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date: 28 March 2017

Ordination: A Catholic Ecclesiological Approach

Summary and Keywords

Several important works on the history and theology of ordination have been published in the English-speaking world, among the most recent of which is one by Dr. Paul F. Bradshaw.1 The questions touching on ministry are absolutely essential for the resolution of questions regarding the unity of the church. The mutual recognition of ministry among communities is fundamental if they are to recognize one another as authentic apostolic churches. Although ministry is not the only question for the apostolicity of the church, it is a fundamental one, given that ordination rituals articulate an effective structuring, as well as an auto-definition, of a church. This fact begs, therefore, an exploration of the theological meaning of the “process of ordination” as a whole, as well as careful consideration of the content of the ritual and prayers. The attempt to recognize theological equilibria, which are articulated through the relation of the lex orandi, lex credendi, and the Trinitarian dimension of the process of access to the ordained ministry, leads to an understanding of the originality of the ordained ministry in the context of a plurality of ministries in a church that is itself fully ministerial. Finally, the importance of ordination resides in the fact that it is a process that represents, in a demonstrative way, the structuring of each church, because the process is not only an ecclesial act but also a confessional, epicletic, and juridical one.

Keywords: baptism and ordination, St. Augustine, the Episcopate, the Diaconate, women’s ordination, Lutheran revisions, Anglican and Methodist revisions

Ordination and the Ministerial Nature of the Church

At the outset, it is important to situate the question of the relationship between ordination and ministry. The first initiation into the ministerial nature of the church occurs with Christian initiation, which in all Christian churches comprises baptism. Through the waters of baptism, one is united with Christ and with his people (BEM 2). The task entrusted by Christ to his church is to build up the kingdom of justice and peace through the concrete living of the gospel. This is seen as the mission of the church, and baptism inaugurates each one into this mission. The mystical Body of Christ, namely the church, is therefore a ministerial reality into which each baptized person is born. If baptism thus initiates new members, what is ordination? The answer to this question is important for our understanding of exactly what ordination is and how it relates to the structuring of the church.

Baptism and Ordination

While ordination is not considered by all churches and ecclesial communions to be a sacrament in the same way that baptism and the Eucharist are considered to be sacraments, it may be affirmed that all churches practice ordination in some form and manner. This fact helps us to see the relationship between baptism and ordination. If the whole church is considered to be ministerial in the sense that all the baptized are involved in the mission of the gospel project together, some among these have a particular role to play. This may be seen expressed explicitly in chapters 12 and 13 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Here Paul speaks about all the charisms, hence ministries in the church. He does so in relational terms.

These ministries are not to be seen in isolation of one from the other, rather they depend on the interdependence of the members in the Body of Christ. For Paul the bond that holds these together is charity. It is the Holy Spirit that creates this bond. Paul will say that an authentic charism is one that is related to other charisms in the Body of Christ.

The Orthodox theologian Metropolitan John Zizioulas has noted that the meaning of ordination needs to be taken from this context of the relationality of ministries or charisms in the Body of Christ. He states, “through ordination, the Church becomes the community which binds the world to God, and that is the essential meaning of mission. Mission is not a method of action (that is to say, a sending forth, a going outside of oneself, etc.), but an attitude stemming from the very nature of the Church.”2

This concept is likewise expressed by the German Lutheran canonist Hans Dombois, who expresses the notion of relation when speaking about church and law. He states that: “An encompassing interpretation of the dynamics of the relation [italics added] between the two realities has to be provided. We are looking at how God encounters humanity and how humanity encounters God, in order to form relations within our acts of worship and dealings with the Body of Christ …”3

In 2001 while the Church of England was revising its rites of ordination, Bishop David Stancliffe, then chairman of the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England, prepared a discussion paper on the question of ordination in which he stated a similar view. He wrote:

The ordination rite is primarily about giving shape or order to the life of the whole Church of God. That community of faith is called to continue the work of Christ: it is into his body that we are baptized. And the community of faith is not just called to reflect the nature and purpose of God: it is empowered by the Spirit to become God’s agent and instrument in bringing about that new creation, which is his will for all. It is Christ’s ministry that we share, and as Christ is the head of that body (Eph 4:15, 16), so the ordained ministry represents the ministry of Christ as Head of the Body.4

The idea of relations within the church is the driving force behind a sacramental understanding of ordination as it relates to baptism and reveals the structuring of the church based on a Trinitarian model of communion.

An Augustinian Idea

“While what I am to you fills me with fear, what I am with you consoles me. For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian. The first title is the title of a charge received, the second is a grace; the first is an indication of danger, the second of salvation.”5

According to this quote by St. Augustine in the early 5th century, we can understand the relationship between the sacrament of baptism and the sacrament of orders. Here St. Augustine expressed how the ordained ministry (here the episcopate) is a charge to the service of the grace of salvation received in baptism. The sacrament of baptism establishes the person as a believer, giving the believer the mission to bear witness to the good news to the ends of the earth. Through baptism the believer is grafted into Christ and into his priestly, prophetic, and kingly office.6 Baptism is the basis of all ministries, ordained and not, because it renders all believers capable to exercise the ministry of Jesus Christ. Through baptism the believer is justified by grace, receives a status of an adopted child, and becomes a joint heir with Christ in the kingdom of God. Christians are baptized into the Trinitarian communion, which is the divine life of God himself. All the baptized receive the responsibility to carry out this diaconal ministry of Christ in the world. For this reason, Augustine gives thanks.

But he received another charge that is a cause for fear. This charge is to be bishop for his co-Christians and then to be in a position “vis-à-vis,” “face-to-face” with them.

This approach allows one to see how the ordained ministry in its originality and in its threefold form is intended as a service to the building up of the church that is continuous, from its origins. It is at the same time the people of God, the Body of Christ, and Temple of the Holy Spirit. This Trinitarian structure is decisive for the synodal life and the place of ministers in communion.

The Testimony of the New Testament

One cannot conceive the ordained ministry in its threefold form without first considering the testimony about the New Testament ministers in general. This route is particularly necessary for the understanding of the originality of the ordained ministry in the context of the global ministry of God’s people.

The data read from the New Testament on the subject of ministers can be done in two ways: diachronic (according to internal developments in the New Testament) and synchronic (apart from its historical evolution). The purpose of looking at the New Testament is not to discover the history of the origins of the ministry or its form. The purpose is to discover what understanding of the ministry the New Testament deems necessary to keep alive the ecclesial community in its life and in its mission. In this context we must also remember that a relationship exists between ministry, church, and the kingdom of God.7 A diachronic reading of the New Testament may be divided into three stages: the public ministry of Jesus, the primitive community of Jerusalem, and the apostolic church.

The Disciples, the Twelve, Peter: The Public Ministry of Jesus8

The Disciples

In the Gospels we see Jesus, who forms a group of people known as “his disciples.” They are people who are part of those who want to follow Jesus by putting into practice the conversion of the heart and living the spirit of the beatitudes. They were never “members of the crowd” but always people who adhered to the evangelical teaching of Jesus. Twelve were chosen from this group of disciples (Luke 6:17; 10:1–24; Mark 3:13–16). The Twelve constitute the true “Israel of God” (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30). It is this group that Jesus intimately associates to his public ministry of proclaiming the kingdom of God and the gospel of liberation (Mark 1:14; 8:35; 10:29). The Twelve are called and sent by Jesus to bring together men and women in view of the building of the kingdom, to proclaim the message of conversion, to teach as did Jesus (Mark 1:21; 4:1–2; 6:2). All those who hear their word, hear Christ himself (Luke 10:16).

The Twelve

In the Synoptics the role of the Twelve is clearly eschatological. They represent the twelve tribes of the new Israel. Their role is not only to bring people into the Kingdom of God but also to be the judges of the end times (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30). They represent the ecclesial community as a whole.9

The Role of Peter

The role of Peter is seen emerging from the context of the Twelve. It is a pastoral role of witnessing (John 20:15–17). First of all, Peter must bear witness to the empty tomb, the resurrection of Christ the Savior. His service to the nascent community is precisely to nourish them by means of faith in the risen Christ. Although he denied the Master, the mandate to “confirm your brothers and sisters in the faith” (Luke 22:32) becomes part of his mission. We see that Peter becomes the spokesperson of the disciples (Matt. 15:26–33). According to the Acts of the Apostles, Peter stands out in the group of the Twelve for his mission (e.g., Acts 1:13–15; 5:12; 9:32–35; 15:7). Nevertheless, Peter is still seen in relation to the apostolic college as expressed by the phrase “Peter and those with him” (Mark 1:36; Luke 9:32; 8:45).

The Primitive Community of Jerusalem: Matthew, the Seven, the Flight to Pella


The group of the Twelve must maintain its eschatological significance, and therefore Peter asks that one of the senior disciples assume part of the ministry (diakonia; Acts 1:17) left empty after the death of Judas. The person chosen must receive his charge (episkopè; Acts 1:20). Matthew was designated by the prayer of the community to join the group of the Twelve. It could not be just any person, but one who has been with the disciples from the beginning of Jesus’s ministry and was a witness to his resurrection. In this way the service or role of the group could continue. The choice of Matthew must not be understood as a succession of a single apostle but rather represents an awareness of the eschatological significance of the Twelve in its fundamental mission for the new Israel.

The Seven

The election of the Seven (Acts 6:1–6) shows us how the church feels responsible for his mission and does not hesitate to do what is necessary to allow the Twelve to continue it. The interesting elements in this pericope are probably the presence of two groups of seven because a part of the community (the Hellenists) complained about the lack of someone to take care of their widows while the other part (the Jews) had already established it. We also find that at least one of this group of seven not only provides charitable service but is also engaged in preaching (i.e., Stephen). In this context, we see certain elements, such as the laying on of hands, an election by the community, and the presence of the gifts of the Spirit. Not all are ready to see in these elements an “ordination,” but at least we can observe that they are in relationship with one another in a church context.

Flight to Pella

After the destruction of the temple that forced the flight of the community to the other side of the river at Pella, we no longer have mention of the Twelve. From now on, the emerging church has to take control of her life in order to fulfill her mission.

The organization of the Apostolic Church

The Apostolic Church had three types of organization: apostles, prophets and teachers at Antioch; presbuteroi of the Judeo-Christian churches; episkopoi communities pagan-Christian

Apostles, Prophets, Teachers

The organization of churches differed according to each geographical and cultural area. For example, the Acts of the Apostles tells us not only of the prophets and teachers at Antioch (Acts 13:1), because there even Barnabas and Paul are found in mission as “apostles” (Acts 14:4–14). In this community, the apostle makes the foundation while the prophet actualizes it, making concrete the scriptures and pronouncing the prayer of thanksgiving that the doctor explains by interpreting the tradition received and at the same time making it conform to its original purity.

The Presbuteroi

The churches founded in the Judeo-Christian tradition (Jerusalem, Ephesus) had a structure organized around the elders, or presbuteroi. This form corresponded to the institution of the synagogue where a panel of wise and tried men led the community on a spiritual level (Titus 1:5–11) and material (Acts 15:11, 29f; cf. 1 Tim. 5:17).

The Episkopoi

The third type of organization is found in the pagan–Christian community. This development seems later in this period10 and demonstrates the fluidity of vocabulary in the New Testament since in Paul’s farewell discourse to the presbuteroi of Ephesus (Acts 20:17), he also refers to them as “episkopoi” (Acts 20:28). In any case, they have more or less the same function as the presbuteroi—a pastoral-administrative charge which includes that of teaching (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9) and of care for the church of God (1 Tim. 3:5). According to Jacques Dupont it was the presbyteral and/or episcopal function that preserved the integrity of the faith against gnostic threats:

Their responsibility [presbuteroi/episkopoi] assumes all of its gravity when the death of the apostles seem to give a free hand to all sorts of false prophets and false teachers: it is up to the leaders of each community to protect those who have been entrusted to them against the dangers of errors and deviations. The service which they owe to the church is the service to the Gospel: to maintain the Christian communities in fidelity to the faith preached and lived by the apostles.11

The diversity of terms used in the New Testament to express the reality of ministry is very rich and fluid. One thing is certain, the New Testament does not use a secular lexicon to describe the lay collaborators of the apostles and the content and the reality of the ministries—they choose a Christian word, namely diakonia. This demonstrates clearly that office in the church is primarily an institution of service. This does not mean that all the ministries in the church are reduced to one, but that the logic according to which the ministerial reality is conceived is “service-diakonia.” It is clear that all ministries are modeled after the example of Christ who came to serve and not to be served.

A Synchronic Reading

According to a synchronic reading of the data in the New Testament we see another reality—the ministries are located in the line of the gifts of the Spirit. St. Paul offers some lists of ministries and charisms: 1 Corinthians 12:8–11; 12:28–32; Romans 12 6–8; Ephesians 4:4–11. In these lists there is a correspondence between the various ministries and the activity of the Spirit. The only thing we may notice is that the order of the different ministries in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 is similar (apostles, prophets, and teachers). We can affirm the greater importance of these charisms for the community since they are given at the beginning of the list, asserting that the foundation of the church is Christ from whom the teaching and mission of the apostles is derived and that the prophets consolidate and the doctors conserve. There is a close bond with Christ but also with the Holy Spirit, who animates and guides the Church of Christ.

Since the Spirit establishes these ministries, they structure the church. As said in the letter to the Ephesians (4:11f), these gifts were given to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. In this way no opposition between charism and structure can be detected, but rather the foundation aspect of the charism.

The only authority that these ministries have is that of service (diakonia) based on the example of Christ who came to serve. This authority is that of Christ Himself (Luke 10:16) and is based on His Word.

No one is a minister “alone” but always in communion with others in the service of all.12 The importance of the lists of charisms and ministries is the fact that they focus not on the person of the minister but on the task (e.g., Eph. 4:7). It must be added, that these lists are not exhaustive but allow us to understand that the ministry covers many tasks, are derived from the power of the Spirit, and are for the profit of the common good of the life of faith and of the witness to the truth of a specific community in the world.

In the pastoral letters, the concept of “ordination” is already attested to even though the word itself does not appear. The ministry of Timothy is presented as a charism given by the laying on of hands accompanied by a prophetic prayer (1 Tim. 1:18; 4:14). Ordination in this context confers a ministry that is a charism, a gift of the Spirit given by God through the laying on of hands for the benefit of the community that it is intended to serve.13

Preliminary Summary

After this rapid overview of the testimony of the New Testament concerning the ministries, it may be concluded that the New Testament reveals a great variety and diversity of ministries. Likewise one can attest that there was an articulation between all and some in the service of the community. Some of the ministries are intended for the order of the community (internal), others for the relationships between the churches (external). The New Testament reveals different forms of ministries according to the different cultural and geographical areas (Jewish, Hellenistic, pagan–Christian).14 Common to the various forms of ministry is the Trinitarian reality, namely, a ministry that is God’s work (1 Cor. 12:6), a gift of Christ (Eph. 4:7–12), and of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4–11) in and for the church.

A Gradual Shift in Meaning

It is important not to identify the episkopoi, presbuteroi, and diakonoi of the New Testament with today’s ministers (bishops, presbyters, and deacons). Moreover, it is more accurate to leave the fluidity of terms and content of these functions as they are found in the New Testament due to the fact that the meaning of these terms has undergone a change in the course of the first three centuries. The figure of the diakonoi of the New Testament in fact does not correspond exactly to what we understand today as a deacon.15 With the third generation of Christians a gradual clarification was made. As evidenced by the Letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians and the Didachè, a fundamental problem to be solved is how to maintain unity and doctrinal fidelity against the threat of heterodoxy within the community. For this reason, the pastoral letters paid attention to the role of community leaders who now appear to be residential and no longer traveling. With this distinction we begin to distinguish the three figures who will become our bishops, presbyters, and deacons.

During the process of establishment of fixed local communities that require a more specific ecclesial organization, we see the appearance of a mono-episcopate, with an elder detached from the college of presbyters becoming head of the local church with the name of episcope. Around him is a college of presbyters assisting deacons in their service.16 The structure of the New Testament community is slowly transformed from ministerial diversity to a precise and unified organization that is generalized in the triple ministerial form of bishop, presbyter, and deacons. We are at the dawn of the 3rd century. The evolution is gradual and there may at times be other ministerial functions alongside the triple form. Nevertheless, these come increasingly under the control of the head of the community.

Before proceeding to the consideration of the episcopate, the presbyterate, and the diaconate, we have to stop and consider the meaning of ordination in general to discover the originality of the episcopal ordination of priests and deacons.

The Sense of Ordination

The originality of ordination is to be grasped starting from its process of access to the ordained ministry. In fact, the ordinatio is only one part of a whole process that includes an election (electio) and an entrance into a charge (jurisdictio). This process is at the same time:

  • an ecclesial act (the whole church is active in this process), which reveals the relationship between the ordained ministry, other ministries and the responsibility of all Christians

  • a liturgical act, which is celebrated in the Eucharist where normally all members of the church are present and which includes a symbolic network (liturgical actions such as the imposition of hands) and an epicletic prayer

  • a juridical act, because a concrete charge is given by God to a community member and is received by the entire church17

The election and ordination represent a liturgical continuum that normally unites the election of the people (including clergy), the imposition of hands, and the entry into a charge. The study of Luciana Mortari, Consacrazione episcopale e collegialità. La testimonianza della Chiesa antica,18 shows that for the early church, an ordination without an election and an office is as impossible as a jurisdiction without an order.

What can we say about the original meaning of ordination?

A long study of the morphology of the liturgical institutions of ordination reveals the structuring of the church and its underlying theology. This in turn allows some important conclusions.19

The Trinitarian Concept of Ordination

The most ancient and ecumenical tradition (found both in the East and the West) places ordination in the context of the assembly of the People of God, which is the celebration of the Eucharist where normally all the ministries of the church are found. This fact shows that the ordained ministry is in and for the church. The Eucharistic liturgical assembly is unique and is celebrated on Sunday, the weekly commemoration of the resurrection of the Lord. Hence the continual testimony to the death and resurrection of the Lord that the entire church makes is understood in this way, but especially by those who have the greater responsibility for the transmission of that which they have received (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23).

All elements of the process of admission to the ordained ministry (electio-ordinatio-jurisdictio) form an indissoluble unity that is particularly noted in the case of the episcopate. This fact reflects the reality of the local church that is revealed in the roles of the different actors who take part in the process of ordination. Each one needs to discern the judgment of God and of His Christ for the church in this process. Conscious of being created in the image of the triune God, the local church is perceived during the process of ordination to be a communion of interdependent responsible persons in all their diversity. The epicletic prayer pronounced during the ordination recalls the apostolic origin of this community as “the sanctuary of the praise and glory of [your] name” founded by the apostles by the gift of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, by whom everything returns to the source, namely, to God the Father.20

Pneumatological and Christological Aspects

The relations thus inaugurated are so grasped by their pneumatological-Christological appearance. These relationships are revealed in the very structure of the election, in which the elect is not seen simply as one chosen on a purely human horizontal plane but as a human being chosen by the Spirit. The community receives this decision, this judgment from God. The same reality is expressed in the shared responsibility found in the necessary cooperation among the leaders of the neighboring churches (in the context of an episcopal ordination), a fact that reveals both the universality of the Church of God as well as its apostolicity. For this reason the bishops present are witnesses to the identity of the apostolic church that is going to receive a new head with the other apostolic churches that they represent. This shared responsibility is evident at several levels of the category of “testimony”: the people and clergy of the town testify to the good conduct and faith of the elect; other apostolic churches are in solidarity with the church where the ordination takes place through the testimony and cooperation of their leaders; the ordained are the ministers of the gift of the Spirit, witnesses and guarantors of the apostolic faith.21 However, the election is not ordination. It requires the concurrence of two wills: for bishops that of the local church and that of the leaders of neighboring churches; for presbyter and deacons, that of the people of the local church and the ministers already in the ministry.22

Dynamic of Tradition and Reception

The communion that exists between the churches is also expressed in the act of receiving the newly ordained by the bishops present as a new colleague in the same ministry. Grasping the dynamism of this “traditio-receptio” is essential to understanding the dual action that is both horizontal and vertical. The act that is taking place in the heart of this local church is, at the same time, received in the totality of the church: the elect (the horizontal plane) becomes at the same time the head of a local community and a member of the college of bishops, while on the vertical plane ordination is conferred as a judgment of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Let us note the importance of this dynamic of the ecclesial reception by the community exercised especially in the relativity of the gesture of the imposition of hands (the cheirotonia). The laying on of hands was not always necessary and of itself was insufficient for the elect to enter the ministry in the early church. In other words, the imposition of hands was not regarded as a sufficient condition when other legal or ecclesial conditions were missing.23 This means that the rite cannot exist apart from its ecclesial significance—it has no existence in absolute autonomy that comes from its material performance: it is an ecclesial process. Behind the ritual is always the reception from the church. This fact allows us to better understand the inclusion of ministry in the church, and the role that the laying on of hands takes place as a symbol of transmission within the context of an act of reception practiced by the community.

It is the epiclesis of the whole assembly (the vertical action of God) that preserves the ritual gesture of cheirotonia (horizontal human action) from its autonomy. The Holy Spirit confers on one that becomes a minister of Christ a specific charisma for presiding over the building up of the church. This person then takes his place at the head of the people and in its presence, a people that is also equipped with the grace of God (cf. 1 Pet. 4:10). This grace is received by the Spirit for the good of all (cf. 1 Cor. 12:7). In this context we may recall the beautiful expression of St. Augustine: “I am a Christian with you, for you I am a bishop.” Once again we note the presence of the Holy Spirit, which allows the newly ordained to exercise his priestly and pastoral office in collaboration with other charisms and services, fruits of the one Spirit. The Spirit is thus the principle of diversity and the identity of the church. Thanks to the charism received, the ordained minister leads this church and holds the main responsibility for the proclamation of the gospel, from where he derives his role in the liturgy of the community.24

Eucharistic and Eschatological Context of Ordination

Two other facts confirm the reality of the communal and Trinitarian structure of the church, a structure discovered by the study of the process of ordination: the Eucharistic context that surrounds the whole process and the eschatological dimension demonstrated by the choice of Sunday as a day for ordination.

The Eucharistic Celebration

The Eucharistic celebration is the place where all the baptized, the bearers of the gifts of the Spirit, are united in their diversity in communion with the one host and the one cup (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12–15, 27; 10:16–18). It is the newly ordained who will preside over this fellowship as the first act of ministry. The Eucharist is the ultimate goal of building up the Body of Christ. At the precise moment when the local churches are gathered together around the Eucharistic table in the person of their bishops, we can perceive the responsibility that the ordained ministry assumes in regard to the communion among the churches, in the framework of tradition and reception. There we find the highest expression, the highest of the truth of the church of God, gathered by the Spirit into one body to celebrate the memorial of the Lord, in continuity and in communion with the first apostolic community.

Eschatological Significance

This truth is related to the eschatological significance of this celebration on the day of the memorial of the Resurrection and Pentecost. This fact expresses the Christological and pneumatological foundation of the ordained ministry. The category of “testimony” is still relevant here, because it is the ministry of the bishop that creates the link between the testimony given by the apostles and that given by the church of today, which derives from the moment in which the church proclaims the gospel, celebrates the Eucharist, and is gathered together to await the return of Christ.

The Role of the Holy Spirit

In the ancient tradition of the church, we see that the Holy Spirit plays the most important role in the process of access to ordained ministry:

  • The Spirit is active through the people gathered to give the vocation to a member of the community for the exercise of a ministry.

  • The Spirit is still active through those who lay on their hands as ministers of the Spirit.

  • The Spirit gives the elect a charisma and task for the edification of the church.

We should add a note about the sense of vocation in the ancient communities. Thanks to the activity of the Spirit in this process, the vocation to the ordained ministry lies in its objectivity. One does not “make themself” bishop, presbyter or deacon.25 In the context of the Church of the early centuries, however, persons do not “have the vocation” but are positively called by the church, often forced against their will, which ensures that they are called by God.26 Personal inclination was not one of the criteria of the vocation. What mattered most were the faith and attitudes of the individual, a concrete charge to be fulfilled, and the calling of the church. The most important part of this process was the construction of the church, its faith, its witness, and its mission (cf. Eph. 4:12–13).

Summary: Epistemological Principles

To conclude this section, we may distill some epistemological principles from the study of the process of access to the ordained ministry. Through a careful study of “election-ordination-jurisdiction” in the first five centuries of the existence of the church, some elements of a theology of ordination and ministry may be articulated.

  1. 1. The structure of the prayers of ordination are clearly Trinitarian. In general, the prayers are addressed to God, who is the source of all wisdom and understanding. God gives everything needed to the people he chose so that they always remain the place on earth from which the praise and glory to his name will arise. Through his Christ, everything comes from God and returns to God. The Holy Spirit realizes the command given by Christ for the edification of the church by which is given the power (exousia) to do certain functions so that the church may always remain the place of the glorification (doxology) of the name of God.

  2. 2. According to the prayers of ordination, the elect receive a personal charisma that is at the same time a function for the church. This grace is conferred on the elect for the edification of the church according to the logic of “service.” This is often described as a pastoral function to guide, to govern, to feed—each ministry according to its specificity. The bishop presides at the head of the people, while the presbyters aid him with their experience and advice and the deacons build up the church with their service to the material needs of the people.

  3. 3. The ministerial realities are conceived as collegial. No one is a minister alone, just as no one is a Christian by him/herself but is only in a community of brothers and sisters.27

  4. 4. A rule of the ancient churches is “the one who is at the head of all must be elected by all.”28 This principle shows an ecclesiology of communion where the participation of all is a necessity. This is important because the activity of the Spirit may be seen in every moment of the life of the local church. There is also a link to the meaning of the apostolicity of the church, especially when it is the matter of the election of the head of the community. Why? It is the Christians of the local community who are the witnesses and guarantors that the person who is chosen as leader of all has the faith of this local church. He has been trained by it and is recognized as one who can articulate and represent its faith outside of their church in a synod or council. Therefore, the choice of the person who is to preside over this local church is important not only for the reception of the person by his colleagues in the episcopate but especially for the confirmation of the authenticity of the apostolic faith and customs or tradition of the local church.

  5. 5. The work of the invocation of the Spirit in ordination is seen as that of all the people. According to the Apostolic Tradition, “all pray in their hearts for the descent of the Holy Spirit. Then one of the bishops present, at the request of all, imposes hands on the one who receives episcopal ordination and prays.…”29 From this we also know the golden rule of the liturgy, “all celebrate and one presides.” An important element is how the ordained ministry is to serve the communion of the brethren.

  6. 6. The newly ordained is always in a position of reception: he receives the gift of God, which is both charisma and vocation. Importantly, the activity of the Spirit is in choosing and equipping the elect for ministry.

  7. 7. In the end, the use of sacerdotal vocabulary is applied gradually as a qualification of the ordained ministry. The process of sacerdotalization of the episcopal and presbyteral ministry accelerates especially from the 3rd century onward. According to Alexandre Faivre it is very likely that this process begins under the influence of Judaism and because of the desire for order in the community.30 The use of the Levitical typology (coming from the Old Testament) where there is an association between role, function, and status can justify the new position of ordained ministers within the community. Only when the presbyters begin to act individually regardless of the collegial group of the presbyterate and in the absence of the bishop (in whose name he presides the Eucharist!) does his role come to be described as “priestly.” This will happen around the middle of the 3rd century. In this case we see the beginning of the separation between clergy and laity. In any case, the term “priestly” remains as a qualification (i.e., a priestly ministry) rather than as a noun (priesthood). In no case is the deacon qualified sacerdotally. In the Apostolic Tradition it is explicitly said that the deacon does not belong to the senate of the clergy, and he “is not ordained to the priesthood, but in the service of the bishop.”31


Hervé-M. Legrand32 has noted that at the time of the New Testament and post-apostolic era there was a lack of distinction between the three figures of bishop, presbyter, and deacon. Only from Ignatius of Antioch onward is there a clear distinction. So this triad cannot be related to an institution of Christ, and the distinction bishop–presbyter in particular cannot be established as a divine institution.33 Vatican II presents it as an evolution “ab antiquo” (from antiquity they have been called bishops, presbyters, deacons)34 and not of “jure divino,” thus nuancing the position of the Council of Trent, which spoke of a hierarchy of ministries being “ordinatione instituta divine.”35 In this way the question of historical dogmatic distinction between the ministries of bishops and presbyters remains open.36 This fact permits us to situate the presbyterate in the line of the episcopate at the level of the exercise of the episkopè as a fundamental and principal function. Now let us consider the originality of each ordained ministry from their office in the Church.

The Episcopate

An adequate theological description of the ordained ministries cannot start with certain concepts, such as priesthood, mediation, power transmission, sign, etc., because with these the ecclesia has no role. According to our understanding, every theological description of the ordained ministry must begin with the grace from which it is founded. In this way we remain faithful to the information of the New Testament and patristics. A methodology for theological reflection on the ordained ministries beginning with a study of the process of admission to each ordained ministry was developed above. We presented a heuristic model that helps one understand the originality of each ordained ministry and that achieves the means for measuring its theological balance. This research is more fully presented in another place.37

Up to the end of the Carolingian period it is possible to examine the episcopate and the presbyterate together since the latter is regarded in light of the function of episkopè. This can be seen in the images used in the rites of ordination. These images describe the admission to the pastoral ministry as the work of God’s Spirit for the edification of the church. Pastoral ministry is understood as the service (diakonia) of the representation of Christ, and the minister is defined by his role in the church, namely by the service that is rendered to the entire community. This is an important point because it relates directly to the New Testament concept of the ministry (diakonia): solidarity of the members of the body in service to the building of the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:11–16; cf. 1 Cor. 12:20–31). In this context, the role of the ministries is to represent the relationship between Christ and his church; this role is carried out in communion with Christ as a deacon, pastor, and overseer (episkopos) (cf. John 10:11, 13:14; Luke 22:26–27; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:1–4).

The minister, whether bishop or presbyter, participates in the movement of the history of salvation under the power (dunamis) of the Holy Spirit poured out on him. The bishop receives the pastoral grace of one chosen by God to serve his brothers and sisters as Christ did when he fed his flock (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2–4). The prophetic/pastoral image makes explicit this idea through the gift of the spiritus principalis, the Spirit who leads and guides (in the case of the bishop) and the Spirit of grace and of counsel (in the case of the presbyter). It is a Spirit of direction required for the bishop at the head of his people. At the head of a priestly people, the minister is a servant of the Spirit of Christ who dwells in the body of the Church.

In this context the role of the bishop is to care for the communion of the multitude of the faithful in the one Body of the Lord. In episcopal ordination, the image of the newly ordained, surrounded by other bishops of neighboring churches, his presbyterate, and his deacons, and in the midst of the people entrusted to his care, is expressive of the reality of his ecclesiological office. In short, the bishop’s pastoral office is exercised within the communion of the ministries and the diversity of the charisms of the one Spirit.

In the ordination prayer, the main pastoral image is followed by the sacerdotal image. For the liturgical tradition the minister receives a priestly office because of his pastoral charge. With the sacrificial interpretation of the Eucharist and the appropriation of categories from the Old Testament (especially the analogy made by the Levitical typology), a sacerdotalization of the episcopal ministry occurs. This process is accelerated by the application of a status of sanctity to the person of the minister. This signifies a shift in focus from the ministry of the church to the person of the minister.

For the episcopate, the images have remained fairly stable and close to those of the first rites and certainly those of the Fathers.38 Placed alongside is the idea of the bishop as an evangelist and prophet, namely a ministry of the Word. The bishop is seen as a guardian and pastor and minister of the sacraments.

The communion theology of Vatican II implies a return to patristic ecclesiology based on the reality of local churches39 and the communion among them. The real starting point for this vision of the church is noted at number 27 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, where we read:

Bishops, as vicars and ambassadors of Christ, govern the particular churches entrusted to them (58) by their counsel, exhortations, example and even by their authority and sacred power, which indeed they use only for the edification of their flock in truth and holiness, remembering that he who is greater should become as the lesser and he who is the chief become as the servant (cf. Lk 22:26–27). This power, which they personally exercise in Christ’s name, is proper, ordinary and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately regulated by the supreme authority of the Church, and can be circumscribed by certain limits, for the advantage of the Church or of the faithful. In virtue of this power, bishops have the sacred right and the duty before the Lord to make laws for their subjects, to pass judgment on them and to moderate everything pertaining to the ordering of worship and the apostolate.

The pastoral office or the habitual and daily care of their sheep is entrusted to them completely; nor are they to be regarded as vicars of the Roman Pontiffs, for they exercise an authority that is proper to them, and are quite correctly called “prelates,” heads of the people whom they govern. Their power, therefore, is not destroyed by the supreme and universal power, but on the contrary, it is affirmed, strengthened and vindicated by it since the Holy Spirit unfailingly preserves the form of government established by Christ the Lord in his Church.40

The ideal presented by Vatican II incorporates what we have already seen in the testimony of the New Testament and in the process of admission to the office of the episcopate. The bishop is to serve the community and its construction. The type of service is one of a superintendent. Over what is the bishop guardian? He is simply guarding over the spiritual values of Christian communion. He must maintain the community entrusted to him in unity of the same faith received from the apostles. But we have already seen that this charge involves not only the articulation of the faith but also the quality of the witness lived by the Christians in this local community. The figure of the bishop always refers to the figure of God the Father, who looks down upon the needs of his people and by his goodness gives what is necessary. So the bishop makes sure that the communion of faith is always kept as a communion of life.

His role does not end here. He has not only a responsibility to his own church but also a greater responsibility to serve the construction of the one church of Christ. Therefore, the bishop has a task that leads toward communion among the churches. The process of episcopal ordination has demonstrated the sense of the presence of the bishops who are at the head of the various local communities. They are witnesses so that the faith, life, and mission of the local church that is going to ordain a new bishop is truly a church that has preserved the apostolic faith. This new bishop can represent this faith and life in front of the other churches. The bishop receives the gift of the Spirit in ordination not only to keep his church in the apostolic tradition but to present it to other churches.41

In the early church the role that expressed more highly the role of the bishop was the presidency of the Eucharistic celebration, which normally took place on Sunday and was the only celebration. There he gathered all the people together in all ministries (the servants of the community) for the weekly celebration of the resurrection. It was during the Eucharistic celebration that the bishop carried out all his functions: baptized, confirmed, reconciled, ordained. Only when communities became too big that it was no longer possible to celebrate one Sunday Eucharist that the bishop had to send one of his presbyters to take his place for the celebration. Slowly the function of the bishop in the community was restricted to a more administrative than real one as a true shepherd leading a flock. The admission of “auxiliary” bishops who have only “a fictitious people, i.e., that do not exist” can be seen as an offense to the ecclesiological reality of the bishops of the first millennium. The Code of Canon Law of 1983 considers the auxiliary bishops as bishops in their own right.42

If we look at the rites of ordination, however, we can still see expressed the essential functions of a bishop: he teaches through the explanation of the faith, the homily, and the preservation of apostolicity in his local church; he guides the people entrusted to him and maintains unity; he sanctifies by being responsible for the presidency of the sacraments in his church.

In addition, the collegial role carried out together with the other bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome has a specific role as regards the solidarity among the members of the episcopal college and the presidency of the church where Peter and Paul were martyred. As Lumen gentium notes, individual bishops are not “vicars of the Roman Pontiffs, for they exercise an authority that is proper to them, and in truth are called overseers of the people whom they govern” (§ 27). Each local bishop, a member of the episcopal college, serves his local church in full fidelity to the apostolic faith professed by Peter and Paul, above which the Bishop of Rome must ensure, preserve, and encourage Christian communion.43

From the outset, the bishop was never minister alone but always in communion. Probably already in the Pastoral letters, and no doubt by the time of Ignatius of Antioch, we see the bishop exercise his ministry in communion with the presbyterate and the diaconate.

The Presbyterate

The presbyterate should be viewed in relation to the episcopate. This claim is based on the testimony of the liturgy of ordination down through the centuries. We have already seen above the interchangeability of the two terms in the New Testament and the patristic writings of the early centuries. However, one must be cautious not to apply the image of the episcope or the presbyter of that time to the figure of the bishop or the presbyter of today. For example, the Ignatian bishop of the 2nd century would look like a priest of today. A presbyter of that time could not have been responsible for a parish community without reference to his bishop. The dominate image of the bishop in Ignatian theology was that of the bishop “as a sacramentum of God” and always referred back to God who presides over all creation,44 while the presbyters corresponded to the apostolic college45 and the deacons to the diakonia of Christ, the obedient servant of God.46

From the first rites of ordination to the presbyterate, we observed that:

  1. 1. The presbyter is always a member of a college or of a senate of advisors of the episcopus—is not seen outside the collective reality.47

  2. 2. The presbyter is ordained to a pastoral ministry sacerdotally qualified in collaboration with the episcopus.48

  3. 3. The charism received by the presbyter is a “spiritus et gratiae consilii praesbyterii49 for assistance to the episcopus in the governance of the people of God.50 This idea will be transformed later into an idea that sees presbyters as “sacredotes secundi meriti,” the priests of the second rank.51

  4. 4. With the passage of time, the reality of the presbyteral college around the bishop will no longer be mentioned.52

The development of the presbyterate is linked in a special way with the history of the development of the rural parish (toward the second half of the 4th century). With the evangelization of the countryside appeared a need for ministers to keep communities based outside of large urban centers. The practical circumstances of this situation demanded that the presbyter be able to assume the care of the rural parishes.53 As a result, the presbyters began to appear by themselves at the head of the community, and the presence of the bishop became less and less. The addition of a sacerdotal character to the ordained ministers in the formation of a cursus honorum or of a hierarchy based on the status of the person of the minister produced a figure of the presbyter who acts alone and has a “power” that no longer depends on the fact that he is a member of a college with other presbyters with the bishop at its head.54 In this situation one can speak of an “autonomy” of the minister in relation to the local church. In the late Middle Ages the prayers of ordination put the emphasis on the person of the minister rather than the substance of his ministry.55

We can see how the theology of that time conceived the ministry of the presbyterate in terms of power (especially to consecrate the Eucharist) and of status. As an example of this, the central part of ordination will become the “traditio instrumentorum,” one of the secondary rites added to the presbyteral ordination. Presenting the paten and chalice to the ordained, the bishop says: “Receive the power to offer sacrifice to God and to celebrate Mass for the living and the dead.”56 The separation of ordo from jurisdictio no longer placed attention on the pastoral ministry but rather on the sacramental power. Until the eve of Vatican II, the presbyterate bore the marks of an institutional dissociation between “ministry” and “ecclesia.” This dissociation has developed slowly in three phases during the history of the church: (1) with the ordination “ad missam” in the Carolingian period;57 (2) with the change from an “ecclesiological title” of ordination to an “economic title”;58 and (3) finally, in the ordination of mendicant religious exempt from the authority of the bishops59 and, with this, the relationship between preaching and the “missio canonica.60

Even the attempt to reform presented by the Council of Trent could not diverge from the context of the traditional medieval doctrine whose categories for the ministry of the presbyterate were the priesthood and the sacramental power. Emphasis was placed on the power to consecrate and offer the true body and blood of the Lord and to forgive and retain sins.61

Vatican II made a return to a collegial vision maintained by the church of the first millennium. Lumen gentium speaks well of presbyters, who are: “prudent cooperators of the episcopal order, and its support and instrument, called to serve the People of God, with their bishop form a single presbyteral body, although bound by a diversity of duties.”62 The Council has made a big step. From now on the collegial aspect of the presbyterate is restored, and together, the two offices exercise the function of episkopè, i.e., building up the Body of Christ through a pastoral ministry according to the threefold munus of Christ.63 In addition, the link between presbyter and bishop is not a bond of obedience but rather pastoral service to the portion of the People of God entrusted to the bishop.64 In this case, the bishop does not need auxiliary bishops because he has everything in a presbytery of loyal collaborators that support his ministry. In the words of Jean-Marie Tillard, presbyters are “responsible for the diakonia entrusted to them by the Spirit which is also the source of the responsibility of the bishop. It is the Spirit himself that binds, in a communion in diakonia, both the episcopal and presbyteral charism. The presbyterate is therefore the expression and actualization of a ministerial communion which has its source in the Spirit.”65

The charism proper to the presbyterate is that of advice, cooperation, and communion. Presbyters must work together in harmony with the bishop to serve the people.66 The liturgical dimension of pastoral ministry is seen as instrumentality: Christ is the author of salvation and offers it through the ministry of a bishop or a priest. Thus the priesthood may be seen not as a “thing” given to someone without reference to a real community but as an attribute that describes certain aspects of pastoral ministry (the liturgical dimension and sacramental relationship).67

The Diaconate

Vatican II states, “the deacon is not ordained to the priesthood, but for a ministry of service.”68 Apostolic Tradition (§ 8) says that he must carry out the orders of the bishop. The deacon relates the needs of the people to the bishop because he is his eyes and his hands. It is clear from the first documents and liturgies that the deacon is not part of the senate of the clergy but is in close relationship to the bishop and to the service of the local church. But it is also clear that the deacon is not an auxiliary of the presbyter.

The Christological foundation of the diaconal ministry is evident from the picture offered in the prayer of ordination (Rom. 15:8; Luke 22:27; Phil. 2:74) that parallels the service of a deacon and that of Christ who, sent by the Father to serve in obedience his will, makes known the God’s plan of salvation. Christ revealed the love and plan of God through his service (diakonia) to the poor, the sick, and the weak; so too, the deacon represents Christ especially through the exercise of his ministry to the poor, the sick, etc. The specific nature of the diaconate rests in the fact of the deacon’s service toward his brothers (and sisters)69 and finds its place in his service at the Eucharistic table.70

The charism received during the laying on of hands is a “Spirit of grace and zeal.” This is a grace for the service of the church and a conferral to the deacon of the task of doing what is required by the bishop. The duties of the office of deacon were different depending on the geographical area and historical periods.71 We know that in Rome in the early centuries, deacons had become very powerful.72 They were responsible for the training of the lower clergy, maintained in many cases the economic administration of the local church, were “the eyes and hands of the bishop,” and presided over the distribution of offerings of charity to the needy. The office of collecting and distributing alms in the early church afforded them considerable importance. In Rome, their influence has been associated with the city’s bishop, the Pope. Here their number was limited to seven. This important position led them to some abuse, and in the writings of councils or synods between 325 and 692, we see that legislation was intended to control their power. Besides the liturgical role played in the East, the diaconate, both in the East and the West, saw its influence diminish during the medieval period.

After the cursus honorum in the West, we see the diaconate become one of the steps on the way to the apex of the ordained ministry, that of the priesthood.73 In fact, the rites show a reduction of the role of the deacon to a purely liturgical one; mostly with the addition of secondary rites such as the vesting and the delivery of the stole and the gospel, the interpretation of the rituals are seen in terms of the transmission of “power.”74 Another trend to note in the rites is a reduction of the content of the ordained ministry of the diaconate, (pastoral, liturgical, and social) to a purely liturgical one. As in the case of the other two ordained ministries, the focus is shifted from the object of the ministry to the person of the minister.

Three Periods of Development

Serafino Zardoni, in his study on the diaconate, describes three periods in the liturgical-canonical development: the first is from the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus to the Council Quinisext o Trillano II (692), the period of highest consideration; the second is from the 12th century until the Council of Trent (1545–1566), a period of decline and eclipse; the third is from the Council of Trent until the resumption of the diaconate at Vatican II.

From the 3rd to the 7th Century

In the first period, a transformation of the ministry in general took place, ranging from the diversity of ministries to a consolidation in some of the ministries. This transformation is followed by another that sees the diaconal ministry take a more monastic form. In fact, in this period (4th century) one notes that some of the functions of the diaconate are absorbed by the monastery (as, for example, with the development of diaconal or service centers for the poor and the sick). The establishment of the monastery takes care of the works of charity, and the significance of the figure of the diocesan deacon, as a minister of charity, is assumed by the monk.75

From the 7th to the 16th Century

The second period recorded a few interventions of the Magisterium about the diaconate. The canons of the Lateran Councils of the 12th century concern rather the establishment of the powers of ministers (who can act without hindering the power of another, for example, who is assigned to the distribution of the prebends of the church and under what conditions) and the abuse of power (against simony and the abuse of power of the archdeacon). With the Council of Trent we see the divine origin of the diaconate defined like the priesthood, and the deacon is confirmed as a member of the sacred “orders,” as a necessary step or as the last grade before priesthood. You can see the deacons, at least on Sundays and solemnities, ministering at the main altar and taking communion. Finally, Trent has also tried to re-institute both the permanent deacon and the lower orders (can. 17).76

Vatican II: 1963–1965

Only with Vatican II do we find the restoration of the diaconate with this meaning:

The diaconate can in the future be restored as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy. It pertains to the competent territorial bodies of bishops, of one kind or another, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, to decide whether and where it is opportune for such deacons to be established for the care of souls. With the consent of the Roman Pontiff, this diaconate can, in the future, be conferred upon men of more mature age, even upon those living in the married state. It may also be conferred upon suitable young men, for whom the law of celibacy must remain intact.77

Note that the ecclesiological context of the Council is fully Trinitarian, a fact that has facilitated the inclusion of the ministries in the context of a fully ministerial church where there is a priestly, prophetic, and kingly people as sharer in the prophetic and kingly mission of Christ and, participating in the one priesthood of Christ, forming a spiritual temple and a holy priesthood.78 Within this ecclesiological reality we see the ministries at the service of the ministerial nature of the whole body as follows: “those of the faithful who are consecrated by Holy Orders are appointed to feed the Church in Christ's name with the word and the grace of God,”79

Diaconal Service: Word, Charity, Liturgy

Diaconal service is explained by three types of service: that of the Word, charity, and celebration (i.e., liturgical). The Council’s teaching does not have these services in the same order. For example, Lumen gentium (§ 29) has the order as follows: liturgy, word, and charity. The Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church Ad gentes, in paragraph 16, orders them like this: word, liturgy and community life, charity. After the Council, Paul VI established the permanent diaconate with the motu proprio Sacrum diaconatus ordinem (1967)80 and offered yet another variation of the order: liturgy, charity, word, and life of the communities, to which is added the care of fostering and supporting the work of the laity. Finally, the motu proprio of the same Pope Ad pascendum (1972)81 insists on “animation of the service of the church … a sign of Christ himself came not to be served but to serve.”82

The inclusion of all these functions (word, liturgy, and charity) is possible because it is based on the specific logic of the diaconate that is service. Where there are brothers and sisters with material or spiritual needs, there should always be a deacon. The liturgical service of the deacon is not a service if its articulation is not tied to a real service to society.

Ordination to the diaconate is not a consecration of the spiritual attitude of service required by Christians. It is more than that. Ordination confers a ministry of animation of the entire Christian community for service, and this ordination makes of the deacon the representative of Christ in the ministry of Word and celebration.

With the Council and the motu proprio of Paul VI, we see among the different functions of the deacon that of presidency. This is based on the realization that any ordained ministry implies some form of presidency according to the specific charism of that ministry. Evidently, the deacons do not normally preside over the construction of the Church but only in the specific case of isolated communities. This presidency should not be confused with the presidency of the Church of God in the strict sense.

In 1998, the Congregations for Catholic Education and for the Clergy jointly published Basic Norms for the Formation of Permanent Deacons.83 The document summarizes what we have seen above about the diaconal ministry, especially its roots in a Trinitarian ecclesiology of communion. We read in number 4:

First of all we must consider the diaconate, like every other Christian identity, from within the Church which is understood as a mystery of Trinitarian communion in missionary tension. This is a necessary, even if not the first, reference in the definition of the identity of every ordained minister insofar as its full truth consists in being a specific participation in and representation of the ministry of Christ.84


The issue of women’s ordination to the diaconate has recently been raised. We cannot deal with this issue in this article in full. It is necessary to at least indicate some studies on the issue that may serve as a first step to further investigation. Three particular studies that examine the issue are important. The first is the book by Roger Gryson dealing with the issue in the early church.85 The second is an essay, more cautious in its conclusions, by Aimé Georges Martimort.86 To complete the picture for the part about the Eastern tradition, one needs to refer to the articles of Cipriano Vagaggini87 and Evangelos Theodorou.88

From these studies it is possible to detect various interpretations of the figure of the “deaconess.” But it is necessary to point out that there is not a shared opinion among scholars on every aspect of the matter. The first intuition about the deaconess is that she is the female counterpart of the male deacon. Her admission to the diaconate was the same as a male and held the same ministry of liturgy, word, and charity, especially in mystagogy. The second sense given to the deaconess is that this could be a title granted to any woman who performs a service in the church. It seems that there is some confusion in distinguishing the role of widows from that of deaconesses. Finally there are those who see the term “diaconissa” as a reference to the deacon’s wife, like that of the “presbyterissa” and the “episcopissa.” One thing is clear—namely, that these women have played an important role in the church in the past.

Moreover, we know that in the church of the early centuries, not everyone was content with the existence of the figure of the deaconess. Within the Nestorian and Monophysite communities where there were deaconesses, some tensions were created by the fact that they were trying to take on roles that did not belong to the diaconal office. This resulted in the abolition of the deaconess in these churches.

In the West, four councils held in Gaul spoke out against the ordination of deaconesses.89 While the West excluded women from the diaconal ministry, in the East the figure of the deaconess continued to exist until the 11th century.

In 1995 a committee of the “Canon Law Society of America” published a study on the implications of the canonical ordination of women to the permanent diaconate.90 The conclusions of this study are interesting. The main conclusion is that the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate is possible and perhaps even desirable for the United States in the cultural circumstances of today. This conclusion is based on seven points: (1) historically, women have been ordained deacons in the past; (2) cultural factors play today an important role in any decision; (3) the diaconate is presented as a sacrament in the current canon law and as such is a degree of the sacrament of orders, which gives it a different relationship within the community that is not only a difference of degree; (4) the supreme authority of the church is competent to decide whether women may be admitted to the permanent diaconate (this ordination would require a derogation from can. 1024, which could be made by bishops’ conferences on the basis of each request); (5) it would not be necessary to adopt the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate in the whole church because the issue (as for the restoration of the permanent diaconate) is posed properly to the bishops’ conference; (6) ordained women to the permanent diaconate are obliged to observe all that is applied to men ordained to the permanent diaconate; and (7) ordained women to the permanent diaconate may exercise ministries and offices from which until now they have been excluded.91

Ecumenical Implications92

Lima Text

In 1982 the ecumenical text known as the Lima document, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, was published by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.93 In the fifth section of that document the churches reflected on the understanding of ordination and its ritual elements. The consensus reached here proved to be important for all future revisions made by individual churches of their ordination offices. This text places an essential biblical act at the core of what the churches believe needs to be contained in ordination rites, namely, that “[t]he Church ordains certain of its members for the ministry in the name of Christ by the invocation of the Spirit and the laying on of hands (I Tim. 4:14; II Tim. 1:6).…”94 The text furthermore states that “[t]he act of ordination by the laying on of hands of those appointed to do so is at one and the same time invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiklesis); sacramental sign; acknowledgment of gifts and commitment.”95 In this ecumenical consensus statement, the churches have recognized some essential elements that need to be present in ordination: laying on of hands, invocation of the Spirit, with the gesture being performed by those appointed to do so. While these are precise acts, there is still latitude in the definition of how these will be carried out and how the churches decide who the appropriate person is to perform these acts.

It is interesting to observe that many of the churches began ordination revision more or less around the same time, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One is tempted to venture a guess as to why this is so. Could it be because the rites no longer spoke to people, or was there a crisis in understanding what the role of the ordained ministry was in the contemporary world? Most probably both of these reasons were at the base of the reason why the churches began taking a look at what they did in the area of ordination services. To this must be added the insights coming from the work achieved at the level of ecumenical reflection and dialogue as well as biblical, patristic, and liturgical studies all being carried out with an irenic spirit.

Anglican and Methodist Revisions

In these revisions many of the churches reconsidered the prayer of ordination as well as the symbolic or ritual dimensions of the liturgical offices. This revision is another source of convergence. For example, we may see several sources that have served either as models or even as the proper texts chosen for the revisions. For the office of bishop, revisions in the Anglican Communion have considered the texts from the Church of South India,96 the Anglican Methodist Ordinal project,97 and the ordination prayer of the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome.98 Of interest to note is the fact that, up until the recent revisions of its ordinal, The United Methodist Church in the United States has used more or less the same texts (i.e., Apostolic Tradition) as a basis for their revision of the consecration of bishops. For the ordination prayer for presbyters and deacons, both of these tradition rely principally on the prayers that have been used in the unity scheme between the Anglican and Methodist churches as well as the traditional source. The British Methodist Service Book from 1975 also used the texts from the Church of South India as well as the material prepared for the unity proposal. However, in the recent revision, The Methodist Worship Book, the prayer is a new composition of biblical quotes, but maintaining a flavor of the former prayer. In addition we find a diaconal order of ministry for both men and women, which has evolved from the Wesley Deaconess Order. This development is to be applauded and obviously takes seriously the challenge of the BEM document, which encouraged churches to consider the value of the diaconal ministry. This challenge has been taken up by other churches as well.99 Furthermore, we can observe that the setting for the ordination offices in both the Anglican Communion and the Methodist churches is the Eucharist, one more element of convergence toward a common understanding of the ordained ministry.

Lutheran Revisions

In the Lutheran churches we find the common elements of the imposition of hands and prayer and the context of a Eucharistic celebration. From the variety of Lutheran ordination services in Europe and North America, we may observe two basic traditions: one that follows closely the pattern established by Luther’s revision and another that follows the model established by Bugenhagen.100 In many of the new Lutheran services, the prayer of ordination has a fully developed epiclesis, which goes in the direction of the suggestion of BEM. Frank Senn has noted that an attempt to achieve a uniformity of structure in the rites of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other Lutheran churches did not meet with success because there was a lack of agreement on the doctrine of the ministry.101 A further issue is the question of the role of bishops in the new Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This question continues to arise in the American context, especially in terms of the Concordat between the Episcopal and Lutheran churches. There is considerable similarity between the offices for the ordination of pastors and the installation of deaconesses in the Lutheran church and the liturgies for the ordination of priests and deacons in the American Episcopal Church.102


We can say that the Catholic Church has always supported the ordained ministry in the form of a triad composed of bishop, presbyter, and deacon. The functions of each of these were not always the same everywhere, and we have also seen how the substance of each ordained ministry was gradually defined. Church history reveals that the ordained ministry has not always had a balanced ecclesiological context according to a Trinitarian vision. This fact has caused some difficulties in the field ministry. Thanks to the Second Vatican Council, we find ourselves once again in a context that permits a relational articulation and no longer an individual articulation of the theology of ordained ministry because the church is seen in the same relational context of communion, namely, as a community of the baptized and as continuation of the community and the mission of the apostles. Thus, ordination is conceived as an act of inauguration into one of the charisms of the Church. Therefore, the ancient church insisted that the context of communion is always maintained. The church has understood that there can be no ministry without an ecclesial context (and hence the ban on absolute ordination!).

Reflection on the history of the practice of the churches reveals astonishing similarities in morphological (pertaining to form) identity and in the functions of the pastoral ministry, despite differences in dogmatic expression. How may this fact help the churches find solutions to the problems that still divide them?

Moreover, reflection on the pastoral charge of governance in the churches puts the churches themselves in contact with a part of their history that they may have forgotten. We have seen that the intuitions represented by the early rituals reveal theological balances, which have not always been preserved in the rituals in use today: returning to them may help the churches to find a better balance not only in the processes of admission to the ordained ministries, but also in those institutions that structure all of Christian life. These processes, in order to be fully Christian, must be Trinitarian in structure, such as we find in scripture and were taken for granted in the life of the Church during the first millennium, before the separation of the Eastern and Western churches and the sundering of the church during the Reformation. This Trinitarian structure is manifest in the sacramental processes through which the church is continually built up. It is through reference to this structure that we have been able to pinpoint “deviations” in the practice of the church, but convergences as well, and it is precisely through recourse to this Trinitarian structure as the basis for common reflection that the churches may be able to overcome their divisions.

With this as our goal, we must of course give some thought to the concrete problems that must be resolved: the “lack of vocations,” the push for greater participation of the faithful in the life of the church, the problems ministers must face in new social and cultural contexts, the preparation of ministers, the matter of their morale, the question of celibacy, etc. Each tradition can contribute to the formulation of solutions. In this context, concrete and frank questions can be put to one another in the light of the gospel by the local churches in a given region: for example, what is the concrete and institutional character of the grace lived by each church in its structural reality, in the sacraments celebrated? Here we approach the intuition of Hans Dombois, who thinks: “If the ancient Churches knew what they were doing, and if they limited themselves to those things, and if the Churches of the Reformation did what they claimed, we would be very close to the unity of Christians.”103

As for the structuring of the churches, the type of theological reflection suggested allows us to evaluate the ecclesiality of each, on the basis of the concrete processes in which the individual church reveals how it understands its relationship to the one Church of Christ and to the other churches. The rituals themselves display the relationships that exist within each church and between churches: relationships between the Christians of a particular church and the structuring of that church. In a word, as Dombois has written: “It is a question of knowing how God encounters man [sic], and how man encounters God, and of perceiving the interplay of the different acts of worship, and in them, to observe the way in which the different members of the Body of Christ interact.”104 It is at this juncture that the churches begin to take a good look at the way in which they integrate new members, at the way in which they structure themselves on the basis of those concrete processes,105 and at the way each church relates to God and to the world to which it is sent to serve. To sum up: each local church will seek to understand the others through their institutional structures and therefore through the gift of the grace received (there is no conflict between grace and structure) and to understand the Christian reality of its members based on their role in those structures.106 This then is the challenge that looking at ordination rites offers us when we do this from the point of view of a theological and ecclesiological analysis, not one that is purely liturgico-historical.

It is only in a balanced Trinitarian context that we can find solidarity with all those who are part of the church. In such a context, authority is conferred by ordination while being supported by a continuous process of ecclesial reciprocity because everyone is responsible for the service of the gospel and the building up of the church, each according to gift or charism received for the good of all (1 Cor. 12:7). This life is truly lived in a communal way in structures and concrete relations such as the synodality of the church, Eucharistic hospitality and participation in episcopal ordinations, etc. The institution of ordination, seen from this Trinitarian perspective, demonstrates the vital importance of preserving the right balance between Christology and pneumatology. The ordained ministry inserted and lived in this context is a service to the community of salvation so that the church can always accomplish the mission entrusted by Christ to build the kingdom of God already begun with the advent of Christ, which is growing day by day to the glory of the Father.

Further Reading

Cavalli, Giampaolo. “Il sacramento dell’ordine.” In Sacramentaria speciale II, edited by Mario Florio et al., 205–260. Bologna: Edizioni Dehoniane, 2003.Find this resource:

Faivre, Alexandre. Ordonner la Fraternité. Paris: Cerf, 1992.Find this resource:

Iverson, Hans Raun, Gunnel Borgegaard, Sven‑Erik Brodd, et al. “An Ecumenical Statement on the Meaning of Ordination: Based on the Study, Rituals of Ordination and Commitment in Churches in the Nordic Countries. Theology and Terminology.” Studia Liturgica 34.2 (2004): 251–256.Find this resource:

Puglisi, James F. “Key Issues in the Ecumenical Dialogues on Ordination.” In Rites of Ordination and Commitment in the Nordic Countries. Theology and Terminology, edited by Hans Raun Iversen, 489–500. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum, 2006.Find this resource:


(2.) John D. Zizioulas, “Ordination et communion,” Istina 16 (1971): 10.

(3.) H. Dombois, Das Recht der Gnade. Ökuemisches Kirchenrecht, I, 2d ed. (Witten, Germany: Luther-Verlag, 1969), 37.

(4.) David Stancliffe, “Celebrating Ordination. Towards the Reshaping of the ASB Ordinal for Common Worship. A discussion paper for the House of Bishops of the Church of England,” September 2001, I.1.4.

(5.) Agustine of Hippo, Sermon 340, 1 (PL 38, 1483).

(6.) Lumen gentium 31, 34–36. On this point see Peter J. Drilling, “The Priest, Prophet and King Trilogy: Elements of Its Meaning for Today and in Lumen gentium,” Église et théologie 19 (1988): 179–206; and Ludwig Schick, Dreifache Das Amt und der Kirche Christi. Entstehung und zur Entwicklung der Trilogien, “Europäische Hochschulschriften” Série 23, Theologie, 171 (Frankfurt/Bern: Peter Lang, 1982).

(7.) In this regard, see David N. Power, “Order,” in Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and John P. Galvin eds., Systematic Theology. Roman Catholic Perspectives, vol. II (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 294.

(8.) On this point, see Albert Descamps, “Aux origines du ministère. La pensée de Jésus,” Revue de Louvain théologique 2 (1971): 3–45.

(9.) B. Sesboüé, “Ministères et structure et de l’Église,” in Paul Bony, Édouard Cothenet, Jean Delorme, et al., Le ministère et les Ministères selon le Nouveau Testament. Dossier exégétique et reflexion théologique, “Parole de Dieu,” 10 (Paris: Seuil, 1974), 390.

(10.) See Alexandre Faivre, Ordonner la fraternité. Pouvoir d’innover et retour à l’ordre dans l’Église ancienne, “Histoires” (Paris: Cerf, 1992), 63.

(11.) Jacques Dupont, Nuovi studi sugli Atti degli apostoli, “Parola di Dio,” 2 (Cinisello Balsamo, Italy: Pauline, 1985), 170.

(12.) In fact, the words “ordain” and “ordination” do not appear in the New Testament. There is no agreement regarding the later Christian use of the word to describe the reality of the New Testament. See Charles H. Turner, “cheirotonia, cheirothesia, ‘epithesis cheirôn (and the Accompanying Verbs),” Journal of Theological Studies 24 (1923): 496–504; and Pierre Van Beneden, Aux origines d’une terminologies sacramentelle: Ordo, ordinare, ordinatio dans la littérature chrétienne avant 313, “Études et documents,” 38 (Leuven, Belgium: Spicilegium sacrum Lovaniense, 1974).

(13.) There is no agreement among the scholars where to place the origin of this Christian action, in a Jewish or pagan context. See Lawrence A. Hoffman, “Jewish Ordination on the Eve of Christianity,” Studia Liturgica 13 (1979): 11–41 against the position of Edward J. Kilmartin, “Ministry and Ordination in early Christianity against Jewish Background,” Studia Liturgica 13 (1979): 42–69; Everett Ferguson, “Jewish and Christian Ordination: Some Observations,” Harvard Theological Review 56 (1963): 13–19; Everett Ferguson, “Laying on of Hands: Its Significance in Ordination,” Journal of Theological Studies NS 26 (1975): 1–12; and Eduard Lohse, Die Ordination im Spätjudentum und im Neuen Testament (Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1951).

(14.) On the ministerial question, see the important Bible studies, for example, Paul Bony, Édouard Cothenet, Jean Delorme, et al., Le ministère et les ministères; Ulrich Brockhaus, Charisma und Amt. Die paulinische Charismenlehre auf dem der Hintergrund frühchristlichen Gemeindefunktionen, 2d ed. (Wuppertal, Germany: Theologischer Verlag Rolf Brockhaus, 1975); Raymond E. Brown, “Episkopè and Episkopos: The New Testament Evidence,” Theological Studies 41 (1980): 322–338; Severino Dianich, Teologia del ministero ordinato. Una interpretatzione ecclesiologica (Rome: Pauline Publications, 1984), 111–129; André Lemaire, “The Ministries in the New Testament: Recent Research,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 3 (1973): 133–166; André Lemaire, Les ministères aux origines de l’Église. Naissance de la triple hiérarchie: évêques, presbytres, diacres, “Lectio Divina,” 68 (Paris: Cerf, 1971); Miguel Miguens, Church Ministries in the New Testament Times (Arlington, VA: Christian Culture Press, 1976); and Jean‑Marie.‑R. Tillard, “L’évêque et les autres ministères,” Irénikon 48 (1975): 195–200.

(15.) See Alexandre Faivre, Ordonner la fraternité, 64–72, where he translates the phrase “episkopoi kai diakonoi” in this context and that of the Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians with “supervisors but servants” since they are not even two different functions, see p. 63.

(16.) See Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Sym. 8, 1; Ad. Eph. 2, 2; 4 1. For the ministerial development of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, see André Lemaire, Les origines aux ministères; John D. Zizioulas, Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001); and Pierre Nautin, “L’évolution des ministères au IIe et IIIe siècles,” Revue de droit canonique 23 (1973): 48.

(17.) In this way we can understand how God meets humanity and how humanity meets God. Methodological principle put into play is the study of the places where this meeting takes place, in this case in the processes of the church. See Hans Dombois, note 3, especially 35–37.

(18.) Florence: Vallecchi (coll. “Testi e ricerche di scienze religiose,” 4), 1969.

(19.) See James F. Puglisi, The Process of Admission to Ordained Ministry. A Comparative Study. Vol. 1: Epistemological Principles and Roman Catholic Rites (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1996).

(20.) See the prayer of ordination of a bishop in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, n 3.

(21.) This is the meaning of the scrutiny or examination of the elect in the presence of the people; see the Apostolic Tradition, 2; Statuta ecclesiae antiqua, 1 and Cyprian, Ep 38, 1.

(22.) This is the meaning of the exchange of the peace only among the presbyters at the conclusion of the rite for presbyters, or among deacons only in the diaconal ordination.

(23.) On the relativity of the imposition of hands, see the dossier established by Cyrille Vogel, “Chirotonie et chirothésie. Importance et relativité du geste de l’imposition des mains dans la collation des ordres,” Irénikon 45 (1972): 7–21 and 207–238.

(24.) On the liturgical presidency of the one who presides over the building of the church, see Hervé‑M. Legrand, “The Presidency of the Eucharist According to the Ancient Tradition,” Worship 53 (1979): 413–438.

(25.) Often the way we speak reveals the type of theological articulation that is behind our claims. For example, we often hear people speaking of ordination as if it were a private affair between the bishop and the candidate. According to a theological reflection or an ecclesiology articulated with a balanced relation between pneumatology and Christology, in short, according to a Trinitarian ecclesiology, the subjectivity of the vocation has no place because the person of the minister is less important than the ministry (i.e., the service—diakonia).

(26.) See Yves-M. Congar, “Ordinations invitus, coactus, de l’Église au antique canon 214,” Revue des sciences et philosophiques théologiques 50 (1966): 169–197, reproduced in Yves‑M. Congar, Droit ancien et structures ecclésiales, “Collected studies series,” 159 (London: Variorum Reprints, 1982).

(27.) On the fraternal and collegial dimensions of the church, especially in the context of the ordination process, see, for example, Cyprian, De Ecclesiae Catholicae Unitate, 6; Ep. 51; De dominica oratione, 8 and comments on the facts by Yves-M. Congar, “La collégialité de l’épiscopat et la primauté et de l’évêque de Rome dans l’histoire,” 95–122, in Yves‑M. Congar, Ministères et communion ecclésiale (Paris: Cerf, 1971); Albano Vilela, La condition des collégiale des prêtres au IIIe siècle, “Théologie historique,” 14 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1971); Joseph Ratzinger, Frères dans le Christ. L’Esprit de la fraternité, trans. from the German (Die christliche Brüderlichkeit) by Henri‑Marie. Rochais and Jean Evrard (Paris: Cerf, 1962); and James F. Puglisi, The Process, 21–27.

(28.) This formula of St. Leo the Great is still in force, see Ep. X, Ad episcopos per provinciam Viennensem constitutos (PL 54, 628–636); Ep. XIV Ad Anastasium Thessalonicensem episcopum (PL 54, 666–677); Celestine I, Ep. IV, Ad episcopos provinciae Viennensis et Narbonensis (PL 50, 429–436); and the study done by Jean Gaudemet, L’Église dans l’Empire romain (I’VE-Ve siècles), in “Histoire du droit et des institutions de l’Église en Occident,” 3 (Paris: Sirey, 1989 [1958]), 13–104.

(29.) See Apostolic Tradition, 2: “Omnes … orantes in corde propter discensionem sp (iritu) s. Ex quibus unus de praesentibus episcopis, ab omnibus rogatus, inponens manum ei qui ordinatur episcopus, oret ita dicens.…”

(30.) Faivre argues that the Letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians proposes the idea of the order (taxis) to solve the problem addressed and encountered in the community at Corinth (chap. 40–44). The context of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem perhaps had profound influence on the mentality of the times. This process was not systematically used during the 1st and 2nd centuries, but Faivre believes that one can identify some traces in the Ecclesiatical Constitution of the Apostles. No text before the end of the 2nd century directly applied a priestly vocabulary to Christian ministries. The first documents where we encounter this are Apostolic Tradition and the works of Tertullian. For documentation and argumentation of Faivre, see the Ordonner fraternité, 77–84. As regards Hippolytus, see Carlos Josaphat Pinto De Oliveira, “Signification sacerdotal du ministère de l’évêque dans la Tradition Apostolique d’Hippolyte de Rome,” Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie 25 (1978): 398–427.

(31.) Apostolic Tradition, 8.

(32.) Much of the material in this section is based on Hervé‑M. Legrand, “La réalisation de l’Eglise en un lieu,” in Initiation à la pratique de la théologie, t. 3, Dogmatique, ed. Bernard Lauret and François Refoulé (Paris: Cerf, 1986), 202–203.

(33.) See Albert‑ Louis Descamps, “L’origine de l’institution ecclésiale selon le Nouveau Testament,” L’Église: institution et foi, ed. Jean‑Louis Monneron, Michel Saudreau, Gerard Defois, et al., “Publications des Facultés universitaires Saint-Louis,” 14 (Brussels: Facultés universitaires Saint-Louis, 1979), 91–138; the third part of the work of Severino Dianich, Teologia del ministero ordinato, 110–211; Albert Chapelle, Pour la vie du monde. Le sacrement de l’order (Brussels: Institut d’Études Théologiques, 1978), 209–247; Alexandre Faivre, Ordonner la fraternité, 55–84; and Thomas F. O’Meara, Theology of Ministry (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 95–104.

(34.) Lumen gentium 28.

(35.) Council of Trent, sess. 23, can. 5 Denz. 966 (1776).

(36.) See Bernard-Domique Dupuy, “Teologia dei ministeri ecclesiastici,” in eds., Mysterium Salutis. Nuovo corso di dogmatica come teologia della storia della salvezza, vol. 8, L’evento salvifico nella comunità di Gesù Cristo, trans. from the German (Das Heilsgeschehen in der Gemeinde: Gottes Gnadenhandeln ) by Dino Pezzetta, ed. Johannes Feiner and Magnus Löhrer, 2d ed. (Brescia, Italy: Queriniana, 1977), 605–649; Bernard‑Dominique Dupuy, “Is There a Dogmatic Distinction Between the Function of Priests and the Function of Bishops?” Concilium 4 (1968): 38–44; and also the interesting article on the issue of a presbyteral succession, Joseph Lécuyer, “L’oasis d’Elim et les ministères dans l’Église,” in Lex orandi, lex credendi. Miscellanea in onore di P. Cipriano Vagaggini, “Studia Anselmiana,” 79; “Sacramentum,” 6, ed. Gerard J. Békés and Giustino Farnedi (Rome: Ed. Anselmiana, 1980), 295–329.

(37.) See James F. Puglisi, The Process of Admission, especially the first part, 1–177, where I examined in detail every aspect of the process of access to the ordained ministry, paying particular attention to the balance of pneumatology, Christology, and ecclesiology. In addition, see the research of Hervé‑L. Legrand, “Insertion des ministères de direction dans la communauté ecclésiale,” Revue du droit canonique 23 (1973): 225–254.

(38.) See the work of Jean-M.-R. Tillard, L’Église local. Ecclésiologie de communion et catholicité, “Cogitatio fidei,” 191 (Paris: Cerf, 1995), especially 147–299.

(39.) This is seen especially with the emphasis placed on each community that celebrates the Eucharist presided over by his bishop along with the presbyterat, deacons, and all the baptized in the local church; see Lumen gentium 26 and Christus Dominus 11.

(40.) Lumen gentium, 27.

(41.) This is the meaning of Irenaeus’s phrase “charisma veritatis certum” (Adv. Haer. IV, 26, 2), which is a necessary gift to keep the community in the authenticity of the teaching of the apostles and to accomplish his proper episcopal charge of explaining the scriptures (Adv. Haer. IV, 26, 5). See Louis Ligier, “Le Charisma veritatis certum des évêques: ses attaches liturgiques, patristiques et bibliques,” in L’homme devant Dieu. Mélanges offerts au Père Henri de Lubac, Vol. 1, Exégèse et patristique, “Theologie,” 56 (Paris: Aubier, 1963), 247–268; and J. F. Puglisi, The Process of Admission, 16–21.

(42.) Canons 339 and 443 include the auxiliaries in councils, synods, etc., giving them a deliberative vote. They are also considered members of episcopal conferences with vote (can. 454). It seems that they can also be co-consecrators of new bishops, a fact that poses a real problem on the theological and ecclesiological levels because they are not really at the head of a people and therefore cannot bear witness to the faith, the customs, and the specific mission of that people.

(43.) On this point see the third part of the work of Jean‑M.‑R. Tillard, L’Église local, 387–558, especially 483–552.

(44.) See Ignatius of Antioch, Magn. VI; XIII, 2; Trall. III, 1; XII, 3 and Jean-M.-R. Tillard, L’Église local, 160–166.

(45.) According to Ignatius, presbyters “have the place of the senate of the Apostles,” see Magn. VI, 1; Trall. III, 1.

(46.) “Deacons are servants of the bishop as Christ is the servant of the Father,” Ignatius of Antioch, Magn. VI, 1; Trall. III, 1; Cyrille Vogel, “Unité de l’Église et pluralité des formes historiques d’organization ecclésiastique du IIIe au Ve siècle,” in L’épiscopat et l’Église universelle, ed. Yves Congar and Bernard‑Dominique Dupuy (Paris: Cerf, 1962), 591–636.

(47.) Apostolic Tradition 7, 8; see Bernard Botte, “Caractère collégial du presbytérat et de l’épiscopat,” in Études sur le sacrement de l’Ordre, “Lex orandi,” 22 (Paris: Cerf, 1957), 97–124; Gerald H. Luttenberger, “The Priest as a Member of a Ministerial College. The Development of the Church’s Ministerial Structure from 96 to c. 300 AD,” Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale, 43 (1976): 5–63; D. Powell, “Ordo presbyterii,” Journal of Theological Studies 26 (1975): 290–328; and Albano Vilela, La condition collégiale.

(48.) Apostolic Tradition, 8, 3, and he is also ordained to a liturgical ministry; see § 10. The presbyters of the New Testament were not called “sacerdotes” before the time of St. Cyprian (Ep. 61). In this context, they participated in the sacerdotium of the bishop, and this priestly ministry was not normally exercised without permission of the bishop, that is, in his absence. In a letter of Innocent I to Decentius (ca. 416), we see that the Eucharist is celebrated by the bishop in the city. A portion of the Eucharist (called the fermentum) was sent by the bishop to the presbyters, who celebrated in the church outside the city. This is to demonstrate the unity of the Eucharist celebrated by the bishop and his presbyterat. See Innocent I, Ep. XXV, Ad Decentium episcopum Eugubinum, ed. Robert Cabie, “Bibliothèque de la RHE,” 58 (Louvain: Publications Universitaires, 1973).

(49.) Apostolic Tradition 7.

(50.) See Gerald H. Luttenberger, “The Priest,” 39–42; Albano Vilela, La condition collégiale, 355–357; and August Jilek, “Bischof und Presbyterium. Zur Beziehung zwischen Episkopat Presbyterat und im Lichte der Traditio Apostolica Hippolyts,” Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 106 (1984): 376–401. We can see the evidence of collegial participation of presbyters in the celebration of the Eucharist (Apostolic Tradition 4), baptism (21), and presbyteral ordinations (7, 8).

(51.) See Pierre‑M. Gy, “Remarques sur le vocabulaire antique du sacerdoce chretien,” in Études sur le sacrement de l’Ordre (Paris: Cerf, 1957), 138–140.

(52.) See, for example, the prayer of ordination taken from the Missale francorum (8, 32) in Leo Cunibert Mohlberg, Leo Eizenhöfer, and Peter Siffrin, eds., Missale Francorum (Cod. Vat. Re.g., Lat. 257), “Rerum ecclesiasticarum documenta,” Series maior, Fontes, 2 (Rome: Herder, 1957); and J. F. Puglisi, The Process of Admission, 138–141.

(53.) See the work of Pierre Imbart de la Tour, Les Paroisses rurales du 4e au 11e siècle, “Les origines religieuses de la France” (reprint Paris: Picard, 1979 [1900]).

(54.) See Gerald H. Luttenberger, “The Decline of Presbyteral Collegiality and the Growth of Individualization of the Priesthood (4th–5th Centuries),” Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 48 (1981): 14–58.

(55.) See James F. Puglisi, The Process of Admission, 151–177.

(56.) This is typical of the theology of the time. For example, Peter Damian, Opusculum Sextum. Liber qui appellatur gratissimus, chap. 15 (PL 145, 118D); Albert the Great, De Sacramentis, tract. 8, q. 2 (“… Consecrare enim est principalis actus ad quem sunt actus omnium ordinum, …”) (Opera Omnia, ed. Aschendorff, Vol. 26, 139); Thomas Aquinas, In IV Sent., D. 24, q. 2, a. 2, ad. 2 (“sic solus sacerdos habet actus immediate ad Deum ordinatos, quia ipse solus potest gerere actus totius Ecclesiae qui consecrat eucharistiam, quae est sacramentum universalis Ecclesiae”) or “Only the priest is capable of carrying out such actions to God because only he who consecrates the Eucharist, the sacrament of the whole Church, is capable of performing the action of the whole Church” (Opera Omnia, ed. Parma, Vol. 72, 897); Summa Theologica, III, q. 74, a. 2, sed contra et 2um (here it is the matter of the priest being able to consecrate all the bread in the bakery and all the wine in the enoteca) (Opera Omnia, ed. Leoninana, Vol. 12, 146–147); Summa Theologica, III, q. 65, a. 3 (“sacramentum ordinis ordinatur ad eucharistiae consecrationem …”) (Opera Omnia, ed. Leoninana, Vol. 12, 60); Bonaventure, In Librum Sententiarum IV, d. 18, p. 1, a. 3, q. 2 (“… Una principalis, et prima, quae est ipse ordo, vel potestas conficiendi …”) (Opera Omnia, ed. Vivès, Vol. 6, 17–18). In addition, see the comments of the authors cited in this regard: Ludwig Ott, Le sacrement de l’Ordre, translated from the German (Das Weihesakrament) by Michel Deleporte, “Histoire des dogmes,” 26; IV: Sacrements 5 (Paris: Cerf, 1971), 134–138; Yves Congar, L’Église de Saint Augustin à l’époque moderne, “Histoire des dogmes,” III: Christologie-soteriologies mariologie-3 (Paris: Cerf, 1970), 169–176, 235–241; Edward Schillebeeckx, Le ministère dans l’Église: service de présidence de la communauté de Jésus-Christ, translated from the Dutch (Kerkelijk Ambt) by Michel Kesteman (Paris: Cerf, 1981), 87–93; and Edward Schillebeeckx, Plaidoyer pour le peuple de Dieu. Histoire et théologie des ministères dans l’Église, translated from the Dutch (Pleidooi voor Mensen in de Kerk. Christelijke Identiteit Ambten en in de Kerk) by H. Cornelius-Gevaert, “Théologies” (Paris: Cerf, 1987), 211–218. In the “Ordinals of Christ,” medieval books that nourished clerical spirituality, one will find examples of the interpretation given to every order in the church hierarchy. These texts identify each order so each corresponds to some phase in the life of Christ. These books have been the subject of study in their content and in their spirituality. See Roger E. Reynolds, The Ordinals of Christ from Their Origins to the Twelfth Century (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1978), especially 160–191.

(57.) See Otto Nussbaum, Kloster, Priestermönch, und Privatmesse. Ihr Verhältnis im Westen von den Anfängen bis zum hohen Mittelalter (Bonn: Peter Hanstein Verlag, 1961); Angelus Albert Häussling, Mönchskonvent und Eucharistiefeier: Ein Studie über die Messe in der abendländischen Klosterliturgie des frühen Mittelalters und zur Geschichte der Messhäufigkeit (Münster, Germany: Aschendorff, 1973); Cyrille Vogel, “La multiplication des messes solitaires au Moyen Age. Essai de statistique,” Revue des sciences religieues 55 (1981): 206–213; Cyrille Vogel, “La vie quotidienne en Occident du moine à l’époque de la floraison des messes privées,” in Liturgie, spiritualité, cultures, ed. Achille Maria Triacca and Alessandro Pistoia Triacca (Rome: Ed. liturgical, 1983), 341–360; Cyrille Vogel, “Une mutation cultuelle inexpliquée: le passage de l’eucharistie communautaire privée à la masses,” Revue des sciences religieueses 54 (1980): 231–250 read together with the work of Joseph H. Crehan, “Priesthood, Kingship, and Prophecy,” Theological Studies 42 (1981): 216–231; Niels K. Rasmussen, “Célébration épiscopale et célébration presbytérale: an essai de typologie,” in Segni e riti nella chiesa altomedievale occidentale, Vol. 2 (Spoleto: Italian Center for Studies of the Middle Ages, 1987), 581–603; and, for a general history of the Carolingian world, Pierre Riché, La vie quotidienne dans l’Empire carolingien (Paris: Hachette, 1975).

(58.) Vinzenz Fuchs, Der Ordinationstitel von seiner Entstehung bis auf Innozenz III. Eine Untersuchung zur kirchlichen Rechtsgeschichte mit der besonderer Berücksichtigung Anschauungen Rudolph Sohms, “Kanonistische Studien und Texte,” 4 (reprint Amsterdam: Verlag P. Schippers, 1963 [1930]); Cyrille Vogel, “Titre d’ordination et lien du presbytre à la communauté locale dans l’Église ancienne,” La Maison Dieu 115 (1973): 70–85; Cyrille Vogel, “Vacua manus impositio. L’inconsistance de la chirotonie absolue en Occident,” in Mélanges offerts au RP liturgiques Dom Bernard Botte (Louvain: Abbaye du Mont César, 1972), 511–524; and Innocent III, Ep. Ad Zamorensem episcopum (1198) in Aemilius Friedberg ed., Corpus Iuris Canonici, Pars secunda Decretalium Collectiones, ed. Aemilius Friedberg (reprint Graz, Austria: Akademische Druck u. Verlagsanstalt, 1959 [1881]): col. 469.

(59.) This dossier has been studied by Yves Congar, “Aspects ecclésiologiques de la querelle entre mendiants et séculiers dans la seconde moitié du XIIIe siècle et le début du XIVe,” Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du Moyen Age 28 (1961): 35–151; and Joseph Ratzinger, “Der Einfluss des Bettelordensstreites auf die Entwicklung der Lehre vom päpstlichen Universalprimat, unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des heiligen Bonaventure,” in Theologie in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. Johann Auer and Hermann Volk (Munich: Karl Zing Verlag, 1957), 697–724.

(60.) This dossier has been studied by M. Peuchmaurd, “Le prêtre ministre de la parole dans la théologie du XIIe siècle (Canonistes, moines et chanoines),” Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 29 (1962): 52–76; and Michel Peuchmaurd, “Mission canonique et prédication. Le prêtre ministre de la parole dans la querelle entre Mendiants et Séculiers au XIIIe siècle,” Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 30 (1963): 122–144 and 251–276. All these aspects were studied in James F. Puglisi, The Process of Admission, 171–177.

(61.) Cfr Denz. 1771.

(62.) Lumen gentium 28. See also PO 7, where priests are recognized as “brothers and friends” of the bishops and together “they all work for the same cause, that is, for the edification of the Body of Christ, which requires multiple functions and new adaptations …” (§ 8).

(63.) See PO 2. Cf. Ludwig Schick, Das dreifache Amt Christi und der Kirche. Zur Entstehung und Entwicklung der Trilogien, “Europäische Hochschulschriften” Série 23, Theologie, 171 (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1982); Yves‑M. Congar, “Sur la trilogie: prophète-roi-prêtre,” Revue des sciences et philosophiques théologiques 67 (1983): 97–115; and Peter J. Drilling, “The Priest, Prophet and King Trilogy: Elements of Its Meaning for Today and in Lumen Gentium,” Église et théologie 19 (1988): 179–206.

(64.) See the Code of Canon Law (1983) Can. 495, § 1.

(65.) Jean-M.-R. Tillard, L’Église local, 205–206.

(66.) The phrase taken from the Gallican prayer, Sanctificationum omnium Deus auctor is “in obsequium plebis tuae.”

(67.) This point is very important because it places, and rightly so, the ordained ministry in its correct ecclesiological context. Above it was demonstrated how the early church understood this reality in view of “communion” and “brotherhood.” The process of election and ordination expressed this truth through the different roles played by the actors throughout the process. Within this knowledge, the ministries are seen as serving the koinonia and more precisely in their role of building up the church.Jean‑M.‑R. Tillard identified this development in the church (cf. Église d’églises: l’ecclésiologie de communion, “Cogitatio fidei,” 143 (Paris: Cerf, 1987), especially 14–66, 217–291). The biblical evidence is important in this regard: Eph. 4:10–13 and 1 Cor. 12:4–11, where it is confirmed that it is Christ who through his Holy Spirit edifies the church raising up and establishing ministries. The word used is “diakonia.” Describing the context of the ordained ministry in relation to the gift of righteousness and holiness communicated by Christ to His Body, the Church. Bernard Sesboüé states: “Who says ‘ministry’ also says ‘stewardship’ or ‘management’ on behalf of another. The minister is never the author nor the master of what he manages.… This assertion is valid for the entire church especially since the church is the ‘minister’ of all the sacraments celebrated in virtue of Christ. Such is indeed the reversal that occurs between the ‘Ecclesia convocata,’ the ‘community of the convoked,’ and the ‘Ecclesia convocans,’ which is the ‘divine convocation’ [de Lubac]. The Church justified by faith and the sacraments in turn becomes the minister of justification (Paul says ‘reconciliation’ 2 Cor 5:18), that is to say, the minister of the gift that the church receives and that which constitute the church,” Bernard Sesboüé, “Les sacrements de la foi. L’économie sacramentelle, célébration ecclésiale de la justification par la foi,” La Maison Dieu 116 (1973): 108–109. Here we see that the oneness and sovereignty of the priesthood of Christ is preserved because it is not in one’s own name that the minister acts but in the name of Christ (in persona Christi) and in the context of the Church (in persona Ecclesiae).

Bernard‑Dominique Marliangeas, Clés pour une théologie du ministère: In persona Christi, In persona Ecclesiae (Paris: Beauchesne, 1978)

The work of was still essential for a correct interpretation of these two expressions in sacramental theology. Without reviewing all of his work, one sees the basic sense of the expression “in persona Christi”: “it is a matter of attributing to a given person words that are (mostly) the result of a ‘representative.’ The latter disappearing somewhat before the one he represents. It is no longer him but the ‘one represented’ himself who speaks or acts” (p. 97). The minister (bishop or presbyter) represents Christ by his ordination. It does not stop there because he represents Christ only by representing the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. For this, what is in play is the dimension of communion of the ordained ministry. We have seen the articulation of the ordained ministry to the body of the priestly baptized people. But Christ has expressed his desire for unity between him and his member, and between these services (John 17:22–23) so that the world may know his mission and the redeeming love of the Father who sent him. The purpose of the ordained ministry, therefore, is to serve this salvific will of Christ preparing the church for its mission. The unique priesthood of Christ is preserved intact because it is this priesthood that is the effective cause of action in church ministry. It is always Christ who acts in the church through his envoys. The bond of unity between Christ and his ministers is the Holy Spirit, which is the source of all ministerial activity. We see that the Spirit was the primary agent throughout the entire process of election and ordination of the ministers of the church. See James F. Puglisi, The Process of Admission, 184–191.

(68.) Lumen gentium, 29, which incorporates a sentence (“non ad sacerdotium sed ad ministerium”) of the liturgies of ordination to the diaconate; see Apostolic Tradition 8; Didascalie II.

(69.) See Apostolic Tradition 24, 25, 28, 34, 39.

(70.) See Apostolic Tradition 8, 21, 22.

(71.) See Jean-M.-R. Tillard, L’Église local, 207–212.

(72.) Already at the Council of Nicaea (325) decisions were taken to truncate the abuse of their power (can. 18) because some tried to assume the judicial power of the presbyters. On this topic, see Ferdinand Prat, “Les prétentions des diacres romains au quatrième siècle,” Recherches de science religieuse 3 (1912): 471–472. The Statuta ecclesiae antiqua also reflect the tensions between deacons and presbyters; see comments of John Gibaut, “Amalarius of Metz and the Laying on of Hands in the Ordination of a Deacon,” Harvard Theological Review 82 (1989): 233–240, especially 234–237. See also the role played by the (arch) deacon in the rites of ordination attested to for Rome by Ambrosiaster (Quaestiones et Veteris Novi Testaments, CI, 9–10 [CSEL 50, 1908]) and by St. Jerome (Ep. CXLVI, Ad Evangelum, 2 [PL 22, 1194]). For other roles of the archdeacon, see A. Amanieu, “Archidiacre,” in Dictionnaire de droit canonique, Vol. 1, ed. Raoul Naz (Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1935), col. 948–1004.

(73.) See the comments of Bruno Kleinheyer about the phrase “dignisque successibus de inferiori gradu per gratiam tuam capere potiora mereatur …” taken from the Veronese Sacramentary, Bruno Kleinheyer, “Le diaconat à la lumière du Rituel d’ordination selon le Pontifical Romain,” Aa.Vv., Le diacre dans l’Église et le monde d’aujourd’hui, “ Unam Sanctam,” 59 (Paris: Cerf, 1966), 114–115. The history of the diaconate and its decline has an ecumenical interest as shown in the work of the reformed theologian Gottfried Hammann, L’amour retrouvé. Le ministère de diacre, du christianisme primitif aux Réformateurs protestants du XVIe siècle, “Histoire” (Paris: Cerf, 1994); see his analysis of the development of the diaconate in the first millennium, 19–153.

(74.) See Franco Brovelli, “Ordine e ministeri,” in Aa.Vv. I Sacramenti, teologia e storia della celebrazione, “Anamnesis,” 3/1 (Genoa: Edward Arnold, 1986), 263–264.

(75.) See Serafino Zardoni, I diacono nella chiesa. Ricerca storica e teologica sul diaconato, “Teologia viva,” 6, 2d ed. expanded and updated (Bologna: EDB, 1991), 31–46.

(76.) Ibid., 46–51.

(77.) Vatican II Council, Lumen gentium 29.

(78.) See Lumen gentium 35, 36 and 10.

(79.) Ibid., 11.

(80.) AAS 59 (1967): 697–704.

(81.) AAS 64 (1972): 534–540.

(82.) Ibid., 536.

(83.) Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1998.

(84.) Ibid., 23–24.

(85.) Il ministero della donna nella chiesa antica. Un problema attuale nelle sue radici storiche (Rome: Città Nuova, 1974). This gave rise to a debate between Gryson and Aimé Georges Martimort on whether the woman was really “ordained” to the diaconate in the early church. Martimort was very critical of the methodology of Gryson. The latter has responded to the first with the article “L’ordination des diaconesses d’après les Constitutions apostoliques,” Mélanges de science religieuse 31 (1974): 41–45.

(86.) Les Diaconesses: essai historique, “Bibliotheca Ephemerides Liturgicae, Subsidia,” 24 (Rome: Edizione liturgiche, 1982).

(87.) “L’ordinazione delle diaconesse nella tradizione greca e bizantina,” Orientalia christiana periodica 40 (1974): 146–189.

(88.) “The Ministry of the Deaconess in the Greek Orthodox Church,” in The Deaconess: A Study of Women in the World of Today, “World Council of Churches Studies,” 4 (Geneva: WCC, 1966), 25–30.

(89.) The Council of Nimes (394) spoke out against the first deaconesses; see Charles Munier, ed., Concilia Galliae A. 314–A. 506, canon 2, “Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina,” 148 (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1963), 50. In 441 and 517 the Councils of Orange I (canon 25, ibid., 84) and of Epaone (canon 21, Charles de Clercq, ed., Concilia Galliae A. 511–A. 695 29) spoke out against the diaconal blessing of the deaconess. Finally, in the Second Council of Orleans in 533 women were considered too fragile to take the diaconal ministry (canon 17, CCL 148A, 101).

(90.) Canon Law Society of America, The Canonical Implications of Ordaining Women to the Permanent Diaconate. Report of an Ad Hoc Committee of the Canon Law Society of America (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1995).

(91.) See ibid., 50–51.

(92.) This is more fully developed in my contribution to the Faith & Order Consultation on “Ministry and Ordination in the Community of Women and Men in the Church”; see James F. Puglisi, “Ecumenical Developments in Ordination Rites,” in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, Ecumenical Reflections on the Church, “Faith and Order Paper,” 197, ed. Tamara Grdzelidze (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2005), 226–241.

(93.) Published as “Faith and Order Paper,” 111 (Geneva: WCC, 1982), hereafter cited BEM followed the section letter and number of paragraph. See the comments on the noted convergences as a result of this dialogue as well as others; Emmanuel Lanne, “Convergences sur le ministère ordonné,” in Communion et réunion. Mélanges Jean-Marie Roger Tillard, “Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, 121,” ed. Gillian Rosemary Evans and Michel Gourgues (Louvain, Belgium: University Press, 1995), 351–361.

(94.) BEM-M39, emphasis added.

(95.) BEM-M41, emphasis added.

(96.) Church of South India, The Book of Common Worship as Authorized by the Synod of 1962 (London: Oxford University Press, 1963).

(97.) Anglican-Methodist Unity Commission, ed., Anglican-Methodist Unity. I: The Ordinal (London: SPCK, 1968).

(98.) Geoffrey John Cuming, Hippolytus: A Text for Students, 2d ed. Grove Liturgical Study, 8 (Bramcote, Nottingham, U.K.: Grove Books, 1991) as well as Paul F. Bradshaw, Maxwell E. Johnson, and L. Edward Philips, The Apostolic Tradition: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002).

(99.) For example, see the work of Bruno Bürki, “Diaconat et doctrines des ministères,” in De geste et parole. 20 ans de ministère diaconal dans les Églises réformées de la Suisse romande, ed. Pierre Pilly et al. (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1987), 67–101.

(100.) James F. Puglisi, The Process of Admission, vol. 2, 23–26 and 38f; Ralph F. Smith, Luther, Ministry, and Ordination Rites in the Early Reformation Church (New York: Peter Lang, 1996); and the synopsis of Lutheran ordination liturgies presented by Frieder Schulz, “Documentation of Ordination Liturgies,” in Roman Catholic/Lutheran Joint Commission, The Ministry in the Church (Geneva: The Lutheran World Federation, 1982), 35–41.

(101.) Frank C. Senn, “Ordination Rites as a Source of Ecclesiology,” Dialog 27 (1988): 40–47.

(102.) See the commentary of Philip H. Pfatteicher, Commentary on the Occasional Services (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 193–194, 204–215.

(103.) See Hans Dombois, Das Recht, 195.

(104.) Ibid., 37.

(105.) For example, one can ask the following questions: What is the structure of the sacraments of initiation; what relationship does the individual have with God and with the rest of the community; what are the ministerial relations and what is the status into which an ordained minister is brought through his ordination; what are the resulting structures of apostolicity, catholicity, and unity and are they recognized mutually by all?

(106.) This is, in part, the extension of the method we used in our study of the ordained ministry and of the election-ordination; see James F. Puglisi, The Process of Admission.