obedience to the clergy.46 St. Clement, who labored with St. Paul and was ordained by St. Peter, did not believe that the clergy at Corinth derived their authority from the local congregation. 47 If he had, he would have believed that it was the congregation’s right to depose such leaders. But he believed just the opposite, saying that “Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices.”48

Some have contended that St. Clement appears to have qualified his statement by adding “those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices.” Did St. Clement believe that the clergy have the right to govern only so long as those who are being governed agree with what the clergy are teaching and doing? In other words, was St. Clement advocating the bottom-up hierarchy that Martin Luther would later adopt? No, he was not. St. Clement did not believe that the authority of the clergy was derived from the local congregation. But surely there must be some licit method of deposing unfaithful clergy. Where does this power reside? Only those who have the power to grant authority in the first place have the right to revoke it. If a king grants authority to a man, that authority cannot be taken away from him by someone lesser than the king. So according to St. Clement, was it the local congregation that granted the authority to the clergy in the first place? No it wasn’t. He writes in the same passage:

Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. As for these, then, who were appointed by them, or who were afterwards appointed by other illustrious men with the consent of the whole Church, who have ministered to the flock of Christ without blame, humbly peaceably and with dignity, and who have for many years received the commendations of all, we consider it unjust that they be removed from the ministry.49

In the same letter St. Clement said that “the layman is bound by the precepts pertaining to the laity.” He goes on to say, “Let each of us, brethren, ‘in his own order’ with a good conscience not transgressing the prescribed rule of his own office give thanks to God honorably.”50 According to St. Clement, the clergy held an office essentially distinct from the laity, and the laity were obligated to submit to their clergy. The authority of the clergy was derived from a bishop in material succession from the Apostles through the consent of the whole Church, not just the local congregation. 51 It stands to reason, then, that St. Clement could not have considered the local congregation to have authority to depose their clergy. His epistle confirms this by telling the local congregation that they were sinning by attempting to depose their clergy. For St. Clement, nothing short of the authority of a bishop, operating within the consent of the whole Church, was required for deposing a duly ordained minister, because it was from Christ through the Church that those ministers had received their authority.

Some of the earliest Church councils also confirmed the actual distinction between the clergy and the laity. In the early fourth century, the Council of Illiberi [Elvira] said that those who convert to the faith from any heresy are never to be promoted to the “clerical estate.”52 The same council also affirms the hierarchical nature of the ecclesial structure saying:

If any deacon ruling the people without a bishop or priest baptizes some, the bishop will have to confirm these by a blessing; but if they should depart the world beforehand, in the faith in which anyone of them has believed, that one can be justified.53

Finally, the council of Nicaea (AD 325) also reveals much about the early Christian doctrine of Holy Orders. For example, canon 5 presents a clear distinction between the laity and the clergy. Canons 6 and 7 discuss jurisdictional powers of the bishops and their due honor. Canon 8 presents clergy who convert to the Catholic Church from schismatic groups as distinct from laity. This confirms that there is a change beyond mere ecclesial recognition that occurs at ordination.54 The Church used her full authority at that council to defeat Arius by definitively declaring Trinitarian orthodoxy in the Nicene Creed. At the same time, she confirmed the ancient distinction between the clergy and the laity, and declared that there should never be two bishops in one city, thus confirming monepiscopacy.

f. Conclusion on the Distinction Between the Clergy and Laity

We know of many lay heretics presuming to hold clerical office in the early years of the Church, but the Church fathers consistently regarded their actions as both illicit and invalid.55 If the early Church believed that ordination was a power of the local congregation, then it would have been inconsistent to believe that other local congregations (i.e., the heretics) did not also have the power to ordain. This is because there would be no principled reason to say that one local congregation had validly ordained clergy and the other did not since both congregations inherently had the right to ordain whomever they wanted. This again confirms that Luther’s theory of congregational ordination was a departure from the faith of the early Church. As shown in our readings above, the early Church considered Holy Orders essential to the leadership and unity of the Catholic Church.56 Therefore, the denial of the fundamental distinction between laity and clergy is an error.

Satan disrupted the hierarchy of man’s powers at the Fall. 57 As a result, the natural hierarchical and liturgical relationship between man and God was damaged. What God had ordered, man, by sin, disordered. Every heresy and every schism tend toward repeating the effects of that original sin. They disorder what has been ordered, and in this way they weaken the hierarchy that was ordained by God. No heretical or schismatic doctrine ever made this corruption more explicit than the Protestant denial of Holy Orders.58 The kingdom of God, which sojourns this earth under the form of the Church militant, was divinely established by Jesus Christ. And the clerical hierarchy is a principle of unity and authority that cannot be discarded.

III – There is a Distinction Between the Orders

We mentioned above that the earliest references to the clerical offices, particularly with respect to presbyter and bishop, appeared to be ambiguous. From the beginning, whenever the terms ‘bishop,’ ‘presbyter,’ and ‘deacon’ were used in any authoritative capacity, the usage was consistent with episcopal government. In monepiscopal Church government, all bishops are presbyters, but not all presbyters are bishops. That is, the office of bishop includes all functions of the presbyterate, but the presbyters cannot perform all functions of the bishops. 59 This fact alone explains much of the apparent interchangeability of terms in the earliest texts. On the other hand, the way in which the Church immediately began to speak of these offices was incompatible with non-episcopal ecclesial governments (i.e., everything but Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican structures). This technicalization of clerical terminology corresponds with the Church’s developing explication of the divine liturgy as sacrificial worship, which we shall discuss in the next section. Just as sacrifice had always been present in the liturgical worship, though her terminology had not always explicitly corresponded with how she now speaks of herself, likewise, the offices of presbyter and bishop had always been separate, and the terminological distinction would only later become solidified. Once it did, it continued on without ambiguity until rejected by (some of) the early Protestants.

a. Distinction of Office in the Scriptures

The distinction between presbyter and bishop did not arise from a vacuum. By studying the first century Jewish context in which the two offices emerged, we find that the terminological distinctions known to be in place by the second century reflect actual distinctions of office that we would naturally expect to exist from the beginning of the clerical ministry. The first century Jewish hierarchy, which had at its head the Sanhedrin, a council of elders, was one obvious and immediate contextual reference for the Christian clergy. 60 Yet this collegial body was not entirely egalitarian; the elders were united and ruled under the authority of the high priest. This structure is reflected in the single bishop surrounded by presbyters in the early Church. Going back even further, Moses was commanded by God to appoint seventy elders and to go up to the Lord together with Aaron and his sons. But only Moses was to approach the Lord.61 This hierarchical order was deliberately replicated when Jesus, the true High Priest, selected His Apostles, and seventy other disciples.62 That is to say, the hierarchy of the Church was built on the existing Jewish paradigm. The ninth century bishop of Hadatha, Isho’dad of Merv, says:

the twelve Apostles . . . received in one hour the great degrees of Apostleship, and of priesthood, and of high-priesthood and of prophecy. But the seventy received the degree of eldership in that hour; and these were also called bishops, as of old elders were called bishops.63

One initial question to ask of the New Testament data is whether or not the Apostles were bishops. This question, or any question about the early bishops, cannot rightly be answered if we limit ourselves to an anachronistic definition of the word ‘bishop.’ 64 The Catholic doctrine of episcopal government simply requires that the Apostles possessed episcopal authority, that every successive generation had men with the fullness of the episcopal authority, and that at some point in the first century some of the men ordained by the Apostles, or their successors, did not receive the fullness of that authority.65 It does not require that the Apostles were uniformly referred to as “episkopoi” or that each of them were immediately assigned a city in which to establish resident pastorship. Whether the Apostles ought to be called bishops, elders, priests, or simply evangelists, their unique authority as Apostles is certainly inclusive of all those things. And whether or not the Apostles should be referred to as bishops, the next generation did not hesitate to say that the Apostles appointed bishops.66 Whatever authority the clergy possessed, it was received from the Apostles. The episcopal ministry, or “bishoprick” as the King James Version translates it, of the Apostles is explicitly stated in Acts 1:20 concerning the replacement of Judas Iscariot.67

On the other hand, Peter refers to himself as a “fellow elder” in 1 Peter 5:1. But this apparent interchangeability should not be understood as a denial of any possible distinction within the clergy. This passage is not problematic for the monepiscopal system because the language was not technically specific during that early stage of development. Furthermore, like bishops, whatever elders have is received from the Apostles; thus an Apostle is clearly eligible to be called an elder.

Another important point to consider is that the literal meanings of these as yet non-technical words (‘presbyteros‘ – elder; ‘episkopos‘ – overseer) were naturally interchangeable in regard to the offices in question. That is, given the original literal meaning of the word, elders, or older men, would naturally have been chosen to hold the role of overseers, and overseers would almost exclusively be chosen from among the elders. Thus, in a practical sense, we would expect that all the early bishops would have been elders, in the sense of being elderly, and that all of the early presbyters would have shared in the oversight of ecclesial affairs. In other words, given that the priesthood was divided into two tiers, and given that ‘bishop’ and ‘presbyter’ were not yet technical terms, it would be natural to expect that even members of the second tier could be described as overseeing by virtue of their assistance with oversight of ecclesial affairs. Saying that the second tier of authority (presbyter) exercises oversight does not necessarily deny its subordination to or its distinction from the first tier (bishop). Therefore, if a member of the second tier of the priesthood was ever referred to as an ‘episkopos,’ it would not disprove the apostolic origin of the monepiscopacy.

Another relevant passage is Philippians 1:1, wherein Paul refers to “bishops” in the plural. An anachronistic reading of this passage has caused some to assume that since the term ‘bishop’ presently refers to the sole, residential pastor of a particular church, a reference to bishops in the plural proves that the early churches were led exclusively by collegial groups of bishop/elders. Since the clerical terminology was in a stage of early development, and the literal meanings of the terms in question were naturally interchangeable, this conclusion does not follow. It is entirely possible that in this case “bishops” refers to a group of (what we now call) presbyters along with a bishop (or even multiple bishops). But the opinion of St. John Chrysostom and St. Jerome, in this case, is that since St. Paul referred to multiple bishops, he must have been referring to what we now call presbyters.68 This is consistent with monepiscopacy because there could have been some towns that had only presbyters in the first century and whose small Christian communities were under the jurisdiction of a mobile bishop for a short period of time.69 Petavius is of the opposite opinion, that at least the majority of those referred to as bishops were (what we now call) bishops.70 Both theories are consistent with monepiscopacy as an apostolic institution.71

The episcopal ministry per se does not contain any reference to isolation, and so it is possible that in the early Church more than one bishop could have established residency in a city. Although it appears to be an established tradition from the time of the Apostles, the ‘one bishop’ rule was not formally defined until the Council of Nicaea.72 If there ever was more than one bishop in a city, it would not disprove episcopal government. It would only show that the one-bishop rule was of disciplinary rather than dogmatic nature. 73 Likewise, the episcopal ministry per se does not contain any reference to residency. St. Paul and the other Apostles were mobile and clearly exercised episcopal authority. So neither mobility nor the occasional presence of multiple bishops in a city disproves monepiscopacy.

On the other hand, we know that notwithstanding the possibilities of multiple bishops in a city and mobile bishops, the earliest extra-biblical texts consistently point to an established tradition of a single resident bishop. 74 The reference in Philippians 1:1 to “bishops,” therefore, should likely be understood according to the literal meaning “overseers.” As stated above, St. John Chrysostom and St. Jerome both held the opinion that those same “bishops” would have been referred to as presbyters a generation later once the technicalization of the terms was complete. 75

There isn’t any good evidence in the New Testament for the egalitarian theory of ecclesial government, but on the other hand, there are two strong pieces of evidence that the monepiscopacy was already present in early form among the first Christian churches. The first is Titus 1:5-9, wherein St. Paul speaks to St. Titus, clearly a bishop, and instructs him to appoint elders in every town. Verses 6 and 7 show that there is already some distinction between the terms ‘elder’ and ‘overseer,’ because St. Paul lists them both. If they were identical in St. Paul’s mind, then the reference in verse 7 would be redundant. This passage also shows that, as the Church has always believed, the fundamental distinction in power between a presbyter and bishop is that only the latter could ordain. The second piece of strong evidence in favor of the first century monepiscopacy is that St. James presided as the bishop of Jerusalem.76 Even many scholars who consider the monepsicopacy to be a second century development agree that St. James, whether or not he was referred to as such, presided as the sole residential bishop of the Jerusalem church.77

b. The Monepiscopacy in the Early Church

About the year 107 AD, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote seven letters to various churches stressing obedience to the bishop and the importance of sacramental unity. John Calvin rejected these important epistles as spurious, calling them “nauseating absurdities.”78 The scholarly world accepts these epistles today, but as late as the 19th century they were still being rejected by Presbyterian scholars such as W. D. Killen.79 Killen claimed that the epistles were later forgeries aimed at giving credibility to the monepiscopacy and papal authority in Rome. But in respect to the Ignatian epistles and what they mean for Christianity, there appears to be a significant change in the Reformed response. In a recent discussion on the subject of monepiscopacy, a Presbyterian remarked that there really wasn’t anything in St. Ignatius with which a Reformed Protestant would take issue. Before scholars returned to the position that the Ignatian epistles are authentic, Protestant [Presbyterian] leaders were calling them nauseating absurdities and papal forgeries. Now that they are widely accepted by scholars as authentic, some Presbyterians claim that the epistles really do not contain anything contrary to Presbyterianism. A consistent approach to the Ignatian epistles will yield the conclusion that the Church government described in Asia Minor in the early second century is inconsistent with Presbyterian polity.

The fact of the matter is that the Ignatian epistles describe a monepiscopal hierarchy firmly in place by the beginning of the second century. For Protestants, this means that “the pure light of Christianity was greatly obscured” within a decade of the death of the last Apostle, and not centuries later as had often been assumed.80 The difficulty for non-episcopal Protestants is to explain how the Church universally accepted this (supposed) corruption so quickly and without protest. Some scholars argue that while St. Ignatius proves that monepiscopacy was firmly established in Asia Minor at the beginning of the second century, other locations did not adopt this hierarchy until the middle of the second century. 81 There is wide consensus among scholars that by the second half of the second century, the entire Christian Church had universally adopted the monepiscopal hierarchy. In the middle of the third century, when Pope St. Stephen I writes to Fabius, bishop of Antioch, he is able to take such a structure for granted, saying, “Therefore did not that famous defender of the Gospel [Novatian] know that there ought to be one bishop in the Catholic Church [of the city of Rome]?”82

One view of episcopal development is that churches were originally established with a presbyterial structure, where individual churches were governed by a body of presbyters, and then a single leader, eventually called ‘bishop’ emerged.83 This view, however, is not based on what we read in the fathers, but on several arguments from silence. St. Ignatius does not mention the bishop of Rome when he writes to the Romans. And Pope St. Clement does not write to the Corinthians in his own name, but in the name of the Church of Rome. It is largely on these two pieces of evidence, and a few other things like them, that some scholars conclude that the Roman episcopacy was a development proceeding from a body of presbyters. Neither St. Clement, St. Ignatius, nor any other ante-Nicene father actually affirms this, and to the contrary, St. Irenaeus explicitly denies it by listing the bishops of Rome all the way back to St. Peter.84 Furthermore, as Oswaldo Sobrino rightly points out, modern scholars who deny first century episcopacy consistently make the mistake of defining ‘bishop’ in overly narrow and anachronistic terms.85

The bishop is essentially a man who is duly ordained with the fullness of the ministerial (episcopal) office of the Catholic Church. This includes the power to preside over the sacraments, to preach the homily during the liturgy, and most uniquely, to confer Holy Orders upon other men. If there was ever a time when such men were often mobile, or were occasionally found in cities with other such men, or even a time when such men were not consistently referred to as ‘bishops,’ it would not follow that the episcopacy did not exist. It would follow that the episcopacy did not exist in the first century only if there were not any men who fit the above description, i.e., men who had the fullness of the ministerial office including the ability to confer Holy Orders. But there is no evidence of any time when such men did not exist in the Catholic Church.

The modern theory of episcopal development faces other difficulties. The idea of absolute presbyterial equality runs contrary to Jewish and ancient Mediterranean culture, and against nature, as explained above. That something is contrary to Jewish or Mediterranean culture is not, in itself, evidence that it is false. The idea that slavery should be outlawed or that women could provide reliable testimony was also contrary to that culture, but we affirm both of those principles. The point is that an egalitarian government would have been unnatural for this culture. Furthermore, we have no mandate from Christ that Church government should be egalitarian, nor do we have historical evidence that it ever was. Therefore, merely pointing out a lack of clarity regarding clerical terminology (‘bishop’ and ‘presbyter’) falls far short of showing or even implying that the early Church was governed by presbyterial bodies composed of men all having equal authority.

In the New Testament, there is no indication that the disciples shared equally in leadership roles. 86 And when Jesus spoke of the heavenly kingdom, His hearers immediately envisioned hierarchy extending below the ultimate throne of God. For example, Sts. John and James requested the highest seats in the kingdom.87 The government of the early Church developed in a culture where top-down hierarchy was assumed, and the evidence does not support a starting point of a bottom-up collegial government.

Furthermore, scholars have shown that the ministry of presbyters grew by bishops delegating additional roles to presbyters over the second and third centuries.88 The modern theory of episcopal development, therefore, requires the following implausible scenario. Presbyters originally had full authority to preside over the Eucharist, to preach at the liturgy, and to confer Holy Orders. Then it became customary for the governing body of presbyters to elect one of their own as the overseer or ‘bishop.’ It immediately became lawful only for that bishop, or a presbyter whom he delegated, to preside over the Eucharist. Presbyters could no longer preside on their own authority; they needed the authority of the bishop. 89 Presbyters even lost their right to preach unless the bishop delegated this duty to them. 90 This scenario is implausible on an empirical level because there is no historical record that any presbyter ever ordained another presbyter,91 or that the bishop’s authority was derived from the presbyters. On the contrary, the early Church universally taught that the presbyters’ authority was delegated from the bishop, and that their ministry was an extension of the bishop’s ministry. The scenario is also implausible because its starting point of presbyterial government would have been an unprecedented innovation given the Jewish hierarchical paradigms, discussed above, that were present when the early Church began. Finally, it is implausible because if presbyterial Church government had actually been the apostolic Tradition, then the monepiscopacy would have been a violent innovation. We know that the monepiscopacy was universally accepted no later than the end of the second century by all Christians everywhere. It is implausible to believe that the entire Church universally accepted such an erroneous innovation in such a short timespan without any protest or objection on the part of the faithful.

One common objection to first century episcopacy is based on the testimony of St. Jerome, who advocates, without ambiguity, the opinion that presbyters and bishops were originally the same office. He says:

This has been said to show that with the ancients presbyters were the same as bishops: but gradually all the responsibility was deferred to a single person, that the thickets of heresies might be rooted out.92

It is clear that St. Jerome understands the episcopacy to be a valid development and that bishops had distinct powers from presbyters, but he attributes this to “custom” and not to an “ordinance of the Lord.”93 How could St. Jerome understand the distinction to be mere “custom” and yet valid and binding?

One possible solution to this problem, which also synthesizes the data well, is this. Christ established a priesthood by sending the Apostles to preach the gospel and to “do this in memory of Me.” The original members of this priesthood all possessed the fullness of the episcopal ministry. That is, according to the modern definition of the term, they were all bishops. Because of the meanings of the words, these men could be, and often were, referred to as either ‘elders’ or ‘overseers’ (‘presbyters’ or ‘bishops’). This explains both the interchangeability of terminology we witness in the first century, and St. Jerome’s assertion that they were originally one office. We must maintain that the division of the priesthood into orders that would eventually be called ‘bishop’ and ‘presbyter’ was intended by Christ, but it is quite plausible that it was the Apostles, by the Holy Spirit, who actually divided the offices. 94 In the same way, it was not Christ directly, but the Apostles who established the diaconate.95 By the time St. Paul wrote his letter to St. Titus, it appears that the division has already taken place. The Apostles had started ordaining men to a “second-tier” of the priesthood.96 These men, who would eventually be referred to as ‘elders,’ had limited authority. But by the end of the first century, bishops were delegating roles to them such as presiding over the Eucharist, baptizing, and all other priestly functions except ordaining other men. This would explain why the Church came to understand the presbyter’s ministry as an extension of the bishop’s ministry and not the other way around. The three-tier hierarchy was of divine origin, not of ecclesial origin.97 The terminology would not be universally solidified until the second century, but the distinct orders were there from the beginning, intended by Christ, and actualized by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles.

This model accounts for the available data and is a strong alternative to the modern theory of initial presbyterial government. 98 If original presbyterial government means simply that presbyters were sometimes referred to as bishops (and vice versa), it might be a matter of semantics. But if one means that the episcopacy is an innovation by a generation subsequent to the apostolic age and that it rose from a system of collegial leadership, this opinion is not supported by the evidence. It is also possible that St. Jerome did, in fact, believe that the distinction between bishop and presbyter was of ecclesial and not divine origin. In this case, he would simply have been mistaken, although there are good reasons to believe that he understood, as the Catholic Church does, the distinction of orders to be of divine origin.99

As the Eastern Orthodox scholar and Metropolitan John D. Zizioulas argues, the unity and identity of the Church was “episcopocentric” from the beginning, meaning that the Church was that body which rallied to her bishop, and the bishop was the chief pastor. Moreover, the bishop was the one who offered Eucharistia.100 In this way, the founding principle of sacramental unity is apparent. The Church rallies around the bishop and is united by the Eucharist, which he, properly speaking, offers on behalf of the people of God. Thus St. Ignatius of Antioch (AD 107) says:

Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup unto unity of His blood, one altar, as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery, and deacons, my fellow-servants, so that whatever you do, you may do it according to God.101

Christian unity in each city initially relied on the rigid structure of a single congregation celebrating a single Eucharist together under one bishop. With the rapid growth of Christianity, the third century pushed that structure to its limits. The fourth century Church saw the beginnings of “presbyterocentric” unity, and the emergence of the parish. Presbyterocentric unity simply refers to the emergence of smaller congregations, each united by a head presbyter. These congregations were still united under the city’s bishop. But in the first two or three centuries, under “episcipocentric unity,” the single bishop was the only principle of unity of the particular Church. That is, each city, generally speaking, had only one Church gathering and it was directly under the bishop. From the beginning, the monepiscopacy was the hierarchical foundation on which the local Church was built, and the one bishop, together with the one Eucharist, was the indispensable source of unity for the local Church.102

c. Distinction of Powers in the Growing Church

In the previous section, we showed from authoritative sources that early canonical legislation unequivocally reflects the episcopal hierarchy, but a similar list showing canonical legislation regarding the various powers within Holy Orders would take an entire paper itself.103 A quotation from J. Gaudemet, complete with original footnotes, in his paper “Holy Orders in Early Conciliar Legislation,” serves as an example adequate for our purposes:

The bishop alone could consecrate a church104 mingle the charism, reconcile penitents and consecrate virgins.105 But in the absence of the bishop, priests were permitted to reconcile penitents in articulo mortis, if he had previously authorised them to do so. The Roman Council held about the year 374 made a similar provision.106 It relates that during the paschal season priests and deacons took part in the reconciliation of penitents in the presence of the bishop. But it is made quite clear that they were acting in the name of the bishop. At other times of the year, by special license, the priest could reconcile penitents in danger of death. The deacon did not possess the same authority. But the text does say that if he had done so but once out of necessity, he would be excused. Preaching was as a rule also reserved to the bishop.107 Yet from the fourth century it was also undertaken by priests at Alexandria.108

This quotation illustrates that the bishop possessed the fullness of the Christian ministry from the early centuries of Christianity and that the bishops gradually delegated their powers, or rather a share in their powers, to presbyters. The Church has always taught that these powers, though proper to the episcopacy, are granted to the presbyterate by extension. In fact, every presbyter acts as an extension of the bishop.

IV – The Clergy Are Ordained to a Sacrificial Priesthood

Having shown that the Church has always taught that there is a hierarchical distinction between the clergy and the laity, and that within Orders a hierarchy of powers exists, let us examine the nature of Holy Orders regarding the priesthood. A separate paper will be necessary to discuss the ambiguities and implications of a sacrificial priesthood, but no discussion on Holy Orders could be conducted without handling the question of sacrifice. John Calvin objects to the Catholic concept of priesthood as follows:

Christ ordered dispensers of his gospel and his sacred mysteries to be ordained, not sacrificers to be inaugurated, and his command was to preach the gospel and feed the flock, not to immolate victims.109

Calvin was far removed from the Fathers on this critical issue. St. Cyprian, whom Calvin generously quotes in regards to the ritual of ordination, refers explicitly to the “sacrifice celebrated by the priest.”110 St. Cyril of Jerusalem would later say:

Then, after the spiritual sacrifice, the bloodless service, is completed, over that sacrifice of propitiation we entreat God for the common peace of the Churches, for the welfare of the world; for kings; for soldiers and allies; for the sick; for the afflicted; and, in a word, for all who stand in need of succour we all pray and offer this sacrifice.111

St. Cyprian of Carthage and St. Cyril of Jerusalem both unequivocally affirm the sacrificial nature of the Eucharistic liturgy. The early Church taught that Christian ministers were ordained into a sacrificial priesthood although emphasis on certain aspects of the priesthood varied by location. To conceive of the Eucharistic sacrifice as only a sacrifice of thanksgiving or a purely internal sacrifice would be to remove the words of the early Church from their historical context and would run contrary to explicit statements like the ones above.

a. The Hermeneutic of Continuity as a Historical Principle

The ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ is an important principle for the right study of theology. God’s plan of salvation unfolds over time in redemptive history, and because of this, to study any doctrine as if it emerged from a theological vacuum is a path to inevitable error. We must not do violence to the continuous revelation of God to His people. Without the deuterocanonical books, for example, the nearly seamless transition in broad theological themes from the Old to New Covenant is more difficult to detect. The deuterocanonical books contain and foreshadow many of the teachings of Christ, which teachings in the absence of these books would seem to be novel and even radical re-applications of Judaic theology.112 To remove this portion of divine revelation would be to disrupt the hermeneutic of continuity and leave us interpreting the New Testament as if it emerged from a temporary theological vacuum. That is, we would miss the full context in which the New Testament revelation was delivered.

Something similar happens when the emergence of the Christian hierarchy is considered apart from its historical and theological context. As argued below, when we place the New Testament clerical structure within its first century historical context, and understand it as a fulfillment of its type under the Old Covenant, we find that the Jewish covenantal and familial structures already in place bear striking similarities to the ones that survived into the second and third centuries. The logical conclusion is that the episcopal/sacrificial priesthood is the best explanation of all the available evidence.

The Christian priesthood is not to be understood as a direct continuity of the Levitical priesthood.113 And the early Christian clergy saw a need to differentiate its identity, in some ways, from the temple cult that was closely associated with the Sadducee party.114 At the same time St. James, who was the first century Bishop of Jerusalem, explicated both his priestly vocation and Levitical inheritance by wearing the priestly garments prescribed in Exodus as he entered the temple to offer prayers “for the forgiveness of the people.”115

J. Schmitt finds evidence of early Christians adopting themes directly influenced by the Essene movement. One profound point of congruity is that the “priestly” community of Khirbet Qumran was governed by priests united under a ‘mebaqqer,’ which translates to ‘overseer,’ or in Greek, ‘episkopos.’116 The sacrificial priesthood united under a single bishop would have stood in no need of an inorganic development in the first century. In fact, the sacrificial priesthood in the context of monepiscopacy is just the sort of thing we should expect to find naturally once we understand its historical context.

b. Geographical Emphasis and Additional Notes on Terminological Development

The Christian community solidified ‘presbyter’ as the technical reference for Christian ministers by the early second century, and the Latin Church continued to use the word for centuries. In the surviving historical evidence, the first usage of the terms ‘hiereus‘ or ‘sacerdos‘ in reference to bishops is found in the late second century. Later, the same terms would be applied to the presbyter by extension. Yet even after these terms were standardized, Christians continued to use the term ‘presbyter.’ The Church at Rome, with her longstanding reputation for conservatism, continued to use the word even as its usage waned in other churches.117 Thus, the term was preserved in living languages until this very day. For when we say the English word ‘priest,’ as explained above, we are only using the modern pronunciation of the old Greek word ‘presbyteros.’ To be sure, the word ‘priest’ means something different than the word ‘presbyteros‘ meant in ancient times, but the reason for the difference is precisely because of the Church’s understanding of what it meant to be a presbyter. That is, ‘priest’–the modern developed form of the term ‘presbyter’–has been invested with sacrificial meaning over the centuries because that is what the presbyter does. He offers sacrifice.

Following Calvin, the first Protestants believed the clerical vocation of preaching the gospel to be the center of the clerical ministry, even to the exclusion of other aspects such as sacrifice. But the early Church did not have so narrow a definition of the clerical ministry, and the definition varied by emphasis from one city to another. Of the Christian hierarchy J. Danielou writes:

At Alexandria its principal function, in the Pauline tradition, seems to have been the ministry of the word; the priest was a doctor and a missionary. This is particularly striking in Origen. At Antioch, the minister was the one who offered the sacrifice, the hiereus — as Ignatius of Antioch demonstrates. Finally, the Judaeo-Christian community at Jerusalem, perhaps influenced by Essene organisation, looked on the minsters as elders (presbuteroi), overseers (episkopoi), whose principal function was government. This view is also found in the Roman Church, whose Judaeo-Christian affinities have been demonstrated by Cullmann.118

These varying emphases by region were not exclusive of one another. For example, the priestly function emphasized at Alexandria was the ministry of the word, but this does not mean that they denied the sacrificial nature of the priesthood. Origen, the famous Alexandrian priest, specifically refered to priests offering sacrifice. 119 Likewise, the emphasis on the sacrificial nature of the priesthood at Antioch did not mean that they denied the importance of preaching the Word. The point here is that the cultures that used ‘presbyter,’ ‘sacerdos,’ ‘episkopos,’ or any other term, used living languages to express these ideas. The terms evolved continually and were nuanced by cultural influence. ‘Presbyter’ was a reference to the same order throughout the Christian world, but it expressed something slightly different when uttered in one community than it did in another. To restate what was said above, our objects of interest are the realities to which these words referred, and not only the words themselves.

c. Christ, the True High Priest

The priesthood of the clergy, just as the common priesthood of believers, is a participation in the priesthood of Christ, the true High Priest of mankind.120 J. Lecuyer finds a two-fold ordination of Christ as High Priest: one at the Incarnation, and the other at His baptism.121 In support of his view, he cites Hebrews 10:5-9:

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’ as it is written of me in the roll of the book.” When he said above, “Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.

On the other hand, Tixeront points out that Christ was formally ordained by the commission of God the Father, i.e., He was not the High Priest merely by virtue of the Incarnation. Because He was both God and Man, Christ was a natural mediator between God and man, and a priest is “precisely a mediator.”122 By Incarnation, Jesus assumed all the qualifications to become the High Priest. Now every priest is a mediator, but not every mediator is a priest. Jesus was the High Priest of mankind at His birth, not merely because of who He was, but also because of His sending from the Father. 123 This commission from the Father was initially hidden from men. But the commission was formally manifested, that is, publicly revealed to men, at Christ’s baptism by the sign of the Holy Spirit and the words of the Father, “Thou art My beloved Son; with Thee I am well pleased.”124 In this sense Christ can be seen as having a second ordination or anointing.

Hebrews is the New Testament book that teaches us of Christ’s High Priesthood, but many have taken its teachings to include an abolishment of the ministerial priesthood. As Christ came to fulfill and not abolish the Law, so too did He come to fulfill and not abolish the priesthood.125 But does His high priesthood exclude the possibility of priests under the New Covenant? No, it does not. If Christ’s true high priesthood does not exclude our participation in that same priesthood by baptism, then it does not exclude the ministerial priesthood precisely because it too is a participation in that same priesthood. The only book of the Bible to refer to Christ’s High Priesthood, Hebrews, does not address the question of our priesthood whether properly speaking, as in Holy Orders, or common by baptism.126 That is to say, the claim that Christ’s priesthood excludes the possibility of any priesthood under the New Covenant is not made in Hebrews. It is extra-biblical speculation. The only priesthood to which Hebrews refers besides that of Jesus Christ is specifically the priesthood of the Old Covenant. The book shows that Christ’s sacrificial action as true High Priest does away with a need for that priesthood because the sacrifice of that priesthood was a foreshadow of Christ’s true sacrifice. The text does not apply to a priesthood under the New Covenant because the sacrifice of the new priesthood is the same as Christ’s sacrifice. The Church Fathers always believed that the Eucharist was a true sacrifice, and for that reason they referred to the ministers who offered it as ‘priests.’ But if the book of Hebrews logically excluded priests under the New Covenant, then the Church universally misunderstood the book of Hebrews until the first Protestants.

Now St. Paul refers to his own ministry as priestly using the term ‘hierourgeo‘ (Romans 15:16). But if a priest could not exist because Christ is the true priest, then a priestly ministry could not exist because Christ’s is the true priestly ministry. St. Paul’s usage of this term to describe his own ministry shows that he believes himself to be a part of a ministerial priesthood. 127 Moreover, when the Apostles used the Greek ‘episkopos‘ to describe a minister ordained to the fullness of the Christian priesthood, they were essentially linking the bishop to the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. This is not apparent to us in modern culture, but it was especially apparent to the Hellenized Jews because the first person to be called ‘episkopos‘ in the Septuagint was Eleazar, the son of Aaron. Thus for the early Christians, ‘episkopos‘ had priestly overtones directly linked to the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. 128 As already stated, neither the visible ministerial priesthood nor the common priesthood of all believers are opposed to Christ’s true priesthood because both (ministerial and common) are priesthoods by participation in His priesthood. That is, a ministerial priesthood is not a new priesthood. It is the same, and therefore not opposed to, the true priesthood of Jesus Christ. 129

We say that Christ fulfilled the priesthood, but He is not a priest in succession from the Levitical order; He is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek.130 The priesthood of Christ, and the clergy by extension, fulfilled and perfected what all of the Old Testament priestly types had lacked. In ancient Mediterranean culture, we see that kings, like Melchizedek, assumed the role of high priest. In the age of the patriarchs, priesthood was a birthright of the firstborn, and also the right of the head of the family. Job, as the head of a large family, performed priestly duties, as did Noah. Later, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would all offer sacrifices as priests. And Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, was the priest of Midian.131 Then under the Mosaic covenant, the Levitical priesthood was established on the basis of lineage. Yet, the royal priesthood was an on-going theme; we see that King David offered sacrifice on behalf of the people.132 The priesthood of Christ is a fulfillment and a perfection of all of these priestly types, but most directly, that of Melchizedek.

d. The Ordination of the Apostles

This section is not intended to be a commentary or reaction to what has been officially taught by the Church regarding the ordination of the Apostles, but rather an examination of four key biblical passages to serve as a backdrop for our continued study on Holy Orders.133 We cannot understand the priesthood of the Apostles without first understanding Christ’s priesthood, and we cannot understand general Christian priesthood without first understanding the priesthood of the Apostles. To what end and in what manner were the Apostles ordained, then, is our present question. The first relevant passage is found in Mark’s gospel:

Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve–designating them Apostles–that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.134

This passage is clearly a parallel to Exodus 24, which we cited earlier, where we see a three-tiered order of priests, with Moses at the top as the high priest, then Aaron and his sons, and then the seventy elders. It is no coincidence that Jesus ascends a mountain in prayer as He establishes the priesthood of the New Covenant. If there is a new priesthood, there must be a new law,135 and if the old law is fulfilled,136 then the old priesthood must be fulfilled.137 The Apostles are given authority to do the very same thing that Christ had been doing: preaching the gospel and waging war against the kingdom of Satan.138 That is, the Apostles were ordained for the express purpose of continuing Christ’s mission. It is clear, therefore, that the mission of the Church is nothing but Christ’s mission, just as the priesthood of the clergy is nothing but a participation in His priesthood.139

The next relevant passage is the Last Supper, in which Jesus commands them to “do this in memory of Me,”140 i.e., continue to commemorate (make νάμνησις of) my death. The Church has always read this passage as an ordination of the Apostles, a commissioning of the Apostles to offer the sacrifice of eucharistia. In continuity with what we have just stated about the Apostles carrying on His work, it is especially notable that He then says, “and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”141

The mission of the Church, like that of Christ, is to heal the sick.142 And as St. Ignatius said, the Eucharist is the “medicine of immortality.”143 It is supremely fitting that the priesthood should be ordained in this manner, to carry out the task of administering the sacrament of the Eucharist to the spiritually sick.

Thirdly, the fathers have consistently read the breathing of the Holy Spirit in John 20 as an apostolic ordination.144 This passage contains a three-fold action. Verse 21: He sent them not in a unique way, but “as the Father sent Me.” The theme of the Apostles carrying on the very mission of Christ is reiterated. Verse 22: He breathed the Holy Spirit on them. This signified that actual grace was conferred, thus making it a sacrament, which we will discuss below. All of the ordination prayers from antiquity until today use this same formula, “receive the Holy Spirit.”145 Verse 23: Jesus gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins. Again, He invested the Apostles with the authority and mission of doing exactly what He Himself had been sent to do. St. John Chrysostom says that He gave them:

a certain power and spiritual grace . . . not to raise the dead or perform miracles, but to remit sins. For there are various spiritual gifts (charismata). That is why the evangelist adds: ‘whose sins ye shall forgive, they are forgiven’, thus indicating the kind of power Christ was giving them. It was only after forty days that they received the power of miracles.146

Jesus commissions the Apostles as the heads of the Church and in this way gives them the authority to administrate and perform the fundamental action of the Church: saving souls. Forgiveness, obviously, lies at the very heart of this mission. To understand what Christ intended for His Church, we should look to His own words. In the gospels, Jesus only mentioned the “Church” twice. In both of those instances, this same connection of earthly and heavenly authority is present. He gives the unique authority of “binding and loosing” to the twelve Apostles.147 The term “binding and loosing” is clearly related to the authorization to forgive sins. This is a technical legislative term which was known to have been used in connection with the ecclesial powers of the Sanhedrin for including or excluding members from communion.148 This is further confirmation of the sacramental and authoritative nature of the Christian priesthood.

Finally, the seal of ordination is definitively conferred upon the Apostles at Pentecost.149 The fathers saw Pentecost as the anti-Babel. Whereas the people of earth were scattered and divided into nations and tongues at Babel, they were re-gathered into one people at Pentecost. The life of Christ, which is the very unity of the Church, was poured out through the Holy Spirit and received as flaming tongues by the Apostles on that glorious day.

Now each of these four ordinations emphasize a different aspect of the apostolic mission. The first calling of the Apostles and sending them out two by two emphasized preaching a call to repentance, exorcism, and healing the sick. The Last Supper signifies the commission to offer the sacrament of the Eucharist. The appearance of Christ to the Apostles in John 20 signifies the ecclesial authority of the Apostles and the authority to forgive sins.150 At Pentecost, the emphasis is clearly on the Word, hence the sign of flaming tongues.

Pentecost is the birth of the Church, the mystical body of Christ, outside of which there is no salvation. Those who heard St. Peter’s preaching at Pentecost were not initiated into that body by merely believing the gospel message, although faith was necessary. When they asked, Peter explained that to be initiated into the body it was necessary to “repent and be baptized.”151 Thus, we see the need for a convergence of all aspects of the priestly vocation. Preaching the Word is essential, but the mission of the Church is not limited to the spoken or written Word. It is inclusive of sacramental action. It was through word and sacrament that the Church was born as the new Israel. Earlier we saw that Christ had ascended a mountain together with the priests of the new law to establish the New Covenant. St. John Chrysostom observed that Pentecost was the day that the new priesthood descended that mountain, and that the Apostles “did not come down from the mountain carrying, like Moses, tablets of stone in their hands; but they came down carrying the Holy Spirit in their hearts… having become by his grace a living law, a living book.”152 Likewise, Isho’dad of Merv confirms that the sign of tongues was given “to show that they were treasurers and guardians of the Spirit, and interpreters and organs of God the Word, as the tongue is to the mind and the sense.”153

Not only did Pentecost more clearly reveal the apostolic commission to preach the gospel, but also the right to preach it, and the authority to interpret it. The gospel was thus entrusted to the Church, and the Apostles received power by the Holy Spirit to deliver that gospel faithfully through spoken and written word. Pentecost shows that the mission to expound the Scriptures, by preaching the Word, was integral to the apostolic office and thus integral to the episcopal office. The Christian priesthood, in this manner, was foreshadowed in part by the Teachers of the Law, but more properly by the royal priesthood. The new law accompanied a new priesthood, and Pentecost was a sign of both realities.154

As we mentioned, there is a strong tendency, especially in the the late Fathers through the medieval theologians, to associate the John 20 passage with the power to administer the sacraments. This is true particularly with the power to forgive sins, but also with the other powers unique to the apostolic office. The commission, power, and authority to administer the other sacraments proceed directly from this gift of the breathing of the Holy Spirit. Christ had His power and authority by virtue of His ordination of the first order, the Incarnation, and His second ‘ordination’ at baptism was the public manifestation of His commission to go into the world and preach the gospel. Christ came to heal the sick and cast out demons, but this aspect of His ministry is bound specifically with who He is. That is, His power and authority were present from the original ordination of the Incarnation. But why does He come? He tells the disciples explicitly that He came to “preach the Word.”155 This is exactly what He did after His ’second’ ordination at baptism.156 Likewise, the Apostles received that secondary commission (ordination) at Pentecost, demonstrated by the sign of tongues, and immediately went out to preach the gospel.157 In terms of ordination, what baptism was to Christ, Pentecost was to the Apostles. Both of these events were sealed by the sign of the Holy Spirit.158 St. John the Baptist foretold this saying, “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”159

e. Proof of a Sacrificial Priesthood

The vocabulary of the Christian Church has developed over the generations with ‘presbyter’ and ‘bishop;’ it was no different with sacrificial language. The universality of terminological agreement was solidified first with the ‘presbyter’/'bishop’ distinction, and next with the sacrificial language. Interestingly, it was only after these two concepts were universally understood that the Church finally solidified her Trinitarian language. That is, the Church spoke consistently of the clergy and of the sacrifice of the mass before she could speak as we do today about the Trinity.160

Over the centuries, the word ‘presbyter’ was invested with sacrificial meaning by virtue of the action that presbyters performed, namely the sacrifice of the Eucharist. Eventually the word itself evolved into the English word ‘priest.’ So whatever investment we have in that English word is actually derived from the meanings invested into the word ‘presbyter’ by the Church. Furthermore, it is true that the original meaning of the word was “elder,” but even in the New Testament period this word was already being invested with priestly significance. For example, we see presbyters acting as priests in the New Testament. Revelation 5:8 has presbyters (elders) offering up the prayers of the saints, and St. Paul describes his duty as “priestly” (hierourgeo) in Romans 15:16.

If the Church fell into error regarding the sacrificial priesthood, as Protestants claim, it would be an enormous error. The immediate and universal acceptance of the sacrificial priesthood without contention or debate is solid evidence that it is not an error but belongs to the Apostolic Tradition. The early Church Fathers consistently bear witness to the sacrificial nature of the priesthood.161 The Didache, one of the earliest Christian texts outside of the New Testament, says:

And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. And let no man, having his dispute with his fellow, join your assembly until they have been reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be defiled; for this sacrifice it is that was spoken of by the Lord; {In every place and at every time offer Me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great king, saith the Lord and My name is wonderful among the nations.}162

St. Clement of Rome writes in the first century:

Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its Sacrifices [προσενεγκόντας].163

St. Justin Martyr writes around the middle of the second century:

God speaks through Malachias, one of the twelve, [minor prophets] as follows: ‘I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord; and I will not accept your sacrifices from your hands; for from the rising of the sun until its setting, my name has been glorified among the gentiles; and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a clean offering: for great is my name among the gentiles, says the Lord; but you profane it.’164 It is of the sacrifices offered to Him in every place by us, the gentiles, that is, of the Bread of the Eucharist and likewise of the cup of the Eucharist, that He speaks at that time; and He says that we glorify His name, while you profane it. 165

So we can see the concept present from the earliest writings of the Church. But as always, the terminology and doctrine (teaching) would take some time to gain universal consistency. St. Cyprian of Carthage in the middle of the third century would explicitly speak of the sacrifice. He records the following miraculous occurrence:

And another woman, when she tried with unworthy hands to open her box, in which was the holy (body) of the Lord, was deterred by fire rising from it from daring to touch it. And when one, who himself was defiled, dared with the rest to receive secretly a part of the sacrifice celebrated by the priest; he could not eat nor handle the holy of the Lord, but found in his hands when opened that he had a cinder.166

St. Augustine mentions the Eucharistic sacrifice without argument:

he asked our presbyters, during my absence, that one of them would go with him and banish the spirits by his prayers. One went, offered there the sacrifice of the body of Christ, praying with all his might that that vexation might cease.167

St. John Chrysostom compares the priest’s sacrifice at the altar to the prophetic and priestly prayer of Elijah on Mount Carmel:

The priest stands there to cause not fire, but the Holy Spirit, to descend. He prays at length, not so that fire falling from on high may consume the offerings, but that grace, descending on the Host, may reach men’s souls and make them brighter than silver that is tried by fire.168

f. Some Objections to a Sacrificial Priesthood

According to John Calvin, Christ’s High Priesthood is exclusive of any true priesthood among men:

He once offered a victim of eternal expiation and reconciliation, and now also having entered the sanctuary of heaven, he intercedes for us. In him we all are priests, but to offer praise and thanksgiving, in fine, ourselves, and all that is ours to God.169

Yet St. Augustine said, commenting on Revelation 20:6:

This is spoken not only of bishops and presbyters, who are now properly called priests in the Church; but just as we call all (Christians) christs because of the mystical chrism, so are all priests, for they are members of the one Priest.170

With St. Augustine, we affirm that in contradistinction to the universal priesthood of all believers, bishops and presbyters are properly called priests, or at least priests in a different sense than are laypersons. That is, a universal priesthood by baptism in no way excludes a visible priesthood, and Christians being ‘christs’ does not exclude the existence of One who is the Christ, namely Jesus of Nazareth.

Some have objected either that the term ’sacrifice’ was always used symbolically, or that it was merely spoken of as an offering of thanks and never propitiatory. But the sacrifice referred to is the sacrifice of the Eucharist, and the Church has never believed that the Eucharistic sacrifice was a mere recollection of a past event.171 Additionally, Harnack’s work indicates that the apprehension of the Eucharist as a “symbol” in no way implies that it is not the real thing.172 But the sacrifice spoken of is consistently and explicitly linked to the Eucharist. That ‘eucharistia‘ meant “thanksgiving” is important, but “thanksgiving” is not incompatible with propitiation. The Fathers regularly spoke of the Eucharist as conferring grace173 and effecting salvation174. But above all, the Fathers always linked the Eucharist to the propitiatory sacrifice of Calvary. They spoke of it not as a new sacrifice, but as the non-bloody re-presentation of the same sacrifice.175 St. Ambrose of Milan, the tutor of St. Augustine, said:

We saw the Prince of Priests coming to us, we saw and heard Him offering His blood for us. We follow inasmuch as we are able, being priests; and we offer the sacrifice on behalf of the people. And even if we are of but little merit, still, in the sacrifice, we are honorable. For even if Christ is not now seen as the one who offers the sacrifice, nevertheless it is He Himself that is offered in sacrifice here on earth when the Body of Christ is offered. Indeed, to offer Himself He is made visible in us, He whose words make holy the sacrifice that is offered.176

Therefore, since the priestly sacrifice is the Eucharist itself, and the Eucharist is the same sacrifice of Christ, it follows that the sacrifice spoken of by the fathers is the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ. Now the Eucharist, as propitiation, does not in any way make Christ’s sacrifice insufficient, nor does it re-sacrifice Christ. This is because the Eucharist is not a new sacrifice, but the same sacrifice of Calvary. St. Ambrose confirms this above by showing that Christ is offered in the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist. St. Cyril of Jerusalem explicitly referred to the Eucharistic sacrifice as propitiatory.177 Furthermore, the early Fathers understood the Eucharist as the fulfillment, not abolishment, of its Old Covenant type. If the old sacrifice, which was only a type, was understood as propitiatory, how much more the new and perfect sacrifice? Thus Chrysostom says:

In ancient times, because men were very imperfect, God did not scorn to receive the blood which they were offering . . . to draw them away from those idols; and this very thing again was because of his indescribable, tender affection. But now he has transferred the priestly action to what is most awesome and magnificent. He has changed the sacrifice itself, and instead of the butchering of dumb beasts, he commands the offering up of himself. 178

St. John Chrysostom explains that the imperfect sacrifices in the Old Covenant were didactic rituals. But God did not abolish sacrifice under the New Covenant; He provided the perfect sacrifice to accomplish what those imperfect rituals had foreshadowed. We are commanded to offer up that same sacrifice, and that is precisely what the priest does by celebrating the Eucharist.

At the same time, it is true that there are priestly sacrifices in other senses. Origen says that proclaiming the gospel is ‘priestly work.’ 179 He also says:

When you see that the priests and the levites are no longer handling the blood of rams and bulls, but the Word of God by the grace of the Holy Spirit, then you can say that Jesus has taken the place of Moses.180

Yet what he says fits with the Eucharist as a propitiatory sacrifice. He also says:

The Apostles, and those who have become like Apostles, being priests according to the Great High Priest and having received knowledge of the service of God, know under the Spirit’s teaching for which sins, and when, and how they ought to offer sacrifices, and recognize for which they ought not to do so. 181

St. Cyprian of Carthage says:

If Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, is himself the high priest of God the Father; and if he offered himself as a sacrifice to the Father; and if he commanded that this be done in commemoration of himself, then certainly the priest, who imitates that which Christ did, truly functions in place of Christ.182

St. John Chrysostom says:

Reverence, therefore, reverence this table, of which we are all communicants! Christ, slain for us, the sacrificial victim who is placed thereon!183

One final objection worth mentioning is that in the New Testament the Greek term ‘hiereus‘ is never used for a Christian minister. The objector reasons that if God had intended us to understand presbyters and bishops as belonging to a visible sacrificial priesthood, then the term would have been used in the New Testament. According to this objection, if the Catholic doctrine of the sacrificial priesthood is correct, then we should expect to find the New Testament using this term at least once to refer to Christian ministers. But this is an argument from silence and it presupposes solo scriptura. 184 Moreover the objection can be independently refuted by considering three counter points. First, while the term is not used specifically and directly to refer to a priest, there are passages showing presbyters carrying out priestly duties,185 and the same word in a different form is used to describe Paul’s own priestly ministry 186. Secondly, while Hebrews is the only book among those of the New Testament to refer to Christ as the High Priest, this theme can be detected in other canonical books. It does not follow that because a particular book does not mention Christ as a priest that that book is denying His priesthood. Neither can we conclude that the New Testament, taken as a whole, is denying the sacrificial priesthood by only referring to it indirectly. Finally, in first century Judaism the word ‘hiereus‘ referred specifically to the Levitical priesthood that was still in active duty while the temple stood. Though the Christian clergy explicated their priestly heritage in various ways, they also needed to differentiate themselves for practical and theological reasons. The antitype is not often referred to with the same word as the type; at least something is different! Aside from the Jewish priesthood, ‘hiereus‘ also referred to the pagan priesthood, and the earliest Christians shyed away from using this term in order to distance themselves from the pagans.

g. Conclusion on the Clergy’s Ordination to the Sacrificial Priesthood

To summarize the development of the priestly terminology: by the end of the second century, the term ‘hiereus‘ and its Latin equivalent ‘sacerdos‘ were being used to refer specifically to the bishop. The term was understood from the beginning to apply to presbyters by participation in the episcopal ministry, but never to deacons, because they did not offer sacrifice. From the middle of the third century, the term would be applied directly to presbyters as well. Until the sixth century, the terms were still generally reserved for the bishop, but that gradually began to change. By the eleventh century, the usage had reversed so that the terms for ‘priest’ were generally applied to the presbyter and not the bishop. The bishop was still understood to be a priest, but was not often referred to as such. 187 This explains why the old word ‘presbyter,’ which has become the English word ‘priest,’ is the word which was invested with the meaning of hiereus/sacerdos and not the word ‘bishop.’

We have stopped well short of a complete study on the sacrificial priesthood, but to understand Holy Orders, it is important to understand that the clergy are ordained to a sacrificial ministry. We have shown that this concept is consistent with the New Testament data, and is confirmed by the fathers. We have also addressed various Protestant objections to the sacrificial priesthood.

V – Ordination is a Sacrament

a. Protestant Objections

We have provided evidence that Holy Orders is consistent with natural hierarchy, is a true fulfillment of the Old Testament priestly types through participation in Christ, and is sacrificial in nature. But none of these, individually or together, necessarily mean that Holy Orders is a sacrament. If it is a sacrament, however, then the Protestants were in serious error for rejecting an ordinance of the Lord. John Calvin, believing there to be only two sacraments, quotes St. Augustine in support of his view:

“After the resurrection of our Lord, our Lord himself, and apostolic discipline, appointed, instead of many, a few signs, and these most easy of performance, most august in meaning, most chaste in practice; such is baptism and the celebration of the body and blood of the Lord.” Why does he here make no mention of the sacred number, I mean seven? Is it probable that he would have omitted it if it had then been established in the Church, especially seeing he is otherwise more curious in observing numbers than might be necessary?188

To the contrary, St. Augustine says elsewhere:

our Lord Jesus Christ has appointed to us a “light yoke” and an “easy burden,” as He declares in the Gospel: in accordance with which He has bound His people under the new dispensation together in fellowship by sacraments, which are in number very few, in observance most easy, and in significance most excellent, as baptism solemnized in the name of the Trinity, the communion of His body and blood, and such other things as are prescribed in the canonical Scriptures, with the exception of those enactments which were a yoke of bondage to God’s ancient people, suited to their state of heart and to the times of the prophets, and which are found in the five books of Moses. As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the Apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, e.g., the annual commemoration, by special solemnities, of the Lord’s passion, resurrection, and ascension, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven, and whatever else is in like manner observed by the whole Church wherever it has been established.189

St. Augustine states that the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist are clear from Scripture, but there are “other such things,” i.e., other sacraments, received on the authority of Tradition. He doesn’t mention Holy Orders here, but he at least affirmed that there are more than two sacraments, and as we will see below, he counted Holy Orders among them. The early Church held Holy Orders to be a sacrament. But the word ’sacrament’ has developed in meaning over the years such that what was meant in the sixteenth century was not precisely what was meant in the fourth or fifth centuries when the word was first used by St. Augustine.190

Martin Luther also denied that Holy Orders is a sacrament. He retained a role for bishops in his ordination rites, but insisted that they only confirm men chosen by the people. If the bishop were to refuse to ordain such elected men, the congregation itself should ordain them to the clergy anyway.191 Because Luther rejected Holy Orders as a sacrament, the clergy were not necessary at all for valid ordination. 192 Luther argued that the biblical requirement that the ordinand be “blameless” is evidence that even St. Paul did not dare to ordain anyone who was not approved by the congregation. 193

Both Luther and Calvin correctly recognized that the election by the congregation, even in the case of bishops, was an important aspect of Christian ordination dating back to the apostolic age. But they were mistaken to confuse election and ordination. John Calvin says that other pastors should preside at the election. But his reasons are not that a valid ordination cannot occur without them, but rather the clergy ought to be present, “lest any error should be committed by the general body either through levity, or bad passion, or tumult.” He does not believe that a valid ordination can occur without the consent of the people, and he cites St. Cyprian of Carthage in support of this position. 194 However, even supposing that he required clergy to be present and considered the proper act of ordination to be effected by the clergy, he would still be opposed to apostolic Tradition because the first Calvinist ministers did not possess the power of ordination. That is, the second generation of Calvinist ministers may well have been ordained only by Calvinist ‘clergy,’ but the first generation of Calvinist ‘clergy’ were mostly ordained by the mere consent of the congregation, and hence were not actually clergy.

The first century congregation of Jerusalem elected the first deacons, but the people did not ordain them. The congregation presented the chosen men to the Apostles, who prayed over them and laid hands on them, thereby conferring the sacrament of Holy Orders. 195 There is no example in the New Testament or in early Church history of anyone other than a bishop ordaining a Christian minister. 196 We will argue in the following sections that the early Church considered Holy Orders to be a sacrament and that the first Protestants erred in rejecting it as such.

b. Definition of Sacrament

The Catholic Catechism defines sacraments in this way:

The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.197

Protestant scholar Allister McGrath affirms that the doctrine that sacraments “convey the grace which they signify” can be traced back to the second century. St. Ambrose, according to McGrath, is especially responsible for expounding or developing this doctrine clearly. His pupil, St. Augustine, would go on to pave the way for Catholic teaching on the subject from the medieval period and on through to the present. Thus McGrath writes, “It is clear that a major function of the sacraments, in the thought of Augustine and his medieval successors, is that of the efficacious bestowal of grace.”198 Sts. Ambrose and Augustine were indeed repeating and expounding a doctrine of sacramental efficacy that predated their work.

But does Holy Orders as found in the Fathers match the definition of a sacrament as something that includes the efficacious bestowal of grace? The patristic evidence demonstrates that the early Church held the rite of Holy Orders to confer grace and to effect a real change in the ordinand. 199 Many Fathers explicitly referred to Holy Orders as a sacrament, and as St. Augustine said, none of them doubted it. 200 Furthermore, as shown above,201 Holy Orders was directly instituted by Christ. As St. Thomas Aquinas said several hundred years before the Reformation, “a sacrament is nothing else than a sanctification conferred on man with some outward sign. Wherefore, since by receiving orders a consecration is conferred on man by visible signs, it is clear that Order is a sacrament.”202

One Protestant objection is that if Christ instituted seven sacraments, then why didn’t the Church recognize Holy Orders as a sacrament until the middle ages? This is false because it was recognized as a sacrament long before the Middle Ages. The Council of Trent was by no means the first authority to count Holy Orders among the sacraments.203 That is to say, Holy Orders was definitively taught as a sacrament by the universal Church long before the Reformation. Our next section will show that it was held to be a ’sacrament’ by the early Church Fathers.

c. Evidence from Scripture and Tradition

The Biblical evidence that Christ established Holy Orders begins with the fact that Christ invested the Apostles with real authority and ordained them as priests of the New Covenant. 204 That the laying on of hands in ordination confers grace is evident from 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6. 205 The concept of Holy Orders conferring grace is common among all the early ordination prayers. 206 For St. Cyprian of Carthage, Christ Himself ordains the priest. 207 If Christ Himself confers ordination, its efficacy should not be doubted. In addition to his quotation above, St. Augustine also says:

Both of these, Baptism and Orders are Sacraments, and each is given to a man by a certain sacred rite.208

St. Augustine also referred to certain signs under the Old Covenant as “sacraments,” but he distinguished them from the sacraments under the New Covenant by noting that the latter “give salvation.” 209 Regarding Holy Orders, he also says:

In like manner as if there take place an ordination of clergy in order to form a congregation of people, although the congregation of people follow not, yet there remains in the ordained persons the Sacrament of Ordination; and if, for any fault, any be removed from his office, he will not be without the Sacrament of the Lord once for all set upon him, albeit continuing unto condemnation.210

And St. Gregory of Nyssa says:

The bread again is at first common bread, but when the sacramental action consecrates it, it is called, and becomes, the Body of Christ. So with the sacramental oil; so with the wine: though before the benediction they are of little value, each of them, after the sanctification bestowed by the Spirit, has its several operation. The same power of the word, again, also makes the priest venerable and honourable, separated, by the new blessing bestowed upon him, from his community with the mass of men. While but yesterday he was one of the mass, one of the people, he is suddenly rendered a guide, a president, a teacher of righteousness, an instructor in hidden mysteries; and this he does without being at all changed in body or in form; but, while continuing to be in all appearance the man he was before, being, by some unseen power and grace, transformed in respect of his unseen soul to the higher condition.211

St. John Chrysostom says:

For the priestly office is indeed discharged on earth, but it ranks among heavenly ordinances; and very naturally so: for neither man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any other created power, but the Paraclete Himself, instituted this vocation, and persuaded men while still abiding in the flesh to represent the ministry of angels.212

St. Basil the Great (AD 374) affirms that in ordination “a spiritual charism” is received at the imposition of hands.213 Pope St. Leo I (Bishop of Rome from AD 440-461), speaking of Holy Orders, instructs that care be taken in the ritual lest, “the ministration of a Sacrament so great and of so great blessing should be thoughtlessly discharged.”214 Later in the fifth century, Pope Anastasius II compares it to baptism. 215 Pope St. Gregory (Bishop of Rome from AD 590-604) also calls it a sacrament. 216 Even some of the early Protestants, most notably the Puritan, Richard Baxter, affirmed Holy Orders as a sacrament. 217

The technicalization of terminology is a lengthy process which is generally accelerated only as contextual pressure is applied. As it became more critical to clarify the Church’s doctrine on the sacraments in the middle ages, it became more common to refer to Holy Orders, and the other sacraments, as ’sacraments.’ It seems that the word ’sacrament’ had a broader meaning in the early Church than in the medieval Church. In the present day in the East, those same realities are referred to as ‘mysteries,’ which is the literal meaning of the word ’sacrament.’ As with the clerical terminology, we are concerned not only with the words themselves, but with the realities to which they refer. Thus, the question becomes not how many times was the sacrament referred to as such in the early Fathers or in the New Testament, but whether or not the Church consistently understood the action of ordination to be instituted by Christ and to be an effectual outward sign of inward grace. As we have observed, the answer is clearly in the affirmative.

d. Conclusion on Ordination as a Sacrament

In order to deny the authority of the visible Church, it was necessary for the first Protestants to deny the sacrament of Holy Orders. If the first Protestants had acknowledged that Holy Orders was actually a sacrament, then they would have had to acknowledge the sacramental authority of their bishop. But if Holy Orders is a man-made rite and not a true sacrament, then the so-called ‘bishop’ has only as much authority as the congregation grants him. Therefore, by denying the sacrament of Holy Orders, Protestants were able to conceive of their actions as obedient to God [by obeying their own interpretation of Scripture] rather than disobedient to God [by disobeying God's appointed authorities], because they did not believe that their so-called ‘bishops’ were actually ordained under a true sacrament. They believed that the authority of the clergy was derived from the consent of the Christian congregation such that if the clergy ever started preaching the Word in a way that contradicted the congregation’s interpretation of Scripture, then the offending clergy were to be deposed by the congregation and would no longer be true clergymen. Thus, the clergy held no real authority over the people. Such a doctrine of authority was entirely incompatible with Holy Orders as a sacrament, and so denying the sacrament was a necessary step for Protestants in order to justify being and remaining Protestant. In order to establish the new tradition and law of the Protestant community, the first Protestants had to reinvent what it meant to be a Christian minister.

VI – The Nature of Holy Orders

a. In the Ordination Prayers

According to Dom Botte, all of the earliest prayers of ordination had four things in common. 218 First, that the calling of the ordinand, and the hierarchical structure into which he was initiated, was by the will of God. 219 Calvin also concurs on this point.220 Secondly, the bishops are successors to the Apostles. Our next article on Apostolic Succession will address this issue more thoroughly, but relevant to our present discussion, in her ordination prayers, the early Church consistently understood this action to be appointing a successor to the Apostles. The terminology associated with this point was closely linked to the role of the Holy Spirit and the sending at Pentecost. Lecuyer relates that, “According to Severian, the imposition of the gospel on the head [during ordination] represents the same sign as the tongues of fire upon the heads of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost.”221 The third point of commonality in ordination prayers is that the presbyter’s “priesthood” is associated with the bishop’s. Fourthly, the clergy were “not simply ministers of worship.” They were pastors of souls and teachers of the Word. They administered the sacraments and governed the Church. Dom Botte captures this well saying:

Their essential mission is to govern the Church and feed the flock. They are not only high priests, but also–one might say supremely–pastors and doctors.222

b. Requirements for Ordination

There have always been requirements for ordination. John Calvin, in accordance with the Fathers, views a calling from God as a requirement of ordination; i.e., no one ought to assume the role without an actual calling to the ministry. 223 Another one of the primary requirements, which Calvin also stresses, is holiness. This requirement is repeated in the New Testament224 and again in the Fathers. 225

But what if an ordained man ceases to be holy or a man who is not holy is ordained? Is the ordination therefore invalid? First, the New Testament text does not indicate any possibility of this invalidating orders. There are similar exhortations to the baptized. For example, in Galatians 5:16 St. Paul tells the baptized to “live by the Spirit.” But the baptized do not lose baptism by ceasing to “live by the Spirit,” nor does it follow that they never were baptized. 226 Secondly, St. Augustine believed that both Baptism and Holy Orders were not repeatable. 227 Lastly, as we have argued above (Section V) Holy Orders is a sacrament. Both Catholics and Reformed Protestants agree that the efficacy of a sacrament depends not on the holiness of the minister but on the promise of Christ. 228 Therefore, since Holy Orders is a sacrament, its effects are not dependent upon the minister.

But could the effect depend on the recipient (ordinand)? Grace received through the sacraments is a gratuitous gift from God, not a reward for holiness. This gift does not depend upon either the holiness of the minister or of the ordinand. The exhortations to ordain only holy men are true and practical commands that the bishops must obey. Only men who are actually called to the priesthood (by God) should be ordained. Because of men’s sinfulness, many unworthy men have been ordained just as many men have unworthily received the sacrament of the Eucharist. But because of the efficacy of the sacraments, those men are still validly ordained.

There were various additional requirements for ordination. Several early councils prohibited bishops from ordaining men from outside their diocese. 229 They did this to keep peace between bishops230 and so that the personal character of the ordinand could be rightfully judged. The ordination ceremony must be public, preferably in the cathedral, because it concerned the whole Church. 231 Other requirements included age, which was generally 25 to 30 for deacons, 30 to 35 for priests, and 35 to 40 or older for bishops. Age minimums still exist for all of these and may vary by diocese. The Council of Hippo in 393 required that ordinands possess a ‘knowledge of the scriptures.’ Those in certain professions were also considered ineligible for ordination. Some examples of barred professions include those involved with pagan religious rites, magistrates who had taken part in forbidden games, trustees of inheritances (until the inheritance was settled), and members of the armed forces.232 From the earliest days of the Church, only men were chosen for the clergy, including bishops, priests, and deacons, and this Tradition was confirmed in the early legislation on the matter. 233

Another major requirement that varied by time and place is clerical celibacy. There was no universal law in the early Church regarding continence, but it was widely practiced among the ordained from the beginning, and by the second century it was practiced by the majority of the clergy.234 Continence was by no means exclusive to the West. Many Eastern priests and bishops practiced continence as well. Those married men ordained to the priesthood would be expected to live with their wives as brother and sister in the majority of cases. In the early cases of married bishops, the bishop would often have to separate from his wife, and she would be forced to live in a convent or become a deaconess. 235 It appears to have always been the case that the clerics could not remarry after ordination. 236 In the East, Theodosius II, in AD 420, imposed continence on all married bishops, and Justinian made the law definitive in the sixth century. 237 The West was stricter in this respect, and its legislation on continence began in the fourth century and extended to deacons and even to sub-deacons in some churches. 238 St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, Pope St. Leo, and St. Augustine were all in favor of clerical continence. 239 By the eleventh century, the West would only ordain unmarried men, and both East and West would retain the tradition of ordaining only celibate bishops.

The most common Protestant objection to priestly celibacy is that we know that the apostolic age had married clergy. We knows this because in the New Testament all three offices: bishop, presbyter, and deacon, are required to have only one wife. 240 But the Catholic Church does not teach that clerical celibacy is dogma. Clerical celibacy is a discipline of the Church like fasting during Lent. For that reason, the rule of priestly celibacy could theoretically change. That is why the Eastern Churches which are in union with the See of Peter are able to retain their tradition of married priests. For this reason, the discipline of clerical celibacy is in no way contradictory to the New Testament passages cited above. In fact, it is clearly in keeping with the New Testament praise for celibacy. 241 Furthermore, the Church Fathers have consistently understood the passages regarding one wife as a prohibition of second marriage for clergy. Protestants reject both this traditional reading and any honor given to religious celibacy whatsoever.

c. Rituals of Ordination

The earliest surviving record of the ordination rite is The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus. What we can determine is this. First, the ordination ritual was always performed in the context of sacrificial liturgy, i.e., the Eucharist, just as its Old Testament type had been. 242 From apostolic times, the ordinand was required to fast before the ritual. 243 The bishop was elected, not ordained, by the people. 244 Then, neighboring bishops, no fewer than three, would lay hands on him to confer ordination that would be confirmed by the Metropolitan. 245 A single bishop would then read the ordination prayer. This is the ordination prayer of St. Hippolytus:

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Father of mercies and God of all consolation, you who live in the highest, but regard the lowest, you who know all things before they are,

you who gave the rules of the Church through the word of your grace, who predestined from the beginning the race of the righteous through Abraham, who instituted princes and priests, and did not leave your sanctuary without a minister; who from the beginning of the world has been pleased to be glorified by those whom you have chosen,

pour out upon him the power which is from you, the princely Spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son Jesus Christ, which he gave to your holy Apostles, who founded the Church in every place as your sanctuary, for the glory and endless praise of your name.

Grant, Father who knows the heart, to your servant whom you chose for the episcopate, that he will feed your holy flock, that he will wear your high priesthood without reproach, serving night and day, incessantly making your face favorable, and offering the gifts of your holy church;

in the spirit of high priesthood having the power to forgive sins according to your command; to assign lots according to your command; to loose any bond according to the authority which you gave to the Apostles; to please you in mildness and a pure heart, offering to you a sweet scent,

through your son Jesus Christ, through whom to you be glory, power, and honor, Father and Son, with the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Church, now and throughout the ages of the ages. Amen. 246

In cases of presbyters, other presbyters would also lay their hands on the ordinand during the ritual, but in the case of a deacon, only the bishop would lay hands. In the early Roman Church [the Church in the city of Rome], the ordination rituals entailed only these prayers and the laying on of hands, but other traditions were organically incorporated into the Roman rite and would eventually become standard for Western Christendom. 247

By the fifth century, the book of the Gospels was imposed on the forehead of the bishop at ordination, symbolizing his servitude to the Word. The tradition of anointing the bishop on the head with chrism oil appears to date back to about the same time. The traditions of bestowing a ring on the bishop, and the handing on of the pastoral staff, extend at least to the sixth century. 248 After the ninth century, anointing of the hands with oil was added for both priests and bishops, but only bishops were anointed on the head as a sign of authority. 249 About this time, or perhaps later, the “Delivery of the Instruments of Office” was added to the rite. This consisted in handing on the paten and chalice together with bread and wine, consecrated or unconsecrated, to the ordinand. 250 This tradition was slow to spread and its actual date of origin is uncertain.

d. The Chorepiscopi

In the second and third centuries, Christianity experienced rapid growth. As the Christian Church extended her reach from the city to the countryside, the single episcopocentric congregation, i.e., the body united around a single bishop and having a single Eucharist, began to manifest its limitations. The chorepiscopi were rural bishops [or priests] ordained to address the growing needs of the Church. They were more prominent in the East than in the West. It appears that some of the chorepiscopi were priests, but especially in the beginning the majority were actual bishops. 251 The chorepiscopi who were ordained to the fullness of the episcopate could ordain presbyters and deacons, but only with the written permission of the city bishop to whom they were subject. 252 The chorepiscopi were gradually replaced by priests as the rural ecclesial structure moved from rigid episcopocentricity to presbyterocentricity, which is the re-centering of local Church unity from the bishop to a lead presbyter. These individual congregations under such presbyters would in turn be united with other congregations under the city’s bishop. This development set the stage for the emergence of what we know today as the local parish in the fourth and fifth centuries. In the late fourth century, the Synod of Sardica forbade the ordination of chorepiscopi when a presbyter would suffice, and the Second Council of Nicaea in AD 787 is the last to mention the office.

e. The Diaconate

The nature of the priesthood of both bishop and presbyter is evident from the facts above, but the diaconate stands in need of some additional treatment. The diaconate was a permanent office in the early Church, although plenty of deacons went on to become priests or bishops. Gradually, the diaconate became only a stepping stone to priesthood in the West and was thus only temporary in duration. However, the permanent diaconate was restored after Vatican II in 1967. Whether temporary or permanent, the deacon has always been understood as an assistant to the bishop. As the bishop and presbyters serve at the altar, the deacon serves the bishop and assists at the altar in the same way the Levites did in the Old Testament. Some have claimed that the ministry of deacons is solely for the material care of the poor and the supervision of “the tables,” but this belief was condemned by the Council of Trullo in AD 691.253

The early Church has unanimously understood the seven men ordained in Jerusalem (Acts 6) to be the first deacons, though the word is not specifically used there. 254 It was the custom among early Churches, especially at Rome, to have seven deacons after this model. Later divisions not of apostolic origin were added to this order: archdeacon and sub-deacon. Neither of these two are active today. Though the early deacons were considerably powerful, they were never allowed to offer sacrifice. 255 In the middle of the second century, deacons regularly distributed communion. 256 But by the time St. Hippolytus writes in the early third century, it appears that they were considered extra-ordinary ministers of communion, meaning that distribution of communion was no longer seen as their proper duty. By the fourth century, they were no longer allowed to give holy communion when priests were present.257 One reason for this change was the growing importance of presbyters due to the increase in the number of rural Christians. During the third and fourth centuries, more priests were needed to consecrate the host, whereas in the first two centuries it was generally the bishop alone who consecrated the host. This gradual change in the duties of the deacon is not an abandonment of any apostolic institution or dogma. Rather it is a practical development related to the liturgy.

f. The Minor Orders

The minor orders are sacramental, but not sacraments. 258 That is, these were instituted by the Church, not by Christ. These minor orders date back to the early Church. In the middle of the third century, Pope Cornelius reports that Rome had “forty six priests, seven deacons, seven sub-deacons, forty-two acolytes, fifty-two exorcists, readers, and door-keepers, more than fifteen hundred widows and poor persons.” 259 We will not explain all of these minor orders in detail, but we should mention that the East typically recognized only two minor orders below the diaconate, sub-deacons and readers, although other offices were mentioned in Eastern documents.

In the West, hands were not imposed on those initiated into minor orders. But initiation for each minor order would include a specific outward sign. The arch-deacon was given a pitcher, a basin, and a towel. The sub-deacon was given an empty paten and chalice. The acolyte was given a candlestick, candle, and a pitcher to carry the wine. The exorcist was given the book in which exorcisms were written. Likewise, the reader was given the codex from which he would read. Lastly, the doorkeeper was given the keys to the church. The Eastern Churches did impose hands, and they also gave items to the minor-orders, but only after ordination.260

As for deaconesses, there seems to have been a minor order of sorts, sometimes referred to as ‘deaconess,’ that emerged and eventually disappeared. One of the primary functions of the deaconess was to assist during female baptisms for the sake of propriety. In Romans 16:1, St. Paul refers to Phoebe as a deaconess, but the word ‘deacon,’ and its feminine form, ‘deaconess,’ simply meant “minister.” In the same way that ‘presbyteros‘ sometimes referred to an old man, so the terms ‘deacon’ and ‘deaconess’ occasionally referred to one who ministered in the Church, and not necessarily to an actual order. ‘Deacon’ became a technical term for the diaconate early in the first century, but ‘deaconess’ was not a technical term during that time. The reason that ‘deacon’ is known to be a technical term is because of its wide and consistent use in early patristic literature and in 1 Timothy. 261 The term ‘deaconess’ appears much less frequently and less consistently than the term ‘deacon.’ It is clear that the deaconesses did not receive Holy Orders, although their initiation ritual was similar to deacons in the East. The Council of Nicaea, at canon 19, explicitly declared that deaconesses are to be counted among the laity. Later, the Council of Orange in 411 AD forbade the ordaining of women to the office of deaconess at all. The prevalence of deaconesses continued longer in the East than the West, but by the eleventh century the office appears to have disappeared completely. It should be noted that there was a minor order under the title of ‘widow.’ Both the office of deaconess and widow had strict age requirements of fifty or sixty years old, although in one case, which met with disapproval, a deaconess was initiated in her twenties.

g. A Refutation of Presbyterial Ordination

In the early Church only the bishop could ordain. 262 To state it more plainly, as Anglican scholar Charles Grueber points out, there is not one single instance of ordination by one presbyter to another in history, nor in any canon of any council, nor do we have any record of a Church father advocating it. 263 Proponents of presbyterial ordination often point to 1 Timothy 4:14 as evidence of Timothy being ordained by a presbyterial body.264 But this is not good evidence because the term ‘presbyteros,’ as we have argued above, was not yet a technical term; it simply meant elder. Furthermore, in 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul refers to Timothy’s ordination as by his own hand. So we know that at least one bishop had participated in his ordination, namely Paul. Thus, 1 Timothy 4:14 is not evidence for presbyterial ordination. 265

Another argument used by proponents of presbyterial ordination is St. Jerome’s explanation of ordination in Alexandria:

For even at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position, just as an army elects a general, or as deacons appoint one of themselves whom they know to be diligent and call him arch-deacon. For what function, excepting ordination, belongs to a bishop that does not also belong to a presbyter?266

The most obvious problem with using this as an example of presbyterial ordination is that it never uses the term “ordain;” rather it uses the term “elect” which is consistent with the monepiscopal ordination. Secondly, St. Jerome goes on, as shown in the quotation above, to state explicitly that bishops have the power of ordination and not presbyters. Furthermore, Cirlot has decisively refuted the opinion that Alexandrian presbyters ordained their own bishop. 267

h. Cardinals and Archbishops

The sacramental hierarchy received by the Church is: bishop – presybter – deacon, and this has not changed. The term ‘archbishop’ is given as an honorific title to the bishop of an archdiocese which is so named for its prestige or importance. The title archbishop does not indicate a higher position in the hierarchy than a bishop; there is no higher office than bishop. The pope himself, in terms of his sacramental ordination, is simply a bishop.; “pope” is not a fourth level of hierarchy. 268

Similarly, ‘cardinal’ is not a new order in the hierarchy. In late antiquity and up to the middle ages, this title could be applied to both priests and deacons. The cardinal bishops took on greater importance in 1059 when, at the decree of Nicholas II, they were given the duty of assisting in papal elections. The papal elections became exclusively their responsibility in 1179 by the Decretal of Alexander III, “Licet de vitandâ,” at the Third Lateran Council. All of this is a matter of Church discipline. 269

VII – Conclusion

This discussion of Holy Orders is the foundation for our next article on the critical topic of apostolic succession, and so it is important to summarize what we have shown here. We have argued first that the mission of the Church is to save souls, souls are saved by grace, and grace is received through the sacraments. Therefore the sacraments are integral to the mission of the Church. This sacramental mission is centered on Christ, who at His Incarnation invested the whole of creation with a new and sacred significance. He did so most visibly with the sacred mysteries of salvation. These mysteries, or sacraments, were entrusted to the Church, His Bride and Mystical Body. He hand-selected certain men to carry on the task of administering these sacraments, breathed on them the Holy Spirit, and sent them out to preach the gospel and to heal the sick.

We found that this sacramental hierarchy reflects the natural hierarchy of the cosmos and that neither hierarchy nor liturgy are “necessary evils.” Order is nothing but “the distribution which allots things equal and unequal, each to its own place.”270 Through Holy Orders the ordinand receives an indelible effect of grace. This initiation into the hierarchy is a good ordered towards the building up of the Church. We have given evidence that the hierarchical difference between the clergy and laity is not a corruption, but is the divinely ordained structure of the body of Christ.

We showed that there were various powers divided among the orders such that certain rights and powers were exclusive to one order. The bishops could ordain and presbyters could not. Priests, i.e., bishops and presbyters, could offer the sacrifice of mass, while deacons could not. We traced the development of the terminology and noted that the offices have always been distinct though the terminology had not always been precise.

An important section of this article is devoted to demonstrating the sacrificial nature of the priesthood. We showed that the Fathers understood the Eucharist as one and the same sacrifice of Calvary and that only bishops or presbyters could offer this sacrifice. We argued that the sacrificial language employed by the Fathers was not mere lip service, and that the Eucharist was inherently propitiatory. We next argued that the early Fathers spoke of Holy Orders in a way consistent with the Catholic definition of a sacrament and that there are many examples of the Fathers explicitly referring to it as such. We concluded that Christ indeed established a visible sacrificial priesthood by instituting the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Finally, in the discussion on the nature of Holy Orders, we argued the following. First, that the early ordination prayers and rituals confirmed the things we have been claiming regarding the nature of the priesthood. That is, the Church has always understood herself to be ordaining men in the manner of and to the offices described above. We also saw that only men were ordained, and that priestly celibacy has ancient roots in the early Church. We argued that presbyterial ordinations were unheard of in the early Church, and explained that the titles of archbishop and cardinal do not constitute additions to the apostolic three-tier hierarchy of the clergy. Historical evidence confirms that the Catholic hierarchy, as it has developed, is compatible with the early Church.

Christian communities that lack the monepiscopal hierarchy cannot support their divergence from ancient tradition either by the authority of the Church Fathers or even by the Scriptures. On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout the ages have been under the authority of particular Churches that preserve this apostolic foundation of Church hierarchy. Common to Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans, this hierarchy alone represents a coherent interpretation of the New Testament and early Church evidence. Our next article will argue that through the vehicle of apostolic succession, this sacramental hierarchy was passed on through the generations, and that whoever does not have it, is not united to the Church.

  1. Bryan Cross and Tom Brown argued that the Church is visible here, and Bryan Cross argued that a denial of Catholic ecclesiology amounts to ‘ecclesial deism’ here. []
  2. I.e., Christ’s mission is to save souls and redeem the world. []
  3. Cf. Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:5, 8. []
  4. The Westminster Confession of Faith says, “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word: by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened.” Westminster Confession of Faith [hereinafter WCF], ch. XIV, sec. 1. []
  5. To set the sacraments beside preaching in the Church’s mission does not deny the importance of preaching the gospel, nor does it deny the internal aspect of justifying faith. []
  6. CCC 1536 defines Holy Orders in this way: “Holy Orders is the sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time: thus it is the sacrament of apostolic ministry. It includes three degrees: episcopate, presbyterate, and diaconate.” []
  7. Augustine of Hippo, City of God, bk. 19, ch. 13. []
  8. See https://www.archives.nd.edu/cgi-bin/lookup.pl?stem=ordo []
  9. Cassell’s Latin-English Dictionary (1957) defines ordinatio as “a setting in order, arrangement.” Further on the etymology of “ordain” can be found https://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=ordain&searchmode=none. []
  10. Cf. https://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=priest&searchmode=none. []
  11. P.M. Gy, “Early Terminology of the Priesthood,” in The Sacrament of Holy Orders, Some Papers and Discussions Concerning Holy Orders at a Session of the Centre de Pastorale Liturgique [hereafter Holy Orders], p. 115 (1955). []
  12. Of course this word didn’t originally refer to the initiation rite of the Church, but through widespread and consistent reference to that idea, it became a technical reference to that rite. Originally the Greek word for baptism simply meant immersion or washing. []
  13. Acts 2:42, we can infer, is a reference to the Eucharist instead of the Lord’s Supper/Agape. And because of its occasion on Sunday, Acts 20:7 is a definite reference to the Eucharist. (The Lord’s Supper/Agape was a liturgical meal celebrated by early Christians. It is distinct from the Eucharist although it is not uncommon for some Christians to refer to the Eucharist as the Lord’s Supper.) In the Agape meal, bread was blessed but not consecrated as the Body of Christ. It was celebrated in the home on a Sunday evening. The Eucharist, on the other hand, was celebrated on Sunday morning and the bread was consecrated as the Body of Christ. []
  14. St. Paul uses ‘eucharistia‘ to refer to Thanksgiving for meat offered in the market – 1 Cor 10:30. For a discussion of the length of the technicalization, see Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, p. 79 (1945). []
  15. Quoted in A. Duval, O.P., “The Council of Trent and Holy Orders,” in Holy Orders, p. 246 (1955). []
  16. Christ is the center of God’s plan for mankind. Catechism of the Catholic Church [hereinafter CCC], para. 112. Christ is the center of the revealed mystery. CCC, para. 158. Christ is the key, center, purpose, and Master of all man’s history. CCC, para. 450. []
  17. See, e.g., Hebrews 3:1. []
  18. Mark 1:11. []
  19. Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, p. 56 (emphasis original). []
  20. Ibid., p. 55. An example of the Jewish prayer can be found at pages 52-53. []
  21. St. Athanasius On the Incarnation, sec. 54. []
  22. I use the Latin missio because of the ancient dismissal phrase of the Latin rite, Ite missa est (literally: “Go, it is the dismissal”), which has the same root word from whence we derive both “mission” and “mass.” The Church’s mission (missio) is the missa (mass). []
  23. Quoted in Jean Daniélou, “The Priestly Ministry in the Greek Fathers,” in Holy Orders, p. 119. []
  24. Quoted in Tixeront, p. 193 (emphasis added). []
  25. Romans 5:9. []
  26. Isaiah 53:5. []
  27. John 6:55-57. []
  28. These effects of the Incarnation should not be understood exclusively, that is, as excluding the necessity of Calvary. We are by no means commenting on the necessity of Calvary vis-à-vis the mystery of the Eucharist. []
  29. Cameron Mackenzie, The “Early” Luther on Priesthood of All Believers, Office of the Ministry, and Ordination, p. 2-3, available here. []
  30. A so-called ‘visible institution’ that does not have visible leadership is either invisible or it is not an institution. See Bryan Cross’s and Tom Brown’s article, Christ Founded a Visible Church, Called to Communion. []
  31. See St. Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:13-16. St. Paul calls himself the chief sinner and shows that in respect to sin nature, and being saved by grace, he is of the same status as the laity. If this is true of an Apostle, much more is it true of the non-apostolic clergy. But he does not indicate here, or anywhere else, that clergy and laity are of the same status in all respects. In fact, several Pauline passages clearly indicate a distinction between the clergy and laity. See below, section II.b. []
  32. 1 Corinthians 11:14 and Romans 1:20, respectively. []
  33. Proverbs 6:6. []
  34. Thomas Howard, Chance or the Dance? A Critique of Modern Secularism, pp. 12-13 (Ignatius, 1989). []
  35. To understand how and why the symbolism of nature is inherently meaningful and instructive, I recommend first, Dr. Peter Kreeft’s excerpt from “Women and the Priesthood” on ‘Sexual Symbolism’ which can be found online here, and my own article The Divine Metaphor. For a more thorough examination, see Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000). []
  36. Cf. Romans 1:20. []
  37. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II Q.93 a.3, available here. []
  38. Cameron Mackenzie uses this term (approvingly) to describe Luther’s doctrine on ordination. Cameron Mackenzie, The “Early” Luther on Priesthood of All Believers, Office of the Ministry, and Ordination, p. 8. However Luther’s view on Holy Orders may have changed throughout his lifetime is irrelevant to the current discussion. This is because he may have increased the importance and necessity of hierarchical order and hence lessened the authority of the congregation later on in his life, but these clergy invested with greater authority were still the same ones ordained by the authority of the congregations years before. Luther’s walls may have been better constructed than his foundation, but his foundation was still weak. []
  39. Ibid. []
  40. Ibid., p. 9. []
  41. The argument runs like this. 1. God’s plan for the clergy/laity distinction is good. 2. Any bad plan cannot be God’s plan. 3. Inequality is bad. 4. Therefore inequality between clergy and laity is not God’s plan. This argument is false because of 3. Inequality is not bad in itself, and ordered inequality is good. []
  42. Bryan Cross and Tom Brown argued for a visible Church in the article Christ Founded a Visible Church, Called to Communion. See also Bryan Cross, Why Protestantism has no Visible Church. []
  43. Bryan Cross, Ecclesial Deism. Deism is the belief that God created the world and left it to run its own course without intervention. Ecclesial Deism is the belief that God established the Church and did not guide it by the Holy Spirit, but rather left it to run its own course without intervention. See ibid.. []
  44. See, e.g., Francis A. Sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops, p. 21 (2001); Stephen Ray, Upon This Rock, pp. 37-38 at fn. 41 (1999). []
  45. The precise nature of the office and authority of these leaders will be discussed in more detail in . []
  46. See especially chs. 1 and 54. St. Ignatius of Antioch teaches this same doctrine about a decade later, “we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself,” and obedience to the bishop and the presbytery is necessary so that “you may in all respects be sanctified.” St. Ignatius to the Ephesians sec. 6 and sec. 2 respectively. []
  47. Tertullian The Prescription Against Heretics, sec. 32 (showing that he was ordained by St. Peter); Philippians 4:3 (showing that he labored with St. Paul); Eusebius Church History, 3.4.10. []
  48. St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, 44.4, quoted in William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. I, [21] p. 11. []
  49. St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, 44.1 quoted in William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. I, [21] p. 10-11 (emphasis added). Again, it may be claimed that the rightful clergy described in this passage are qualified by holiness, but such a claim is not supported by the text. If St. Clement held such a nominal view, then he would be directly undermining the fundamental purpose of his letter. Some in the Corinthian congregation were attempting to depose their clergy because they believed that those clergy were not fit for the office. It is absurd to suppose that St. Clement was saying, “You do not have the right to depose these leaders because no clergy who is fit for the office may be deposed.” St. Clement knows that the laypersons responsible for this sedition did not believe that the clergy were fit for the office. That was the point of his letter, to tell them that they did not have the right to do what they did. He did not argue that they misjudged, and that the clergy were actually fit for the office. Rather, he told them that they simply do not have the authority to make such a judgment. []
  50. 1 Clement 40-41 (emphasis added). []
  51. By using the phrase “the consent of the whole Church,” St. Clement was not merely referring to the consent of church-members everywhere, as opposed to the local church. He was appealing to the authority of the Church as Church. For example, the Jerusalem council of Acts 15 is rightly understood as an act of “the whole Church” because the highest leaders of the Church convened, and with their full authority, definitively bound the consciences of all Christians everywhere. There was no universal vote taken of the laity; neither do we have any precedent of such an occurrence in all of Church history. []
  52. Council of Illiberi Canon 51, trans. William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. I, [611aa], p. 257. []
  53. Council of Illiberi Canon 77, quoted in Denzinger, Sources of Catholic Dogma #52e, p. 25 (emphasis added). []
  54. The canons can be found online here: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3801.htm. []
  55. See Tixeront, pp. 52-54, for examples. See also Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 41.4-8. []
  56. See also St. Gregory of Nazianzus Orations, 2:4-5; 28:2. []
  57. Before the Fall, man’s lower powers were subject to his higher power of reason, and his power of reason was subject, by grace, to God’s will. []
  58. See John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.22-33. []
  59. The most incontrovertible difference is the bishop’s ability to ordain, which presbyters do not have, as will be shown below. []
  60. E. Schuerer has argued that the term ‘presbyter’ was not applied to the Elders of the Jewish synagogues of the dispersion until the end of the third century. Ehrhardt argues that the Gospels and Acts prove that it was used for first century Jewish Elders in Palestine. Arnold Ehrhardt, The Apostolic Succession in the First Two Centuries of the Church, p. 27 (1953); Ehrhardt cites E. Schuerer, Gesch. d. Jued. Volkes, 3rd ed., 3.39, ff. The word ‘presbyter,’ it seems, was especially associated with the Sanhedrin. This would have given it certain ecclesial undertones as it began to be used by the early Christians to describe their own ministers. []
  61. Exodus 24:1-2. []
  62. Luke 10:1. Some translations say seventy, others say seventy-two. []
  63. The Commentaries of Isho’dad of Merv, ed. and trans. by M. D. Gibson, p. 9. []
  64. Some modern scholars have arrived at some surprisingly erroneous answers to this question because they limited the definition of the word ‘bishop’ to its modern meaning. See, e.g., https://www.catholic-convert.com/documents/PeterInRome.doc. []
  65. It is possible that the Apostles ordained only bishops and that they instructed the bishops to ordain some men as mere presbyters, but that does not appear to be the case. Rather, it appears that the Apostles themselves appointed both bishops and presbyters while they were alive. For example, St. Peter seems to have ordained St. Clement of Rome as a presbyter, although it is possible that St. Clement was ordained as a bishop from the beginning. Most scholars believe that St. Clement was elevated to the episcopacy after St. Peter’s martyrdom in AD 62. Since two others, Sts. Linus and Anacletus, are known to have preceded St. Clement in the episcopate at Rome, it appears that he was originally a presbyter. See Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 32. Eusebius identifies St. Clement with Paul’s co-worker in Philippians 4:3. Church History, 3.4.10. The passage in Philippians does not prove that St. Clement was a presbyter (and not a bishop), but it is certainly consistent with this theory. []
  66. Cf. 1 Clement, ch. 42. []
  67. Concerning Judas, St. Peter says, “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘His office [bishoprick] let another take.’” (Acts 1:20 RSV); Acts 1:21-26 explains that Mathias was selected by lot to fulfill the ‘episcopate’ of Judas Iscariot. This demonstrates that there was an actual epsicopal ministry proper to each of the twelve. []
  68. See St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on Philippians, 1:1. []
  69. We have no direct evidence of this happening so we should conclude that if it ever did happen, it was only for a short amount of time, until a bishop could be appointed. []
  70. Petavius, Dissertat. Ecclesiastic., 1. I, cap. ii (ed. Vives, t. VII.). []
  71. See also Tixeront, p. 79. []
  72. Council of Nicaea (AD 325), canon 8, available at: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3801.htm. []
  73. This can be shown to be compatible with Catholic ecclesiology because even today there are certain situations that allow for multiple bishops to reside in a single city (though not as pastors over the same flock). For example, auxiliary bishops are sometimes ordained, and work alongside and in the same city with regular bishops. Also, certain Eastern Churches in communion with Rome, such as the Ukrainian Catholic Church, have their own bishops who reside within the physical diocesan jurisdiction of a Western bishop. These extraordinary provisions are seen as administrative or disciplinary exceptions. In no way do they conflict with the apostolic ‘one bishop per city’ rule. In the case of Jerusalem in the first century, St. James is known to be the bishop even while other Apostles, including St. Peter, were present. Acts 12:17; 15; 21:17-19; Josephus, Antiq., XX, ix, 1; Eusebius, Church History, 2.1, 23. Since we know that St. Peter, all things being equal, would be the chief, it shows that sometimes there were Apostles or bishops in cities alongside the present bishop of that city. In those cases, even Apostles conceded some authority or jurisdiction to the local bishop. How much more would authority be conceded to the single local bishop in cases of visits by ordinary bishops? Therefore, the existence of two bishops in one city in the first century is compatible with monepiscopacy. (The word ‘conceded’ is being used in the sense of a concession from one naturally or in some sense higher in authority. For example, Pope St. Anicetus conceded the administration of the Eucharist to St. Polycarp in Rome on one occasion. This is a concession because it was Pope St. Anicetus’s right to administer the Eucharist. In that sense, ‘concede’ presupposes a top-down hierarchy. In that same way, St. Peter appears to have conceded some authority to St. James in the city of Jerusalem.) []
  74. 1 Clement, one may object, does not clearly refer to a single bishop, but his epistle is consistent with a single resident bishop. The earliest records that are unambiguous about the episcopacy affirm the single resident bishop, e.g., St. Ignatius of Antioch. []
  75. Tixeront, p. 99. []
  76. See Acts 15:12-14; 21:18; Galatians 1:19; 2:12; Eusebius, Church History, 2.1.2. []
  77. An example of one such scholar is Francis Sullivan. See his book, From Apostles to Bishops, 2001. []
  78. Cf. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.29. For more on Calvin’s rejection of these epistles, see https://socrates58.blogspot.com/2009/06/john-calvins-rejection-of-epistles-of.html. []
  79. The Ignatian Epistles are Entirely Spurious. For a brief refutation of his work, see https://godfearin.blogspot.com/2008/05/were-letters-of-ignatius-forged.html. []
  80. The quotation is from Killen’s book cited above referring to the period during which he thinks the epistles were forged. St. John the Apostle is traditionally believed to have died around the end of the first century. []
  81. Tertullian says that the residential monepiscopacy of Asia Minor has St. John the Apostle as their “author.” Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.5. []
  82. St. Stephen, Ina de Gnos (251 AD), quoted in Denzinger, Sources of Catholic Dogma [hereafter Denzinger], #45, p. 22. []
  83. This view is not exclusive to Protestants nor do all Protestants hold it. For example, Catholic scholar Francis Sullivan adopts this view in his From Apostles to Bishops (2001). Even some Catholic scholars believe that Rome herself was governed by a body of presbyters until the middle of the second century. This erroneous opinion was refuted by David Albert Jones, O.P., in the British Journal “New Blackfriars,” 80 (No. 937) (March 1999), p. 128. Sullivan’s From Apostles to Bishops is, in part, an attempt at refuting Jones. Sullivan’s work was refuted by Oswaldo Sobrino, available at: https://www.catholic-convert.com/documents/PeterInRome.doc. []
  84. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.3. []
  85. Sobrino writes, “The mindset identified by Jones becomes most apparent in the critical literature consistently limiting the term ‘bishop’ to a quite narrow and anachronistic definition. Explicitly or implicitly, the scholars denying a first century episcopate will usually define the term ‘bishop’ as denoting ‘a solitary permanent resident church administrator for one city.’ Oswaldo Sobrino, Was Peter the First Bishop of Rome?, available at: https://www.catholic-convert.com/documents/PeterInRome.doc. []
  86. St. Peter is mentioned far more often than all the others, always first, and in a prominent role. See R.E. Aguirre’s guest post on Called to Communion, The Primacy of Peter According to the New Testament: and the Principle of Historical Fulfillment, available at: https://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/04/the-primacy-of-peter-according-to-the-new-testament-and-the-principle-of-historical-fulfillment/. St. John is referred to as the “beloved disciple” indicating a kind of honor even if not explicitly higher than others in rank. Sts. Peter, James, and John are often found in more intimate settings with Christ, and certain things, such as the Transfiguration, are revealed to them ahead of the others. []
  87. Mark 10:35-37. Jesus corrects Sts. John and James and uses this as an opportunity to teach them of the radically different way in which Christians are to achieve the “highest seats.” Notice, however, that He does not repudiate the idea of the existence of “highest seats.” In fact, He confirms that those seats exist and that they belong to someone. Mark 10:40. Jesus teaches them that the way to achieve greatness in the hierarchy of the kingdom is not in the expected manner, but He does not deny the hierarchical nature of the kingdom. He does not destroy the idea of visible hierarchy; He turns their expectation of how to advance in this hierarchy on its head: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Mark 10:43. []
  88. See Gregory Dix, Shape of the Liturgy; J. Gaudemet, “Holy Orders in Early Conciliar Legislation,” printed in Holy Orders, p. 191-192 (1955).; Tixeront, p. 86-87. []
  89. St. Ignatius of Antioch shows that in the early second century, presbyters were able to consecrate the Eucharist only by delegation from their bishop: To the Smyrnaeans, 8. []
  90. J. Gaudemet, “Holy Orders in Early Conciliar Legislation,” printed in Holy Orders, p. 191-192 (1955).; Tixeront, p. 84-87. In these citations, Tixeront and Guademet argue that the right to preach was generally reserved to the bishop at least through the first century. Harnack and Hatch disagree with them on this point. []
  91. Anglican scholar Charles S. Grueber, Holy Order, a Catechism [hereinafter Grueber], p. 61-64 (1883). []
  92. St. Jerome, Commentary on Titus, 1:5. []
  93. In his Letter to Evangelus, St. Jerome asks, “For what function, excepting ordination, belongs to a bishop that does not also belong to a presbyter?”; St. Jerome, Commentary on Titus, 1:5. []
  94. In saying “we must maintain,” I mean that for Catholics, it must be accepted de fide irrespective of one’s opinion of history, because it was defined at Trent. Council of Trent, sess. XXVIII, canon 6. However, as we are arguing in this article, this solution is fully compatible with the evidence, and in fact, the evidence points to some such conclusion. The contrary (modern) theory of episcopal development is not well supported by the evidence, as we have argued. It is also conceivable that the Apostles did not divide the office themselves, but rather instructed those whom they ordained to do so. Both theories (that the Apostles divided it themselves, and that they instructed their successors to do so) are compatible with the monepiscopacy, but the evidence appears to indicate that the former is more likely to be the case. []
  95. Acts 6:1-6. []
  96. St. Peter seems to have ordained St. Clement of Rome as a presbyter, although it is possible that St. Clement was ordained as a bishop from the beginning. Most scholars believe that St. Clement was elevated to the episcopacy after St. Peter’s martyrdom in AD 62. Since two others, Sts. Linus and Anacletus, are known to have preceded him in the episcopate at Rome, it appears that he was originally a presbyter. See Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 32. Eusebius identifies St. Clement with St. Paul’s co-worker in Philippians 4:3. Church History, 3.4.10. The passage in Philippians does not prove that St. Clement was a presbyter (and not a bishop), but it is certainly consistent with this theory. []
  97. Council of Trent, sess. XXVIII, canon 6. []
  98. A similar model, proposed by Dr. Kirk, is examined by Arnold Ehrhardt in The Apostolic Succession in the First Two Centuries of the Church, p. 12-15 (1953). []
  99. See “Jerome on the Tri-fold Ministry,” https://wellofquestions.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/jerome-on-the-tri-fold-ministry/. []
  100. John Zizioulas, Eucharist Bishop Church (2001), especially. p. 87 (stating the main thesis of his book). []
  101. St. Ignatius of Antioch, to the Philadelphians, 4. []
  102. Cf. especially the epistles of St. Ignatius, and of St. Cyprian, De Unitate. []
  103. Cf. the canons of the Council of Nicaea for a starting point. []
  104. Council of Orange (441), canon 10. []
  105. Councils of Carthage, (390), canon 3; (397), canon 36; Codex Ecclesiae Africanae, canon 6; Council of Toledo (400), canon 20. []
  106. In Epistola ad Gallos episcopos, canon 7. []
  107. Harnack and Hatch disagree with this point, at least concerning the apostolic age, while Tixeront concurs with Gaudemet. Tixeront, p. 84-87. []
  108. J. Gaudemet, “Holy Orders in Early Conciliar Legislation,” printed in Holy Orders, p. 191-192 (1955) (all but fourth footnote original). []
  109. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.28. []
  110. St. Cyprian of Carthage On the Lapsed 26; he is referring explicitly to the Eucharist. []
  111. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures: On the Mysteries, v.8. []
  112. Compare, e.g., Matthew 6:19-20 to Sirach 29:11; Matthew 7:12 to Tobit 4:15; Matthew 7:16, 20 to Sirach 27:6. []
  113. Hebrews 7:14. []
  114. J. Schmitt, “Jewish Priesthood and Christian Hierarchy in the Early Palestinian Communities,” in Holy Orders, p. 61 (1955). []
  115. St. Hegesippus holds this opinion in the middle of the second century as is made clear from his text preserved (approvingly) by Eusebius in Church History, 2.23.4-6. See also Exodus 28:41-43. I owe this point to patristic scholar Mike Aquilina. See Mike Aquilina, The Mass of the Early Christians, p. 23 (2001). []
  116. J. Schmitt, “Jewish Priesthood and Christian Hierarchy in the Early Palestinian Communities,” in Holy Orders, p. 65, 67 (1955). See also B. E. Thiering, “Mebaqqer and Episkopos in the Light of the Temple Scroll” (1981), available at: https://www.jstor.org/pss/3265535. Michael Giesler also points out that early Christian clerical celibacy may have been influenced by the celibacy practiced among the Essenes. Michael Giesler, “Celibacy in the First Two Centuries,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, p. 26 (Jan. 2009). Schmitt also finds evidence in the New Testament, especially in Hebrews, that the first century Church experienced a merging of convert priests from both the Reformist movements (e.g., the Essenes), and the temple cult. J. Schmitt, “Jewish Priesthood and Christian Hierarchy in the Early Palestinian Communities,” in Holy Orders, pg 70-71. These converted priests would have carried ecclesial themes, clerical structures, and theological concepts with them into the Church. []
  117. P. M. Gy observes that the Francs were using it less frequently than the Romans in the eighth century, for example. P. M. Gy, “Early Terminology of Priesthood,” in Holy Orders, p. 108 (1955). []
  118. J. Danielou, “The Priestly Ministry,” in Holy Orders, p. 121 (1955). At this point Danielou cites Oscar Cullmann, Peter: Disciple – Apostle – Martyr (S.C.M., 1953). []
  119. Origen, On Prayer, 18. []
  120. Cf. Tixeront, p. 7-15 (containing plenty of references to the book of Hebrews and to the Church fathers); CCC 941, 970, 1121, 1268, 1279, 1545, 1548 (“Christ is the source of all priesthood”), 1554, 1565, 1589, 1591. []
  121. J. Lecuyer, “The Mystery of Pentecost and the Apostolic Mission of the Church,” in Holy Orders, p. 151 (1955). []
  122. Tixeront, p. 16-17. []
  123. It was “as the Father sent Me” that Jesus sent out His disciples. John 20:21. In other words, Christ ‘ordained’ His Apostles and commissioned them as priests in the same way that He was commissioned or ‘ordained.’ The Apostles were ‘ordained’ as priests by Jesus sending them; so too Jesus was ‘ordained’ by being sent from the Father. []
  124. Mark 1:11. []
  125. Matthew 5:17. []
  126. A. Gelin, “The Priesthood of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” in Holy Orders, p. 43 (1955). []
  127. For more evidence that St. Paul believes himself to belong to a ministerial priesthood, see Taylor Marshall’s podcast, “Was Paul a Catholic Priest,” available at: https://pauliscatholic.com/2009/07/episode-9-was-paul-a-catholic-priest/. []
  128. Arnold Ehrhardt, The Apostolic Succession in the First Two Centuries of the Church, p. 28 (1953). []
  129. For more, see P. Idiart, “The Priest, Pagan and Christian” (sec. 2 – “Christ the Priest, Sole Archetype of All Ritual Priesthood”), in Holy Orders, p. 268-291 (1955). []
  130. Hebrews 7:11-17. []
  131. Tixeront, p. 5-6 (citing biblical passages). See Genesis 8:20 for evidence of Noah’s priesthood, and Exodus 3:1 for an introduction of Jethro as priest of Midian. []
  132. E.g., 2 Samuel 24:25. []
  133. The Council of Trent declares that the ordination of the Apostles occurred at the Last Supper. Sess. XXII, De Sacrif. Missae, cap. I, and canon 2, V. supra., p. 33. []
  134. Mark 3:13-15. Note that some manuscripts omit “designating them Apostles,” but Luke 6:12-13 proves that whether or not the phrase was originally included in Mark, the concept is biblical. []
  135. Hebrews 7:12. []
  136. Matthew 5:17. []
  137. Hebrews 7:11, 17-28; 8:6-7, 13; 9:15. See also CCC 1541. []
  138. See N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, esp. pp.451-454 (1996). []
  139. Cf. CCC 1565. []
  140. Luke 22:19. []
  141. Luke 22:29-30. []
  142. Mark 2:17. []
  143. St. Ignatius, To the Ephesians, 20:2. []
  144. John Calvin also agrees that this passage signifies ordination (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.29), but disagrees that the Holy Spirit was given for expiation of sins (Ibid., 4.19.28). The passage in question is John 20:21-23. []
  145. See Dom Botte, “Holy Orders in the Ordination Prayers,” in Holy Orders (1955). Trent condemned those who deny that the Holy Spirit is given in ordination. Sess. XXIII, canon 4. []
  146. St. John Chrysostom, In Joan., Homil., 87 (al. 86), 3 (P.G. 59, 471), quoted in J. Lecuyer, “The Mystery of Pentecost and the Apostolic Mission of the Church,” in Holy Orders, p. 136 (1955). []
  147. Matthew 16:18-19; 18:18. Note that the “you” related to the keys is singular in Matt 16:19, giving the keys to St. Peter alone, but is plural in the second part of verse 19, giving the power to “bind and loose” to all of the Apostles. Tertullian, for example, links these passages together, namely the authority to forgive sins with the binding and losing and St. Peter as the rock on which Christ built the Church. See Tertullian, On Modesty, 21. []
  148. Francis A. Sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops, p. 21 (2001); Stephen Ray, Upon This Rock, p. 37-38 fn. 41 (1999). []
  149. St. Irenaeus, for example, links Pentecost (as an ordination of sorts) with the commission of preaching the gospel. Against Heresies, 3.1.1. The earliest ordination prayer for bishops that we possess clearly links ordination with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and with the founding of the Church. This aspect of the ordination prayer is a direct reference to the sign of Pentecost. The prayer reads: “pour out upon him the power which is from you, the princely Spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son Jesus Christ, which he gave to your holy Apostles, who founded the Church in every place as your sanctuary, for the glory and endless praise of your name.” St. Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition, 3.3. For a fuller discussion of the link between Pentecost and Ordination in the early Church fathers, see J. Lecuyer, “The Mystery of Pentecost and the Apostolic Mission of the Church,” in Holy Orders, p. 131-167 (1955). []
  150. Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:23. []
  151. Acts 2:38. []
  152. St. John Chrysostom, In Matthaeum, Hom. I,1: PG 57,15, cited in Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (1993). []
  153. As quoted in J. Lecuyer, “Pentecost and the Mission of the Church,” in Holy Orders, p. 141 (1955). []
  154. Leviticus 10:11 shows that the old priesthood was entrusted to teach the Law to Israel. []
  155. Mark 1:38. []
  156. Mark 1:14. []
  157. Acts 2:14-36. []
  158. “Sealed by the sign of the Holy Spirit” is a reference to God’s mark of approval as a king gives his mark of authority (e.g. King Xerxes in Esther 3:12). Cf. Ephesians 4:30. []
  159. Mark 1:8. []
  160. The bishop/presbyter distinction was universally recognized by the early second century. The earliest written evidence of the terms ‘hiereus‘/’sacerdos‘ applied to a bishop is the late second century. This usage became universal by the late third century. Trinitarian language was not universally consistent with today’s language until I Constantinople in 381 AD. []
  161. In addition to the quotations below, see Tertullian, Prescription Against Heresies, 41 (accusing the heretics of giving the duties of the priesthood to a layperson); On Exhortation to Chastity, 7. For more quotations, see: https://www.catholic.com/library/Sacrifice_of_the_Mass.asp. []
  162. Didache 14:1-5. (Lightfoot’s translation) []
  163. 1 Clement 44, quoted in William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. I, [21], p. 11. John Keith has translated the term as “duties” instead of Sacrifices. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 9 (1896). The text literally means, “presented the offerings” according to this translation: https://www.earlychurchtexts.com/main/clementofrom/ministry.shtml (fn. 16). Sacrifice is a much more faithful rendering of “presented the offerings” than is the ambiguous “duties.” In fact, stripping the meaning of the word and reducing it to “duties” shows a clear Protestant (non-sacrificial) bias. []
  164. Malachi 1:10–11. []
  165. St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 41, quoted in William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. I, [41], p. 60. St. Irenaeus also calls the Eucharist a sacrifice and identifies it with Malachi’s prophecy. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.17.5. []
  166. St. Cyprian, On the Lapsed, 26. []
  167. St. Augustine, City of God, 22.8. Later in the same work he refers to the “sacrificing priest.” Id., 22:10. []
  168. St. John Chrysostom, Sac; P.G. 48, 642, quoted in J. Danielou, “The Priestly Ministry,” in Holy Orders, p. 126 (1999). []
  169. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.28. []
  170. St. Augustine, City of God, 20:10. []
  171. See Protestant scholar J. N. D. Kelly and his study on the Greek term ‘νάμνησις’: Early Christian Doctrines, pp. 196–197 (1958). []
  172. Harnack says, “What we nowadays understand by “symbol” is a thing which is not that which it represents; at that time [i.e., antiquity] “symbol” denoted a thing which in some kind of way really is what it signifies.” History of Dogma, I. p. 397 (1988). The Fathers clearly teach the Real Presence of Christ, that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. Harnack’s explanation of the ancient understanding of what it means to be a symbol explains how the Fathers could believe that the Eucharist was truly the Body and Blood of Christ and also a symbol. However, the Eucharist is real in a way that other “symbolic” things are not (this is understood now and in antiquity). The point here is not to defend the doctrine of Transubstantiation, but only to show the weakness of the argument that denies the reality of the sacrifice of the Eucharist by relegating the mystery to symbolism. Since the modern mind apprehends ’symbolism’ to mean that something is not real, whereas the ancient mind did not, this argument is weak. That is, the patristic use of the word ’symbol’ in reference to the Sacrament does not connote what the modern use of the term ’symbol’ connotes to us. And because of this the patristic use of the term ’symbol’ to refer to the Eucharist does not imply that the Fathers thought of the Eucharist as “merely symbolic” à la Zwingli. []
  173. Cf. St. Epiphanius, The Man Well Anchored 57 []
  174. Cf. St. Ignatius, to the Ephesians, 20:2. See Protestant scholar Allister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, p. 426 (1993). []
  175. Cf. Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10. See those verses especially in the KJV as evidence that the sacrifice of Calvary was propitiatory. []
  176. St. Ambrose of Milan, On Twelve Psalms, 38.25, quoted in William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. II, [1260], p. 150. []
  177. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures: On the Mysteries, v.8. []
  178. St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on First Corinthians, 24:2. []
  179. Origen, Commentary on Romans, 10:2. []
  180. Origen Homiliae in Jos. 2:1, quoted in J. Danielou, “The Priestly Ministry,” in Holy Orders, p. 123 (1955). []
  181. Origen, On Prayer, 18. []
  182. St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letters, 63:14. []
  183. St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 8:8. See also Homilies on First Corinthians, 24:1(3), 2; Homilies on Hebrews, 17:3(6). []
  184. That is, it assumes that if something is not found in Scripture, then the Church doesn’t need to believe or teach it. []
  185. E.g., Revelation 5:8. []
  186. Romans 15:16. []
  187. P. M. Gy, “Early Terminology of the Priesthood,” in Holy Orders, p. 115 (1955). []
  188. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.3, quoting St. Augustine, De Doct. Christ., Lib. 3 cap. 9. The Westminster Confession of Faith also denies Holy Orders as a sacrament. WCF, 27.4. ) []
  189. St. Augustine, Letter 54 to Januarius, 1.1. []
  190. Tixeront, p. 254. []
  191. Cameron Mackenzie, The “Early” Luther on Priesthood of All Believers, Office of the Ministry, and Ordination, p. 11. []
  192. Ibid., p. 16. []
  193. Ibid., p. 11 []
  194. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.3.15 []
  195. Acts 6:1-6. []
  196. Grueber, p. 53. See also the first footnote under section VI.g. []
  197. CCC, 1131. []
  198. Allister McGrath, Christian Theology: an Introduction, p. 426 (1993). That this doctrine can be traced back to the second century shows that sacramental efficacy did not originate with Sts. Ambrose and Augustine but rather was expounded with greater clarity by them. Sacramental efficacy is also taught by the New Testament, but it is not our purpose to demonstrate that here. []
  199. E.g., St. Cyprian of Carthage says that in the sacraments “divine benefits” are bestowed and that believers “receive the Lord’s grace.” Epistle to Magnus, 12. []
  200. St. Augustine, Against Parmenianus, 2.28-30 []
  201. Section II.b; IV.d []
  202. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Sup. 34.3. []
  203. E.g., Henry of Suso calls it a sacrament in 1271. G. Fransen, “The Tradition in Medieval Canon Law,” in Holy Orders, p. 204 (1955). The Catholic Encyclopedia says that the same number of sacraments (as Trent) were reached: “in the Decree for the Armenians by the Council of Florence (1439), in the Profession of Faith of Michael Palaelogus, offered to Gregory X in the Council of Lyons (1274) and in the council held at London, in 1237, under Otto, legate of the Holy See.” Catholic Encyclopedia, “Sacraments”, available at: https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13295a.htm. []
  204. See supra, sections II.b and IV.d. []
  205. For a discussion on grace conferred by ordination, see Tixeront, p. 245-248 (1928). []
  206. Dom Botte, “Holy Orders in the Ordination Prayers,” in Holy Orders, p. 21-22 (1955). []
  207. St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 68, ch.1, 10. []
  208. St. Augustine, Against the Letter of Parmenian, 2.14.28, quoted in Williams Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. III, [1617], p. 64. []
  209. St. Augustine, Commentary on the Psalms, 73.2, quoted in William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. III, [1475], p. 19. []
  210. St. Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, 24:32, in NPNF1, III:412. []
  211. St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Baptism of Christ. []
  212. St. John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood, 3.4. []
  213. St. Basil the Great, To Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium, quoted in William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. II, [919], p. 6. []
  214. Pope St. Leo I, Epist. ad Dioscor Alexand., c. 1. []
  215. Anastasius II, Epist. ad Anastas. August.. []
  216. Pope St. Gregory I, Lib. 4, Exposit. Reg., c. 5. []
  217. Richard Baxter, Confirmation and Restoration, p. 88-90. Anglican scholar Charles Grueber claims that Luther, Chemnitz, and Antonio de Dominis were among the early Protestants who rejected Holy Orders as a sacrament and that Melancthon and Baxter were among those who retained it as a sacrament. Grueber 1883, pg 84-86 []
  218. These four points are taken from Dom Botte, “Holy Orders in the Ordination Prayers,” in Holy Orders, p. 20-22 (1955). []
  219. Cf. St. Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 68, ch.1. []
  220. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.3.10-11. []
  221. J. Lecuyer, – in the discussion following Dom Botte’s “Holy Orders in the Ordination Prayers,” found in Holy Orders, p. 24 (1955). []
  222. Dom Botte, “Holy Orders in the Ordination Prayers,” in Holy Orders, p. 21 (1955) (emphasis original). []
  223. Calvin did not believe, however, that a validly ordained bishop (according to the Catholic definition) was necessarily a part of that call. []
  224. E.g. Acts 6:3; 1 Timothy 3:1-3; Titus 1:6-8. []
  225. Cf.St. Hippolytus in The Apostolic Tradition, ch. 2 (“He who is ordained as a bishop, being chosen by all the people, must be irreproachable”). []
  226. From Apostolic times, baptism was only given once. Even in the case of men who had been baptized by heretics, when these men re-entered the Church, they were not re-baptized. []
  227. St. Augustine, Against the Letter of Parmenian, 2.14.28, quoted in William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, vol. III, [1617], p. 64. []
  228. See Augsburg Confession, 8; WCF, 27.3. []
  229. J. Gaudemet, “Holy Orders in Early Conciliar Legislation (IVth and Vth centuries),” in Holy Orders, p. 185-186 (1955). []
  230. cf. the dispute between Origen and his rightful bishop, Demetrius, over his ordination in Palestine by other bishops []
  231. Grueber, p. 51-53. []
  232. J. Gaudemet, “Holy Orders in Early Conciliar Legislation (IVth and Vth centuries),” in Holy Orders, p. 190 (1955). []
  233. Ibid., p. 185-186. A brief defense: first, Paul’s prohibition of women speaking in Church must be understood liturgically rather than exhaustively. (1 Timothy 2:12. The argument that this prohibition was against a certain group of women who were causing a stir is entirely ad hoc. ) Secondly, the argument that Jesus’s choice of a male-only priesthood was a concession to social convention is untenable given that the Judeo-Christian priesthood was an anomaly among antiquity and not a submission to its norms. The pagan religions routinely, and sometimes exclusively, employed priestesses in service of the altars. In this respect, Judeo-Christianity was unique in contradistinction from the pagan cults. In Judeo-Christianity, God is represented as male, as someone other than the universe, as one who creates, bestows, and gives, rather than as one who receives. Now a sacrament is a sign, and a sign is not a sign at all if it does not signify. Jesus chose water for baptism because it represents cleansing. He did not choose mud because mud would not signify cleansing and would be ineffectual as a sign; thus it wouldn’t be a sign at all. Likewise, the priest is a sign of Christ, and in the Ignatian epistles, a sign of God the Father. A woman would be an ineffectual sign of either of these. Thus a priestess would not be a sign, and thus not a sacrament. ( For further reading, I recommend this article, an excerpt from Dr. Peter Kreeft’s “Women and the Priesthood” on “Sexual Symbolism,” available at: https://catholiceducation.org/articles/apologetics/ap0206.htm. ) There is no evidence that the Church ever ordained women. Deaconesses will be treated below. The patristic evidence against ordination of priestesses, on the other hand, is strong. (Cf. Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heresies, 41; On Veiling Virgins 9.1; Origen, in a Fragment of his commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:34, says “it is shameful for a woman to speak in Church”; St. Epiphanius, Against Heresies, 49. 2-3, 79. 304; St. John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood, 2.2, 3.9; St. Augustine, On Heresies, 27. ) []
  234. Tixeront, p. 332-333. Giesler finds the same, “Celibacy in the First Two Centuries,” in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, p. 42 (Jan. 2009), citing Stefan Heid, Celibacy in the Early Church (2000). See also Christian Cochini, Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy (1990). []
  235. Cf. Council of Trullo (692), canon 48. The Council of Elvira (early fourth century) permitted clergy to put away their wives (canon 33); this canon was rejected by the Second Council of Nicaea. []
  236. Tixeront, p. 337-338. Grueber confirms this view. Grueber, p. 33-34. The Council of Ancyra in AD 314 permitted deacons who could not live in celibacy to remarry after ordination with permission from their bishop. The Fathers have consistently read St. Paul’s restrictions on clerics having multiple wives (1 Timothy 3:2, 3:12; Titus 1:6) as the apostolic prohibition against remarriage for clerics. See also Christian Cochini, Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy (1990). []
  237. Tixeront, p. 338. []
  238. Grueber places the origin of the rule of celibacy in the West at the decretal of Siricius in AD 385 (confirmed by Pope St. Leo I in AD 405 ), Grueber, p. 32. []
  239. Tixeront, p. 341. []
  240. 1 Timothy 3:2, 3:12; Titus 1:6. []
  241. Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7. []
  242. Grueber, p. 197-201. For the Old Testament types, see Exodus 29; Leviticus 8; Numbers 27; and Deuteronomy 39. []
  243. Grueber, p. 201-202. []
  244. The people were consulted, but strictly speaking election and certainly ordination belonged exclusively to the bishops. See Tixeront, p. 310. St. Cyprian always consulted the people and the clergy before ordaining. Ibid., p. 304-305. Grueber, p. 3-5, discusses the same, namely that election preceded ordination in accordance with the biblical model of Acts 6:1-6. He also notes that the word originally used for ‘ordination’ or imposition of hands was the Greek ‘keirotonia,’ which also meant “election.” []
  245. The three-bishop rule is of apostolic origin. See Tixeront, p. 207; Council of Nicaea, canon 4. The Council of Carthage in 398 (canon 22) prohibited the election of a bishop without the consent of the provincial bishops, the metropolitan, the clergy, and the laity. This rule remains in effect for the Catholic Church today excepting special dispensation from the Pope (Canon Law: 1014), available at: https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P3O.HTM. []
  246. The prayer is from The Apostolic Tradition by St. Hippolytus, which was reconstructed by Bernard Botte and Gregory Dix. This text is taken from an English translation by Kevin Edgecomb and can be found online at: https://www.bombaxo.com/hippolytus.html. Botte summarizes the prayer as follows: “God is asked to shed upon the elect the sovereign Spirit, spiritum principalem, which he gave, through Christ, to his Apostles who established the Church in the place of the temple to the honour of his name. The prayer goes on to indicate what the bishop must do: feed the holy flock (a biblical image recalling John 21, 15-17 and I Peter 3, 2); exercise the sovereign priesthood by serving God night and day; make propitious, and offer the gifts of holy Church; remit sins, dispense the portions, and loose all bonds by virtue of the power given to the Apostles.” ( Dom Botte, “Holy Orders in the Ordination Prayers,” in Holy Orders, p. 6 (1955). ) []
  247. Ibid., p. 10. []
  248. See the Gregorian Sacramentary. []
  249. Grueber, p. 183. []
  250. A ‘paten’ is a plate used in the liturgy on which the bread to be consecrated is placed. The ‘chalice’ is the cup which holds the wine for consecration. []
  251. Grueber, p. 69. Zizioulas maintains that initially they were all bishops. Zizioulas, Eucharist Bishop Church, p. 159-160 (2001). []
  252. Synod of Antioch (AD 341), canon 10. []
  253. See Tixeront, p. 106. []
  254. Some scholars, following the Council of Trullo in 691, canon 16, deny that the passage in Acts is referring to deacons. A discussion and rebuttal of this opinion can be found in Tixeront, p. 106-107. []
  255. The diaconate was especially powerful at Rome. []
  256. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 65. He makes no mention of bishops or presbyters distributing communion. See also St. Ignatius, Letter to the Trallians, 2. []
  257. Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, p. 135-13 (1945); J. Gaudemet, “Holy Orders in Early Conciliar Legislation,” in Holy Orders, p. 194 (1955). The Council of Arles (AD 314) forbade deacons to distribute holy communion when priests were present. Canon 15. []
  258. Grueber gives reasons why the minor orders are not among the sacraments. Grueber, p. 146-148. The prominent reasons he lists are the disagreement on the number of minor orders between East and West, the fact that they are not mentioned in Scripture, and the fact that imposition of hands is not used in the West. []
  259. Eusebius, Church History, 6.43. []
  260. Grueber, p. 149-150. []
  261. Recall that the term ‘deacon’ is not actually used in Acts 6:1-6 where the seven are ordained in Jerusalem. St. Paul’s reference to deacons in Philippians 1:1 could easily be read as a generic, non-technical term. But his references in 1 Timothy are technical in nature. 1 Timothy 3:8, 10, 12. []
  262. See Felix Cirlot, Apostolic Succession — Is It True? (1948); Grueber, p. 53. This practice is universal from the apostolic age and in Scripture. For a patristic example, see St. Athanasius, Apology Against the Arians, 76. The term ‘maiores natu‘ found in the letter of Firmilian of Caesarea to St. Cyprian of Carthage is [misleadingly] translated as ‘presbyters.’ Jurgens argues that the term should be understood as bishops. The Faith of the Early Fathers vol. I, pp. 245-246. []
  263. Grueber, p. 61-64. []
  264. In the modern Latin rite, all presbyters present lay hands on the ordinand after the bishop has ordained him. Paul could be referring to such a laying on of hands by the presbytery. As mentioned, presbyters who were present would lay hands on the ordinand during ordination in the cases of other presbyters, but not with bishops or deacons. We have no evidence whatsoever that presbyters (that is, simple priests) were involved in Timothy’s ordination. []
  265. For a more complete rebuttal, see here: https://energeticprocession.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/apostolic-succession-2-presbyterian-ordination/. []
  266. St. Jerome, Letter to Evangelus. []
  267. Felix Cirlot, Apostolic Succession – Is It True?, p. 373-374 (1948). See also “Jerome on the Tri-fold Ministry,” https://wellofquestions.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/jerome-on-the-tri-fold-ministry/ for a helpful summary (look towards the end). []
  268. It is worth mentioning here that the authority of the bishops authority received from the Apostles, handed on to them through Holy Orders, and not delegated from the pope. However, the teaching authority of any bishop is by virtue of his participation in the keys held by the episcopal successor of St. Peter. Also, when it is stated that there is no “fourth level of hierarchy,” that is to be understood structurally. There are certain bishops that have authority over other bishops and this dates back to the early Church. This can be shown in the case of metropolitans, for example, without even addressing the question of the papacy. []
  269. An explanation of discipline can be found here: https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05030a.htm. An explanation on dogma can be found here: https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05089a.htm. []
  270. St. Augustine, City of God, 19.13. []