Number of Orders
The Council of Trent (Sess. XXIII, can. 3) defined that, besides the
priesthood, there are in the Church other orders, both major and minor.
Though nothing has been defined with regard to the number of orders it is
usually given as seven: priests, deacons, subdeacons, acolytes, exorcists,
readers, and doorkeepers. The priesthood is thus counted as including
bishops; if the latter be numbered separately we have eight; and if we add
first tonsure, which was at one time regarded as an order, we have nine.
We meet with different numberings in different Churches, and it would seem
that mystical reasons influenced them to some extent (Martène, “De antiq.
eccl. rit.”, I, viii, l, 1; Denzinger, “Rit. orient.”, II, 155). The
“Statuta ecclesiæ antiqua” enumerate nine orders, adding psalmists and
counting bishops and priests separately. Others enumerate eight orders,
thus, e.g. the author of “De divin. offic.”, 33, and St. Dunstan’s and the
Jumièges pontificals (Martène I, viii, 11), the latter not counting bishops,
and adding cantor. Innocent III, “De sacro alt. minister.”, I, i, counts
six orders, as do also the Irish canons, where acolytes were unknown.
Besides the psalmista or cantor, several other functionaries seem to have
been recognized as holding orders, e.g., fossarii (fossores) grave diggers,
hermeneutoe (interpreters), custodes martyrum etc. Some consider them to
have been real orders (Morin, “Comm. de sacris eccl. ordin.”, III, Ex. 11,
7); but it is more probable that they were merely offices, generally
committed to clerics (Benedict XIV, “De syn, dioc.”, VIII, ix, 7, 8).
In the East there is considerable variety of tradition regarding the number
of orders. The Greek Church acknowledges five, bishops, priests, deacons,
subdeacons, and readers. The same number is found in St. John Damascene
(Dial. contra manichæos, iii); in the ancient Greek Church acolytes,
exorcists, and doorkeepers were probably considered only as offices
(cf. Denzinger, “Rit. orient.”, I, 116).
In the Latin Church a distinction is made between major and minor orders.
In the East the subdiaconate is regarded as a minor order, and it includes
three of the other minor orders (porter, exorcist, acolyte). In the Latin
Church the priesthood, diaconate, and subdiaconate are the major, or sacred,
orders, so-called because they have immediate reference to what is
consecrated (St. Thom., “Suppl.”, Q. xxxvii, a. 3). The hierarchical orders
strictly so-called are of divine origin (Conc. Trid., Sess. XXIII, can. 6).
We have seen that our Lord instituted a ministry in the persons of His
Apostles, who received fullness of authority and power. One of the first
exercises of this Apostolic power was the appointment of others to help and
succeed them. The Apostles did not confine their labors to any particular
Church, but, following the Divine command to make disciples of all men, they
were the missionaries of the first generation. Others also are mentioned in
Holy Scripture as exercising an itinerant ministry, such as those who are in
a wider sense called Apostles (Romans 16:7), or prophets, teachers, and
evangelists (Ephesians 4:11). Side by side with this itinerant ministry
provision is made for the ordinary ministrations by the appointment of local
ministers, to whom the duties of the ministry passed entirely when the
itinerant ministers disappeared (see DEACON).
Besides deacons others were appointed to the ministry, who are called
presbyteroi and episkopoi. There is no record of their institution, but the
names occur casually. Though some have explained the appointment of the
seventy-two disciples in Luke 10, as the institution of the presbyterate, it
is generally agreed that they had only a temporary appointment. We find
presbyters in the Mother Church at Jerusalem, receiving the gifts of the
brethren of Antioch. They appear in close connection with the Apostles, and
the Apostles and presbyters sent forth the decree which freed the gentile
converts from the burden of the Mosaic law (Acts 15:23). In St. James
(5:14-15) they appear as performing ritual actions, and from St. Peter we
learn that they are shepherds of the flock (1 Peter 5:2). The bishops hold
a position of authority (Philippians 1; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7) and have
been appointed shepherds by the Holy Ghost (Acts 20:28). That the ministry
of both was local appears from Acts 14:23, where we read that Paul and
Barnabas appointed presbyters in the various Churches which they founded
during their first missionary journey. It is shown also by the fact that
they had to shepherd the flock, wherein they have been appointed, the
presbyters have to shepherd the flock, that is amongst them (1 Peter 5:2).
Titus is left in Crete that he might appoint presbyters in every city (kata
eolin, Tit., i, 5; cf. Chrys., “Ad Tit., homil.”, II, i).
We cannot argue from the difference of names to the difference of official
position, because the names are to some extent interchangeable (Acts 20:17,
28; Titus 1:6-7). The New Testament does not clearly show the distinction
between presbyters and bishops, and we must examine its evidence in the
light of later times. Toward the end of the second century there is a
universal and unquestioned tradition, that bishops and their superior
authority date from Apostolic times (see HIERARCHY OF THE EARLY CHURCH).
It throws much light on the New-Testament evidence and we find that what
appears distinctly at the time of Ignatius can be traced through the
pastoral epistles of St. Paul, to the very beginning of the history of the
Mother Church at Jerusalem, where St. James, the brother of the Lord,
appears to occupy the position of bishop (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18;
Galatians 2:9); Timothy and Titus possess full episcopal authority, and
were ever thus recognized in tradition (cf. Titus 1:5; 1 Timothy 5:19 and
22). No doubt there is much obscurity in the New Testament, but this is
accounted for by many reasons. The monuments of tradition never give us the
life of the Church in all its fullness, and we cannot expect this fullness,
with regard to the internal organization of the Church existing in Apostolic
times, from the cursory references in the occasional writings of the New
Testament. The position of bishops would necessarily be much less prominent
than in later times. The supreme authority of the Apostles, the great
number of charismatically gifted persons, the fact that various Churches
were ruled by Apostolic delegates who exercised episcopal authority under
Apostolic direction, would prevent that special prominence. The union
between bishops and presbyters was close, and the names remained
interchangeable long after the distinction between presbyters and bishops
was commonly recognized, e.g., in Iren., “Adv. hæres.”, IV, xxvi, 2. Hence
it would seem that already, in the New Testament, we find, obscurely no
doubt, the same ministry which appeared so distinctly afterwards.
Which of the Orders are Sacramental?
All agree that there is but one Sacrament of Order, i.e., the totality of
the power conferred by the sacrament is contained in the supreme order,
whilst the others contain only part thereof (St. Thomas, “Supplem.”, Q.
xxxvii, a. i, ad 2um). The sacramental character of the priesthood has never
been denied by anyone who admitted the Sacrament of Order, and, though not
explicitly defined, it follows immediately from the statements of the
Council of Trent. Thus (Sess. XXIII, can. 2), “If any one saith that besides
the priesthood there are not in the Catholic Church other orders, both major
and minor, by which as by certain steps, advance is made to the priesthood,
let him be anathema.” In the fourth chapter of the same session, after
declaring that the Sacrament of Order imprints a character “which can
neither be effaced nor taken away; the holy synod with reason condemns the
opinion of those who assert that priests of the New Testament have only a
temporary power”. The priesthood is therefore a sacrament.
With regard to the episcopate the Council of Trent defines that bishops
belong to the divinely instituted hierarchy, that they are superior to
priests, and that they have the power of confirming and ordaining which is
proper to them (Sess. XXIII, c. iv, can. 6, 7). The superiority of bishops
is abundantly attested in Tradition, and we have seen above that the
distinction between priests and bishops is of Apostolic origin. Most of the
older scholastics were of opinion that the episcopate is not a sacrament;
this opinion finds able defenders even now (e.g., Billot, “De sacramentis”,
II), though the majority of theologians hold it is certain that a bishop’s
ordination is a sacrament.
Written by Hubert Ahaus. Transcribed by Robert B. Olson. Offered to
Almighty God for the priests and brothers of the Legionaries of Christ and
all the men ordained into the Priesthood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. Published 1911.
New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911.
Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur.
+John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York