From The Works of the Rt. Rev. Charles C. Grafton (Volume 1),
edited by B. Talbot Rogers, New York: Longmans, Green, 1914
Christian and Catholic
THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY
OUR first inquiry is, how do we know that Christ intended there should be an established ministry? A class of Christians calling themselves "Friends" deny that it was so proposed. We have in this sect individualism carried to its consistent, logical outcome. There cannot be in such a conception of Christianity either a ministry or sacrament. Church history has, however, triumphed over this spiritual idealism. Christ did institute a sacrament by which persons were made members of an organized Christian society.
If every organization requires officers how shall they be appointed? If an organization is a humanly made one and the officers represent its members and derive their authority from them, most appropriately they should be chosen by those whom they represent. But if it is a divinely founded institution, and the ministers are the ambassadors of the Founder, then it is obvious, however designated, that they must receive their authority from Him. Moreover, if the Founder is not the unseen Divine Being, but the Incarnate God-Man, the authority to act for Him is appropriately given and certified, as in the case of the ambassador of an earthly monarch, by a visible and ordained instrumentality. If the duty of the officer requires that he guard sacred things, have a care of souls, bless in God's name, and serve God by offering sacrifice, then he is not only an ambassador but, in Old Testament language, a priest.
It is sometimes said that the ministers of the new dispensation are never called priests in God's word. But such we read in the Old Testament, the ministers of the Gospel were to be. In that blessed gospel-time men were to be gathered out of all nations, "and I will also take of them for priests and for Levites, saith the Lord." The character of priesthood was to change, but priesthood was never to cease. Sacrifice was to be offered everywhere in all lands. Under the Gospel it was to be of surpassing efficacy. In the Church this prophecy has been fulfilled, and from earliest times, throughout Christendom, East and West, Russian, Greek, Roman, and Anglican, sacrifice and priesthood have been preserved. These are as clear and marked characteristic signs of the true Church as the sun is in the heavens. Where they are not we have man-made societies, but not the Church founded by Jesus Christ. Sacrifice, as we have seen, is the very essence of God's ordained form of worship, and sacrifice offered by a corporate society postulates the necessity of a priesthood.
Its development into the three orders which now exist, and their special powers are an interesting study.
The genesis of our triple ministry lies hidden in the recesses of the evolution of the Jewish nationality. God inspired their prophets and seers with the vision of a coming one, who should be the anointed from on high and the restorer of Israel. The more keenly enlightened saw in the prophetic mist the figure of one who would be the burden bearer and the emancipator of mankind. Around their belief in the coming Messiah were clustered all the hopes and aspirations of Israel. In the midst of his national afflictions, in the disheartening dreariness of the captivity, the Jew held fast to the traditions of his race and the covenanted promise. When the great Messiah should come, he would be at once a prophet, priest, and king. "The Lord God," so the great lawgiver declared, "will raise up unto thee a prophet like unto me, unto whom ye shall hearken." "He shall be a priest," said Zechariah, and king. "Behold, thy king cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass."
Into the threefold office of this Messiahship Jesus was anointed. He took not upon Himself this honor, but was called of God by a formal consecration, as was Aaron. It was the office of the greatest of all the Hebrew prophets to perform this act. Jesus was sealed from on high. The heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended upon Him, and the voice from heaven declared His Sonship. At His baptism Jesus was anointed with the Spirit as the Messiah or Christ.
We must here note the difference sometimes forgotten between His mediatorship and His Messiah-ship. Respecting the first He claimed to be both the Son of Man and the Son of God. As the God-Man, joining the two natures in His one person, He is the mediator. His office of mediator is to be the living way between the created and uncreate. He is like a bridge between the two. As God He touches the divine life, for He is of one substance with it. As man He touches the side of creation, with which by His incarnation He has identified Himself. There is no other possible way of our entering into and being made partakers of the divine life, and so attaining to eternal bliss, save by an incorporation into Christ, who is the living way. As the Messiah, He is the anointed one, exercising the three offices of prophet, priest, and king.
It has been urged by sectarians against the existence of a priesthood in the Christian dispensation, that Christ did not call Himself a priest. This may be true. Indeed in the Epistle to the Hebrews we read, "that if He were on earth, He should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests who offer gifts according to the law." Yet in the same epistle, very emphatically, is His consecration as a priest asserted, and He is again and again called our high priest. The explanation is easy. He was not like a Jewish priest, but of a new and higher order. Priesthood was not to be abolished, but only the priesthood changed. So, lest the Jews should confound His priesthood with that of the Aaronic one, our Lord in His public ministry avoids the use of the term. He calls Himself, however, the Christ, which includes all three offices; and when He has ascended, by an epistle which was written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, His high priestly character is explicitly asserted. He declares His priestly office when He says that He will "give His life a ransom for many."
The Church is the mystical body of Christ, and as such is identified with His priesthood and sacrifice. This identity Christ declared when He said, "I am the Vine, ye are the branches." Christ and His members form thus one body. The Holy Spirit declares the same truth. The body is one, and all the members of that one body are one body. "Ye are the body of Christ." The idea of a body implies generation, birth, members, functions, corporate relationship, unification. S. Peter speaks of its members as newborn babes, as the offspring of a king and a priest, as forming thus a generation, as united as a holy nation and a royal priesthood, as built up as living stones, a spiritual temple, as being an holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Christians thus collectively form one priesthood, and the individual members of the body share, in different degrees, in its exercise. So it is said of them, "they shall be priests of God and of Christ."
Thus from the oneness of the Church with Christ, her Head, comes her priestly character. "Priest and sacrifice," said Dr. Moberly, "are the very heart's core of what He became as Man. The Church, as His mystical Body, is wholly made one with His manhood, and therefore is one with His priesthood and sacrifice." The Church is not a mere aggregation of believers, but is an organism welded into oneness by the indwelling Spirit. It possesses as such that which it has received from Christ and acts in its corporate capacity. In her highest act of worship she presents Christ as her all-sufficient oblation, and offers herself up as a living victim in union with Him. Sacrifice is the law and means of her union with God, and priesthood is essential to it.
If then the head of the Church is our high priest, and the Church is a body of priests, it follows that the officers of the body would be priests. They necessarily would be clothed with all the special powers of priesthood which their offices required. That they were so, we have the consentient testimony of all portions of Catholic Christendom. It will, however, be helpful to study the process by which our Lord, as the high priest, prophet, and king, trained and commissioned and finally consecrated those who were, as the officers of the Church, to be teachers, rulers, and priests, under Him; and then how they were to transmit their authority to others.
The method has all the slowness, hiddenness, and progressiveness that is a characteristic of divinity. Christ held in Himself the threefold office of the Messiahship. He was the prophet, priest, and king. Having called His twelve disciples He gradually and by progressive commissions associated them with Himself. During His visible ministry, when He was especially exercising His prophetical office, He began to unite the twelve to His office of teacher. Having first continued all night in prayer to God, "He ordained twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach." It was at first a limited commission. As His own personal ministry was then confined to Israel, theirs was to be so likewise. After His resurrection, having defeated the ruler of this world, and by right of conquest extended His kingdom to its prophetical dimensions, He then gave them jurisdiction in all nations and over all peoples. At first they were to preach only, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand," but after the resurrection they were to make disciples, "teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you." They had then a wider commission to teach, and in their collective capacity, to do so with authority. "If a man neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." When our Lord formally began the great function of His priesthood in the upper chamber, He then associated the twelve with His priestly office. None others were present. They alone were commissioned to "do" or "offer" the memorial of His death and sacrifice. When He had risen as the great victor over death and hell, during the great forty days He made the disciples partakers of His royal prerogatives. They were to make persons subjects of His kingdom by baptism. They were to restore to their allegiance by absolution those who had fallen away. So did Christ gradually and progressively associate the twelve with His threefold offices. They were to be under Him, in His Church, prophets, priests, and kings.
But though by these separate acts they were commissioned, by one act were they finally empowered. They received a gift of the Spirit, "actual" or "aiding" grace when Christ breathed on them. But at Pentecost, as John had foretold, Christ baptized the Church with fire and the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost came and dwelt in the Church. The Holy Ghost had first dwelt in the humanity of Christ, for the Spirit was given without measure unto Him. But without leaving Christ, He enters into Christ's mystical body. The anointing flows down from Aaron's beard even to the skirts of his clothing. He fills the Church with His presence and makes it a living thing. It had been like Adam's body before God breathed into it the breath of life. The Holy Ghost by His indwelling made the Church a living spiritual organism. He filled all the Church, uniting all its members to Christ and to one another in Him. He also empowered the twelve to perform effectively those offices into which they had been gathered. They became thereby "able ministers of the Word," enabled to do what Christ had commissioned them to do. Thus was an order of ministry formed by Christ the high priest within the royal and priestly body to be representative prophets, priests, and kings.
But we have as yet arrived at but one order; how did it come to pass that the present three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons were evolved out of it? We may not be able to trace the whole process in all its details. A complete knowledge of process is not necessary for the demonstration of a fact. We will however say this: The Church's order of government was not established by the Apostles in obedience to a written or explicitly revealed constitution. It was evolved under the inward guidance of the Holy Spirit and the pressing needs of outward circumstances. This formative process was apparently divided into two stages of development: the filling up of the number of the twelve, and the extension of the Apostolic ministry.
In this process we may observe that there were two great facts respecting the Church, concerning which the Apostles needed to be especially taught. They were so important that God did it by two object-lessons. The two facts were, that Christ and that the Holy Ghost abode in the Church. The Lord had not, by His ascension, left it. The Holy Ghost had not come to take the place of an absent Lord. The Church by the living bond of the Spirit was united to Christ her Head. By the Spirit Christ was made effectively present in His mystical body. The Apostles were to have it impressed on them that Christ and the Spirit were the abiding source of all authority and life. The presence of these two Persons was witnessed by the consecration of S. Matthias, in the filling up of the twelve, and of S. Paul subsequently in the extension of the Apostolate.
Now Matthias could not in the interval before Pentecost be consecrated by the Apostles. They could not by the laying on of hands join any into their order, for the Apostolic order itself was not yet fully constituted. Neither could they in any way impart the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit was not yet given. All they could do, in that inchoate condition, was to ask the Lord to designate whom He had chosen to fill up the vacancy. This the Lord did. Then Matthias being thus called (as they themselves had been) was along with themselves consecrated an Apostle by Christ and the Spirit at Pentecost.
Let us turn to the case of S. Paul. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit not only consecrated the Apostolic order as the representative of Christ, as prophet, priest, and king, but along with other gifts to the Church inspired some as prophets to be a special witness of Himself. Thus the Church is built, we are told, on "the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone." By the prophets the truth was evidenced that the Holy Spirit was not a mere influence, but a person to whom the Apostles were subordinate and whom they were to obey. Now the two facts of which we are speaking, of Christ and the Holy Spirit abiding in the Church, we see clearly expressed in the consecration of S. Paul. Christ as dwelling in the Church appears to Saul on the Damascus roadway, and gives Him His Apostolic commission, as He had done before in His visible ministry to the Twelve. But though the Apostles could now consecrate, it being since Pentecost, yet for their instruction a unique action of the Holy Spirit occurred. "Now there were at Antioch certain prophets," and as they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, "Separate (i. e., consecrate) me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed and laid hands on them, they sent them away." Paul having been personally called by Christ was empowered by the Holy Ghost, and so became an Apostle, called and consecrated just as the Twelve had been. He could claim to be "Paul, an Apostle, not of men," not as representing them, "neither by man," not as authorized by human authority, but by "Jesus Christ and God the Father." So it was in the case of S. Barnabas. There was, however, this difference. Paul was called by Christ who visibly and miraculously appeared to him. Barnabas was called by the Holy Ghost, who miraculously spoke audibly and called Barnabas through the Church. Then they were alike empowered by the Spirit as the Twelve were at Pentecost.
But although by this on a spiritual equality with the Twelve, neither Paul nor Barnabas could act independently of them. They must be gathered into the Apostolic fellowship, receive from them jurisdiction, and become subject to the Church's discipline. These two unique cases give no sanction to any ministry unconnected with Apostolic authority. They were not of the original twelve founders whose office as witnesses to the resurrection was unique. The "Twelve," and the "prophets" as foundations, form groups distinct by themselves, and as such they were to pass away. The prophetical gifts were, however, to continue diffused in the Church. The Apostolate was to unfold itself into the three orders.
Thus we come to the second stage in the formation of the Christian ministry, or its development into the three orders. Pressed by the Church's growing needs, the Apostles began to gather persons into different degrees of fellowship with themselves, and so with Christ; making them thereby partakers of His threefold office and giving them the Holy Ghost for its performance.
First we have the genesis of the diaconate. In consequence of the disputings between the Grecians and Hebrew converts, the Apostles were compelled to set apart seven for a certain work. Their original duties were something more than that of almoners, for they were to be men "full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom." They were not merely chosen, but formally ordained by prayer and imposition of hands. "They were set before the Apostles, and when they had prayed, they laid their hands upon them." The spiritual character of their office is seen in the conduct and ministrations of Stephen and Philip. They can preach and baptize. Later we find the order officially recognized by S. Paul in his salutation to the Philippians, where he addresses "the bishops and deacons." The personal qualifications of admission are set forth in the epistle to S. Timothy.
Next, as the Church is extended by Apostolic labors, we find S. Paul ordaining "overseers" or "elders" in every Church. We have here the rise of the second order of the Christian ministry. The use of a double title is very significant of their office. In whatever way it came about, a reverent Christian mind believes it was of God's ordering. It was not unfitting that a ministry that was to be world wide should, by the Holy Spirit, be designated by titles expressive of both Gentile and Jewish ideas. The title, episcopos, or overseer, being taken from the Greek, the title presbyter or elder being of Hebrew origin. Moreover, as this second order was, unlike the diaconate, to share in the priestly and the kingly offices, they had two names given them. As "overseers" they partake of the Apostles' power of government in their respective localities, and as "elders," they are gathered into union with the Apostles' priestly functions.
The connection between the title "elder" and the priesthood has sometimes been overlooked. It has been thought to have been taken from the name of the ruler of the Jewish synagogue. But the title "elder" did not belong exclusively to that office. It was a generic term applicable to any ruler, and so we read of the elders of cities. It was not therefore necessarily taken from the synagogue service, and indeed it could scarcely have been so. For the elder of the synagogue was only a presiding officer, and by virtue of his office did neither sing nor read nor preach nor pray. If the Christian minister does neither of these things, but only presides, we might have an argument that the term elder or presbyter was borrowed from the synagogue. The title seems like those of others, of Apostles (i. e., one sent), of deacon (i. e., a servant), taken from Christ. It seemingly came about or rather was ordered by God in this wise. God under the old covenant claimed the first-born or elder son for His service, but accepted, in lieu thereof, the Levites to serve in the sanctuary. But when Christ came--the true first-born and elder, and so the true priest--the substituted and temporary passed away. Then this order of the gospel ministry took a title which asserted its right to priesthood and united it to Christ our "elder Brother." The second order of the Christian priesthood bore thus the title of elder or presbyter.
Finally a third order was developed. S. Paul finds it necessary to have what might be called an Apostolic delegate, one who should have charge over the presbyters and deacons in a special locality, and so Timothy and Titus are placed at Ephesus and Crete, and have power to ordain. Subsequently we find local presiding officers, called "angels," held responsible for their respective churches. Later in Asia Minor the three orders are perfected under the oversight of S. John. The epistles of S. Ignatius bear ample evidence to the fact that bishops, priests, and deacons are recognized orders in the first century. At Jerusalem there was from the first the local Apostle S. James, with his presbyters and deacon helpers, and the Church, as it grew, naturally developed in conformity to the type given in the Mother Church. The progress was somewhat slower in certain localities, like Rome and Alexandria, but finally becomes universal.
Let us recapitulate: The two groups, viz., the Twelve Apostles representing Christ, and the prophets, as the ministers of the Spirit, fulfilled their special functions. The prophets bore witness to the indwelling presence and guiding power of the Holy Ghost The Twelve bore witness to Christ's resurrection, opened the kingdom to Jew and Gentile, and laid the foundations. Having done their work, the two as special groups pass. The temporary and special are, however, succeeded by the ordinary and permanent. The prophetical gifts of the Spirit abide, divided to each as the Spirit wills and are ministered as the Church has need in various ways. The original Apostolate, the official representative of Christ, unfolds itself in the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons, and so the formation of the Christian ministry is complete.
There remains two questions of some interest. In whom does the authority of ordination reside, and how is it transmitted? In the Scriptures we find S. Paul and S. Barnabas ordaining elders, and directions given to S. Timothy whom to ordain, and "to lay hands suddenly on no man." We do not find any ordination recorded apart from the episcopate. The presbyters lay on hands. The ordination is with the laying on of hands of the presbytery but by or through the Apostle. The common testimony as to the Church's custom confined the power to the episcopal office. The case at Alexandria, where S. Jerome said the presbyters elected one of their number, might not mean that the one so chosen was not subsequently consecrated, as he asks, "For what except ordination does a bishop do which a presbyter does not?" Without reference to any other case we know that a council at Alexandria, A.D. 324, declared null and void an ordination by a presbyter only. Possibly, as has been suggested, there were so-called presbyters at Alexandria who had received at their ordination episcopal authority. The consentient voice of the Church, enforced by the undisturbed practice of fifteen centuries, has been that the power of ordination lies with the episcopate.
And how is it bestowed? All authority of the three offices is with our Lord. Christ gathered the Apostles into union with Himself, made them share in His Messianic offices and the Holy Ghost empowered them. The Apostolic order represented by the bishops, by prayer and laying on of hands, gathers persons in different degrees of participation into fellowship with itself and so with Christ. By this ingathering they receive from Christ the gift of the Holy Ghost for the work of their ministry and grace for its due exercise. The Episcopate, into whose fellowship they are received, is of the nature of a permanent instrumentality. Its members change as the years pass, just as the atoms of the wave sweeping to the shore change while the wave yet retains its form. So the Episcopal order abides from age to age, a living potential agency. And each new bishop is by his consecration brought into union with Christ and His offices, not by a grace which has percolated through twenty centuries, as water in some Italian garden descends from fountain to fountain, but by an instrumentality as proximate as brought the Holy Ghost to Paul and Barnabas at Antioch, or the gift and grace of order to Timothy by the hands of S. Paul.
We may now ask what are the powers of the Christian minister? Is he of the second order a priest? Does the word "priest" in our prayer-book have a "sacerdotal" meaning? Is it used there as more than an abbreviated form of the title "presbyter," synonymous with the officer of the synagogue? Is it not true that the title "priest" in the Old Testament sense is not used in the word of God to designate the Christian ministry?
The answer is, it is not true that the word priest is not applied in the Bible to the Christian ministry. For in Isaiah we read "that in the day that God will gather all nations, He will take of them for priests." In the new dispensation the old title was at first avoided lest the new, higher, spiritual priesthood should be confounded with the lower Jewish one. The Church has shown what she means by the title presbyter by giving to its contraction " priest" the synonym of sacerdos. Our own branch of the Catholic Church has done so likewise by the Latin title of her Twenty-third Article, where she uses this word and calls the priests "sacerdotes." The American prayer-book also speaks of the connection between the rector and his people as a "sacerdotal relation."
The real test, however, whether the Christian minister is a priest or not, will be found in the powers that are given in Holy Scripture. For it is true now, as in the time of Socrates, "that things must be learned not from their names but from themselves." Has, then, the Christian presbyter the powers which distinguish the Jewish priest? The answer is, he has, only In a higher degree. Did the Jewish priest give torah, or judgment? was he a directing priest? did the people seek the law at his mouth? did he exercise ecclesiastical rule? Of the Christian priest it is said, "Whosoever heareth you, heareth me, and whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Had the Jewish priest the power of reconciliation or excommunication? To the Christian priesthood was given the ministry of reconciliation, that "whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained." Did the Jewish priest offer incense unto the Lord? For the Christian service it is written, "in every place incense shall be offered to my name and a pure offering." Did the Jewish priest once stand with his censer between the living and the dead and stay the plague? To the Christian it is said, "Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith shall save the sick." Was the Jewish priest to bless in Jehovah's name? It is of the Christian priest's office to say "peace to this house," and to bless in the holy threefold name of God. Was the Jewish priest to offer sacrifice? This is the work, too, of the Christian priest. "We have an altar," and there he makes and offers before God the memorial sacrifice of Christ's body and blood. "Ministering in sacrifice," as S. Paul says, "the Gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be made acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost."
We have thus seen that sacrifice is the essence of religion and priesthood is a necessity of it. Against this conception the world raises its insidious cry of sacerdotalism. It hates, as the great Liddon said, anything that seems to assert aught of inequality between man and man. Forgetting the fact that in God's providential government there are priests of knowledge, priests of wealth, priests of political power, priests in every department of the social order, it rebels against any distinction of class in religion. Sectarianism, ignorant of the Church's doctrine, that the Church is a body of priests, and that her officers are not different in kind from the laity but only in the degree of powers they possess, cries out against her in like reproachful spirit. Devout but mistaken Christian churchmen, rightly jealous of Christ's unique high priesthood, cry out against any priesthood as coming between themselves and God, forgetting that the priest at the altar no more does this than the preacher in the pulpit. Both are but His representatives and agents, claiming naught as their own, seeking naught for themselves, but working as the Church's servants for the Master's sake. When true to its calling priesthood is not to be feared, but loved and honored as one of God's best gifts to man.