The Reign of Christ. Book One. Chapter Eight: The Ministry of the Discipline of Life and Manners
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Now we must treat of the third function of the sacred ministry, which is the discipline of the Church. This falls into three subdivisions: first, of life and manners; second, of penance, if anyone falls rather seriously; third, of sacred ceremonies.
The discipline of life and manners consists in this, that not only the public ministers of the churches (though these principally), but even individual Christians should exercise care for their neighbours. By the authority and magisterium of our Lord Jesus Christ, each person should strengthen and advance his neighbours, wherever this is possible, and urge them to progress in the life of God, as his disciples, in his faith and knowledge. And if any fall into the error of doctrine or some vice of life or manners, whoever can with utmost zeal recall such persons from all false doctrine and depraved activity, both for the purity of Christian doctrine and the sedulous conformity of all life to the will of God.
For we have the clear precept of the Lord: “If your brother sins against you” (and a Christian man considers only an offence against God to be an offence against himself), “go and rebuke him between himself and you alone; if he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15). Let us, therefore, consider in these words both the majesty of the one giving the command and the divine reward which we receive in obeying this command of the Lord. For the Lord said, “If your brother hears you, you have gained your brother,” specifically for salvation and eternal life. Hence the Holy Spirit commands in the sixth chapter of Galatians: “Brethren, if a man has been involved in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore him and call him back, in a gentle spirit” (Gal. 6:1). And from the fifth chapter of First Thessalonians: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” And a little after: We exhort you, brethren, correct and instruct those who live inordinately, console those who are pusillanimous, tolerate and support the weak (I Thess. 5:11 and 14).
For Christ, our master and governor, lives and acts in each Christian. In each, therefore, and through the ministry of each he seeks and saves the lost. On this account it is necessary that whoever are really of Christ should have a vigilant concern for their brethren on his authority and power and eagerly exhort whomever they can to their duty, and keep all from sins according to their ability or rescue those who have fallen into them.
Hence it is necessary that those who are warned and corrected by their brethren according to the Lord’s precept should acknowledge and accept in them the authority and magisterium of Christ himself and gratefully and earnestly receive and follow this kind of admonition and correction as becomes good disciples of Christ. Nor should they doubt that they spurn Christ himself if they despise one who admonishes and corrects by the Word of the Lord, and that they hear Christ himself when they pay attention to those devoutly correcting and encouraging them.
Further, since private Christians are in no small way lacking in the practice of this discipline of Christ, it is within the competence of the ones in charge of the church and of the elders, whose number should on this account be increased in proportion to the size of the population, that they repair industriously in this matter what has been neglected by private persons. They should, therefore, see both personally and through the deacons of the churches that they are well acquainted with each person committed to their charge, and diligently observe how each progresses in the life of God, or how he is remiss, at which time they should by holy admonitions correct in their brethren whatever trespass they have discovered. In this matter, those who have charge of souls should exercise a greater diligence than any teachers of the humanities and the arts in forming the minds of their students insofar as the knowledge of eternal life is more important and necessary to salvation than any other arts and sciences.
Those whom the Lord has put in charge of his sheep should, therefore, ponder seriously the fact that from their hands will be required whatever sheep perish by their negligence. They should thoroughly think over what the Lord said to them and threatened them with, through the prophet Ezekiel: “Son of Man, I have made you a watchman over the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them a warning from me. If I say to the wicked, You shall surely die, and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way in order to save his life, that man will die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand,” etc. (Ezek. 3:17-18).
Let them carefully consider and ponder what the Lord through the same prophet complains about the shepherds who do not strengthen the weak sheep, or heal the sick, or bind the broken limbs, and do not lead back the ones separated from the flock, or seek those which have perished (Ezek. 34:4). Let that grave admonition of Paul to the elders of Ephesus sound in their hearts: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you bishops, to feed the Church of the Lord, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Likewise, that which he commanded Titus (Titus 2:15) : “Speak these things, and by them exhort and correct, with all authority as over those subject to you.”
With grateful hearts they ought to embrace this blessing of Christ as supremely necessary and salutary; to them applies what the Holy Spirit urges through Paul to the Thessalonians in these words: “We beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves and with them” (I Thess. 5:12-13). And The Letter to the Hebrews, ch. 13:17. “Submit to those who are over you and obey them, for they are keeping watch over your souls as men who will give an account, so that they may do so with joy, and not sadly.” This is what the discipline of life and manners consists of.