What We Believe and Why
The Marks of the Church
THE REV. CYRIL BICKERSTETH, M. A.
Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
The Marks of the Church
"Firmly I believe and truly
GOD is Three and GOD is One,
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.
And I trust and hope most fully
In that Manhood crucified,
And each thought and deed unruly
Do to death, as He has died.
Simply to His grace and wholly
Light and life and strength belong:
And I love supremely, solely,
Him the holy, Him the strong.
And I hold in veneration
For the love of Him alone,
Holy Church as His creation,
And her teachings as His own."
These words are taken from Newman's "Dream of Gerontius." They are the expression of the old man's faith as he lay on his death bed. Happily there are many of our fellow Christians, not in full communion with the Church, who would readily assent to all except the last verse. They believe in [1/2] the Three Persons of the Godhead, in the Incarnation of our Saviour, and they look to Him for light and life and grace, but they have never learned to give their love and loyalty to the Church, and certainly do not accept her teachings as His own. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the nature of the Church is misunderstood and that her claims have sometimes been expressed in a way which is more likely to repel than to attract.
It is on this account that an attempt is here made to explain exactly what is meant when we say that our Saviour carries on His work through His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Before we consider these four marks of the Church, we must face the question whether our Lord Jesus Christ did in fact found a visible society. St. Paul had no doubt that He did so. His teaching in Ephesians v. 25 ff., finds expression in the familiar words:—
"The Church's one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation
By water and the Word:
From Heav'n He came and sought her
To be His holy Bride;
With His own Blood He bought her,
And for her life He died."
 The necessity of a visible Church was well expressed by Dr. Newman in his Anglican days:
"The Church must provide the Body in which that Spirit is to be lodged. . . . We may as well expect that the spirits of men might be seen by us without the intervention of their bodies, as suppose that the Object of faith can be realized in a world of sense and excitement, without the instrumentality of an outward form, to arrest and fix attention, to stimulate the careless, and to encourage the desponding. . . . Religion must be realized in particular acts in order to its continuing alive. . . . There is no such thing as abstract religion. When persons attempt to worship in this (what they call) more spiritual manner, they end, in fact, in not worshipping at all. In these times especially . . . this is why the Church itself is attacked, because it is the living form, the visible body of religion; and shrewd men know that when it goes religion will go too." (Parochial Sermons, II. pp. 74-77).
A revolt from the exaggerated claims which are sometimes made in the name of the Catholic Church has led a large part of the Protestant world to deny that there is any necessity for the Church, and to assume that our Lord committed His Gospel to a book rather than to a living body. But there is no evidence that He did. Once and once only we are told that He stooped down and wrote upon the ground, but what He wrote nobody knows; and there is no record that He bade His disciples write the Gospels or anything else.
 However much we may dissent from the claims that have been based upon it, there is no real reason to deny that our Lord said to St. Peter: "Upon this rock I will build my church." (St. Matt., xvi. 17-19).
Nor again can we dispute the assertion of Bishop Gore in connection with the words: "Do this in remembrance of me." He says:
"I think it is arbitrary in a high degree to doubt that our Lord did institute this sacrament of perpetual memorial for His new Israel." (The Holy Spirit and the Church, p. 55).
We must assume then that our Lord gave authority to His Apostles to carry on His work under the inspiration and guidance of His Holy Spirit, and that their proceedings described in the Acts of the Apostles were the natural consequence of what He had taught them, both before and after His Resurrection. And assuming the necessity of a visible Church we consider first the mark of Unity.
According to the Gospel of St. John, on the night before He suffered our Saviour prayed for His disciples: "Holy Father, keep them in Thy Name which Thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are"—and He prayed not [4/5] only for them. "Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one." (St. John, xvii. 9, 20, 21 R. V.).
Men may question, if they wish, the date and authority of the Fourth Gospel, but they cannot seriously dispute our Lord's intention that His disciples should be one, or that His mind was expressed in the words of St. Paul (Ephesians, iv. 4, 5, 6):
"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."
Most thoughtful Christians are ready seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. They see clearly that division is clean contrary to the mind of Christ; that it wastes the resources of the Church, that it weakens her moral witness. It is a scandal to the world, and a perpetual grief to all who love the Lord Jesus and desire the extension of His kingdom.
Now those who are really impressed with the danger of divisions are tempted to take short cuts to Unity. Some say let us escape from the [5/6] confusion which prevails elsewhere and accept the claim of the Pope to be the infallible head of a united Church. But if we believe that Unity is not more precious than truth, it is impossible to stifle the voice of reason for the sake of the mere appearance of union. It will be equally unsatisfactory to aim at the Union of all Christians apart from Rome, which after all speaks for the largest body of Christians in the world. The present writer is almost equally interested in the Conference at Lausanne, and the conversations at Malines. It is all to the good that Christians should meet and discuss the points on which they differ, and it may very well turn out that some of the most acute divisions are due to misunderstanding of the meaning of words; but it is idle to expect that we shall achieve Unity within any measurable distance of time.
Even if it were possible to adjust our ecclesiastical differences and agree to worship together, expressing our Faith in the same Creeds, and partaking of the same holy Sacraments, we should not attain to the kind of Unity for which our Saviour prayed and which was in large measure realized in the early days at Jerusalem, unless we were united in common social bonds [6/7] which covered the whole of life. We are told of those first Christians at Jerusalem that "the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common." (Acts iv. 32 R. V.). That is the kind of Unity for which to labour and to pray, but it is only to be gained by wholehearted surrender to the will of God.
In the last resort Unity and Holiness are inseparable: we cannot secure the one without the other. That does not mean that we must acquiesce in division any more than in any other kind of sin. We must make the most of whatever unity is possible already, and avoid all which accentuates division, in the spirit of the ancient maxim: "In things necessary unity, in things doubtful liberty; in all things charity."
As a practical programme let us recognize that there is a world of difference between un- and inter-denominationalism. The former stands for a foolish attempt to ignore differences and agree on the truths which are supposed to be held in common; it involves the surrender of principles and implies indifference to truth. The latter [7/8] makes for mutual consideration and self-respect. No one should be asked to surrender anything which he conscientiously believes, while all Christians should act together when the beliefs which they hold in common can be brought to bear on a common public policy with a strictly limited objective.
In the previous section we stated very briefly the reasons for believing that our Lord did in fact commit His Gospel not to a book but to a living society, inspired by His Holy Spirit and with a definite commission to carry on His work. The Church then requires our love and loyalty because it is His Body, and so we would say with Gerontius:
"And I hold in veneration
For the love of Him alone,
Holy Church as His creation,
And her teachings as His own."
We sorrowfully acknowledge that the Church, as we see it, is rent asunder and divided. There is not only a deep division between East and West, and between Canterbury and Rome, but the Protestant world is divided [8/9] into a great variety of bodies separated from one another and from those bodies of the Church which adhere to the Catholic creeds. In face of these divisions it requires a robust faith to maintain that the Church is really one. When we say we believe in the Unity of the Church, we mean that that is the intention of our Lord and that is the ideal for which we pray; and we must not rest until we bring all men to acknowledge one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. (Ephes. iv. 5).
It is no less difficult to say the Church is Holy, when in fact we see her tainted and corrupt through worldliness and sin, and yet we say the Church is Holy, because she is the home of the Holy Spirit, because every member is pledged to Holiness, because many of her children still militant here on earth are really holy, and the larger part consists of those who are purified, made white, tried, and numbered with the saints in that other world where sin is done away.
We have already suggested that Unity and Holiness are in fact inseparable, and our efforts after Unity are doomed to disappointment if they are not combined with unceasing effort after moral purity.
 If we turn to St. Paul's Epistles to the Corinthians, we notice the kinds of things which were spoiling the life of the Church. St. Paul had entered Corinth friendless and alone, but in a very short space of time he had gathered out of the simple and degraded population of a great heathen city a large number of men and women who had pressed into the kingdom of God. Once deeply stained with sin, they had been washed and sanctified, and enrolled in a Society equipped with all that was necessary to maintain their spiritual life. When the Apostle had passed on to preach the Gospel elsewhere, he heard from his friends and correspondents, such as Chloe or Aquila and Priscilla, of the progress of the Corinthian Church. The Corinthian Christians were growing in grace, enriched with manifold spiritual gifts, but there were certain things which spoilt their life. First there was division; but division did not stand alone; it led to moral corruption, lack of discipline, neglect of sacramental grace, and fundamental unbelief in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Now Corinth is typical of the Church in every age, and division still bears its natural fruit in the lowering of the moral standard. [10/11] We must strive continually to return to the pursuit of Holiness. It is on this account that efforts after Unity are useless and even mischievous, if they are not accompanied by a genuine effort to maintain not only the acceptance of a common faith, but also the Christian standard of behaviour. Just as there is no use in pretending to agree with people who deny the Godhead of our Saviour, or the fact that He rose from the dead, so no one, who takes seriously the moral teaching of our Lord, can feel real fellowship with those who abandon the Christian marriage law, and who accept as a matter of course the gross inequality of social distinctions, and the existence of inordinate wealth and extreme poverty side by side among members of the same family. The Christian ideal of society is expressed, as we have already seen, in the common life of the early Church.
Both in ancient and modern times people, who realize what Christian Holiness means, have tried to limit membership in the Church to those who profess to have attained to Holiness of life. Some oppose the baptism of infants because they would confine membership in the Church to those who have attained to a certain [11/12] conventional standard of Christian behaviour. The results of their policy have proved disastrous. Nothing is so likely to make Pharisees and hypocrites, as the belief that men have already attained to Christian Holiness; it discourages the effort to grow in grace, and to hunger and thirst after a righteousness which is beyond one's grasp.
Our Lord expressly guarded against the Puritan conception of the Church, when He told the story of the wheat and the tares. "Let both grow together until the harvest." (St. Matt. xiii. 30).
The idea of the Church suggested is that of a wide all-embracing society, into which men are brought when they renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, and begin to live the life of grace. Children are eligible because they are to be brought up in a Christian atmosphere, and taught to accept the Christian standard of belief and practice which baptism implies.
To maintain the Holiness of the Church, it is essential that none should be admitted without a definite intention of renouncing what is wrong, believing what is true, and doing what is right. Infant baptism is only tolerable when sponsorship is a reality; [12/13] and probably the gravest evils which attend the Church today are mainly due to the unhappy practice of baptizing children and then leaving them untaught. This is a hard saying which causes perplexity and distress to many devout Church people. It seems to them a "churlish thing to restrain favours." The phrase is Richard Hooker's. They say they could not bear to refuse the grace of baptism to a child, merely because there were no proper sponsors. Sometimes people are under the influence of the appalling notion that children dying unbaptized are cut off forever from the hope of heaven; and so they regard baptism rather as the insurance against eternal loss, than as the beginning of Christian life on earth.
Sometimes it is said that baptism was the express command of Christ, while sponsorship is only a precept of the Church which may be lightly put aside; but in fact the commission to baptize is bound up with the charge to make disciples. That is why all the baptized whether children or adults, must be put in the way of receiving the instruction which is required.
This suggests the very difficult question of the relation between the Church and the world. [13/14] Bishop Westcott used to say that with the conversion of Constantine the world got into the Church, and we have never since been able to get it out. That is the view of the pessimist; and the optimist may reply: From the time of Constantine the world has been permeated with Christian principles. We must not be surprised that the leaven works but slowly, and that there are considerable periods when Christian principles are obscured and stifled.
Unity and Holiness are then the ideals of the Church, which we must keep steadily in view, and we must not be discouraged because they are not reached as yet. Our wisdom is to lay to heart the highest conceivable ideals, and that will put us on our guard against what breaks the Unity or compromises the Holiness of the Body of Christ. We may draw the old distinction between the body and the soul of the Church, as Dr. Pusey did:
"The soul of the Church includes, we cannot doubt it, 'a great multitude which no man could number of all nations, and kindreds and tongues,' who did not on earth belong to its body; as contrariwise believers, who led to the end bad lives and died impenitent, belonged, it may be, visibly to its body, but not to its soul. . . . For the Lover and Father of mankind, who willeth not that any should perish, has not one way only, of bringing home His lost sheep. [14/15] All who shall be saved shall be saved for the sake of the Precious Blood, which has redeemed our earth and arrayed it with Divine glory and beauty. Varied and beautiful, each with its special loveliness, will be the choirs of His elect. In those ever open portals there enter, day and night, that countless multitude of every people, nation, and language; they who, in the Church, were by His grace faithful to Him, and they who knew not the Church of God, whom the Church below knew not how to win, or alas! neglected to win them, but whom Jesus looked upon, and the Father drew to Himself, whom His inner light enlightened, and who out of the misery of our fallen state, drawn by His unknown grace, looked up yearningly to Him their 'unknown God,' yet still their God, for He made them for Himself. There out of every religion or irreligion, out of every clime, in whatever ignorance steeped, in whatever hatred, or contempt, or blasphemy of Christ nurtured God has His own elect, who ignorantly worship Him, whose ignorant fear or longing He Who inspired it will accept." (Dr. Pusey, University Sermons, vol. III, pp. 37-44).
The Unity and Holiness which our Lord intends to be the primary marks of His Church are very far from being realized on earth, but the inner circle of true disciples, who have seen the heavenly vision, is meant to act upon the world like the salt which checks and hinders corruption, like the light shining in the darkness, like a city set on a hill, exhibiting the order and harmony of a true society. While tolerant of weakness and imperfection, and making welcome [15/16] all who desire to escape from the guilt and dominion of sin, the Church must exercise discipline over her members. A Church without discipline is impotent indeed. While the exercise of public discipline is difficult when the Church and the world are so intermingled, it is possible for private Christians to recognize and welcome its exercise in their own cases. They dare not receive Communion when conscience convicts them of being in a state of grave sin, and they gladly submit to the rules of the Church in the matter of fasting and self-denial. The orderly and disciplined life of little groups of men and women within the Church is a standing witness to the mark of Holiness, without which the Church is dead.
So far we have seen that our Lord intends His Church to be both One and Holy, and so in spite of all appearances of division and corruption we cling to the ideal. We have seen that Unity and Holiness are inseparable, and we cannot hope to attain the one without the other.
 Next, we must see in what sense we can claim that the Church is Catholic. Certainly our Lord intends His Church to teach all truth, to spread to every place, to embrace all men, and to last for all time; but this ideal is no more realized on earth than the other marks of Unity and Holiness.
The term Catholic is too often used in a sense which is very different from that suggested by its derivation and original meaning. In common speech the Christian world is divided into Catholic and Protestant, and by the misuse of the word Catholic people admit the claim of the Roman Church, that none are truly Catholic who do not accept the claims which are made on behalf of St. Peter and his successors. To a thoughtful Christian there is something essentially uncatholic in insisting on terms of communion which find no real support in Holy Scripture, or the practice of the early Church. The opposite of Catholic is not Protestant but sectarian, and the true Catholic is he who aims at the largest measure of comprehension that is compatible with the maintenance of truth. A Catholic should have an open mind, a large heart, and a tender conscience. St. Peter himself was [17/18] slow to learn the all-embracing character of the City of God, whose foundations are laid on the rock of his faith. He himself had been brought up in a narrow school. To him, as to nearly all the Jews, it seemed that the grace and favour of God were only bestowed upon the chosen people.
There was, indeed, in the primeval promise to Abraham the idea of a wider blessing: "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." (Genesis xxii. 18). Sometimes prophets and psalmists foretold the ingathering of the Gentiles. And yet, for nearly 2000 years it seemed that the grace of God was running through a narrow channel. Israel enjoyed a position of special privilege, and yet in the famous phrase of St. Athanasius "the Jews were the sacred school of the knowledge of God for all the nations of the earth." When the Saviour came, the presence of the eastern sages at His cradle foreshadowed the coming of the Gentile world, and yet He Himself deliberately limited His mission during His life on earth. Of Himself He said, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (St. Matt. xv. 24); and when He sent out the twelve Apostles and [18/19] the seventy disciples, He commanded them saying: "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not." (St. Matt. x. 5). It was not till after His death and Resurrection that our Lord proclaimed the world-wide character of His work; not till the eve of His Ascension did He say:
"All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." (St. Matt. xxviii. 19, 20).
These words are the charter of the Church; they proclaim the extent of her mission, they reveal the source of her life, but their full significance was slowly realized and easily forgotten. St. Peter himself was seemingly content for a while with a limited horizon. It needed the special vision vouchsafed to him at Joppa to teach him to welcome converts from the Gentile world. The idea of a Catholic Church embracing all men from all nations, was suggested by the vessel descending from the open heaven like a great sheet let down. The vision was unintelligible apart from the coming of the emissaries of Cornelius, but by the concurrence of the [19/20] heavenly vision and the practical demand, St. Peter was led to see that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is acceptable to Him.
Yet not St. Peter but St. Paul was the true Apostle of the Gentiles. He was the protagonist of the Catholic cause; but for him, humanly speaking, the Church might have remained a little Jewish sect. It was he who taught us to gather into one society Jew and Gentile, bond and free.
Now there has always been a danger of relapse, and the Church when she forgets her mission to all mankind, dwindles into the likeness of a poor little sect. The old antagonism between the Jew and Gentile is reproduced when the distinctions of colour and caste are allowed to appear in the Christian family: and the world-wide mission of the Church is forgotten by Christians who are only concerned about the comfort and convenience of a little group of congenial friends, and are not full of missionary zeal. Those of us, who have by the goodness of God been allowed to receive the fullness of Catholic belief, have a special responsibility towards those [20/21] outside, who are as yet contented with a narrow and limited conception of religion. We can learn much from the case recorded in the Acts of the Apostles of the dealings of Aquila and Priscilla with Apollos. Of Apollos we are told that he was a learned man, mighty in the Scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord; fervent in the Spirit, he spake and taught diligently the religion of Jesus Christ, so far as he understood it. He could call men to repentance, and point them to Christ, but apparently he knew little or nothing of the person and work of the Holy Spirit, and of the means of grace which He imparts. He was very like some of our modern evangelists, within and without the Church, who may be eloquent, sincere, and effectual in calling men to repent, but who leave their converts ill-instructed and destitute of permanent means of grace. Amongst the hearers of Apollos were Aquila and Priscilla, whom we may call Catholics indeed, for they had learned their religion from St. Paul himself, as he sat beside them at the weaver's bench. No doubt they rejoiced in much that Apollos said and did, as good Catholics rejoice in the work of all who are trying to bring sinners to repentance, but they could not [21/22] treat it as a thing indifferent, or unimportant, that the gospel of Apollos was so meagre. They took him unto them and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. Certainly, Apollos was not less effective as a preacher of repentance, when he had learned the Catholic Faith in its entirety, and the example of Aquila and Priscilla encourages us to miss no opportunity of similar service.
We can qualify for that service only on three conditions:
First, we must make sure that we really understand the Faith as a connected whole. We must begin by believing the Catholic Faith without which no one can be in a safe state. That involves first and foremost a right belief in God, and then in the mystery of the Holy Incarnation. We shall find ourselves warned off many misleading by-paths if we study the Catholic Faith as it is set forth in the Athanasian Creed.
Secondly, we must try to enter into the mind of God Who willeth all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
Thirdly, we must watch for opportunities of extending to others the knowledge which we have received. This may mean active service in [22/23] the foreign Mission Field, or in places nearer home, where in so-called Christian lands people are growing up without the knowledge of God; and no one deserves the name of a good Catholic who is not prepared to assist by constant prayer and generous alms the extension of the kingdom.
To be really interested in what is called Catholic ceremonial or to be an eager partisan is a very poor substitute for the tone and temper of a Christian who desires above all things to bring all men to the knowledge of God and unite all men in the fellowship of faith.
THE APOSTOLIC MINISTRY
We have seen that the Church is meant to be One, Holy, Catholic, and now we go on to insist that her Unity, Holiness, and world-wide mission require an Apostolic Ministry, that is, an order of men deriving their authority from God Himself.
We believe that our risen and ascended Lord "gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; [23/24] for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." (Eph. iv. 11, 12).
Now the necessity of an Apostolic Ministry is sometimes denied not only by such religious societies as by the Quakers and the Salvation Army who are consistent in their opposition, but by other Protestant bodies, and by some people in our own communion.
But it is quite clear that the Church could not fulfil the purpose for which she exists, without an order of men set apart for the Ministry. There was an appointed Ministry in the Jewish Church, a threefold Ministry of High Priest, Priest, and Levite. The Jewish priesthood however was local, national, transitory, imperfect, but behind it lay the idea of an universal, eternal, perfect priesthood; and the Christian priesthood must be related, not to the Jewish priesthood, but to that of our Lord Himself, Who is a Priest after the order of Melchisedec. He is indeed the one Mediator between God and man, Who offers the one availing sacrifice, and Who alone has power on earth to forgive sins; but He carries on His work by the ministry of men, called, chosen, and sent to act in His Name. [24/25] It is in His Name and by His authority that priests offer the Holy Sacrifice, absolve, and bless.
The reality of priesthood within the Anglican Communion is attacked not only by Protestants, but by the Church of Rome, which denies the validity of our Orders. It is interesting to notice that instructed Roman Catholics no longer do so on the ground that there was some break in the chain at the time of the Reformation, but because as they assert, our Bishops do not intend to ordain priests in the true sense of the word. No doubt it is true that sometimes our Bishops have used language which gave some grounds for that charge, but it is by her official acts that the Anglican Communion must be judged. Whatever may be the private opinions of the Bishops, every one of them from Canterbury to Cape Town, from New York to Melbourne, is committed to the truth set forth in the sentence used at the Ordination of Priests:
"Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained."
In answer to the Papal condemnation of Anglican Orders, the Archbishops of Canterbury [25/26] and York justly claimed: "that we make provision, with the greatest reverence, for the consecration of the Holy Eucharist, and commit it only to properly ordained priests."
It is on this account that our Bishops cannot admit to office in our Communion, ministers of the Protestant denominations, however distinguished for eloquence, learning, and holiness of life, unless they are willing to be ordained; while Roman Catholic priests need no reordination when satisfactory evidence is forth-coming of their character and orthodox belief.
The question of Apostolic Succession is so important, that we will explain it in the words of Bishop Gore. We believe:
(1) "that Christ instituted in His Church by succession from the Apostles a permanent ministry of truth and grace, 'of the word and sacraments,' as an indispensable part of her organisation and continuous corporate life:
(2) that while there are different offices in this ministry, especially an episcopate, a presbyterate, and a diaconate—with functions and mutual relations fundamentally fixed, though containing also variable elements—there belongs to the order of Bishops, and to them alone, the power to perpetuate the ministry in its several grades, by the transmission of the authority received from the Apostles, its original depositories; so that, as a consequence no ministry except such as has been received by episcopal ordination can be legitimately or validly exercised in the Church:
(3) that the transmission of ministerial authority or Ordination is an outward act of a sacramental character, in which the laying-on of hands, with prayer, is 'the visible sign'." (The Church and the Ministry, new edition, pp. 98, 99).
 There are, no doubt, serious difficulties in proving this from the New Testament alone, for it is clear that in the Pastoral Epistles the word "Episcopos" is applied to presbyters also, and we can not easily determine when a clear distinction was drawn between Bishops and the second order in the Ministry; but at least it is certain that from the very first it was recognized that the Ministry came from our Lord, that the authority given to the Apostles was, in accordance with our Lord's will, handed on to their successors who were then and are now called Bishops, though for a time the term Bishop was also used to designate the second order of the Ministry to which we now apply the term presbyter or priest.
It is not necessary for Catholic Churchmen to disparage the office of ministers who lack Episcopal Ordination. Speaking as a priest who believes with all his heart in the reality of his own commission, [27/28] one cannot deny that God blesses abundantly what seems to us irregular ministrations. So far as preaching the Gospel is concerned, I believe it is the privilege and the duty of all Christians to speak to others of the grace of God, and if a man is invited by a congregation of believers to be their leader, he holds a very honourable office. And, moreover, I will not doubt that those, who meet together for the Breaking of the Bread, and desire to have union and communion with their Saviour, are not sent empty away, though the presiding minister lacks something which seems to me essential to valid ordination.
In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas "God is not tied to Sacraments, but we are." God may bless abundantly irregular ministrations, but we who have learned the faith and practice of the Church must use only the ministry of men whose commission and authority is beyond dispute.
The question of the Apostolic Ministry suggests two important duties. Every member of the Church is bound to bear his part in seeing that the ranks of the ministry are duly filled. Our Lord Himself has said: "The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few; pray ye [28/29] therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest." (St. Luke x. 2).
All Christians are concerned in this matter. In the Ember weeks especially we shall fast, and pray that the Bishops may lay hands suddenly on no man, but faithfully and wisely make choice of fit persons to serve in the sacred ministry of the Church. Parents should rejoice if God is pleased to call a son of theirs to the sacred ministry: they should watch for, and rejoice in, signs of vocation, and do all in their power to encourage in a boy spiritual aspiration. Alas! sometimes the influence of parents and home is all in the wrong direction, and boys are discouraged from thinking of a profession which does not promise riches and honour.
Secondly, it may seem that the clergy are not worthy of an office so high and holy, but the clergy are very much what the laity expect them to be. If the Church expects little she is likely to get less; but "let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God." (I. Cor. iv. 1). Expect much, and pray that the clergy may be not unworthy of their high calling.