Going out on a limb with Bishops…

There was a bit of a discussion about bishops in Catholicism and Lutheranism on Weedon’s blog. I know we have been there before, and I thank Dr Tighe for his great information on this score, but I have just had another thought inspired by this exchange in the combox on the above blog.

Schütz said…
I am not quite sure, Pastor Weedon, how you can ignore Dr Tighe’s research in this area. It is fairly clear from what he has written here (and in what he wrote to me at What happened to Bishops under Luther that there were plenty of opportunities for the Lutherans in Germany as well as in Sweden to receive and continue the apostolic succession of bishops but that they intentionally decided not to. There was a real and intended rupture.

I am also convinced that while, in the NT, Episkopoi and Presbyters seem to be describing the same office, and while the situation was fairly fluid for the first century and a half at least, it is evident that the office we today call “priest/presbyter” is in fact derived from the office of episcopus–which has the fulness of the priesthood–rather than the other way around (as Jerome and Luther contended).

Accordingly Lutherans (LCMS and LCA) may imagine that a bishop in the Catholic Church equals a President in their church, when in fact the equivalent to a Catholic bishop in Lutheran ecclesiology is the ordained congregational pastor. The Catholic says that the Bishop has the fullness of the priesthood just as the Lutheran says the Pastor has the fullness of the ministry.

William Weedon said…

About the esteemed Dr.’s research, I merely remark that it is notoriously difficult to step back into history and sort out “what was possible” – because the way things look to us now and the way they appeared then to the people living through the events are two different things.

For me, I do not believe that the Confessors lied when they say they’d have preferred to avoid the “rupture” in canonical polity – even as they begged Rome not to cast them out.

I think, though, you misapprehend what the LCMS thinks of her President or District Presidents. While we acknowledge, to borrow a phrase, a primacy of honor, we do not believe or pretend that the fullness of the priesthood resides in them in any way other than that they are ordained pastors. We’d even say the same thing about the pope: he has the fullness of ministry imparted to him via his ordination to the ministry. Didn’t Rome even used to sort of imply this by using the term “consecrate” rather than “ordain” for bishops? His great commission from Christ is the same as every pastor’s: to proclaim the alone-saving Gospel and to serve out to Christ’s people the waters of baptism, use the keys to forgive and retain sin, and offer the Holy Eucharist.

In New Orleans, a pastor friend of mine went to a meeting at Tulane University. He wore his pectoral cross. A Roman priest noted this with slight displeasure and told him: “In my tradition, only a bishop wears a pectoral cross.” My friend, without missing a beat, came back with: “Yes, but in MY tradition, I AM a bishop.” Reginald Fuller is reported to have said in the Episcopal-Lutheran dialog: “The problem with you Lutherans is not that you don’t have bishops, but that you have too many of them.”

The big question always ends up circling around authority and specifically whether the Sacred Scriptures provide a complete revelation of the will of God to man. If so, then the three-fold office is of necessity of human origin – venerable and perhaps the very best form the office can take – but this human ordering of the office ought not be confused with the one divine office instituted by Christ Himself: to preach the saving Gospel and administer the Sacraments.

I agree with most of what Pastor Weedon wrote back. I agree with the bit about the Pope in Catholic ecclesiology being equal to the President/bishop in Lutheran ecclesiology. He is the “first among equals”.

But what about the “three-fold office is of necessity of human origin”? Hmm. Let me go out on a limb here and do a “what if” for a minute.

I think it is fairly clear from the pastoral epistles that the office of deacon is different from the office of “epsicopus”. This scriptural witness means we do have to accept at least a divine origin to the “two-fold office” of ministry, where the first office is the “episcopus/presbyter” and the second is the deacon. The basic distinction between the two is that the former is a priestly office and the latter is not.

Now, lets imagine a different world in which the “episcopus/presbyter” never splits into “episcopus” and “presbyter”. There would be a priest-bishop in every congregation, dioceses and parishes would be the same thing. They may choose particular priest-bishops to be metropolitans or patriarchs, but essentially they would be “first among equals”, rather than of a different order from the congregational priest-bishops. Such a Church would in fact look just like Lutheran ecclesiology.

In fact, Lutherans live as if this “make believe world” actually was the real world in which they live. But in the real world, the office of Bishop and the office of Presbyter split. Both offices were priestly, but only the office of Bishop had the fullness of the priesthood. [Nb. the change in language from “consecration” to “ordination” of a bishop was done precisely to clarify this point, which has always been the teaching of the Church.] Since you can’t give something you don’t have to someone, nor can you give up something that belongs to the essence of your office, it is evident that the new non-episcopal presbyters derived their authority and orders from the office of the episcopal presbyters.

This is how it happened in the real world, not in the “what if” world. The result is that Lutheran ministry (which derives from a non-episcopal presbyteral succession) has never had the fullness of the priesthood and were never able to pass it on. Their pastors are imagined to be “bishops”, but that is not the reality.

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23 Responses to Going out on a limb with Bishops…

  1. William Weedon says:

    Are Sts. Ludger and Willehad not part of the “real world”? Remember that according to St. Ansgar, both saints ordained other presbyters BEFORE becoming bishops. And what on earth about the papal bulls that permitted certain Abbots the privilege of ordaining to diaconate and presbyterate even though they were still in presbyter’s orders themselves? Let’s not adopt the “wise folly” of Cardinal Manning and try to overcome history with dogma. Let’s just admit that what the Church regards as the usual way of ordaining is not the only way.

  2. Schütz says:

    Sometimes the ability to come up with obscure exceptions which justify one’s own way of seeing things is very useful.

    I’ve never heard of Sts Ludger and Willehad before this point in time. Thank you for alerting me to a gap in my knowledge!

    My guess about the Abbots is in fact that the Papal Bulls–also a gap in my knowledge which I will try to rectify–were acknowledging the authentically episcopal nature of the Abbots’ ministry. I understand that it has been traditional for at least some abbots, after all, to wear a bishop’s mitre.

  3. Schütz says:

    Actually, to add a further note, it is the case that in the history of the Lutheran Church in Australia, some lay persons and ministers of other churches participated in the ordinations of pastors. But the Lutheran Church is certainly not about to say that this is allowable on the basis of these exceptions.

  4. Past Elder says:

    An abbot ain’t a bishop unless he’s a bishop, no matter what his funny hat looks like. Leads to some interesting infighting. Some of it was kind of amusing to see back at the abbey.

    No-one disputes that the distinction between bishop and priest emerged over time. The question is, as the kids say, was this a good thing. An affirmative answer rests upon other points of ecclesiology, such as just what authority is held and by whom. And rests upon, essentially, saying what later bishops said about authority has authority because bishops have that authority and that is because they have the authority to say they have the authority.


    In other words, faith rests in the church.

  5. William Weedon says:


    Do you have *Dictionary of Saints* by John L. Delaney? You can read about their mission work there. In God’s eyes, there are no obscure saints.

  6. William Weedon says:

    You could also google the bull Gerentes ad vos, of Pope Martin V, or Exposcit tuae devotionis of Innocent VIII.

  7. William Weedon says:

    Also note the bull of union with the Armenians – Exsultate Deo of 1439 – “the ORDINARY minister of ordination is a bishop.”

  8. Peregrinus says:

    We don’t need to go back to 1439. As late as the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the official position was that the ordinary minister of the sacrament of ordination was a bishop, but an extraordinary minister could be someone authorised for the purpose by law or by the Holy See. (The current, 1983, code states flatly that the minister is the bishop, makes no ordinary/extraordinary distinction, and makes no provision for indults allowing anyone else to ordain.)

    The point is that the minister of any sacrament acts on behalf of the church. His ministry is therefore conferred by the church, and it is ultimately the church which decides who to commission in any particular ministry.

    That is not to say that the church can do whatever it pleases from time to time. But it does mean that I cannot unilaterally decide, on the basis of my private reading of scripture, or my private revelation, that I am commissioned to be the minister of this or that sacrament.

    The question comes down to ecclesioloy; how does the church speak on this issue? Obviously, if you take the view that the church speaks exclusively through the formal institutions of the Roman Catholic Church, the question is pretty clear-cut. If you don’t take that view, however, all kinds of interesting possiblities open up.

  9. Tony Bartel says:

    On the one hand, it is easy to have some sympathy for the Lutheran reformers, as it was a common theological opinion in the West during the middle ages, that the fullness of the priesthood resided in the presbyterate. The difference between a bishop and a presbyter was often seen to be one of jurisdiction or authority. The three major orders were described not as bishop priest and deacon, but as priest, deacon and subdeacon (who, until the subdiaconate was abolished by Paul VI, were called the three sacred ministers and were requisite for the celebration of a solemn high mass).

    If one holds this medieval view about the presbyterate, it is not entirely impossible that priests should ordain other priests. Clearly at least some Popes thought it was possible, when they gave permission for abbots to ordain priests for their community. I would say that at the time of the reformation, the western church had not taught clearly about the nature of holy order, and so the confusion of the reformers was understandable, even if misguided from a historical perspective.

    Needless to say, in the East there was never this confusion about holy order. The distinction between major and minor orders was made, but the major orders were always bishop, priest and deacon, and it was always clear that the fullness of holy order resided in the bishop. A whole variety of other things were from time to time referred to as ordination, including the various minor orders, the ministry of deaconesses, and even religious vows. But these ordinations were not understood in the same way as the there major orders.

    The reference to the 1917 code of canon law is interesting but misleading. Although it allowed for others to administer ordination, this was only ever done in reference to the minor orders. Permission was never given for a priest to ordain another priest or a deacon. This would, of course, have gone against the decrees of the Council of Trent.

  10. William Weedon says:

    Well, post-Trent, Ludwig Ott (RC dogmatician) posited the possibility that “a simple priest is an extraordinary dispenser of the orders of diaconate and presbyterate, just as he is an extraordinary dispenser of confirmation. In this latter view, the requisite power of consecration is contained in the priestly power of consecration as *potestas ligata*. For the valid exercise of it a special exercise of papal power is, by divine or church ordinance, necessary.” (*Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma*, trans. Patrick Lynch, p.459)

  11. William Weedon says:

    One more thing that may or may not be of interest. The rite of ordination used in my Synod seems to hint at the dual nature of the office. As hands are laid upon the ordinand, the ordinator says:

    “N., I ordain *and consecrate* you to the Office of the Holy Ministry of the Word and Sacraments in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” to which the assembly answers: “Amen!” And then the Ordinator prays: “The Lord Jesus pour out on you His Holy Spirit for this office and work that may faithfully preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. Amen.”

    Why “and consecrate”? Presbyter (ordained) AND episcopus (consecrated)???

  12. William Weedon says:

    One more thing that may or may not be of interest. The rite of ordination used in my Synod seems to hint at the dual nature of the office. As hands are laid upon the ordinand, the ordinator says:

    “N., I ordain *and consecrate* you to the Office of the Holy Ministry of the Word and Sacraments in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” to which the assembly answers: “Amen!” And then the Ordinator prays: “The Lord Jesus pour out on you His Holy Spirit for this office and work that may faithfully preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. Amen.”

    Why “and consecrate”? Presbyter (ordained) AND episcopus (consecrated)???

  13. Christopher Orr says:

    Bede mentions in passing that priests were given a pall by the Pope, which allowed them to ordain in far off lands due to the absence of bishops. In fact, it seems as if this is nothing more than a priest acting in the same way that he does as regards the Eucharist. The bishop is always the ordinary minister of the Eucharist and was the celebrant when there was a bishop in each town; all Christians in a town from as many parishes as there might be gathered together wherever the bishop was to serve the Sunday Liturgy. As parishes became more numerous, bishops delegated the ordinary service of the Eucharist to their presbyters. So, while a bishop may serve a Liturgy whenever and wherever he would like within his diocese, a priest has no authority to do so on his own apart from his bishop. It seems as if the Pope allowed for extraordinary ordinations in the service of mission to the barbarians, but only ever and always as a delegated authority of the bishop – not as a right of the presbyter due to his ordination. This is a very different thing than priests gathering together to ordain and install one of their own.

  14. William Weedon says:

    About the practice of the East, it is worth noting that Jerome invokes the example of Alexandria for his point, and no one (that I am aware of) challenged him on that. Also, in Egypt you have John Cassian in Conferences IV,1 speaking of how Paphnutius “preferred” Daniel to the diaconate and then “advanced him to the honor of the presbyterate.” But Paphnutius was a priest himself. I’ve seen folks try to read the words in a way other than what is their apparent meaning, but it seems unconvincing.

  15. William Tighe says:

    The whole matter of Egyptian bishops and presbyters was argued out in the 1950s at some length by two English Anglican scholars, William Telfer and Eric Kemp, in the *Journal of Ecclesiastical History* — works I have been meaning to read for some time, but have not yet done so.

  16. Christopher Orr says:

    The practices referred to in your quotes from Cassian and Jerome, as well as the other saints you’ve mention, must needs be seen through the lens of the common, patristic consensus of both teaching and practice – not vice versa. Then again, if the Church after the close of the NT canon essentially forgot the doctrine by which the Church stands or falls, why should the common understanding and practice of ordination and ecclesiology be proof of what the Church really thought about its offices?

  17. William Weedon says:

    Now Christopher, you know that the Church did NOT forget the good news of the sinner’s free justification by grace for Christ’s sake through faith. Think of the clarity with which St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine teach it!

  18. Fr John W Fenton says:

    What Tony Bartel writes above certainly suggests an analogy to what Louis Bouyer said about Luther(ans) and the practical implications of the medieval doctrine of the Real Presence; namely, that Luther(ans) took medieval teachings to their logical conclusion. Bouyer states that the logical conclusion is reducing the canon and “consecratory moment” to the Words of Institution; Bartel suggests that the logical conclusion is the effective elimination of the distinction between presbyter and bishop.

    On another note, perhaps the thesis by Metropolitan John Zizioulas might be informative; namely, that it was not given early on to presbyters to celebrate Mass, but that this “right” developed to meet the need of larger and larger dioceses. Could this correspond to the “two-tiered” pastoral office currently developing in the LCMS; or that effectively was in place until Robert Preus with “StL” versus “Spr” graduates?

  19. Past Elder says:

    Mr Orr states exactly the RC position on Holy Orders, at least as it was taught to me before the Revolution, er, Council. The fulness of the ordained priesthood resides only in the bishop, and the priest depends entirely for his authority on his bishop who is the ordinary celebrant of all seven sacraments, and empowers the priest to excercise his episcopal authority in Baptism (which may also be administered by the laity), Penance (Reconciliation post Revolution), Communion (ie saying Mass), Marriage (whose ministers are actually the couple but the priest is the required official witness) and Extreme Unction (Sacrament of the Sick post Revolution), however Confirmation and Holy Orders require the bishop himself. End of story.

    Therefore, priests ordaining priests is utterly invalid both sacramentally and canonically, and ordaining bishops is beyond comment. However, bishops may ordain bishops and priests, which accounts for several things: the recognition of EO priests and bishops as valid even if schismatic; the recognition of Anglican bishops and priests as invalid (been a long time, can’t recall the who ordained who where this fell apart but I remember being taught precisely where the link broke); the recognition of Protestant ministers by whatever title as invalid (our Lutheran worries about lay Communion services being redundant since they are all by laymen including the “pastors”) ; in more recent times, the ordination of priests by the SSPX was tolerated but when bishops were ordained the storm troopers were dispatched from Rome because these would be valid bishops though illegal.

    But the RC faith is nothing if it is not the religion of exceptions and dispensations. At one of the post conciliar Tiber swimmings in which I lamentably played a part and would have to atone for a thousand years in Purgatory if such a thing existed, Confirmation was conferred by a priest with the bishop’s OK, and at another it was not conferred at all, Methodist confirmation being acceped as valid.

    That’s the fun of being Catholic. By the unofficial precept sola historia, one can support and defend anything as legitimately Catholic from Scripture, the Fathers and/or precedent, bolstered on the other end by another unofficial theological precept, sola eccelsia!

    In the end, all you’ve got is the Imperial pontifex maximus and the collegium pontificum, the West getting the pontifex maximus by Imperial decree. Standing outside this pagan construct is not contrary to the Gospel, it is required by the Gospel. That’s the real and not a what-if world.

  20. Schütz says:

    Well, gentlemen, I sincerely thank you all for this most stimulating and informative conversation. Anyone who wants to say that blogs are inferior to scholarly journals just has to read this discussion to show what possibilities lie in such an interaction as this.

    A side comment to Pastor Weedon: When I was on the LCA Dept of Liturgics we intentionally put both “ordain and consecrate” in the pastor’s ordination rite to indicate the fullness of the ministry lies in him, and omitted the word “consecrate” in the rite of installation of the President. We were not, at that time, up on the new terminology of the Catholic Church that used “ordain” for all levels of Holy Orders.

  21. Schütz says:

    Oh, forgot to say, do you know which of the two orders–LCMS or LCA–is the older? Did you copy us or we copy you, or did we come to the same idea independantly? The LCA order was promulgated in February 1994.

  22. William Weedon says:


    The “ordain and consecrate” is present already in the order that Walther published for the Synod:

    Wir überantworten euch hiemit durch Auflegung unsrer Hände das heilige Amt des Wortes und der Sacramente Gottes, des Dreieinigen, *ordnen und weihen* euch zum Diener der heiligen Kirche im Namen des Vaters, des Sohnes, und des Heiligen Geistes! Amen. Amen.

    I’m not sure how far back it reaches before him. I *think* Walther took over the form used by Löhe, which I suppose reflects the use of the Bavarian Churches.

  23. orrologion says:

    you know that the Church did NOT forget the good news of the sinner’s free justification by grace for Christ’s sake through faith. Think of the clarity with which St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine teach it!


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