Friday, October 8, 2010

Ordination of Ministers

In ancient times, writers recorded that there were youth who, with the consent of their parents, were taken under the wing of bishops to train them in the ministry. They were given the general name "clerics," but Calvin wishes they had been given a more proper name. Because they were set apart at a young age to be brought up under special instruction of the church, it was assured that only well-prepared persons were ordained as ministers. There were a couple of sub-groups of these young clerics. There were "doorkeepers" who were entrusted with opening and closing the doors of the church. As they grew, they became "acolytes" who assisted the bishops in many day-to-day functions. They accompanied the bishops wherever they went. Acolytes were also given the privilege of reading Scripture from the pulpit in part so they became used to speaking in public. As they continued to grow, they would eventually become sub-deacons.

Pastor candidates in the ancient church were subjected to rigorous scrutiny. They were selected with reverence and prayer. They were tested against the standard of Paul's life, however, Calvin claims that the church sometimes sinned in its scrutiny by requiring more of the candidates than Paul would have required - especially in regard to celibacy. No pastor in the ancient church was ordained without the consent of all the people. Cyprian broke this custom and wrote about it stating that the person he ordained would have passed because he had long been in training and had high moral standards. No one was made even a sub-deacon without first spending many years as a cleric. He had to prove himself as a sub-deacon before becoming a deacon, and from there he had to prove himself in order to become a presbyter. There were many canons in place to punish the shortcomings of any church officer, so if a deacon or presbyter fell short of their responsibilities the church "need not suffer...unless it neglected the remedies." Ordinations took place at particular times so that "no one might creep in secretly without the consent of believers."

It was at the Council of Antioch in 341 that it was decided that no one could be ordained into church office unless it was the will of the people. This was confirmed by Pope Leo I. Therefore, even if a bishop named his own successor, it was not valid unless the people approved it. An example of this was cited by Calvin when Augustine named Eraclius as his successor.

Calvin notes, "For it scarcely ever happens that so many heads can unanimously settle any matter." The Council of Laodicea in 369 sought to remedy this problem. They proposed that the clergy make a choice, then they can offer the choice to the "magistrates or senate and leading citizens." If they find the candidate acceptable, he is brought before the people. If not, they can propose their own candidate. The people could accept or reject this candidate, but they could not "raise a tumult" about it. The people could also nominate a candidate.

This system was preserved at least through the time of Gregory (540-604). He wrote about it and when the bishop of Milan was elected, he suggested seeking the approval of the Milanese who previously fled to Genoa due an invasion by the barbarians. The emperor's consent was sought in both Rome and Constantinople because these were imperial capitals. "But at Rom of old the emperor's authority so prevailed in the naming of the bishop that Gregory says he was established in the government of the church by the emperor's command, even though he had already in a solemn rite been called by the people."

There has always been a solemn rite in initiating ministers into their positions. The Latin word is translated as "ordination" or "consecration." The Greek term is "raising of hands" or "laying on of hands." The "raising of hands" actually more refers to the election of the minister. I find it interesting that we typically call it "ordination" and part of that rite is the laying on of hands. The Council of Nicaea declared that there should be an assemble of the metropolitan as well as all the bishops of the province to ordain a minister. If for some reason distance or health prevented some bishops from attending, at least three bishops must be present while the ones absent send their approval by letter.

Eventually, candidates sought election from the bishop of a city because of ambition and no good reason. Throughout Italy, people sought ordination from Rome, except in Milan. The procedure was still the laying on of hands. Bishops wore special "trappings" to distinguish themselves. Bishops also ordained their own presbyters, therefore they were called "his". Ancient writers stated that the only difference between these presbyters and the bishops was the lack of power for the presbyters to ordain.

Tomorrow's reading 4.5.1-4.5.10

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