Saturday, March 26, 2011

Vatican II vs Trent on “Holy Orders”

Pastor David King has frequently cited Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J. (“The Eucharist in the West: History and Theology,” Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, © 1998, 2004 by the Order of St. Benedict. Edited by Robert J. Daily, S.J.) regarding the views of Pope Gelasius on the Eucharist. These are decidedly not the views of the Council of Trent.

I’ve recently picked up this fascinating work. I’m reading through it, and on another topic I’ve found another statement that I thought I’d pass along:
In Trent’s Decree on Holy Orders, Canon 6 states that there is in the Church “a hierarchy instituted by divine ordination, which consists of bishops, presbyters and ministers.” While this teaching conforms to the idea of existence of such offices from the beginning of the Church, it does not harmonize with the historical facts. The Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium [28] offers a more realistic view based on a more secure historical consciousness and exegesis of Scripture. Here we read “Thus the divinely instituted ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different degrees by those who even from ancient times (ab antiquo) have been called bishops, priests, and deacons.” Hence in no way does Vatican II affirm that the priesthood was instituted at the Last Supper in the sense understood by Trent (pg 378).
Interesting that, as I’ve suggested that Rome is “recalibrating” its understanding of the papacy, it is also “recalibrating” its understanding of succession.

[The astute Roman Catholic apologist here will chime in and say, “oh yeah, well, it doesn't deny it.” See below on the use of fuzzy language.]

That statement by Kilmartin aligns with something else I’ve posted recently:
“Elders in Every City”
Roger Beckwith, who is an Anglican, in his work, “Elders in Every City: The Origin and Role of the Ordained Ministry” (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press ©2003), noted the use of fuzzy language in the preface to the Ordinal in the Book of Common Prayer to describe the existence of “Bishops, Priests, and Deacons” in the church:

“It is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and the ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church” Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.”

Of this statement, Beckwith says:
This is a very carefully phrased statement which, through loose interpretation, has been misrepresented both by its defenders and by its critics.

For, in the first place, it does not say that this is evident to those “diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors’; in other words, it is evident from Scripture and the Fathers taken together, but not necessarily from one of the two taken singly. If we have difficulty finding the threefold ministry in the New Testament taken by itself, the preface does not say that we should be able to find it there.

In the second place, the preface does not say that “by the Apostles’ decision there have been those Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church” but from the Apostles time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church”; in other words, from the period before the last of the apostles died there have been three orders of ordained ministers; and the last of the apostles, St John, is stated by Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3:3;4) to have lived until the reign of Trajan, who did not become emperor till AD 98. Since the threefold ministry was [evident] when Ignatius of Antioch was writing his letters, about AD 110, it can hardly have arisen later than the beginning Trajan’s reign, in other words, later than the end of the apostolic age. So the preface to the Ordinal is stating the simple truth in saying that it dates from the apostle’s time. But how far the apostles were responsible for the development which took place is left an open question (Beckwith pgs. 9-10)
Roman Catholics and Anglicans both have a reason for pushing the “development” of the notions of “holy orders” for “priests” and of “apostolic succession” for “bishops” back as far into history as they can. And in doctrinal statements, both seem to agree, while some of these ideas were present around 100 AD (and though Ignatius spoke of “bishops”, it is clear that he attributed nothing approaching the kind of authority that the Apostles had!), it is clear that (a) neither of these certainly were instituted by Christ, and (b) neither of these existed in New Testament times.

Robert Reymond summarizes:
It is enough to say in response that episcopacy receives no support whatever from the New Testament. Whether it has been beneficial or not to the church is highly debatable, depending upon one’s view of its development in church history since Cyprian (c. 250), whose views of episcopacy gave rise eventually in the early medieval period to the papacy and to the papacy’s many subsequent doctrinal heresies and political and social abuses of power. As for the claim by the Roman Catholic Church and the other Episcopal church bodies that their authority has come to them through an unbroken line of succession from the apostles themselves down to the present, it is enough to say, first, that such a claim is simply unsupported by history and not verifiable, and second, that even were such an unbroken succession true in some instance, such Episcopal succession per se would convey no particular authority or guarantee apostolicity to the one so graced. Mere unbroken apostolic succession is not the New Testament criterion for ministerial authority (“A New Systematic Theology of the New Christian Faith,” Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., ©1998, pgs 905-906).
Kilmartin is a fascinating read, by the way. I was surprised to learn that it was Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) whose “metabolic understanding of the change of the nature of the Eucharistic elements” was “a new concept” [late 4th century!] which led to the medieval doctrine of Transubstantiation (pg. 22, and at least some of this work seems to be available through Google Books). So, again, while the early church was faithful to practice what the Lord had commanded, the uniquely Roman spin on what essentially had been a good thing, was changed by Roman [western] novelty.


Lvka said...

episcopacy receives no support whatever from the New Testament

You don't say... There's nothing in Acts or the Pastoral Epistles that would indicate that there were early bishops in Apostolic times, right? Nothing whatsoever, nothing at all, right?

John Bugay said...

Lvka, it depends. Do you want to rely on equivocation to make your point?

Lvka said...

Why not, John? Worked perfectly-fine last time, don't you remember?...

PeaceByJesus said...

Titus 1:5-7 shows that bishops/elders constituted one pastoral office, the terms denoting both the charcter and function.

American Roman Catholic priest and Biblical scholar Raymond Brown says, “The claims of various sees to descend from particular members of the Twelve are highly dubious. It is interesting that the most serious of these is the claim of the bishops of Rome to descend from Peter, the one member of the Twelve who was almost a missionary apostle in the Pauline sense – a confirmation of our contention that whatever succession there was from apostleship to episcopate, it was primarily in reference to the Puauline tyupe of apostleship, not that of the Twelve.” (“Priest and Bishop, Biblical Reflections,” Nihil Obstat, Imprimatur, 1970, pg 72.)

The Catholic historian Eamon Duffy (Irish Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Cambridge, and former President of Magdalene College), said “all modern discussion of the issues must now start from the exhaustive and persuasive analysis by Peter Lampe.” (“Saints and Sinners,” “A History of the Popes,” Yale, 1997, 2001, pg. 421).

The picture that finally emerges from Lampe’s analysis of surviving evidence is one he names ‘the fractionation of Roman Christianity’ (pp. 357–408). Not until the second half of the second century, under Anicetus, do we find compelling evidence for a monarchical episcopacy, and when it emerges, it is to manage relief shipments to dispersed Christians as well as social aid for the Roman poor (pp. 403–4). Before this period Roman Christians were ‘fractionated’ amongst dispersed house/tenement churches, each presided over by its own presbyter–bishop. This accounts for the evidence of social and theological diversity in second-century Roman Christianity, evidence of a degree of tolerance of theologically disparate groups without a single authority to regulate belief and practice, and the relatively late appearance of unambiguous representation of a single bishop over Rome. Review of this work, from Oxford’s Journal of Theological Studies:

Lvka said...

...and when you read the Book of Acts, or the Pastoral Epistles, don't you see there any characters that seem to stand out as leaders among these presbyter-bishops?...

PeaceByJesus said...

don't you see there any characters that seem to stand out as leaders among these presbyter-bishops?...

Certainly, they were called apostles, and while there were and are today in evangelicalism pastors who are also pastors of pastors, this does not constitute a separate class of sacerdotal priests, nor ostentatious titles. I even think "reverend" is too much, let alone "Very Reverend," "Most Reverend").

While the Lord may have been using hyperbole in forbidding calling any man "father," an extended formal hierarchy with its formal classes, dress(!), and distinctive titles, beyond what we see in Scripture, militates against the import of "all ye are brethren."

"Let me not, I pray you, accept any man's person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man. {22} For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my maker would soon take me away. " (Job 32:21-22)

"But of these who seemed to be somewhat, (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth no man's person:) for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: " (Galatians 2:6)

"that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written." (1Cor. 4:6)

Yet pastor are to be esteemed for their faith-character and work;s sake, and the above does not permit irreverence or unholy rebellion, but it does forbid the demi-god status given to the pope, as well as holy Mary.

Lvka said...

No, PBJ, apart from Paul and the Twelve.

Men like James, the brother of the Lord, Timothy, Titus: you really don't notice anything special about them? [The first concludes the proceedings of the Apostolic council of Jerusalem in Acts 15; the other two seem to have power over ordaining presbyters, and over whole regional churches].

Viisaus said...

Apostle Peter calls himself a mere "fellow elder":

1 Peter 5:1-4:

"The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away."

Viisaus said...

Paul for his part denies that he would have "dominion" over the faith of Corinthians, even apostles being rather "fellow workers":

2 Corinthians 1:23-24

"Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth. Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand."

John Bugay said...

Viisaus, yeah, it only took a couple hundred years-worth of "development" among the bishops of Rome to figure out the kind of "dominion" that they did have!

Lvka said...


so you acknowledge the equality of elders or presbyters and apostles!?


John Bugay said...

not at all. Just saying, fools rush in where Apostles fear to tread.

PeaceByJesus said...

Men like James, the brother of the Lord, Timothy, Titus: you really don't notice anything special about them?

Certainly, just as i notice something special about Charles Spurgeon or Matthew Henry, or the leader of the SBC. The former as regards spiritual qualities, and the latter as regards administrative function.

Such distinctions, and that some men may lead more than one flock, does not warrant a church becoming a vast autocratic org with multitude pompous titles and a papal demigod as its infallible CEO, and claiming apostolic succession but substituting apostolic power for pedigree and self-proclamation.

I certainly do not claim great holiness or power, but neither do i claim supremacy of position.

Lvka said...


I didn't say that these men were infallible... I was only asking if you would say they were leaders presiding over local councils of presbyters... head-presbyters, as it were.

Lvka said...

...just like Saint Stephen seems to have been a head-deacon among the Seven [Acts 6].

PeaceByJesus said...

Sure they were leaders, as pastors, and ordaining others, and perhaps being leaders in councils of presbyters. Is you are trying to make an argument for the Roman hierarchy then state it.